Siem Reap – The Temples

 

After a big night in Bangkok, we fell out of bed at 7:45 to catch the 8 am bus to Cambodia!

Needless to say this journey was horrific, partly because we were very hungover…

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…but also because the drivers on all three buses involved, would rather have crashed than slow down!

We barged through traffic to the border where we were thrown out to cross the three checkpoints on foot.

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Eventually the visa was stamped and we were jostled on to another bus on the Cambodian side. This took us as far as the Poipet “official tourist transport centre” where we would be changing on to yet another bus for the final part of our journey. Unfortunately I had lost my little green sticker which apparently was the ticket, so I was made to pay for the whole journey again! Usually I would have argued with the scammer until I got my way… but in this state, 300 Baht seemed a price worth paying for as little hassle as possible! Eventually we arrived at Siam reap bus station and jumped on a tuk tuk to our pad.

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We were staying at Victory Guesthouse. The same place Jen had stayed for 5 weeks in 2010 when she volunteered at the hospital here. In that time Jen had become friends with Moy the owner who hooked us up with a nice room & a discount.

We said hello, dropped our bags then went straight out for food and beer on the appropriately named ‘pub street’

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The next day, after a much-needed lie in we went to the pool until the late afternoon storm hit.
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We popped down town for some street food and a wander around the night market, then hit the sack to get in as much sleep as possible before the 4:30am alarm rang! We had arranged for Moys brother Tom, to be our guide and driver for the day to get out and see the local temples in the famous Angkor area (Angkor is a Khmer word meaning “city”). Our first stop would be Angkor Wat for sun rise at 5am!

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It was 100% worth the early start!


The first, biggest and most famous temple of the day was incredible, we spent a few hours wondering the grounds and buildings…

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As we neared the front of the queue to climb to the highest point of the temple, we were advised that neither of us were in the correct attire because our shoulders were showing, we had expected this and brought our temple sarong’s to cover up but apparently that wasn’t good enough here! This put a bit of a downer on the visit, until on the way out, I found a shirt on the floor! I had no shame in putting on my newly found threads and re-joining the queue…

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This reminded me of being 16 again, swapping tops to try and get in the walkabout bar after being turned away by bald bouncer Brian once already! …  The difference was it worked here! So up I went to take in the view from the top…

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With Ankor Wat under the belt we headed back to Tom and our chariot to move on to the second temple, and our drivers name sake, Ankor Thom.

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From here it was on to a few more impressive temple sites …

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… before the grand finale, and our favourite Ta Prohm. This is the jungle temple which featured in the first Tombraider film.

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All templed out we found Tom for the last time and set off back home to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the pool.

Bangkok!

After the day waiting around in Ao Nang a truck picked us up from our hotel and took us to the ‘bus station’, which was a couple of tables and chairs! We waited here for an hour or so until the double-decker coach (that we’d just watched them ‘repair’ around the corner) pulled up to take us to Surat Thani.
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The bus was held together with anything they could get their hands on!IMG_2923

3 hours of mental driving later we were at the train station ready to board our overnight sleeper train up to Bangkok. The train wasn’t until 11:30pm so we chilled in a cafe in the train station. When it arrived we were shown to our beds.
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After 10 hours  of rattling around the train bed (only 2 of which were sleep!), we were asked to get up as they make the lower beds in to seats and fold the top bunks away.
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For the last hour we chilled on the comfy seats looking out of the window watching the view become more and more urban until we arrived at Hua Lamphong station in central Bangkok. The 11.5 hour train journey was complete!
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From here we made our way in a pimped out yellow taxi which featured a huge tank of NOS in the boot, to Baan Bovorn Khaosan our hotel for the next two nights.

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I had emailed my college lecturer Paul who now lived over here in Phuket, but happened to be in Bangkok today. We arranged to meet him and his wife at the Chuckatuck Weekend market, so after we had been to the hotel for a freshen up we set off to the famous markets on the back of a tuk tuk.
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We found Paul & Christine and caught up while strolling around the HUGE markets!
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We grabbed a drink and a bite to eat then made our way through the live animal section where you could readily purchase dogs, eagles, snakes, owls, pigs, fighting fish, lizards and turtles!

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Once we’d escaped the livestock section we carried on around walking the outside of the market where we had an ice coffee made in a very peculiar way…

Paul suggested we join them for a bite to eat in one of their favourite restaurants, we jumped in their car and made our way through the ever mental Bangkok traffic to Paul’s recommended choice of eatery, pleasantly named Cabbages & Condoms! This was part of a project to promote family planning in Thailand amongst other good causes. More here.

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Everything was made from condoms, including these two…IMG_5483

and the light shades…
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After an awesome meal spent reliving our Tanzania 2007 memories we received our post dinner mint condom, and said our goodbyes.

We went home via Khao san road for a couple of Changs before bed.
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The next day we visited a few of Bangkok’s top attractions. We walked from our hostel down the dusty streets and through some nice parkland.

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We walked through the park to Wat Po temple. This is where the reclining Buddha lives. The biggest buddha in Thailand stretching 150 feet.
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It was time for food so we found an awesome little backstreet restaurant by the river called Jin Chieng Seng.
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Tuktuk back to hotel to freshen up before hitting the tiles!DCIM109GOPRO

What started off as a calm few beers watching the premiership deciding city vs palace game ended up being a full blown booze up Bangkok style! Including drinking buckets, eating scorpions and shoulder pressing a child before carrying him the length of Koasan road!

On the way out the hotel asked for our picture for their wall of fame
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The coolest camper van ever…IMG_3008 IMG_3010
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This is the closest we’ll ever get to identifying the London couple we stayed up drinking with until the early hours!DCIM109GOPRO

We stumbled in around 4 am with the thai street food equivalent of a kebab and chips!

All the above would have been fine, if we didn’t have to be up at 7:45 to endure a mammoth bus journey to Cambodia!

R&J

Thaisland hopping! (Part 3)

For the third morning in a row, the alarms sounded to signal it was time to slap on the factor 30 before another full day out exploring Islands on a boat in the sun!

Today’s was to the (in)famous Phi Phi Islands. We’d heard very mixed reviews about this place. It’s the island made popular by the 2000 film, The Beach. As a result the tourism to the island is amongst the highest in Thailand, which of course brings lots of money, meaning the main island phi phi don is covered in big expensive resorts & litter! After reading some reviews we figured a boat trip to see it for the day was preferable to staying there, plus there weren’t many accommodation options within our backpacker budget!

The Phi Phi islands were quite a bit further from the Ao Nang coast line than the last few, so this tour was on a speed boat…
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First stop was koh phai otherwise known as bamboo island …
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This was one of the most beautiful and untouched islands we’d been on. We spent an hour walking up the beach before having a dip in the designated (& crowded) swimming areas.

From here we headed to Phi Phi Don, stopping at two snorkelling spots on the way…

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This is also where Jen made friends with a sea snake! Video here.

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All snorkelled out we docked for lunch and spent some time on Phi Phi islands…

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Found these baby chicks whilst wondering in land
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We jumped back on the boat heading for Maya Bay after a brief stop at Monkey island…
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Maya bay is where the Beach film was shot
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This was the last stop of the day and we were whisked back to the Ao Nang harbour from here.

From what we saw we would definitely go back to the Phi Phi islands for a holiday if we wanted a week or two of luxury in a resort.

That night we enjoyed some food & beers at a reggae bar (They were awful but they gave 110%!)

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Our last day down south was pretty lazy, spending it planning and booking the next few days. We’d decided we would not go to Koh Samui / Phangan or Koh Tao as planned, but leave that for when we return to Thailand in June for a bit of chill / beach / moon party action before departing for China!
Instead we booked the sleeper train up to Bangkok and would spend a couple of nights there before moving on to Cambodia. For our final meal by the ocean we enjoyed fresh snapper fish and chips which was nearly as good as dale fisheries! Nearly.

Bangkok next up…

R&J

Thaisland hopping! (Part 2)

Up early again, we were picked up outside our hotel and taken to the same harbour as yesterday to board another long tail boat and be whisked to the first island; Red island. Getting its name from the colour of the rock. No beach here, just a snorkel spot where we saw more fish and sea urchins.

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From here we headed to paradise island where we had time to swim (with a friendly jellyfish!) and chill before lunch.

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After consuming exactly the same dinner as yesterday, we were back on the boat aiming for the large lagoon that sits in the middle of the Hong Island. We circled the lagoon and were advised we would be back here later on the kayaks!

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The finale was the tours name sake and best island. Hong island. The beach was beautiful and the sea very blue.
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Here we were going kayaking the whole 5 kilometres around the island including stopping off at the lagoon. It was an awesome experience and on the way around we saw men actually living in caves amongst the eagles and sea herons.

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We parked up inside the shallow lagoon for a swim

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On our return to the beach, exhausted and sunburnt we cracked the days first Chang to celebrate!
We spent a bit of time exploring the island discovering some boats that had been wrecked and washed a fair way inland by the 2004 tsunami that caused havoc on this side of Thailand.

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Back to our Ao Nang for food and Chang. Whilst out for the night we booked on boat trip number three for tomorrow to the Phi Phi islands!

Part 3…

Thaisland hopping! (Part 1)

Bags waiting in the lobby we had the intention of tucking in to the hotels breakfast buffet, consuming as much as we could before our minibus arrived. Sod’s law this was the only time they arrived early, so we squeezed in a cup of tea and a slice of cold pizza as we boarded the 12 seater minibus that would be carrying us from Georgetown across the Thai border to Hat Yai.

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Though the bus was full, this journey was fairly comfortable compared to the next! After half an hour of standard customs stuff we crossed the border gaining a 30 day visa waiver stamp in our passports. This was a nice surprise as we had only planned on getting a 15 day access over land per every guide and internet resource we’d checked.

We enjoyed the first can of Chang while waiting in Hat Yai, before changing in to mini bus number 2 to take us onward to Krabi. This bus was full to capacity and we dropped on the back bench seat. Every cubic millimetre of empty space from our heads down was filled with luggage and various goods that were being transported to the west coast town.

Two very uncomfortable hours later we stopped for a break allowing us to stretch our legs and grab some food & drink, but only once we’d got through the obstacle course to the minibus door!
But at least we were dry unlike these lads on the back of a truck!

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Onwards from here was the same comfort level of zero until we reached our drop off point in Krabi. Phew.

We were staying in a place called Ao Nang which is 25 minutes away from Krabi. We befriended two Germans Leo & Alina whilst in close quarters on the minibus (pictured on the back seat above) and shared a taxi with them to our hotel.

Tired from the journey we showered went out for our first Thai meals and hit the sack.
The morning after we got breakfast with the Germans and spent the day chilling on the beach & swimming in the sea.

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On the way back up to the hotel from the beach we booked on a four island tour for the following day with Leo & Alina.
An early ish night after we’d had dinner and of course, a few Chang.

Alarms went off and we stuffed what we needed in to our waterproof bag before being picked up in an open back truck to take us to the boat.

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Via a classic Thai long tail boat we had a great day exploring Koh Gai (chicken Island, named because, believe it or not, it is shaped like a chicken), Koh Tup, Koh Mawr, Poda and Pranang Cave on Railay beach. As well as stopping a few times for snorkelling in between.

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Ice cream van boat!
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We went back to the hotel showered and went out in to Ao Nang for food. Because we’d enjoyed the day trip so much, over dinner we decided to book a different one for tomorrow to Hong Island.

Part 2 …

Georgetown

We left our hotel in Kuala Lumpur and jumped in a taxi to the coach station. We got there only 5 minutes before the bus was due to leave! Thankfully we were on Asian time so that was very early! We got our tickets which were both different colours and had different company names printed on, never the less after a long wait we found the right bus and got on.

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2 hours in to the journey north to Penang, the guy in the seat across from us started looked agitated and checking his ticket. Unfortunately he hadn’t found the right bus, and was going completely the wrong direction, he thought he was on his way south to Singapore! Nightmare.

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We pulled up to the Penang bus station and jumped in to a taxi to our hotel in Georgetown.  After checking in and having some FaceTime action with the rents, we headed out for some of Georgetown’s famous street food. Wondering the streets looking at our options we had a rice pancake and ice tea in a bag for starters then bumped in to an old Aussie guy who after chatting for a while recommended a restaurant and walked us to it, down some back streets.

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We enjoyed a decent meal before walking back through the old streets to our hostel, checking out the second thing Georgetown was most famous for along the way, street art.
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On return to our hotel, the Apollo inn, we chilled on the rooftop checking out the cites bright lights

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In the morning we got up and jumped on the public bus for a 35 minute journey to the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, Kek Lok Si, at a cost of 2 ringgit each (36p) for the bus. And the same cost for the entry to the pagoda at the temple.
As we walked up the hill through the masses of souvenir shops and pool full of turtles we could already see a decent view of the city forming behind us. Once at the top of the pagoda there were incredible views of Georgetown.

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After the temple we jumped on another local bus and made our way to the foot of Penang hill which had a spectacular train ride up to the top.
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Boasting 2411 ft in height, the top was a breath of fresh air. Away from the smog of the city. And with even more impressive views over the whole of Penang island all the way out to the ocean and the bridges that connect it to the rest of mainland Malaysia. There were more shrines & temples at the top of the hill which we explored before soaking up a beer or five along with the view.
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Back at the hotel we enjoyed complimentary tea, coffee and snacks on the rooftop garden where Jen had a bit of camera time before getting ready to nip our for a bit of street food before bed.

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We got in to bed that night realising we had absolutely no plans or anything booked for tomorrow so we extended our stay for another night here giving us time to plan our onward journey!
The next morning we got up and started planning. We were unsure whether to island hop all the way from here to Langkawi in Malaysia upto the Islands in Thailand or fly into Thailand or get the bus.
Island hopping ferry & flight prices were out of our budget so we were forced on to the not so trusty overland bus! The first bus would pick us up at the hostel the following morning at 8.30 and take us to Hat Yai in Thailand. Where we will have to change busses to get to Krabi. We also booked 3 nights accommodation in Ao Nang near Krabi.
For the rest of our day we waited for our mountain of washing to be done, stocked up on toiletries and exchanged some money in to Thai baht. We then headed out for more street food in the evening before going to meet some new friends Jen & Emma, who we met back on the Australian Whitsunday’s sailing trip who happened to be in Georegetown for the night. We had a mini reunion over a few beers before heading to bed ready to set off to Thailand early the next morning.
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Next stop Thailand!

R&J

Kuala Lumpur

We crawled out of our Singapore pod for the last time to go and catch the 7:30am coach up through Malaysia to Kuala Lumpur.

After a few stops including one to clear immigration & customs, we eventually arrived in downtown KL.

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We walked 20 minutes to our hotel, the Silka Maytower. After checking in we went straight back out to the Chinese Visa application centre.  China is the last month of our trip in July. Unfortunately for us, a Chinese visa is only valid for three months from date of application, meaning we couldn’t apply before we left the UK. The only way to get one outside of your home country is by applying in person at an official application centre, of which KL was the final city on our route that has one so we had to sort it here. After completing the application form they explained we would have to wait until the following working day to submit it, then after it had been sorted we would need to be interviewed and then another 2 working days after that before we could collect our visa’s and pay for them! Unfortunately we had made bad timing as it meant submitting them on Friday, so the fastest we would have them would be the Wednesday all being well.

Walking back through the city centre we stopped for a bite to eat then explored the area beneath the famous and very shiny, Petronas towers. A large shopping centre spreads over the ground floors of the towers, we could as well have been in meadowhall with shops such as top shop, Zara, nandos and a boost bar. Knowing there was no rush to do the sight-seeing we went back to the hotel and had a chilled night in.

We got up the next day and returned to the visa centre to submit out application. Now that was out of our hands we could focus on seeing the sights. We headed back to the to the hotel for a swimming session and then got ready to go and meet an old school friend Chris who is living out here and working as a teacher. We met him and his girlfriend Laine at the Bukit Bintang monorail station where he took us for some Chinese street food and a catch up over a few beers.

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As it was a Sunday the next day, Chris was off work and kindly offered to show us around his now local city. We got up and headed out to visit some of the hot spots, independence square and museum, central market and china town before heading out of the centre to Sri Rampai to see Chris’s neck of the woods.

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We jumped on the train before Chris lead us up the side of the highway to his pad.

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After enjoying the views from the apartment and being introduced to Chris’s flatmates we all went out for food at the ‘red chair’ restaurant. On this street there were several street food vendors, shisha sellers and a couple of big screens showing the football (Jen was ecstatic). Once the game had finished we got a taxi home, just before the prices doubled at midnight.

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The next morning we moved hotels to the Pacific Regency. This had an amazing rooftop pool with views of the petronas towers. We had to wait until our room was ready so made use of the pool.
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In the afternoon we headed down to the shopping centre to find a hair salon so that Jen could get her haircut for the first time in about 4 months. Decided I may as well get mine shaved while I waited and ended up going first. The Malaysian man shaved my head before taking me into the back room where he thoroughly washed what little was left and gave me a head massage before escorting me back to the chair to blow dry my scalp. Jen found this very amusing, I didn’t know what on earth was happening. The guy has certainly set the bar and I will be expecting the same from Croppers of wellington street when I get home.
Once freshly groomed we got on the LRT to Chris’ pad so that we could watch the big game Liverpool vs Man city!

The next day we got up for the ‘interview’ for our Chinese visa….this consisted of standing at a counter and answering 3 questions; what is your name? Where were you born? And why do you want to go to China? Before telling us to have a good trip and pick our visas up 2 days from now on Wednesday.

We were exhausted from the intense questioning s0 went back to the hotel for a day by the pool.

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Feeling re energised the following day we did some more sightseeing in KLCC

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We went out for Mexican food that night when Chris met us after work.

Our final day in KL, we planned the next stage of our trip booking transport and accommodation before experiencing c-rush hour on the monorail to Bukit Bintang to meet Chris again for one last meal. We entered an interesting underground Chinese food centre to eat before going to Times Square shopping centre which features an indoor roller coaster.

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For the KL finale Chris took us to what must be the best kept secret in the city. The Helibar. At the top of a skyscraper was a nice enough bar, but once you had drinks in hand you can head up two flights of stairs to enjoy them on the buildings helipad. No railings, no safety equipment, just the odd table and chairs and a breath taking view of the illuminated Kuala Lumpur skyline.

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A perfect end to our time here. Thanks again Chris!

We were off up the western coast of Malaysia next to Penang island.

R&J

Singapore Slinging

We had an easy two and a half hours in the air before touching down in to the very average looking Singapore weather!

After what seemed like an eternity getting through the airports immigration security and baggage collection we headed for the Mass Rapid Transit train system.

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We’d heard really good things about the cities public transport and our first impressions were good. I particularly liked the fact they have this system marked on the floor at every MRT door…

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Theres nothing worse than people shoving to get on the tube, before letting people get off!

Everyone on the train, without exception, was using one if not two pieces of technology!

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After a couple of weeks in more luxurious accommodation, it was back to slumming it here! We were staying at Vintage Inn which was a ‘pod’ hostel, here is a picture of our “room”…

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It was £30 a night for our ‘double pod’. For that money in Indonesia we’d been used to a decent size, well equipped hotel room with nice pool etc! Nevertheless it was quite a cool concept and surprisingly comfy / private.

We left our big bags and headed out in to the surrounding area Little India, to look through the amazing markets and get some curry at the banana leaf restaurant, checking the menu and ordering on the tables iPad!

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It was good even with the 60 cent extra charge for a wet wipe that they sneak on the bill!

Home to our pod, Jen slept while I stayed up and watched all 3 of the horses we’d picked fall over at the grand national!

In the morning we enjoyed our complimentary Indian breakfast of noodle pancake with bright orange sugar and dried coconut.

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We set off to explore downtown. Hoping to buy a 3 day tourist pass for all methods of public transport. Based on our experience so far we expected that to be easy. It wasn’t!

It happened to be that our local station little India, was one of the ticket offices the tourist passes weren’t available at. We had to use the ticket machine to buy two normal single trip fares to China Town because their ticket office (which was exactly the same!) could sell the tourist pass. Ok bit of hassle but fair enough. We arrived in china town and as we got to the front of the ticket office queue… it closed!  We walked over to ‘passenger service’ to see if they could help. Nope. Their answer was wait until it re-opens. Timescale? No idea. We hung around for 10 minutes, and when the ticket office shutter eventually went back up,  there was a notice that said – “Tourist passes out of stock!”

Character Ugly Gurning Man with steam coming from ears.

Ok now what? We have to go to one of the other rare offices that sell them and hope they had stock. Ok but could we get the two tickets we’d bought today refunded. Absolutely not. After waiting for another train and arriving at Harbourfront, we queued at the ticket office and actually received help! In the form of a ‘customer service ambassador’ who explained there was two options for tourist pass one included a boat and bus ride. We were going to go for the 3 day including boat …. Oh wait. That ones sold out. You must be kidding?! 3 day normal one then? … Yes, finally!

After a lot of time and messing about we finally owned a pass! We could now spend some time in, and hopefully enjoy, the city!

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We went to a few popular spots around the city walking around the bay area. We ended up in the Marina Bay Sands shopping mall. Directly underneath the iconic hotel of the same name. After an hour of window shopping we hit the hotels casino which is $100 entry for residents but free with a foreign passport! After a couple of hours fluctuating in this very impressive casino, we left only a few dollars up!  It was as good and as big as any of the Vegas casinos we’d been in.

We left in time to catch the water/ light show on the bay. This was an impressive display of video & lasers projected on to a wall of water being sprayed from below us to a soundtrack of Louis Armstrong’s ‘wonderful world’.

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From here we made our way back to china town and got some food from the hawkers market before going back to our pod in little India.

Jens camera had broken while we were in Bali so the next morning we set off in to the city in search of a new camera, after the third hour and as many times changing her mind, we eventually bought a Nikon.

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We then walked through the city at a snail’s pace while Jen took a picture of anything & everything, testing out her new toy.

The zoom is pretty impressive! …

Zoomed to the top of the spire…

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Zoomed to the top of the hotels sky park…

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Jen spent some time getting used to the camera while we walked through a new part of the city.

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We had lunch at an upmarket street food stall near the bay then walked around to the bay front.

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We ended up at a well placed bar on marina bay called Overeasy and at $15 (£7.50) a beer we were very glad to have dropped on half price happy hour! And as an added bonus, because the Singapore stock market had closed down for the day we were entitled to $1 mini burgers!

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We stayed here for a few more beers watching the sun set and seeing the light & water show from the other-side of the bay. It was as impressive from this side.

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The next morning we had Chinese carrot cake for breakfast and booked tickets for a few attractions on Sentosa Island. We walked to one of the many shopping malls to pick up our tickets, then made our way to Harbour front to board the cable car over to the island.

It was amazing just how many shopping malls there are here, most of them the size of Meadowhall but with even more high end designer brands!

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With tickets eventually in hand we set off to use the first of them. Getting to the island was the first job, so we shot up the elevator and boarded the cable car.

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After a very high up and scenic ride we jumped off the cable car on the island and on to the bus. We went straight to underwater world to see the pink dolphins show and aquarium, being stopped on the way by students who were interviewing tourists about Singapore for their homework.

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Once interviewed we headed in to the show area to watch the pink dolphins perform.

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Once the dolphins had finished we went in to the aquarium to see various marine creatures

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After the aquarium we walked along Siloso Point beach

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From the beach we walked around some more of the island, which is essentially one huge resort. We decided we’d seen enough so headed back for the cable car. Just as we got in to our cabin a mass storm rolled in so we stayed on the cable car for a full lap watching the intense lightning illuminate the skyline.

On return to the mainland, we figured seen as it was now banging it down with rain we should head for a bar. Not just any bar, Long Bar at the Raffles hotel. This is where the Singapore sling was invented, and they charge you £15 a drink for that accolade!

(I think i’d just got the bill in this picture!)

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We enjoyed a few different varieties of the Singapore sling whilst throwing our monkey nut shells on the floor! This is apparently tradition, and it makes a hell of a mess! The staff only clean up at the end of the night so there are an awful lot of nut shells by then!

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After a bit of a lay in the next day, we extended our stay at Vintage Inn for yet another night before moving on. As this was our final full day, we decided to box off the only touristy thing we’d not done yet which was the Singapore flyer. This is Singapore’s answer to the London eye and is the highest one in the world at 541 feet!

For a change from the MRT we walked in to the city. On our way we stopped at a hawkers market for an Indian lunch then walked through more shopping malls until we finally arrived at the esplanade and the flyer.

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After our ‘flight’ we walked across the bridge for a different view of the marina bay sands. This time we were going to the top!

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We had packed the appropriate dress code attire for the posh rooftop bar, changing in the hotels toilets before flying up 57 floors in the lift to the Ku De Ta bar. The view was fantastic and we were there just in time to watch the stunning bright red sun set over the city. I set my camera up to capture the whole thing while we enjoyed beers & cocktails at the bar.

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Another test for the new zoom was the sun set…

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We descended back down to the ground floor and walked behind the hotel to the gardens by the bay to observe another light show.

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Our last night in the pod and the alarms were set for an early get up to catch the bus up in to Malaysia and up to Kuala Lumpur.

R&J

15 days in-donesia

After saying goodbye to our fantastic hosts Jack & Megan, we jumped on a couple of trains to Sydney airport. We checked in our bags and went in search of a full English breakfast / hangover cure!

Six and a half hours of air time later we arrived as scheduled to Denpasar’s brand new airport. Yet again stepping off the cool air conditioned plane and walking into a wall of intense heat and humidity!

Once we’d bought our visas then queued for over an hour through security, we made our way through the sea of scam taxi drivers begging us to go with them. We eventually found an ‘official’ one willing to use the meter and jumped in. For the half an hour journey it cost 35000 Indonesian Rupiah, which in real money is about £2.10! This currency was going to take some getting used to!

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We pulled up to our first hotel; The bounty. As our taxi was checked underneath with mirrors on sticks, the reality of the westerner targeted Bali bombings in recent(ish) years hit home.

We checked in while the music was blasting out in this large lively resort. All the clientele looked our age group (& younger!) and ready for a rave up. We walked to our top floor room passing the two large swim up bar equipped pools on the way. The staff advised us of the big ‘party party’ tonight as they carried our bags through the resort .

It had just started to rain so we threw all our stuff on the bed and sat out on the balcony watching the tropical rain fall. When we wanted to retreat inside to the aircon I realised the keys were on the bed too, behind the locked door! Nightmare. One trek back to reception for me.

It was about 4pm by now and the lack of sleep had caught up with us. We decided on a nap if we were going to be in any mood to “party party” later on…

…We woke up from said nap at 7 o’clock the next morning! Ooops.

Check out was at 12 so we got up to make the most of the breakfast buffet then had a walk in to the local area, Kuta.

As we wondered the busy streets we were constantly pestered by the local market stall workers, wanting us to buy their snide stuff. Each shop selling more or less exactly the same; ray bans, watches & beer brand vests. One little guy even put his arm around me and tried to drag me into his shop!

We escaped the shop lined streets and walked back along the pretty average beach.

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Back to the hotel to book a taxi out of Kuta to our next stop Sanur.

We pulled up to what looked worryingly like a building site, but after walking through the front building we were relieved to find a very well presented hotel; Sri Phala. The friendly staff welcomed us with a drink and as we were a bit too early to check in they showed us around the well kept gardens to the restaurant & pool area.

We relaxed by the pool soaking up the sun and enjoying a chilled ‘Bintang’ beer – Balis’s local.

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We then had a walk along the much nicer Sanur beach and enjoyed a few cocktails in the sun before spending the rest of the day by the pool back at our hotel.

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The next morning was Jens 25th birthday…I tried to sing happy birthday to her at 6am but was immediately told to shut up as she wanted more sleep!

Once sleeping beauty had emerged we had breakfast and then had a few hours by the pool.

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We checked out and booked a taxi north to our next resort and Jens birthday treat - Nandini jungle resort & spa.

The taxi journey took a while through some pretty stunning scenery and steep winding roads, out in to the middle of the island.

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We arrived at reception to another welcome cocktail and were shown to our hillside bungalow. We were in number 2, right at the top of the hill providing amazing views across the jungle valley.

We chilled on the balcony before venturing out to find the pool. The amazing swimming pool was located near the bottom of the resort down a hell of a lot of steps or via the more easy going gondola!

The gondola picked you up outside your room and calmly lowered you down the steep hillside to the pool or spa area! And more importantly, takes you back up!

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After a while at the pool we hopped back on the gondola to head down further to the spa. I jumped in the hot pool while Jen scanned the spa menu. She eventually picked a treatment and roped me in too for a couples massage!

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The next thing I knew we were having our feet washed in a bowl of flowers, changing in to some skimpy netted pants & a robe, and making our way to the massage room. This was all new to me!

With my face down into a hole, the masseuse asked if I wanted “strong” massage, “of course” I replied, I mean how strong can this little Indonesian woman be?       Turns out very!

After over an hour of full body massage and exfoliation we were left to relax in a bath, again full of flowers and given a steaming cup of ginger tea. I felt very manly at this point!

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Back up to the room before dinner. The only option is to eat on site being in the middle of nowhere but we had a lovely meal at the restaurant to finish a great day for Jens birthday.

The next morning we were awoken by classic jungle animal noises and the sunlight shimmering through the blinds. I set the camera up to record this awesome time-lapse of the sunrise from our balcony…

We walked up to the restaurant for breakfast. Fresh fruit, omelette and funny potato things with fruit juice and a cup of Yorkshire tea!

After we spent the day relaxing by the pool. For a while we were the only ones there, until we were joined by a few wild monkeys, and 3 Canadian girls who had come up from the nearest town Ubud for the day to pay to just use the pool (it was that good!). We spent the day chatting to them with a few beers then had a walk down the steep steps to see the river in the bottom of the jungle valley.

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The next morning we had our final breakfast at this fantastic resort before getting the free hotel taxi to Ubud. They kindly dropped us off at our next hotel, Villa Mandi. We checked in and rushed into the town centre to catch the celebrations, it was the day of cremation for a member of Ubud’s royal family. Along with thousands of others that had come to see, we followed the procession up the main high street to the temple.

Around 200 men carried the coffin. I realise that may sound like overkill, but the coffin was mid way up this…

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Followed by a band playing loud music on local instruments. The tower was so tall, all the power cables along the street had to be taken down before hand! One we’d reached the temple they then took the coffin from the tower and unloaded his body into a full size paper mache bull. They covered it with robes and offerings to take to the gods. They then set the bull alight using gas pipes to fuel the fire! It all looked like an accident waiting to happen.

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After it had been burning intensely for around half an hour the body had still not completely set on fire, we know this because something gave way in the structure, causing the corpses feet to pop out of the bottom! What a sight…..

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After that excitement we walked back into town to have some lunch. A restaurant called Nomads provided some decent tapas with another Bintang. Jen also decided to try out a cocktail, Arak attack. Arak is a local traditionally brewed liquor made from rice and coconut palm flowers. We later learned it can contain up to 50% alcohol AND if it is not brewed correctly it can contain methanol, making the drink potentially fatal. Great! The good news was it tasted too strong for Jen who didn’t finish it and it still knocked her for 6! Needless to say we stuck to the Bintang after this.

From central Ubud we walked along to the monkey forest where funnily enough we found hundreds of monkeys, chilling out, eating, playing and fighting with each other.

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This one didn’t like my camera that close to the little one…

We survived the monkey forest and enjoyed another cold beer as we waited for the sun to set before we watched a Kecak fire dance performance at a local temple. This is an impressive traditional Balinese style of dancing where the girls dance around the fire and the guys sit around in a circle chanting. It was an interesting watch like nothing we’d ever seen! It ended with a guy dressed as a horse kicking the fire embers towards the crowd with his bare feet. Something nobody was expecting! But luckily apart from a few broken plastic chairs, nobody got hurt!

The next day we had breakfast in our room then headed to the pool where we met a south african couple; Dillon and Leah. They had met a local guy earlier on today who offered to take them on a private trek around the most impressive rice paddy fields in Bali tomorrow. We intended seeing the terraces at some point so it was a no brainer when they invited us along!

Burnt and wrinkly me & Jen left the pool and headed into Ubud for the evening, arranging to meet Dillon & Leah in the morning.

We tried out a restaurant called Melting wok where we had one of the best meals so far, followed by a crepe from a small corner shop. We then, of course, finished the night with a couple of beers!

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On our return to Villa Mandi we rented a scooter ready for the morning, and set our alarms for an early start to try and beat the bulk of the crazy no rules traffic!

Up & at em we set off to the paddy fields. After half an hour on the scooters, we safely arrived to the viewpoint we would be setting off from. Already very impressed, we didn’t think it could get much better…

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…however after a few hours trekking/climbing through the more remote fields it did! We were amazed at some of the sights. Along the way we met locals who lived in the small villages we passed through, and some who worked on the paddies, one of them climbed a tree and got us a lovely bunch of coconuts (couldn’t resist) for us to try.

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After a few hours we returned to the start point to cool down with a beer overlooking the rice fields before hopping back on the scooters to go home for a quick refresh to then head back out to another local restaurant.

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Back home for the rest of the evening in the pool.

Scooter ride home…

While chatting in the pool the four of us arranged to go over to the Gili Islands together for the next two nights. We (eventually) decided on a place to stay and booked a couple of rooms on Gili Air. Me & Dillon then went back in to town to book the boat to get us there.

Once that was sorted me & Jen boarded our trusty scooter and went in to town for a meal.

The morning of our travel to Gili we were picked up at 7am in a minibus and taken to the Padang Bai harbour. Once the rest of the passengers for our particular boat service arrived and we’d tagged our luggage (to make sure they threw it off at the right island!), we made our way through the stalls to board the vessel. One woman was trying to sell us Bintang all the way down the harbour walk way, and even persisted when we were onboard through the boats window! I eventually gave in and bought two. Fair play to her.

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After an hour and a half bumpy boat ride, alongside 2 schools of dolphins we arrived at our destination, Gili air. This is the closest to Lombok of the three gili Islands. From the boat we got one of the three available methods of transport on the island, a horse & cart (known locally as a Ferrari!) the other options were bicycle or walk. We crossed the island straight through the middle arriving at our pad for the next three nights Salili Bungalows.

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We tested out the ginormous swimming pool (also known as The Lombok Strait!) then chilled on our raised beach platform with a beer.

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We had a walk up the island discovering huge spiders, snakes… and a cow.

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Later on we hired bicycles to go back to the more built up side of the island to check out the shop and bars.

Upon our return we arranged to pay a local lad, Maddy, to use his boat for the day with him as our tour guide to explore all three islands coast lines and hopefully find the native turtles!

9:30am our new friend Maddy picked us up on his boat right outside our bungalow, he kitted us out with the gear and we made our way to the first snorkel spot, Turtle point.

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It lived up to its name! We had an incredible experience swimming with the turtles!

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After a while the turtles got fed up of us fussing around them and swam off! We jumped back on the boat and went to another few snorkel spots to see lots of fish & coral!

We had a scary incident where a sea snake came a bit too close for comfort! Even Maddy swam away from it at speed! We’d been warned about these in Australia, and even though the chances of it biting you are very slim, if it does you’re a goner! So we jumped back on the boat shortly after.

After sailing around all three of the islands we pulled up to Gili meno (the middle island of the three)  and had a Bintang on the beach, taking a few with us for the road.

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Back to our spot on Gili Air for our last night and Bintangs with Dillon & Leah in our beach hut. After Jen had scrubbed the coral from Dillons cut on his back we went to our trusty beach hut and picked out tonights fish…

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The morning after we waved goodbye to our new friends from the back of our ‘ferrari’ to the ferry landing point.

We waited at the harbour with one of the staff from our bungalow and our new friend, Ludira – looking out at this…

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we asked ourselves why we were leaving!?

The fast boat eventually arrived and skimmed us back to Bali in around an hour and a half. On arrival there was a sense of urgency to get all customers out of the harbour in to taxis as soon as possible as the roads would soon close for the Nyepi day eve celebrations! Nyepi day is the Balinese new year and from 6am until 6 am the next day nobody is allowed out! Everyone has to stay inside and even the international airport closes for the day!

Today however was Nyepi eve, the night before the island shuts down everyone comes out to celebrate in a traditional way of parading through the streets with Ogoh Ogohs before burning them in huge ceremony. This occurs all over the island in every little village and township.

Luckily we had enough time to get to our new home for the week on the east coast of the island; Rama Candidasa.

It was the welcome we’d become accustomed to here, with flowers draped around our neck’s & a welcome drink before being shown to out huge room and told about the resort & free activities.

We dropped our bags and ventured in to town to get amongst the locals and experience the pre Nyepi day celebrations…

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After a few hours of watching the celebrations we headed back to our pad and enjoyed the first of many nice meals in the resorts restaurant.

Nyepi day arrived and sure enough it was a lot quieter on the island. We had to stay inside the resort but luckily that meant we could spend all day around the pool racking up a Bintang & Cocktail based bar bill!

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We quite enjoyed doing nothing all day for Nyepi day so decided to do the same again the day after having another day messing about in the pool before going into candidasa town for a meal at Vincent’s restaurant.

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After a few days chilling we were ready to explore a bit more. Jen had been in touch with one of her old school teachers; Miss Walker, who now lived in Shanghai, somewhere we would be visiting towards the end of our travels, but as it happened was in Bali on holiday with her family this week too. We arranged a car & driver for the day to travel up to the north of the island to meet at Lake Batur.

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After dinner and a catch up we had a walk around the local area before going our separate ways. Arranging to meet up if possible when we get to Shanghai.

Me & Jen went on to find the largest temple in Bali, The Mother Temple of Besakih.

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Once we were all templed out we jumped back in our drivers car and set off back home.

We spent the last day in Bali chilling out in this luxurious resort before going back to the hustle and bustle of city life. Next stop Singapore…

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R&J

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Sydney city slickers

After over 17 hours on a coach we arrived in our final aussie destination, Sydney! All 2700 kilometres of our amazing journey down the east coast from Cairns were complete.

Here’s a picture to put the distance we have covered into perspective…

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We gathered our bags and waved goodbye to our last greyhound bus!

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I called our host for the next six days, Jack who was busy being a proper bloke and pouring concrete at his current work site in the city centre. We met up on his break and arranged to go straight back to his pad when he’d finished grafting. Me & Jen had a coffee & tea break (I still haven’t got Jen on the coffee!) and had a walk around part of the city and a chill out in central park.

We met Jack at the train station and set off to his & Megan’s pad located in what Jack describes as a Camden’esc suburb of Sydney; Newtown. The catchphrase “that’s so Newtown” was used a lot over the next few days to excuse any out of the ordinary people, fashion and general goings on.

We had booked tickets to a show at the opera house that night, so we chilled out before heading back to see the big city’s bright lights, getting up close and personal with arguably the city’s most famous land mark.

Darragh & Jen were in Sydney by now too so we got in touch with them and arranged to meet them at the show!

The show was “La Soiree” which is tough to describe but had a mix of singing, acting, circus performance, cabaret and burlesque. All six of us thoroughly enjoyed it!

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After the show we bought some bottles of wine to take to a ‘bring your own’ restaurant in Darling Harbour. We caught the ferry over from the opera house which provided great views of the city at night.

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The next day we had a chilled morning, we walked over the road to a nice little cafe for breakfast, moving on to the supermarket after, to load up with BBQ rations for the afternoon.

We ventured in to the city for the rest of the day. Jack introduced us to an amazing shop / barbers called Culture Kings, there was a hip hop DJ playing whilst we scanned through the hundreds of hats on offer, I ended up walking out with two new ones. After shopping we went for a coffee before buying some beers on the way home.

We got back and Jack fired up the barbie and cooked us Megan’s finest home made beef burgers (no shrimps in sight!).

Ending the night with Micky Flanagans stand up DVD, we got to bed and set our alarms for an early get up to head off inland to the famous blue mountains.

Early morning we caught the same train as jack was doing for work in to the city, from our local station St Peters. Me and Jen then caught another train out to Katoomba – the home of the Blue Mountains.

The Blue Mountains get their name from the blue haze that hovers over them, this is caused by a fine mist of oil exuded by the eucalyptus gum tree’s that cover the area. We had dropped on a beautiful day weather wise and had great visibility across the gorges and valleys. We spent the whole day exploring the area, completing several sizeable hikes to some amazing view points, as well as having a couple of rides on the worlds steepest train.

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Once we were completely exhausted from the long walks in the roasting heat, we retreated back home on the train.

We arrived back to Megan’s amazing home made burritos. Afterwards me & Jack went for a few beers at the local whilst the girls stayed in & watched a film.

The next day we ventured out to Manly beach on the ferry, we relaxed on the beach then went back to Darling Harbour and enjoyed pizza & happy hour at strike bar on king street wharf.

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That night we met up with the Sydney based Barnsley boys – Vad, Skelly & Dave for a few beers in Newtown’s bars. The favourite being “Betta Meats”, which on the exterior appears to be a very average looking butchers, but upon entering you are faced with a cool, long, well stocked bar!

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After a few beers we said our goodbyes and arranged to go out in the city later on in the week.

The next morning our alarm (Jack) went off at 6am to make sure the four of us were awake and ready to make our way in to the centre. We were being picked up at 7:20 for our full day wine tasting tour out in the hunter valley!

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This involved visiting 5 very different but equally good vineyards, tasting between 6 and 8 wines at each!

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One of the highlights of the day was caught on camera when Jen missing her mouth at the lunch time beer tasting session…

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To complete a brilliant boozy day out we had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant back in Newtown then a few more beers on the way home.

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The next day for our final day in Sydney, me and Jack had the chore of present shopping for the girls, seen as both our significant others had birthdays just around the corner. With my travel budget it was fairly easy, I managed a pair of shorts and some havaianas for Jen, which turned out to be the the worst colour I’ve ever seen, bright pink. I swear they were red in that shop. Jack on the other hand went through hell to pick out something nice! but eventually succeeded. I think.

Afterwards we met back up with the girls and got ready to go out for the night. Jack & Megan had been invited to a meal at some of their local friends house and had been encouraged to bring us along. So that was first on our nights agenda. Blue & Gav (the hosts) lived in an incredible spot over looking the harbour in an amazing house. Gav cooked close to a whole cow on the BBQ, while we were knocking back the beers. We had a fantastic meal with equally good company. After our thank you’s and goodbyes we were headed for another out of the ordinary Sydney bar – the barber shop. We met the Barnsley boys here for a few beers then all moved on to a well hidden whisky bar! Down a shady back street stairwell lies this marvellous collection of whiskeys, ranging from extremely expensive to just very expensive!

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From the whisky bar it was on to the finale for the night and Sydney’s super club – Pacha – The ivy.

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We waved goodbye to the Barnsley boys and headed home to bed. After about 3 hours the alarms went for us to get up and pack before setting off to the airport!

Thanks once again to Jack & Megan for being brilliant hosts!

Next stop … Bali…

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 R&J