Friday, 30 November 2012

Man (and woman) with van

So here we are now on South Island NZ with our campervan. We decided on exploring S.I. first as it’s further south, so cooler, in the summer, going to the North Island in late February, heading north and finishing in Northland in late April/May, just before we leave, to catch some autumn sunshine as it’s supposed to be sub-tropical up there and, so they say, about 5 degrees C hotter. It made sense to us anyway!

Our campervan is small and old, but it’s just about OK for us. Its compact size (Ford Transit size) means it’s easy to drive, fits into a normal car parking space and, we hope, economical to run, although we haven’t yet filled it up with fuel (fuel seems to be priced around $2.11 per litre (about £1.10), so pretty similar to home).

It’s a Toyota, was built in 1999 and has done 538,000km. It starts first time and runs pretty well, although the gearbox is very ‘notchy’. It’s got a stereo radio with MP3 input, so we can have our own music from our ipod and 3 seats in the front (useful for when Pauline visits us in February). In the back we have a fridge with small freezing compartment, a 2 burner and grill LPG cooker (no oven), powered by a small on board cylinder, a small sink with cold water supply and two bench seats in the back with a removable table. At night the table bridges the gap between the seats and the seat cushions and backs become the mattress for the bed. We’ve got a sheet, duvet and pillows, curtains all round and three lights and it only takes about 5 minutes to convert to the bed. There’s also a third bed that can be made above the main bed, but we only have our luggage stored there. It does mean this area (at the back) is ‘head hitting’ area and I’ve done that quite a few times now, but I think I’m starting to learn! We’ve also got a ‘porta-potty’, which makes this van ‘self contained’ and that means we can ‘wild camp’ legally. We get access to the back through a side sliding door and, when open we can hinge a table down to outside and we have three folding chairs to enjoy the outdoors. When we stay on a posh campsite we can take a ‘powered’ site, which means we can plug into their mains and have real electricity! It allows us to use the electric kettle, toaster and heater they provide and we can plug in the computer and other devices to charge. When we’re not on a powered site we can still charge things through the cigar lighter, the fridge still works, but we have to use the cooker to heat water with the whistling kettle, which is perfectly OK.
Our Campervan

cupboard on the left, with sink on top that had all the pots/pans/utensils spread out in, now has B's clothes in, on right cooker above fridge with wardrobe behind drivers seat. Food in cupboard above wardrobe. Sofa/bed in the foreground!

Powered sites with lots of facilities, like laundry, kitchen, showers, tv and movie rooms, games rooms and often swimming pools are relatively expensive, between $36 and $40 (£18 to £20) per night and they are often positioned close to where we want to be. There are a good range of different sites available everywhere at a range of prices and it is possible to ‘wild camp’ free in certain areas. We have camped at a basic camp one night so far and loved it. It was a park in a forest and all they had were cold taps positioned around a very neat mown grass field, a toilet block (no showers) and concrete fire pits. It cost us $5 (£2.50) to stay there and the managers bought us some logs to burn for nothing. We went scavenging in the woods for firewood and had a good old fire burning keeping us warm when it went dark. It was quiet, remote and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. We cooked our meal in the van, opened a bottle of red wine and watched the sun set in front of our fire, what more could you want! 
me with my pokey stick!

The only downside we’ve noticed is how cold it gets at night. I’ve been really cold and am now sleeping in thermals, not very attractive I know! (I’m sleeping next to a man dressed all in black and have I woken up to chocolates in the morning yet? Ha!) It’s also a bit of a pain if a toilet visit is required in the night (haven’t used the porta-potty yet!).

Anyway, once we got used to the limited space and how to get everything in, we’re thoroughly enjoying it. Having everything with you when you go out is brilliant. We went to a supermarket and unpacked the shopping and put it all away in the storage areas and fridge in their car park. If we feel a bit tired when driving we can pull over where there’s a view and sit in the back and relax for a while, perhaps making a cup of tea! It’s a very different life and we might tire of it, but at the moment it’s quite enjoyable. The other thing I’ve noticed is people in the other campervan’s are very friendly and often our sort of age, not students. I can tell I’m getting older as, not only did I feel out of place in the hostel we stayed in in Auckland, but the average age was probably 22 or 23 and their immaturity really showed. Jackie was amused at the girl who struggled to boil water!

So, since we’ve been here we came away from Christchurch without visiting (we’ll do that later over Christmas when we’re ‘housesitting’), but we’ve heard of the devastation there following the earthquake and how 40,000 people have been displaced (and many still are) and many historic buildings have gone. It sounds really bad, but they all seem to be pulling together. We’re going to see if there’s any help we can offer over Christmas. 

We’ve had a couple of chilling days of reading and short ambles and, so far have visited only Hanmer Springs. Marked on the map as a major conurbation, it turned out to be a small town, but we’ve found out that’s all they all are, except Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland by all accounts. Great charm, wooden houses of character, small shops, small churches, all very neat with hedges, cut grass and everything in place. The town has its name from the naturally occurring thermal pools that have been made into properly managed spa pools, a bit like those we have in Bath, Leamington Spa and other places. $18 per person gives you access to 14 different pools ranging in temperatures from 34 to 40 degrees C, with a few sulphur pools even hotter! It’s all outdoors with mountains all round and you just laze about all day – fantastic! However I did notice a mountain nearby that looked very do-able, so the next day we got info on it and went up. It’s called Mount Isabel, is 1374m and has several routes up it, but the one we chose went up past a waterfall. Not a massive amount of water, but it free fell over an edge from about 40m up and was very picturesque. 

Mt Isobel from Hanmer Springs

We had to drive in along a forest road for quite a way and picked up a couple of German hitch-hikers on the way who did the same route as us. After parking and gearing up we saw a sign which said 2hours 30minutes to the waterfall – we got there in 45minutes! We met our German hitch-hikers at the waterfall and took photos for each other before continuing up to the summit with really good views over the surrounding mountains and down to Hanmer Springs town. We got to the summit in 2hours 5minutes from leaving the car park and were back down in a total of 4 hours, against a quoted return trip time of 6 hours. Now we’re not super athletes, so who are these people that set these times? It was great to get out and stretch the legs and the views made it so worthwhile.

As soon as we’d finished there we drove 130km to Kaikoura, where we are now. This is a small town on the East coast, quite near the top and is famous for whale watching and swimming with dolphins.  The reason is a deep sea trench situated very close to the shore, the sea bed drops away very sharply to 2000m only 100m or so from the shore. Cold Antarctic waters mix with warmer tropical water rich in nutrients so the consequent upwelling brings big whales close to shore! The forecast for tomorrow for our 07.15 trip though is pants so who can tell.

We booked for tomorrow as the weather today wasn’t great! Really rained last night, awoke to loads of snow on the hills (which has mostly gone) and it was jolly windy! 

Went to the seal colony which was amazing – at home I’m thrilled to see a head poking above the waves, these young males, with no mates and pups are just lying about by the carpark where you can walk within 3 feet of them (I could have stroked one but there were too many people about and I might have got into trouble!) Quite surreal. Stopped at the seafood BBQ for lunch which was cheap and cheerful, but very good.
The other highlight of this site is Tipsy the cat who has been in a couple of times, loves a good stroke and purrs a lot! There were meant to be cats at the last site but we never saw them, and I don’t think the birds had either! Sitting outside reading and a chaffinchy thing flew into the van looked around, dropped a seed into the bedding and left, but that was nothing compared to the blackbird who I was handfeeding, 
It's not blurred - that's his wings flapping as he left with his prize
even though he was jolly cheeky and flew off with a slice of our breakfast banana (I say flew, actually he fell to the floor and hopped, it was so heavy!)

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Volcano's and stuff!

We’ve had a couple of interesting days, yesterday we visited Auckland museum and learnt all about Maori culture and volcano’s and today we visited one! Not a ‘live’ one you understand, but a very young one in geological terms, 600 years old and sits just offshore from Auckland, in the harbour of the Hauraki Gulf. It is Auckland’s youngest and biggest volcano, called Rangitoto Island, but the whole city has something like 50 volcano’s dotted about and it is considered a geologically ‘active’ area with the next eruption somewhere being ‘when’ not ‘if’.
Our museum trip yesterday had, amongst many other things, a simulation of what could be the next eruption in Auckland, which was very graphic and, if you were a resident, quite frightening. You are invited into a room, which could be the lounge of a typical house, there’s a couple of sofa’s, a rug, a coffee table, a TV and some big windows looking out over the bay with Rangitoto Island in view, a bit like the picture here.
Rangitoto Island (distance right) and Auckland from Mount Eden

It starts off with a news bulletin saying an eruption is imminent, their sensors have picked up big movements in the ground and everyone is evacuating. You see blocked roads as people try to leave and a volcanologist is explaining how they are certain something will happen very soon. As it goes on you can see steam rising from the sea in front of Rangitoto Island through the ‘windows’, there’s an earth tremor and the whole room receives a realistic jolt, then suddenly the TV goes off and an eruption starts with flames shooting out of the sea. It builds up into a huge cloud, which collapses and sends a pyroclastic flow heading out in all directions, including straight for us. It comes at an incredible speed, the noise is really loud and as we’re enveloped in ash there’s another violent jolt and everything goes black. After a while there’s a title called ‘Aftermath’ and you have a view after the ash has settled that see’s Auckland in ruins, everything covered in thick ash. A man appears (not a real man, its cinema!), who is some official who tries to calm and put things into perspective saying how small the chances are, but it really makes you think. Auckland apparently has very good planning in place for when the next eruption occurs and they are confident they will be able to give sufficient warning as everything is very closely monitored.
I’m going to put this next bit in green type as it might be a bit boring for some, so if you’re not interested flick down to the end of the green.
I always knew that the geology of the North Island differs hugely to the geology of the South Island, but never understood why. The North Island is full of volcano’s, hot mud pools and geysers (well not all of it, but there’s a lot of them), but the South Island has very few volcano’s but a ridge of very high mountains, called the Southern Alps. This is apparently due to NZ being ‘twisted’.
We’ve all heard of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ and North Island NZ sits on the edge of this. The huge Pacific Tectonic Plate is gradually moving West and is being subducted (pushed underneath) plates that comprise Asia and Australia. North Island NZ is on the ‘Indo-Australian Plate’ and, as the Pacific plate is subducted, it takes down into the mantle rocks that contain lots of water. As they melt, the water turns to steam and it can go off like an exploding kettle. Eruptions of this nature are usually very explosive affairs, not gentle moving streams of lava, but massive explosions with boulders and rock being hurled into the sky with lots of ash and poisonous gas. Witness the recent and ongoing eruption of Mount Tongariro (I heard it erupted again the other day – we’ll be going to see that on the second half of our 6 months here).
The South Island, however, is on the Pacific Plate, moving West and the Indo-Australian plate is moving North. Where they meet they are almost sliding past each other, with a bit of a twist and it is this sliding that has risen the Southern Alps. This is called an ‘Orogenic Belt’ and, as very little rock is subducted, there are few volcano’s, but more earthquakes as the plates ‘slide’ against each other. Witness the recent earthquake in Christchurch.
Today we had to get up very early which wasn’t part of my plan, having had a bad nights sleep a good and then a bad (here’s hoping for a good tonight!) in order to catch the 07.30 ferry, there were two benefits to this one it was cheaper ($17 rather than $27) and two it meant we could be up and down the ‘hill’ before it got too hot. The alarm went off at 06.15, sadly I was already awake, and had been downstairs reading till midnight thirty!
Anyway, off we trotted to the harbour, got the ferry and 30 mins later we were storming up to the summit of Rangitoto, we reached the summit having made a slight detour to look at some lava tubes,

studying oysters on the black lava of Rangitito beach
one of which was big enough to walk through. Summit is an odd word for a volcano, because yes there obviously is a point that is higher than any other, but there is also a whole rim to walk round, we did this, and walked off across the island to a small bridge that joins it with Motutapu a much older island, the difference in appearance is startling, the first hard black lava beds, with some trees, quite a lot in some places, almost none in others, and the second lush and green and rolling, the eruption caused nice nutrients to fall on Motutapu making it more fertile.I think B would have liked to walk some way across this island, but walking on the beads of lava was jolly hard work, and my shoes were already feeling uncomfortable, so we veered off to find the coastal path round the south of Rangitoto.
crossing the bridge to fertile Motutapu

We spoke to a really interesting bloke at this point ‘a pom like us’, though he didn’t sound like it, gave us lots of useful tips on NZ, where to go what to see. Said it was a shame we weren’t going to see the Pohutakawa trees in flower up the coast as they turn the whole area red for Christmas! I also asked him about foraging as there were loads of oysters on the beach, and we later saw mussels too! I’m looking forward to that bit of the trip!
The coastal path wasn’t very coastal, was very pretty, but not with the views of the sea I’d wanted, and when we came out of the trees, it was a bit muddy and mangrove swampy, another first for us. I’d had enough by this point as the harbour came into view, we arrived at 14.00 just in time for the 14.15 ferry.
Walked out of the ferry terminal to see loads of people at the end of the street, I remembered seeing signs for the Farmers Market Christmas Parade, so thought we’d better have a look. That was easier said than done, as there were LOTS of people, by the time we’d seen Mickey and Minnie and ‘The Cat in the Hat’ but no sign of Santa we gave up and walked back up the big hill home. (Santa was there at the end apparently) All in all we reckon we probably walked 15 miles, on hard unforgiving ground, no wonder my feet hurt!
the red 'Christmas Tree' of an early flowering Pohutakawa
Off tomorrow to Christchurch to see the van for the first time, I hope we fit in with all our stuff, or only one of us may come out of this alive…..

Friday, 23 November 2012

New hemisphere, new experiences

Well, we’re now in the Southern Hemisphere and apparently in early summer. Temperature today in Auckland is around 21 C, the sky is reasonably clear and, when the sun’s been out its been quite hot, so hot in fact that we’re sunburnt. The guy at the hostel did warn us as we went out “it may not seem that hot and sunny, but put on sun cream, we’ve got no ozone here in the southern hemisphere”. Did we listen? Even so, it feels cool compared with what we’ve been used to, but at least we can do things in the middle of the day, rather than just sit in an air conditioned room or swelter under a fan!
We got up reasonably late (10’ish) after a relatively poor night’s sleep, having gone to bed at 10 the previous night and we’re both feeling the effects of jet lag. We are now 13 hours ahead of UK time, and 6 hours ahead of the time in Thailand, so although we didn’t sleep well on the plane, it still feels odd. Hopefully tonight we’ll sleep and tomorrow feel a little more ‘tuned in’.
We think that, once we’ve reached South East Asia we’re nearly here, but it’s a heck of a long way from Thailand, we had an 8.5hour flight from Bangkok to Sydney (4 hours ahead of Thailand), 1 hour there and then a 3.75hour flight to Auckland and 2 hours ahead of Sydney (New Zealand isn’t very close to Australia after all!)
The first thing that hit us (me) is the cost of things, with less than 2NZ$ to £1, things are at least on a par with things at home and, in some cases more. It’s a bit of a shock after low cost Thailand, but I guess we’ll get used to it.
First thing we had to do was go out and get some supplies as we’re now cooking for ourselves, so we had a quick trip to the local supermarket, ‘New World’. It all looks pretty similar to supermarkets in the UK and, for that matter, everything is pretty similar to the UK. Its lovely that everyone speaks in English, but it does seem as though we could easily still be in the UK – we even got some free sample custard in the supermarket (is that the same as Crème Anglais?). It gets dark here just after 8:30pm (not sure what time it gets light yet), so its also more like being at home (in Thailand its light and dark at 6am and pm, all year!). We bought a chicken and we’ve just had roast chicken, roast potatoes and veg, with a bottle of red wine – delicious (but again, just like being at home!). It did look odd though - the 'going cheap' chicken we'd managed to buy (which seemed ideal so I wouldn't have to clean the oven after) was 'cook in a bag' tasted fab but was completely anaemic, and by the time I'd added a dash of wine to the gravy, it was a very strange colour! I had been expecting to be ‘oven deprived’ so was making the most of that, though we’ve just heard that some of the campsites have better kitchens than here, so it might not just be the Christmas break I have to look forward to.
We took a walk to the harbour and saw all the expensive yachts, the harbour is a well-developed area with harbour side apartments, lots of restaurants and bars, with lots of business people taking lunch (it was about 1:00pm on Friday lunchtime when we were there), again just like home.

On the advice of our hostel hosts we caught a bus to Mount Eden to get a view of Auckland. Its an extinct volcano and rises up quite high in the south eastern part of the city and gives good views all round. From the top we did get great views, we could see all the high rise buildings in the city and around the harbours and sea (it is virtually surrounded by sea), out to the island of Rangitoto, which I quite fancy going over to see. Its an island only about 600 years old, that Maori legend says reared out of the sea one day in a fiery inferno, making it quite rugged and bare. It is attached to another much older island by a narrow causeway and this island, Motutapu, gives a stark contrast between old and new. It is possible, apparently, to walk the two islands in a day, as long as you get the first and last ferries of the day. On weekends the first ferry is 7:30 in the morning, Jackie was really pleased when she heard that! I’m hoping we’ll be going to do that on Sunday.
View of Auckland from the top of Mount Eden (Crater in the foreground)
 Jackie’s thoughts: I’m not sure I really have any, after half a bottle of wine and a night that found me downstairs on the sofa reading my book so as not to disturb B, only he woke up and thought I was lost and disturbed himself coming to look for me!
Today is my last day of employment, so I logged in eagerly to see if a large lump of redundancy had been paid into my bank account, it hadn’t, don’t really know what to do now! Or do I expect it tomorrow? Or Monday?

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

And finally......At least from Thailand!

Jackie's bits in purple type, Brian's thoughts much further down!

Well we survived the bus journey, I suppose it was more comfortable than a plane, but they kept turning the lights on and stopping - we had 2 police inspections, more passengers and a food stop at 02.25! It was nice to get off and say hello to the service station cats! I suspect the police inspections were normal - every bus journey we've done, even much shorter ones have been stopped at least twice, mostly though as we've been heading towards Burma so assumed it was that! They may have been more vigilant though as a bomb went off in the 'troubled south' on a train on Saturday night, no tourists involved!
Rather than pay for a taxi, as we weren't pushed for time we got on a local bus, and the lady conductor told us when to get off, to get on the 'skytrain' - a very nice air conditioned above ground tube, which stops close to our hotel, so that cost us 100 baht total, the taxi man wanted to charge us 200 to get to the skytrain! So we are feeling quite intrepid (and knackered). 

We were hugely pleased to get to the hotel at 0800 and find we could get into our room, so we are now showered (first time we managed a hot shower here at all, and we are in the same room, so that was a pleasant surprise!) and breakfasted, B is reading the Bangkok Post, and I'm just waiting to see the cat! There is a cat I recognise from last time, but it's not 'the cat', though I must admit I was a bit worried about her when we left as she had a very stick eye! 

It's cloudy today, and I can't say I'm sad, though a day by the pool is still quite an attractive proposition, it's still in the 30's! We've also got to that tricky point of wondering have we got enough Thai baht, don't want to get any more out, eat cheap!......  According to B and the Bangkok Post, there has been heavy rain and flooding in the thinnest part of Thailand, between us and all the beach resorts, so what sort of a time our friends we bumped into are going to have who can tell!
Also according to the Bangkok Post they are putting up the minimum wage to 300 Baht (£6) about the same as the UK he said, but no, that's per day! He really read the paper from cover to cover!

That was yesterday, we did lie by the pool until it got really hot, so went to the Aircon of the room, B had a little doze, but I couldn't sleep for the thunder, and then it hammered down, so glad we hadn't gone far! We have packed, with military precision (as long as the hotel scales are accurate, and as long as we can sling our hand luggage over our shoulders with enough nonchalance to make it look light!) Booked and paid for a taxi, checked in online and printed put the boarding cards (at an internet cafe) and have 530baht left, average price of a plate of fried rice is 100baht so ideal really!

The 'most photographed foyer in Bangkok', notice 'cat' asleep in the chair bottom right.
The next bit is about the hotel so perhaps should be in green, B also says it reads a bit like an advert for them:
The Atlanta is a strange hotel, the foyer is beautiful as you can see, but it and the restaurant have no aircon, only lazy fans, and are the only place the wifi works. It was the first to have a swimming pool in Bangkok, though this it would appear was not planned - it was the pit that the owner, a chemist, kept the cobras whose venom he was trying to milk in! This is their ethos from their web page: 
The Atlanta has a 'zero tolerance' policy with regard to trouble-makers and all illegal activities, including the use or possession of illicit drugs. Such miscreants are reported to the police without advance warning, without hesitation and without apology.
Those who object to this policy, and those who wish to spend their time in Thailand whoring, indulging in alcohol abuse, drugs or other illegal activities should stay elsewhere.

The Atlanta is against sex tourism.
Sex tourism is exploitative, socially damaging and culturally demeaning:
those who want to buy sex should do so in their own country.
Tourism is not about going on a rampage through other people's country:  those who cannot go abroad without behaving badly should stay home.


There is a sign with the above on outside the front door, on the other side is a sign which says:
This is the place you are looking for, if you know it.
If you don't, you'll never find it".  

And it's true, it's at the end of a quiet sidestreet, off the busy road full of girly bars and European men

The Atlanta is the bastion of wholesome and culturally sensitive tourism and is run as a test of the viability of those principles and values that are associated with it. 
 The Atlanta is not run as a commercial enterprise with a view to maximising profits; its financial aim is merely to cover costs, which explains why tariffs are so low.  

There is a sign at the top of the stairs that says "Complaints are not permitted - not at the prices we charge"

The page with directions on also has this piece of advice:
What to do with a turbo-charged taxi meter readout? If your meter reading is suspiciously high and you think that you may be a victim of a turbo-charged meter, remain calm. Do not alert the taxi driver that he has been rumbled. Make sure that the taxi reaches its destination directly outside The Atlanta, at the far end of Sukhumvit´s Soi 2. Remove your luggage from the taxi immediately, then make your excuses (such as you need to change your money for Thai currency) and summon help from the Reception staff at the hotel who will deal with the matter on your behalf. Never leave your luggage in the taxi while dealing with a problem relating to fares.

SO, it's quirky, helpful, a bit tired, has a mad cat lady, but is to be recommended, even if the prices have gone up since the beginning of our trip! Oh yes, and the food is good quality, and value compared with 'outside'

Brian's thoughts:
I've really enjoyed Thailand, its a safe, relatively stable country filled with very friendly, laid back people. I could live here, at least for a year or so, its a bit too hot for anything too active, which might be a slight drawback, but as a place to chill out and view the world, its great.

Cost-wise its pretty cheap for us Westerners, fuel is around 30Baht (60p) per litre, which is very expensive for natives here, but quite cheap for us. Cars cost about the same as for us and house/apartment purchase is relatively dear, probably 50-60% of what we'd pay at home, but food is pretty cheap, if you're prepared to eat and drink like the locals.

It is possible to eat and drink exactly as at home, with all European tastes catered for, British and Irish pubs, French, Italian, Belgium and German restaurants, but you do pay for these. We saw Guinness in an Irish bar at something over 300Baht (£6+). Restaurants offering Thai food were pretty cheap and the food generally superb! Its not too spicy either, ask for something hot and you get something much less than a 'Madras' equivalent at home, but with a fantastic taste. A typical Thai Red Curry or Pannang (delicious!) would cost around 70Baht (£1.20), with sticky rice around 15 to 20Baht. The local Chang beer (lager, served with iced glasses) is 44Baht in the convenience store and 70 or 80Baht (£1.60) for 640ml in a restaurant, so a night out with a few beers might cost 4-500Baht (£9-£10) for 2 people. If you're prepared to go into a local's place (much less homely, more like a cafe), you'll get it even cheaper, maybe 35-50Baht (70p-£1) and its great fun, as long as you're prepared to eat whatever you manage to order! We did this a few times and found the people really nice and as helpful as sign language will allow! Don't worry about the ice being safe, its all shipped in and we had no problems tummy wise.

Hotels are also cheap. Our advice, ALWAYS get a room with aircon, fan's just aren't good enough! We got decent rooms with private bathrooms and aircon for 600 to 900Baht (£12 -£18),(bit more in Bankok). If you're prepared to pay 1200Baht (£24) you'll get luxury! I'm talking per room, not per person! At the other end of the scale, we saw beds in dormitories advertised at 150Baht (£3) per night, so it works for any budget.

If you're thinking of a different holiday, come to Thailand! Its not scary, English is pretty widely spoken and most places have English menu's and signs. Booking hotels, these days is very easy, wi-fi is pretty much everywhere and all research can be done on the internet. Its just not necessary to book things before you leave, its really easy to do it as you go along. That way, if you like somewhere, just stay a bit longer! I bought a local SIM card for my mobile, it cost £2 and it came in use over and over again in booking hotels and trips. I've probably made a dozen phone calls (all local) and there's still credit left now, so I've no idea how many calls £2 will buy!

Anyway, we're off to the airport in about 2.5 hours, next stop Auckland, New Zealand. In my hand luggage I've got socks, another top and my fleece. I looked at the temperature in Auckland the other day and it suggested 19 C maximum. It is heading for their summer, which is pretty similar to a UK summer, but shorts, T-shirts and sandals might be more of a rarity! Think I'm going to miss the heat!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Last day in Chiang Mai

inside the foyer

So, just a little round up really, it was busier here than I originally thought it was going to be, but not horrendous. The old city is full of 'Wats' which are temples, as I type from the foyer of the hotel, all I can see in front of me are the walls of a Wat. I say foyer, but actually it's a big open space with no windows and no door (did I feel unsafe in bed? No actually) the fan is turning and it's a really comfortable place to sit and type. It is probably what should be the restaurant if the hotel had one! That is one of the downsides to this hotel, the other is it is a little out of 'the action' but this is also one of its upsides! It wasn't our first choice - that was the Lonely Planet recommended Awana, which unsurprisingly I guess was full. It was recommended in our book and on saying we were going to stay for the full 8 days the price went from 650 baht to 550 baht, so about £13 to £11, aircon and en-suite, can't be bad really!
out the 'window'

I created a quick map of all the places we've been (I know it say's B did it, but it was me honest! He was impressed I knew how!),99.203796&spn=1.320506,2.705383

We've had a couple of good evenings out, the first one we had a good meal before walking into a bar where random musicians seemed to turn up and sing and play, from guitar to sax, all held together by one mad guitarist, very blues/folky/mellow. Despite having just come from dinner the owner pointed us at 'free snacks' I said we couldn't be proper backpackers and turn down free food so had to have a little nibble! We then came home via a jazz club we'd had recommended to us, which was very jazzy! I was quite glad we didn't live any nearer to that! How do they know when to stop?

Last night (Sunday) was 'market night'. All the inner streets of the Old City are closed to traffic and a huge market takes place, with an amazing array of stalls selling everything from clothes to street food. Its very popular, but we went to have a look, trying a few local snacks on the way. Swept along by the crowds we heard a band playing in a bar and decided to make a detour to listen, sit down and have a beer. Its not easy cutting across the moving crowd, but as we got to the entrance it looked quite busy and we didn't think we'd get a table. We were suddenly aware of being waved at and realised we were looking at Ella and Mike Beetlestone who we know from Kings Heath at home. None of us had any idea the other were there, they had only arrived in Chiang Mai that day from volunteering at the elephant sanctuary in Mai Rim and were flying out the next day, so what are the chances of meeting under those circumstances?

Anyway, it was great seeing them, we had a couple of beers and a good old chat, before heading off for something to eat. Here's proof:
Mike and Ella with us after our chance meeting in some random bar in Chiang Mai
If you read this Mike and Ella, enjoy the rest of your holiday on the beach in the south of Thailand!

So, I've stroked cats, kittens and tigers, had a good days climbing (and an average day trekking) we've had the laundry done for 80p (though that was a bit hairy as we went to collect it this morning to pack and the shop was all shut up, fortunately amongst loads of Thai was a phone number,so rang it, and gathered 3pm would be good). B has had a haircut for 60p and we've had the emergency rucksack repaired (by the spring roll lady) for 80p, almost doubling its value - well it did come from the pound shop!

Here's a few random pictures of Chiang Mai to hopefully give a flavour of the place:
The Old City wall and moat remains
Jackie having one of her many 'cat moments'

One of the lively bars
Rickshaw ride anyone?
Or a Tuk-Tuk?
The Chiang Mai taxi service - 2 side facing bench seats

Oh look, another Wat!

Local delivery drivers

My local barber - note the price, 30Baht (60p)

Building construction using bamboo scaffold and 'acro-props'

Our friendly insect eating gecko's - we like these!