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Category Archives: RTW

Bucket list #17: St. Petersburg, Russia Part 3

And now the final entry on St. Petersburg. There was so much to see and do that I had to add multiple entries, and I have chosen to focus on the photos as the city was so beautiful, words could not describe it. So please enjoy this section on Catherine’s Palace, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and more…

Catherine’s Palace

Catherine’s Palace was the summer residence of the Tsars and Tsarinas, and was built in 1717 by Catherine the I, wife of Peter the Great. Their daughter, Empress Elizabeth, enlarged the palace and was infamous for her extravagance. As our guide noted “she was known to walk through the halls shouting More Gold, More Gold. When she died she left the country with around 13 000 dresses and a handful of rubles”. Not sure if this is accurate but it appears to be the general opinion of Russian tour guides. Catherine the Great was the next inhabitant and her additions were a lot less extravagant, focusing more on comfort.

Welcoming Commitee

Welcoming Commitee

Welcoming Committee

Welcoming Committee

Stunning exterior

Stunning exterior

Catherine's Palace

Keeping us entertained while we waited in line

Keeping us entertained while we waited in line

on the ceiling in the entry way

on the ceiling in the entry way

Original Delft tiles serve as exterior of numerous fireplaces used to heat the palace

Original Delft tiles serve as exterior of numerous fireplaces used to heat the palace

The gold rooms, 3 rooms one of the other covered in gold

The gold rooms, 3 rooms one of the other covered in gold

Stunning artwork everywhere

Stunning artwork everywhere

A slightly different style...

A slightly different style…

Catherine's Palace

Peterhof Palace or the Petrodoverts

The Peterhof Palace has been compared to the Palace of Versailles for it’s numerous fountains spread throughout the stunning grounds. All of the fountains are gravity fed, there are no pumps to be found at all. Here are a few of my favorites…

Peterhof Palace

Peterhof Palace

Peterhof Palace

Peterhof Palace

We were exceptionally lucky with our weather, clear blue sky and temperatures just high enough not to need a sweater. It made the gardens of Peterhof downright spectacular. There is so much in St. Petersburg that I could write another 5 posts, everything from the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Isaacs

St. Isaacs Cathedral

With it's stunning domed roof

With it’s stunning domed roof

To it’s impeccably clean underground/subway, the most common comment from the guests was just how clean and how “nice” it smelled compared to the underground in their city….

Stunning art at all stops, this one had chandeliers and crystal pillars

Stunning art at all stops, this one had chandeliers and crystal pillars


St. Petersburg Underground

St. Petersburg surprised me at every turn, glorious green spaces, incredible architecture and an amazing history, very unlike what you expect to see in a communist country… I hope to return with more time to explore!!

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2016 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, RTW, Travel

 

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Things Can Only get better….. right???

The hotel was the Crowne Plaza and pretty dang nice. I was in the executive suites and am just going to pretend that meant it was super nice vs just the ordinary suites. The room was very comfortable and clean and the bed looked like heaven, but first dinner with some of my newest friends.

so happy to see a comfy bed

so happy to see a comfy bed

calming soap and shampoo - just what I need

calming soap and shampoo – just what I need

Lufthansa had given us each a $35 food and drink voucher which allowed for a pretty decent meal of Korean Skirt Steak and a mango mojito. The company was great, even the Israeli/American guy who kept hinting we were going to have a good time and did I need a roommate for what sounded like a much nicer room, food was delicious and I was exhausted with a 6.30am wake up call waiting for me. So I headed out after paying, the restaurant had sneaked on an extra $5 charge for large party gratuity claiming Lufthansa was paying anyway…. Cheeky!

I got to sleep around 11pm and for the most part slept well waking up just before 6.30am. A continental breakfast was included on the 7th floor of the Executive Suites. Then onto the airport by shuttle.

I called Lufthansa on the way to confirm everything and ask about the bag and the very nice German man named Michael sounded horrified that United had charged me, immediately contacting his manager and giving me an email to send the receipt to and hopefully get reimbursed.

Things are looking up

At the American counter they confirmed I was allocated 2 bags even though their policy is 1, all they had to do was swipe my passport and print my boarding passes. Apparently the swipe part of my passport had been damaged and would no longer swipe, these caused a bit of confusion as they are not meant to manually enter information but that was the only way to print my passes. Eventually they went ahead, the bags were sent on to Lisbon and I headed for my gate.

Security was a breeze, although apparently the full body scanner felt my left sock was dangerous, must have something against Christmas and reindeer. Then onto the gate, charged my computer and watched another episode of “Being Human” (which I am now slightly addicted to) and sent off the email to Lufthansa about the refund. We will have to wait and see

Finally it was time to board and head to Philly then an hour and a half before Lisbon. My seat was at the very very back of the plane, and for a split second I thought I might have the whole row until Jason arrived. Really nice chap who works on pharmaceutical machinery all around the world. While he got settled I had a good chat with flight attendant Glen, about customer service and surviving flights. It was great having such a great seat mate and we chatted away for the first hour. I was just thinking about putting my feet up to get some shut eye when James walked up to our favorite flight attendant. He had the seat up front next to particularly rotund gentleman who kind of spilled into surrounding seats. He hoped there was another seat available. Feeling the camaraderie that comes from both working in customer service, Glen asked if I would mind if James had the middle seat. Of course I said yes, no problem, then remembered and double checked with Jason if that was ok. Not only did it turn out to be a great group to sit with, Glen was so thankful he offered us all a free sandwich with chips (on this flight you had to pay) and later gave a full tin of soda and extra cookies. Got to love being helpful.

…And then things just kind of plateau

We got into the airport a full 30 minutes early and then sat on the tarmac as our gate wasn’t cleared, the upswing is beginning to level out. Found a Starbucks on the way so finally got to use a gift card I had, woohoo. Made it to the gate with 25 minutes before boarding, all seemed well and Glen had promised that this leg would have great entertainment so I could finally catch up on my movies…. the plane was packed and looked like it was from the 80’s, it even had the the entertainment system that consists of single screens scattered down the center aisle… mmmmm. Of course the best choice of movie to watch on a tiny screen trying to see past the gentleman in front who keeps moving his head is “STAR WARS – THE FORCE AWAKENS”… yup definitely not in the up swing any more.

Star Wars.... I think

Star Wars…. I think

Luckily I survived my flight and even got both my bags! Score!!!!! Now just through customs and to find the wonderful agent waiting to whisk me off to the ship without any hassle…. that would be in the ulterior universe of course. No agent so stood in the very long taxi line. Finally get my taxi and the conversation goes like this:
Me: do you take credit card
Taxi: no
Me: I only have US dollars
Taxi: same thing
Me: oh, ok, I need to go to the Cruise Terminal, MSC.
Taxi: what?
Me: Cruise Terminal
Taxi: What?
Me: big ship
Taxi: ahhh ok
all bags loaded and in taxi
Taxi: do you know where? I know 3 different places
Me: hmmmm no, I only know MSC Opera….
Taxi: ok I think I see…

Thank heavens he had seen MSC and got me there for $31 after currency exchange. Finally make it to the ship and see an old friend from my first ship, a rather dashing Croatian. He hung out while his guys were washing the ship (seamen) and we were waiting for security to make up there mind. When they did they indicated the very long, fairly steep, step gangway… thanks! My friend and someone from housekeeping jumped in to help me, such nice guys.

MSC Opera  - home sweet home for the next 7mths

MSC Opera – home sweet home for the next 7mths

The Room Situation

Finally we get everything sorted and I get my room allocated which I have been told is vacant indicating bottom bunk availability. Well…. that was a lie, a lovely girl from the Bar beat me to the bottom bunk.

The room itself is one of the tiny inside cabins, my top bunk has no curtain, the air con is stuck on full arctic blast and my locker doesn’t have a door (the door is leaning against the wall). But the room is very clean! There is also a good chance I will either be moved to a porthole cabin if one becomes available or at the very least the girl from the bar will be moving in a few days so I can move down to the bottom bunk.

Meeting the Captain

Usually when one meets the Captain of the ship you want it to be a very good impression, one where he will think highly of you and appreciate all you do. But then again, there is me……my meeting went something like this:

I was working disembarkation on deck 6 sending the guests through security when security needed to change things up and prepare the metal detector for those coming back on board. They instructed me to send the guests to deck 5. Unfortunately, unbeknown to me, my French counterpart was sending guests up because of the queue on 5. The very first guests I send back got very angry and shouted a bit, turned out they went back down and shouted at my French counterpart, right as the Captain walked past, so they shouted at him to. He came upstairs:

Captain: why are you sending the guests downstairs??
Me; Security told me to
Captain: (barely controlling his anger) Do me a favor and only listen to the deputy not to security.
Me: Yes sir (wondering who the heck he is, maybe the Hotel Director???)
Captain then proceeds to yell at security and goes down to the pier and yells at the officers, all I hear is “something something Social Hostess, something Social Hostess, something something something Social Hostess”.
Me to Security: wow he is making a big deal who is he anyway?
Security: the Captain
Me: oh shit!
Later the Deputy (who I know from my first ship) looked at me and sighed stating “only you Kathy, only you”…….

Luckily I wasn’t in any trouble, but it still was a little awkward.

The next day we had a meeting with him in his rooms, he had watched some of the “Behind the Scenes” lectures and wanted to correct some information. Turns out he is a really great Captain with an excellent and unexpected sense of Humor. He also took us to the bridge to be sure we understood how things worked on our ship compared to the larger class. Unfortunately he leaves in a few days and will replaced with a new Captain, let’s hope he is as fantastic.

What a way to start the next 7 months….

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2016 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, RTW, Travel

 

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Return to The Sea

After leaving my last contract I was 99% sure I would never return to the sea unless it was in a small dive boat in a stunning tropical location. I even headed to Thailand and the stunning Koh Phangan Island to complete my Dive Instructor course. It was phenomenal with lots of hard work and stress, but pretty soon I was taking divers out and teaching courses. Unfortunately for me, it turned out to be one of the worst tourist seasons the island had seen in over 8yrs and also resulted in what little savings I had left after paying for my course to whittle down at a frighteningly rapid rate. In the end I opted to say farewell, head home for the holidays and accept another contract.

It felt surprisingly normal to tell people that I worked on a cruise ship and many showed interest and envy. I was excited and nervous about returning to the ships after having almost a year off. At first I was offered the same ship as last time in the Med, but then two weeks before departing they asked me to switch to a small ship (new to my collection) and Northern Europe. It meant another 2 months at home (much to the joy of my father knowing it meant 2 more months of home cooking) and on the small ships there was only 1 crew bar, smoking. But I had always wanted to do Northern Europe so I jumped at the chance.

Two months rapidly diminished to 2 days and then it was time to leave….

Things always come in threes…

Number 1

the trip started innocently enough with a usual check in at the United counter to fly to San Fran then onto Munich and finally Lisbon. The company had booked the trip through Lufthansa and all documentation stated that 2 bags were allowed free of charge. The first leg was Eugene to San Fran and was operated by United air. At the counter I was informed that I had to pay $100 for the second bag and take out 3 pounds (or pay $260, extra bag + overweight charge). I politely informed them that I had a seaman’s ticket allowing not only 2 bags but a few extra pounds… I was met with blank stairs… A manager was called over and she informed me that even though Lufthansa allows 2 bags the 1st leg was on United and they allow ONE! That will be $100.

After paying and heading through the gate I sat down and looked over the ticket information I had been sent and sure enough there it was : 2 bags allowed. I headed to the gate counter and asked there, the lady seemed very confused and tried to help, looking into the system. Unfortunately there was nothing she could do so she suggested I contact United Customer Service handing me the number.

So there I was sitting in the waiting lounge on the phone with United and the best response I could get was the following:
“ I am sorry Ma’am but since your first flight was on United we follow United policies despite the fact that it was booked through Lufthansa.”
“But my documentation clearly states that I should be allowed 2 bags”
“Ma’am perhaps that means that 2 bags are allowed but only 1 is free….”

I think she was starting to reach a little. Oh well lets hope that the company reimburses me or I am able to get Lufthansa to do so.

Number 2

Arriving at San Fran I headed to the international terminal checking my flight on the board. Since it was still 5hrs the board simply showed my flight as:
Gate = INTL (International). I asked the attendant there and she said it was still too long till the flight to have a confirmed gate… perfectly feasible I guess.

I found a great Japanese place and enjoyed a delicious meal of pork cutlet, rice and some green tea.

mmmm yummy

mmmm yummy

Then off to find a comfy chair to relax. I watched some movies and waited another 2 hrs (total of 3 1/2 hrs). Then I figured it must surely be close enough to the flight (now 2hrs away). Checking the board I noticed that my flight appeared to no longer exist, and double checking my alphabet and making sure i was spelling Munich correctly I tried my best not to feel that panic rise.

I went to the gate I had originally had on my boarding pass to find an agent already speaking in German with 3 others (heading home for wedding). Apparently the plane had been struck by lightening and had been forced to return to Munich. He informed us we had to go up and to aisle 4 to talk to Lufthansa, when we asked him what that meant he simply said “up and out then aisle 4 past aisle 3”…. Still uncertain where to go we asked at the United Lounge who said aisle 4 was outside security just passed a gate to our left. So out we headed.

As we rounded the corner we were faced with the other 100 odd passengers who had arrived to check in all standing inline and no one giving any information. I found a rep and he handed me some info and told me to stand in line and suggesting I call the number on the page. The other family had been rebooked and quickly headed back the way we had just come to catch the flight. I on the other hand had not received any emails or text messages because my flight had been booked through the company and was not linked to any of my info.

Luckily while waiting in line I was connected to a very helpful lady at the lufthansa customer service and she informed me I had been rebooked to arrive in Lisbon, via Philadelphia on American Airlines, Saturday morning at 8:50am. I explained the situation about trying to reach Lisbon in time to catch my boat and if there was any way to get me there any earlier, she said she would try her best and put me on hold while she searched. In the mean time I had discovered that the line I was standing in, the one that hadn’t moved in the last hour, was for the hotel voucher and not for rebooking, that was the line next to us. So I begrudgingly moved to the other line wanting to double check that a flight of some sort would be booked for me. The lady on the phone got back to me right before I got to the counter saying my only option was the trip the next day. I got to the counter and they confirmed for me again that I had been rebooked on American. I queried the bag issue, explaining what United had done and my fear that American may do the same thing. They were not as surprised at United as I wish they had been and, while not promising, they did say there was a chance American would honor the 2 bags vs their usual policy of 1 bag. Guess that’s better than nothing.

Number 3

They then informed me to just pop over to the other line with about 20 people in it, the line that had not moved, literally, to get my hotel voucher as they were only rebooking, oh fabulous.

We must have stood in that line for another 2 hours waiting for hotel vouchers with no one giving us any information as to why the line was not moving. Finally I asked if we could get some drink vouchers or something, leaning more towards the idea of “we all need a tequila shot”, but the very sweet Lufthansa lady named Marabel offered water. We could use that too I guess. People relaxed al little when the water arrived and information seemed to be flowing a bit but we were still exhausted and just wanted to get to the hotel. Apparently Lufthansa was calling all the hotels and booking rooms and would only then give out the vouchers.

The family who had dashed off to get to their rebooked flight appeared from the other counter, they had just missed the cut off time to get to the gate, and were not allowed to board, so they were stuck with us waiting for a hotel and most likely going to miss their god child’s wedding.

We continued the query as to what happened and were told by the staff lightening strike, but by some of the passengers it was just a strike…. interesting…..

Finally at around 9pm, after waiting for 4hrs to get info added to the already 3 hours I had spent waiting at the gate we were handed hotel and food vouchers. All we had to do was head outside and pick up the shuttle…. turns out they had not called the shuttle, so that meant a further 30min wait in the cold.

little chilly

little chilly

All together !!!

All together !!!

Luckily when it arrived we were all able to squeeze on and had developed a great sense of camaraderie planning to meet up for dinner at the hotel…

But wait there is more….

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2016 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, RTW, Travel

 

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When It All Begins To Feel Normal!!

In the Beginning

Back in school I was the epitome of nerd, I loved school, was president of the Wildlife club, in choir, participated in the speech and drama festival and if that wasn’t enough was Head Library Prefect/Monitor. In fact, I actually won a trophy for service to the school in my final year. As a result I was bullied and suffered low self esteem. Thinking back most of my fellow classmates, and the teachers too in fact, would most likely have expected me to be married and settled fairly soon after graduating or completing college. After being accepted into the Horticulture program at Natal Technical College it seemed like that was a likely path. However, Fate had other ideas by giving us the opportunity to immigrate to the USA.

Alter Egos

Four years at Oregon State University ended with a 2 month trip to the UK. I believe this was around the time my alter ego began to emerge. For years I had had a plan, to find a good job in the environmental field and… well… save the world… But suddenly I was starting to explore the world… and so my organized responsible side now had a sister, the world wide traveler…. 3 years teaching English in South Korea fed that alter ego with numerous trips around Asia.

My alter ego allowed me to feel free and more confident while abroad and seemed to thrive among different cultures and fascinating history.

On the contrary, my responsible side followed society expectations and parents always feel more comfortable when their kids have a good job and are settled.

However, social situations still made me uncomfortable and my inability to come to terms with my dual personalities constantly made me feel guilty about traveling and yet stressed over not taking the opportunity to explore more.

Sanity

Lucky for me I have a great friend, mentor and fellow traveler. He always seems to be online in my darkest hours, when I feel like a stranger in my “responsible” job, and… when I decide to buy a ticket to somewhere new. (I can help anyone else buy a ticket but when it’s my turn I am completely indecisive). If I owed him a beer for every time he has calmed my fears over letting down my responsible side I would most likely owe him an entire brewery. It is his advice that has kept me sane year after year, and as others have got used to the idea that I don’t necessarily fit any mold and they can live vicariously through me, they too have begun to keep me sane.

When It All Begins To Feel Normal!!

This past year has really been a turning point for me. For years people looked at me as this confident world traveler but inside I remained that bullied library prefect, and my two egos were constantly at odds. But, at the encouragement of amazing friends and my parents, I completed my PADI Dive Instructor course in Thailand last July. The moment I was told I had passed I cried, became weak at the knees, and said “does this finally make me cool??”. I don’t think I had ever realized just how much I had been affected by those long ago bullies, how I still considered myself as always that “nerd who won a trophy for service to the school”… my confidence began to grow…

Then, while at a hostel in Bangkok, fellow travelers, many abroad for the first time, seemed to be drawn to me asking my advice of where to go and what to see, and surprised when they mentioned a destination I had not yet been to… and my confidence grew…

Returning home, I decided to return to the cruise ships for another contract, and instead of feeling embarrassed about working on a cruise ship, a job many would think a joke, I found myself confidently stating the fact, “I am a social hostess on a cruise ship in Europe”. Never once was I faced with a sneer, but rather genuine interest and envy… and my confidence grew…

I am not exactly certain when I came to terms with the fact that travel is who I am, at least for now, when it all just became normal for me and everyone around me… But for now it has… I feel at peace and most importantly confident… that is until I need to pack for this upcoming contract….. 😉

Dedicated to my amazingly patient parents, my phenomenal travel guru mentor and fantastic friends who have believed in me all this time …. I think I may finally have begun believing in myself!!!

 

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Luang Prabang, Laos

Visiting Laos was almost completely by accident. I had hoped to visit when I first arrived to do my scuba instructor course in Thailand, but as time went by it just seemed impossible… Then, one night, sitting on the beach and drinking beers with friends I said “I wish I could go to Laos…”. My good friend, Monique, replied with “Well, why can’t you??”…. That is when the seed was planted… yes why can’t I go???

In truth it had been many years since I had traveled anywhere new by myself, even though that is my favorite way to travel, but another friend hoped to join so that ignited the fire of excitement even more and I soon traded some old books for a used Lonely Planet and got on with planning. Ultimately he couldn’t join but by then the train was rolling and there was no way to stop it!

My original plan was thus:
– Travel by overnight bus to Bangkok, stay at NapPark hostel where I could store luggage.
– Travel by overnight train to the border then on to Vientiane, the capital, for a night.
– Another 13hr odd journey to Luang Prabang and spend a few days before the return journey.

But you never know how plans might change so it is never worth carving things in stone. As it turned out I met a great bunch of folks at the hostel and we planned to do a day trip to Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam, and at the same time the travel agent who happened to have his little office in the restaurant suggested I fly to Luang Prabang instead….

With the prospect of not only getting a chance to see Ayuthaya but also spend more time in Luang Prabang I was sold!! The cost was around $189 (US) for the ticket vs about $100 and a total of 4 days of travel…. yup no brainer!

Luang Prabang was phenomenal, stunning, chilled, friendly…. one of my top 3 for sure.

The People You Meet….
Among the amazing experiences was meeting up with one of the Terrific Ten, Denise from Holland, who met up with me after visiting Chang Mai. Was like having an old friend to hang out with and to go on a kayak/trek with. The kayak trip was with White Elephant Adventures and was brilliant, post food poisoning and all. Another incredible opportunity was learning to weave with a German girl who was staying at the same guesthouse.

However, I think my all time favorite experience was meeting my “Smoothie Family”. Every night as you walk down the main street towards the night market you pass around 10 families all selling smoothies of various flavors. Well on my first night I wondered down trying to decide if I wanted one, when this young chap calls out “You want a smoothie?” with a cheeky little up swing in the tone as he said it. It caught my attention and I was hooked for the rest of the week. At some point I ended with a smoothie buddy, an older lone traveler, we had a smoothie date at 8pm 3 nights in a row… one of those rare memories you can only have through travel.

Smoothie Family and Smoothie Date

Smoothie Family and Smoothie Date

I hope to return some day!!!

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2016 in RTW, Thailand, Travel

 

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White Elephant Adventures – Luang Prabang, Laos

Choices, Choices…

Luang Prabang, Laos, is a hub for adventure! Everything from 1-3 day trekking trips to remote tribes in the hills, to kayak trips, to zip-lining, elephant riding and so much more. The hard part is not only choosing which activity to take part in but also which company to choose from the many that line the main street.

Luang Prabang Main Street

Luang Prabang Main Street

I spent a couple of days wandering along looking in at some of the tour companies but none of them really caught my attention, until I wandered in to the White Elephant Adventure Company office. Immediately there was a great vibe, and the owner, Alex, paused long enough on his way out to provide some great information.

From what I could tell the big difference comes from the fact that White Elephant uses only local guides, supports the local communities and schools and also believes in “leave no trace” activities. Unlike other companies who would take tourists to a remote community and leave their company stickers plastered all over the houses… White Elephant also has a unique pricing technique, every day of a tour costs $50 US, regardless of how many people or which tour you do, making things nice and clear.

My friend and I opted for the 1 day kayak and trek. We would drive and then trek through a local village, home to 3 of the tribes: Hmong, Lao and Khmu (In Laos these days the tribes get along really well, and often live together in communities, each with their own architectural designs and lifestyles). Then we would kayak to the Tad-se waterfalls where we would have lunch, have time for a swim and for those interested in Elephant rides or zip-lining there would be time for those (for a small fee).

This is what got my attention at first

This is what got my attention at first

A Right Proper Pair

On the morning of the big day my friend and I were a sight… she had broken her big toe while in Chang Mai after a tourist rode their scooter over her foot and I had decided to skip street food the night before and eat in a restaurant resulting in food poisoning…go figure.

But Miss Limp-along and Miss Sicky sucked it up and gave it a go… our decision was aided in the fact that there was an entry fee that had already been paid and if we changed dates we would have to pay it again (only $10US but that was equal to around 5 sandwiches and 3 smoothies). The staff at White Elephant were phenomenal, making sure I stayed hydrated and my friend had any help she needed with getting around.

A Great Day Out

So despite feeling and looking like I had a heck of a hangover… we had a fabulous day. Our phenomenal guides were Mr Manh (yup he da Manh!!) and Mr. Vee. We headed out by truck 30 minutes outside the city and then, after visiting the 3rd bush on the right (I had been drinking a LOT of water), we walked down to pick up our ride across the river. It became a source of much amusement as it turned out to be a dugout with a motor that sat VERY low in the water and did not feel stable, we were afraid to sneeze.

Once we were across Mr Vee gave us a great tour of the villages explaining all the differences in the lifestyles and their homes, how one tribe prefers double story, another prefers stilts and the other goes for a one story ground floor.

Hmong Houses.

Hmong Houses.

All very fascinating with some awfully cute kids along the way…

Super cute kids.

Super cute kids.

Then it was time a bush trek, around 30min, to get to our next dugout ride and finally to the kayaks. Mr. Vee was my kayak partner since I was under the weather and not sure how well I could keep up, he was fantastic and took over a large portion of the kayaking, also happy to answer all my questions and tell me a few things along the wa.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1249.

Tad-Se Waterfall

After a short kayak across the river we came to Tad-Se waterfalls, similar in design to the Kuang Si waterfalls with the travertine limestone creating beautiful pools to take a relaxing, if somewhat chilly, dip.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1228.

We also used it as the perfect lunch spot while some of the others took a dip in the falls on the back of an elephant.

Kayak, Rapids and Friends

All too soon our fun at the falls came to an end and we headed back to the kayaks for the last stretch of the river and some fun rapids. It was spectacular with a few clouds and blue sky, slowly kayaking down the Nam Khan river (a tributary of the Mekong). We hit a couple of rapids but nothing serious just a bit of fun.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1233.

Finally we came to the home stretch and landed the kayaks smoothly. The last set of rapids were a little more exciting and one of us did tip over (as it turned out his kayak had been taking on water the whole trip without realizing it and was fairly unstable when he hit the first rapid), but no one was harmed…

All in all a phenomenal trip, phenomenal guides, and an outstanding company, highly recommended!!!

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2016 in RTW, Travel

 

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Trekker’s Hostel Highlights: NapPark – Bangkok

Location : Well located just 2 streets away from Khao San Road, the infamous backapcker party and market street. Close enough to enjoy the party but far enough away to find some more chilled out options.

Staff : Phenomenal staff, all Thai. They try be very helpful and always there with a smile, as long as you show them the same courtesy of course. They also reply to emails within one day, and are very patient with multiple questions.

Dorms : They have smaller 4-6 bed and then the large mixed dorms. The set up is quite unique with each bed have it’s own light and power sockets. They also have “privacy” screens that can be lowered to give a sense of privacy. I say “privacy” because the screens are essentially see through, so great for the illusion of being alone, but possibly aids in the prevention of hanky panky….

Cleanliness : one of the cleanest hostels I have been in. The sheets are white and so have some stains and marks on them but they are clean. The Cleaning staff do a fantastic job every day.

Social : The common area near reception has a couple of large mats and reclining cushions where everyone migrates to. You will start with 2 and by the end of the evening you can have over 20 people from all over the world, it just seems natural to join the circle.

Cafe : They have a great little cafe at the front area outside, with a wonderful sitting/relaxing area. The lady who runs it is super sweet and was a great hoot when 10 of us decided to order at the same time, she received a round of applause at the end of it!!

They also allow you store your luggage for a couple of weeks… which was perfect when I spent a week in Laos with just my carry on.

All in all a great hostel, definitely book in advance as they sell out quickly.

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2015 in RTW, Thailand, Travel

 

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30+ is Never Too Old For Adventure!!!

Expectations of the Civilized World

There is a certain stigma to being over 30 in the Western “Civilized” world. You are expected to:
– Have a steady job
– Be Settled
– Be Married, preferably with children
– Have a dog and a cat
– Have a car or 2
– Have a nice house
– Be financially settled without debt

In truth most people who follow the stigma are:
– Hate their job
– Don’t feel settled, grass is always greener
– Have a rocky marriage
– Can’t stand the dog or cat
– Have a house mortgage threatening to bankrupt them
– Have student loans and car loans and fake financial security by having multiple credit cards

When People Ask Me How??

People often ask me “how I do it, how do I travel and live all over the world??”, I reply that I just “do”! 15 years ago I was still paying off $25 000 US in university fees, had a car payment, rent. I paid most of it off by working as an English Teacher in Seoul, Korea and getting to travel at the same time. Then in 2009 (6 years ago) I was working 3 part time jobs and on unemployment. But I found a way of saving, I gave up my car and used the bus, I shopped at the charity shops, I learnt to reuse things for other purposes, finally I moved back in with the folks and managed to find a great job as a vet nurse and then I saved! I didn’t buy name brands or expensive cars or felt embarrassed that I lived with the folks at 32. Heck, I paid a small rent and helped around the house. I paid off my school loans and without a car or a home loan I had no debt… which meant I could explore the world.

At Machu Pichu, Peru

At Machu Pichu, Peru

True I am not married or have kids, yes that does make things a little easier. But I have met people from all over who sell everything that society “requires” you to have and takes their kids on an amazing worldwide adventure. Experience is often the best education.

Bathing in Thermal Mud in Rotorua, New Zealand

Bathing in Thermal Mud in Rotorua, New Zealand

Creativity Makes the Difference

Another important note is that I travel creatively, I find ways to save money from couchsurfing, to work trade in hostels/ backpackers, volunteer work where accommodation is provided, eating locally, not drinking in excess and spending money that way. I spent less than $20 000 total on a year long adventure to 8 different countries from South America to Australia to Nepal.This adventure led me to to work on cruise ships for 2 years all over the world, and, ultimately, to my present job as a dive instructor with Scuba Futures in Thailand. It might look easy every time I try something new or move halfway across the world on another crazy adventure, but I promise you, if you had to watch me trying to decide to buy my air ticket you would see someone who is crazy nervous and on the verge of hyperventilating, and having an internal battle between my “responsible” side vs. my adventurous side. It is never easy to decide to change, but 9 times out of 10 it is worth it.

Working on a cruise ship - Zakynthos, Greece

Working on a cruise ship – Zakynthos, Greece

Doors are always open if you look and even if the path seems difficult and weaves away from the “required” path of 30+ year olds, it’s one hell of a fun path to follow, so give it a try and do something different.

Working as a dive instructor, Koh Phangan, Thailand

Working as a dive instructor, Koh Phangan, Thailand

Go ahead, follow Alice down the Rabbit Hole and see what LIFE has in store for you!

Kissed by a Dolphin in Jamaica

Kissed by a Dolphin in Jamaica

 

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Koh Phangan…I Have ARRIVED!!

Arrival!

Alarm went off at 4.30am, I woke up at 4.28am, really really hate it when that happens. So tired, even though I slept remarkably well on my rock hard bed. At reception we got me all checked out and by the time I was done, the taxi was waiting, I didn’t even see the receptionist call (she’s a keeper that’s for sure). Will definitely stay at Delight Residence again!

The airport was chaos personified, what are all these people doing awake at this time of the morning, and so animated at that. There didn’t seem to be any real system as to processing bags or anything, I stood in line in what appeared to be a pre-security check, but as I put my bags on the belt, I noticed people just walking past. Well at least my bags got a pretty sticker that said “approved”. Not even sure if the scanner was working. Then stood in a line for 5min before I realised it was just a group of people waiting and there was no one checking people at the end. Shifted to another line and finally got to the desk. No problem checking my bags, and when I pointed out which bag was the sports equipment it got another pretty sticker saying “fragile”…well every little bit helps I guess.

Then through security and off to find some hot water to make a coffee with my instant packets i bought in Korea. I was fairly certain I could get a cup for free, but then again I was charged 2euros at Frankfurt airport, so who knows. After some confusion and them asking for money, another lady buying a coffee said something in Thai and then turned to me and said “no no she didn’t understand, just hot water is free”. SWEET!

Met a great lady from Australia while we were waiting to board. She turned out to be lifelong traveler, age 54, saw a little bit of me in her. We chatted until the plane was due to leave and planned to meet up at the luggage carousal.

I had the window seat and chatted to a rather sick looking girl who turned out to be an English teacher in Surrat Thani, the town we were flying to. I quizzed her about ESL jobs in that region and she gave me a bunch of great tips. Then we were joined by a rather hot (as in temperature) looking business man in a suit. It wasn’t even 7am and it was close to 30C/86F and very humid. He was from the British Consulate and had a business trip to the university in Surrat Thani, he removed the jacket as soon as he could.

I got my pancakes and honey for breakfast that I had ordered, not bad, but wish I had maple syrup. At Surrat Thani, I met up with the lifelong traveler and she watched my bags as I did a mad dash to pee, being in the window seat with sleeping seat mates isn’t all its cracked up to be.

Bus…Ferry…Taxi…

Upon getting our bags, lifelong traveler had to dash off and get her bus to the ferry, apparently she had managed to buy a ticket all included with her air ticket. I made my way to what I assumed was the transport desk, handed over 500 baht (US$15ish) and was escorted to a mini van and squeezed into the last seat. Luckily the air conditioning was running as we sat there for 30min. I couldn’t understand what we were waiting for and I was too exhausted too care. Eventually we all headed off and I was pretty certain we had missed the first ferry and I would have to wait 2-3 hrs for the next one. At the terminal the driver pointed me in the direction of the main building and I lugged all my bags (I never travel heavy but a bag with scuba gear kind of throws off the light part of travel light), into the building. They then told me to go back out to pier 3 where the boat was waiting. Turned out the boat was leaving in 10min and would be there in 2.5hrs. Guess all my research was wrong. I had there sheer joy of lugging my bags up a VERY steep gangway and stairs before finally getting to the main deck (there were gentlemen climbing over each other to assist me…not), where I dropped everything in a pile and went in search of water and something salty and sweet. I found it at the little store and also discovered a South African who said there were about 5 of us on the boat and none of us knew each other, what are the odds.

Good To Know: Safety First

Ferry to Koh Phangan

Ended up chatting with a guy from Canada, who had managed to study computer stuff and then moved to the island and live off remote internet things he works on. See I know all that techy lingo! Managed to get in a nap and then the island came into view.

Farewell Mainland

Hello Koh Phangan

The nice Canadian techy guy was kind enough to help me down with my bag and point me in the direction of the taxi’s. Ricardo, my mate and soon to be instructor, had planned to come pick me up in the dive school truck, but it was in use. The taxi took the coast road and while it was beautiful, I found myself concerned about road conditions and wondering if driving a motorbike for the first time here would be possible.

Reunion

For those of you reading my blog you might remember I met Ricardo, dive instructor from Chile, on the oil rig converted to a dive rig in Borneo where he was working. He was the mysterious dive instructor who appeared, took photos and disappeared, and also showed us amazing sights as far as small tiny things go, like nudibranchs.

Well when all the sh@t hit the fan with the boy, I had contacted Ricardo and asked about coming to Thailand, he encouraged me to come and chill out, recoup and do my divemaster at the same time. Seemed like a great idea.

He met me at the dive shop and showed me around. Then took me across the road to the bungalow he had organised for me to get me started. It was really nice, I paid 3000baht (US$100) and settled in. Then I realised the wifi didn’t work, there was no warm water, the power lines made ominous crackling sounds, but for now sleep over ruled it all.

Bungalow number 1

Finally I was in Koh Phangan, new adventures await and it’s not a bad view!!

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2012 in RTW, Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Flying to Thailand

Sunday October 14th 2012

I am finally heading to the place that I hope will let me heal my heart and contemplate what the future holds for me, Koh Phangan, Thailand. I was last in Thailand with a friend in 2001 for Christmas vacation when we taught in Seoul. It will be interesting to return.

My flight was at 9am and I had thought this was a fairly decent hour, needing to be at the airport at 7am. However, I forgot to take into account the 1hr bus ride from Seoul to Incheon Airport, also wake and get ready time (luckily for me that’s about 10min). I got up at 5.30am, got dressed, Jamie walked me to the taxi and was on the bus at 6.02am. Not bad timing if you ask me. I had no issues at the airport, unless you count the rather humbling experience of trying to pull a baggage cart away from another, I just grumbled and moved to another one that was much happier to oblige me. All my fears of baggage weights proved unfounded and I was well within the limits I had paid for. I checked most of my scuba equipment except for the more expensive and sensitive regulator and computer, which of course were suspicious going through security scan. Although the only thing they asked me was if I had a dive knife… I would hope not in my carry on luggage, I just smiled sweetly and said no and they barely checked to make sure I was telling the truth.

At check in I was told to take the train to gate 106 and it would take 30min, I assumed that the airport had grown a bit since the last time I flew out of here. But after barely 3min of talking to a very chatty businessman who was heading to China to ship silica, we arrived at the gate. At first I thought it was one of many stops but then realised EVERYONE was getting out. Guess the check in lady had mispoke.

I love watching people in airports and ever since we entered the train I was bemused by the bleach blonde or wigged, serious high heel platform shoed version of what seemed like the Korean Lady Gaga. You just couldn’t help but stare.

With 2 hours and 10,000won I bought an ice coffee and skyped the folks. I wanted to exchange my leftover won and hoped to use my debit card to get $100 worth of Thai Baht. But they wouldn’t accept it, cash only. So I dug out the $20 I had saved and used that along with my remaining change of Korean won. I managed to get 590 baht which would cover the taxi in Bangkok tonight and the one in the morning right back to the airport.

Air Asia – Flight 1

Air Asia has really cheap flights, but you pay for everything from checked baggage, to meals, to seats, to entertainment. The good thing about this is that you can design your trip how you want it, you can also add something like a meal during the flight, it’s just a little more expensive. Usually I don’t book seats and just see where they put me, but for some reason I decided to book these flights.

It paid off and I managed a whole row, where I quickly spread out to prevent anyone else getting the idea of moving to one of the empty seats. Sometimes self preservation and being able to stretch out during a flight is more important.

I was flying Air Asia via Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Bangkok. I would arrive around 8pm. I ordered vegetarian lasagna and I must say it was delicious, as far as airplane food goes.

I guess I couldn’t have it all perfect, a full row to sleep, airline food that was actually food and good, tv on my computer…. and an aircon system in the plane that was bordering on schizophrenic. Blasts of freezing air every 10min, then lull you into a false sense of security of comfort and just as you get comfy…another blast of arctic wind. After the one flight attendant saw me turning blue and teeth chattering for the 3rd time they finally got it sorted. Maybe they were just trying to convince folks to buy the “Comfort Pack” which includes a pillow, eye mask and a BLANKET!!!

Arrival Kuala Lumpur

I had a 3hr layover in KL, and it was a balmy 33C, which is the warmest I have felt in over a year. I stripped off jackets and hats and boots in preparation and just as well as the airport’s airconditioning involved open doors and windows.

I was meant to go to the transfer “lounge” but got caught up in the masses and discovered myself in immigration. After some confusion I figured out that the sign was telling me to U-turn back down the stairs and not go round the corner. The entrance to the transfer was a door I had walked passed and had a huge sign announcing what it was… oh well, I blame lack of coffee (you had to pay for that).

In true customer service style there were 3 desks open… but only 1 for about 10 country destinations including mine, so there was a good 30min wait and shuffle, wait and shuffle. But people watching was hilarious. The high maintenance Korean girl wearing ridiculously high wedges and blue stripey socks and nearly breaking her ankle with every step was there. She was having a tiff with her boyfriend/husband, and throwing things on the floor in grand temper tantrum style, I was waiting for her to start stomping her feet, she already had the pout going.

By the time I got through the counter I only had a 2 hr wait. I needed to charge my computer so hunted down a power station, the only one in the whole place. Then realised I had packed my adaptor in my checked luggage. Luckily found one at the bookstore. Plugged in and sat on the floor watching one of my miniseries. Of course, people kept bumping my plug and losing power, and every time I tried to reach across the table to plug it back in, very helpful folks unplugged it for me thinking I wanted to leave. After the 4th time I just took the plug and went to the loo. When I came back I went to the other side of the power station and a plug point I could reach. Started chatting with an American girl, and she watched my computer as I searched, in failure for a water fountain, apparently you need to buy water in this airport.

The Boarding Game

I have taken a flight from this airport before and remember the sheer confusion as multiple destinations are checked through the same gate and you all, en masse, head for a variety of planes and just hope you end up on the right one.

This time was even more amusing as there were streams of people coming off planes and streams heading to planes. You kind of criss cross, look confused, point in one direction, get a nod, head that way, board a plane and hope it’s the right one. Luckily the flight attendants are quite good at checking tickets.

I was surprised when the attendant suddenly called my name and handed over some roast chicken I had pre-ordered. Completely forgot I had got it. My seat mate was Thai and we had a great chat about things, well “great” with limited English. This time the food was not so good and there was a lot of gristle on the chicken and just not that good flavor wise. Oh well can’t win every time.

As we left KL there were massive thunder clouds outside the windows, which made one a little nervous and prepare for bumpyness.

Arrival Bangkok

I got into Bangkok around 8pm, and had been traveling for close to 16hrs. I managed to get my bags, some money and then went to line up outside in exceptionally hot and muggy weather, waiting for a taxi. Once I got my taxi I showed him the name of my hotel, of course he didn’t know it, but luckily I had taken all the information I could including the phone number, and he called to find directions. He was a very chatty driver and told me to be sure to get an early start touring as my area got very backlogged with traffic by 7am in the morning. I said no worries as I had to leave at 5.30am for my 7am flight.

Delight Residence

Finally arriving, actually it was barely 5min, I went into reception and discovered the 2 guys spoke NO English. We managed to get me checked in and they called one of the other staff with English to come and get some info from me. She also helped me get a sim card for my phone, and the wifi code and promised she would be on duty in the morning at 5am to get me a taxi. Finally making it to the room, I collapsed after a shower and a quick message home to say I had arrived. The bed was as hard as a rock, but I didn’t care. All I wanted was the 6hrs of sleep I had before I had to wake up for my last flight, and bus and ferry to Koh Phangan….

 
7 Comments

Posted by on November 12, 2012 in RTW, Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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