Friday, February 15, 2008

In d Philippines

Lots has happened since we last left you and went to Ati Atihan festival. We'll start with the two days we spent at the street carnival. Since it was an absolute nightmare finding a room in Kalibo, which is where the festival was held, we found a tiny village by the sea about 30 minutes drive away. We stayed really in the middle of nowhere, but it was really beautiful spot and it saved us a fortune because all hotels in Kalibo had put their prices up by around 5 times!

The whole Ati Atihan festival lasted for weeks, but we were there for just the last 2 days, which were the biggest with dance & costume competitions. All the local villages enter a team into the festival, all of which have their own distinct costumes and dance style, so for example there was a duck-village, which had these very cool duck-like outfits, and there were also spiders, owls, bats, coral, butterflies, and other less obvious themes. We've got some very cool photos which we'll try to get onto flickr, so you can click on the pictures on the right and see more. All of the dancing was done to very loud and enthusiastic drumming and music as well, so it really was a proper fun carnival.

It was a very cool thing for us to see, because it's apparently the biggest festival in South East Asia, and we've never been to anything like that before. There weren't many western tourists, just loads of Philipinos dancing and - mainly - drinking. It had a very relaxed atmosphere, and anyone could just join in with any of the groups and wander in and out taking photos. We came back with a new hat that an excited dancer gave us, and I got covered in black face paint as well.

Having festivals and fiestas in the Philippines means that the locals are super hospitable. We even got given free lunch. We went into a cafe to get some lunch and coffee, and they just gave it to us for free! In the evenings we got jeepneys back to our hotel. They're "buses" made from old American army jeeps, which they extend back massively. They were so many people travelling on them in the evenings that all the men including Dan had to travel on the roof, and just hold on for dear life. It was fine until it started to rain... He looked like a drowned rat when he finally climbed down. All in all, a great weekend!

After the festival we went to Boracay island, which is the country's main tourist destination. Although obviously it was veeery touristy, it was actually a lovely place, with hugely long pure white beaches fringed with coconut palms and no big buildings near the coast, so the beach where we were was very tranquil and it felt like it was a lot more unspoilt than the reality. Some of it was very busy and not very nice, but we just didn't go to that area. What Dan loved was that it had one beach that never got any wind and was great for swimming & sleeping, whilst the other side of the island had a beach that was always very windy and full of windsurfers and kitesurfers.

It was my birthday on Boracay as well, and Dan got me a number candle to blow out, but he only got number 1 for me, it never crossed to get the first number as well, so I guess I had my 21st birthday there! We had some lovely cocktails and some beers to celebrate. But after a few days relaxing on the beach I managed to get really ill, it started with really high fever and developed into acute bronchitis (first doctor thought it may have been pneumonia) and I was totally out of it for over a week. The two doctors I saw both wanted to admit me into the hospital, but they both said the hospital is so bad it might not make me feel any better to be there... So we decided I'd stay at our bungalow instead! Dan was a great, although a little bit bored, nurse for me, and I got through lots and lots of medicine, and I'm now finally better. So our few days on Boracay island turned into 20 days before the doctor finally allowed us to fly out to Laos via Manila and Bangkok. Dan finally managed to windsurf on our last day on the island, and he had a great time.

The language is a funny thing in the Philippines, because they quite happily mix English, some Spanish words, and lots of the regional local dialects. All the signs tend to be in a sort of ghetto English, so they use "d" instead of "the"! And they use speechmarks around inappropriate words or phrases, for example: We are "happy" to serve you. It's great!

We're now is Luang Prabang in Laos and it's freezing here! But we're having a great time because we happened to bump into Heiko & Nicole whom we got to know in Halong Bay in Vietnam, so it's been fun seeing them again and playing lots of cards. And we're also loving the food here, there's so much fresh fruit & vegetables and yummy things here, so we're eating all the time!

We'll write more once we've seen a bit more of Laos. We've also put up lots of really nice photos from the Philippines, so make sure you go see them as well.

By the way, we only have one more month to go, yikes!

Jenni & Dan

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Filipino times

Hi, this time we've both written bits so it may be a bit confusing.

We have been meaning to write something for ages, but have come up against a new hurdle in our quest to bring you interesting travel stories, loud shouting computer game obsessed young Filipino boys! every Internet place here is full all the time with kids playing this war game at full volume, slightly drowned out by loud music which they then try and shout encouragement over, it makes sitting writing anything a rather stressful activity! Jenni has just put in her ear plugs as we have given up trying to find a quieter one, so here goes with the beautiful sounds of war, shouting and Bon Jovi!

Getting to the Philippines was fun! It took us about 24hours to get to our hostel here from Taru and Ville's house in Malaysia. We had a few stressful "the last bus to the airport has already left" moments, and a lovely sleep outside the Manila domestic terminal from 5am till 2pm! But we got there eventually, and met the owner of our hostel (Harold's Mansion) at the airport in Dumaguete on Negros island, and he basically adopted us for the next week! Harold, us, and Hanna & Elin from Stockholm went on daytrips all over the place, and visited Harold's auntie (who served us lunch), his beach house, a 30m waterfall, and nearby Apo island (great snorkelling!). In the evenings we were taken to cool bars and clubs in Dumaguete and we saw local reggae bands and "normal" bands. We had a great time there, and the food and beer were also brilliant & cheap!

We then moved on to a quiet part of Negros called Sipalay which was basically 4 very basic beach side bungalow resorts - and not much else. But it had a 400m stretch of beach with fantastically clear warm water. The beach didn't have the "dazzlingly white sand" the Lonely Planet described, it was more of a browney grey, but I guess "dazzlingly browney grey sand" isn't going to entice too many people! But despite the colour of the sand the place had a really cool feel, very laid back and friendly and rustic. The only boats on the beach were traditional fishing boats with outriggers that the local families took out to fish each evening, or to take us out snorkelling etc. We went snorkelling on a wreck which was really cool, it was quite a big sunken ship with loads of beautiful fish and covered with corals. We had never seen a wreck before so it was great fun, and it was shallow enough that you didn't need scuba gear, 2-7m. It was great diving down and looking through the ship with the sunlight coming in through the holes and cracks in the hull and seeing all the fish living inside.

We had another lovely animal encounter in our bungalow in Sipalay. It had been a while since we shared our room with anything bigger than a cockroach, so we were delighted to see a huge 10cm diameter fat hairy spider staring down at us from the roof of our hut! We were very brave and just let it be and climbed into the cocoon-like safety of the mosquito net, and prayed it would go away. And it did until the evening, when he crawled out again just to scare us. We think the very big gecko that was also sharing our room might have eaten it, because by the third evening we didn't see the spider anymore, and the gecko was looking extra fat and happy.

The language here is very bizarre, it's a mix between English, Spanish, and the local dialects which differ from island to island. So we can often understand what the locals are saying to each other! And we feel the country has somehow a different feel to the other South East Asian places we've been to. It may be because it's Christian, or it may be the American influence. The locals call Dan Joe (a hangover from the GI Joe times) and they tend to be veeeery excited to see us walking down the streets, and often they really just want to have a chat with us and go out of their ways to help us. We had a very funny moment in Dumaguete when we went to the local fish market. The ladies there basically gathered around Dan to admire him and smile and giggle. We were with Harold and he translated to us that they wanted to know whether Dan was married, and were very disappointed to find out he was, but they still wanted to know whether they could be pen pals with him... Dan didn't know how to take all this attention from the circle of new admirers, but the rest of us were having a lot of fun!

So far we've really liked the Philippines, so much so that we've extended our visas so we can stay here for about 5 weeks instead of the 3 weeks as we initially had planned. We changed islands yesterday to go to the Ati-Atihan festival for the weekend, which is a huge fiesta, a bit like Rio Carnival. We think we have a room booked through a travel agent (most rooms have been booked for over a month now), but we haven't heard anything from her for a while, so we've decided to just turn up and hope for the best...

Sorry again that it's been so long since the last blog, we blame the local noisy kids and the very strong Red Horse beer which is ridiculously strong, and very cheap at just 50pence or 0.70cents for a huge litre bottle!

We'll let you know soon how the festival went!

Dan & Jenni

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry (37 degrees C) Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! We have been living the hot Christmas dream and had a BBQ! Standing behind a BBQ with the air temp at 37 degrees it really does start to feel like Christmas, I know that's what you've all been doing too! I even wore a Christmas hat just to make it a little hotter! But we have been making it as Christmassy as we can, we declared Christmas Peace (a la Finland), we've been listening to Christmas songs, we've got a tree and fairy lights, and we've even made glögi!

We have had a cool couple of weeks since the last blog, going to an ultra posh hotel in Malaysia, visiting beautiful islands in Thailand and living with our friends back in Malaysia!

We met Lasse and Marika (Jenni's cousin and his wife) at the most amazing hotel I've ever been allowed to step into. The security guards were a little dubious though as we walked in from the local bus with our traveller clothes and big back packs on! But the receptionists were expecting us and greeted us with Champagne and an Orchid! Our room was like something from a film with a huge bedroom, lounge, bathroom with the best showers in the world(notice the multiple!), balcony with a massive outdoor bath, and even TV controls in the toilet! It was proper full on 5 star, the best hotel in Malaysia, 4th in Asia and 22nd in the world (they let you know the rankings!).

The outdoor bath was amazing, they would come run it for you (it took an hour) and fill it with your desired oils and bubbles and even flowers! We had three different baths with rose petals, yellow orchids and purple orchids, it was ace!

Lasse and Marika had arranged a little Christmas party with some other guests that they had made friends with, which was great fun. We started with Champagne and cocktails in the hotel lounge and then went to their room which they had decorated with a tree and things, and had more champagne. Then we went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner and some impromptu singing, and ended with a huge snow and silly string fight over the table! Then to a bar on the beach for some dancing and then back to the hotel to help the staff decorate the Christmas tree in the lobby (not quite sure how much they appreciated our help though!). We had so much fun and so much to drink, but Jenni and me were the only ones with hangovers the next day!

It was such an amazing change from our usual lodgings, we loved it, so thank you Lasse and Marika!

We then went down to Taru and Ville's house (near Pangkor Island in Malaysia) to say hello and meet the kids, and we left our big bags there so that we could go up to Thailand with just little packs, before returning for Christmas.

We went to two islands in very southern Thailand called Ko Tarutao and Ko Lipe. They are really beautiful places, Ko Tarutao is a national park and nature reserve, so there was lots of wildlife and no commercial developments or villages. You have to stay in the national park accommodation which was lovely and sympathetically constructed so you can't see it much from the beach or the mountains. The island wasn't great for electricity, you only got it from 6pm till 10pm when the whole island shuts down and goes to bed! We have a new favourite monkey now, its called a Dusky Langur and they look wicked, Google it for a picture! We then went onto Ko Lipe which is outside the park boundaries so it has many bungalow and restaurant developments and a little village. It was a really lovely island with beautiful beaches and sea and a little more electricity, but not much! We really recommend the two islands, especially Ko Lipe is great for sunbathing & swimming as it has amazingly clear turquoise water and sand that is like white silk - perfect!

Getting to and from Thailand was a bit of a mission. On the way up from Taru and Ville's house we set a new record in taking different types of transport in one trip! We did car, bus, bus, taxi, boat, motorbike, minivan, and again motorbike! It was a pretty fun day and the boat that took us across the boarder was hilarious, it looked as if it would sink if you blew on it, it had a old plastic chair screwed to a box for the captain and a big steering wheel from a truck, and a engine that he was building as we watched! The only scary bit was when he decided to fill the fuel tank whilst smoking. We got in and then were completely covered over with tarpaulin, it looked like we were being smuggled out of the country! Coming back was much less exciting, actually it was decidedly dull so I want bore you with it, but basically, it took bloody ages!

We are now doing lots of Chritmassy things, homey things and playing with kids things, which is fun! We are really enjoying having things like a fridge and a kettle, it's weird the things you miss! Ville got a remote controlled helicopter for Christmas which is really cool and fantastically difficult to fly! We can make it hover and not spin round anymore, but going forwards or backwards when WE want to seems a bit beyond us, the grass is getting a good cutting though!

We hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and do lots of fun things in the cold like sitting in front of the fire and wearing woolly socks! Oh, and we've just been to the beach and paddling in the warm sea - on Christmas day!

Lots of love,

Dan & Jenni

Monday, December 03, 2007

It's all about Nam man

Hi it's Dan, in Vietnam!

We seem to have neglected you all some what in the month of November, sorry we do have a few excuses though...In the south we couldn't get onto the site for some reason (censorship apparently), and then we have been out on boats and up mountains in the north so we have been a bit busy!

We have really loved being in Vietnam. We had heard lots of stories about how horrible people were and how disapointing the country was from people we have met on our trip, so we had been a lottle apprehensive. But we have absolutely loved it, it is one of our top countries and the people are lovely!

We spent a couple of weeks in the south around the Mekong delta, Saigon and Mui Ne beach and then took a flight up North to Hanoi, running away from a big storm, and visisted Halong Bay and the hill tribes in Sapa.

One of the most exciting things that you can do in Saigon is cross the road! There are millions of motorbikes there that come in a constant stream along the roads about 10-15 bikes wide in both directions. The accepted wisdom when trying to cross the road is to just keep moving and praying to the traffic gods! Drivers prefer to use the horn than the breaks, so woe betide any pedestrian that stops, stumbles, or hesitates, and causes a motor bike to actually slow down! It does seem to work quite well though, we move steadily forward, everyone swerves around you and each other, we get to the otherside, nobody uses their breaks and everyone is happy!

I got to go windsurfing finally, yeah! In Mui Ne beach there were load of windsurfers and kite surfers and top of the range equipment to hire. It was so great to get out on the water, there was wind, waves everything! It is a really great beach warm sea and lovely sand and no sellers harassing you. There were also some cool sand dunes there which we went to see one day. It is amazing how much fun you can have leaping off sanddunes into umm lower down sanddunes! We have got some good pictures which I'm sure will make there way onto flickr soon.

We want to give Vietnam a big thumbs up on the food stakes as we keep on talking to peole here who think it is bland and rubbish, but it is not, it is fantastic, if you eat the right stuff. Unfortunately lots of the hotels and some tourist restaurants seem to think that westerners like bland flavourless food which unfortunately is all some people get to try. The food isn't that spicy here, it is very fresh tasing and uses lots of fresh veg and herbs instead of spice. So if you come here make sure you eat at the busier street stalls and little signless cafes, they generally only sell one thing, so you don't have to worry about choosing what to have, and it is so tasty and cheap, you can't go wrong. You just have to accept that sometimes you have no idea what you are eating! Also there are great baguettes and cakes and coffee, all remnantes of the French occupation that everybody welcomes! Oh and Bia Hoi is fantastic, it is fresh beer that they sell in little street side bars for about 6p a glass! It is apparently free from any chemicals or preservatives so it only has a 24hour shelf life, it tastes great and doesn't give you a hangover, ace!

We have just got back from a few days up in the mountains in a town called Sapa which was frickin freezin! It was 14C but it felt like minus 14C. What was wierd is that it is always like that there but nobody and no buildings were equipt for it! Everyone has to wear big puffer jackets all day and night as there is no heating in any of the buildings! So all the locals and tourists were shivering together. We had to sleep in all our clothes with big duvets and a fire to try and keep warm. We did some treking in the moutains which have been carved into amazing rice terraces by the local ethnic minorities. They all wear cool costumes and are really friendly and welcoming, they too don't have much in the way of heating or appropriate clothing!

We have been on a few organised tours in Vietnam which has made a nice change from doing everything alone, and has allowed us to meet some really lovely people from all over the world! We are already planning our visits to Ireland, Germany, San Francisco and Australia!

We are off to Malaysia in a few days to meet Jenni's Cousin and his wife for a few days in Penang, and then we will nip up the coast to Thailands most southern islands for a bit of sunbathing, before heading back down to Malaysia for Christmas with our friends Taru and Ville who have just moved there from Turku. So we have quite a hectic shedule, and lots of stamps in our passports ahead of us!

Lots of love
Dan & Jenni

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

It got a lot easier

Hi, it's Jenni

After leaving you with the story of our very adventurous and action packed entry to Cambodia, things have calmed down a bit. We've been here 3 weeks and next stop is Vietnam where we're going tomorrow, but first we'll tell you the best bits from the past 3 weeks.

Our first stop was Siem Reap which is the city where you stay to go to the Angkor temples. We think that telling you about them is really best done through photos, we've got some pretty stunning ones that will tell their own timeless story better than we can. They're definitely worth seeing if you're in this part of the world (although you could just watch Tomb Raider which brings them to life pretty well, with Lara Croft thrown in for good luck). But they were just beautiful, and had a great atmosphere that made Dan feel like a real life Indiana Jones! They were full of false doors, mystical statues, strange stone urns and huge roots growing through it all, reminding that the temples had been lost and forgotten in the jungle for hundreds of years. All in all, great!

We thought that several of the smaller & less famous temples were more cool than Angkor Wat itself, which has been very well restored, which unfortunately seems to have taken away some of its charm. If you're visiting the Angkor temples, make sure you give yourself enough time at the other temples that are a lot more fun to walk around and explore, such as Ta Prohm (where Tomb Raider was filmed), Ta Som (which we thought was very Indiana Jones-esque), Bayon (with huge faces carved onto its sides), Banteay Kdei etc.

Unfortunately, Dan fell ill after the first day at Angkor temples (we had a 3 day pass), and the poor thing seemed to really have the flu - his symptoms matched the ones you get if you have Dengue fever, Malaria, or Bird Flu, but whatever it was, he's fine now! But that will explain why there's not that many photos of him from the temples, he was just too snotty ;) We did manage to go out every day though so we got to see all the ones we had planned, and even managed to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat.

The next stop was the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh where we fell in love with a new fruit - pomelos. They're massive and basically taste like a cross between grapefruit and orange, they're almost the size of a football! And Dan's not allergic, so that helps too. We also went to see a killing field near the city, which is one of the places they were doing the mass murdering during the Pol Pot regime. It was a very sobering and harrowing experience, there was a huge hollow monument that is filled with the skulls of some of the victims, and you could see where they had dug up some of the mass graves. Here and there you could see clothes, teeth, and bones scattered across the earth. Nowadays it's a peaceful and beautiful place, but that didn't make it much easier to cope with.

In Phnom Penh we also visited the National Museum. If you're coming here anytime soon, you might as well miss it because they've taken all the best bits to an exhibition in Switzerland so we didn't think there was that much to see.

For last week we went to the South coast to Sihanouksville, which is a beach resort with pretty beaches and some very happening parties and cheap alcohol in the beachside bars. We stayed at a guesthouse run by a French lady, and the restaurant attached to it served some looovely French food, which was a very welcome break!

Cambodia used to be a French colony, and the French influence runs through the whole country. Very importantly, you get fresh and very yummy french bread everywhere :) Also, they brought with them some lovely architecture, so there's pretty and colourful colonial stone buildings popping up even in the middle of the rice paddy fields!

Tonight is our last Cambodian evening, tomorrow morning we're off to Vietnam on a 4 day Mekong Delta tour. We'll visit some of the smaller places with their floating markets and stilted houses, and will end in Hoi Chi Minh City (Saigon). We're very excited and look forward to the next border crossing, which just has to be easier than the previous one we did. You'll be pleased to know that we already have our visas, so there shouldn't be any more arguments!

Thank you once again for your comments, they're such fun to read and we really look forward to getting them!

Lots of love,
Jenni & Dan

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Corruption and potholes in Cambodia

Hi there,

We've only just written to you, but we had a very eventful day yesterday travelling from Bangkok to here in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and we wanted to tell you all about it. The day started with us waking up at 3.30 am, and catching a bus to the main bus terminal we we could catch a bus to the Cambodian border. We got to the bus station at 5 am ready to catch the 5.25 bus, which we then discovered no longer existed, so we had to buy tickets for the one at 6.30 am. The bus finally left 30 minutes late, and we trundled through the Thai countryside, with several visits inside the bus by the Thai police and army, getting out all the Cambodian passengers and replacing them with others that they brought from their offices - all very weird!

We finally got to the border crossing (at Aranyaprathet to get to Poipet at Cambodia) and had to ignore several people telling us things like we have to buy the Cambodian visas at the Thai side for about double the price, and that we have to change our Thai Baht to US Dollars before leaving the country (at very poor rates).

Getting through Thai immigration was fine, but once we were through to the no-man's-land between the countries is when the fun began in earnest! We wanted to get the Cambodian visa on arrival because we had found out in Thailand that you could get it for just US$20, and we would have had to pay US$35 for it in Bangkok. However, the Cambodian border officials were not quite so keen to let us have it for just $20. We were "helped" by a whole host of friendly locals and also officials, who could all help us pay way over $20, to varying degrees. It was quite an eye opener to have officials in uniforms all so openly corrupt! There was even a sign saying the tourist visa costs $20, but still they gave us different lies to try to explain, the best being that the sign was to give us the prices for a visa in the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok!

Despite all their insistence and us being passed around 6 different border officials, we were not prepared to pay the various "taxes and charges" and said we wanted receipts for any extras they demanded, and so eventually I guess they decided we were getting too annoying (and might put the other tourist off), and they let us into the country for $20 (which is what they should do anyway). Unfortunately, everyone else we saw at immigration and have met since have paid various amounts for their vises, much over $20, and unfortunately this will only encourage the border officials to keep on overcharging unsuspecting tourists. We have to say we were quite proud of ourselves!

So finally we were on Cambodian soil! And soil it was, the roads were unsurfaced, and the recent rains meant that everywhere was covered in red mud, and because the roads resemble the craters of the moon, that also meant huge puddles / small lakes.

We joined forces with a Russian couple and decided to get a taxi to Siem Reap. After a bit of haggling over the price, we set off on what turned out to be a 4 hour assault of the senses! The journey was on roads that shook and threw us around the back of the rather unsuitable Toyota Camry saloon, we should have been in a landrover / tractor / moonbuggy. As we finally arrived at the outskirts of Siem Reap, we had to get out of the taxi and into a tuk tuk for our "free transfer" to a hotel. This in South East Asian travel terms means that they'll give you the hard sell on a hotel / guesthouse that will pay them to bring them tourists. You see, here the tuk tuk drivers buy tourists from taxi drivers, that's nice isn't it. So another small bit of strong discussion later, we were taken to the guesthouse of our choice, with the hard sell on tours of the temples of Angkor Wat instead.

But all's well that ends well, by the (late) evening we were in our lovely guesthouse by the river sitting at the bar having local yummy Angkor beer. The beer is quite cheap as well at $0.50 a pint, and our guesthouse (Shadow of Angkor) is lovely and clean, so we're very happy here. Today we have been recovering from getting here, so we haven't tackled the amazing Angkor Wat temples yet, we'll need 3 days and a tuk tuk to get around them all.

By the way, this isn't the only eventful and demanding travelling we've done lately, we just decided you might be bored of reading about it after Sumatra, but yesterday was so hard core we just had to share it with you.

That's all for now, we've got to go as it's happy hour again!

Lots of love,
Jenni & Dan

Sunday, October 14, 2007

All itchy again!

Hi from Bangkok where bedbugs have been having a great meal out of me! For some reason they haven't been going for Dan, the pharmacist thought it may be because he smells! After this he's bought a new wardrobe.

We've had a great time here, shopping is very good and cheap compared to a lot of other places we've been to, and things are so cool and funky here, we just can't resist.

So a quick update on the rest of our trip in Lombok. We headed to Kuta on the South coast for a few days, and it had some just amazing beaches, we think they were the best we've seen anywhere! Pure white sand and turquoise water, and the beaches were miles long and absolutely deserted. The only thing that having a deserted beach to yourself means is that there's no other tourists! And having no others means it can get a bit lonely... I'm exaggerating, there were others, but they were all surfers. The surf there is world class, and people come from all over the world to surf. Dan had a go as well one day on a point break, and discovered there are lots of muscles in his shoulders he should have, but didn't! Anyway, he had a great time.

We're now in Bangkok, and planning to go to Cambodia tomorrow or the next day. We've put LOTS of new photos on flickr, so please click on the right and marvel at our old adventures!!! Pictures from our new adventures also coming soon, promise! :)

Everyone in Finland, please buy the first issue of MeNaiset magazine in November, because they're writing an 8 page story of the 30th Birthday party our group of friends is having this week's Saturday! We wish we were there!!!

Got to go, they're closing the Internet cafe and throwing us out onto the streets of Bangkok... I think we'll head for a beer to congratulate ourselves on all the photo work we've just done.

Thank you for all your funny comments!

Jenni & Dan