Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Holiday wrapup!

Well, it might just be best to get this over and done with in one go (get ready for a long one, methinks)!

We were up at 4am for the life to Sydney Airport that mumsy and dadsy kindly offered us. The Huns travel nerves and anxiety about leaving a messy house for the housesitter meant that he didn't get to bed until after 2:30 that morning, and that although I was much more relaxed about our house of squallor and in bed just after twelve, I wasn't asleep until after 1:30. People of earth: if you are about to haul ass internationally, get a good nights sleep first.

The line to check in was long and customs is quite a scary place - I was a bit worried that it seemed quite confusing when we were still in 'our' country. The flight was long and uneventful and we after landing in Bangkok we had a short wait before flying off to Phuket - not only did the takeoff include the same bone-jarring rattles that the previous flight did, there was an issue with the lights and air conditioning delaying our take off by an extra half hour.

We arrived in Phuket and were greeted by The Hun's workmates fathers friends brother (Tiger) who drove us the 40 minutes or so to our hotel - he spoke fair enough english, but anything he didn't understand he let just hang in silence. At the hotel, we also got to experience the awkwardness of exchanging money in the foyer (cultural faux-pas as that's meant to be done in envelopes) for show tickets, ferries and for a SIM card - we also didn't give him enough money and received a confused phone call as we'd presumed we'd handed over too much (baht can be quite confusing at first, I swear!).

The view from the hotel (the 15th floor of 18 as we were repeatedly told by Tiger, the hotel staff and the bell boy lingering in our room for a tip which was confusing as the guide said there's no tipping) was pretty dissapointing - we were pretty anti holiday at this stage as we felt we were in the slums:
(I know you can still see the ocean, but it wasn't how I'd imagined tropical Phuket)

Tiger picked us up and drove us to Rasada pier for the ferry trip to Phi Phi which took about 90 minutes and a hotel dude was waiting to carry our bags up to the top of the hill in a wheel barrow thing - The hotel was beautiful:
(That's ours in the middle - Thailand loves stairs, I bought tiger balm as soon as I could)

We walked up the evacuation route to see the view - you can see how the Tsunami would have affected the island, sweeping straight through the middle. We also witnessed some poms getting conned by a Thai guy claiming there was a better few five minutes round the corner - he and his posse then took over their prime viewing spot.
(They're still rebuilding - though there is protest against the mall they're building there that hasn't actually been approved by anyone but is going ahead anyway)

We went for an all day longboat tour trip where we saw how they steal the swallows nests for their soup, the island where they filmed the beach, Monkey Island where we witnessed (not really) Borat feeding a wild monkey, another island where we watched the guides spend over an hour trying to completely fix our long boat (that broke a belt in the middle of the ocean and had to be towed for a while), stopped a few times for some snorkelling (not me), saw one of the other longboats break down and have to be towed back to the other island and a rocky, swaying, cold view of the sunset.
(I guess Borat does not fear of the rabies)

(Longboats - transport of those who laugh at reliability and timeliness)

We had some nice food, saw lots of tourists, walked up a lot of stairs and talked about the heat. After two nights on Phi Phi we returned to Rasada pier in a crowded ferry that had windows that looked unopenable, not enough life vests from what I could tell and four stairs to get out that were each as tall as the distance from the floor to my knee (I am totally not suprised to hear that a ferry caught on fire like the day after we left there) and were picked up by the driver of the resort we next staying at - Kuraburi Greenview Resort, 3 hours north of Phuket in Phang Nga:
(Super cute and had a waterfall shower that was nice but not entirely practical)

Kuraburi was quiet, though we went on a speed boat trip (after a trip in the back of the ute which I spent clinging on for dear life as I watched the road and the lane lines zoom past at an alarming rate) to the Surin Islands where I snorkelled for the first time in my life - I freaked out at realising there were only a few steps off the side of the boat before the endless depths below, that I'd have my legs dangling in the endless depths below, that I'd have to let go of the boat at some stage and that I'd be looking down into deeeeeeep water... but I overcame a fear of water and heights and did it nontheless and it was beautiful.
(Not where we snorkelled, but a different beautiful view of Surin)

After two nights there we were off to Patong Beach (after experiencing our first bout of stomach 'issues' - why they even bother having tap water mystifies me as it's not supposed to even go near your mouth!) after stopping for an elephant ride through a rubber plantation on the way (which once I was there realised was pretty un-vegan) where we were scammed into buying pretty much the same photos as the elephant man took for us, but I felt we couldn't say no and the place looked pretty squalid.
(Bumpier ride than we originally thought!)

Patong Beach was full of bogan aussies and lots of people asking if we'd like a suit, tshirt or massage. It was also super hot, but we had fantastic accomodation (you could watch the tv from the bath!) and we went and saw the Phuket Fantasea show which was an amazing spectacle - it features the greatest buffet in the world (not entirely true for veg*ns, especially those with upset stomachs) and a show with dancers, lasers, fireworks, elephants, tigers, clowns, hens, goats, birds and acrobats. The grounds around it where you wander around is full of stalls and had an amazing Swarovski store (featuring gigantic Swarovski pelican) and an arcade where The Hun won me a pikachu toy in a hurry as his white shirt was showing a multitude of beach stains under all the blue lights.
(Where all the magic happens - would you believe they suffered $100,000 damage in the Tsunami?)

(Picture mainly taken for The Huns sister who has pelican-phobia after a head-pooping incident down at the Bay)

Our second day at Patong Beach, Tiger took us on a sightseeing tour of Phuket (complete with video camera on which he filmed 20 minutes of us acting awkward as we were being filmed) where we saw two beaches, three lookouts, had lunch by the water which was beautiful, saw a shell musuam, a Batik shop (I had no idea how amazing it is until I saw it being made), a pearl shop, an AMAZING jewellery shop (sadly, no souvineirs from there), the outside of the zoo (it was late when we got there so didn't go in), an amazing temple grounds and a cashew factory (where The Hun sampled dorian fruit (heh heh) and he fell in love with Sesame honeyed cashews).
(This was so amazing in person - at the top of a viewpoint)

(One of the temples in the ground - it was hot but beautiful)

(When I asked Tiger if we were to be wary of monkeys at the top of this viewpoint hill, he laughed like I was a crazy ignorant tourist until I pointed out the sign - we did see a monkey in the top of a tree and skirted it accordingly)

After Patong Beach we flew back to Bangkok where we spent three nights in a dingy, rundown, smoky noisy hotel, mainly hanging out at MBK (seven level shopping centre) and watching movies (Meet The Robinsons is HILARIOUS, Wolf-something-or-other is TERRIBLE) but we did go on a day tour with my bosses neice which was easily our highlight of Bangkok. She took us to the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha (which is actually made of jade but has three interchangable outfits) where we were toured by a crazy little Chinese lady ("You make photo now, ten minutes, lets go"), Wat Pho, Old Bangkok Shopping Centre to eat some bizarre Thai desserts, a boat tour with an orchid garden before a giant storm and a vegetarian restaraunt for dinner.
(My only photo of the emerald buddha - you're allowed to take one but only after praying for permission - I guess I didn't pray hard enough).

(Palace Gardens - that dude has palaces everywhere - we saw two different ones!)

(Reclining Buddha - 45 metres long, 16 metres high)

(The base of the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho)

The lowlight of Bangkok was our tour of Ayuthaya - severely overpriced and not including half of what was mentioned in the itinerary (anyone else want to pay over $100AUD pp for a four hour that doesn't include the amazing buffet lunch and an air conditioned boat ride return? No? Good) but did include some amazing sites - Ayuthaya is the old capital which the Burmese burnt down and has been partially restored - and The Hun wasn't entirely convinced our guide wasn't a ladyboy.
(You can only wonder how it would have looked pre-BBQ)

(A lot of the heads were sampled as 'souvineirs', the rest were taken by musuems - it was a bit eerie!)

(One of the remaining heads, grown into tree roots)

(A turtle! Trying to eat a giant piece of fruit! It was SO HOT at this palace grounds in Ayuthaya and I had to wear a jumper to cover my bare shoulders, so I was potentially delirious)

We flew out of Bangkok just after midnight and arrived in Tokyo early in the morning before a bus ride to meet up with The Huns friend (S*) in Tsukuba where we FINALLY had a shower and a nap. Tsukuba is quite like Canberra, and we enjoyed a ride to the park to meet some of S*'s friends who practiced english with me while the boys played around with a frisbee and a soccerball. We had the day trip to Nikko (as previously mentioned) and saw some more beautiful architecture (quite intersting as the rest of Japan seems to be filled with square buildings) and I managed to resist my urge to murder some young European tourist boys who weren't being controlled by their parents.
(Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil)

(This artist etched elephants without having actually seen any before)


(Oooh - pretties!)

I managed to survive the overnight bus trip to Kyoto which was pure toture - 30 or so people crammed into the top level of a bus without air conditioning and not allowed to open the curtains left me thinking only of the potential brain damage I was receiving from breathing in so much of other peoples out air and why on the earth Japanese people were so conservative that they woudln't think of asking to have the fan turned on. To follow it up we had a day of rain where I got my sulk on at the fact my feet were SATURATED (my purple shoes are on their way to the bin!) and bought some new shoes (mens 7.5 as I was laughed at when I asked for a ladies 9) which helped a bit.
(Real life Geisha!)

We were staying in a traditional inn in Kyoto which was interesting - run kind of like a boarding school as we discovered when S*'s super drunk friend came back to visit on the second night and we received a phone call from the lady telling us it was past 11:30 (we were late for the 11pm curfew) and time for sleep. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, laregely because I was so exhaused at the end of each day I didn't notice that there were three other people crammed in on the floor with me. The day day of the cranky phone call we hired some bikes and rode around to see the the temple of 1000 buddhas (featuring a bonus 29 or so) which was amazing, as well as a temple at the top of a high street and a Geisha show which I and S*'s gf loved and which The Hun and S* slept through (until the final where they flick on all the lights at once).
(Kyoto temples)

From Kyoto we bullet trained to Tokyo and split ways - The Hun and I to stay in Roppongi and S* and his gf to return to Tsukuba. We visited Ginza, Shibuya (known as Shitbuya after we got lost looking for a Yakitori restaurant featured in the lonely planet guide and had to be helped by three strangers), Akihabara (where we bought an awesome new Canon S3 camera of which a new model was announced the day after), Ebisu, Shinjuku, Ueno, The National Musuem and Harajuku where we met up with Lulu! Lulu was entirely lovely and friendly and I'm so glad we got to meet her! She took us through the rain to where the Harajuku girls SHOULD have been had it not been pouring rain, a shrine where we very nearly lost my souvineirs and signed a wishing board (and Lulu bought me a token to open me to good luck opportunities to go with my 'calamity avoidance one I purchased near the healing springs), the comedy museum and a viewing tower (verdict: grey and cloudy) as well as a good lunch. The other highlight of Tokyo for me (other than Lulu AND SEEING NICOLE RITCHIE AND JOEL MADDEN ON THE STREETS!) was the amazing frozen strawberry daiquiri's at the Havana cafe near our accomodation (which slightly negated the fact we were there for cheap meals when the mains were $8 and the cocktails were $12). Yum. FAR outrated the vegan restaraunt mentioned in the guide book which was terribly overpriced and terribly bland which was frustrating.
(Crazy display in our hotel lobby)

(Massive gates - this is not the more famous one)

(Prayer cards go here!)

(D'jen - are you sure you weren't here too?! ;o) )

And that was pretty much that! We were up before 6am on Monday to train to the airport and arrived at the Jolimont Centre just before 1pm on Tuesday!

Hope anyone who managed to make it this far enjoyed it - regular posting to return shortly.


DelightfulJen said...

As soon as I read on Laura's blog about how it rained I couldn't help but feel responsible, I was so excited for you both to meet (and in Harajuku no less!! What a shame there was no girls out that day) I'll bet I contributed to the rain.

You whole holiday sounds awesome, Japan looks amazing (as usual), how exciting you saw a real geisha AND nicole richie and Mr Good Charlotte, is Nicole truly tiny in person?!

How exciting, so glad you had fun and arrived back in one piece, I love travel stories :D

Mick said...

Sounds like a good trip! So how many buddhas did you see all up?? Did you count? ;)

Good pics too. I think Japan would be a fantastic plcae to visit. Was it hard to communicate with them?

Good to have you back!

Enny said...

d'jen - Don't feel bad - Rain happens all the time :o) It was great to meet her too! Ms Ritchie was small and though she was bundled up, she did look tiny all around (well, all astick as there is nothing that round about her at all!) and I'm glad we're back in one piece too!

mick - I have NO idea - I'd say 1500?! There is somewhere you can go where there is a whole bunch of Buddhas and they laugh at the westerners who try to count them because they are 'truly uncountable', but I can't remember if it was where we were (there were 3 missing that I know of that were at another musuum!).

Communication - yeah, was a bit tricky... I'm not sure whether to make a post on the differences, I think I might, but lets just say we were super thankful for S* and his gf, as well as picture menus :o)

And good to be back too!

Deb said...

Where IS that temple in your last pic??? I have done so many albums and canvas's of families there- i feel like i already know it like the back of my hand. All I know is thats its in Japan, probably Tokyo somewhere... heh.

Glad to hear you are back safe and sound! Nice yellow smily faces tho :P

Enny said...

deb - you'll hafta check with laura for the name, but it's in Harajuku (Tokyo) and it's very popular! And thanks - we got quite a nice yellow tan over there ;o)