A Travellerspoint blog

Now until December

Out of office!

Just to let you all know that we probably wont be updating this until our return to England now. Our tour in Africa starts tomorrow and that involves us camping wild for the best part out our remaining time here - hence no internet access. Look out for our updates for Hong Kong, India and Africa on our return in the new year. Hope you have enjoyed the entries so far. Look forward to seeing you all and catching up when we get back.

Lots of love, Carrie and Sean xx

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Posted by CarrieSean 07:31 Comments (0)

Giant Panda Discovery Trip

Imaginitive Traveller Volunteering and Family Reunion

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7 months since we have seen my family - It was planned that my mum and dad would join us during our time in China, We was over the moon that my sister and bro-in-law surprised us and joined us in China too. A family get togehter was the tonic I needed, it was great to see them all.
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Arriving in Beijing we instantly knew that it could be problematic if you was to travel around China independently. The language barrier was difficult and as much as we tried to speak the odd word in Mandarin it did not seem appreciated or understood. The straight faces and staring eyes soon turned into smiles and waves once you made the first move. In areas you felt like royalty with people coming up to you and asking to have their photograph taken with you. It was amusing. The country itself was beautiful and has alot to offer with some real hidden gems. Expecting it to be a littered country I was pleasantly surprised. Constantly there were people sweeping the streets, the public areas, even the highways. For nation that has such an awareness for health and inner peace it has some disgusting habits. You repeatedly hear men and women alike clearing their throats and nasal passages then disposing of it on the footpath. Stomach churning and something we did not get accustomed to in all our time here, I guess blowing your nose on to a tissue and then keeping it in your pocket until you find a bin would be disgusting to them.
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Having a few days in Beijing to catch up with my family before the tour started was brilliant. Wondering the back streets to see real life China was rememorable, the people here were some of the nicest and kindest we met during our time in China, we had a real giggle with them. The Temple of Heaven built within beautiful landscaped grounds has some beautiful architecture. Donguhamen Night Market well worth a visit to see all the bizarre and local delicacies. Tianamen Square - huge, fitting up to 1 million people in it!? The largest public square in the world. The Forbidden City, hectic, best if you stay away from the crowds that trawl along the centre alleyway. It is a complex of massive structures - grandness is depicted here by concrete.
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We hiked 10km on the Great Wall of China. Wow! This was a one of many highlights. Snaking over 6'000km across the boarder it was built to keep out threatening tribes. The hike for us was tiring, with the intense heat really zapping you. I did not imagine it to be as hard as it was - big respect to the locals that hike it more than once every day! The views from some of the 24 towers that we passed through very beautiful and emotional.
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Another unbelievable sight was the terracotta warriors. An army of 8'000 individually carved figures for the 1st Emperor of China Qin Shi Huang. He commanded that when he died he wished to be buried along with his army. This meant every one of them being killed - not the most humane! So it was suggested that artists be brought in and create a terracotta army for in his memory of greatness. Only recently being discovered in great pits the detail is amazing - you could even see the ruffles on some of the foreheads, and patterns in the soles of shoes. Incredible.
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We spent long journeys on overnight trains, at points playing cards, comical family chats, and of course quite a bit of larking about - never a deficiency when my family is about!
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Another highlight of China was working with the famous Giant Pandas, at Wolong in the Sichuan Province. Now the most endangered species in the world it was such a privilege to have such close contact with them. Daily duties required us to clean out the enclosures and stomping ground, prepare food and feed them - which was repeated several times daily. These adorable creatures are amazing to sit and watch, each having their own character you soon get to know them. My favorite part was working in the breeding centre. Here the pandas were alot more docile, contact and time spent with them was greater. This made the whole experience even more special. Cindy (my sis) and I was lucky enough to get to hold a juvenile panda each – thank you mum and dad! These little cuties being quite content eating an apple as they sit on your lap. Amazing and emotional.
The centers primary goal is to protect the Giant Panda in its natural habitat, and to take care of sick and injured pandas that are brought in from the wild. It was a rewarding few days to know that you have helped in this first hand.
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From there we went to Chengdu, if your ever there check out Remin Park – such variety and a fantastic place to watch the local way of life. Dancing, singing, cards, playing music, flying kites, tea houses, ear cleaning, martial arts, and yoga type practices around every corner – your just welcome to join in, what an atmosphere. We also saw the mind blowing Changing Faces Performance – look it up on the internet. A traditional practice of the Chinese and a hidden secret of how it is done.
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Arriving in Yangshou was a breath of fresh air. The scenery here beautiful, mountains, rivers, rice paddies, and water buffalos. Sean and I took a motorbike around the lanes of the rice paddies whilst the rest of the group decided a bicycle was their thing!? Much easier in that heat with an engine we thought. OK so not quite so peaceful for us, but fun! This magical scenery was like it had been written in a fairytale.
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Liu San Jie Light Show, directed by Zhang Yimou is not to be missed if your in town. The best ever dramatic backdrop of staging you’ll probably ever see. Unbelievable scale and artistry.
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Another beautiful and just as scenic area we visited was the Dragons Backbone, Longsheng. Rice paddies on top of the world! Layers and layers as far as the eye could see. Breathtaking, both visually and physically. Our time here was spent walking the mountains and in the evening watching as well as performing ourselves in traditional dances and games. Fun, energetic, and for those on the rice wine hard! (hey, mum and dad – never a better match! Dad will always go for you mum even when blindfolded.Xx)
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Our last stop in China was Guangzhou City. A cosmopolitan city, at first very hectic after the much loved tranquility of the mountains but as always you can get off the beaten track. We explored the carefully tendered orchid garden, meandered the park and took a comical boat ride in what looked like a kids cartoon drawing. We had time here to just chill and relax with my family before they headed off back home. It was here that I was filled with sadness that they were leaving and I wouldn’t see them again for several months still. (Missing you still!) My tears rolled down my cheeks as we went back to the hotel room after waving them off. I was quickly transformed into fits of laughter as Sean shouts from the bathroom “your bloody mum will never change, she’s just like you”. Mum had left her necklace lying on the sink – a coincidence as I had lost mine just a few days before. I guess you will never be that far away, infact right here within me!

We all had a fantastic and rememorable time in China. Stories that will be told and be laughed about over a lifetime im sure (Tandem bike rides, broken flip flops, butt showing in fountains, etc.) Thank you for sharing part of this year with us Mum, Dad, Sis and Jamie, it meant so much to us Xx
We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. Love you all.

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Posted by CarrieSean 18.10.2009 07:21 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Thailand - Elephants and Adventures

Our time in Thailand brought many emotions and new experiences, some tragically sad and some happy. The first part involved us working in an Elephant and Nature Park. This meant we was up in the hills and out of contact for over a week. On our return to civilization we instantly received sad news the my Nan had passed away. As I type this tears roll down my cheeks (almost 2 months on). I still find it hard to take in and there is a sadness in my heart as I know she will not be there on my return. I spent many hours that ran in to days feeling torn, sad, deliberating and decision making. Everyone around me was so supportive of my decision (the hardest one I have truly ever had to make) I would continue on with traveling, seeing the world and say a loving farewell to Nan here in my own way. - distance is only a matter of miles not thought. Not being with my family at this time was very hard. Sean and myself had a special day to ourselves on the day of her funeral. Very emotional, sad and happy memories of such an amazing Nan. Missed and loved every day, Rest Peacefully and have fun with Grandad! Xx

Overall we spent nearly 5 weeks in Thailand, 3 weeks on a Imaginitive Traveller Volunteer tour.
The Elephant and Nature Park was one that a inspirational woman, Lek set up years ago to provide hurt or badly treated elephants with sanctuary and a peaceful life. If you ever get the opportunity to visit or work in this amazing place, do so. As I said we spent a week volunteering here - quite hard grafting but very rewarding. You get up close and personal with these incredible creatures, ones you become attached to and you are made to feel so welcome within the center. P7040036.jpgDaily duties involved, bathing and scrubbing elephants in the river twice daily, preparing food, feeding T/D, corn cutting (when rainy unbelievably muddy, with trucks getting stuck!) mending fences, stripping bark, and last but very importantly - shit shoveling by the barrow load, remember these are big animals to keep clean! Such a fun week and so memorable. P7040069.jpgThese animals worked a way into our hearts the will last a lifetime - if you watch some of the videos that have been recorded about some of the Elephants at the Sanctuary and what they have been through your soul will be torn apart. Such cruelty. I have not harped on about this place near enough so please ask us when you see us, we’d love to tell you more.P7050086.jpg

Having a few days to ourselves after the news about Nan and working at the sanctuary was well needed. We spent time in Chaing Mai, a beautiful City, lovely people. Visiting the temple at Doi Suthep was stunning. P7100150.jpgSituated at the top of a mountain you see great views of the City on clear days. With many visits to temples by now we have our increasing doubts about how the offerings are made to the Gods. It seems as soon as you have purchased and placed you candle, josstick or flower it is unscrupiously blown or taken out before it has finished burning or ceased to live?! and then replaced by more. This feels very wrong and leaves a bad taste.

Bangkok - a City full of life, you love it or aparrently hate it. Fortunately we had a good experience of it. Crazy tuk tuk drivers, there are alot of scams but if you are aware you know to avoid them. The Grand Palace, shimmeringly divine. Bridge over River Kwai and POW museum quite monumental. There is so much to see and do here.

From Bangkok we got a sleeper train (one of many sleepless nights with dodgy drivers on trains-you do get used to it though) to Surat Thani and headed Khao Sok for a few days. Initially visiting the treetops. Surrounded by karast mountains and lush rivers, this is a great place for canoeing. Jawdropping scenery everywhere you look. It was here that we had our time for Nan, laid flowers for her, and said a loving farewell, so this area holds some very special memories for us its just beautiful and very peaceful. P7130318.jpgAlso in Khao Sok national Park we stayed in rafthouses on a huge lake. Tranquil and incredible. This is as close as you get to a little bit of paradise on earth. One treck here involved us hiking up a waterfall for around an hour. P7140409.jpgNice in the heat of the day. Otherwise the days were spent kayaking and swimming in the lake.P7140439.jpgP7140367.jpgP7140352.jpg

Ao Nang, near Krabi was next on our agenda. Lots to do and see, a beach to walk along and a great place to chill in a bar overlooking the ocean whilst getting a tattoo from a local who still does traditional bamboo art. Painful but worthwhile! It represents our time in Thailand, Nan, my family and loved ones and the closeness we share. It means alot to me.P7190621.jpg

We visited Phi Phi, where we then decided to stay for a further few days after the tour had finished. Long Beach area is so different from Phi Phi Don main town. This little sanctuary provided us with sightings of blacktipped shark whilst snorkeling, lush sands, few people and amazing fire shows. Scuba diving for the first time took a bit of getting used to, but this underwater world is extraordinary. Coral formations that blow you mind, octopus, turtles, and undescribable fish! Wow.
Not too far from here was Railey, where we spent our last treasured few nights in Thailand. The lagoon hike hair raising as you hoist yourself up and then back down to it - never allowed in England! Tranquil and sublime once you reach it. The caves and beaches are out of this world. One end of the Peninsular was privately owned by Rayavadee luxury resort listed in the top 108 best in the world - here we shared a coffee! The prices were as phnomenal as the place, with guests such as Fat Boy Slim. We did actually go for a meal here and was not dissapointed - delicious. A fantastic area to finish in. P7271011.jpgP7260923.jpg

When I think back to Thailand it brings so many good memories to me. This Country is infectious, and I hope that one day we will be back to visit.
Nan for you ; your spirit lives on in your family. xx

Posted by CarrieSean 24.08.2009 03:12 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (4)

Cambodia

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Our time in Cambodia was good, it went quickly but we were only here for 5 days (not why it was good). Upon entering the boarder from Moc Bai to Bavet our first impressions of Cambodia were good. It seemed a much cleaner country, relaxed and the people just happy to be alive. Not surprising after learning a bit about what they and their families have been through with dictatorship and war. Heading to the Capital, Phnom Pehn and arriving late in the day we hopped off the bus and walked through the city to our lodgings for the night. The City felt safe and the welcome looks from the Khmer’s gave us a sense that we were going to enjoy our time here.
Dumping our luggage and going straight back out to search for something to eat. We didn’t get too far before we saw a corner thriving with locals all eating what looked to be good food. Going upstairs was a bit of a challenge as you kept hitting your head on the ceiling – a building built for short people. Something else we have noticed since being in South Asia we have good views everywhere we go as everyone else is shorter! Sean said you’d fit in well here Marcus! This place was a blast, the locals making us feel very welcome and many chatting to us intrigued where we was from and why we chose to go to Cambodia. Enchanting people and good natured.
We had a couple of days in and around Phnom Pehn, a buzzing city nice to walk around at your own pace whilst taking in everything. We explored Wat Phnom, a hill Temple where Khmers flock to it each day to pray for their fortune. There is a lot of poverty here around here with the homeless and needy at every entrance, something that was common throughout Cambodia. A total contrast to the inside of the temples where the shrines are decorated head to in gold and glimmering gewls, and the offering pot is full to the brim with money from people that have prayed, and the strong smell of incense that is lit with every prayer. Sam Bo the beautiful popular elephant was plodding around at its base, whilst crazy food pinching monkeys run riot higher up the hill. The Royal Palace pristine and glimmering. The Russian Market sold everything and everything. Tonle Sap River dirty, but an essential part of daily life here. Locals spend hours fishing, washing clothes and bathing/playing in here. The streets full of Khmers making the most of what they have, fantastic to hear a group burst into laughter as you walk past – this was so much fun and would always make you smile rather that become paranoid as you knew this was just their way. P6210710.jpg
The killing fields of Choeung Ek could only make you feel for what these people went through just 30 years ago. We took a tuk tuk 14km from the city to see a horrifying 8000 skulls from the victims of the Khmer Rouge. Along with the mass graves of the tortured and slaughtered there was almost a devastating 17’000 poor souls die here. Toul Sleng Museum originally a High School that was taken over and made into the S-21 prison by the Pol Pot force. The classrooms were made into torture chambers where unimaginable interrogation procedures took place. The long corridor of prisoners photographs each having their own expression of hate, fear, or sadness. You could only feel an immense sadness yourself for the victims and a hate towards the dictators of these acts. P6200664.jpg
Heading out of the Capital we made our way to Siem Reap – appropriately named after the battle between the Siamese and Khmers meaning ‘Siamese Defeated’. The area known for the Temples of Angkor. We spent the next 3 days here exploring the many different Temples and ruins by tuk tuk – Sean at 1 point being the crazy driver of the tuk tuk! P6241079.jpgP6220794.jpg
A beautiful area with amazing architecture, that is awe-inspiring and has to be seen to be believed. Angkor Wat simply blows you away - the beauty enhanced by the pristine reflection in the lake. I think it also has the biggest volume of street sellers! The Bayon was a temple designed around 54 towers each housing 4 large faces of smiling Buddha. 216 kind faces looking at you from every direction. P6231006.jpg
Our favorite temple was the enchanting Ta Promh. Its walls stretching 700m x 1km, we walked through the welcome shade of the huge trees scattered throughout. The ruined Temple was still possible to walk through the majority of it if you can find you way. We spent many hours here exploring and admiring how the gigantic sculptural, shimmering trees have the temple under its clasp with their roots. Beautiful. We explored many temples, too many to mention! The carvings incredible and some very intricate. The heat and dust making every day exhausting. P6220789.jpg
On our last day in Cambodia we received sad news from home. Poor Nan had been found unconscious and had been rushed into hospital. At this point they were still trying to find out the cause, with Nan's relentless strength, she had re-gained consciousness and was asking for a cuppa! Good on ya Nan. Our love goes out to you and we're thinking of you heaps Xx

Posted by CarrieSean 26.06.2009 21:33 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Vietnam

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Vietnam in ten days...... Ummmm. Probably not enough time to give it a fair chance but we was happy to get to Cambodia by the end of it. This is one unbelievable country, and we found that you both love it and dislike it! The country itself so beautiful, but from start to finish we felt as if locals would try to constantly swindled you. Arriving at the airport we headed for the taxi in to Hanoi. We was told that taxis cost 250'000 Dong in to the city (yep-get your head around all those 000's! Going to an ATM to withdraw 2'000'000 was a scary and wierd sensation, yet in our money less than 200 pounds) we knew this seemed to be alot, but not being able to get the exchange rate before arriving we had no idea what this equated to. Fortunately a Turkish buisness man overheard this and told them to give us the real price (which should of been around 110'000 Dong). The Turkish guy told them after a heated discussion that this was why one day no-one will want to visit their country. With that he offered us to share his taxi that was already pre-booked. I had my reservations, but there are many good people in this world and this man was one of them - thankyou. Giving us a good insight of the scams in Vietnam he got us safely to our destination and wouldnt even let us pay! Hanoi itself was a great city. It plusates with life 24-7. The streets are lined with shop goods or street 'kitchens' spilling out on to the paths and what little room that is left on the is taken up with parked motorbikes forcing you to walk on the crazy roads with buzzing mororbikes comming at you from every direction. The Old Quarter our favourite part walking through each exotic section your senses are bombarded. The smell of spices, incence and fumes; the sound of horns, moto, cyclo and tuktuk drivers all wanting your buisness; the sight of the colours from the markets and materials in contrast with the grubbiness; the fabulous taste of Vietmanese food and the feeling of intense heat and the daily built up grime on your skin. Theres nothing else like it. A crazy infectious city. We grew repetedly tired of the hiking of prices for tourists when you knew full well that the local before you did not pay 40'000 Dong for 1 apple!!!! (neither did we - but they tried). In its centre there is a serene impressive lake where you can almost escape from the madness - the constant noise from horns reminding you that its still right there.P6110170.jpg
Spending a few days around the Halong Bay area was a pleasant change. The port being quite chaotic but upon the Imperial Junk Boat it became a little sanctuary. Halong Bay consists of 3000 islands most having steep rugged limesone faces sometimes covered with vegetation. It is a stunning area, one that you could easily get lost in. We visited 2 different caves, both extremely busy and highly decorative with some incredible stalictites and stalicmites. Kyacking on the gentle ocean (although the sea was quite murky and at times littered) was a good way to explore the smaller crevices and floating villages it is impossible to see from a boat. Ankored up for the night in the middle of a cluster of islands was topped off by a great sunset and jumping in to the sea from the top deck of the boat. We spent an unexpected blissful night under the stars on top deck after finding out our room was above the engine room and subsequently made the matress and pillow vibrate. Good in the right situation - sleeping not one of them!P6120318.jpg
This, and spending time on a small island with no other tourists or litter was my favourite part. Just half a dozen locals and the quiet mysterious bay. Cat Ba island a different experiance again. Much of the island declared a National Park to protect the beautiful diverse ecosystem - a good move. The town itself compact and busy, where we discovered how untidy and unaware Vietnamese people are. We could not believe how much rubbish these people would leave behind - after a meal, underneath the tables families would leave literally piles of discarded cans, tissue, and unwanted food scraps. They would toss litter from boats, bikes and throw it to the ground without a second thought. No wonder the area was so full of rubbish lined shores. It was unbelieveable to see - one of the worst areas for this so far. There was not as many scams here, things were priced fairly for all to see.
We made our way up to Sapa on an overnight sleeper train. A mountain village which is overlooked in every direction by the regal Hoang Lien mountain range Franzipan in the distance (3143m). We visited several mountain hilltribe villages. In the area there were 5 different communities each having their own colourful traditional costumes. The most interesting to me 'Red hat' where the women would let their hair grow long until the point of marriage and then upon marrying it would be shaved and kept that way. The costumes of these beautiful women included what looked like thick red material folded and pinned uopn their head making them look quite elaborate.P6170480.jpg
The land here was rich and lushious, rice paddy terraces make interesting patterns on the mountains everywhere you look. The blinding colours from the land and costumes were out of this world. The people here were kind, funny, interesting and at times overpowering as they follow you and ask "you buy from me?" - you have to take a sense of humour with you here if not it would drive you mad with so many people trying to sell you things. We had a good laugh with them and at one point when I interest in the decorative earings that a lady was wearing, making her lobe stretch through the weight of several pairs being worn she instantly reached in her pocket, pulled out a pair and said "you buy from me?". Not having my ears pierced she then looks at Sean and said "you buy from me?", Sean replying "no, I have enough thankyou" and shows them his ears. Captivating the growing group of locals he continues to show them his bellybutton and nipple rings. What a laugh, I have never seen expressions like this before. At one point we was walking to Lao Chai Village along a track and Sean and I was holding hands, we hear a squeal and patter of feet running up behind us and a 70 year old local grabs Seans other hand. At the height of Seans elbow she looks up wearing the most biggest smile and continues to happily walk with us for about 1km, never letting Sean out of her firm grip. Chatting in her own tounge, unable to speak a word of English and us barely knowing basic phrases communication was limited. That did not matter she seemed overjoyed to be holding hands with Sean, much to our amusement we found it hilarious - this charachterful woman full of wrinkles and eyes that told a million stories. The outcome was that she wanted money to walk with Sean, even though this was under duress - he tried several times to get out of her clasp! P6180592.jpg
The way of life in these small villages is quite adorable and very basic when stripped down with no tourism. At a very young age children here are free to play and enjoy what kids should enjoy for a good part of their lives, adults see to the land, weave, cook and see to daily duties. But the kids soon learn the power of an adorable smile to make you melt, selling and begging, they see you as a walking money box. Simply the way that they have allowed tourism to grow around here. Quite saddening really. P6160411.jpg
Getting wrapped up in the life and landscape of Sapa we had just a few days left to get to Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon) before heading over the boarder the Cambodia. An overnight train got us back to Hanoi and a cheap quick flight we headed to Saigon. Siagon had the same vibe of Hanoi only bigger and not so compact. We had heard people say that Siagon was alot worse for the chaos of traffic. We didnt find this, maybe we had got used to just walking out infront of oncomming traffic as if you was blind! You always seem to make it to the other side unscathed. Seeing the city on foot and getting down some of the small alleyways for us was the best way to see it. Enabeling you to see the local life, and get away from pepole hassling you to buy someting. Good fun.
Vietnam - A landscape of boldness and rich in culture that is so tantalising. In danger of becoming spoilt by tourism and the vietmanese's lack of respect for its country. P6170536.jpg

Posted by CarrieSean 25.06.2009 21:26 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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