A Travellerspoint blog

Spain 1

MADRID

Well Madrid was very much like the Tiger Temple in Thailand. I went in with low expectations and it turned out to be awesome. Neither Kel nor I have been to Europe and I had conjured up in my mind that Madrid would be a bit like KL but with old buildings.

It was nothing like that, it is just beautiful. The old part of the city stretches in all directions as far as you can walk and we wandered round the city for a full day constantly looking up in awe at all the buildings and doing a whole lot of people watching. It was a Saturday and all the wealthy Spanish were coming out of the central city Catholic churches dressed up like you wouldn’t believe. There is no way we would dress up like that in NZ, not even for a wedding! Family and food are obviously the priority here, there were whole families (kids and grandparents included) everywhere right up to late into the night and drinks and tapas seem to start at about 2 o’clock.

We were fortunate enough one night to be dragged along by an Aussie to a Tapas bar. Whilst we are definitely feeling the pinch parting out Euros instead of Bart or Ringet now, this place was great value. About NZ$12 for four small beers and two plates of delicious tapas.

(Imelda)

ITU TRIATHALON
While in Madrid we also went along to watch an ITU Triathlon race and support the Kiwis that were racing. It was a really good day and although none of the kiwi guys in the field did very well, Andrea Hewitt came in second in the women’s race. There was quite a strong Spanish field in both races and their supporters had turned out on mass. It felt a little bit like it was just us and the Spanish at the race. Well Two-kiwis can make quite a bit of noise on our own, so that doesn’t matter too much. We got a few strange looks from the Spanish from some of our seemingly random cheering.

(Kel)

VALENCIA

Well I think we were a bit spoilt with Madrid, Valencia is ok but a bit more like I had expected KL would be. Much to our surprise Spain is far harder to get around than Malaysia or Thailand. There are not many who speak English and we usually have to resort to a hello in Spanish then frantic pointing at whatever we are after. Valencia is frightfully difficult to navigate round, I of course could get lost in my own backyard, but even Kel has been having trouble here. We have got lost in the old part of the city (which once you get inside is like a maze) numerous times trying to find food or transport. Despite initial reports of sensational Spanish food, we have not really found too much in Valencia There seems to be a lot of deli type places with lots of cured meats, cheese, chocolate and seafood, which all looks great, but a lot of it extends beyond our current budget.
(Imelda)

LOUIS VOITTON

Well one of the main reasons we have found our way to Valencia is the America’s Cup sailing that is happening at the moment. We have managed to catch two races, which has seen Team NZ win the Louis Vuitton Cup. It has been a very strange experience after not meeting any Kiwis for a month to be absolutely surrounded by them here. Each day we have gone down onto the south side of the canals to cheer the teams out and then retreated back to an area nicknamed the ‘woolshed’ with all the other Kiwis to watch the racing live on a big screen (with English commentary yay!). Then it’s back off to the canal area to cheer the team back in again. There are basically too types of kiwi supporters here, the young backpackers who are either traveling around Europe, or have come over from London and older sailors who have made the big trip from NZ. I must say the older generation are by far the most fanatical. They are the ones decked out in all the gear, with the big banners, making the most noise, etc. It’s the opposite to what it would be at home and quite a laugh really. We were sitting next to a bunch of retired Taranaki farmers the other day… Not exactly what I thought I would be doing in Spain!

There is certainly a contrast between the Kiwi supporters and the Italians. They are all dressed in white Prada gear and designer sunglasses, whereas the kiwis are getting round in their black t-shirts and jandals. We really are an unstylish bunch.

(Kel)

Well since Team NZ have done so well this week, we have decided to head off and explore through some other parts of Europe before coming back to Valencia to add our support for some of the America’s Cup. I’m sure there will be even more Kiwis around by then.

Tonight we are off to a bullfight to see what that crazy Spanish tradition is all about.

Posted by twokiwis 23:53 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Bangkok

Well the trip to Bangkok was simply awful – all I will say is that screaming babies should be banned from overnight bus trips. I think I am quite over Asian long haul bus trips now. No-one ever speaks much English (and we always seem to be the only tourists) so all anyone ever does is wave, point and herd you. For example the dinner stop consisted of the driver waving to us yelling “dinner, hurry, go” and then someone else pushing us into a hall saying “you – sit” and pushing us towards a seat. I felt like I was part of a cattle herd. Anyway, we eventually we arrived in Bangkok – by then I felt decidedly sick, had the biggest cankles you have ever seen and just wanted to magically blink and arrive at our hostel rather than go through the whole cab/barter/traffic drama.

Luckily the bus ride was worth it – I really loved Bangkok. The place is extraordinary - street stalls, markets, glittering temples, music, people, monks and prostitutes are all mixed up in one huge ball of energy it seems. Out of the three big cities we went to it was definitely the one I could most see myself living in. Although I must say comparing my ferry trips to work from Northcote Point over the glistening blue water and our boat trips down the brown muddy river in Bangkok made me realize just how much we take for granted in New Zealand.

The temples are amazing – 400 of them in Bangkok alone. We visited the Grand Palace and the Reclining Budha and the detail just blew me away. From a distance they just sparkle with gold in the sunlight but close up ever square inch is full of intricate detail in a rainbow of colours. The only analogy I can think of is the figure skating dresses of the 80’s when the philosophy was the more sequins the better! From a distance they would just sparkle and close up they would be all intricately beaded and sequined, that’s what these temples are like.

(Imelda)

We did a couple of day trips out of Bangkok, the first was to some local floating markets. This is a difficult concept to explain, but basically locals paddle small boats through the network of canals to the local markets, where they float along selling their wares to other locals and tourists alike. It is certainly an interesting site. Our tour also to us to a Snake Farm which boasted ‘The most exciting show in the world’. Now that’s a pretty big claim, but if you were to take that by heart rate levels alone, I would have to say they were pretty much on the money. The show mostly consisted of three guys in a small pit with a bunch of different snakes at different times (both poisoness and not). They did a few very interesting little acts that largely revolved around them pissing of a snake (or a bunch of snakes) so that they would try and attack them and then somehow evading certain death. In the pit they also had a Mongoose in a glass box, which is of course the natural enemy of the King Cobra (one of the worlds most deadly snakes). Now I have always wondered how this David and Goliath battle works. Wonder no more… Part of the show was to drop a Cobra into the glass box so that we could all see how it works. What ensued was a cartoon like battle of clawing, spitting and biting, with the Mongoose somehow coming out on top. All I can say is that is one amazing little creature. Chalk one up for the little guy! For the record they dragged the snake out just before the Mongoose finished him off. I must say this place was like no other wild life park that I’ve ever been to. Ethical consideration wasn’t high on their list. But they were after ‘The most exciting show in the world’ I guess.

(Kel)

KANCHANABURI

Another day trip that we did was to the small town of Kanchanaburi a couple of hours outside Bangkok. This place is very historical and was where the Japanese forced the Allies to build the Bridge over the River Kwai and the Death Railway into Burma during WWII. We visited a War Museum that was located inside a model of a bamboo hut the POWs were forced to live in and it included a number of photos and personal stories from the prisoners. There were some very harrowing stories of how the prisoners were forced to construct the railway in 18 months, when it should have taken 5 years. The conditions were awful and they were frequently tortured and forced to work days on end. More than half the prisoners died while in captivity. This was a very sobering experience and everyone returned to the van in a very quiet state.

We also visited the bridge that now crosses the river, just upstream from were the original stood before it was later bombed by the allies. Quite sadly ironic that they destroyed the bridge after their own soldiers had worked so hard to complete it. We took a small journey on the railway, which served to lighten the mood a little. Everyone loves a train trip, especially with scenery like that.

(Kel)

TIGER TEMPLE

Well such has been our experience with tours in Asia, you never seem to get what you actually book for. We had booked a full day tour of the River Kwai area but discovered once we were well on our way that we were actually doing half a day there and half a day at some tiger place.

Such is life, the unexpected is often the best. The “tiger place” was actually a monastery which has grown over the years to become an animal refuge. Some years ago an orphaned tiger cub was delivered to the monastry as it was the only place that would take it in. Several more tigers cubs were delivered, the word spread round and it soon became a refuge for all kinds of animal – tigers, bears, waterbuffalo, horses, pigs, you name it. They now have 17 full grown tigers who have grown up at the monastry looked after by monks and volunteers and are in the process of trying to raise money to provide a proper wildlife environment for them. We had the most amazing opportunity to get right up close to the tigers, watch the monks interacting with them and touch them for ourselves. It’s hard to find words to do justice to it, it was just magic. I don’t think I will ever get the opportunity to pat a tiger again.

(Imelda)

It’s now back to Singapore for a few days before we fly out to Spain and the rest of Europe!

Posted by twokiwis 20:39 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Journey To Thailand

With not much of a plan past Langkawi, we decided to make tracks towards Thailand. We decided on the Island of Koh Samui off Thailand’s East coast. This meant taking a ferry back from Langkawi to the Malaysian mainland and heading up to the border and on into Thailand… of course that was the plan in theory it was slightly different.

Now I know you can pretty much get from one side of the world to the other in 24 hours using a simple jet plane, but that would just be boring. Instead we decided to use that time to traverse from an island on one side of Malaysia, up a little bit, and onto an Island on the other side of the coast.

It actually took 22 hours and included (in this order) taxi, ferry, taxi to bus terminal to find you can’t actually get a bus to Thailand, Malaysian taxi to Thai border, walk across Thai border, Thai taxi, 5 hour bus trip to ferry (to find that the lonely planet was again wrong and there is actually no late ferry to Koh Samui only a ferry to a smaller Island Koh Phangan a little bit further north), overnight ferry to this unknown new island, taxi and finally long tail boat to our destination Bottle Beach

I will elaborate a little more on the overnight ferry, as this was really the standout portion of this journey. On the upper deck of this ‘ferry’ was a large open area filled with mattresses that would later be filled with weary travelers and locals alike. The lower deck was the cargo storage deck complete with motorbikes, plants, fruit and a whole range of live animals. You could also sleep on straw mats on this deck for a bit cheaper and although we are traveling on a budget, we decided it wasn’t this tight and a mattress was worth a couple of extra dollars (or cents as it may have actually been). Surprisingly this deck was also packed with people. I can only liken this experience to a big floating Marai without the friendly welcome. Despite the unusual surroundings, after our full day of travel we both had the best sleep ever!
(Kel)

BOTTLE BEACH – KOH PHANGAN ISLAND

Bottle Beach was just gorgeous, no doubt about that - picturesque, secluded and quiet. I was a tad disappointed though for several reasons. First, it looked awfully similar to NZ - think a really hot Marlborough Sounds. There is something quite unfulfilling about traveling 22 hours to arrive at somewhere that looks exactly like home! Secondly, whilst it was secluded (only accessible by long tail boat) it still seemed really touristy because of all the resorts lined up along the beach front. Feel free to disagree with me, but I think that anything nothing more than jandels, tents and campfires should be allowed on places that secluded. Also, Kel and I are actually pretty useless at lazing around doing nothing (which is really the whole point of going to an island paradise in Thailand). The Island tried to beat that out of us but we still only really managed one full day lazing around the beach before we headed back off in search of activities. The first of these was an archery, which proved that I may have hunting prowess after all (despite my pitiful blow piping efforts in the Malaysian Highlands). After firing arrows in every possible direction away from the target (including backfiring one into my arm) I hit a perfect bullseye. Way to go me! A kayak round to the next beach was also well worth the effort, although I almost did a ‘lay down Sally’ on the way back. Unfortunately lugging my home round on my back has not given me the arms of the Ever-Swindell twins yet.

We are very fortunate that we managed to get a taste of two of the most beautiful island destinations in Malaysia and Thailand, but I think after two island paradises in a row I am ready to hit the big smoke again. This time Bangkok. We head north by bus (on the most direct route this time!). Now all I need to do is start psyching myself back up for the “lady lady you wan texi…lady come you wan texi now…where you go….lady lady…we give you good price”.

(Imelda)

Posted by twokiwis 20:37 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Langkawi Island

From the Cameron highlands we have traveled right up to the Thai border on the West coast to a group of 100 islands known as Langkawi.

We didn’t quite appreciate the distance that this part of our journey covered (essentially half of Peninsular Malaysia). It took us 10 hours of solid travel… 2 buses, 2 taxis and a ferry ride just for good measure. None of it was particularly comfortable and it was made all the more unpleasant when one of the dodgy Malaysian guy on the bus threw up all over the floor and seemingly appeared to just go back to sleep. The driver was alerted only when it had traveled the length of the bus on the floor!

Anyway we made it, all-be-it a little more hungry, tired and grumpy than when we started out.

Langkawi can only be described as paradise and we are making the most of it. Our resort is right on the beach and I am writing this on a deck chair looking out over the tropical ocean. I have just finished my three course breakfast, which is of course all-inclusive in the NZ$30 a night we are each paying (are you jealous yet?).

Just to make it just that little bit better, Langkawi is also duty free, so the beers cost the equivalent of NZ$0.80. Just a wee bit cheaper than the Singapore prices (NZ$20 happy hour jugs).

We are taking a few days to gather ourselves hear before heading out onto our yet undecided route through Thailand. We will have to up our guards again, and until otherwise indicated all Thais will be trying to rip me off!

(Kel)

On our first day in Langkawi we decided to hire a scooter and take a tour of the Island. Kel of course was in his element and if I may be brave enough to say so, he looked rather like “crazy frog” on it. I on the other hand swore like a trooper as I hung off the back and tended to close my eyes and squeal as we sped round the corners. We stopped off at a cable car about halfway round the Island. I must admit I thought it would be somewhat like Rotorua or Queenstown and wasn’t that enthused about it. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong, this cable car was absolutely amazing, if not a little scary. It was huge, steep and the cars were all glass so you felt like you were just flying up (and over/down) the mountain. Once you got to the top there was a swing bridge over the forest which by all accounts was best walked across not looking down!

(Imelda)

Posted by twokiwis 23:47 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

KL & The Highlands

Well since our last update we have managed to do quite a lot.

We spent three days in KL, which was Ok as far as big cities go. It largely consists of a string of shopping malls joined by an infinite number of restaurants and reflexology shops. Much like Singapore I guess, but without the charm.

One day we did get out of the city a little to what is known as the Batu caves. Set into massive cliffs was an amazing array of cave structures that have over the years (and still now) been used by the Hindus as religious shrines. It’s a bit of a hike up the 300 odd steps in the heat to the main cave, but it was well worth the effort. It was here that we had our first encounter with local monkeys, which as we have now discovered is quite high up on Imelda’s list of things she really doesn’t like. Apparently fine when they are swinging away in the enclosures at the zoo, but not so much when they are jumping around close by!

(Kel)

Before we headed off to see the Batu caves we joined the masses and queued up to walk onto the viewing deck of the Petronas (aka Twin Towers). I found the process of getting up the towers highly amusing. Our general experience in Malaysia so far has been that any kind of organized activities has been somewhat random, unorganized and usually running late. However a visit up the tower was run like a military operation. First we were issued with a pre-ticket, then lined up for a ticket, then spent time in an information area, then were issued with our official pass, shown a promotional video about Petronas (Malaysia’s largest oil and gas company who built the towers), went through a security check ….and then finally about two hours later got up the tower for 10 minutes viewing! The towers are 88 stories each, with the viewing deck between the 42nd floors. The design is based on a traditional Islamic design of interlocking circles and squares and by all accounts they are pretty impressive.

(Imelda)

After KL it was time to take a bit of a reprieve from both the city and the heat and head up into the Cameron Highlands which was about 3 hours bus trip North-east of KL. The bus trip was once again an experience all of its own. The last hour was on a road that was windier than anything I have experienced in NZ. That would be fine, if it weren’t for the insane driver who insisted on going as fast as the bus could possible go. Some of the corners felt you were doing complete 360s.

However, the journey was well worth it. The Highlands is truly a remarkable spot and it has a relaxed culture all of its own. It is essentially a group of small towns surrounding a vast expanse of tea plantations and other agricultural endeavors. The plantations are a relic of the British rule, but they provide the area with a steady supply of both jobs and tourists. We visited a couple of plantations and took it upon ourselves to have a wander around the tea plants. I must say the aroma was something else. Anyone who knows me will know that I am not much of a tea drinker, but in three days I had more tea than I would have had in the last year. I never thought that I would be coming to Malaysia to sit down to a cup of tea and scones, but that has been one of the many surprises so far.
I you ever get the chance to try Masala Chai tea, don’t pass it up. It is a tea infused with traditional Indian spices. To die for!

It was actually the people of the Highlands that made this place so special in my mind. This is both the locals and the other travelers we met. I think since visiting the Highlands I know understand and appreciate a little more who the Malaysian people are. Originally I had only seen them for a bunch of people who were intent on ripping me off or scamming me in some way, but I now appreciate them for the very kind, friendly, incredibly hardworking people that they are. There are of course still those who are out to rip me off, but I think I will be pegging this on a few less now.

We also met a great bunch of other travelers in the Highlands from all over and on our final night we shared a Steam Boat dinner. This is a very interactive meal where you cook about 9-10 dishes in a spicy broth. We had all kinds of meat, seafood, fish and veges, some of which we could recognize. My favorite dish had to be the jellyfish, not for the flavour, just for the shear novelty. I don’t think there are many who could say they have eaten jellyfish! For the record its like eating plastic and I probably won’t eat it again, but you’ve got to try everything once eh.

(Kel)

We decided to do a full day tour of the Highlands on our first day which turned out to be an experience to say the least. Our group consisted of us, an Aussie girl and our tour guide, who was a rather eccentric Indian fellow. I became suspicious quite early on that he would not be the one taking us on the advertised 3 hour “jungle trek” as he was wearing a long sleeve shirt and pants and did not really look like the “jungle” type. My suspicions were confirmed when we pulled up to a traditional village and he entered into some heated discussions in another language with several of the villagers. After much arm waving towards the jungle and raised voices the men all pointed and nodded to an unsuspecting young fellow who then became our guide. Indian fellow pulled up his trousers to show a bandaged injured knee and explained that he would have to wait in the van while we did the trek. I quietly suspect his knee has been “injured” for some time now. Our poor guide looked like the last thing he wanted to do was take a group of white people into the jungle and appeared to be quite grumpy about the whole thing.

I must say that I was initially a bit nervous about following a villager who didn’t speak a word of English (except I later discovered, the word “snake”) and was carrying a machete into the depths of the Malaysian jungle. However, my fears were soon allayed once he made me a sunhat out of ferns as we were trudging along and presented it to me with a huge smile. During the course of the next 3 ½ hours we managed to huff, puff and sweat our way through the jungle, it was a pretty full-on trek. Meanwhile our guide made us all sunhats from ferns, hiking poles from branches, cane bracelets and also chopped us up unidentifiable pieces of fruit – all the while not breaking so much as a sweat. I have to say that I absolutely loved it and the scenery was just breathtaking.

Once we got back to the village we were greeted by our Indian fellow proudly offering us the most revolting sweet corn I have ever had in my life. He then started enthusiastically teaching us how to use a blowpipe (the villagers’ traditional weapon for hunting). I soon established that if I was stuck in the jungle without food and only a blowpipe I would probably starve – I was quite useless!

The rest of the tour was a little bit more sedate – honey farm, butterfly park, tea plantations and strawberry farm. The butterfly park was not so much a butterfly park as a giant scary insect and snake farm. We were greeted on arrival by a crazy Malaysian guy who was intent on dragging all the scariest insects from their cages and getting us to hold them. I found a sudden interest in the butterflies over the other side of the building but Kel was in for some insect fun which included holding giant beetles and frogs. He was broken though when the guy dragged out a scorpion and while trying to show Kel how perfectly harmless it was by standing on it, enraging it immensely. At that point Kel decided that butterflies might be a bit more interesting after all.

(Imelda)

Posted by twokiwis 02:27 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

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