20 May 2012
The past year had been a bit of a bummer. Had some highs, but also some epic lows as well. I really felt like I’d lost my way, or lost my mojo. Now that’s not normal for me, so it was time for some travel-therapy since I’m not so keen on shopping. The light at the end of a very long and very dark tunnel, was a dive trip to Belize with Crystal.
I’d met Crystal at Mike & Brenda’s wedding back in 2008. We’d spent a couple of weeks after the wedding travelling around NZ, diving at Tutukaka & just generally seeing the sights up and down the country. I knew we made good travel buddies, so when she suggested a dive trip to Belize I was well up for it.
Was a little concerned that the weather would be rubbish after seeing a downpour at Miami. But upon arrival, Belize was baking hot and the sun was out in full force. There were two ways to get out to the island from Belize. Since I was arriving first, and was in no hurry, I ended up taking the speedboat out to the island. We did end up powering through a bit of rain on the way out to San Pedro, but it wasn’t too bad. Made friends with a little local boy during the trip who was travelling with his parents and sister. No common language between us, but we were both happily playing various games and time flew by.
Arriving at Grand Caribe the apartment was amazing. I’m normally quite a budget traveller, not really seeing much value in splashing out too much for a bed, so this was well outside my comfort zone. But man, was it nice!
The beach highway was pretty much the only way to navigate
Not a bad way to commute to the island
Basically, we spend two weeks just swimming, eating, drinking, diving and wandering around the island. It was a much needed period of bliss. Met some very cool people throughout and I’ve got nothing but fond memories of the trip. My only regret is the weather on the mainland was so horrible that we elected not to go exploring some of the Mayan ruins. That’s something I would have been very keen on!
My usual summer-down-under turned into something else this year. For once, I’ve got absolutely no plans for the future. Last year had sort of shaken them up a little and I was probably still licking my wounds a bit. So I’ve stuck to my tried and tested escape to the Southern Hemisphere and we’ll see what opportunities life brings. Something always happens along when you need it to. My intention was to spend this year travelling, maybe. Actually, I had no idea. But I was aware I am about to turn 40, so wanted to do something… I had a few ideas, but nothing concrete.
Being back home was wonderful. Spent some time at Mum’s getting a little bit crafty. Actually got into a little bit of sewing, making badges on the overlocker. I was particularly proud of my kiwi roundell I made for my man-bag.
Spent some time with Hari, Todd and the girls. Helped Todd invesigate a truck rollover down the line which was pretty cool. It mostly involved surveying the scene and inspecting the vehicle & trailer, but was a nice change from geeking out on the laptop. Speaking of laptops, I managed to stand on mine accidentally, so the screen stopped working. So I’ll have to look for a new one, which is a bit of a bugger, as I loved my little Samsung.
Sadly, Nana passed away, not quite making it to Christmas. It’s kind of bitter-sweet to see all the family for occasions like a funeral. But it was one way to see people that I don’t ordinarily get a chance to catch up with.
Spent a little bit of time in Welly, and caught up with an old DCSB Colleague. All the Brothers and sisters headed up to Mangawhai Heads with Dad & Meldy. We had a fun day canoeing, swimming, eating and just mucking about on the beach.
Great to see Beau, Dad’s old racehorse, still going strong
Went to Sydney to stay with Pia for a couple of weeks before heading to Thailand. I’d met her and her Mum at Mount Maungonui when I was passing through and we’d met up a couple of times, but she’d since moved to Aussie with work and had invited me to go visit.
While I was in town, I went and chatted to a local startup involved in the ticketing space. My work on ticketing applications could come in handy and they needed a website rewrite, so we talked about a potential partnership. Unfortunately I was going to be pretty busy with client work now the Olympics were approaching so couldn’t take them up on the offer, but would have loved to have worked with them… Will just have to see how things go…
I really enjoyed Sydney and while I preferred Melbourne, I could see myself living here. But I can probably see myself living everywhere.
After Sydney though was Thailand… and wow! Bangkok was busy. I’m not sure I was ready for it to be honest. Such an assault on the senses.
Thailand was just a temporary stop. I’d been able to change my flights so I stopped over here, but it was just so I could get to Vietnam. Fortunately, I did have a couple of weeks to check the place out. But after a couple of days, I’d had enough of Bangkok and wanted some beach action, as well as some of my favourite dish “Ka na moo grob” (crispy pork with chinese brocolli).
I’d probably live on just this dish if I could
I’d been recommended the bus down to Koh Samui, so I ended up buying a slightly overpriced ticket and heading south. The bus was possibly the worst journey I’ve ever made, and that’s saying something. Avoid at all costs! Definitely better to fly or catch the train.
Koh Samui is a pretty neat little island. But I stayed in the South-east part of the island and found the area a little seedy. Too many old, fat, balding white guys with young local girls. Kind of gross. So I headed out of town and found a nice deserted beach to go swimming. While there, I met this neat Irish fulla called Rob, who was pretty much in the same boat. He wasn’t really enjoying where we were staying for the same reasons. Ended up having a few drinks that evening, and decided to do a runner to another island to see if it was any better.
Found the ferry after a bit of a frantic ride and managed to catch it with only a few minutes to spare. I ended up just leaving my motorbike parked in the car park. Fingers crossed it’ll still be there when I get back. A couple hours later we were in Koh Tao. Met a really neat German guy called Alex who’d just spent 10 days in a slient retreat on Koh Pha Nang. Had to respect him for that.
Koh Tao is pretty much dive capital, so I managed to get a couple of dives in. Otherwise spent most the time exploring the island by foot or by bike. Definitely had a much better vibe than Koh Samui and I’d go back any day. One regret is I didn’t manage to do the free-diving course. Unfortunately it was a two day thing and I’d not be able to go and do a SCUBA if I did the course. But that’s another thing on the bucket list.
Caught the ferry back to Koh Samui and didn’t recognise the island. I wasn’t dropped off at the same spot we left from. So had to catch a taxi to the terminal where my bike (hopefully) was. Funny thing was, there were a couple of girls sharing the taxi with me, and they were from Leckhampton. Literally just around the corner from my place in Cheltenham. It’s a small world!
My bike and helmet were just where I left them. Why was I worried? Quickly blasted around the island to drop off my bike, then caught one of the shared taxi’s back to my hotel near the airport. Bugger the bus, I’m flying back to Bangkok.
On arrival into Hanoi, I’d forgotten to get money or organise photos for the visa on arrival. I’d paid for one of those online visas, but completely ignored the other requirements of having two photos and a USD$45 visa fee. But got it sorted okay. Just took a while. Then, once I got through customs, there wasn’t anybody waiting for me like I expected. The hotel were meant to send a car. But a quick call sorted that out, and in a short time I was headed to Hanoi to meet up with my travelling companions.
I’d met D in Auckland. We’d chatted a bit about an upcoming Europe bike trip and as I was at a loose end, with no real plans for the future, we also decided to go do another bike trip around Vietnam. He had a mate (Rodney) who was also keen, so the three of us met at the hotel then went out to get some motorbikes for our adventure.
We rode out of Hanoi towards Sa Pa. The scenery was amazing and I was gutted that the only camera I had, was my shitty little 2 Megapixel phone from 2006. I had a nice portable Sony Camera, but that gave up the ghost literally as soon as I landed. It wasn’t until I got back to Hanoi that I bit the bullet and bought a new Canon Powershot. Just wish I’d done it before Sa Pa.
My poor little phone couldn’t do Sa Pa’s scenery justice. It was gorgeous!
Both D and I had some small offs. D’s was probably a combination of jetlag and looking back checking on Rodney. Mine was not looking at the surface of the road carefully enough and running over a strip of Diesel. I pretty much totalled my bike though. But all-up was only $400 worth to replace. D’s repair bill was a lot less, as just a few hundred meters from where he crashed, was a little motorbike mechanic. Who had all the spares needed to get us back on the road again.
Quite lucky really. Considering how crazy the bus and truck drivers are. We got away very lightly. Accomodation was pretty reasonable too. Mostly we spent about $5/night for digs. And food was cheap and plentiful. I really enjoyed the beef or chicken pho that was just everywhere. Makes a great breakfast!
Sa Pa and the surrounds were just gorgeous. I so want to go back! And the ride back to Hanoi was probably the best day of my life. Only slightly ruined by the fact that I couldn’t find a stream far enough away from a village to be unpolluted. I really wanted a swim, but it just wasn’t happening.
After returning to Hanoi, I exchanged my rather broken bike for something not quite so broken in order to ride to Halong Bay.. Unfortunately I’d managed to contract food poisoning in Hanoi too, so really wasn’t feeling the best. I’d lagged behind the boys quite a lot and took a break to try and recover, but after having some more Pho, I promptly went to the curb and started throwing up. I really didn’t want to be on a bike, but had to push on.
D came back to escort me once I’d almost reached Halong bay. I was rather grateful to get into bed and made a quick recovery over the next day or so. The three of us rented a boat to do the typical tourist cruising. I wasn’t overly fussed about Halong bay though. It was nice, but more polluted than I liked and doing a typical tourist circuit doesn’t really interest me.
Cave mouth at one of the tourist spots at Halong Bay
To get away from the not so pleasant bits, we ended up finding another hotel Viethouse Lodge on Tuan Chau, a nearby island. This island was so cool! There were tons of construction projects that look like they were abandoned. It was a big boys playground! We made friends with the Aussie/German/Vietnamese girl who ran the hotel with her parents and had the most amazing Chinese dinner. Also went exploring afterwards in an abandoned rotunda. I was sad to leave Viethouse, but we were headed southwards to tick off a few more places on our list.
We all flew down to Da Nang. Another awesome hotel, we organised bikes so we could tour up to Hue and down to Hoi An. Met some students in Da Nang as well, who ended up showing us around all of the local sites, which was a lot of fun. Rodney headed back to Hanoi, while D & I headed down to Na Trang by train, then to Ho Chi Minh City a few days later.
Obligatory selfie while riding the coastal road north of Da Nang
I was still feeling really rough after my food poisoning, so ended up flying back to Thailand earlier than I’d planned in order to get a full medical check-up. Was worried that I’d picked up some sort of parasite or something, but no. Just regular food poisoning. While in Bangkok, I relaxed my ‘on-a-budget’ rule and splashed out for something five star, quiet, relaxing and away from the seedy part of town. The Chatrium Hotel Riverside was just the ticket. I spent a few days doing nothing more than swimming, reading and relaxing. Was lovely!
After a few days of swanning around in luxury, I went back to some rather more modest digs in town. While there, I met the most incredible family. Annie taught me how to do the egg-beater kick in the pool (a water polo thing). They were travelling for a year with kids, having the most amazing time!
But all too soon it was time to head back to Europe. I had a busy year with Stag do’s, Weddings, another bike trip, work for the London Olympics, and another Winter Avoidance tour to plan.