Archive for September, 2009

New Zealand - North Island

September 24th, 2009
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We arrived in to Wellington off the ferry and immediately headed to the hotel that Ravi and Steve had stayed in on their way down to the South Island. Our (well Steve´s) first cock up of Wellington happened when he managed to put the wrong date on the parking ticket which resulted in him having to walk the 10 minute walk to the car five times. Once he’d managed to get the correct date we went in to town and spent an hour or so playing pool before hitting the sack.

Wellington didn’t exactly have much going for it so we drove up Mount Victoria, overlooking the harbour, for a few shots in the morning before driving up towards Wanganui for a little pit stop. It was on the way to Wanganui, some 70 minutes in to the drive, that we spotted Steve’s second cock up. Underneath the windscreen wiper was a little ticket. Wondering quite how we’d got a parking ticket, given the previous nights fiasco, we stopped and checked it out. Apparently, for parking facing the wrong way Steve was charged $40. Crazy.

Wanganui was a little dead to say the least. We’d never intended on staying there but thought it might be a nice stop off. There had been mention that there were nice walks/scenery around the area so decided to ask in the DOC (Department of Conservation) office what was available. Unbelievably the woman on the desk had absolutely no idea what there was to do in the area. She suggested the iSite would be better: it was. Our aim for the day had always been to get up to National Park near Tongariro. Unfortunately they couldn’t suggest any walks on the way up so we basically just took off in the car taking it easy so that we could take in the scenery which was, as usual, pretty stunning.

The journey up to National Park would take a little under two hours to drive. About 45 minutes in to the drive we spotted a lookout point and, seeing as they’re usually pretty impressive, decided to stop to take a look. It turned out to be a fairly large waterfall, Raukawa Falls in fact, and there was a small wooden lookout just off the road. Seeing as it was late afternoon the sun was low which meant that our photos were a bit rubbish. Obviously needing a great picture we went down through the bush (about 100 yards) to the river. To say it was a slippery slope is an understatement: I fell over several times covering my jeans and camera in mud. Once we’d taken our mediocre picturesRuakawa Falls we returned to the car to be greeted by a couple telling us that we had a flat tyre. Realising that the noise we’d heard, going around a corner earlier, was in fact the tyre going we “popped the trunk” and got the spare out. Neither of us had changed a tyre before but a few minutes later we had the “space saver” spare on. Unfortunately, this meant a maximum speed of 80kmh. We crawled in to National Park and had a bit of a chat with the hostel owner.

The flat tyre was not so much of a puncture, more of a health hazard. While the outside of the tyre had passable tread the inside of the tyre was completely bald, so bald, in fact, that Steve cut his finger on the metal. Spotting a possible insurance/rental rip-off problem we decided to cover our backs as we didn’t want to pay for the obviously terrible tyre. We popped to the police station and asked the onduty guy to have a look at the tyre and he said he’d back us up if the rental company refused to pay for it. Excellent, we thought, grabbed some food and hit the sack.

The following morning we’d signed up to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealands best one day walk. Tongariro national park is all about volcanoes. Mont Ruapehu being the largest with Mount Tongariro, now inactive but responsible for an absolutely monumental explosion several hundred thousand years ago, and Mount Ngauruhoe, the volcano best known for being Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings. We’d been told by several people that the Alpine Crossing was not safe during the winter and that we should use a guide. So £50 later we were in a group of 10(ish) kitted out with crampons and ice axes and heading up the volcano. Either unfortunately or fortunately we had an absolutely stunning day and while this meant amazing views it also meant that me and Steve felt we could have just done it on our own. Anyway, it was a very good day, with the group’s pace not being too bad (a little slow at times.) We did at one point shoot off just to get the adrenalin going. We also had a bit of fun on the way down, sliding down about 150 yards of the volcano on our arses! I’ve got a video somewhere…Me on Tongariro in front of Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom)That night we somehow managed to get ourselves in to a pub quiz with the hostel owner. Neither me nor Steve really wanted to be in his team but it turned out to be an ok night. It was also quite fortunate because, had me and Steve done the quiz on our own, it would have been quite embarrassing. Our knowledge of New Zealand contemporary culture just isn’t quite there.

The following morning we (well the car) limped round to the garage so that we could blow up the now flat spare tyre. Realising we only had limited time on the spare we went as quickly as possible down the road hoping to spot the garage that the hostel owner had told us about. Thankfully we came across it and managed to get a new tyre pretty quickly. The mechanic even spoke to the rental company for us and sorted it all out!

Having been told by the hostel owner that the 42 Traverse bike ride wasn’t actually all that good we left National Park to go to Rotorua and try the mountain biking there instead. Rotorua is best known for its location on top of a seriously volcanic area. It’s so volcanic that people have geysers in their back gardens and hot bubbling pools pop up all over the place. It also stinks of Sulphur so quite why you’d want to permanently live there is beyond me. While we’d come to see that we’d also been told that the mountain biking just outside Rotorua was top notch as well.

We crashed for the night in Cactus Jacks, a wild west themed hostel (!!) but not before I’d visited Hell Pizza for dinner: love that place. Not very early the next morning we drove off to Whakarewarewa Forest in search of a mountain bike rental place and alledgedly the best mountain biking in New Zealand. Arriving at the car park we noticed a load of tree huggers but not much in the way of mountain bikes. Hedging our bets we started walking off towards the forest visitor centre but soon realised that it didn’t feel right. A couple rode past who told us that the guy is usually waiting in the car park but to try his warehouse round the corner. We did, and we found him (Planet Bike) and not long after were on some pretty decent bikes (disk brakes, 27 gears plus decent front suspension) and heading off in to the forest. This place is brilliant. I’ve done a fair bit of mountain biking but nothing anywhere near this organised. The forest is reserved for bikers only and has numerous semi-artificial tracks, both downhill and uphill, to enjoy. It’s amazing; if I grew up there I’d probably be on it every day.

Having spent three hours throwing ourselves around the forest we spent the rest of the afternoon on a little drive out to see the “green” and “blue” lakes just outside of Rotorua. To be honest not really worth it but for completeness! We spent another night in Rotorua before heading off fairly early up towards the Coromandel peninsula.

At this point we were pretty much running out of tourist attractions to visit what with it being winter and therefore not really beach weather. Regardless of that I wanted to see some of the northern area of the North Island so we first drove up to Whangamata, a fairly big but essentially lifeless town, before driving on to Thames for the night. Thames was actually smaller than Whangamata and our hostel was up for sale. I couldn’t really blame them, I’m not sure how they’d even cover their costs. It was, however, lively enough to give us a good Indian before we went back to the hostel and watched a couple of videos.

The next day we drove up to Whangarei and the Bay of Islands, and, more specifically, Paihia. While I’m sure this place is amazing in the summer it’s an absolute waste of time when it’s blowing a force 10 gale and raining cats and dogs. So we didn’t exactly stay long, just one night, before heading down to Auckland to finish our road trip.Goat Island Marine Park

Auckland, despite the amount of abuse it receives, is actually a fairly nice city. Nothing amazing, by all means, but it´s got some nice areas, is pretty clean and has pretty much everything you´d need. That, I´m afraid, is about as much as I can sell it.

As we had to return the beast (the rather sarcastically named hire car) on the Monday at some point we decided to make the most of that morning and head to the golf course before returning it, plus we had to move the car before 8am so decided to just head off then. Chamberlain Park Golf Course is just off highway 16 as you go west out of Auckland. We knew this very well but neglected to take a map or directions with us so just headed west out of the city. Unfortunately we managed to get on highway 1 heading over the estuary in completely the wrong direction. I took the first possible exit in order to get back on the highway in the opposite direction. However, what with it being rush hour, there was a considerable queue and we decided to “wing it” by trying to go around the opposite, albeit longer, way. This proved to be very fruitful, we did in fact get straight to the golf club, it just took 80 minutes longer than the 15 minute journey should have been.

Anyway we turned up at the golf club and got some hire clubs ($20 for a half set) and paid the green fee ($30, about
£12.50) and headed out to the first tee. At this point I was a little anxious as I hadn´t swung a club in a while and I hate playing golf when I´ve got no confidence in my shot. Things were made worse when a guy rocked up and we ended up playing a four ball with two locals. Anyway, in the end, my driving (just a 3 wood, left the obscene driver well alone) was pretty bloody good and my irons weren´t too bad. Putting, and short stuff, was, as always, useless. On a more positive note you´ve got to hand it to Auckland. Given the price the standard of the course was excellent. Very well maintained, fairly decent greens but, due to the clientele, a bit of a mess in places with irreplaced divots and unrepaired pitch marks. Oh, and the weather was amazing.

Having played an almost agreeable round of golf we headed back (the quick way) to the city centre in order to hand in the car. They managed to notice that a couple of hub caps were missing, and were going to charge us for them, until we mentioned that we needed reimbursing for the tyre, and then the manager said “No worries boys, forget what you owe us and le me pay you”. Ok, will do.

Auckland Sky Tower

Without a car we were then pretty much confined to Auckland so the next couple of days were pretty chilled out, just checking out the city and, for me, trying to get a replacement Yellow Fever certificate for South America.

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

New Zealand - South Island

September 20th, 2009
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Having said my goodbyes to Em I boarded a flight to Christchurch in order to get to my final destination Queenstown. As per usual I had taken the cheaper route although whether it’s worth it I don’t know. I stayed the night in Christchurch airport (which was not nice) and then had my connection to Queenstown delayed by an hour in the morning. Apparently, a computer fault in Auckland was to blame for my Christchurch to Queenstown flight being delayed, who’d have thought!

Queenstown is the activity centre of New Zealand. It provides great access to Fjordland, Mountains, Skiing (in the winter), the Lakes District as well as crazier things like Bungy jumping, jet boating and generally throwing yourself off stuff. The arrival, by plane, in to Queenstown is definitely one to remember. There’s no easy glide in to the airport, oh no. Instead the pilot basically has to swoop in to the runway, flying down in a valley. It’s a pretty amazing view as you come in on a fairly big commercial jet. I met back up with Steve and Rav at the airport and we promptly hopped in to our amazing set of wheels: a Mazda Familia 1.5 Automatic. This is quite possibly the worst car I’ve ever been in. I may even do a seperate post on it’s finer points.

We spent the first day in Queenstown catching up on their time spent in New Zealand as well as a bit of planning for the time ahead. We also drank cocktails out of teapots in world bar but that, quite frankly, is a bit too surreal to remember clearly. The second day, however, we spent on the slopes. Cunningly (or accidentally depending on how you look at) we’d timed our visit perfectly with “The Winter Games 2009″, the precursor to the Winter Olympics. While Ravi and I had skied before, Steve had snowboarded only a few times, so we decided that we would all board for the day. Ravi and I booked ourselves in to a lesson in the morning and collected our hire stuff. Unfortunately, as I suspected, the lesson was with around 7 others and really far too slow paced. As a result I left the lesson a little early to go throw myself down the slopes in the hunt of boarding nirvana: I did not get it. As my sister had pointed out it’s just not as much fun as skiing, and hurts a whole lot more. We did, though, get to see some of the games while we were boarding. One particularly impressive site was Shaun White throwing himself down the half pipe pulling off consecutive 1080s of some variety.

The next couple of days, what with the terrible weather, were spent visiting Arrow Town and not a lot else really. Arrow Town is a town created during the recent gold rush. It’s described, by everywhere, as being “Quaint”. This is certainly true, but a more apt description would be dull. There’s a chinese settlement there as well which barely heightens the experience. Anyway, on the third day we were actually going to go down to the Milford Track/Sound but due to the recent snowfall the road had been closed. We’d pretty much given up with the thought of the slopes but this new snowfall coupled with promising weather conditions tempted me and Steve back to the slopes. Ravi, by then, had left us on his one man mission to South America.

Our second day on the slopes was much better. With the new snowfall (30cms) Pout it baby!and the promise of better weather we took to the slopes. This time I went with skis as I actually wanted to see something of the mountain and take in the scenery. Fortunately the weather man got it wrong; the weather wasn’t improving, it was perfect. Beautiful clear skies with great fresh powder mean’t that the skiing was great. Unfortunately, that also mean’t that, being a Saturday, the entirety of the south island was also on the slopes. Queue long queues!

The following day, what with the Milford road still shut, we decided to head to the Routeburn Track, alledgedly number 9 on the worlds greatest walks list. Ordinarily it’s a four day walk but given the high avalance risk we were advised to only do the one day up to the Falls Hut just below the snow line. The problem with backpacking, or my backpacking at least, is that you try to pretty much cater for every eventuality. Unfortunately for me, that meant hiking in a moderately waterproof jacket with a pair of cords on. Thankfully my hiking shoes were a cut above, mind you porous trainers would have been a cut above. No sooner had we started the walk the skies opened. We made it to the first shelter in relatively good condition and met a couple of guys there. One, who was obviously set up for the hike and had been in that shelter a night already. The other, was worse than us, with no food and only a hoodie on! Routeburn PlainWe had a quick snack and then took off up to the falls hut. Half way up we met a couple coming down (the only other people this high up) and asked if it was possible to get above the trees. They, dressed in full waterproofs with walking poles and 70kilo backpacks, took a look at us, Steve in shorts, and said we could but probably not a great idea. Anyway, we kept on going, and managed to reach the falls hut in 40 minutes, a full 20 minutes before the quicker suggested time. At this height it was snowing, and snowing good. We had a quick look about before deciding that going higher was virtual suicide and made our way back down. The way back was far worse. By now, my “waterproof” jacket was completed soaked through and my cords had started secreting some substance. I was getting cold and pretty bloody miserable. We managed to get back to the car in record time at which point I attempted to get dry and changed. It took me a full 15 minutes to undo the first button on my cords (my hands were terribly cold) and not much less to undo the rest. I can now fully appreciate waterproofs, it was horrific being that wet in that cold. From there we drove straight round to Lake Wanaka for a stop off and a much needed shower.

The following morning we took off early in order to get up to Franz Josef in time for the afternoon glacier half day trek. Driving on the west coast of the South Island is an absolute treat. The views are stunning and the roads a joy to drive down. If only we’d had a quicker car. On that note, later on in the trip we were outpaced by a Toyota Prius; oh the embarassment! Anyway, the Franz Josef glacierFranz Josef Glacier is fairly unique in two departments. Firstly, it finishes very near to sea level (less than 300 metres above in fact) and coupled with the warmth and rain is surrounded by rain forest. I spent the afternoon doing a trek up to and on to the glacier, which moves at around 3 metres a day, through a guide company. It was a pretty amazing experience, especially as I’d never used crampons before. We were also fortunate in that recent developments had meant that the half day route was “very interesting” with lots of nooks and crannies!

We spent the next day basically driving. Unfortunately there are some bloody big mountains down the west side of New Zealand and nobody’s had the foresight to put a tunnel through them. That means that to get 70 miles you’ve actually got to drive about 500 miles up and down. Anyway, what with the stunning scenery it’s not actually that bad a thing. It was just made all the more worse by the fact that we only had a radio in the car and every time you search for a station (which it fails to do) it makes a beeping sound. This was tedious at best. In the end we made it to Lake Tekapo, via SpringfieldSpringfield, in good time.

Lake Tekapo is famous for its slightly surreal creamy blue colour, the result of finely ground minerals in the glacial waters. We spent the morning having  a look at the lake, and chapel, and sheep dog statue (!) before making the quick trek up Mount John overlooking the lake. Walking through snow we made it to the summit where it was a little windy (to say the least.) Thankfully they’d, to accompany the observatory, put a cafe on top so we had a hot chocolate before heading back down. Once down we decided to treat ourselves to the hot springs just near the lake and spent a good few hours hopping between three pools of 37, 39 and 41 degrees. That afternoon we drove to Mt Cook village where we basicall relaxed in the YHA Hostel, which included a Sauna, while the weather outside bashed the hostel!

Thankfully, that morning we woke to glorious sunshine which gave us the (almost) perfect opportunity to head off for a walk. Unfortunately the nights snow meant that most of the walks were closed due to avalanche risk. Anyway we took off for the walk, in what was sometimes over a foot of fresh snow, and made it further than anyone else before feeling we could gain no more and heading back. It was a wonderful view of the tallest peak in New Zealand and really rather lucky. That afternoon we drove to Christchurch for a bit of city time.

Mount CookChristchurch is the “garden city” with a very english feel. It’s the biggest city on the South Island but at just over 350,000 people isn’t exactly huge: it definitely feels that way. We did the usual tourist stuff, including visiting the crazy modern art museum (some of the stuff these people get away with) and failing to find a Bonsai enclosure in the botanical gardens. We also saw a shell house and went to a mexican cafe for dinner and drinks. The night was topped off by a visit to a cuban bar with a live band. A guy, on guitar, and a girl playing a few tunes done with a south american vibe. They were great, the $4 whiskey and cokes were not bad and we had a pretty good night, apart from a couple of guys chatting us up.

The following day we headed off to Picton, on the north coast, to get the ferry over to the North Island. Picton, is generally seen only as a transit town for access to the ferries. However, it’s got some real beauty itself. The bay is lovely, with some gorgeous rolling hills and islands within the natural harbour. We had a little bit of a drive on our second day and were lucky enough to see a couple of seals, very close to shore, playing and rolling about.It's a Seal!

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

East Coast Australia

September 20th, 2009
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With only a small amount of time we had to do some serious cutting down on the whole East Coast Australia experience. In order to get everything sorted in advance we decided to use a Peter Pans travel centre to book all of tours, accommodation and travelling for us. With that in mind we flew off to Brisbane on the 12th with, yet again, Emma taking a lovely Quantas flight (pre-booked) and me taking virgin blue (no free food on that then.) As soon as we got in to Brisbane we got ourselves straight on a bus down to Byron Bay.

Byron Bay is quite a quirky little town with a slightly alternative feel. It feels a bit like where eco-warriors would live if they had a load of money i.e. it’s got a care free attitude but with some really nice architecture and the usual upmarket deli’s and cafes. We spent two nights in Byron Bay in total, both of which were spent at the Arts Factory. As it was winter time it wasn’t really that amazing a place, especially given all the hype that surrounds it; it had been suggested by various people as well worth a visit. Anyway I can imagine that in the summer it would be buzzing, and the surf would be a whole lot more appealing.

After that we caught a bus straight up, back past Brisbane, to Rainbow Beach. Rainbow Beach is not, in itself, that much of an attraction. The only reason for going there is that it allows cheap access to Fraser Island. Anyway, out of necessity (we had to view a safety briefing) we spent two nights in Rainbow Beach and a fair bit of time on the actual beach itself. It’s a very quiet little town but quite a nice one at that. Basically consisting of about 100 yards of high street with barely a restaurant in that it did however have a little bakery that does an excellent pepper steak pie: definitely recommended.

For our visit to Fraser Island we had decided to do a self drive tour. Basically it’s a group of eleven 18-30(ish) people camping on the island for 2 nights while driving around in a toyota 4×4 people carrier type thing. Fraser Island is the worlds largest sand island. It’s about 90 miles long by 15 miles wide and contains awesome sand dunes, tall rainforest and some really beautiful lakes.

Em and I ended up in a group consisting basically of teenagers which was actually not that bad, despite my moaning at the time. The only reason this was a problem is that you had to be over 21 to be able to drive the 4×4, which meant that I did all the driving (pretty much.) Again, at the time, I may have pretended to moan slightly about this fact but in all honesty I much prefered doing the driving as it was really pretty good fun to drive on the beach and even more fun to drive on the inland tracks.

Our first day saw us visit Lake McKenzie almost straight away. Lake McKenzieThis is a freshwater lake with pretty stunning visibility and sits 100 metres above sea level inside one of the sand dunes. The drive to the lake is pretty amazing as well, taking around 30 minutes to drive inland from the beach through awesome rainforest. Having done this we then headed straight for our first nights camp site. The problem with driving along a beach is that the tide tends to ruin your road every now and then. To compensate for this we were handed a map with low tide (and high tide) times so that we were always on the beach at the right moment. Unfortunately nobody bothered to listen to the exact itinerary so we’re not sure we ever camped in the correct place. Anyway, the “proper” campsites on Fraser Island operate a silence rule after 9pm which didn’t sit too well so it’s also possible to simply camp off the back of the beach. You can be as loud as you want but there’s no facilities!

Our first night camping was pretty cool, Jodie, one of the fellow campers, took it upon herself to do the cooking, which was nice! We had steak for dinner and were then treated to the most amazing night sky. Getting over the sand dune away from the camp lights basically put you in complete darkness, except for the sky which was absolutely beautiful. You could make out (I think) the horizontal plane of the milky way. Amusingly, while we did have a few beers that night we didn’t actually make it past 9pm! The thing with camping is that you had to be all set up before sundown and then it’s quite a long time until 9pm.

We were supposed to get up very early the next day but what with our complete lack of sleep, due to the cold, we weren’t exactly hasty. We left the sand dune after everybody else but thankfully, due to my driving4x4 on Fraser Island, were able to beat everyone to India Head. In fairness, one of the trucks (there were three groups) had to return to the campsite in order to pick up someone that they seemed to forget! India Head is a pretty little headland at the northern end of the island and it’s possible, given time, to see Rays, Sharks and Whales from the top. We did see a few Whales but they were so far away it wasn’t really all that worth it. From there we walked 40 minutes up the beach to visit the Champagne Pools, a few rock pools containing fish. These were fairly nice, if not bloody freezing. We finished the night by camping near the wreck of the Maheno, a shipwrecked boat about halfway up the 70 mile long beach. Yet again Jodie cooked, which was great, and then one of the guys proceeded to get absolutely trolleyed which made for some good entertainment.

The final day involved a quick trek to Lake Wabby, where you can have fish eat away your dead skin (if you can take the cold), and then a drive back to the hostel to handover the cars. That night is then supposed to be spent partying in the hostel but me and Em had to get a night bus straight up to Airlie beach so that we could see the Whitsundays.

The Whitsundays are a group of islands off the east coast of Australia at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. They’re a national park and protected area which means that what little development there is is done well and all of the wildlife is protected. When presented with a selection of boats to sail on it’s quite hard to pick one. There’s loads of the things to choose from but in the end we ended up on Boomerang. Boomerang was an ocean racing yacht, is built entirely out of carbon fibre and is 83ft in length. It’s quite a cool looking boat, but to say it’s functional is an understatement. Whilst the “party” boats get chairs Boomerang pretty much has nothing. It does though have an awesome crew, who do amazing food and keep you really well entertained. We had a full compliment of 3 crew and a group of 28 so space was at a premium but it was a good group and lots of fun.

The first afternoon was basically spent getting over to the first anchorage spot for the night. Luckily we had a fair bit of wind so the sails were hoisted and we headed, at 45 degree tilt, over. Unfortunately the rest of the trip was not so kind and, while we did do a little more sailing, we basically spent the rest of the trip on power. This was a great shame as Boomerang is really designed to be sailed at full pelt and it’s a wonderful sensation when it’s tilted on it’s side and you’ve got the wind in your, now a little too long, hair.

The next day was spent basically getting down to Whitehaven beachWhitehaven Beach, once the worlds best beach (and maybe still is, who decides this?) Whitehaven beach is not only very beautiful and remote its also ridiculously pure silica. Just under 100% pure silica gives it the most amazing feeling in between your toes. The rest of that day was spent snorkelling, which was very cool, literally and otherwise. We spent the evening getting yet more drunk and listening to ridiculous antics of a guy called Tree, interspersed with the spotting of a whale and some sharks just metres from our boat. The following morning we snorkelled some more before heading back to Airlie. That mornings snorkelling was pretty cool, in particular, as I ended up swimming with a giant turtle.

Due to the short nature of our trip we had to leave Airlie that afternoon (not before a spot of sunbathing near the lagoon) on a flight to Brisbane. We’d booked a night in Base Brisbane which was obscenely, in fact too easy, to find. It’s literally opposite Central station, something that me and Emma failed to spot as we walked off in the opposite direction. That night was pretty late and we essentially wanted to grab some food and crash. Unfortunately, my lack of foresight, in wearing flip flops, and the lack of restaurants, resulted in us getting a McDonalds (yikes) and then turning in.

Early the next morning we went to the airport to get flights back down to Sydney. True to form I got on a pretty crap plane ahead of Emma before meeting up in the airport. We jumped in the Airport Shuttle and headed off towards Libby and Jasons near the Surry Hills part of Sydney. A little word of advice: while the airport shuttle is indeed cheap it is certainly not quick. If you’re at one of the major hotels then you’ll get dropped off quickly. Otherwise you’ll be the last person to be dropped off and what should have taken 30 minutes took almost 4 times as long!

Once we’d dropped our stuff at their house and said our hello’s we all went to Paddington where we caught the tail end of a fashion week. Both Paddington and Surry Hills are some of the trendier suburbs within Sydney and both have a really great feel. We had a lovely walk through Paddington before heading down to the Opera House for drinks overlooking the harbour. This is a really beautiful location and one made all the more important for it’s the location of Libby and Jason’s wedding in January. I’m sure it’ll be amazing.

Our final day in Australia was spent around the Rocks and Circular Quay, taking in the Botanical gardens in the afternoon as well. It’s a very touristy part of town but to be honest you really can’t fault it.

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:


September 15th, 2009
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I took a slightly long-winded route to Sydney. Being on a budget does absolutely nothing for global warming. Instead of taking the fairly obvious flight straight to Sydney I first took a flight to Perth (the wrong side of Australia) before taking another domestic flight over to Sydney. This saved me considerable amounts of money but sadly not time; I had to wait in Perth airport overnight. So what should have taken 7 hours took me 18 hours, lovely.

Emma caught up with me in the airport and we headed straight to the hostel that we’d booked. Turns out that while it’s perfectly easy to get a really nice room in Asia it’s not so easy cheap to get a nice room in Australia. This place was a bit of a culture shock: a hostel for starters but sharing bathrooms as well, crazy?! Located in Wooloomooloo (that’s a real place) it was actually in a pretty good location, not too far from the main tourist attractions and within striking distance of King’s Cross, alledgedly the centre of the nightlife. That night we headed off to catch up with Ravi, who we’d not seen since Hong Kong, and went for an Italian fairly nearby. It was at this very early stage that we first realised that you really have to do early dinner in Australia. They just don’t seem to eat past 8.30pm.

The following morning we set off like good tourists and decided to check out as much of the city as possible. The obvious attractions are the harbour bridge and the opera house. More importantly though we headed over to Pitt St so Emma could get a photo on “her” street. After that we headed off down to Circular Quay and The Rocks to take in the views of the harbour. We decided to check out the harbour bridgeHarbour Bridge and Opera House walk (essentially walking over the very top of the bridge) but at AU$200 declined to take it up. In fairness I don’t think you can really see much more from the top and it’s also possible to climb up one of the towers instead for around AU$10! Anyway, we went over the bridge, decided not to do the tower as well, and then went for some fish and chips. Even though the British are renowned for their fish and chips it seems that the Aussies like them just as much!

That evening we met up with Steve and his new “acquaintance” Carolyn before joining in with a pub crawl arranged by our hostel. In terms of value for money the pub crawl could not be faulted. We headed to four different bars, scubar, the world bar and a couple of others; I forget! We got in to everyone for free and had a lot of free drinks for only AU$10. The night was slightly marred by the fact that Ravi decided to recklessly throw himself off a 6 inch pavement and twist his ankle. He took himself home while the rest of us (Me and Emma in particular) tore up the dancefloor instead.

The following morning Ravi, Emma and I packed our bags and went to Bondi. Famous for it’s beach Bondi is also the location of choice for many of Sydney’s young. It’s not hard to see why. A very cool beach, a laid back village atmosphere plus good restaurants and shopping make it easy to enjoy. In the end we spent quite a few days down here with our trip coinciding with the Sydney “City to Surf” run which sees several thousand run from the city down to the beach.Bondi BeachUnfortunately Emma was not feeling her best while we were in Bondi but, with Ravi’s ankle recovering, we managed to do most of the walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach. This walk had been recommended by quite a few people but in all honesty was not that amazing, especially given the stuff we’d been up to. One thing that we definitely regret about our time in Sydney was going to see GI Joe; we knew from the start that it was going to be bad and it certainly was.

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Singapore Take Two

September 15th, 2009
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Having already been to Singapore I was well and truly up on it and quickly realised that it’s actually a lot smaller than my first impressions had made it seem. It’s also actually a really nice city but probably one that’s only really worth a visit if you know someone who can take you to the places that the guidebooks don’t know about.

With Emma forced to stay behind in Bali for another night I checked in to the hostel dorm room at the Hangout. This place is a pretty reasonably priced, lovely hostel with almost the perfect location for town. I got chatting to a German guy in the dorm room who had an unhealthy obsession with airplanes. Carrying a 747 manual (or something similar) and donning a T-shirt with an airbus, or something, on it we took off to find some dinner and beer. By now I knew Singapore like the back of my hand so took off down to Chinatown for some food and beers. The night was ok, if not slightly dull!

Once Emma arrived we made like good tourists and set about seeing the entire city in a single afternoon. We did not achieve it but we did see a hell of a lot of the town and bumped in to one of Emma’s friends from back home who had moved to the city. We almost timed our visit to Singapore to perfection accidentally coming across the preparations and rehearsals for that years National Day celebrations. For a rehearsal they must have spent an absolute fortune on what was probably the best firework show I’ve ever seen. That night we went for a curry in LIttle India. In fact we ended up going to the same place that Ravi, Steve and I had been to on my previous visit. A word of warning to any girls wanting to go to Little India: cover up. Emma was wearing an outfit which would be perfectly fine in the UK but not here it seems. In a place which seemed to be overrun by men she was looked up and down by every single guy in the area. Pretty horrific really and not something you’d want to be subjected to on your own.

The following day we took off to go meet Emma’s friend, Becky, and her family. They’d just moved out to Singapore and were quite literally moving in to their new home. They took us out for some lunch at this lovely little farmers market before I headed off to Australia and Emma stayed around for another day.

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Back to Bali

September 15th, 2009
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Having experienced the sheer joy of the slow boat to Gili Trawangan Emma and I decided to join Lou and Viks on the fast boat back to Bali. Not only is it quicker it’s actually a fair bit of fun as well. They certainly don’t mess around. We managed to get some serious air, off big waves, several times. Loved it.

We decided that we’d try to see a bit more of the Kuta-Legian-Seminyak conurbation and, given what the guidebooks said, we decided to stay in the, alledgedly, more upmarket, slightly more expensive but not as much as seminyak, Legian. We arrived fairly late on in the day and walked around a few places before finding a bigger hotel with a couple of rooms free. At this point I feel it necessary to say that I think most of the hotels know that it’s getting late and basically try to push their more expensive rooms on to you. It’s a bloody pain. Anyway, the two rooms we found could not have been more contrasting. Em and I had a pretty awful place with what can only be described as a trickle i.e. definitely not a shower. Viks and Lou, on the other hand, had a jacuzzi at the end of their bed along with a bathroom each. Thankfully we only stayed one night.

That night, though, was a good one. It started off ok with a fairly mediocre restaurant and the dawning realisation that actually Legian had pretty much nothing going on at night. Em and I said goodnight to the girls and then went off for a walk to try and find some bars. A little while in to our walk we realised that not only was everything shut but it seemed like mugging central. You certainly wouldn’t want to walk around some of these places alone. Before Trawangan we’d visited the “Ocean Beach Club” on Kuta beach a couple of times, once for lunch and once for dinner. Feeling that the night was coming to a premature end I stopped a guy on a scooter and managed to get him to take me and Em to the bar. We arrived around 10 and quickly set about the cocktail menu. This place is brilliant, the food is varied and well done, the tunes at night are top notch (it has a laid back feeling but mixed with a bit of dance) and the atmosphere is great. We ordered a few cocktails and then got chatting to the manager who it turned out was seeing the guy who was running Ku De Ta. She gave us some hints and then got us booked in to Ku De Ta for the following day. Result.

We spent the next day on the beach up in Legian and realised where a few of the bars were. It was a fairly uneventful day although we did manage to find this quality little Italian cafe, Cafe Marzano, which does some of the nicest pizza I’ve ever had. You could have just eaten the base itself, it was that good. That night we went to Ku De Ta, the restaurant famous for having Kate Moss as a regular patron. Ku De Ta Cheese Board!Somewhat out of keeping with the rest of Indonesia this place charges good London prices but thankfully the food (Venison in my case), the cocktails, the atmosphere, and the frankly out of this world service really do make it worthwhile. Apparently Christiano Ronaldo had been there the year before and at the time I was quite happy with that. Now, not so much. We finished the night off with a trip to the bars in Legian that we’d found. Not the greatest of places but there was one guy on his own, unbelievably inebriated, keeping everyone entertained.

The following day was effectively the last day with Lou and Viks as their plane left early the next morning. We spent another fairly lazy day on the beach ensuring that their tan was nicely topped up before heading back home. The girls went off for an evening out and then we caught up in the Legian beach bars for further drinks before saying our goodbyes.

The following morning Em and I checked out of the hotel and decided to head back to the seriously more lively Kuta. Spending what seemed like an eternity we found a fairly cheap but pretty clean hotel to stay in and decided to spend the rest of the week there basically having a bit of a beach holiday.Sunset on Kuta Beach The rest of the week passed fairly uneventfully, we spent a lot of time on the beach, I spent yet more time not surfing. Until the last two efforts that is when I started to get a bit of confidence on the board. We spent pretty much every night that week getting a taxi up to Jalan Oberoi (that’s a street), in Seminyak, for dinner. While it doesn’t have the greatest nightlife, given the more upmarket resorts, it does have by far the best restaurants in Bali. We had quite a few italians (The Trattoria does a phenomenal rabbit ravioli) as well as Morrocan and others. Not only is the food very very good, with an excellent variety of tastes, it’s also bloody cheap; think £3 for a main course! Once we’d eaten we invariably headed back to Kuta to go for a few drinks.

Our best night of the week involved the awesome Rabbit ravioli followed by a trip to the aforementioned Ocean Beach Club where the manager now recognised us and introduced us to her sister, the great DJ, as well as a few other people. We had a few cocktails before heading off to the Sky Garden, a far preferable alternative to Bounty, where we had more cocktails and painted a few shapes on the dancefloor. While there they put on a fire show with a couple of dancers showing off their moves. It was a great night although made more memorable by the hangovers that Em and I had the next day!!

We left Bali to go to Singapore and as per usual made a right cock up of it. Em already had her flight sorted so I was getting there another way. She was going first to Kuala Lumpur before getting a connecting flight to Singapore. Obviously I just went straight to Singapore a fair bit earlier. Unfortunately Emma’s flight was delayed which meant she would miss her connecting flight resulting in her staying another day in Bali before catching up with me.

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Gili Trawangan

September 15th, 2009
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We split up from Lou and Viks at the port on the east coast of Bali. With them taking the fast boat we knew that they’d get there well before us. We were slightly pissed off though when we received a text to say that they’d arrived while we hadn’t even left port. What happened next is best left forgotten. However, just in case anyone is reading this with a view of going to Gili Trawangan, we spent 5 hours on what is possibly the hottest and slowest boat on the planet. That was then followed by several bus journeys through Lombok with many unnecessary stops and then finally a local boat to Gili Trawangan. My advice: pay the extra and take the fast boat. Although the view certainly can’t be knocked….

View on way to Gili Trawangan

Gili Trawangan is part of the “The Gili Islands” that people mention when they go to Bali. As far as I can tell “Gili” is actually indonesian for Island so technically it’s “The Island Islands”. Hmm. The Gili Islands are situated just of the north west coast of Lombok and comprise Gili Trawangan, the largest, furthest from the mainland and busiest island, Gili Air, the second in every way, and Gili Meno.

As with Bali we arrived on Trawangan smack bang in the middle of the peak season. Unfortunately this meant that the guesthouses could pretty much charge exactly what they wanted especially given that on one night the number of people on the island outnumbered the number of beds. With that in mind we checked in to a guesthouse that a prisoner would turn down. With just a mattress in the corner and no sheets or anything to be seen we regretfully handed over far too much money for our first night. The rest of the stay was much more pleasant; with an early start we were able to find a bungalow in a much nicer guesthouse.

To be honest we didn’t really do too much while on Gili Trawangan. There’s not really that much to do. For some R&R though it’s definitely up there with the best of them. There’s some great restaurants, some truly stunning sunsets and good, quiet beaches. On top of that there are the local spirits. Not entirely certain how good they are, and I don’t think they’re that strong, but at 60p for a spirit and mixer you really can’t complain! Regardless of this, if you want a decent cocktail then head, somewhat amusingly, to the Irish Bar. The guys there know their stuff; I had a mojito which barely touched the sides it was that good.

We pretty much stayed on the east coast of the island where most of the development has taken place and you have the majority of restaurants, bars and the cheaper accommodation. It’s also where the boat arrives on to the island so makes everything very easy. On our final night we changed it up a bit and walked to the north coast of the island, passing by a few cute bars on the beach, to a restaurant/cafe that has the best sunset view. They put tables and chairs out on the beach so that there’s nothing between you and the horizon but water. Sunset Table and ChairsThey do a selection of tapas but being early we went for a jug of sangria to share and some patatas bravas for a snack. The food was good, the drink was good, the company was good, and the staff were hilarious. Basically a bunch of locals in their early twenties trying out their language skills and, by the looks of it, trying to pull as many westerners as possible!

Another attraction with the east coast of Trawangan is the snorkelling that can be done just off shore. There are many little stalls along the beach which will lend snorkels, masks and fins for a tiny price and then you’ve got the day to go exploring the reef. There’s quite a current out there so it’s best to walk to the north end of the main beach and then simply drift your way back down the beach.

Gili Trawangan Beach

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:


September 15th, 2009
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Having departed Gunung Bromo, Java, at 10am I was happy that I’d be in Kuta for around 8pm hopefully giving me enough time to find somewhere to stay and to settle in. Unfortunately I’d not factored in Indonesian timing and was a little hacked off to notice that it was 8pm and I had not even entered Bali. Anyway, 5 hours later I, and a German couple, arrived in to Kuta, Bali, and started making our way through the numerous full hotels that were on offer. The few places that did have rooms seemed to be strangely expensive. An hour in to the hunting, and a couple in to the morning, the German couple found a place for pretty much nothing and left me to it. Slightly hacked off at this I got on the back of a scooter, backpack n all, and was taken off to a hotel which I was assured had a room. On arrival I was given a key and told a price and off I went to bed exhausted yet again.

Bali is the one remaining Hindu island in Indonesia and, coupled with it’s diverse scenery, is a very unique island. If there’s one island that can appeal to everyone this is it. From the surf, sun and Aussies (!) in Kuta to the volcano of Gunung Batur via the highly cultural Ubud this place has it all.

For the majority of our time in Bali Emma and I were joined by two of her Uni friends, Lou and Viks. With Emma in Kuala Lumpur, having experienced the same journey from Koh Samui that I did, I met up with Lou and Viks on my own. We had some lunch and then went to try and find some accommodation for the next few days. Asking at a few places we soon realised that, while Bali is cheap compared to the west, it’s not quite as cheap as you think when it’s high season. I would, therefore, suggest that future visits to Bali should be done just outside the peak season when your money goes further and the Aussie’s haven’t gone anywhere at all!

We spent the first couple of days getting some beach time and pretty much didn’t stray from Kuta beach and Poppies lanes 1 and 2. Neither of us had surfed before and Kuta (actually Bali in general) is renowned for it’s excellent surf. There are plenty of official surf schools offering to teach you for around $35. That seemed a bit steep to us so we popped down to the beach and got one of the many Balinese, who offer teaching, to show us how it’s done. As a teaching experience it’s probably one of the worst ever but it was about $10 for a quick lesson and two hours on the board. Viks and Lou went first putting serious pressure on me and Em. We shyly buggered off for some lunch before attempting the lesson ourselves. I knew my masculinity was in question and that was only exacerbated when Em managed to get up on the board first time. I got up third time! That night we set about hitting the Kuta nightlife as hard as possible and headed out for dinner before visiting the might that is Bounty nightclub. This place is free to get in and in my opinion they should pay you for the pleasure. Actually that’s not completely true but it is a little reminiscent of some of the cheesier clubs from Uni days.

Having had a bit of beach time we headed towards the centre of Bali to the town of Ubud.Cafe Bali, Ubud Ubud is the cultural heart of Bali and a UNESCO heritage town, which ensures that it stays as true to its roots as possible. The place is stunning, with traditional Balinese arts and crafts, festivals, food and architecture in abundance. If you’ve ever been to Luang Phabang or Hoi An then it has the same kind of feel but in my opinion is even better.

We arrived in Ubud by minibus and immediately headed in to The Three Monkeys for lunch. This place is an awesome cafe for lunch, doing a full range of cuisine all done superbly. Once we’d eaten the girls went off to find somewhere for us all to stay. This took a little while, to say the least, but once done Em and I checked in to this lovely little guest house. Only four rooms in the whole place but the room was absolutely massive, with breakfast being served on our balcony in the morning. In terms of nightlife Bali is not exactly rampant but the restaurants are absolutely top notch and there are a few bars to relax in after dinner.

For our first day in Ubud we decided to go white water rafting. In all honesty it wasn’t the most exhilirating of experiences; the girls did in fact give me a bit of abuse for laughing my way down instead of screaming with them. The scenery, however, is really amazing: gorges cut in to rainforest give the whole ride a really amazing atmosphere and the 5 metre drop at the end is an absolute laugh. The amusing outfits are pretty funny as well: there should be photos of it somewhere. Oh yes………

Lovely white water rafting outfits

For our second day in Ubud we decided to climb Gunung Batur, the still active volcano in the centre of Bali. As with the volcano in Java it’s suggested that you climb the volcano in time for sunrise. Unlike Gunung Batur, however, you do actually have to climb the volcano. We set off at 3am in the morning to get to the foot of Batur for 4am in order to climb up in time for sunrise. We had a guide with us, who was invaluable as it would be impossible to find the way up in the dark without one. Sunrise view from Gunung BaturFor me this was definitely one of the highlights of Bali. It took around 2 hours to get up the volcano and at times the incline was very steep to say the least. I think it’s best, in this instance, to simply have a look at the photos of the volcano and sunrise; it’s quite amazing to have the earth steaming around.

On our third day we went to the hot springs at the foot of Gunung Batur before spending an afternoon walking round Ubud and the surrounding rice fields. The following day we left for Gili Trawangan with Lou and Viks taking the fast boat and Em and I taking the slow boat.

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September 10th, 2009

I left Em early (7am)  and had decided to save some money and take a bus down to Kuala Lumpur before getting a plane to Jakarta. Definitely one of the worst ideas of my life. The journey started with a minibus to the west coast of Koh Samui before getting a boat to the mainland. I also have to point out that there’s a serious amount of confusion at every single stop as noone really speaks any english and you just hope that you get to the right place. Anyway, I got off the boat and on to another minibus which took everyone to another stop. At that point, much like a post sorting office I imagine, we were separated depending on location. I was then put in another minibus which was just ridiculously small. The driver then proceeded to pick up a load of mates and we headed off down to the Malaysian border. After the border we headed to Penang where we were then put in another bus to Kuala Lumpur. This bus was actually pretty amazing but we were originally scheduled to get into KL at 6am but I had a feeling that we were way ahead of schedule and as a result didn’t really want to sleep in case I missed my stop. Amusingly I was right and we got in to KL at 2am. I’d planned on getting in at 6am and then getting the train to the airport. Unfortunately the city was dead, I was alone and a taxi to the airport was the only option. £30 later I was at the quite frankly terrible domestic airport where I had to wait for 7 hours. Feeling pretty worse for wear I boarded my plane hoping to be near the end of my journey. Upon arrival at Jakarta airport I realised I had no money and needed to get a visa for $25 before going through immigration. Thankfully I managed to go through to an atm to get the cash and then back through. I picked up the visa and headed on to immigration. The usual questions were asked and then the guy asked if I had a return ticket. Not knowing that you needed a ticket out of Indonesia to get in I, of course, did not. He said I could go get one at the desk before immigration. Bizarrely you must have a ticket, or so they said, from the incoming airline so I had to find a bloody cheapskate air asia representative to buy me a ticket. A guy, who spoke no english, quickly found someone who did speak english who then attempted to buy me a ticket for ~£40. He couldn’t do it over the phone and needed to take my credit card with him through immigration to buy it in his office. Uneasily I handed over the card and then waited and waited and waited for him to come back. About an hour later he did and then explained that all of the computers at air asia were down (!) and couldn’t get me a ticket. While he’d been away I had been approached by a “security official” saying “you help me I help you”. Not knowing what the going rate for bribery was I showed him 100,000 Rupiah (about £7) at which point he said 600,000 Rupiah at which I said no thanks as the ticket was going to cost me the same. Anyway, having no ticket and seemingly no hope I was resigned to the bribery. Thankfully I checked with the air asia guy, who was having family problems - he was a muslim, his girlfriend a christian and his parents not at all happy - and he said that 250,000 Rupiah should do the job. He had a quick word with the one remaining immigration official who just about let me through but told me that he would never do it again. Thoroughly pissed off, stressed and tired I got a bus in to Jakarta and checked in to the first hotel. It had taken 36 hours to get from Koh Samui to Jakarta, never again. I think Phileas Fogg could have done it quicker.

I had not originally planned on staying in Jakarta at all but my experience, and the fact that I was absolutely shattered, had knocked me out and so I headed straight for the backpacker area. Checking in to a double room in the first hotel I came to I collapsed on the bed for a while. Getting myself together I decided to check out a bit of the city and organise my train travel for the following day. To really top off my day I was offered a BJ by what seemed like a 50 year female tramp, lovely! Anyway, I had a look around the local area having a look at the mosque (a mammoth building with a 250,000 capacity) as well as part of the financial district. About a week and a half after I visited the area was bombed by Malaysian terrorists with two of the more upmarket hotels being targeted.

Early the following morning I caught a train (Eksecutiv class) down to Jogjakarta, the most visited town in Java. My first experience of public transport was an education; the train stopped and started seemingly randomly and arrived a full 3 hours late, which left me with an absolute nightmare trying to find accommodation for the night. I did find some accommodation but was so scarred by the experience that I promptly checked out the following day and into a much nicer hotel. The first evening spent in Jogja saw me visit a few shops, get some cheap dinner and accidently visit an “art gallery” where an old guy demonstrated the art of Batik before trying to get me to buy his ludicrously expensive artwork. I declined.

For the first full day in Jogja I took myself down to the palace and history museum. A very helpful chap gave me a few hints as to when was best to see all of the places but didn’t fully grasp that I only had that day to see everything. The palace was a bit rubbish really but I saw a few local things and the museum was full of fairly interesting statues.

The following day I’d signed myself up for aPrambanan visit to the two major attractions of the area: Prambanan and Borobodur. Java has a fairly mixed history and some varied culture in close proximities. As a result it has been dominated by both Hinduism and Buddhism at different and the same times. Borobodur is the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere while Prambanan was the Hindu’s response. There’s not really too much to say about the temples as the pictures probably suffice. The only slightly amusing addition is the sheer number of photos that I had taken of me while at Borobodur. I had several photos with groups of people but one family was intent on having individual photographs and proceeded to get all 6 of them one by one.Borobodur

Having spent more than long enough in Jogja the next day I took a bus to Cemoro Lawang so that I could visit Gunung Bromo, the worlds sixth most active volcano. This involved yet more public transport and the sheer horror that is Indonesian driving; they have a tendency to randomly overtake whether there’s oncoming traffic or not. We arrived late in to Cemoro Lawang so there was not much to do except get some sleep (there wasn’t even anywhere to eat.) I awoke early (4am) the following morning to get up to the volcano. Sadly I’d timed my visit perfectly with the last day of the school holidays and was therefore accompanied by every man and his dog. In groups of 6 we were taken up in 4×4’s to a viewpoint overlooking Bromo from where we could get a great view of the sunrise. Sadly this was ruined by the fact that it was so crowded that it was actually nearly impossible to move. After sunrise we were driven down to the foot of Bromo and walked up to the rim. A pretty amazing sight but a slightly annoying one given the ash in the air and the difficulty breathing.Me on rim of Gunung Bromo

Once we’d done this it was back to the guesthouse for breakfast and then another bus to Bali!

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Koh Samui 2

September 10th, 2009
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After Koh Samui Em and I went to Koh Samui so that she could meet up with her friends in time for the Full Moon Party on Koh Phang Nan. We spent a couple of days on Chaweng Beach, this time towards the south end of the beach. This was nowhere near as pleasant as the north end of the beach. Where the north end of the beach feels secluded and quiet the southern end feels more like <insert trashy mediteranean resort>. Despite it’s shortcomings during the day the evenings were really special. Not only is the food good the best bit about Koh Samui is the bars on the beach which allow you to have a cocktail under the stars while being soothed by some laid back tunes. We were also treated every night to an awesome display of lightning. Just off the coast would be some massive electrical storms with very visible forks of lightning raining down on to the sea.

After Chaweng beach we headed up to Maenam beach and in to Hutcha Resort. Fortunately we turned up and managed to get the very last beach villa. A really nice little bungalow with outdoor bathroom and swimming pool to match. There’s not really much going on in Maenam but to unwind it was bloody brilliant.

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