Uganda Be Kidding Me!

While checking in for our departure flight at the airport in Colombo (Sri Lanka) on March 28th, we were pleased to find out that FlyDubai had upgraded our seats to first class for the first leg of our trip to Uganda! We boarded the flight to Dubai at 1:30 AM, enjoyed a complimentary glass of champagne, and had a wonderful five hours of sleep in our comfy first class seats.

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Clearly a little tipsy from our beers at the airport and free champagne, haha!

We landed in Dubai, where we had a three hour layover before our next flight to Entebbe, a major city in central Uganda. The flight was delayed a bit, and once we finally boarded, we sat on the runway without moving for over an hour. If only we had first class seats for the second flight as well!

Finally we landed in Entebbe at around 4:00 pm, two hours later than scheduled. We planned to stay and volunteer at an orphanage I had found online, but first we would spend the night in the capital city of Kampala, where we had booked an AirBnB room. The Orphanage’s Manager, Doreen, arranged for her Father to pick us up from the airport and drive us to our accommodation.

It took us an hour and a half to get into the heart of Kampala, and it probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that we experienced a bit of culture shock on the drive. Already we could tell things were going to be much different than we had become accustomed to! When we finally pulled up to our AirBnB address we were a little nervous, as it was a very run down apartment complex, that didn’t look entirely safe. After we entered the apartment by unlocking the steel bar cage encasing the front door, we were pleased to see that it was nicely updated. The balcony had a view of the neighbourhood, including a group of about six huge Marabou storks that had claimed ownership of a pile of burning garbage within the complex’s walls. We had numerous sightings of these gigantic (adults reach up to 5 ft. tall) vulture looking birds who hang out right in the middle of the city, but we never got around to taking a picture of them ourselves. Here is an image from google to give you an idea of what they look like:

Marabou storks

After we got settled in our room we ventured out nervously into the nearby streets. We thought we were used to locals staring, but this was on a whole ‘nother level… It didn’t help that the neighbourhood we were staying in was quite run down and busy, a detail that was missing from the AirBnB description. We tried to blend in by faking as much confidence as we could, pretending not to look lost as we searched for the nearby supermarket.

The roads were all red dirt with ramshackle buildings lining the sides. Sidewalks were pretty much nonexistent or completely falling apart. Everywhere was so busy with vehicles, people, cows, and goats. We were not sure what to do with ourselves, especially when it came to crossing the completely unregulated jam packed streets! Finally we located the surprisingly modern supermarket. We picked up ingredients to make ourselves breakfast the next day and some treats for the children at the orphanage. It was getting dark, and we realized we had barely eaten all day, so we quickly grabbed dinner from a nearby eatery. They served us some mediocre lunch leftovers for a very cheap price.

The next morning we went to find a SIM card so that we could look up the directions to Miryante Orphanage, but our cell phone wouldn’t work with the data, so we ended up visiting an internet cafe instead. We spoke with Doreen who was worried about us going to the ‘New Taxi Park’ alone, but we tried to reassure her that our accommodation was less than a fifteen minute walk from it. She warned us not to let anyone touch our bags, as people would try to steal them. We went back to the apartment, grabbed our backpacks, and headed out.

We found the New Taxi Park with no trouble at all, but we had only been given vague instructions on what to do next; so when we got there, we were very overwhelmed looking out at a giant maze of gridlocked vehicles. The lot was much larger than a football field and so tightly compacted with taxis lined up end to end, there was barely enough room to walk between each vehicle. In Uganda (and other parts of Africa), “taxis” (also called matatus) are actually shared minibuses that will drop off or pick up passengers anywhere along specific routes. Sometimes they cram in over 20 people, when there is only enough seating for a very squished 15 (including a driver). We had no idea how to tell which taxi was going where, and the conditions didn’t look favourable. We decided we would be more comfortable looking for a coach bus that was heading our direction instead.

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More google images to show what the Taxi Park looked like!

Link Bus Kampala

As we were wandering around, a man approached us and asked us where we were going. We told him the town of Fort Portal and he said to follow him. He took us to a different section of the park that was filled with larger buses. As soon as we walked up, we were swarmed by more than a dozen other men. Half of them worked with the man who was directing us, and the other half were trying to convince us to take their bus company instead. Each group was insinuating that the other one was going to rip us off. The large men started yelling and arguing, shoving and throwing punches at each other, and then physically pulling Paul and I in opposite directions! I broke free and dragged Paul out of the mob with me. I didn’t know what to do so I ran over to a bystander who looked like they could maybe help. I desperately pleaded him to tell us which company we should go with. He pointed at the opposite bus company (from the initial man who lead us) and said “go with them, they will take you where you need to go”. They were wearing more official looking jackets that said ‘Link Bus’, so we took the man’s advice and quickly followed them to their large beat up bus, while the men from the other company swore and continued to make a scene.

We bartered our tickets down to 20,000 Uganda Shillings each (about $7.75 CAD), insisting that we bring our backpacks on board, and arranging to be dropped off along the way at a village near the orphanage. Once seated, we took a deep breath, looked at each other… and started to laugh! What else could we do? We had just survived one of our most nerve racking travel experiences, and if we didn’t laugh about it, we probably would have started to cry, haha. What an introduction to Africa!

The three hour bus ride wasn’t as unpleasant as we anticipated, although there was a man walking up and down the aisle talking loudly into a microphone for the majority of the trip. At first we thought he was a pastor preaching the bible, but then we realized he was passing around items for people to test out. We concluded he was some sort of salesman doing an odd live infomercial!

About two hours into the trip we stopped in a town so that passengers could go to the bathroom or get something to eat. The bus was instantly surrounded by men and women carrying food and drinks for sale: skewers of mystery meat, roasted plantains, chapati, bags of peanuts, and other local foods. They called at us, reaching up to our windows, “Muzungu, Muzungu. You want Soda? How about chapati?”. This was the first of many times our vehicle would be swarmed by street hawkers, and the first of even more times we would be called a Muzungu (“White Person”) haha.

An hour later the bus dropped us off right in front of Miryante Orphanage. Billy, the social worker at the orphanage, met us at the road and showed us up to the main buildings. As we were coming up the path, we were swarmed again… but this time it was by a mob of adorable hugging little children! A little girl took Paul’s hand and an adorable little boy took mine (who I would later grow extremely fond of), and the group lead us up to the guesthouse.

The accommodation was nicer than we expected. It had no electricity or running water, but it was all ours – complete with a private queen size bed & mosquito net, and a sit down toilet we could flush with rain or well water. We also had our own kitchen with a gas stove top and a hanging basket for food (to keep it safe from the rats who are common visitors in the guesthouse).

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We were told we could cook our own meals if we got bored of the orphanage’s food, which we soon learned was the exact same thing, 3 meals each day, on a weekly rotation. The week we were visiting it was beans and Posho (pronounced poe-show), which is finely ground white corn flour mixed with boiling water until it becomes solid (kind of like a very plain polenta). We joined in on this meal a few times; it was actually pretty edible, and definitely filling. More often we opted to make our own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. One night I cooked us a giant batch of spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce. We each devoured a dish by lantern light in the guesthouse, and then gave the rest of the food to some of the orphanage’s workers – they were equally excited to be eating something different!

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We spent the five days helping teach English to the nursery school children while the older kids left to go to primary or secondary school. Our teaching consisted mostly of games, practicing the alphabet, shapes, numbers, and colouring; so it was pretty entry level stuff, but lots of fun!

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One of the days we went to the closest town (an hour away) to get groceries. It was actually the same town the bus stopped at on our journey from Kampala. We went with Doreen, who was going to visit a sick child in the hospital. She flagged us a taxi and bartered them down to 5,000 UGX each ($2 CAD).
Our first experience with a taxi was a cramped and stinky one… which is pretty much identical to every experience we had after that! We squeezed into the already overflowing vehicle, practically sitting on other people’s sweaty laps. It stopped another TWO times to squish more people in. At one point it was so full they had to keep the door open for the conductor (person who collects the fares) to hang out the side of the speeding vehicle. The chicken we could hear clucking from inside someone’s bag made the experience that much more ridiculous!

We made it in one piece, and after Doreen showed us where the market was, we went our separate ways. We picked up a few things including some fresh passion fruit (a new favourite from our time in Sri Lanka). Then we visited an internet cafe to try to arrange transportation to Tanzania for the following week. The computers were SO slow and our internet time kept expiring, preventing us from being able to book our trip fully. We ended up with bus tickets to take us as far as Kenya, and we would have to figure out the rest once we got there.

We tried to find somewhere to eat lunch, kind of excited about the idea of missing another meal of Posho, but we were shocked at how little there was for options. We settled on a hole in the wall eatery that seemed busy with locals. There was no menu or choice, we were simply dished a plate of cooked fish and plantains. We were confident they overcharged us for the very modest meal… but we were happy to pay it, as it was a refreshing change.

When we were finished, we had to catch another taxi back to the orphanage; this time by ourselves. Doreen had warned us they would try to gouge us on the price and to be happy if they let us on for 7,000 UGX each. We were pretty pleased with our bartering skills when we were able to get them down to 6,000 UGX each… Wooohoo, saved $0.40 CAD! The ride was exactly like the first one – cramped and sweaty. While we waited for it to fill up, hawkers pestered us to buy food, ignoring us when we tried to explain that we had just eaten. By the time we departed, I had gotten pretty good at turning people away politely by engaging them in a different conversation. Most of them were just as excited to practice their English as they were to sell us something!

One of the days at the orphanage, Paul helped build a swing set for the children with one of the workers named John. They ended up growing quite the bromance. He told Paul all about his family, who he barely sees because everyday he works such long hours at the orphanage. He was a very nice man, who had a giant pearly white smile!

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The finished playground

We spent another one of the mornings learning Rutoro (the local language used in the village) from Miryante’s Manger, Joseph. This helped us to communicate with the children who didn’t know much English. We were each given a pet name called an Empako. There are twelve different Empakos, some for both sexes, and some for just males. They are used as endearing nicknames between friends. Mine was Abwooli which means catlike or caring, and Paul’s was Apuuli, which we were told doesn’t have an exact meaning (maybe they picked it because it sounds like Paulie!). Unfortunately, we weren’t going to be able to use our new language skills (or nicknames) for the rest of our travels in Uganda, as there are over 40 different languages spoken throughout the country. English is used as the common language between most regions, which is why so many locals can speak it fluently.

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Our teacher, Joseph

One afternoon Billy and a few of the older children took us for a hike to a nearby viewpoint. Billy showed us the orphanage’s farmland and crops, and pointed out unique local plants along the way, making for a very interesting afternoon. The whole experience showed us what a beautiful lush green country Uganda is!

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On our last evening the entire orphanage organized a song and dance performance for us. We were so touched by the sentiment, but even more impressed when we saw how extremely talented they all were! They even got Paul and I up to dance with them, which they thought was absolutely HILARIOUS! Especially when I busted out my submarine or “sinking dance move” skills, pinching my nose and twisting to the ground, haha. It was very evident how much music and dancing meant to them all, bringing pure happiness to people who don’t always have a lot to be joyful about.

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The only thing I wish I could change about the evening was the location of the light fixture… the sole light for the entire schoolhouse was hanging directly above our chairs in the centre of the room, causing us to be continuously pelted in the face with various gigantic flying bugs as they darted at the bulb above us. I shuddered as I picked a few of them out of my sports bra before going to bed!

It was so hard to say goodbye to everyone the following morning – in particular my favourite little boy, who’s name was Deo. We would both break out into huge smiles every time we saw each other! He was 8 years old and had been taken away from his home, as he was brutally burned by his father as a form of discipline… He had only been at the orphanage for a month when we visited, but you could already tell how extremely happy he was to be there. They were helping to treat his large wound and working with the NGO Justice for Children to advocate for his protection.

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Picture from Miryante, when Deo was first brought to the orphanage.

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Saying goodbye to Deo. Look at that infectious smile!

Miryante is an amazing organization that relies heavily on donations from all over the world. Most of the children only had the clothes on their back, they get the same basic meal for a week straight (with meat only on special occasions), and toys/games are scarce. They do all that they can, and are continuing to work to improve the lives of the children with the limited resources available to them. They have implemented many projects in order to help them be more self-sufficient, such as farming and selling crafts made by the children. By doing this, they are also teaching valuable life skills to the children, so that in the future they may succeed on their own.

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We are pleased that we were able to give them a small donation, thanks to the help of some friends and family. If anyone else is interested in reading more about the organization, or donating towards them, their website is www.miryanteorphange.org.

It was a very wonderful experience, and we wish we could have stayed longer and done more. Someday in the future I hope to return!

When it was time for us to leave, Doreen walked us down to the road. We waited for a while for a westbound taxi to take us to the town of Fort Portal, but nothing ever came. Eventually Doreen flagged down a random approaching car. For the very cheap price of 10,000 UGX (less than $4 CAD), they agreed to take us to the town one hour away.

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Saying goodbye to Doreen

This was our first experience with “hitchhiking” in Uganda, but we were soon to become quite familiar with it, as it is one of the main forms of transportation in the country. This particular car ride however, was the closest we got to thinking we were going to die on our entire trip… and it had nothing to do with the hitchhiking part. The two local men, although slightly intimidating (being well over 6 feet tall with strong builds, and not a lot to say to us), still seemed nice enough; however, about 20 minutes into the drive, torrential rain began to fall. The road was completely invisible and the car’s bald tires were causing us to hydroplane and skid from side to side! The driver had to continuously reach forward to wipe the windshield with his shirt sleeve because the car windows had fogged up so much. My stomach flipped and flopped, while Paul and I squeezed each other’s hands in the back seat. We had been on MANY sketchy forms of transportation over the prior five months, but we typically trusted the driver to get us there safe knowing that they had done the route many times before. This time, we knew nothing of our driver’s experience level. Even if he happened to be the best motorist in the world, all you could see (out of his small rubbed circle of vision) was a sheet of grey rain and the occasional glare of dim oncoming headlights…

We may have aged a few years from that drive, but in the end we miraculously avoided skidding off of the roadway or into any oncoming vehicles! When we had safely arrived in Fort Portal, we kissed the ground, paid the driver, and wandered off to figure out our next step of getting to ‘Kibale National Park’, another 40+ kilometres away. It was April 3rd, Jane Goodall’s birthday (obviously 😉 ), so it was only fitting that we would be heading to a national park that is home to thousands of chimpanzees!

After having lunch and visiting an internet cafe, we hadn’t come up with any definitive answers, so we took to the streets to ask locals where we could catch a ride to Kibale. We were pointed in a direction along a muddy roadway, and eventually found ourselves in another reasonably priced hitchhiking ride with a man and his wife who were heading south. What we didn’t foresee was that the winding road leading to the park was entirely ‘under construction’. It was a complete disaster, and we had some more extremely close calls, slipping and sliding on the slick deep mud. The drive took MUCH longer than it should have, but we did pass by our first group of wild baboons, so that made it worth it!

Once we arrived at the ‘Chimp’s Nest’, our hotel situated right within the park’s limits, we realized something terrible… In our frenzy to find our way to the park, we had completely forgotten to pull out cash from an ATM! The hotel we were checking into did not take credit card and neither would the national park for our chimpanzee tracking permits. The closest machine was over an hour away, BACK in Fort Portal… the town we had JUST came from!

As it was now quickly turning to dusk, the odds of us finding another hitchhiking ride or a cheap shared taxi was unlikely. The hotel told us a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) ride would be our only option, but it would cost us; considering the distance, condition of the road, and the fact that it was now getting dark.
We reluctantly negotiated a price of 60,000 UGX (just over $20 CAD… 3 times what we had just paid to get there) for a ride to town and back. We both squeezed onto the back of the motorcycle, cuddling up to our driver for the long muddy dark drive ahead.

We puttered along in the the isolation of the thick Ugandan jungle. There weren’t any other vehicles around whatsoever. The vast expanse of the starry sky provided a faint amount of light, but the thick mud and scattered puddles prevented us from seeing the roadway clearly. To make the drive exceedingly difficult, the headlight of the boda-boda was only bright enough to illuminate a few feet in front of us, and ONLY when our driver was hitting the throttle! He’d give it some gas, see where he was headed, then roll forward in pitch black, hoping his calculations were correct before turning the throttle again and illuminating another section. Several times as he hit the gas to shed some light, the motorbike began to slip out sideways, and Paul and the driver had to put their feet down preventing us from toppling over or sliding out in the red mud. It was a white knuckle hair raising experience!

Well over three hours later, we arrived back at our hotel. Although it took forever (resulting in extremely numb butt cheeks), and may have caused some more grey hairs to sprout on our heads (Paul’s especially LOL)… I actually kind of enjoyed the sketchy ride through the dark jungle forest. The whole scenario was just too far fetched not to chuckle at! Both of us on the back of a motorcycle, driving through misty blackness, along a mud road in Africa. The sky was littered with stars and the jungle on either side of us moaned with nocturnal life. So creepy and unreal, and at the same time, absolutely beautiful and wild. But I guess I could just have been delusional from surviving multiple near death experiences in one day! We slept well that night, planning to see wild chimpanzees the next day.

In the morning, we learned that we would have to secure a chimpanzee tracking permit from an office 30 minutes away from the park before we could join a trek within the park’s grounds. Today’s organized trek started in less than an hour, so we decided we would join the following morning’s trek, opting instead to use the day to arrange our permit and explore the area.

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Road leading to The Chimp’s Nest

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View from the Chimp’s Nest Restaurant

We decided to have lunch at a small family run BBQ pork eatery. They told us we would have to wait for a while for our food. We understood why when shortly after we ordered, a man drove up on a motorcycle with a live pig tied to the back of it… It was a little unsettling, but at least we knew the food was fresh! It was actually a delicious meal and extremely cheap as well. While we ate we were visited by many local children who were delighted at the chance to practice their English. All the Children we saw in Uganda were super friendly! Since we were visiting in the country’s rainy season, there were very few tourists, which made people that much more curious about us.

After lunch, we began walking in the direction of the permit office, hoping to encounter a taxi heading the same way. Trudging through the winding jungle roadway for about a half hour, we turned the corner and suddenly encountered another group of wild baboons. There were mothers with their infants and big strong male leaders, all staring us down. We proceeded to walk forward, trying not to let them sense our fear, and avoiding direct eye contact. The baboons parted the way in front of us, and allowed us to walk away in peace. Once we got a few paces away, we both exhaled, and lit up smiling in disbelief!
We also encountered an insane amount of butterflies along the walk, as we came across giant clusters of the beautiful fluttering creatures hovering over a patch of ground. Upon further inspection, we realized that the delicate insects were swarming piles of feces left behind from one of the various animals that live in the jungle… We no longer admired the poop butterflies and tried to stay as far away from their gatherings as we could, haha!

We walked a few more kilometres, jumped on another boda-boda ride, followed by another hitchhiking ride; and after securing our permits, finished the round trip on a shared taxi. The 1 hour trip took us at least 2.5 hours to complete. That night we enjoyed an awesome dinner cooked by the Chimp’s Nest restaurant, and then ended the evening sitting on our patio looking up at another brilliant starry night, entertained by the presence of multiple shooting stars.

We woke up early the next morning to go on our chimpanzee trek. We were assigned our guide, equipped with a gun (which we learned was just precautionary, and more for protection against the wild elephants), and set out on foot into the forest. In addition to elephants, Kibale National Park is home to 13 species of primates, one of which is the chimpanzee. More than 1,450 chimpanzees live in the park, which is more than anywhere else in Uganda. Of the many communities of chimps in the park, two of them have been habitualized for research and tourism purposes. Habitualized means that the animals are still wild, living freely in their natural habitat, but after many years of repeated exposure to human beings, they no longer react to our presence. There are very strict rules in the park about getting too close to the chimps, but basically they are comfortable with humans creeping around and gawking at them.

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Our Guide

Almost immediately after we started our three hour trek, we were able to hear the Chimp’s calls and spot some of their fresh tracks. We followed our guide’s lead and less than fifteen minutes later we had spotted a single male chimpanzee. My face was already aching from smiling with excitement! We followed the chimp as he searched the forest trying to find the rest of his group (simply known as his community). He would do this by every so often running full speed up to a large tree, jumping and kicking off of it, while simultaneously drumming it with his fists and letting out a bellowing call. We would then all pause in silence with the chimpanzee, listening for the distant group’s response that would lead us all in the right direction. After a while of following the chimp, our guide let him wander off, as he didn’t want to stress out the primate too much.

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That black blur is a Chimpanzee!

It didn’t take us long to find the rest of the community on our own. We were blown away as we worked our way into the middle of a group of over 2 dozen chimps, including our lost buddy who we had been following earlier. We were told this particular community was home to more than 120 chimpanzees.

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Our guide said we were quite lucky as he pointed out the community’s alpha male, as well as the ‘challenging male’. We got a dramatic introduction, when seconds later, the challenging male charged at the alpha trying to display his physical ability. All the chimps started to hoot and howl, while the younger male grunted and strutted around puffing his chest out and slamming his fists on the ground and nearby trees. I guess these confrontations happen quite often, more frequently now that the alpha male, who is in his forties, is too old and weak to be their leader anymore.

A secondary challenge came only a few minutes later, with the strong 20 something year old male involving us in his demonstration this time… While standing together as a group (our guide, Paul and I, and a family of 3 Americans) we were suddenly deafened by the calls of the primates echoing each other in excitement. The challenging male was running around “charging” the forest, slapping trees and trying to convey his strength. Suddenly he barrelled directly towards us! We jumped and huddled together on the verge of screams, while I repeated something like “What do I do?! What do I do?! You never told us what to do!”, grasping onto our poor guide’s arm. A minute later it was all over and calmness returned to the community. Turns out that in the commotion, the challenging chimpanzee had actually swiped at the American Dad’s leg! The mud hand print on his pants confirmed the story. Luckily, the chimp was very gentle or the man could have been seriously injured. We all sighed a breath of relief… but oh my goodness was it ever exhilarating!

We spent the next couple of hours in that area, amongst the group, taking turns watching different chimps interact. Mine and Paul’s favourite was the “Vice President” of the group who looked so content; laying in ridiculous human positions, daydreaming up at the sky. We also got to witness the alpha male being groomed by a female who was carrying a tiny little baby!

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The “Vice President”

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We were lucky enough to spot a few of the other kinds of primates in the forest, such as the black & white colobus monkey, as well as the endangered red colobus monkey. We didn’t see any elephants, but after hearing what our guide had to say about their temper, that was probably a good thing! We finished the morning after just over 3 hours hiking through the Ugandan jungle, feeling extremely grateful and giddy! Afterwards we hurried back to our hotel to check out and figure out a way back to Fort Portal.

After waiting on the side of the road for a while, we were able to flag down transportation to Fort Portal for 5,000 UGX ($2 CAD) in the back of an empty gravel truck that was already carrying two locals. Half way through our trip the truck stopped to fill up with gravel. The driver could see we were concerned, but said not to worry, we can just sit on top of all the loose rocks they were slowly shovelling in… We explained that we were also in a bit of a hurry, as we were hoping to catch a bus back to Kampala that night. The driver took pity on us and decided to wave down the next passing vehicle. They agreed to give us a lift for an additional 3,000 UGX. Once we got to town, we went for a late lunch and tried to decide whether we should make the trip back to Kampala, or just spend the night in Fort Portal and start again in the morning. We made the choice to keep moving, and we jumped on a bus leaving shortly after. The trip took longer than it should have and we didn’t arrive in the capital for another five hours. Once in Kampala, we nervously navigated the dark streets trying to find a hotel that we had read decent reviews about (‘New City Annex Hotel’). It was in a much better area (with real sidewalks!) than our last stay in the city, so once we had successfully located it and secured a room, we felt much better.

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Beautiful view from our ride in the back of the gravel truck

We had a bus booked to Tanzania (well, to Kenya) for 7:00 pm the following evening. We still hadn’t figured out exactly how to get from Nairobi to Moshi (in Tanzania –  the starting town for our Kilimanjaro trek). We spent the next morning making sure our first bus tickets were confirmed. Then we did some shopping around the markets looking for another pair of sunglasses for Paul. This would be the fourth pair he bought on the trip! Good thing they only ended up costing $2 CAD! Later on we enjoyed an amazing Indian dinner at a place called ‘Masala Indian Restaurant’.

When it was time to catch our bus, we convinced the bus company (Modern Coast Bus Line) to cram us into their courier delivery truck for a free lift to the bus station. We boarded our surprisingly nice bus, which we had splurged on “VIP class” for, costing us only 88,000 UGX each ($35 CAD) for the 14 hour ride across the border.

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A few hours later, we had one final jab in the wallet at the Kenyan border. The guards explained to us that our “East African Visa” (which allows free travel between Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda), that we had specifically asked and paid for at the Ugandan airport, was just a normal Ugandan Visa… meaning we would have to pay an additional $20 USD per person for a transit Visa through Kenya! The only money we had was a $100 USD bill which we needed later for entry into Tanzania. We handed it over, knowing we were going to have to find a way to replace the $40 USD before we reached the Tanzanian border.

I found myself understanding what Paul Theroux meant in his book Dark Star Safari: “… a person who has not crossed an African border on foot has not really entered the country, for the airport in the capital is no more than a confidence trick; the distant border, what appears to be the edge, is the country’s central reality.”

The next morning, we arrived in Nairobi at 9:00 am, an hour after our expected arrival time. This was also an hour after all the reliable bus companies we had read about online left the station to Tanzania. It looked like we may be stranded… Luckily, it was morning and light out, as Nairobi, notoriously known as “Nairobbery“, is not somewhere to hang out with all your belongings strapped to your back and not a clue where you are going…

I’ll leave the rest of the story to our Tanzania blog entry, but as you can expect, we had another LONG day ahead of us.

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In the back of the gravel truck!

Overall, I can’t say our time in Uganda went smoothly… AT ALL! There were many times we said to ourselves “Uganda be kidding me!” 😉 but I wouldn’t change a thing about our visit. I really enjoyed the country that brought us countless crazy adventures, many first time experiences, and some of our best travel stories. When I look back on our trip, Uganda is one of the places I long for the most. Not sure that Paul would say the same thing though, haha!

Love Paul & Allie
Demsky Duo Disembarked

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Stunning Sights of Sri Lanka

We collected our bags and walked out of the Sri Lankan International Airport in Colombo just after 11:00 PM local time on March 13, 2016. Although dark outside, the air was still extremely humid and warm. We jumped in a taxi and headed to our hotel called ‘C Son City Residence’ in the nearby city of Negombo.

When we woke up in the morning, we were given a complimentary breakfast, which was a massive traditional feast cooked up by the hotel owner’s wife. It was delicious and a great introduction to some of the country’s customary dishes.

We hadn’t done any planning for our 2 week stay in Sri Lanka, other than researching a few things that we really wanted to do. Pre-booking everything in the Philippines ended up being more of a disadvantage, so we knew we would prefer to play it by ear this time. After discussing it over breakfast, we decided we would head north to the ancient city of Sigiriya. We finished our food, gave many thanks to our wonderful Chef, and walked to the nearby bus station to inquire about catching a bus that morning. After talking to a few locals, we learned that we were going to need to take three separate buses; the first of which was leaving in less than 20 minutes!

We ran the 2 km back to our hotel, shoved all of our belongings in our backpacks, and quickly handed over our room key. We made it to the bus station just in time, cramming onto the first of many local buses we would ride in Sri Lanka.

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After a switch in the city of Kurunegala, and then in Dambulla (where we had to fend off a Tuk Tuk driver who failed in convincing us that a bus wasn’t coming), we FINALLY made it to the town of Sigiriya. The whole trip took 6 and half hours, but only cost us a measly $3.00 CAD each! Sri Lanka definitely has the cheapest land transportation of anywhere else we visited; although you have to be prepared for long travel time, reckless driving, and (more often than not) extremely squishy rides. Thankfully the Sri Lankan people are very friendly, and were always happy to assist us with navigating the local transportation system. Another interesting aspect about Sri Lankan bus rides (that some people may consider a negative, but I thought was very entertaining), is that they typically blast traditional music, very similar in style to bollywood music!

We asked the bus driver to drop us off along the road so that we could walk a couple kilometres to the accommodation we had booked that morning, called ‘Jaana Guest’. As the name states, the very quaint guesthouse is ran by a man named Jaana and his family. The room was modest, but for just over $20 CAD/night, it was exactly what we needed – especially since it included free WiFi and breakfast! This part of Sri Lanka was extremely green and lush compared to the developed cities of Negombo and Colombo, which was much more what we pictured the country would look like.

Once we got settled in, Jaana and his Wife gave us a lift to the mini mart on their way into town. Our plan was to walk back, but they warned us to get back before dusk because of the dangerous wild elephants that come out at night… We thought they were kidding at first, but apparently this is a very legitimate concern in parts of Sri Lanka!

While we were in the mini mart, a random Czech tourist asked Paul about his Calgary Flames hat. Turns out he is best friends with the hockey player Jakub Nakladal who was on the Flames’ team at the time! It was pretty cool to have such a random connection on the other side of the world; plus Paul got to enjoy a few minutes of hockey talk… something I am not great at providing!

That evening, Jaana’s family cooked us up an absolutely amazing Sri Lankan meal with curry, and endless side dishes, for 750 LKR each (less than $7 CAD). It was probably the best meal we had our entire time in the country! While enjoying dessert, their adorable daughter entertained us with magic tricks.

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Jaana’s  adorable Daughter

We were about to head to bed when I spotted a scorpion the SIZE OF MY HAND (anyone who knows my hands, knows how gigantic that actually is haha) on the outside of the guesthouse crawling straight for our open bathroom window! Jaana’s son scared it away with a stick, but not before we grabbed our camera to take some pictures:

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The whole purpose of coming this way was to visit ‘Lion Rock’, an ancient rock fortress. However, when we learned the entrance fee to climb the UNESCO World Heritage Site was 4,200 LKR (nearly $40 CAD) per person (plus Tuk Tuk transportation), we just couldn’t justify it… Luckily, Jaana was kind enough to provide us with a much more budget friendly option: ‘Pidurangala Rock’, another large rock to the north, which provides the best view of Lion Rock itself.

The next morning at at 5:00 am, Jaana’s Nephew took us by Tuk Tuk with a couple from the UK who were also staying at the guesthouse. He only charged us $2 each, plus we paid a small donation fee of 500 LKR (less than $5 CAD) to the temple at the base of the rock. Instead of the temple being overrun with monkeys (like we had seen so often in our travels), there were dozens of dogs… in particular adorable little puppies! Although most of them were nothing but skin and bones 😦

We started up the stairs behind the temple in the pitch black, the light from our headlamps providing us with our only vision. Leading the way was Jaana’s Nephew, and following behind us was a couple of older dogs, and one TEENY TINY black and white puppy, who struggled to jump up the giant steps.

It was a strenuous 40 minute climb, but we were rewarded with the most amazing view when we got to the top! As the sun rose, the early morning fog dissipated, revealing behind it a gorgeous 360 degree view as far as the eye could see.

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Lion Rock definitely deserved attention with it’s unique shape, but there wasn’t a moment that we wished we had climbed to the top of it instead. From our viewpoint could even see the swarms of tourists atop it’s flat peak, and slowly climbing it’s many stairs.

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Lion Rock

Pidurangala Rock was definitely one of the most beautiful hikes we had done up until that point, especially considering how short of a climb it was. We had the whole top to ourselves for quite a while, with a handful of people arriving much after us. We took time to soak it all in, capture some of the beauty with our camera, and give congratulatory cuddles to the little puppy who had made it all the way to the top with us (sorry we goofed up and never took a picture of him…)

When we got back, we were served our fantastic free breakfast. We considered staying another night because we loved the Guesthouse so much, but we knew there wasn’t much more for us to do in the area. We connected to the WiFi to try to book our next accommodation and Skype with family, but we never got a chance to finish either due to a power outage in the area. During our time in Sri Lanka, we had a minimum half hour power outage almost every day, due to some sort of organized load shedding scheme.

So we checked out and boarded a bus back to Dambulla for 40¢ each. From there, we decided to jump on a bus to the city of Kandy, which was a three hour drive away, and only cost us another $1 each. On the way we were able to book accommodation with our shotty data connection from a SIM card we had bought at the airport.

When we arrived in Kandy late that afternoon, we were blown away with how beautiful of a city it is, with it’s giant centerpiece lake and surrounding jungle covered hills. Although it is a very busy city, there is something peaceful about it.

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We walked a couple Kilometers around the lake to our new accommodation, ‘Majestic Tourist Hotel’. Once we were checked in, we decided we needed a nap after our sunrise trek from that morning. It turned out that we needed more than just a nap though, because we didn’t end up waking up until the following morning. Oops!

While enjoying our complimentary breakfast on the hotel’s rooftop the next day, we skyped with Paul’s Mom. The view was spectacular, and even offered monkey sightings as they skipped along the powerlines below us.

That afternoon we went shopping at the main market to try to find hiking pants for Paul. It was so chaotic, more so than any of the other markets we had experienced thus far. Locals from each shop wouldn’t let you leave. They pleaded and begged for you to try stuff on, as they ripped open sealed bags to try to find something to match what you were looking for. We didn’t last long before deciding it was absolutely not worth the stress. We ended up visiting a few clothing stores, which was a lot less hectic than the market, but didn’t end up provide us with what Paul was looking for.

Missing meals from home, we indulged a little that day, as there are endless restaurant options in the bustling city of Kandy. But we did notice the increase in prices of westernized food, even more drastic to the markup in Southeast Asia.

While walking along the lake, we spotted a giant pelican sitting in a tree. I tried to tell Paul to get close so that I could take a picture, at which point it reached forward and tried to bite his head with its insanely large beak! We almost peed ourselves laughing – as did all the locals watching!

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That evening, we went to visit ‘The Temple of the Tooth Relic’. This was one of the big things on my to-do-list, as it is Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic – a tooth of the Buddha. It is actually one of the most sacred places of worship in the entire Buddhist world. The entry fee was pretty steep at 1,000 LKR (almost $10 CAD) each. There was a ceremony at 6:00 PM which we intentional timed our visit for, as we thought that it would be a neat experience, but it turned out to be a huge disadvantage because of how insanely busy it was.

We waited in a line for over an hour to be ushered by a doorway where we gave a flower offering. You don’t actually get to see the tooth, as it’s kept in a gold casket shaped like a stupa, situated on a pedestal at the end of a hallway. Pictures of the relic were not allowed.

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Line up to see the Tooth Relic

The whole complex was crammed with hoards of tourists and locals, squeezing their way around to other rooms to see ancient scriptures, golden Buddha statues, or murals of the history of the Sacred Tooth. There were so many beautiful statues and carvings that you could spend hours getting lost in… that is if you could ignore how overwhelmingly claustrophobic it was! After watching some drummers play a ceremonial beat, we headed home.

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The next morning, we took a Tuk Tuk to the train station. After buying our $1 ticket to the nearby city of Hatton, we stuffed ourselves with yummy Samosas while we waited to board our first Sri Lankan train.

Anyone who has been to Sri Lanka will tell you that riding the train is an unforgettable experience! After taking the train in many other countries, we can confirm that no other views compared. Although something people don’t mention as often, is how the popular routes book up… which doesn’t deter the offices from continuing to sell more and more tickets, until the point where people are literally spilling out of the cars! Luckily, for this ride we were able to secure seats and enjoy the 2 and half hour ride comfortably.

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When we arrived in Hatton, we immediately jumped on a local bus to the town of Dalhousie, which took another hour and 45 minutes. This also provided spectacular views as the school bus style vehicle winded up and around the side of a mountain covered in tea plantations.

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When we arrived, we got checked into ‘Blue Sky Guest House’. This was probably one of the worst accommodations we stayed at… possibly on our entire trip! At an overpriced rate of $28 CAD/night, we got a tiny room only big enough to hold our double bed. The window didn’t close all the way, which was not ideal with our tattered and stained mosquito net. But the best of all, was the family of cockroaches who kept popping out of the open drain in the dingy moldy bathroom! We made due, as there isn’t much to pick from in the small town of Dalhousie, which is the starting point for the main trail to the popular ‘Adam’s Peak’. This was our purpose of visiting, so we knew we wouldn’t be spending much time in the room, as we planned to leave in the middle of the night in order to reach the top for sunrise.

As soon as we dropped our stuff off, we knew we needed to get as far away from the room as we could! We walked around the small town and ended up at a local restaurant. For dinner we split a dish of Kotto Roti, made from roti mixed with vegetables, meat, and egg.

After dinner, we realized what day it was… St. Patrick’s Day! If we were at home, we would have been celebrating at the pub with green beers. A regular beer would have to do, so we made it our mission to track one down – something that is not easily done in most Sri Lankan cities. After asking some locals, we were directed to a hotel. They must have been selling the beers illegally, because the whole transaction felt very sketchy and secretive… but we managed to walk away with two (extremely warm) beers for an outrageous cost. We went back to our hotel, put on our only green pieces of clothing, and said cheers to another holiday abroad!

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After catching a few hours of sleep, we left our hotel at 2:00 AM to climb to Adam’s Peak.

7 km up a mainy stepped footpath (approx. 5500 stairs!), sits Sri Pada (“sacred footprint”), also known as Adam’s Peak. It is a 1.8 metre rock formation, which in Buddhist tradition is said to be the footprint of the Buddha, in Hindu tradition it’s that of Shiva, and in Islamic and Christian tradition that of Adam, or that of St. Thomas. I think what makes it so special, and something I absolutely HAD to visit, is that it is such a highly regarded spiritual place for so many different religions; a beautiful symbol of unity.

The trek started out warm, making us regret bringing so many layers, but we had been warned that it gets very chilly at the top. We could see the faint trail of lights along the path winding higher, and higher, into the darkness, so we knew we had a lengthy night ahead of us.

Not long after we started, we hit the crowds of people going up. We saw the occasional other tourist, but the majority were local pilgrims; some very old and frail, some climbing with bare feet, others carrying tiny sleeping children. It was very humbling. At the top there is a bell, and tradition stipulates that pilgrims ring once for every successful ascent of the mountain they have made. As we reached the top, we could hear the bell ringing consistently, sometimes more than a dozen times in a row.

Our thighs were burning from the neverending steps, but it continued to get more and more crowded, until eventually we reached a halt. We had no option but to stand in line with hundreds of other people waiting their turn to visit the top. The higher we got, the colder it was (now very thankful we brought layers), especially since we had practically stopped moving.

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A couple hours later, we had officially shuffled our way to the top. We inched along with the crowd to a spot that looked like we could maybe get a view of the sunrise. It would have to do, as moving elsewhere was not an option. We stood for a while waiting before the sun began to rise, the sky turning a bright orange red, and we could start to make out the landscape below us.

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I started to feel very claustrophobic. My legs were aching from climbing so many stairs, and then standing pressed up against other people for hours. We made the decision to head back down before the sun had fully rose, hoping to get a jump on the ridiculous crowd we knew would be following.

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Crowds of people still waiting to get up to the top, as we started to climb down.

Unfortunately, we never got to look around and see the actual sacred footprint… but making it to the top still felt like an important accomplishment, and a big checkmark off my bucket list!

As we climbed down, we watched as the clouds continued to lift like a sheet. The views were spectacular!

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Once we were ahead of the crowd, we switched to running down the stairs in order to save our knees some grief. The locals looked at us like we were crazy haha. We made it back to our hotel just after 7:00 AM, the round trip taking us about 5 hours.

After a short nap, we boarded a packed bus back to Hatton. Only 40 minutes into the trip, we heard a big bang sound. The bus continued to drive slowly, but now significantly leaning towards the cliff edge on our left! All of the tourists on board started to panick, and insisted that the driver stop to let us off.

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The bus emptied and everyone moved to the side of the narrow road. We were not sure what to do, but a local who spoke English was able to inform us that a replacement bus was on its way. About 20 minutes later it arrived. We were relieved once we got on board, but it didn’t last long…

Paul has a theory that the bus drivers in Sri Lanka get paid some sort of bonus if they make it to their destination in good time; that is the only way to explain why they insist on moving at such insane speeds, regardless of the traffic or road conditions! The driver who picked us up on the replacement bus was probably the craziest of them all, as he sped down the mountain, skidding and drifting on the dirt road. At one point the entire rear left wheel was spinning off the edge of the mountainside! It was one of the scariest rides we had on any transportation our entire trip. He did make great time though, even passing a few buses that had left before us!

When we arrived in Hatton, we immediately hopped on a train to Nuwara Eliya. The train was much more crowded this time, with no seats available; we didn’t mind though, as we were able to pop a squat on the floor with our legs dangling out the open sidecar doors. The 1 and a half hour ride was even more beautiful than the last, as we rumbled through the breathtaking countryside.

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Our purpose for stopping in Nuwara Eliya was to visit the famous ‘Horton Plains National Park’, but once more, we were shocked to learn how expensive the entrance fee was (approx $30 CAD/each, plus another $30+ CAD for transportation). We regretfully decided it wasn’t worth it, considering we were heading to the town of Ella next, where we would be able to do lots of hiking for free.

For dinner, we walked to a highly rated place called ‘Salmiya Italiano Restaurant’. The little ramshackle building looked like a total dive, but the appearance didn’t at all reflect the quality of food, as it was maybe the best pizza we had on our entire trip!

Afterwards, we headed into the center of town in search of somewhere to relax and enjoy a beer. As I mentioned earlier, alcohol is very hard to find in many parts of Sri Lanka. Restaurants, grocery stores, and mini marts don’t typically sell alcohol; only off sales at bars, or very uncommon specific “Beer Stores”. It is also not very cheap, as the average beer set us back about $3.50 CAD for a 600 ml bottle.

After wandering for a while, we met a very friendly younger local who offered to show us the way to a beerhouse. We chatted while we walked, until we reached the point where he needed to split ways with us, but not before pointing out to us ‘The Pub & Restaurant’. We hung out at the beerhouse for a while chatting with another couple we met from Sweden, before deciding to call it a night and walk home.

We left the next morning to take the train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. This stretch of train ride is supposed to be one of the nicest in world. This must be listed in every guide book about Sri Lanka, because when we arrived, we were shocked to find hundreds of other tourist passengers waiting to get on the same train… When it showed up, everyone started shoving each other to get on. We were packed in like sardines, with barely enough room to stand, let alone look out the window at the passing views. It was unfortunate.

Three hours later, we arrived in Ella. We were soaked in sweat and even more sore from standing the whole time. We had booked a room at ‘The Rock Face’, which we learned was literally situated on a rock face… up a gigantic steep set of stairs. At this point our legs were ready to give, but the climb was worth it, as the $30 CAD/night (with breakfast) room was very lovely. We even had our own outside sitting area where we had a partial view of the popular ‘Ella Rock’.

Ella has a much more laid back atmosphere, with an almost hippy vibe to it. The main part of town is situated along a road lined with bohemian restaurants and quaint guesthouses, with vibrant green hills sloping up on either side. We were caught off guard by how many other backpackers we saw, as we had seen few others up until this point. It was definitely more westernized than everywhere else we had visited in the country up until that point.

For dinner we headed to the trendy ‘Cafe Chill’, where we enjoyed a dish of curry wrapped in banana leaf. It was extremely good! While we were eating, we met two families from Canada who were travelling together with their children for a year… It was like looking into the future 😉 or at least I like to think so!

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The next day we ventured out to do some more hiking. On our walk to the trail to ‘Little Adam’s Peak’, we met a friendly local who was working on a tea plantation. She tore leaves from the plants and smushed them together, offering out her leathered palms to sniff. The smell was fantastic, and the gigantic smile she gave us in response to our reaction was heart warming!

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After making it to the top of the much easier Little Adam’s Peak, we were rewarded with a fabulous view of the surrounding area. The rolling mountains almost looked fuzzy with their dense green vegetation. We hung out at the top for a while taking pictures, and made friends with another stray dog. This one liked to stand ridiculously close to the steep edges, making us very nervous!

 

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After climbing down, we continued to journey forward hoping to locate the ‘Nine Arches Bridge’. Along the way we stopped at a small juice stand where we decided to try a glass of freshly squeezed Wood Apple juice. We both looked at each other with delight! What an amazing beverage; a combination of sweet, sour, and delicious, but like nothing we had ever tasted before!

Shortly after we came across the Nine Arches Bridge. It was bigger than we expected, and made for great pictures.

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We decided to walk along the train tracks, as it was the most direct way to get back to town. It was fun, although I kept getting nervous a train was going to come. I had bigger concerns when we walked past this sign though haha…

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As we walked up to Ella’s train station, we heard cheering and calling coming from a field below. A bunch of locals were playing a game of cricket, so we stood watching for awhile amid a large crowd of Sri Lankans as they cheered their teams on.

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It was a great two days in Ella, and if we hadn’t been itching for some beach time, we would have loved to stay longer! The next morning we hopped on a local bus to Monaragala. The two hour trip cost us 175 LKR each ($1.50 CAD). After Paul made a visit to one of the grossest bathrooms he encountered on our entire trip, possibly his life (I decided to hold my pee… something I had become very proficient at), we left the station on another bus heading to the beachside town of Arugam Bay (200 LKR).

 

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Sweet little girl on one of our local buses

Three hours later we arrived and checked in to ‘Millennium Rest’. For only $19 CAD/night we got a very nice room, with free breakfast, and it was RIGHT across the street from the beach! We had reserved 3 nights online, but upon arriving, we immediately booked one more. The incredibly outgoing manager, named Ilyas, sat and chatted with us for almost two hours before we went to our room.

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Later that afternoon we walked along the beach, and then wandered through the shockingly empty town. Pretty much all the restaurants were closed, even the top rated ones listed on TripAdvisor. We were visiting during the end of “off season”, but it’s not like it was unpleasant weather or anything; it was actually insanely hot and beautiful everyday we were there.

Finally we found an open restaurant called ‘Why Not?’. We have probably seen about a dozen Why Not Bars/Restaurants in our travels, haha! Just as we finished ordering our dinner, the power went out. Luckily they didn’t need power to cook our meal and we were able to enjoy it by candle light.

The next day we spent hours on the quiet beach reading and swimming in the heavy waves. I was silly enough to only wear SPF 15, and paid for it with a super painful sunburn!

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We decided to eat dinner at our accommodation, as we didn’t feel like hunting for an open restaurant. Lucky for us, Millennium Rest also had a great (and reasonably priced) menu. We shared fresh grilled snapper and chicken curry that was fantastic.

We stayed up late drinking and playing cards with Ilyas and Matthew, a yoga instructor from London, who was on vacation from his training in India. We took it upon ourselves to spread more of the “Big Two addiction” 😉

The next morning we had signed up for surf lessons, something Arugam Bay is famous for. The waves were extremely strong, and the best area was very crowded, so it didn’t make for the best learning conditions. We were both able to get up quite a few times though. One time I even rode a wave all the way to shore and stepped off the surfboard onto the sand! Paul would agree I did better than him, but I also got beat up more than him… “swimsuit top over my head, sand-burn scrapes, choking on salt water” beat up haha. I still have a lump on my leg and a scar on my hip from the experience!

We spent the rest of the day relaxing and trying to book flights to Africa. For dinner we ate at the hotel’s restaurant again, this time sharing traditional dishes of Chicken Briyana and Dolphin Kottu Rotti (no, it’s not actually made of Dolphins haha). A couple from Germany (Fierdi and Christine) had checked in that day, so they joined us that evening as we played more cards with Ilyas and Matthew.

The next morning we needed a little break from each other haha… so Paul rented a scooter (or Scooty) and drove to other beach spots called Pottuvil and Whiskey Point, while I opted to head back to the nearby beach for some more reading.

Paul said cruising along the turquoise ocean in the warm sea breeze was incredibly refreshing, and he wandered a few beautiful beaches that were completely deserted before meeting back up with me that afternoon.

That evening we decided to go for an early dinner and opted to try somewhere different. We ended up at a tiny restaurant called ‘Rotti Point’, and for 600 LKR ($5 CAD) we got a burger with cheese, fries, and a delicious fresh coconut milkshake.

After eating, we hopped on the scooter and drove a few Kilometres to Elephant Rock, where at sunset you can spot wild Sri Lankan elephants. We climbed up the big boulder, and sat and watched as two different families of elephants grazed and swam across the lagoon, all while the sun was setting in the background! Even though we had already seen elephants on our trip, it was a very rewarding experience seeing them free in their natural habitat.  

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We spent our final evening as we had all the nights before; playing cards with Matt and Illyas.  We packed our bags, and in the morning we headed out early for a long day of travel. We took three different local buses for a total of 11 hours travel (for only $6 CAD each) to reach the other beachside city of Unawatuna (probably our favourite name of anywhere we visited, haha).

We didn’t arrive at our new accommodation ‘La Villa’ until 9:00 PM, but for some reason our room still wasn’t ready (pretty sure they forgot about our booking). We headed out to find some food, as all we had eaten that day was samosas and other snacks sold by street side vendors along the bus route.

Unawatuna was much busier. We were shocked at all the other tourists, as we had grown accustomed to being some of the only ones in Arugam Bay. The beachside town was even more westernized than Ella was. Every street you turned down was lined with trendy restaurants and bars, gift shops, and hippie cafes. Even at this late hour, there were many tourists out partying and having a good time.

After walking through town for a bit, we finally settled on a busy place called ‘Pink Elephant’. This was a great idea, as the meal was awesome. I had a salad, and Paul had the catch of the day, which was a seared tuna in a dijon mustard mango sauce. It was his favourite meal in Sri Lanka!

When we got back we were able to check in, and to our dismay, we were given another gross insect infested dump that cost us over $30 CAD/night. We were too tired to care, and reluctantly crawled into bed with a trail of tiny ants crawling up the walls next to our head. 

In the morning we set out to find ‘Jungle Beach’, which is a bit of trek to get to, as it’s hidden away from the main town. On the walk there we spotted a few monkeys hanging out and a fairly large monitor lizard. Upon arrival, it appeared as though the beach was very very busy. However, there’s two parts of the beach, the farther second spot was less busy and more beautiful, so we set up camp there and wasted away most of the day relaxing.

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Once we got hungry, we walked back to the main beach (Unawatuna Beach) and had lunch at ‘Koko’s Beach Bar & Grill’, right on the beach itself. Afterwards we sat in the sand and watched the sunset. 

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Found a piece of coral that looked exactly like Winston!

For dinner, we headed to another highly rated place, called  ‘Roberto & Marco Ristorante Italiano’, where we had Salmon Penne and delicious thin crust pizza. It was a more expensive meal, but worth every Rupee!

We finished the night off back on the empty beach under the stars, drinking some “Arrack Attacks” we mixed ourselves with the local alcohol. It was a perfect end to a fantastic day!

In the morning, we ate breakfast and checked out. We headed to Unawatuna Beach one last time, before taking a Tuk Tuk to the train station in the afternoon. When the train arrived, it was almost empty so we got great seats. The 3 hour ride (190 LKR) was probably the most beautiful one we had in the country, as we chugged along the coast watching a gigantic pink sun setting over the ocean.

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Once we arrived back in Colombo, we walked 2 Kms to the hotel we had booked. This time we weren’t shocked when we saw the poor condition of the room we were given – at least there were no bugs!

It was dark out now, and we had barely eaten all day, so we hit the streets in search of food. We tried to ask one of the men who worked at the hotel, but his English was so limited he couldn’t assist us much.

Colombo, like most major cities, is dirtier and less friendly than the rest of the country. We were shocked by how little there was for restaurants. Eventually we stumbled upon a vegetarian cafeteria style place. The locals looked at us like aliens, and no one spoke a lick of English, but we were able to order an assortment of mystery dishes by pointing at the different trays. Then we walked back to our hotel, where we ate our meals with our hands from the floor of our room. 

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Paul was looking more and more like a caveman as our trip went on, haha!

The next day we made it a mission to finally find pants for Paul, as he was supposed to have more modest clothing for teaching the Children in Uganda (our next destination). First, we needed breakfast… We thought it would surely be easier to find a restaurant in daylight, but boy were we wrong.

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After a couple hours of walking we manage to find some sort of strange fast food café that served us a (mostly bread) sandwich & fruit salad. It provided us with enough sustenance to continue our shopping task. It was so hot and chaotic in the city, we felt like we were on the verge of heat stroke again. At one point, we stopped to rest under the shade of a large tree. When we looked up, we saw that it had dozens of gigantic fruit bats hanging from it! By late afternoon we had finally found a real restaurant! It was called ‘Sea Fish’. Half their menu wasn’t available until dinner time, but the meal was still good and the AC provided a nice break from the heat. After some more walking, we called the pants search off. We were cranky, sweaty, and exhausted, so we headed back to hotel to regroup. On the way we picked up some dinner samosas.

Because we were catching a plane that evening, we had already checked out of our hotel. While we waited to leave to the airport, we ate our samosa dinner and shared some beers on the hotel balcony with one of the men who worked there. As the sun started to set, we spotted many more giant bats, this time flapping through the twilight sky.

At 7:00 PM we grabbed our bags and walked to Fort Colombo Station so that we could ride a local minibus one hour to the Airport. This was the cheapest way to get there. However, the latest bus departure available arrived at the airport 6 hours before our flight was to depart… So we had a lot more time to kill!

We hung out on a bench outside the airport looking at pictures. Somehow, we got into conversation with an Indian Astronomer who was returning home after visiting Sri Lanka for work. We had a beer with him while he ranted about how much he hates Sri Lankans. After asking to take a picture with me, he told us he was going to send it to his wife to make her jealous… He was a very interesting character, haha. We also met a Sri Lankan family who had an adorable little boy who I had fun playing with!

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Before we knew it, there was only 3 hours left before our flight, so we were finally able to go into the airport and check in. Once we got to the FlyDubai desk, they advised us that they had overbooked Economy, and would be upgrading us to First-Class for the first leg of our trip to Uganda! 

Sri Lanka was a super friendly and breathtakingly beautiful country! We are very glad we added it to our itinerary. We really pushed ourselves outside of our comfort zone, and managed to see a more authentic side of the country. Although we didn’t love the less than pleasant accommodation… we definitely enjoyed the welcoming locals, the amazing food, the cheap public transportation (trains especially), the wild animals, the endless hiking, the gorgeous scenery… I could go on and on 😉

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Love Paul & Allie
Demsky Duo Disembarked

Singapore on a Shoestring

After a seven hour flight, Paul & I landed in Singapore around 5:00 pm on March 11, 2016. We took an Uber to the hostel we had booked, called ‘The Hive’. Immediately we noticed a difference in the cost of things. A twenty minute Uber ride in the Philippines would have cost us under $5.00 – in Singapore it was almost $25.00! Which is exactly why we had only booked two nights in the city… which still cost us $40 CAD/night for two beds in a 10 bed dorm room.

Once we arrived and got settled at The Hive, we were pleased to learn that the Hostel had free laundry services! Well… they had a really nice washer and dryer we could use ourselves. Jumping at the chance to wash EVERYTHING in our bags without being charged per article or by weight, we stuffed everything we could fit in the wash. While waiting for our load to finish, we got to chatting with two of our bunk mates. The young men were from the United States, but were currently doing a semester of University in Thailand, and were visiting Singapore for the weekend. It didn’t take long for us all to bond and decide it was necessary to track down some beers! We started canvassing the streets, checking every store that looked promising. Not only was there a lack of alcohol in general, but any we did manage to find was outrageously expensive. We finally settled on a little mini market where Paul and I bought a 6 pack of Chang (the cheap beer in Thailand) for approximately $16 CAD! We quickly realized that we would have to cut back on our alcohol intake for the duration of our stay in Singapore; which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing!

The four of us went back to the hostel and enjoyed our overpriced beverages in the common area, before Paul and I decided to head to bed. The boys went downtown to go drinking more and they later informed us that the average cost of a beer at a bar was about $16.00… for ONE beer!

We woke up early the next morning with a big day planned. We prepared ourselves our complimentary breakfast (peanut butter and jelly toast) and hit the streets. We jumped on the train and took it a couple stops to Chinatown. Singapore’s metro system (SMRT) was a breeze to use! It really made us realize how inferior the systems are in most major Canadian cities. Riding the train also happens to be TripAdvisor’s #2 thing to do in Singapore 😉

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We wandered Chinatown for a bit; looking in stores and feeding on delicious meat filled sticky buns. Paul also had a Singapore Coffee, which he said was one of the best coffees he had on our entire trip.

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We were set on finding a cheaper side to Singapore, so we tracked down a food hawker center in Chinatownm, called ‘Maxwell Road’, that Paul had read about online. One of the food stalls was another Anthony Bourdain hotspot that we were hoping to try, but the lineup was out the door and around the block, so we settled for dishes from a couple of other vendors. We were able to fill ourselves on dumplings, a large dish of chicken fried rice, AND share a single beer, for under $20.00 CAD.  I also got the chance to chat with an older Singaporean man who sat with me while Paul waited in line for food. He spent most of our short visit complaining about the terrible tea he ordered and telling me all about how Singapore’s economy is collapsing. Being that English is one of the main languages of the country, we could communicate without effort. The simplicity of this interaction with a local was a refreshing change… regardless of how pessimistic the conversation ended up being!

Later that afternoon we ventured over to the Waterfront Promenade, where there was a variety of temporary art installations set up involving lights. They were obviously meant to be enjoyed in the dark, so we made plans to stop by again in the evening.

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We continued to wander the downtown streets, pleasantly shocked with how safe and clean it felt. We thought to ourselves how easy it would be to call the city home… that is if beer wasn’t so expensive!

Next we headed over to the Gardens by the Bay, which is a giant park with a few indoor observatories and many different outdoor gardens with inspiring art pieces. Again, we realized we needed to come back at night time to truly appreciate a lot of the art, but we wandered around the giant park for a while anyways; deciding against paying the steep entrance fee for the observatories themselves. We walked for so long we decided to take a short nap in a grass amphitheater in the middle of the park.

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Feeling refreshed from our nap, we headed back into the heart of downtown. We decided we should eat cheap again for dinner, so we walked to another hawker centre called ‘Lau Pa Sat Festival Market’. Inside was a huge array of different food stalls serving meals from all parts of the world. We shared a few different small things, as we were still pretty full from lunch. We also managed to find a minimarket next to the Food center that sold beers for about $2 CAD, so we stocked up on a few for our evening!

Now that it had gotten dark out, we walked back to the Waterfront Promenade to check out some of the wonderful light displays.

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We considered staying for the famous water light show, but we ran into another couple from our hostel who said they had found it pretty boring, so we made the decision to rush back to the Gardens by the Bay for the “Supertrees” light show… something Paul desperately wanted to see. It was definitely worth it! After hanging out in the gardens for a while watching the trees glow, we took the SMRT back to our hostel and called it an evening.

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The next morning we headed out to explore more. We stopped by a shopping center to restock some necessities like sunscreen and bug spray. Then we wandered into Little India. Guess what we decided to do for lunch… go to another hawker center! This time it was called ‘Tekka Market’ and it was all Indian food stalls. Again, for less than $20 we got Chicken Masala, Butter Chicken, a heap of rice, stack of naan, and a beer each! It was incredible Indian food as well.

We spent a little while looking in shops in the area and to our surprise a lot of the merchandise was reasonably priced. Some things could even be considered cheap! Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to shop; we had a plane to catch that afternoon.

We decided to save ourselves some money and take transit to the Airport. We had to switch trains three times, and it took us about double the time, but it cost us about half of what an Uber/Taxi would have. With the well marked and smoothly regulated transit system, we made it for our flight without a hitch.

Our visit to Singapore was very short but we were pleased with how much of it we got to see, especially on such a tight budget! The clean streets and easy going atmosphere make it a place that we would be happy to stop in on another trip in the future.

Next up, Sri Lanka!

Love Paul & Allie
Demsky Duo Disembarked

Flying Through the Philippines

On February 25, 2016, Paul and I flew from Hanoi (in Vietnam) to Manila, the capital of the Philippines. We landed at the early hour of 5:00 am. Being that we had no real urge to spend any time in Manila, we had prebooked another flight out of the city for 10:00 am, leaving us with 5 hours to kill in the airport. We caught up on some much needed sleep on the floor and almost ended up missing the check in for our next flight, as we had forgotten to account for the 1 hour time change from Vietnam!

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After a short flight south, we arrived in the city of Legazpi by late morning. It started raining immediately. We took a taxi to our hotel, ‘F2M Tower’ but had to wait to check in, so we used the opportunity to check out the area. We quickly became introduced to two major interests in the Philippines; shopping malls and fast food!

After checking into our brand new lovely hotel, Paul opted for another walk around town while I took a nap (he is apparently better at sleeping on airport floors than I am, haha). He was quick to notice how interested the locals were in him. Kids were running up to give him high fives and inviting him to play basketball with them. He was the only tourist he saw for the hour and a half he walked, the entire time being watched and looked at by every local he strolled past.

That evening we walked to the Boulevard, which is a popular street lined with bars and restaurants that runs along the ocean. Again, we were greeted by many locals who smiled and waved, including an elderly lady who even told us how beautiful we are haha! We had a great meal at a popular restaurant, called ‘Zoe’s Kitchen & Fat Wacky’s’, that was recommended to us by our hotel owner.

Our whole plan for visiting the not so touristy city of Legazpi was to climb their iconic symmetrical Volcano, Mount Mayon. It is the most active volcano in the Philippines (it’s actually one of the most active in the world), so we weren’t surprised to learn that some recent activity made summiting it impossible. If we couldn’t go all the way to the top, it wasn’t worth the large price tag for an organized trek. So the next day we had nothing planned; in a city that doesn’t have much to offer, and to top it off… it was pouring rain. We spent most of our time wandering the various shopping malls and interacting with more intrigued locals.

Early the next morning we packed up and walked down to the bus station. We squeezed onto a shared minivan to the nearby city of Donsol for 70 pesos ($2.00) each. We decided to include a visit to the tiny beach town in hopes of snorkeling with whale sharks, as Donsol is supposed to offer one of the best opportunities in the entire world. About two hours later we were dropped off and got checked into our hotel for the next couple days, called ‘Amor Farm Beach Resort’. It was a rustic charming “resort”, that we got for a good deal (about $25 CAD/night). Had it not been still raining, we could have made good use of the beach! We ordered all of our meals there for the next two days, as there aren’t very many options in Donsol. Our hotel’s restaurant was actually rated number #2 on TripAdvisor; out of the whole 7 options in the town 😉 They did however prepare some of the best authentic Filipino dishes we had the entire time we were in the country.

We met a nice couple from the UK who was also staying at our hotel and we all made plans to wake up early the next morning to go to the Whale Shark Interaction Center. On a first-come first-serve basis you can arrange a three hour whale shark boat excursion through the Interaction Centre. There is no guarantee that you will see any whale sharks, but considering the total cost for both of us (including a tip) was 2000 pesos (or about $55 CAD), it was worth the gamble. From research, we learned that it was wise to book through the Interaction Centre and not an outside company. They’re a much cheaper option than any pre-arranged tours, and are supposedly more involved in preservation and protection of the world’s largest fish.

Just after 7:00 am the next morning, the four of us were assigned a boat with another couple and we headed out to sea with our crew members, hoping we would get lucky. We spent the entire three hours driving around the ocean without spotting a single whale shark… All the recent rain had made for very poor visibility in the deep ocean water. A couple false alarms had only made us more anxious to see one. We were about to head back, when suddenly the driver (instead of the two spotters) caught a glimpse of one! Our boat spun around and zoomed over. Our group was first to jump in, with another 5+ boats following right after. Within moments of landing in the water with our snorkel gear, we were suddenly being kicked in the face with a mob of flippers from the other boaters. Being that we were still some of the first people in the water, everyone from our boat got a pretty close up view of the whale shark for about 20 seconds before it swam further away… except for Paul, who missed his chance entirely, when a small Asian lady decided to use him as her life preserver, haha!

Feeling bad for Paul, our guide told the driver to spin the boat around for us to jump back in again. This time we were all alone when we found the whale shark, and when I put my head underwater its face was inches in front of mine! I lifted my head out of water in a panic, but quickly remembered that was exactly what we were there for. I went back under and realized I needed to lift my flippers up to my chest in order to avoid kicking the giant creature swimming below me! Paul also got right in front of its mouth and then had it swim between his legs, with its giant fin almost brushing against his body. Our crew said this particular whale shark was about 10 meters long! So needless to say, we all went back to shore feeling pretty ecstatic (and very relieved) that we got to see one! Unfortunately, our pictures didn’t turn out as well…

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The sun had come out, so Paul and I took up our chance to use the beach loungers at the resort. We indulged for a bit too long, and both ended up very burnt!

That night we went for a firefly boat tour arranged through the hotel. We immediately became friends with the group of vacationers from Manila who were also on the tour with us. The group consisted of Pepito, Adi, and a sweet quiet girl who we regretfully didn’t get to know as well. We all decided to buy beers for the tour, which was a couple hours long. Our driver paddled us along the water through a mangrove forest, while we watched millions of little fireflies light up the trees like Christmas lights. It was quite spectacular, and a first for Paul, who had never seen fireflies before. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were feeling the 6.9% Red Horse Strong Beers and having a great time with our new friends. We continued to party back at the resort’s restaurant, really making the most of our last night in Donsol. Pepito even offered to show us around Manila if we could make time for a visit; we agreed and made plans to meet up later on in our stay in the Philippines!

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The following afternoon Paul and I dragged our hungover butts onto a shared bus back to Legazpi, where we had booked another night’s stay. We weren’t all too thrilled about that, because as we had learned from our previous visit, there isn’t a lot to do in Legazpi… But we were forced to plan most of our Philippines visit in advance, instead of playing it by ear, which we would have preferred. It was the only country on our trip that was guaranteed to ask for proof of onward travel before you enter their country; so we already had a flight to Singapore booked, limiting ourselves to a short two week time frame to see the country.

That evening in Legazpi we went for dinner at a highly rated Italian place, called ‘Small Talk Cafe’. Paul got Bicol Express Spaghetti, which was a twist on one of the region’s local dishes. They also had a huge selection of dessert recipes involving Pili Nuts, which are grown in volcanic soil in the Philippines. Of course “Cookie Monster Paul” chose the Pili Nut Cookie!

We checked out the next morning after enjoying our hotel’s free pancake breakfast, delivered from ‘Jollibee’, the most popular fast food joint in the Philippines, haha! Afterwards, we headed to the airport for our short flight back to Manila.

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When we arrived in Manila, we took an Uber straight to the Ohayami Bus Station. We had many hours before our bus left at 9:00 pm to the northern city of Banaue, so we left our bags and decided to try to walk somewhere to eat. Things got interesting, as TripAdvisor directed us on a 5 Km walk through some sketchy residential areas. Locals were staring at us, some even asked “what are you doing here?”… Which was exactly what we were asking ourselves! The whole situation was a little unnerving. We never located the restaurant we were looking for, so when we FINALLY found our way back to the bus station in the dark, we still hadn’t ate anything. We walked the opposite direction for about one minute and found a cluster of good looking restaurants! We settled on a burger place, before heading back to wait for the bus.

A nine hour bus ride later, we arrived in Banaue (Northern Philippines, in the Ifugao province). The change in temperature was dramatic, as the daily highs sat at approximately 15 degrees celsius lower than in Manila. We had breakfast at our new modest hotel, ‘Uyami’s Green View Lodge’, and started making plans for a two day trek through the rice terraces.

The Banaue Rice Terraces are 2,000-year-old layered terraces that were carved into the mountains by ancestors of the indigenous people. They are a UNESCO World Heritage site, and are considered by many people to be the 8th Natural Wonder of the World.

We spent the day exploring the tiny mountain town, preparing supplies for our trek, and learning how limited the restaurant selection was in the area. Every place had the exact same disappointing (and overpriced) menu…. We were REALLY beginning to miss our daily Banh Mi sandwiches!

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The next morning we woke up early to meet John, the local guide we had arranged. We all squeezed on a Tricycle (Philippines version of a Tuk Tuk) to our starting point. We began our 20 Kilometer day in drizzling rain. The walk to the first town, called Cambulo, was on a road that is being constructed along the mountain. The first 1 Km was concrete, and then it changed to thick deep mud. Every once in awhile we would have to step to the edge, as a truck carrying way too many people would trudge its way past us, stopping every few meters for someone to dig it out of the mud or move a giant boulder off the unfinished road. As the day grew on, the fog rose and we had a wonderful view of the vibrant green rice terraces to admire as we walked along the road above them.

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We had lunch in Cambulo, trying some of the region’s local dishes, and then continued towards another town called Batad. Following up and down forest trails, we reached the top viewpoint where we were absolutely blown away with the beauty of the rice terraces! Many say the Batad rice terraces are the most spectacular in the region, and we would most definitely agree.

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We sat to appreciate the view for a while before attempting the extremely sketchy steep steps down from the viewpoint; which I would not have recommended to anyone who is at all afraid of heights! Then we balanced and weaved our way along the edge of the rice terraces themselves, which were approximately 1 foot wide and covered in mud or loose rocks.

On one side of the terrace walkways there was shallow rice paddy pools filled with mud and bacteria, and on the other side, a 20 foot drop to more pools below. We really had to watch our step, and ease our way along the twisted winding structures. Paul slipped at one point, sinking his boot into deep mud; thankfully he fell the safer direction! We had our nice expensive hiking boots with great tread on them, meanwhile our guide John was hopping along like a ballerina in plain old rubber boots! You could tell he was very experienced, as he guided us nimbly and confidently along the intertwined maze of walls and steps.  It was more adrenaline pumping than some of the crazy activities Paul and I had participated in before!

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Eventually we reached the Guesthouse we were staying at down in the base of the valley town. What was supposed to take us seven hours, only took us five. We had a rest, and then had dinner cooked for us by the local family we were staying with. We celebrated with some beers with John, where he told us all about his dreams of moving to Calgary to become a Cowboy. We learned that country music is a HUGE thing in northern Philippines… Oh, and also that we should be very careful what we order, because apparently so is eating dog!

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The next morning we said goodbye to the family that hosted us and climbed up and out of the valley of rice terraces. Once at the top, we immediately climbed back down another 500+ extremely steep steps to the Tappyia Waterfall on the other side of the valley. It was huge and powerful! We weren’t surprised when John told us a few tourists have even died by trying to swim close to it. It was far too cold and rainy for us to go into the water, so we didn’t stay for long. We climbed back up the 500+ extremely steep steps, and then crossed the entire valley of rice terraces, balancing along the edges, one foot in front of the other. This section took us over an hour with our shaky sore muscles.

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Once we were out of the town of Batad, we started our trek to our final destination, Lannah Village. It was a beautiful 10 Km walk through the mountains, with much more familiar terrain. We passed some female locals working along the cliff edges, who smiled at us with red teeth from chewing on betel nut.

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We finished our second day in about four hours, which meant we had to wait for our tricycle, as it had been arranged to pick us up later in the afternoon. We decided we were up for another few Kilometers, so we walked to the even further village of Bangaan.  Just as we were arriving, our driver showed up in a van instead of a tricycle. This was a huge relief, as it had starting pouring rain again, and the flooding roads would have been difficult to navigate.

It took about one hour to drive back to Banaue. When we got there, we said our goodbyes to John, who had became a really good friend. If anyone travels to Banaue, we strongly recommend you contact him: Facebook: John Comiting / johncommiting@yahoo.com / (0906) 566-4368

We have nothing but good things to say about the extremely friendly (and funny) Filipino Cowboy. We are still impressed with how well he traversed those narrow terraces with giant rubber boots on his feet. John, when you make it to Calgary someday, we can’t wait to take you to the Stampede 😉

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We picked up our bags from the hotel we stayed at our first night in Banaue, and they allowed us to shower and freshen up in the communal bathrooms. We had to catch a 7:00 pm bus back to Manila that evening, so we were very thankful we were able wash off the two days of mud we had caked on.

We arrived in Manila the next morning at 5:00 am and took an Uber to our hotel, ‘Haeinasa Condotel’. Again, luck was in our favour, as they let us check in more than six hours early! We took a much needed nap, and then headed to the mall to replenish toiletries, etc. We also ended up stopping into a salon so that Paul could get a hair trim for 39 pesos ($1 CAD!), and I decided I would get waxed… which turned into threading (because the lady didn’t know how to wax), and then two hours later, left me walking out of there with skin missing from my armpit… definitely a terrible terrible idea! But at least Paul’s haircut looked good, haha!

Later that afternoon Pepito met us at our hotel. We grabbed some Red Horse from 7-11 and caught up over the beers. Once it got dark we took an Uber to a trendy restaurant he had recommended, called ‘Invito’. We all shared the squid ink calamari, steamed mussels, and pork belly with a peanut sauce. It was insanely delicious! Then we walked along the “hipster” street of Manila called ‘Maginhawa Street’, which was a very different experience than the first time we wandered around the city! We ended up stopping for drinks at a bar and talking about movies for hours. We had a lot in common with Pepito. It is probably worth mentioning that he spoke better English than any local we met while travelling… In fact, Pepito spoke better English than us sometimes! We are so glad we met him, and thankful that he took the time to show us a more positive side of Manila. We hope to meet again someday 🙂

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The next day we had a 3:00 pm flight to Puerto Princesa, on the beautiful island of Palawan. We grabbed Jollibee for brunch, as it was the only thing close to our hotel and we figured we needed to try their popular fried chicken at least once before we left the Philippines!

We got to the airport with two hours till boarding… and then proceeded to stand in line for two hours without it moving. Finally the AirAsia staff explained that our flight had been cancelled. Apparently, the airport in Puerto Princesa was closing at 8 pm due to the recent occurrence of strong winds; compounded with a couple other delays, our flight would not make it in time. They told us they would be shuttling all of us to a complimentary hotel, with free dinner, and then taking us back to the airport at 2:00 am in order to catch a 4:00 am flight instead. A lot of people were very angry. After we contacted our hotel in Puerto Princesa and moved our reservation by a day, we were actually pretty stoked to be getting a free dinner and night of accommodation! While waiting for the shuttle to take us to the hotel, we were paged to the check in desk to receive our “free dinner”… Jollibee fried chicken, TWICE on the same day, haha!

After dinner, we really weren’t expecting the hotel to be much, so we were blown away when we pulled up to the ‘Heritage Inn Manila’, a fancy five star hotel!

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We got settled in our awesome free room, and then decided to venture out to the SM Mall of Asia, which was only a 1 Km walk away. We wandered around the gigantic mall for a while getting lost, and eventually found ourselves in a supermarket where we picked up some snacks and a bottle of wine. We headed back to our hotel and polished off the wine in our plush king size bed while watching animal planet on the flat screen TV!

We got a couple of hours sleep before we were woken up to catch our 2:00 am shuttle back to the airport. We boarded our flight on time and reached Puerto Princesa by 6:00 am. YET AGAIN, we were fortunate enough to be able to check into our next hotel (‘Butterfly Totem Guesthouse’) a few hours early so that we could catch up on some much needed sleep.

After our nap we went for a late lunch at a seafood place, called ‘Badjao Seafront’. It was right on the water surrounded by mangrove trees. Then we headed to a Craft Brewery, called ‘Palaweño’, so that Paul could indulge in some desperately missed IPA beer. I even enjoyed it, as It was a refreshing change from all the plain beers I was growing accustomed to. We spent a while sitting at the bar visiting with the friendly bartender and a couple we met from the Netherlands.

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The next morning at 6:00 am, we were picked up for the Underground River tour that we had arranged through our guesthouse. The minibus ride to Sabang, where the pier is located, was about two hours long. When we arrived we had to wait until our boat number was called. While waiting for our turn, we had a buffet lunch where we got the chance to try a woodworm; or as the locals call it Tamilok. It is actually a clam type creature (which prompted me to pass, because of a possible allergy) that they harvest from inside the mangrove trees. Paul said it was pretty tasty!

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After lunch, it was our turn to take the 20 minute boat ride to the cave’s entrance. There we had to wait for a while longer before we could take the actual canoe tour into the cave.

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The Puerto Princesa Underground River has been listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. It is one of the longest navigable underground rivers in the world, with a total length of 8.2 Kilometers. The tour was guided by audio headsets and took about 45 minutes. It was nice how they insisted on complete silence (that’s why they use audio headsets) in order to not disturb the tremendous amount of bats who call the cave home. We were warned a few times not to look up with our mouths open!

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The cave itself was quite spectacular, but unfortunately the only real light we had to see with was coming from the headlamp on our boat navigator’s head. Paul was kicking himself after for not using our own headlamps, as there were many things in the dark depths that caught our eye. This was one advantage of the built in spotlights in the caves in Vietnam.

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Once back at our hotel, we went for dinner at a nearby restaurant, called ‘White Fence Country Cafe’. Paul got a burger with all the fixins and I got a salad, which I was seriously craving! We also decided to go to the popular ‘Tiki Bar’ for a beer, but didn’t stay for long, as we were exhausted from the busy day.

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The next morning we took a cramped six hour minivan ride to the opposite side of Palawan, to a place called El Nido; which should simply be called paradise! It was love at first sight when I got a glimpse of the beach side town as we started driving down a giant hill towards it. We checked into our tiny accommodation, ‘Cool Tricks Inn’, and hit the town to explore. The first thing we did was book our return bus to Puerto Princesa, in order to catch our flight out of the country a few days later. We did this regretfully, as we were already positive we weren’t going to have enough time in the wonderful town…

After lunch we spent the rest of the day hanging out at the beach near our place. While Paul went for a swim, I got swarmed by a whole gang of curious little kids. They had fun sitting next to me, staring at my Kobo while I clicked to turn pages. They told me all about the different boat trips the island offers, one of which we had booked already for the next day.

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That night we made plans to meet up with our friend from the UK, Francis, that we met on the Inle lake trek in Myanmar. We went for dinner and then headed to ‘Pukka Bar’. Without a sim card or WiFi, we weren’t able to make any solid plans, so we missed each other that night; but Paul and I had a nice evening just the two of us. We enjoyed some beers on a deck overlooking the ocean’s crashing waves, reflecting back on our favourite experiences on the trip so far.

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The next morning we had our boat trip, ‘tour A’. The boat was a small catamaran style vessel, with room for about 12 people. We got acquainted with the others on board while we headed to the Small Lagoon. The ocean was a spectacular greenish teal colour, some of the nicest we had seen. We sailed around giant limestone cliffs protruding from the water; it reminded us a lot of a more tropical version of Ha Long Bay. Some of the islands were covered in a lush vegetation, but other were sharp etched grey rock, similar to something you would see from Mordor in Lord of the Rings.

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When we got to the Small Lagoon we were given a kayak to navigate into it. We were pleased (but also a little nervous) when we spotted a giant jellyfish floating inside! Afterwards our boat headed to the Secret Lagoon, which could only be accessed by slipping through a tight rock crevasse. We floated on our backs in the salty lagoon for a while, enjoying the peacefulness. Next we headed to a small little isolated beach off of one of the limestone islands, where we enjoyed a wonderful lunch that our crew members barbecued for us right on the boat.

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When we reached the Big Lagoon we decided not to pay extra to rent a kayak, so we attempted to walk the shallow water to the entrance. It was quite far and rock fish kept aggressively darting at our feet, causing a sharp stinging feeling that is surprisingly quite painful! We turned back before we entered the actual lagoon, and opted instead to snorkel around our boat. The surroundings were spectacular; nice clear water, with endless coral reef.

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We finished the day off at Papaya Beach enjoying the last of the sun, before heading back to shore.

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After showering up at our hotel, we headed downtown to attempt to meet up with Francis again. This time we were successful! He brought along his friend from the Netherlands, and the four of us went for dinner at a local place on the beach. We caught up on all that had happened since we last saw each other, almost 2 months earlier! It was so nice to see a familiar face, and hear about all the great adventures he had gotten into. The visit was much too short, so we squeezed in one final beer at their hostel, before rushing to catch our evening bus back to Puerto Princesa at 9:30 pm.
We were sad to say goodbye to Francis again, especially when we were reminded once more of how friendly he is. We had spent almost every last Peso in our wallet (knowing that we would be flying out of the country in the morning), so he bought us water bottles for our bus trip. Thanks again for the visit, Francis! We definitely have a couch in Canada with your name on it 🙂

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Five hours later we arrived back in Puerto Princesa at about 3:00 am. Cherry Bus Company allowed us to stay and sleep on the parked bus until 5:00 am, which I had discovered was a possibility by reading blogs online beforehand. We had met two girls on our bus from Sweden, and made plans to share a taxi together to the airport. When we got out of the bus station we discovered that there were only tricycles, and since we all couldn’t fit on one with our big backpacks, it was going to cost 300 pesos ($8.00 CAD) for two tricycle. Paul and I had exactly 45 pesos ($1.50 CAD) left in our wallet… we also knew it shouldn’t cost that much, as the airport was only 5 Km away. We decided to start walking, thinking we could at least cover some of the distance and maybe negotiate a better price with a different driver. The Swedish girls stayed and bartered.

About 2 Km into our walk, a tricycle drove up to us and told us that the girls had arranged for him to come back and get us. If he did, they agreed to pay 155 pesos, which with our 45 pesos, would make it a total of 200 pesos for him. Again we were blown away by the kindness of strangers, who bartered to help our situation. We also learned a valuable lesson about not spending every last penny before leaving a country, because you never know what will come up… Especially when we learned that in order to leave the country, we would have to pay a departure tax of 750 PHP ($20 CAD) each, something I had read about before hand, but completely forgotten. So in the end, we had to visit an ATM regardless! But we swore we would pay forward the kindness to some other struggling traveller!

We boarded our Cebu Pacific flight out of Puerto Princesa to Singapore a couple hours later, this time without a hitch. Our time was definitely too short in the Philippines, and some poor planning (and unfortunate luck) didn’t allow us to make the most of our limited 2 week timeframe. Hopefully someday we can return so we can see more of the beautiful country, and reunite with some of the wonderful people we met while visiting it!

Love Allie and Paul
Demsky Duo Disembarked

Vietnam… Nom nom nom

On to the land of tasty Banh Mi sandwiches and delicious Pho!

We pulled in to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, at around 6:30 pm on February 4, 2016. We had been travelling via bus since leaving Rathana and his village in Cambodia 12 hours previously. Upon arriving, we walked a couple km’s, managing to find and check into our hotel called ‘Ava Saigon 2’. It was a decent place for around $26 CAD a night, included free breakfast (with DELICIOUS Vietnamese coffee), and was right in the heart of the city. After dropping our bags off in our room, we hit the streets in search of something for dinner.

Less than a block away, we came across a small food stand ran by a cute elderly Vietnamese lady. She couldn’t speak a lick of English but we managed to order ourselves our first Banh Mi sandwiches; commonly known as Vietnamese subs in North America. We walked back to our room, and devoured the common street delicacy. The second I finished, I reached into my pocket, looked at the money I had (now called Vietnamese Dong), fished out another 40,000 Dong (about $2 CAD), and RAN back to buy 2 more! The Banh Mi would become a staple food source for the 2 of us in the coming weeks.

The next day represented my 27th lap on this rock flying around the sun. Allie and I had a pretty busy day planned, not so much as to celebrate, but to figure out what to do with our “10” days in the fairly large country. She still managed to make the busy day special, and kept me smiling all the while, like she always does!

We started the day off by going to the busy central marketplace called ‘Ben Thanh Market’. We grew an immediate concern for walking in the city, as the streets were PACKED with gregariously moving traffic in every direction. There are barely any sidewalks, and you have to sidestep cars, trucks, and motorcycles constantly. To cross the street, you just had to kind of walk out into the swarm of flowing metal and hope that the sea of machines would part and allow you safe passage. It was terrifying! Allie got to a point of just holding onto my arm and looking at the ground, while I walked us out into the dangerous roadway, staring into the eyes of the oncoming storm of drivers and praying they’d stop or avoid us.

After a tedious nerve racking walk, we entered into a large warehouse type building labyrinthed with aisles and sections of a huge busy marketplace. They sold everything from clothes, housewares, food, and everything in between; usually with some form of false branding. The shop owners were quite aggressive, barely letting you glance at their goods without jumping into your face and forcing you to look at or buy something. I was looking for a new wallet as, well, it went a-wall a few weeks back. Didn’t lose much money or anything truly important, but was a tad bit inconvenient. I had come across almost exactly what I was looking for right away, but I hadn’t looked around much and I didn’t have any idea what the going rate was for a cheap leather wallet in Vietnam. I told the lady I was gunna look around and come back, and in response she cursed me and said, “You have bad luck coming your way”, and proceeded to tell me that even if I came back, she wouldn’t sell the wallet to me. Quite the marketing technique!

I ended up finding a near identical one a few shops later, and I bought it for a little higher than the first lady even offered, more or less just in spite. Allie also scored a beautiful new purse, which has held up very well and still looks good today. The 2 cost us less than $15 dollars Canadian in the end as well!

Being hounded our whole way out by shop owners, we finally made it back onto the street, and headed over to Mobifone’s head office to get a local SIM card for my phone. We figured after not having data in the past 2 countries, it was time to utilize it again. For less than $6 CAD, I got enough data and a handful of minutes to last us a month!

Starting to feel a little famished, Allie suggested we get something to eat, but since it was my birthday I could have ANYTHING I wanted.

It was time my friends.

Time for my first Big Mac in months.

McDonald’s here we come!

It was the first (and only time on our 6 month trip!) that I had the Americanized fast food in a far away country, where beef is not the most common of things around. It was a tad disappointing to say the least, as you just can’t replicate Alberta beef, even if it’s the terrible quality shipped around to Canadian McDonald’s.

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With the Golden Arches under my belt (and it a notch looser), we began the time consuming task of finding our route and transportation for the coming weeks. We had planned to use a bus company called The Sinh Tourist, which had a service that you could pay for one ticket and hop on and off their coach buses at multiple stops across Vietnam. Unfortunately for us, we had arrived in the country just before one of their major holidays called ‘Tet’.

Also known as ‘Vietnamese New Year’, Tet is the largest and most popular yearly festival in Vietnam. Celebrated on the first day of the first month in the Lunar Calendar, Tet’s celebration is the country’s longest holiday, and can last up to seven days. Most locals get the ENTIRE time off, so that they may go visit and spend time with their families. You can imagine the sort of crunch this puts on the transportation circuit running the entirety of the country. Also, the celebration brings a vast number of Chinese tourists that come for vacation, warmer (or cooler) weather, and to escape the home crowds during their own Chinese New Year, which is on the same day as Tet.

To say the least, the Tet celebration affected us IMMEDIATELY. The Sinh Tourist bus company was not operating the open ‘hop on hop off’ service Allie and I were so eagerly planning to rely on for our time there. We started planning our route, and couldn’t believe how few bus, train tickets, and accommodations were actually available countrywide. We even tried to go for dinner at one of the highest rated (but reasonably priced) restaurants in Ho Chi Minh, several days before the celebration was to commence, and they were closed for 10 days!

We spent a significant amount of time looking into and booking our options for the coming weeks. We tightened and played with our budget, and realized we could probably extend our planned 10 days to a full 2 weeks. Later on in the trip, that was once again extended to a full 3 weeks, due to the extremely low living expenses we incurred each day, and our infatuation with the country overall.

With a pretty solid plan and some bookings confirmed, we decided to try a more Westernized restaurant that night, in hopes that they too wouldn’t be closed down for Tet. Luckily the ‘La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant’ was up and running, and my first choice for my Birthday dinner abroad. We had absolutely sensational tacos, and their servings were certified GIGANTIC. The service was impeccable, and our awesome Vietnamese server gave me a free tequila drink that was both incredibly tasty and loaded with enough booze to kick my happy Birthday buzz up a few ranks.

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Afterwards we had a few more celebratory drinks at our hotel while playing cards, and Allie even let me play metal music all night! Yussssss! ✊

All and all, it was a fantastic Birthday, and even though we didn’t do anything significant, it was still very special.

The next day we explored Ho Chi Minh a little further, and ate lunch at a wicked place called ‘My Banh Mi’. The prices were a little inflated in comparison to the street side vendors, but their sandwiches came in a vast multitude of types and had incredibly tasty twists, including a huge list of savoury homemade sauces. They were some of the best sandwiches ever, and worth the extra buck.

Next we hit up the ‘Vietnam War Remnants Museum’. Here they housed a collection of war memorabilia from the American invasion in the 1960’s & 70’s. There were photos, propaganda posters from each side, tanks, planes, guns; everything that was salvaged countrywide. Rooms on different floors were dedicated to specific events including guns and ammo, Agent Orange effects, and a background and timeline of the whole event. Allie and I soon realized we didn’t know all that much about the whole war, but it became apparent almost immediately that the United States truly didn’t have the most justifiable reason to invade their country.

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We saw some of the atrocities brought onto the Vietnamese people during the time period as well, seeing photos and reading stories of Agent Orange victims. There are still many people today being affected by the horrible herbicidal warfare technique. It was used to kill crops, bushes and trees of the communist insurgents. As many as 3 million people have suffered major illnesses because of it including disability, still-births, cleft palate, neural tube defects, spina bifida, and deformation. Some of the images were very heart wrenching.

Once we got a little taste of the history behind the Vietnam War, we immediately went back to our hotel and watched numerous ‘crash course’ YouTube videos on the subject. We spent a couple hours giving ourselves some Social Studies refreshment, and learned a few things that we hadn’t come across in the Canadian education system. Very informative! Lol.

That evening we walked the streets in search of a restaurant to eat, finding that even more of the local eateries were closed than the night before. With Tet fast approaching, the Capital city was in a constant hustle and bustle. We ended up sitting down at a very good traditional Vietnamese restaurant, the name of which I would never even be able to attempt to repeat!
Allie had her first bowl of amazing fresh Pho (pronounced FU, like fur or fun without the last consonant); while I had a “dry pho” of vermicelli noodles with salad, ground peanuts, and marinated seared pork (which we soon developed an addiction to). They both were insanely good and cost next to nothing!

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The next day we grabbed ourselves some more Banh Mi sandwiches from a street vendor (still just $1!) and hopped on a Singh Tourist bus for a 5 hour ride to Mui Ne. The beach front city is a major tourist hotspot, and is divided into 2 main sections down the main strip; one side being more English oriented, and the other half Russian.

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Upon arriving around 6:00 pm, we realized why there were so few accommodations available to book. Almost everything along the main strip was closed, as most of the guest houses and resorts were shut down for Tet, allowing the locals on staff to travel home and spend the holidays with their families.

We ended up staying at a place called ‘Blue Sky Guest House’, which was decent enough for just over $20 CAD a night, and situated right across the street from the beach. That evening was the actual Tet New Year’s celebration, and we were informed by our hotel’s receptionist that there was going to be a party and fireworks in the next town over.

We popped out on the empty roadways in search of something to eat. We decided to rent a scooter from the shop right next door for 200 000 VND, which works out to approximately $12 CAD total for 3 days of use.

We picked a few restaurants out on Trip Advisor, and proceeded to drive up and down the Mui Ne strip in search of them. We managed to locate numerous eateries that interested us, but they were all closed. Eventually we stopped at a place called ‘Joe’s Cafe’. It was packed, and had a live band jamming some tunes. Allie and I set up on the street front patio and enjoyed a scrumptious meal, cheap beers, and a pretty stellar performance by an incredible female Vietnamese vocalist. She had insane blues/pop pipes!

Later as we were struggling to stay awake, we debated and decided against making the trip to Phan Thiet to join in on the Tet festivities. We were exhausted, and ended up watching part of a movie and crashing before midnight. Frig, we’re getting old… Hahaha!

The next day, we met up with one of our friends, Krista Baron, from back in Kelowna! She happened to be in Vietnam with her parents for a family friend’s wedding. They were staying at a beachfront resort in Phan Thiet with a nice pool, so when they offered us to come on over and hang out, we obliged without hesitation.

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After some poolside beers, sunbathing, and visiting with Krista and her family and friends, we were invited to join them that evening for dinner. Everyone washed up, and we headed out. I took Krista on the scooter with me as we followed the taxi full of everyone else, so she could enjoy a little cruise around in the fresh Mui Ne ocean air. We arrived at a large 2 story Vietnamese restaurant, called ‘Nhà hàng Cây Bàng’, situated on a small ridge overlooking the South China Sea.

The bride to be in their group was actually from Vietnam herself, and ordered the whole lot of us a seafood hotpot. She mixed seafood, noodles, veggies, herbs and spices into a large pot in the center of the table. After specific amounts of time, she dished out little bits of everything to us all. It was quite the feast! There was a plethora of shellfish, prawns, different types of fish, and lots of traditional Vietnamese vegetables and dishes that we would never have even thought of trying.

During our fantastic meal, the sun dipped along the shoreline and gave us a spectacular sunset! One of the best we’ve seen still today.

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Krista’s parents ended up paying for our meal as well, which was way too nice of them. THANKS AGAIN MR. AND MRS. BARON!
Afterwards, we said farewell. We truly enjoyed our refreshing time with a recognizable face and friend from home.

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The next day, Allie and I hit the road on our swanky scooter once again. We toured throughout the area, stopping to see the ‘Fairy Stream’ (a mud stream between clay cliffs) and the 2 entirely different Red and White Sand Dunes. It was a fantastic day of adventure, and even presented some extremely tense moments when we almost ran out of gas in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We managed to snap some really great and memorable pictures!

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The White Sand Dunes were further inland than we had anticipated, and the drive home ended up being much later than we had hoped. The sun was setting fast, but as we rolled down the hillside and approached the ocean, we were awarded with an incredible sunset to our left, while cruising along the shoreline with breathtaking views. It was quite a magical ride! Unfortunately we didn’t stop to take any photos and decided to just savour the moment, as once more our gas levels were unbeknownst to us.

The next morning we boarded what was possibly one of the worst bus rides we experienced, through a company called Nam Long. We were going from Mui Ne to Da Lat, which was only a 4 hour drive. The extremely crammed, no leg room, extra hot bus fared terribly through the ridiculously windy and bumpy mountain roads. Our driver constantly put the pedal to the metal, then slammed on the brakes. It made for a very uncomfortable ride.

Once safely in Da Lat, we immediately recognized our brilliance in booking a room well ahead of time. Allie had been watching accommodations online, and as they all seemingly began to disappear, she jumped on a very decently priced hostel. Within a few minutes of walking the streets of Da Lat, we could see tons of tourists scouring the area for any vacant accommodations. Everything was full! Tet had brought a tremendous amount of Chinese tourists abroad to celebrate their holiday away from home in much cooler weather and with extremely cheap expenses. That on top of the ridiculous amount of ‘normal’ tourism for the period, it made for a poop storm of accommodation shortage.

We thankfully got to our place called ‘Mr. Peace’s Backpacker Hostel’, which was ran by a very enthusiastic and witty man (who goes by Mr. Peace), and his adorable “wife” Strawberry. I say wife, in quotations because almost everyone we talked to was convinced he was gay, Lol!
He had a huge heart, and with the incredible influx of tourists and the possibility of people being left out on the street, he allowed more than 20 guests over capacity sleep at his place. He didn’t have beds per say, but many people obliged a little floor room and for just $1 USD, Mr. Peace allowed them to stay. There was literally NOTHING available in the entire city. We even gave up one of our bunk beds one night to a very nice couple from the UK, named Amy and Elliott. They thanked us profusely and left a cute note for us on our pillow when they departed. Lucky enough, we crossed paths again later in our Vietnam travels!

Anyways, we checked in and were shown our lovely 12 bed hostel room that was obviously fully booked. Allie and I were left with 2 top bunk beds, and were not the most impressed with the single bathroom we all had to share situated RIGHT in the middle of the room, only separated by a paper thin door. Yeah, everyone could hear everything that went on in there at all times. A little awkward to say the least…

We quickly dropped everything off and went out to find something to eat. Once again, we arrived at a restaurant we had hoped to eat at only to find that it too was still closed for the seemingly never ending Tet holiday. We wound up at another highly rated place next door called ‘Da Quy’, where I ordered caramelized fish in a clay pot. It was so incredibly delicious!

We took it easy that night and didn’t socialize all too much, as Allie wasn’t feeling very well.

The next morning, we made up for our hermit behaviour by introducing ourselves and chatting with some of our roommates.
They were:
Kieran and Nichole from Ontario
Julie from Nova Scotia
& Charlie and Max from Thailand

We all jumped on the friend wagon pretty quick (being predominantly Canadian and all ;)), and went out for breakfast Banh Mis and coffee. After further discussion, we all revealed our plans to travel onto Hoi An next, and most of us were thinking of departing on the exact same day. With that in mind, we all retreated back to the hostel and proceeded to find the very best deal. We ended up booking a bus ride with Futabus to Nha Trang, then an overnight train to Da Nang, followed by a short 30 min taxi ride to our final destination of Hoi An. Kieran and Nichole from Ontario, Charlie and Max from Thailand, and Allie and I all booked the trip together.

With our route in the books, the lot of us went to explore the Da Lat Central Market. We found it comical that they mostly sold “winter clothing” for locals, where the temperature was considered quite warm to us Canucks; usually mid 20’s. Kieran bought a big bag of local exotic fruit, and we retreated to the hostel to chill for a bit.

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That night, the lot of us went out for dinner to a cheap local place where you get all the fixins to make your own fresh salad spring rolls. I was decent at it, but when handed a faulty rice paper, I constructed an abomination of a roll that had everyone laughing. Wasn’t as easy as it looks!

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We capped off the night by playing several games in the beautiful pool hall next door to our hostel. Beers were dirt cheap, and an hour of pool was 16 000 VND, about 60¢ CAD! Kieran and I got a little competitive, and made each other sweat in a best of 5 match. He took me out as we went down to the wire, and I’m still hoping for a rematch one day!

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The next day Allie and I were up bright and early to go on a canyoning adventure. We looked into it before arriving in Da Lat, and booked through a decently rated company called ‘Highlands Holiday Tours’. Mr. Peace offered a canyoning trip as well, but he jacked the prices up because of the high demand during Tet, and we stuck with the cheaper option being Highland.

We drove out to a river and canyon area, got strapped up, and were taught how to repel down cliff sides and waterfalls. Allie was awesome at it, and didn’t falter once. Myself on the other hand, I don’t know if it’s because I played sports my entire life that require you to keep your center of gravity up and square to your feet, but I was terrible. My subconscious wouldn’t let me lean back far enough, and I paid for it with a couple of bruised knees.

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We started off quite difficult, traversing down a steep and slippery waterfall. Next was a dry descent where you let go of the rope and dropped over 12 feet into the cold pool of water below. Then we did a MASSIVE waterfall, which most people struggled with; except Allie who accomplished it with grace and ease. Last was another dry abseil where we got to jump and free fall a little easier. All in all it was a great experience and a lot of fun, even if I wasn’t the most fluid of abseilers!

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We returned to the hostel and discussed with everyone who had gone canyoning either that day or the one prior, and it turns out there are different locations. Not sure which is better, but both our tour and the one Mr. Peace sent people on sounded completely different, and equally awesome!

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For lunch we all headed out to a hole in the wall local eatery, where we found one of our favourite Vietnamese dishes, Bun Thit Nuong; a vermicelli dish with peanuts, salad, fish sauce, and lightly seared pork. It was similar to the one I had ate in Ho Chi Minh City a week or so ago, and was incredibly tasty! The best part, a whole serving was 25 000 VND. Math that up. It’s just over $1 Canadian! CRAZINESS! Along with Banh Mi sandwiches, that dish became a common lunch for us.

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Later that evening we all went out to one of the nuttiest and coolest places Allie and I have ever been. It was called ‘100 Roofs Cafe’, and looked like some kind of Alice in Wonderland acid trip of a structure. There were 6 floors of tunnels, mazes, enchanted forest deco, spiral staircases, rock hideouts, and large pockets of areas where you could sit and chill. The place was AMAZING, and Kieran and Nichole introduced us to the real fun; playing Hide N Seek! We all pitched in and bought a 2-6 of rum for less than $5 CAD, and someone took off with the bottle. We spent hours searching the labyrinth of caverns trying to find who had possession of the rum. If you found them, you’d each take a shot, and the person who found the other would then take off with the bottle. It was so much fun, and made for a truly entertaining (and intoxicated) evening.

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On our way out of the bar, we were stopped by an elderly man and became lost in discussion with him. It turns out he was the architect of the building! We took a picture with him and he showed us a whole portfolio of his work. I wondered what kind of drugs he must have done to come up with all this stuff, Hahaha!

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The next day we were all hurting a little bit. We relaxed with some greasy fatty bakery goods (including incredible cheese sticks) before the 6 of us boarded our 4 hour bus ride to Nha Trang. The ride was a little crazy, as I think our driver must have been hopped up on some crazy caffeine or speed. We whipped around cliff sides and the narrow mountain roads, and ended up getting us to our destination city a whole hour ahead of schedule! Even with the seat gripping and tossing, we managed to glimpse incredible views of jungle coated mountaintops dancing above clouds of thick milky fog. It was a sight to behold!

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Gladly back on our feet in Nha Trang; Kieran, Nichole, the Thai boys, Allie and I hit the streets in search of food. Most of us still not feeling the hottest, we decided on Pizza Hut… Yeah, lol. It was mildly disappointing for the lot of us, but at least we got our fill of greasy western food… enough to go out and buy a bottle of whiskey to split! We sat on the train platform sipping on some whiskey and playing round after round of Big 2 (which we had obviously taught everyone by this point haha) while we waited for our delayed train to roll in. We were all aboard near midnight, and Charlie, Max, Allie and I were all given beds in the same 6 bunk cabin. We got to our car and discovered a Vietnamese family had taken over all of our beds. We had to kick them all out, and during the confusion, Allie offered up her middle bunk so Charlie wouldn’t get claustrophobic and suffer on the very top. The top bunk was THE WORST, as you barely had enough room between the bed and the roof to roll over, and the rocking of the train was most violent. Allie had a terrible time, and later regretted it after feeling ill the entire ride. Although the Pizza Hut and rum she consumed earlier definitely contributed…

11 hours later, we arrived in Dong Hoi, on the nauseatingly corporate ‘holiday’ known as Valentine’s Day. Allie and I had arranged for our hotel driver to pick up the 6 of us, and we made the final stretch to Hoi An. Charlie and Max had booked themselves a couple of bunks at a hostel, so we dropped them off before heading to our accommodation.

Kieran and Nichole followed us to our place, and inquired about availability for themselves. Unfortunately it was fully booked, but it worked out great in the end as they found a sweet hotel with a pool down the road, which we obviously milked and spent most of our time at, haha! We checked into our lovely place called ‘Green Grass Land Villa’. It was ran by the sweetest Vietnamese lady, and was a gorgeous place for a very reasonable $25 CAD a night. It also included free breakfast AND bike rental, which is essential for getting around the flat widespread city of Hoi An.

After spending the afternoon poolside at Kieran and Nichole’s with beers and countless rounds of Big 2, we all went out for a fabulous Valentine’s Day dinner at a wicked Italian restaurant called ‘Good Morning Vietnam’. Lucky for Allie, Kieran and Nichole are probably some of the only other people on the planet who love pasta and cheese as much as she does, therefore solidifying the decision! We were also joined by 2 girls that Kieran and Nichole had met during their Vietnam travels; Tessa from Holland and a friend of hers who we regrettably didn’t get to know all that well. We all had a fabulous meal, which was a little harsh on the new wallet, but so worth it.

Afterwards we all cruised on our bikes through the busy downtown streets in the area called ‘Ancient Town’. It’s a neat cobblestone grid of streets with a collection of old buildings and architecture that was not hit by any major air raids during the war. At night the eclectic streets are illuminated by strings of lanterns of all shapes, sizes, and colours. A very cool atmosphere!

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The next day Allie and I opted to cruise around town on bicycles. First stop was the local marketplace where I was looking to purchase my 3rd pair of sunglasses! Good thing they’re cheaper than a beer at home, haha!

Afterwards we ate at ‘Banh Mi Phuong’, which according to Anthony Bourdain, serves the best authentic Banh Mi sandwich worldwide. I had the exact one he had ordered (basically mixed meats), and I gotta say I think he was wrong on that one. It was super fatty, and underwhelming. Allie had a BBQ pork one from the same place, and it was much tastier. Nearby is another shop called ‘Phi Banh Mi’ which we ate at on a later day, and overall we thought was WAY better. Maybe Allie and I should get paid to travel the world and rate different foods and eateries? Hahaha.

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Next we took a ride several kilometers north to the beach and resort part of Hoi An. It was a very nice ride, but unfortunately the weather wasn’t the greatest when we arrived. Not warm enough to suntan and the waves were crashing in far too forcefully to even contemplate a swim. We sat and watched the shifting sea for a while, and then headed back to town.

We spent the afternoon poolside at Nichole and Kieran’s place playing cards once more, and Tessa had moved into their hotel as well. The 5 of us headed out for dinner, with the inclusion of Mariya (a Russian-Canadian) and Amy and Elliott (the couple from London who we gave our bed to at the hostel in Da Lat). Mexican was the unanimous choice for the evening, so we hit up ‘Hola Taco’ for some delicious fresh tacos with a nice twist of ingredients in each kind.

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Then we all wandered the nearby streets of Ancient Town once again, before deciding to pop into a place called ‘Dive Bar’ for a beer. The place was packed and thumping loud, so we crammed up into a tiny loft space above the crowd.

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Realizing how expensive it was, we headed back out after one round, this time retreating to Amy, Elliott, and Mariya’s hostel called ‘Sunflower Inn’. There they had cheap beers and somewhat of a party going on in the attached bar, and a Foosball table that Kieran and I once again used to bring out our competitive edges.

Once the night wore thin, we said our final farewell to our newfound friends, made the journey via bike back to our place, packed our bags, and hit the pillows with a minibus awaiting us in the morning.

Bright and early we were picked up and dropped off at the train station in Da Nang, where we awaited our train to Dong Hoi. I discovered via other tourists that all the trains heading north were ridiculously delayed, and I was notified that our morning train was to be 6 hours late! I enquired at the ticket counter and managed to switch our tickets to one of the trains that was supposed to leave hours prior, thankfully saving us a boatload of time.

While we were waiting, the Thai boys Max and Charlie waltzed into the station as well! We hadn’t seen them since our overnight travels from Da Lat, and our schedules never seemed to work out while in Hoi An. We visited for a bit before a train FINALLY appeared, and we said farewell for the last time.

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The condition of the train was absolutely terrible, and we had even “splurged” for the soft seat option, which cost us a whopping $6 CAD each for the entire journey. Out of curiosity, I walked to one of the hard seat train cars (the even cheaper option), and discovered that it was literally wooden slat benches to sit on. Rather uncomfortable for slow long train rides through the Vietnam countryside!

6 hours later we arrived in Dong Hoi, and shortly after our accommodation called ‘Nam Long Hotel’. We were immediately told that they overbooked, and we were FORCED to take a free upgrade to a room in their more expensive newer hotel called ‘Nam Long Plus Hotel’. What a drag… Especially for less than $17 CAD/night… 😉

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The next day, we went to the caves! Vietnam is world famous for the stupendously incredible cave systems, including the newly discovered Son Doong. I desperately wanted to book a tour of Son Doong during our trip, but it’s outrageously expensive and monopolized by one government sanctioned company in order to carefully study and preserve the world’s largest cave. We also heard that they are fully booked until the end of 2017!

Not being gazillionaires, we opted for a tour of 2 amazing caves. The first one was called ‘Paradise Cave’ located an hour and a half away from our hotel in Dong Hoi. This particular cave is currently the longest cave system ever discovered, but tourists can only walk a kilometer into the behemoth underground passage on a boardwalk. The experience was a little spoiled by the well-crafted pathway and bright cheesy lights illuminating the stalactites and stalagmites, but I was still in awe. I enjoyed a wave of feeling so small and insignificant in something so vast, beautiful, and old as time itself. I loved it!

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After taking it all in and being so psyched about the elation I felt, we continued with our tour which included a mediocre lunch. Then we headed out on a small boat with a group of around 8 into the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as ‘Phong Nha Cave’. It’s a 14 km underground river system of otherworldly sites. We were given a guided tour as we were slowly paddled down the winding river system into grottos and cave chambers. The cave is home to an astronomical number of various bat species, so as to not disturb them, there are no motors. We were later dropped off at the mouth of the cave and able to go in on foot to explore the chambers running parallel to the river. Again we were astounded by the overwhelming feeling of smallness in something so ancient and breathtaking. Once we returned to the mouth of the cave, we boarded our boat, and cruised the river back to where our bus was waiting for us.

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After our hour and a half drive back, we went for dinner and took it easy that night, as the temperatures were lowering and rain had settled in.

The next morning we Skyped with Nettsie (my Mom) and went for brunch at the ‘Tree Hugger Cafe’. It was a little pricey in comparison to most Vietnamese meals we had eaten, but Allie had amazing yoghurt and muesli and I once again had a western style feast. A great change from the Banh Mis!

We killed time that afternoon wandering around Dong Hoi and taking it easy while we awaited our 9 pm bus ride to Hanoi. Just before our bus was set to pick us up, we had to return to the original Nam Long Hotel, where we initially booked our room before being moved and upgraded. We walked into the lobby to wait, and lo and behold, we ran into Elliot and Amy, the couple from the UK we met in Da Lat and Hoi An! They too were headed to Hanoi, as well as Halong Bay. We loosely made plans to book our Halong Bay tour together, and said bye for now as our bus arrived.

Before we boarded our bus that evening, we grew exponentially nervous about the company we had booked called ‘Queen Café’. We read horrible gross things online, and the reviews were plentiful. But we did realized that most were written during the Tet holiday season, and could most likely account for many of the issues tourists were complaining about. In the end it was a great ride with no problems at all! It was a sleeper bus, with race bucket seats permanently leaned back in lay-z-boy position. We both slept decently through the night.

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What was supposed to be a 10 hour drive from Dong Hoi to Hanoi was over and done well before that. We were abruptly awoken and told to exit the bus before 5:30 am. We were an hour and a half earlier than expected, and only a few blocks from the accommodation we booked in the Old Quarter called ‘A Dong Hotel’ (Lol! Still makes me laugh!).

With a few hours to kill before the Booking Agency / Hotel opened its doors, we were greeted by a smiling enthusiastic gentleman who owned a tiny hole in the wall restaurant next door called ‘King Cafe’. The prices were exceedingly reasonable, and the elderly owner was very kind and attempted to chat with us with his limited English. The food was quite good for the price, and I think we returned another 2 times for a meal because of the chivalrous Vietnamese host.

Growing very weary and tired at this point, we scooped up all of our bags and attempted to check into our hotel right next door. The room wasn’t vacant as of yet, so we deposited our big bags and wandered the streets until mid-morning. The main streets and marketplace of Hanoi are very well organized into types of goods and services. For instance, one street is all hardware stores, the next all textiles and sewing shops, suddenly it’s all shoes, followed by the tourist restaurants and pubs, and so on. The streets were insanely busy and crammed with crazed scooter drivers once again, but nowhere near as nutty as Ho Chi Minh City had been. We really enjoyed the city of Hanoi.

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I checked Trip Advisor for any leads on a cheap tasty lunch, and once again came across a Banh Mi stand with exceptional ratings. This time however, we DEFINITELY found our favourite. ‘Banh Mi 25’ is an ittie bittie street stand on a hardware store street, that has teeny tiny plastic tables and chairs set up along the sidewalk. It is ran by a happy go lucky family that is above and beyond nice to every patron they have. You have a few choices of sandwiches, and can add Laughing Cow cheese to any of them. Still with a price tag near $1 CAD, this was the creme de la crop of Banh Mis. One of the family members seated us with some tea and bananas, while the others prepared our order. SO unbelievably tasty. I think Allie and I ate there at least once a day during our stay in Hanoi… sometimes twice, haha!

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Now utterly exhausted, and Allie starting to come down with a nasty cold, we returned to A Dong Hotel and were able to check into our room. After a quick nap, we hit the streets for dinner. Hanoi is always buzzing with nightlife; whether it’s from tourists packing westernized pubs or locals pouring out onto the streets in little plastic tables and chairs from tiny restaurants; there’s activity almost everywhere. We decided to try another authentic Vietnamese dish for dinner, called ‘Bun Bo Nam Bo’, at an eatery titled the same. There are multiple vendors selling the very dish on the exact same street as the highly rated one, so we had to be sure we entered the correct eatery. For 60 000 Dong (just over $3 CAD), we got a bowl full of noodles and beef with all the fixens. It too was ridiculously delicious, and was basically a beef version of the Bun Thit Nuong; the dish we had fallen in love with in central Vietnam.

The next morning we spent time organizing flights to and throughout the Philippines, as well as booking our tour of Halong Bay for the following day. We ended up getting a great deal on the ‘Fantasea Cruise’ 3 day tour, but we asked to be dropped off on Cat Ba Island for an additional night. All in all we paid just over $400 for the 2 of us, accommodation and all meals included (except for our night on Cat Ba). So we didn’t pick the cheapest company possible, and didn’t stretch for an outrageously overpriced one either. We let Amy and Elliot know who we went with via Messenger, and then went for Banh Mi 25 again. Afterwards, we went for a lengthy walk around town, touring the nearby ‘Hoan Kiem Lake’ and checking out a couple of tourist attractions we opted out of.

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That evening we hit up ‘Gastro Food & Beer Pub’ for dinner and a couple drinks. Food was tasty, although more overpriced than we were used to. Once the sun set, we walked over to the night market which spans the entirety of the main road in the Old Quarter from north to south. They had the road closed off to traffic, but it didn’t stop it from being a busy crowded experience. We bought a couple of articles of clothing, and retreated back to the hotel. Now Allie really wasn’t feeling the greatest, so we made it an early night in order to be well rested for our departure to Halong Bay in the morning. Besides, we had a few more days to enjoy Hanoi after we returned from our tour.

We were up and all packed bright and early the next morning, and boarded our shuttle bus for the 3 hour drive to Ha Long City. As soon as we got on the bus, we noticed Amy and Elliot! We had never heard back from them the night before about which tour they booked, so it was a complete surprise. They had opted for 1 night tour, but chose the same company as us in hopes of reconvening. There were 3 Fantasea Cruise boats departing at the same time, so we were very lucky and happy to have the chance to spend more time with them. Once we arrived at the docks in Ha Long City, we boarded a small boat and were transferred to our larger vessel, called a ‘junk’, where we’d be sleeping and eating for the next few days.

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The boat fired up and sailed out into the maze of islands and inlets of Halong Bay shortly after noon. The weather wasn’t the greatest, as it was incredibly hazy and didn’t offer the best clarity for views. It wasn’t raining much, so it could have been a lot worse too! We all “Oooh’d and Awed” as the boat wound its way through emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped with rainforests.

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We anchored and were ushered onto a smaller day boat that brought us to a beach and ‘Sung Sot Cave’. It was another gorgeous cave, this time lit up with weird colourful lights; it kind of looked like the guts of a Christmas tree. Although the weird colours made it seem very fake and surreal, there were areas that looked completely different from the first 2 we had visited, and could have been mistaken for scenes from the moon or Mars.

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After a brief tour inside, we went out onto the beach for a little sand and clouded over sun, before returning to the day boat. We cruised back to the junk and drove around a few more islands while we changed and layered up with rain jackets for a little foggy and rainy kayaking.
Once situated in our double person kayak, we paddled around for a while, entering an inlet between two islands where we spotted monkeys along the shore. The whole experience was very cool, although it would have been much more enjoyable with some sunshine and a clearer view of our surroundings.

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That evening we had an authentic Vietnamese dinner on the boat with Amy and Elliot, and then returned to our cabin below with them to play cards and sip whiskey. Several hours after sunset we returned to the upper decks to admire the moon and stars, which were struggling to pierce through the thin veil of cloud, but nonetheless looked fantastic so far away from civilization. At this point Allie was nursing a full blown cold, and the rest of us were exhausted from the long day, so we headed to bed fairly early.

The next morning at the crack of dawn we were offered to go on one of the islands for a short trek up to a viewpoint. I ended up going alone with Amy and Elliot, as Allie was feeling absolutely terrible and reluctantly decided to stay in bed. The climb ended up being a short trip up a winding staircase to a clouded over viewpoint. Not worth it in the slightest, especially with the swarm of other tourists we battled through that were dropped off by other boats.

Afterwards it was time for us 3-day tour folks to split ways with the 2-dayers. I bid farewell to Amy and Elliot, as they returned to the big boat in order to be shuttled back to the harbour with the majority of our group. They knocked on Allie’s cabin door and said goodbye to her as well, while she rested to rid herself of her awful cold. Later that evening, the junk was to rendezvous with us boasting a new group of tourists that we joined for dinner.

Allie stayed sound asleep in our cabin as the boat made its way to Halong City harbour and back. The rest of us 3 day trip bookies (which just so happened to be 3 Swedish girls and myself) spent the afternoon on the smaller day boat, stopping for a couple of excursions. Honestly it wasn’t as awesome as it might sound, and get your head out of the gutter, haha. First we visited a pearl farm, which was fairly interesting, until they brought us through their shop and tried to guilt us into spending money on their “natural” pearls. I’m not sure if this is how it’s always been done, but I learned that they actually insert a small bead made of shells into the oysters once they reach a certain maturity. The bead is surgically inserted into the oysters along with mantle tissue, and it coats the bead in mineral deposits for several years. They later remove the beautifully coated bead and sell it as a pearl. Some of the pearls you get are not much bigger than the bead that was initially inserted, making me reconsider their value and purity.

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We jumped back on the day boat where we had lunch, and I was fortunate to be given ALL the seafood because the girls were too squeamish to eat any of it, haha. Afterwards we were dropped off for a second bout of rainy kayaking in a different area than before. This time we had to navigate through a cave, and I paddled with one of the Swedish girls. The 3 of them were not the most nautically inclined, and they crashed and smashed into cave walls and shores all the while. We eventually beached on a beautiful deserted island where the girls took a rest on the sand and I went for a walk to explore (okay, I was really just tying to find somewhere to pee). Just around the bend, there was an incredible isolated beach. It had the most stunning views of 2 opposing island peaks, the clearest blue water, and sang a symphony as the waves rolled mounds of coral and shells along the shore with each lap of the ocean. It was serenity. Probably the most overwhelmingly peaceful moment I had on the trip. Unfortunately our waterproof camera had crapped out on us by this point, and I have no photograph to remember that moment of pure ecstasy. Oh well, the simple memory will have to do.

After my moment of zen was abruptly cut off by the wailing of a Swede in distress, I ran over to find that a minuscule crab had taken their kayak hostage! I saved the day by removing the Grand Theft Crustacean and we returned to the day boat. Not long after it cruised back to the junk where I finally met back up with me Wiff.

Overall, Allie didn’t miss out on too thrilling of a day, and by the time I joined her back on the big boat, she was feeling much improved. We had another similar authentic Vietnamese dinner on the boat with the Swedish girls that night, as well as a couple of drinks before calling it a day very early once again.

The next morning we switched junks to one that was heading for Cat Ba Island. We had made an arrangement with our tour company that included transfer for us to and from the island, basically turning our 3 day tour into 4 days. We had organized our own accommodation on the island, but the Fantasea tour included a group organized hike up to a viewpoint on Cat Ba. The weather wasn’t ideal, as once we reached the top the entire landscape was coated in a thick layer of cloud. The hike itself however was quite enjoyable, and Allie was able to sweat out the last of her sickness.

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We were then dropped off near our accommodation, splitting ways with the rest of the tour group who had an organized itinerary and hotel stay. The place we had ended up booking, called ‘Quynh Trang Hotel’, was the best deal we found on accommodation for the entirety of our travels. For a whopping $9 CAD, we got our own private room & bathroom complete with two double beds, WiFi, air conditioning (not that we needed it), satellite TV, AND free breakfast! We were blown away with the deal. We got checked in and headed out in search of dinner.

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The rain was coming down heavy, and the streets were slightly flooded, so the search only lasted several minutes before we stumbled upon the highly rated ‘Oasis Bar’. We relaxed while chowing down on delectable and ginormous Tamarind Prawns the size of your fist. We hung out for a while enjoying cheap beers, while I played a few rounds of pool against some locals who couldn’t speak a lick of english. It was a pretty stellar evening!

The next morning we met up with the rest the of the Fantasea group to be shuttled back to a junk en route to Halong City harbour. Once we were all safely on board, we were given a Vietnamese spring roll cooking lesson for the duration of the trip. Afterwards we docked and squished into a minibus for our 3 hour trip back to Hanoi.

Upon arriving back in the major city and once again checking into ‘A Dong Hotel’, we headed out for dinner. We were tempted to indulge in ‘Bun Bo Nam Bo’ for a second time, but decided we should try something new. We settled on a restaurant called ‘Minh Thuy’s Family Restaurant’. The menu was comprised of a mixture of classic German and authentic Vietnamese dishes, inspired by the two main chefs. One of the head chefs was actually a contestant on Masterchef Vietnam! Allie opted for a German meal of roasted pork and she was practically in tears over how much she loved the potato dumplings it was plated with. I ordered a Vietnamese clay pot fish dish, which was blended with the oddest mix of asian herbs and spices and was absolutely fantastic. The whole meal (with beers) was surprisingly cheap, below $20 CAD!

The next day was our last day in Vietnam… We organized a taxi from our hotel for later that evening in order to catch our flight to the Philippines. We woke up early and enjoyed a final breakfast at ‘Kings Cafe’, our farewell lunch at ‘Banh Mi 25’, and spent the rest of the day wandering the city checking out more markets and shops, as well as indulging in an egg white coffee. By late afternoon, we ended up deciding to go see Deadpool in the surprisingly modern movie theater. The movie was awesome , BUT I was extremely disappointed and baffled as to how much of the gore was cut and censored from the movie. Every scene with an injury, impalement, or severed limb was zoomed way in on a section where you could only make out a character and some arterial spray. Vietnam must have strict censorship, as the movie was even rated 18+.

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After an evening stroll around the lake, we headed for our very last Vietnamese dinner. Since we were leaving the country that evening, we had spent almost all of our remaining Dong, therefore we were hoping to find a restaurant that would accept Visa so we didn’t have to incur any more charges for pulling out cash. It was an easy decision, as ‘Minh Thuy’s Family Restaurant’ from the night before not only had incredible food at very reasonable prices, they offered Visa as a payment method! We shared an order of the Vietnamese chicken and sticky rice dish that the lady from Masterchef made for the judges, and were blown away with how good it was. Of course Allie also made us order a side of the potato dumpling with my yummy pork schnitzel so that she could eat them one more time as well, haha!

During the entire dinner we reminisced on our time in Vietnam, and we both couldn’t shake the feeling that we REALLY weren’t ready to leave. The people we met, all of the incredible activities, the ever changing landscape from south to north, the budget prices, and the ridiculously amazing food left a lasting impression.

We sauntered back to ‘A Dong Hotel’ one last time, and a couple hours later were picked up by the taxi we had arranged, and headed to the airport.

We said goodbye to a country we grew to adore. What was supposed to be 10 days turned into 22, and if we could have had our way, we would have made it even longer. There is no doubt in our mind that one day we will return… we will be back Vietnam, for you and your tasty Banh Mis!

Love Allie and Paul
Demsky Duo Disembarked

It’s a Holiday in Cambodia

I wrote this blog entry, but Paul insisted on naming it, haha…

January 21, 2016 – The morning of our flight to Cambodia, we decided to utilize our hotel’s shuttle service to Yangon airport, but that meant we had to leave at 6 am in the morning. Our flight wasn’t until 11:50 am so we had many hours to kill, but we managed to get in a long overdue Skype session with Nettsie and Mike, so it wasn’t all bad.

After a 1 hour flight, a 6 hour layover in Bangkok, and then another 1 hour flight, we finally arrived at Siem Reap airport at around 9:00 pm. We were picked up and brought to the hotel we had booked, ‘Antique Palm Hotel’. When we got there, we were informed that we had to spend the first night at their sister hotel, ‘Dyna Boutique’, as there was an issue with the plumbing in our room. They quickly shuttled us in a tuk tuk to the other hotel, only a short drive away. We made it an early night, as we were exhausted from travelling all day long.

The next day, we moved back to our original hotel and relaxed by the pool. We ventured out to Pub Street for dinner that evening, which we followed up with drinks at the famous ‘Angkor What? Bar’. We decided that it was definitely necessary to order two ‘buckets’ so that Paul could get a free t-shirt 😉

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A little hungover the next day, we decided to take it easy by the pool again, with plans to go to Angkor Wat for sunset. We weren’t there long before a group of well dressed locals invited us to have a drink with them. They were the managers and a few employees from the 3 sister hotels, having a party in celebration of all 3 of their hotels being fully booked, so we felt obliged to accept their offer. Plus we figured a single drink may help to ease our hangover!

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The extremely friendly Cambodians continuously fed us free alcohol and Khmer (Cambodian) food until it got dark. It started with some gin and tonics, quickly moved to “tequila sunrises”, and when the hard alcohol was all out, they ran and got beer! We were persuaded to cancel our sunset plans to stay and party with them a bit longer, and by the end of the evening, they had also succeeded in convincing us to book an extra night at the hotel (for an even cheaper rate than had we paid online).

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The number of people dwindled down, as they either returned to work or headed home, but one of the men, named Rathana, stuck around until we had to leave for our late night dinner reservations. We shared some special heart-to-hearts, which as most of you know, is one of my favourite things to do 😉

After learning about his life and family, we felt inspired to ask if he knew a way we could visit a village like the one he is from. He sobbed happy tears when we asked, answering “My family! You can come and stay with my family!” He was so touched that we were genuinely interested in learning about the traditional Khmer way of life; telling us that “no tourists ever care about these things”. We told him it would be a honour, and made plans to meet up at the end of our 2 week stay in Cambodia.

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We finished off the awesome day with dinner that night at the amazing ‘Genevieve’s Restaurant’. Their famous Beef Lok Lak dish was probably the best beef dish I have ever tasted… Unfortunately, after a day of drinking, Paul doesn’t remember much of the meal, haha.

We are a little ashamed to say it, but we spent the following day relaxing by the pool, AGAIN. As you can tell, we relished in the fact that we had spoiled ourselves with a pool, and with an extra night booked now, we didn’t feel as pressed for time. Best part – it only took about $25 CAD a night to spoil ourselves with a swanky hotel in Cambodia!

We went for an Italian dinner on pub street that night and headed to bed soon after. We had made plans to start early the next morning for sunrise at Angkor Wat.

We were picked up at 4 am by our tuk tuk driver and after a very chilly 20 minute drive, we arrived at the gates to get our full day passes, which cost $20 USD per person.

We were dropped off at the main Angkor Wat pavilion where we gathered around in a large crowd for a couple hours, before the sun finally rose over a pond in front of the famous Temple. We quickly learned that Angkor Wat attracts its share of people who like to budge in front of you. We had sat for hours in a perfect spot, but when the sky finally started to light up, people managed to find a way to shove right in front of us completely blocking our view, sometimes even with tripods (deja vu of Bagan)! This spoiled the magic a little bit, but when we did manage to snag a view, the sunrise was spectacular!

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Luckily, we had gotten great advice from another local we had become friends with at the “Antique Palm Pool Party”, named Salt. He suggested we leave Angkor Wat immediately after sunrise and head to the other temples, then loop back around to Angkor later in the day when it would be less busy. So next we headed to what turned out to be our favourite Temple in the Angkor Wat complex, called Bayon. For the first 20 minutes we were pretty much alone to explore. It was very peaceful walking around the beautiful Temple, that contains some wonderful carvings and Buddha sculptures.

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We spent the rest of the day exploring all the ‘possibility of visits’ within the busy temples with our trusty Tuk Tuk driver, Mr. Savanna (tuktuk_sovann@yahoo.com), who we would strongly recommend to other people. We had hired his friendly services for the entire day from sunrise to sunset for under $20 USD!
We spent hours and hours wandering through many different temples and ancient structures; only stopping to take a break at lunch time, which included a much needed nap in public hammocks outside the restaurant.

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We continued sightseeing until sunset. I wish I could write that sunset at Angkor Wat was everything we had dreamt it would be… but unfortunately it turned out to be quite the disappointment. We queued in a line up at the famous sunset Temple, Phnom Bakheng, for a couple of hours until 5:30 pm when we we were allowed up top with a “limited group” of 298 other people (300 being the restriction). Once we had found a surprisingly perfect viewing spot, we sat and watched as the clouds only slightly lit up, while the sun set completely behind a wall of haze. Possibly the least spectacular sunset we have witnessed to date. But it was still worth it, as I’m sure we would have always regretted not attempting to see an Angkor Wat sunset.

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We returned to the hotel, had dinner and a couple of beers with Salt and Chen (friends from the hotel), before heading to bed exhausted.

The Angkor Wat Temples were very amazing and we can see why they are considered a wonder of the world, but given the choice between Angkor Wat and the Pagodas of Bagan (Myanmar), we would without a doubt choose Bagan. Although we fear with time, they will become just as busy as Angkor and won’t hold the same magic we experienced.

The next morning, we took a 6 hour bus ride to Phnom Pehn. When we arrived that evening, we checked into our hotel (Diamond Palace) and went for an awesome Mexican meal at a place called ‘Taqueria Corona Restaurant’.

We woke up the following day and walked to the Vietnam embassy to apply for our visas. Somehow we went the wrong direction and ended up wasting our whole morning trying to find the place. After finally locating it and applying for our visas, we walked to the S21 Prison or “Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum”. We were given a guided tour of the school turned prison, that was used to hold torture victims during the horrible Khmer Rouge in 1975 – 1978. Most people sent here were convicted of treason against the government, even though most of them weren’t guilty of a single thing. They’d be tortured until they admitted to whatever they were accused of and then their entire family would be rounded up and sent there as well. It held approximately 14,000 prisoners during operation and only 12 people survived. Needless to say, it was a very heavy experience… but something we felt extremely important to witness. One of the most disheartening things was that it really did not take place that long ago!

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We walked back to the area near our hotel and went for dinner at ‘Momma Wong’s Won Ton House’, which serves Japanese appetizers with an awesome twist. We had pork belly sliders, duck dumplings, and crispy Asian potato pancakes. All of them were amazing!

To follow up on S21 Prison, the next morning we visited the infamous Killing Fields or “Choeung Ek Genocidal Center”. This is where the torture victims and their families were brought to be slaughtered after they had been imprisoned at S21. Again, no words can explain the sadness that touched our hearts. We were speechless as we took the guided audio tour through the grounds, and stood where thousands of Khmer people were senselessly killed and buried in the masses. It gave us a small insight into the terrible things the people of Cambodia had to overcome. One of the facts that really shook us good, was that almost 1.7 million were killed during this 3 year period… In comparison to the total population, that was 1 out of 4 people, suddenly gone.

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On the way back we stopped to pick up our approved Vietnam visas, and then ended up at Momma Wong’s again for lunch/dinner. This time ordering a different set of dumplings and the ‘pork belly maple donuts’ that had tempted us the day before. Still didn’t disappoint!

Once back at the hotel, we waited for our shuttle bus to pick us up to go to the beach side city of Sihanoukville. It never showed, so we were forced to take a very frantic tuk tuk ride to the station, getting us there just in the nick of time. We had heard stories of the terrible buses in Cambodia, but after our first ride going smoothly, we had decided to ignore the rumours… wrongfully so. The extremely grungy and dated bus didn’t have reclining seats or any leg room, but the real icing on the cake was when it broke down. We were stopped on the side of the road for over half an hour with the smell of gasoline pouring in from somewhere down below. No explanation was given, just the occasional visit from the driver to spray air freshener throughout the cabin. Eventually we started moving again and arrived in Sihanoukville around 1:00 in the morning.

We checked into our modest hotel room (Invito), which was above a restaurant and contained a shared bathroom, even though online we had paid for a private one…

After getting some sleep, we woke up and booked our boat tickets to the island of Koh Rong, leaving only a couple hours later. We also decided to book our bus back to Siem Reap to stay with Rathana, which we had planned for a few days later.

After a 1 hour boat ride, we got to the incredible island of Koh Rong. We still had to find accommodation, as we couldn’t find anything worth reserving online. Most places were all booked up, including a few places suggested to us by other travellers, but we managed to find a super crummy shared bathroom bungalow accommodation, called ‘Cambodia Guesthouse’. All of the somewhat pathetic wooden rooms were attached under a single open air roof and you could hear EVERYTHING going on in the other rooms. Luckily it had a mosquito net… although that didn’t make us feel any better about the rat Paul saw while unpacking. We paid the $12 USD for one night, hoping to find something better for the following one (which in the end, we didn’t).

After walking along the main beach till the sun set, we indulged in some cheap ($2.50 CAD) pasta from a street food stall for dinner and then ended up at a bar called ‘Bamboo’ for a beer.

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Here we met yet another German named Max, who was working there, and we quickly became friends. We got to talking with him about how we wanted to spend a night in hammocks on ‘Long Beach’, which was on the opposite side of the island. Somehow the small talk involved into plans, and it was decided that the 3 of us would do it two nights from then. We also made the tipsy decision to book a boat snorkeling trip for the following morning… forgetting we had fresh tattoos that can’t get wet!

We rose early in the morning to go on Adventure Adam’s Boat Trip. The first stop was a small rural fishing village where we walked around for a while. We saw their primary school and the Buddhist temple they were building. We also bought fresh roasted cashews and coconuts from the locals, who were very thankful and friendly!

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We spent some time snorkeling with our tattooed arms above our heads (although I gave up protecting mine after I had had consumed a few beers, haha). We got the chance to fish over the side of the boat, with only one tourists being lucky enough to catch anything, and then had lunch cooked for us right on the boat.

We watched the sunset by Long Beach, however it was a little too cloudy to fully admire. Once it got dark, we all went swimming with glowing plankton under a brilliant glittering starry sky. That was definitely the highlight of the whole day! A very unforgettable experience.

Overall it was a very good day, even though we had to try to stay out of the water more than we would have liked. Paul basically got to play his music the entire day, so he was more than happy about that as well; however the majority of the group didn’t recognize most of his songs, especially all the Canadian artist!

We got dropped back off at shore and had a BBQ dinner at Bamboo, where we visited with some of the people we had met, and also made more solid plans with Max for the following night’s beach camping adventure.

The next morning, after another horrible sleep at the Cambodia Guesthouse, we checked out and dropped off our bags with Max at Bamboo. Then Paul & I headed to ‘4 KM Beach’ to wait until Max got off work that afternoon. We found a secluded spot to relax and ended up napping for a bit. By the time we had woken up, we were both crispy burnt. We left the beach and went for an awesome authentic lunch at a Thai place, called ‘Sigi’s Restaurant’. It’s a very small eatery just off the main strip, ran entirely by one very funny and nice older gentleman. It was another incredible Thai meal, that we once again had in a neighbouring country!

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When Max got off, we organized hammocks and picked up some alcohol and water. Because Max had dislocated his shoulder a couple weeks earlier, we decided we should take the long way around the island to the beach, instead of taking the shorter way over hills and rocks through the middle of the island. This meant that in over +30 degree sun (carrying water, booze, hammocks, and day packs), we had to climb through a local village built on rocks and then walk for another hour and half on a bulldozed dirt path, until we finally reached the 7 kms of beautiful Long Beach sand.

We could immediately see what all the fuss was about. The sand was so white and powdery, it squeaked when you walked on it! It was the exact same texture as walking on a fresh deep snowfall. The water was a mesmerizing blue, the perfect temperature, and calm enough you could float undisturbed. Barely anyone in sight, as far as the eye could see. It felt like our own deserted Island!

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Once we had found a place to set up camp, Max and Paul played with the Wababa ball in the ocean, while I watched the sun go down. Before it got dark, Paul and Max made a fire.

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We had brought some leftover Thai for dinner which I had set down on a stump while we set up camp. A short while later I returned and found it completely covered with a dense layer of 1000 tiny ants! This meant we had no food, except for a couple cookies in the bottom of Paul’s bag… But we had plenty of whiskey!

We sat around the fire and watched the stars slowly come out and twinkle all around us. We looked up and down the beach and noticed that there were no other fires in sight the entire evening. We had the whole 7 kilometre stretch to ourselves!

After playing some card games and having a couple drinks, I started feeling very rotten. I decided to go to bed early, but not before completely emptying my limited stomach contents. I managed to sleep in my hammock for a little before the boys decided they were ready to do the same. I was woken up and immediately had to run to the pitch black area behind our camp, where I continued to get sick (from every end imaginable…), while also on the verge of blacking out. It was probably the sickest I have ever felt in my life! With Paul’s help, I was finally was able to crawl back to my hammock and drift in and out of sleep until sunrise the next morning.

On top of my constant waves of nausea the whole night, the little ants that ate our dinner continued to swarm anything with scent in our bags, eventually climbing up our hammock strings to bite us. Rats were scurrying around below us and we all couldn’t seem to maintain a comfortable body temperature, switching between freezing cold and sticky warm. It definitely wasn’t the best sleep for any of us.

In the morning, Paul and Max walked to a village on the opposite end of the 7 km beach to find breakfast, while I continued to die in my hammock, from what we decided must have been severe heat stroke.

Finally we decided to make the long (and HOT) trek back to the other side of the island. Paul and Max were starting to feel pretty hungover, so they too were hurting. The trek was painful and I actually thought I may pass out a couple time, but after 2 long hours, we finally made it back to the main town.

Overall, it was quite the experience. The beach was absolutely gorgeous (definitely top of our beach list), waking up to it COMPLETELY deserted was a spectacular feeling, and we really enjoyed hanging out with our new friend Max. With some more planning ahead of time, and a little less sun during the day, it would have been a lot more enjoyable!

Max had to work that evening and we had to catch our boat back to the mainland. He let me take a freezing cold rinse off in their shower, and then we grabbed our big backpacks and were off.

Another hour long boat ride, and then a couple hours of waiting in Sihanoukville for our bus to Siem Reap. Luckily, it was a sleeper bus with full flat mats to sleep on. I took a bunch of gravol, curled into fetal position, and passed out for most of the drive. Paul unfortunately started feeling a lot like I had the night before and spent most of the trip praying for a bathroom stop. Including one ‘vomit comet’ incident right out front of the bus that may have scarred some other tourists 😦

Paul had mentioned to the bus driver multiple times that he needed to drop us off an hour before we reached Siem Reap, in the town called Dom Dek, so that we could meet Rathana and go to his village. We awoke around 8 am, and discovered we were in Siem Reap… The driver never stopped for us. When we confronted him, he said “I’m too tired, I forget”. Panicked, with no way to alert Rathana, we jump in a tuk tuk for $10 USD (basically the same cost as one of our bus tickets from Sihanoukville), to go another hour back the way we had just came from. Poor Rathana had been waiting for us for almost 2 hours!

We took the tuk tuk to his village and shortly after he gave us a tour.
His family has 2 properties in the village: The main house that has been passed down a few generations (now owned by his Sister), and a rustic farm house that his family hangs out at during the day. They all sleep at his Sister’s (including him when he visits), as it has more space, beds, some electricity, and a squatter toilet shack. The farm house has none of these things, but is a great space for hanging out and cooking meals for the whole family.

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Rathana was very concerned about our comfort, but we decided we would be more than okay with sleeping in hammocks at the farm house, as we didn’t want to be an inconvenience to anyone. Knowing him, he would have kicked someone out of their bed for us, haha!

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The first day was a little rough, as we were both still feeling terrible and often had to make the 400 meter dash to the toilet at his Sister’s house (by which I mean the squatter shack… with no running water or toilet paper).
His family was super sweet though! Constantly trying to talk to us in Khmer because they didn’t speak a word of English. We met both his parents, his Grandfather, one of his Sisters (and her Husband), his Brother (and his Wife), and their children. As well as his Uncle and Aunt, and many of his good friends. Everyone seemed extremely happy to meet us; except for Rathana’s dog, who never grew to like us… he was a little racist haha.

I helped Rathana’s Mother prepare lunch, and later on we watched as his Brother and Brother-in-Law pumped the water out of a pond on their property, in order to scoop out all the fish inside. They must have “caught” at least 20 fish, some quite large.

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Paul helped cook the fish for dinner, learning the art of chopstick barbecuing. Later Rathana’s Mom walked over and flipped the searing hot fish with her bare hands, making Paul feel a little wimpy. We ate dinner with all of his family and many of his friends that night.

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After dinner we drank beers with Rathana and his friends for a while, before convincing them that we needed to go to bed so that we would feel better for the next day. We got cozy in our hammocks, with Rathana set up on the floor, and slept decently throughout the night.

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We woke up for sunrise the next morning so we could watch and listen while Rathana’s Grandfather flew his unique kite that makes a humming noise almost like music. Apparently his Grandfather wakes up early every morning to do this (weather permitting), and Rathana misses the sound deeply when he’s away.

We had breakfast (rice porridge) with his family before heading out on scooters to a temple called Beng Mealea, about an hour away. The drive through the countryside was gorgeous!

The temple complex was a similar yet smaller version of the Angkor Wat Temples, but just as popular with Chinese tourists! The structures were more destroyed and consumed by plant life than a lot of the temples in the Angkor complex, but that just added to the beauty. Rathana and his close friend showed us around for the better part of the day.

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After driving back and enjoying some lunch, Rathana took us to meet his Uncle who farms palm sugar. His property is in the same village, just a few hundred meters away, and it is filled with palm trees.
First Rathana’s Aunt showed us how she hand makes hammocks that she sells to other villagers. It takes her a whole week to make one, costs her $5 USD in supplies, and she sells them for only $10 USD! We thought about buying one ourselves, but the one she was working on wouldn’t be ready for a few days and we really didn’t have ANY room in our bags.

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We watched as her husband, who we later learned was 55 years old, scaled palm trees on rickety wood ladders that he had built himself. He then squeezes out the flower of the palm tree to gather the syrup into pails. There were probably 10+ palm trees and each one could be harvested twice a day. His Uncle wakes up at 4 am to start collecting and doesn’t finish his day until 4 pm! 12 hours of climbing up and down impossibly tall trees… Not surprisingly, his muscles were HUGE! He looked like a Cambodian Popeye after a tub of spinach!

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They let us have a taste of the fresh palm juice, and eat some of the tasty palm fruit that the trees also produce. Then they showed us how they turn the juice into pure palm sugar, which we also got to taste (my favourite part… of course!).

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After returning to Rathana’s farm house, we were met by the “Village Manager”. Being the talk of the town, I guess he had heard we were staying and came to get more details. Since we were the first tourists to visit, he was quite curious. He told Rathana’s family that they should have reported our presence, so that they could have increased security to look out for our safety. He also asked Rathana multiple times if we were “sure we wanted to stay in the farmhouse” and not at the Guesthouse in the nearby town. Rathana had to explain, on our behalf, that we knew what we were getting into and that we preferred to stay with his family.

Before dinner that night, Rathana took us and some of the local kids for a ride on their tractor around the village’s different farms. The sun was setting and it was so beautiful! The kids riding with us spent the drive pointing things out to me so that I could teach them the English translation. It was super cute!

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I also finally caught one of the many baby chicks that were running around the farm; something I had been trying unsuccessfully to do since we had arrived.

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Again, many family members and friends joined for dinner that night. It was extremely impressive how many people they could cook for with the tiniest and most basic of kitchens. And all the meals we had were extremely good! A lot of them a bit of a mystery… but still very delicious!

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More beers were enjoyed that night, some paid for by ‘winning beer tabs’ we collected from the night before! The Angkor Beer company in Cambodia has free beers (and apparently much bigger prizes) you can win from the pull tabs on their cans. Kind of like a more awesome version of ‘roll up the rim’ at Tim Horton’s. Paul and I had previously never won any beers on our own, probably because we always bought single beers at mini marts. On the first night of drinking with Rathana’s friends however, we had collected 10 free beers out of a case of 24! On the second night we collected another 9!
Paul also took the liberty of teaching Rathana how to shotgun a beer, haha.

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We were spoiled with more and more traditional food, which apparently is a custom in Cambodia. Instead of potato chips and other drunken snack food, they prepare another whole meal! First his Mother and Sister cooked a chicken, then they smashed the entire thing (bones included!) in a mortar bowl with fantastic smelling herbs and a bunch of spices. When Rathana saw how confused we were at them crushing the bones into the mixture, he explained that they would simply move aside… This was not true! But oh my gosh, was the dish ever amazing! Juicy shredded chicken with fresh chilis, peanuts, and the most fragrant herbs we had ever tried. But we did have to pick around the bones and tendons, which everyone else though was very strange. We tried to explain that at home we don’t normally eat certain parts of the animal. They would laugh, toss a whole piece into their mouth, crunch down all the hard bits, and swallow.

We had a great night listening to classic Khmer music (which is actually very catchy), including a live performance by Rathana’s Brother-in-law on a traditional Cambodian bow string instrument called the ‘Tro’.

The next morning we had to wake up early to catch our 8:30 am bus to Vietnam. Rathana shuttled us one by one on his scooter with our big backpacks to the Dom Dek bus station.

While he took Paul, I got the chance to sit with his Mother and Sister. His mom held my hand so tightly, with her calloused, but still tissue paper soft skin. We took turns speaking to each other, neither one of us understanding what the other was saying. We laughed and hugged, and I didn’t want to leave her embrace… It touched my heart so deeply, the kindness of these strangers who took us in, treated us like family, and shared with us their world. It was such a wonderful and humbling experience.

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We said goodbye to our new brother, Rathana, thanking him profusely for all he did, and boarded our 12 hour bus ride to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

Cambodia did not turn out at ALL like we had expected, but are we ever grateful for how it did! Some of our favourite memories from the trip will definitely be from the time we spent at Rathana’s village. We hope to visit Cambodia, and especially Rathana’s family, again someday soon.

Thanks for reading!
Until next time.

Love Allie and Paul
Demsky Duo Disembarked

The Magic of Myanmar

To kick off this leg of the trip, I just wanted to give you a tiny briefing about the country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and why we decided to visit. It’s not on many people’s radar as a travel destination, but anyone who’s travelled South East Asia will have heard from other visitors of its magic.

I’m lucky to be a part of such a large family back home; one fully stocked with adventurers bitten by the never satisfied travel bug. Before we set out on our trip, we sat down with a few of my close cousins and got many great ideas and pieces of advice. My cousin Steve and his wife Shauna had travelled S.E. Asia (and more) in similar fashion to what we were doing, and had recently went to visit Myanmar on a 2 week vacation. They highly recommended it, and boy are we glad we added it to our itinerary.

The country was long ruled by a military dictatorship, that is until economic standstill and extreme currency devaluation in 1987-88, which prompted anti-government riots to break out. The dictator party’s response was to throw the entire country into an Orwellian type nightmare for decades.

Over a very long period of time, internal and external forces brought on democratic reform. In 2012, media censorship was abolished, allowing the World Wide Web to FINALLY become available to its citizens without aggressive censorship. Being able to freely access the internet, the people were astounded at their lack of development in comparison to the rest of the world. It could be very risky, even dangerous, to travel to Myanmar until 2012 due to its strong military presence and rogue rebel groups that ravished the countryside.

They’ve been in constant political and civil unrest for years and years, and only this past Fall was a proper election finally held and won by the opposition called the ‘National League for Democracy’, led by 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

Tourism has only been fully open for a few years, and we were so very happy to see it now, and not in the future. They seem to be rapidly embracing democracy, technology, and the many things that make a country become a tourist hotspot.

We flew out from Bangkok and arrived in the Myanmar capital city of Yangon on January 7, 2016, where we boarded a shuttle bus to our hotel around 7:00 pm. The 18 km drive took us over 2 HOURS! A true testament to the traffic in the bustling and poorly regulated streets. With the experience of heavy psychotic traffic in multiple countries’ major cities under our belts now, it didn’t really phase us. What did though, was our first real experience of culture shock.

It was like going back in time, seeing what major Asian metropolises would have looked like 20 years ago. Everything was dated; buses, cars, shop fronts, and clothing worn by the locals. We were in awe.

We checked into our hotel called ‘Ocean Pearl Inn II’, and were introduced to staff who were above and beyond genuinely nice. Everyone we encountered in Myanmar was very helpful and kind; and it didn’t feel at all like any of them were after our money. The people have adapted to tourism very well, prompting many to learn how to speak English from local courses or online through Youtube videos. We were blown away by how well some of them spoke it, some having only learned it a couple of years or even months ago.

One ‘minus’ we encountered however, was the hotels and guest houses were grossly overpriced in Myanmar. For a mediocre room, with a double bed and bathroom it cost around $40 CAD. At this first particular hotel we did get ‘free breakfast’ included, but we found out the following morning that it was instant coffee, toast, and a banana.

Anyways, we dropped our bags and walked out onto the streets. It’s quite humid and warm there, even at night. The street neighbouring our hotel had quite a pungent aroma; being a small market lined with fresh fish, meat, veggies, and fruit that roasted in the hot sun all day.

Kiddie corner to our hotel entrance was a small restaurant packed with locals, which is typically a really good sign. We hadn’t eaten for several hours, and at that point just wanted to find something nearby. We thought what better way to get accustomed to the local cuisine, than to just dive right in!

We sat down at a little plastic table set, with chairs too small for kindergarteners, and looked at a menu board with pictures of dishes and Burmese writing. An eager young boy, no older than 10 came to our table to take our order. We quickly realized all the servers and even the chef we could see in the back were ridiculously young. We tried to speak to the boy, he didn’t know too much English, but he was the ONLY one that knew any. We asked what he suggested and he pointed up to the menu board at a noodle dish, so we agreed. We got tea and coffee, and the dishes that came out turned out to be some sort of Burmese spiced peanut chicken(?) spaghetti noddle. Surprisingly delicious!

We finished up and after several minutes of trying to get over the language barrier, asked for our bill. The cute little lad ran back up to our table and asked me kindly for 1,100 Myanmar Kyat (pronounced ‘chat’). I was floored. Earlier at the airport I had pulled out nearly 300,000 MMK for approx $325 CAD. That translates to our whole meal costing us an absolutely astounding $1.20! We could get used to this! 😆

Afterwards we walked up and down the nearby sidewalks in sheer astonishment. There were shop cross houses in dilapidated buildings, clusters of street vendors, constant heavy traffic, modestly dressed people always offering up a smile as we passed, and no other ‘white people’- or tourists as far as the eye could see. There were no 7-Elevens, fast food joints, or busy ‘Westernized’ bars or restaurants.

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Countries we had visited so far had signage and advertisements written in the local language AND English; not here though. Almost everything was written in traditional Burmese, which uses none of the ‘alphabet’ letters. The language is beautifully written, with lots of circles, c’s, arches and doohickeys, and is impossible to attempt any recognition as an outsider.

Without any idea of which way even being up, we retreated back to the hotel to do some research for the coming weeks.

The next morning we had scheduled appointments with the highest rated and recommended tattoo artist in Yangon for a consult. I had been looking into getting something small done in Thailand, but with New Year’s and our rapid schedule through the country, it was never feasible. I wanted something written in a foreign language that was without the use of typical letters; Thai being a good option. With that chance past, my only other possibility during our trip was Myanmar, and holy moly I’m glad it worked out that way.

We met with the only artist at the Golden Dragon Tattoo shop, named Ye Kyaw Myat. I showed him what I was looking for, he whipped up a stencil right away, and we set a date for the session. Unfortunately he was all booked up for the next couple of weeks, but managed to find a slot for me. Allie was flipping through a book of traditional Burmese art all the while, and came across a cute little elephant drawing. She asked Ye Kyaw if he could squeeze a small window of time in to get it tattooed as well, and scored us a decent price for the pair.

We had initially planned only 1 week in Myanmar, but with the only available appointment being nearly 2 weeks away, we were “forced” to extend our plans. This didn’t bother us in the least! 😁

With the knowledge of having to be back in Yangon on a specific date, we needed to book our accommodation and flight out for the end of our trip. But first, lunch!

We went to what is probably the busiest and most famous eatery in Yangon called ‘999 Shan Noodle House’. It’s a packed tiny restaurant with 2 floors, crammed with tiny tables, locals, and tourists. The food was delicious, and again, extremely easy on the wallet. If I remember correctly, our entire meal cost us well under $5 CAD once again.

Afterwards, we went back to Ocean Pearl Inn II and thoroughly planned and booked all the necessary things for the next 2 weeks.

The next day we explored the city of Yangon a little more, and came across the beautiful St. Mary’s Cathedral.

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Further south near the Yangon River, we paid the minimal fee and went into Botahtaung Pagoda. It is said that they house some ancient remnants of Buddha here, including some of his teeth and hair. After wandering for a while, we were approached by a monk who shuttled us around showing and including us in multiple Buddhist prayers. He couldn’t speak a word of English, but was a fun and interesting guide through the busy tourist attraction.

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We then explored the city for awhile, looking to restock on supplies such as toothpaste, sunscreen, and what have you. Oh yeah, sunscreen. If there was anything I could suggest to a traveller going to S.E. Asia for an extended period of time, it’s to bring lots of sunscreen. It’s SO expensive everywhere else! We’re talking near $20 CAD for a super small bottle. Unfortunately for us, I forgot I had our last Banana Boat 30 SPF (brand new at that point) tucked into the very bottom of my backpack, which I then brought through Bangkok International as a carry on… didn’t make it through security with it… bone head move.

Anyways, Myanmar didn’t have a lot of Western brands or items, and it was extremely difficult to find specific things, especially at affordable prices. After procuring a few necessities, we returned to our room and packed our bags.

We had arranged an overnight bus from Yangon to the city of Bagan for later that evening. But first, we had to make our way to the main bus station an hour and a half drive outside of the city. We ended up chatting with a Swiss couple who were heading to Bagan as well, so we opted to split a taxi together.

During our ride, we brought up the fact that our booked bus was the hotel’s cheapest available option, and the couple expressed that we may have made a huge mistake. They were booked on a ‘V.I.P. bus’, which seated about half the people and cost over 25% more. They were told by friends to always take the V.I.P. option while travelling Myanmar.

We grew a little nervous hearing this, but tried to make light of the situation; cracking jokes the whole drive by pointing at dismembered ratty buses stuffed to the brim with locals and referring to them as ‘our bus’.

We arrived at the swarming chaotic station where we separated from the Swiss couple in attempts to find our own bus company’s banner. The whole area is crammed with taxis, buses, and shuttles of all types; as well as different companies and crew members shuffling about and yelling over the air brakes and exhaust.

We found our bus and to our surprise, it looked normal! We boarded and were delighted at the more than decent seats, blanket, and bottle of water waiting for us. We were relieved and flabbergasted at how much better it was than the vision the Swiss couple had installed in us. The bus departed shortly and wove through the streets, stopping periodically for bathroom breaks.
11 hours later, we arrived in Bagan before the sun had even rose. I wanted to rush to our hotel, check in, and then take off to find a beautiful view for the coming sunrise. We were quite tired though, having not slept the greatest on a winding bus through the night, and at that point we were actually missing out on the room we had booked for that entire night.

We got to our hotel called ‘May Kha Lar Guest House’, and awoke a staff member sleeping on a bench in the lobby. He was a little disoriented, asked us a few questions, shoved a key in my hand, and directed us towards our room before making his way back to the bench in a daze. As we gathered our things from the lobby, another tourist wandered in and asked if there were any more rooms available. The groggy man said no, and waved the solo traveller away. Good thing we booked our room ahead!

We got into our room which has actually quite drab and cruddy. The washroom was gross, with mold and nasty dated everything. I checked the bedding and frame for bugs, and tested out the uncomfortable spring lump of a mattress. Before our 3 night stay was through, I even found a decent sized cockroach skittering across our floor. I put a glass over it trapping it, and left it as a surprise for the cleaners.

Even though the room left much to be desired, it still cost us approximately $45 CAD a night! Although, it did include breakfast; which we missed the first morning because they failed to tell us that it ended at 9 am. I think besides our first few nights in our private Villa in Seminyak, Bali, that may have been our most expensive stay to date. Not to mention that it actually had really great reviews compared to all of the other accommodations in the area, which begged me to wonder what a real ‘budget’ accommodation would have looked like.

After a short rest in our grunge pad, we went to the rental shop next door and rented an E-Bike for the next 3 days. It was very similar to the scooters we had rented over the past month or 2, but ran on electricity and was dead silent while driving. We began cruising around in search of some brunch.

Bagan is essentially set up in an L shape of 3 towns: Old Bagan, New Bagan, and Nyaung-U (where we were staying). Most of the Pagodas (which are the main attraction for tourists) are scattered primarily around Old Bagan. Nyaung-U is the closest to the bus station you arrive at, making New Bagan the furthest and most expensive to reach upon arriving.

Somewhere between Nyaung-U and Old Bagan is a street lined with the highest rated restaurants among the 3 townships. We peeked at a few on TripAdvisor, and noticed the area housed the majority of them. We decided on a place called ‘Weatherspoon’. After pondering for a few, I ended up ordering “The Best Burger in Asia”, which was amazing, and Allie got a fantastic veggie burger.

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We went back to May Kha Lar Guest House afterwards, and with the help of our super friendly receptionist, we set up and mapped out a plan to visit the famous pagodas. The vast countryside of Myanmar is scattered with over 4000 of these ancient temples. We planned a route and time frame to visit most of the highly recommended ones, including multiple sunsets and a sunrise.

First up was a trip just south of Old Bagan to North Guni Pagoda for sunset.
The drive was amazing to say the least. Cruising on paved highway with sightlines to towering pagodas off each side whizzing by. We eventually hit our turnoff, where you begin the off road e-bike trek to the specific pagoda you want to visit. Some of these ‘driveways’ were smooth and well driven, while others were bumpy as hell or had deep trenches of sand. The sand was the worst, as you’d lose almost complete control and fight gravity to stay upright. We did have one minor wipe out the next day… no injuries though, and all part of the fun!

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So sunset, right, we were on our way to the temple we had chosen to watch our first Myanmar sunset. While traversing the dirt and sand road, we happened to pass the most popular sunset pagoda called Shwe-san-daw Pagoda, which consists of 3 viewing levels. We could see from quite a ways away that it was already PACKED with people, making us nervous for the scene at North Guni. We ended up there with tons of time to spare, and it was nowhere near as busy as the other more popular pagoda. We set up in a wicked spot, and spent an hour or so watching the sun disappear over the enchanted landscape.

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The next day we were up bright and early to make our continental breakfast, then immediately hit the road on our super sweet electric scooter! We drew a small tour on the map for ourselves, and visited somewhere near 20 beautiful, compelling, ancient Pagodas. It was an unbelievable experience!

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Each one was completely different from the next, with its own carvings, different Buddha, architectural shape, or secret passage ways that made it completely unique. Most of them were at one point Hindu temples of worship, but over a long period of time were converted to Buddhist Pagodas. Some of the Hindu touches were still left behind however.

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By early afternoon, we felt we had fully explored more than enough of the fascinating temples; even though we could have gone to hundreds more if need be… With time on our side, Allie and I decided to hit up the Shwe-san-daw Pagoda for sunset, the one we passed that was PACKED with people the day prior.

Once we arrived, still 2 hours before the sun actually went down, it was already swarming with tourists! Well, Chinese tourists mostly… and they all had their massive tripods set up blocking all views and decent spots to watch the celestial orb drop behind the Burmese mountains. Some of them had multiple tripods and cameras going, taking up several meters of prime viewing real estate for themselves alone. We luckily managed to snag a super sweet spot right on the very edge of the dramatic Chinese tripod infestation.

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At one point, Allie spotted some farmers herding their cattle toward the direction of our line of sight, and she bet me the Chinese tourists were gunna go nuts. Sure enough, as soon as they crossed into view on the planes below under the setting sun, cameras went off like machine guns in a World War. She totally called it, and it was quite funny!

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We relaxed, took some photos, and observe one of our favourite sunsets to date.

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Once the sun dipped behind the distant mountains, we headed to a very modest restaurant and local eatery for dinner, called the ‘Shwe Ou Food Garden’. We were the only tourists there we could see, and we ate a pretty good authentic meal while enjoying extremely cheap beers and laughing at the constant ‘kissing noises’ emitting from the crowd.

Oh yeah, so 2 things.
First, traditional mannerisms in Myanmar are inclusive of making extremely loud and crude kissing noises at your server… to ask for the bill of course! Every time we heard it, we giggled a little. Allie actually became pretty proficient at it by the end of our visit!
Secondly, beer is SO cheap! We don’t remember exactly, but I think it was somewhere around 700 MMK for a pint or 1400 MMK for a fourty (1.14 litres), equivalent to 75¢ and $1.50 respectively. They had the similar tourist brands of basic 5% beer, but also had Dagon & Mandalay ‘Strong’, which were near the 8% alcoholic content. A good change from the Bintang / Tiger / Singha beer taste.

I’m not going to go into too much detail, but they also had pretty damn good whiskey at absolutely ridiculous prices. It could be an alcoholic’s paradise, Hahaha!

We packed it in early that night, having to check out of our guest house in the morning. There was still one thing we hadn’t yet covered while in Bagan: an infamous sunrise. If you Google Bagan, you’ll typically see pictures of a hazy sunrise dousing the magical land in fog and beautiful colours. We had to see it for ourselves!

We got up at a rough 4:00 am, and made our way to the ‘best sunrise pagoda’, called Dhamma-yan-gyi Pahto. We hopped on the E-Bike and drove through the pitch black on the deserted roads and dusty pathways. Another thing that has eluded my mentioning so far, is also how cold it actually gets in Bagan. It’s situated much higher North than anywhere we had been on our trip so far, prompting temperatures to plummet at night. Needless to say, driving in the stark cold in the dead of night was not pleasant in the slightest! I think it was somewhere around 12 °C, which doesn’t sound bad at all, but when you’re in shorts and acclimatized to at least 10 degrees warmer, it gives the bones a good rattling.

We got to Dhamma-yan-gyi Pagoda, parked our E-Bike, and headed up to the very top to find a nice spot for viewing the impending sunrise. Again, it was already stuffed with more tourists than we could count, but we managed to situate ourselves in a pretty good spot where we could see just over the tops of the Chinese tripod & camera wielding heads.

A couple hours later, and the land began to emerge beneath us from the shroud of darkness. It was so breathtaking, words cannot describe. Wisps of fog danced between pagodas and trees, tall ancient temples danced in the shadows and oncoming light, and then the hot air balloons took flight. Over a dozen balloons ascended and came into view over the vast landscape, giving us some of our favourite pictures from our trip thus far! It was like something out of a fairy tale complete with a gushy happy ending.

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After taking it all in, we headed back to May Kha Lar Guest House, packed our bags, and checked out. With a few hours to spare, we decided to go somewhere a little different for lunch. Myanmar does have it’s own identity as far as food and local dishes are concerned, but they’re also directly inspired by the 4 bordering countries. Because of this, they also have extremely good and authentic Thai, Indian, Nepalese, and Chinese food. For our final meal in Bagan we decided to go for our first ‘Indian’ meal at a p[lace called “Wonderful Tasty”. We ordered some Chicken Masala and O. M. G! It was to die for! Allie still says it was probably her favourite meal on our trip.

After eating our fill, we scooped up our bags and boarded our overnight bus to Kalaw; another 9 hour bus ride. By now we both were pretty efficient at sleeping on buses, and the highways in Myanmar were somewhat straight and not AS bumpy as some of the other countries we have visited. However the last stretch of the drive was extremely windy and uncomfortable. Most S.E. Asian bus drivers tend to go AS FAST AS THEY POSSIBLY CAN AROUND EVERY CORNER! ALL THE TIME!

We arrived at 2:00 in the morning, and we’re a little nervous about what we were going to do. We didn’t have a room booked until the following evening, which means we weren’t supposed to be able to check in for another 12 hours! We stumbled through the dark and deserted streets of the small town for about a half hour, before finally coming across our accommodation called ‘Nature Land Hotel’. There were 2 teenaged boys manning the gate, and we inquired about our room for the next evening. Without hesitating, they looked up our name and handed us our room key! SCORE! Free bed for 12 hours! We didn’t know what we would have done to kill time if it didn’t work out.

After several more hours of sleep, we were even greeted with free breakfast in the morning. Again, we weren’t even supposed to be checked in for several more hours!

We spent the day wandering the small town’s marketplace, cheap restaurants, and we booked our ‘Trek’ for the next day; the sole reason we were there. The city of Kalaw is the starting point to an epic 3 day 2 night hike through the Myanmar countryside, traditional tribes, and villages. We booked our tour through ‘Ever Smile Trekking’, for around $60 CAD each; which included a guide, all meals, and accommodation at farm houses along the way! Pretty awesome deal if you ask me. We were told that the maximum was a group of 8, and they already had 7 for tomorrow, but they would squeeze us in to finalize a group of 9.

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With everything booked we relaxed at our hotel for a few hours before heading to dinner. We ate at a quaint little house that was called ‘Thirigayha Restaurant’. Here I ordered one of my favourite meals thus far; a Nepalese dish of fish and spices steamed in banana leaf pyramids. It was so freaking good!

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We hit the hay early, packing all of our necessary gear into our day packs for the next 3 days.
The next morning we handed our big bags off to Ever Smile, and they shipped them to our final destination of the trek.

We were then informed that there was 20 people now booked to leave for the trek that morning with us! A huge change from the maximum of 8 they quoted us a day earlier. We were split into 2 groups of 10, and damn did we ever get lucky.

Our group consisted of:

– The French mademoiselles, Stephanie and Laurene
– Francis, an extreme friendly Greek from London
– Hannah from Finland, who spoke the most fluent English, we thought she was from North America
– Our new Canadian buddy Nolan, who hails from Roughrider Nation
– And the 3 Dutch musketeers, who all were travelling on their own: Loes, Joram, and the absolute hilarious and infamous Ab (pronounced UP).

To round things off we were given the world’s sweetest and most amazing guide, Mary.
We all set off together around 9:00 am, and quickly made friends as a group.

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We trekked for hours through ever changing beautiful landscapes. There were farms, rice fields, mountainsides, isolated towns, lakes; you name it! And almost everywhere you looked was another stunning view.

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Each day we hiked roughly 20 kms, before coming to a very small village where we slept in the loft of a farmhouse. No running water, barely any electricity, and nightly cold snaps that prompted us to huddle in cocoons of stacks and stacks of blankets.

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We became a very tight nit group, exchanging stories and travel ideas among many gut wrenchingly funny anecdotes from the forever young Ab. We invited Mary our guide to hang out with us the first night, and we asked her a bunch of questions about her country and culture. She said it was the first time she had ever really hung out with a group on one of her tours, which she had been doing for a few months now. We were very happy to spend time with her, and it showed again how awesome of a group we luckily were a part of.

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The only difficulties Allie and I faced over the 3 days of hiking was a the fact that our feet were COVERED in blisters! It made no sense to us, as we were wearing our boots that we had been using in Vancouver for almost 2 years! After the first day, Allie stopped wearing hers. By the end of the second day, I stopped wearing mine. And to join the party, Nolan had switched out of his Converse kicks. That translates to the 3 Canadians in the group all wearing socks and sandals for the entirety of the third day!

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We’re a little worried that our trusty boots caused us so much pain, since we’ll be wearing them for 6 days on Kilimanjaro. We do think however that the very flat landscape contributed to it mostly, as there wasn’t a lot of ups and downs, which we’re much more used to.

After 3 amazing days of trekking about 60 km, incredible authentic cuisine, breathtaking views of ever changing landscapes, taking in glorious sunsets with cold beers, and enough laughs to give everyone 6 packs, we reached our final destination of Inle Lake. We parted ways with Mary, and each one of us gave her a big hug. She was the best!

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Right after we all boarded a very narrow boat carved out of a single tree, and cruised through the narrow shallow waterways through marshes and floating villages before hitting the open lake. The whole boat ride was approximately 45 mins, and offered great views of the nearby mountains and lake culture. I snapped some cool pictures of traditional fisherman balancing on the tip of their boat, steering/paddling, and casting their net. It was a pretty cool and serene ride after 3 long days of dusty trails.

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On the other side of the Lake, we arrived at the main town where all of us kept together to find ‘Lady Princess Hotel’, which was where our large bags and luggage were transported to. Allie and I had already booked a room there before the trek (coincidentally), and everyone else checked in and got a room alongside ours, except for Ab who had booked a room in a hotel down the road.
DESPERATELY needing showers, we all bolted into our rooms with plans to meet up once again in a couple of hours.

Feeling clean and refreshed, we all met back up looking dapper as hell, finally not covered in a thick layer of Myanmar red dirt. Almost everyone was baffled to find out I actually had long curly hair; yes, that’s how dirty and greasy we had been, Hahaha!

Once the crew was all together again, we went to ‘One Owl Grill’ down the street and all ordered a much needed hamburger or chicken burger. They were soooo good… Unfortunately though, the alcohol prices ran quite high, so we moved our group of 10 further into town and found a super cheap local restaurant. We drank, told stories, and laughed until we closed down the bar.

The night was pretty messy, and even ended with me playing air guitar and screaming along with Queen at the top of my lungs on a table at the hotel… Yeah, one of those nights. We also lost our first item on our trip; Allie’s purse. It only contained some makeup, small medicine bag, and her phone… The phone definitely sucked, but it was pretty damaged as is, and Allie took it as a sign from the universe to be more disconnected from the internet for the rest of our trip.

OH! Almost forgot. At one point during the evening, we even got into a game of ‘Never Have I Ever’, which was going swimmingly until we came to Ab. He had drank at EVERY person’s turn, and when we finally got to him and explained that he had to say something that he’s never done, keeping in mind that we drink if we have. He sat there stumped for a couple minutes, before finally lighting up, looking around and bellowing, “Fuckin’ he’ll, I don’t know, I’ve done everything!”

We still laugh thinking about that moment. The man was a legend, always cracking wise jokes and making everyone around him smile. There was another moment during the trek I’ll never forget. It was mid morning and another tour guide needed to pass off her group of 9 trekkers, so that she could go back and get something that was left behind. Of course the lovely Mary obliged, and we were absolved into a larger group of 19. The 9 newcomers were mostly all women, and VERY easy on the eye, if you catch my drift… 😉

We were only walking with them for a few minutes before coming to a clearing where a really run down Pagoda was disintegrating into ruins, and Mary told us of an old tale. The temples were to be refurbished and restored at one point, but a GIANT snake had moved in and ate some of the local townsfolk. The snake guarded the Pagoda and is said to still be resting and awaiting more victims, prompting the villagers to never attempt another reconstruction.

During the telling of this tale, Ab had disappeared in the bushes right behind the ruins (most likely to drain the main vain), and reappeared just as Mary finished. I shouted over to him asking if he found the Giant Snake.

Without missing a beat, he shouted back, grabbing everyone’s attention, and said,
“Giant Snake! You betcha, I got him right here!”
And reached into his pants as if he was about to flop out his you-know-what right in front of us all! The female newcomers who had no idea who this man was and hadn’t spoke a single word, stood frozen and absolutely MORTIFIED beyond belief, while our original group of 10 burst into laughing fits that brought tears!

I miss the man. He was a blast, and I think I can speak for us all saying he helped make our trek such a memorable one. If you read this Ab, Cheers buddy!

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Anyways, the next day we met back up again and rented bicycles. The town is a little too spread out to explore just on foot, so we all acquired some wheels, and headed to some hot springs which were recommended on travel websites. A 20 km ride later, we arrived and were shocked to see an asking price of 10 USD per person for entry. Wise Francis asked if we could all take a peek at the spring pools to determine if it was worth it. DEFINITELY NOT. Basically a small circular wooden tub with some warm water in it. We also heard there was some free ones nearby, so Francis enquired and we we directed to 2 questionable bathing pools that were separated for each sex. No one was touching the water in there either!

Although the hot springs were a bust, we were all delighted to be spending more time together. After a quick bite nearby, we headed further down the road where some locals waved us all onto one of the narrow boats to get back across instead of biking it. We all piled into one and our bikes in another, and took another lovely boat ride across Inle Lake.

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Once we reached the other side, our group split, as Hannah needed to return to the town to catch her bus. The 3 Dutch folk, (Loes, Joram, and Ab), as well as Allie and I hit up the local Myanmar winery hidden in the countryside! Allie and Loes were SOOO excited for some nice wine, but once we tasted our wine samples, they both were unable to satisfy their cravings… Not the best wine I had ever tasted either… Kind of a weird fruity with a hint of gym socks.
We ended up purchasing the cheapest bottle of white that was from ANOTHER winery (go figure), and watched the sunset over their grape vines. It was quite nice!

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Then the 5 of us biked back to the hotel, a little wobbly, and in the dark. It was almost pitch black and took nearly 40 mins, but luckily we had the well practised Dutch cyclists to guide us.

Still not not sick of each other, the remainder of the group ate dinner together that night and met up once again the next morning. Ab had taken off to his next destination, and our group had thinned a little, but the few of us went to explore a nearby monastery and art temple called Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery and Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung.

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Afterwards, the 6 of us stumbled upon this empty but incredible bar called ‘Eden Bar & Snacks’. The owner was so enthusiastic and wonderful. He kept bringing us alcoholic drinks, and sandwiches to taste test for him and give feedback. It was awesome! We all got a little tipsy, and before we knew it, we had to RUSH back to our hotel so Allie and I could make it in the nick of time to catch the shuttle for our overnight bus back to Yangon.

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We said farewell to the close group of friends, who for a short time, were nothing less than family.

We drove 11 hours through the night and arrived back in Yangon around 6:00 am.
We checked back into Ocean Pearl Inn II, since the location was great and the price was reasonable (for Myanmar).
That night we went to a small Thai restaurant called the ‘Green Gallery’. The decor was chic hipster looking, almost as if it were a restaurant in downtown Vancouver. We ordered a Penang and Yellow Curry. They were absolutely incredible, probably the best Thai we had each ever tasted. In Yangon, Myanmar of all places, go figure!

First thing the next morning, we returned to Golden Dragon Tattoo, where we each got a small piece done for a grand total of $100 USD. I got lyrics from the band Northlane written in traditional Burmese, and Allie got a very tiny intricate elephant, which Ye Kyaw added tons of free hand personal touches and almost microscopic fine details. Both of us were very happy with the results!

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Now, to nurse these puppies by keeping them clean and out of the sun or water for a few weeks… What fun!

Afterwards, we returned to ‘999 Shan Noodle House’ for a second helping of the deliciously cheap noodle dishes. We spent a couple more hours wading through the mind boggling culturally opposite streets of what we now knew to be the norm.

That night we took it easy, and looked over all of our pictures from the past couple of weeks. Damn was it amazing.

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Allie and I have been asked over the past couple of months to recommend our favourite place we’ve visited, and we always respond in sync, “MYANMAR!” Without question, the most amazing place we’ve travelled to.

I don’t know if it was the overly generous and genuine people, cheap delicious food (and beer!), the breathtaking landscapes, the history of the country itself and it’s thousands of ancient pagodas, or just the overall magic it seems to emulate; we fell in love.

We can’t recommend enough to all those heading to S.E. Asia for some travelling to ensure you pass through the enchanted land. In only a short period of time, maybe even a couple of years, the overall complexion of the country will change dramatically due to their rapid growth in new technology and democracy, and the obscenely high amounts of incoming tourist traffic. Although it is great for their economy, it usually brings things like scammers, thieves, closed down or regulated attractions, higher prices for EVERYTHING, and just an overall loss of the ‘magic’ we felt.

Thanks for taking the time to read that hefty entry. More to come!

Love Paul and Allie
Demsky Duo Disembarked

Countdown in Chiang Mai, and Sweet Singburi

Paul felt I would be better at capturing the “mushiness” of visiting elephants and teaching English to children, so it’s my turn to write again!

Boxing day afternoon, we took a 3 hour ferry ride to Chumphon Pier, where we waited for about 2 hours, before taking an 8 hour ride on a big overnight coach bus to Bangkok. After a long 13 hour day, we arrived a few blocks away from our hotel near Khao San Road at around 3:00 in the morning. Luckily, the man who owned the hotel we had booked for the following evening (Amarin Inn) let us check in early… a whole 8 hours early!

After sleeping for a few hours, we hit the streets of Bangkok. We did some shopping on Khao San Road and sampled some street food. Paul decided to spoil himself with his first Thai Massage, while I opted for a pedicure. Both cost us around $10 CAD each!
We visited a travel agency to book our bus tickets to Chiang Mai; actually, we visited a few agencies, as almost everything was booked up for New Years. I guess a lot of people (including locals who get a week off for New Years) had the same idea as us! We ended up getting the last couple seats on a VIP bus for the next evening. It cost us a couple dollars more than the regular night bus, but we were promised Oreos and water, so I guess that made it worth it 😉

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Our next day turned out to be… interesting. We were wandering the streets when we met a local who was very nice. He told us he was a teacher and about how it was a Thai holiday today. Apparently all the temples were free to visit, and tuk tuks were super cheap. We had nothing in particular planned to do, so we were excited about the chance to do some more exploring for cheap. He gave us a map and drew out where some of the good temples were, marked a stop at something called “Thai Export”, and told us that a tuk tuk should take us to all of them for 10 baht each (less than $1 total). We asked him if he could flag us a tuk tuk and he happily obliged. We thanked him, and as we drove away, we couldn’t stop talking about how nice that was of him! Maybe a little too nice…

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The tuk tuk driver took us to the first temple where another generous local told us some history about the 200 year old building and Buddha statue that was covered in gold and gemstones. We chatted for a little and he also mentioned the Thai holiday to us, being sure to include that suits were half price for the holiday as well.

Next the driver took us to “Thai Export”, which the first local man had marked off on the map. Surprise surprise, it was a suit shop! That’s when we realized there must have been intentions behind everyone’s kindness… Paul and I went in for a look, as it seemed strange to ask the driver to take us there and then not go in. The men in the shop were quick to rush us around and point out fabrics. Out of curiosity, we asked them how much it would be for a set (with shipping back to Canada, because they wouldn’t take travelling with full backpacks as an excuse). After pounding some numbers into the calculator, he gave us a number of 10,000 baht, about $400 CAD! We laughed and tried to gently explained to the salesman that there was no possible way that we would be spending that much. We thanked them and left. The tuk tuk driver looked surprised that we were so quick, so we tried explaining to him as well that we didn’t have any money for suits. He seemed disappointed, but he told us he would take us to the next temple. As we were driving, he said something about making a stop at “factory” afterwards. We tried to ask for more details but his English was limited, and the streets very noisy. Plus, we were already pretty sure we knew where he would be taking us…

Soon after, we arrived at Wat Intharawihan, that contains the big standing Buddha statue. It was 32 meters tall and very impressive. As we were admiring it, we discussed how to handle our situation. We decided to tell the driver we had to return to our hotel to check out (which was half true), and we were already running late, so if he could just take us straight there. When we fed him our story, he responded that he just needed to take us quickly to “factory” and that we only have to look for 10 minutes, then he would take us straight back to Khao San Road. We gulped, but agreed, not knowing another way to get out of it, while still getting a cheap ride back to our hotel.

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A few minutes later, we pulled up to another SUIT SHOP. We went inside for a whole 2 minutes where we again had to explain to the sales people that we had no money to buy a suit. We watched as other tourists, who we had just seen at the big Buddha statue, were trying to convince the men the same. It appears that the “Thai Holiday” was really just “National Dupe Tourist Day”.
We went back to our driver, who didn’t look at all surprised to see us back without a new suit. Perhaps he just needed us to go inside the shop for him to get whatever it was he got out of the deal, or maybe he thought the sales people could win us over; either way, the scam ended after that. He took us back to our hotel area where we paid him and got out. All that we could do was laugh! Although it was not ideal, the whole scenario got us a nice and cheap tour of some temples, a good story to tell, and maybe a lesson learned… If we could go back in time, we would probably choose to do it again, haha!

We collected our bags from our hotel and headed to our night bus to Chiang Mai. Once we were on the bus, we ran into the German couple we had met on our mini bus to Khao Sok, a week or so earlier. As we were catching up with them, the bus organizer came around to hand out our VIP waters and snacks.

Now an excerpt from Paul, because he finds this story way funnier than me haha:

The German guy shouted with utter excitement, “AW YES! OREOS!”
The bus driver approached him as he was bouncing in his seat giddy with excitement. He was handed his package of cookies, turned them over and his face changed dramatically. It was like he had just opened the worst Christmas present of his childhood. Then he turned to us and casually said, “Oh, nope, just Cream-O”, and flashed us the generic crappy imitation brand sweets. We all burst out laughing!

After about 8 hours or so, we arrived in Chiang Mai at 6:00 am. To save the cost of a nights accommodation, we had decided to take our chances by trying again to check in early for the following night’s booking. Unfortunately it didn’t work this time, as our hotel (Junior House) wouldn’t let us check in until the afternoon. No big deal. We left our bags, rented a scooter, and decided to explore. We went to a few local markets where we spent a couple hours wandering and experiencing many different sights and just as many smells!

Knowing how booked up the buses and trains had been on the way to Chiang Mai, we made a visit to the train station to try to buy a ticket to Singburi for January 1st. Trains were all sold out, so we headed to the bus station. After some asking around, we were finally able to buy a ticket from a random stand back to Bangkok (with a stop over in Singburi) for the very cheap price of 389 baht (less than $10 CAD), about half the price we paid to get there! Although we had no idea what to expect as far as the quality of the bus, we were elated at the savings!

After finally checking into our hotel, spending some time making plans and booking hotels for the remainder of our stay in Chiang Mai (which due to the lack of vacancy caused by New Years, would mean we would staying at a different hotel for each of the 3 nights), we headed to Wat Chedi Luang for dusk. It was all lit up, and quite beautiful and peaceful.

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We made a good luck donation to our corresponding Zodiac Animal, and added our names to a strip of fabric to be used by the temple. That night we also visited the Night Market and enjoyed some more cheap shopping and people watching.

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The next day, we had to check out of our first hotel and switch to our next one, ‘Bow Chiang Mai House’, which was just down the street. Once settled, we headed to ‘Tuang Thong Canyon’, also known as “Chiang Mai Grand Canyon”, about an hour scooter ride from the city. I stumbled upon this gem from a random travel blogger I follow online, so we were surprised to see how busy it was for being relatively unknown. The entrance fee was 100 baht ($4) each, which also included a delicious free iced tea drink. We hung around for a while watching people cliff jump, while soaking on bamboo floats in the refreshingly cool water. Only a couple more years and it will surely be completely overrun by tourists, so I’m glad we got a chance to see it when we did.

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When we got too hungry to stay, we left and went for amazing sandwiches at a place called ‘The Hideout’. Possibly the best sandwiches we have had on our trip so far! To end the day off, we also had a great (and CHEAP) dinner. The local restaurant, called ‘Kanjana’, was so popular we actually had to wait to get a table (first time on the trip).

New Years Eve was probably one of the most memorable days of the trip so far. We got the day started very early by again checking out of our hotel. We left our bags, and got picked up to go see elephants at ‘Ran-Tong Save & Rescue Elephant Centre’. One hour later we got to the park and immediately I could tell the difference from the last time I visited elephants in Thailand; it was beautiful and huge!

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The elephants were all walking around freely, there were no cages, and the Mahouts didn’t have bull hooks or “training tools” of any kind. Any commands were given verbally, and overall, the elephant’s just seemed happy! Ran-Tong is one of a few elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai that rescues elephants who are kept in captivity, and NEVER separates the babies from their mothers. Although they do allow tourists a short ride on the elephant’s back, it is only allowed bareback to save the animal from any discomfort. We really tried to do research beforehand, and although we would have loved to visit the famous ‘Elephant Sanctuary Park’, the busy holiday (and our last minute planning) didn’t allow for it. Ran-Tong also had very good reviews online, and we could immediately see why.

We spent a little while just hanging out with the elephants; feeding them, taking pictures, and giving them some love.

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After getting dressed in our Mahout (elephant trainer) clothing, we learned the basic commands of riding an elephant bareback. We were assigned ours, who happened to be one of the biggest female elephants. At only 19 years old, she was also one of the craziest! Her name was Chom.

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We got to ride her bareback for about 20 minutes; which if you ask Paul’s private region, was about 15 minutes too long! It definitely wasn’t the most comfortable experience, but we enjoyed it much more knowing that we weren’t causing the elephant any pain.

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At the end of the ride we got to bathe her. She was the only elephant that knew how to shoot water out of her trunk, which the trainers were able to instruct her to do in whichever direction they pointed her snout; basically like a giant Super Soaker. Paul and the Mahout definitely took advantage of this… at my dispense, haha.
We finished the half day with a great Thai lunch, said goodbye to our new friends (human and elephant), and got our minibus ride back to the city.

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That night we headed towards the east gate of the old city, where most of the New Years celebrations were to be held. We bought 2 wishing lanterns, had some drinks, and ended up meeting an extremely nice and interesting couple from Utah; Pablo and Danielle Figueroa, or ‘The Figs’.

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Although people were setting off lanterns all night, we decided to save ours until midnight. People were not the brightest with releasing them; letting them go directly under power lines and trees where they would get stuck and burn out, or start mini fires that nearby fire trucks would have to put out. At one point, Paul even climbed a tree to rescue someone’s! We had a couple close calls with fireworks as well, which were often set off in the middle of crowded streets. There was some ducking and covering necessary!

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We gave one of our lanterns to the Figs, and at midnight we took turns taking pictures releasing the lanterns into the sky, while making our New Year’s wishes. It was very beautiful! The most spectacular and romantic New Years ever, well second to the New Years that Paul proposed to me. But it truly was a perfect start to what I’m sure will be an awesome year!

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We had a couple more drinks, tried some charcoal ice cream, and by the time it hit 2:00 am, decided it was time to say goodbye to our new friends, but not before making plans to meet up the next day.

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We started the next morning, as we had the two before; checking out of our hotel (Retro Lanna Hostel). This was our final day in Chiang Mai, but we were feeling pretty rough from the night before, so we decided to forego site seeing with The Figs. We opted instead for a greasy breakfast and a nap in a beautiful park within the Old City walls.

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We met our friends for dinner and final goodbyes, and afterwards took a tuk tuk to the bus station where we anxiously awaited our cheap mystery bus to Singburi.

To our delight, it was much better than we expected. Even complimentary blankets and water bottles! About 8 hours later we arrived at our stop in Singburi. It was just after 4:30 am. We contacted Peetim, the owner of the Homestay we were visiting (the same one I had stayed at 4 years prior), and we were picked up shortly after. When we arrived at the Homestay we went to sleep for a couple hours, which was much needed, as we had a very busy day ahead of us.

That morning the monks from the nearby temple came for breakfast to celebrate the New Year; a very big honour for Peetim’s family and said to bring extremely good luck for the coming year! We also met Shamus, another Canadian staying at the Homestay for a couple days.

Once the food was ready, we sat on the floor with the monks and prayed with them as they chanted blessings for the food and those involved. We helped serve them with very specific instructions on the rituals, and then left them to enjoy their meal. Afterwards, we joined them again and were blessed with holy water by one of the elder monks. We presented them with gifts of juice and flowers, and thanked them for their visit. It was quite the experience and we both felt so lucky to be involved! Because of my interest in Buddhism, I found this morning particularly special. Thank you so much for involving us, Peetim!

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We helped serve dessert to the little monks, who were also visiting, and then played games with them. We quickly learned how “boys will be boys”, even when they are little boys training to be Buddhist monks!

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Once all the excitement was over, Peetim’s brother took us all, including his adorable 5 year old daughter (who soon became our new little best friend) to the monastery where the young monks lived. We were shown around the temple, and spent some time feeding the morning’s leftovers to the monkeys who overrun the grounds.

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We were then guided by a couple of the little monks on a ‘private tour’ of their cave temple, that they apparently use as a little hangout space. It was super cute being led through the temple by these little boys who spoke no English, but were so excited to show us their cave and everything in it, including a dead bat and baby monkey; which we cringed when the boys poked at. Of course they thought this was hilarious… Again, boys will be boys, haha.

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After a much needed nap upon returning to the Homestay, we headed to another bat cave temple that is famous for the HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of bats that literally pour out of the cave every night at sunset. It was spectacular! So stinky (I can’t put it in words), but worth every second.

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Next they took us to the local night market, which was extremely interesting as it wasn’t your typical tourist market. The stands consisted of everything from food, clothes, tools, and electronics; but all geared towards locals. Not a single Chang Beer shirt! We bought ourselves some tasty Thai street food and headed back to the Homestay. On the way, Peetim’s family stopped to pick us up dinner, which was unnecessary but so extremely kind!

For the next day, Peetim hired a driver to take us to a nearby temple with the largest reclining Buddha. We also visited the surrounding food stalls and shops to load up on more Thai street food. The different snacks have really become a weakness of ours!

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Next we visited another Temple where we fed loafs of bread to gigantic catfish.
Shamus left in the afternoon, and we spent some time reading. That evening we prepared to teach English the next day, while enjoying amazing (and SPICY) homemade green curry, cooked by Peetim.

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The morning after, Monday morning, we were driven to our first school about half an hour away. I recognized it immediately from my previous visit, but we didn’t stay long before one of the teachers drove us to another school even further away. We weren’t entirely sure what was going on or what to expect… But as our nervousness increased, I just kept reminding myself that it was ridiculous to be afraid of a bunch of little kids!

When we got to the new school, you could tell they were extremely excited to have us, but had no clue what to do with us. All we could make out from the very little English the local teachers spoke, was that they wanted us to focus on teaching conversation to the children. They gave us a giant empty classroom across the road from the main building. When 9:30 am hit our first class filed in. We instantly realized that the class list we had been given at the first school was obsolete, as these kids were much older than we had expected. We gulped, realizing that the A B C’s might not cut it… After struggling to get over the language barrier, we finally discovered the kids were 14 and 15 years old. We also learned that although the kids knew the alphabet, most of them were nowhere near a level of holding a conversation more in depth than “my name is…”. We later learned that we had been the first English speaking teachers they had EVER had at the school!

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We had another three classes that day, each an hour long. As the day went on, we progressively got better and better as we worked out the kinks in our self-created lesson plan. Each group of kids was different age ranges (youngest 8, oldest 15), so we did find ourselves playing a lot more games with the younger ones.

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After a long day of teaching, we were picked up at 3:00 pm with sore throats and tired feet. It was our first real day of work in two months, but man was it ever fun! On the way home, we strategized for the next day. Although, we would have loved to see the same children again (we had already become attached), we feared the idea of having to expand our lesson plan, as we had just become comfortable with it.

That evening we watched the sunset from the rooftop patio at the Homestay. I helped Peetim cook dinner while filling her in on the day’s events. She informed us we would be going to a new school the next day, which like I mentioned, was bittersweet for us. We hit the hay early, ready to start all over again the next day!

Our new school was about a 45 minute drive away. Once we arrived, we were immediately stuck into our first class. This completely caught us off guard, as the last school had given us a while to prepare before classes started at 9:30 am. The normal teacher of the class was also sitting in. This proved to be quite entertaining, as she was also very eager to learn English. Sometimes a little too eager, even blurting out answers to questions we were asking the kids, haha! Because we started the class about a half hour early, we ran through our lesson plan quicker than we had hoped, but with a little bit of improvising at the end, we survived our first group.

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Around lunch time, we were both starting to feel quite ill, realizing that maybe our sore throats weren’t from talking… but we carried on anyways, and by the afternoon we felt like pros at teaching; that is until we finished our third class of the day. After going through our entire perfected English 101 lesson with the class, we were informed that we actually had the same class for our fourth period as well, meaning we had another whole hour with the same kids!

Panicked, we whipped out some of the worksheets Peetim had given us for ideas, and started working on teaching nouns to the children. Many of the kids didn’t understand a thing we were saying, but some of them really got it! They dug out their English-Thai dictionaries, and became quite excited at the idea of working on the sheets with our help. By the end of the class, each kid had earned themselves 100% on their worksheet. It took a lot of one-on-one help, and the occasional kid cheating off another, but we really felt like we taught them something new that day. While we waited for our ride after class, we sat and practised with the students some more, all while getting endless hugs and high fives. We drove away in the bed of the truck with kids chasing after us waving goodbye. Such a rewarding feeling!

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Once we got home, both of our noses were completely stuffed, raw throat, no voice, and achey all over. We were officially sick, but we made it through two days.The next day we would be taking a bus to Bangkok for a one night stay, before catching our flight to Myanmar the following day. We debated teaching the kids in the morning before we left, but regretfully decided against it, as we all agreed it wouldn’t be wise to do so with our colds. We did however drag our exhausted butts out of bed at 6:00 am the next morning to give food to some of the local monks who every morning canvas the area. It is said to bring good fortune for the day, which we prayed would help with our sickness. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference health wise, but Peetim did continually make us yummy homemade lemon & honey tea throughout the morning, so I’ll take having our Thai Mom to care for us as good fortune enough!

That afternoon, we had to say goodbye to our wonderful Peetim. I can’t say enough how truly amazing a person she (and her whole family) is. We regret not staying with her longer, as we know she had much more to show Paul and I. She is such a kind hearted soul, who devotes her entire life to helping children and doing well for her Buddhist community. We are going to do our very best to visit her again someday, and strongly recommend that anyone we know who visits Thailand do the same! We love and miss her (and the children), very very much. Thank you for everything Peetim! If you want to know more, her website is: http://www.peetimhomestay.com

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After the 2 hour minibus to Bangkok, we were dropped off about 5.5 km from our hotel. Not wanting to spend anymore money on transportation, we decided to try to walk at least part of the way. This was probably not the wisest, as we were each carrying our 30 lbs backpacks, and still feeling deathly ill. Then Google Maps decided to take us down one of the most interesting and sketchy streets I have ever walked down. It was an operating set of train tracks with a set of narrow broken concrete slabs on either side, acting as a sidewalk. At the beginning there were people standing waiting for the train, as we waddled past them with our backpacks. We thought it was kind of odd, but that’s where the map was telling us to walk, so we continued on. Suddenly the train track alley turned into the slums, with falling apart makeshift houses and shops lining the sides and garbage everywhere. Most people we passed just stared confused at us as we walked by, thinking ‘what the heck are these people doing walking down here!’, but a few waved and happily started yelling out random English sentence they knew. We walked past a man with a desk set up in the middle of the two train tracks; tracks that minutes ago we had seen a train drive down… We had to jump gaps of missing cement “sidewalk” slats, duck under old school hanging birdcages, and squeeze around a bathtub filled with a mystery green liquid and water lily pads. The whole street was so strange, but kind of beautiful in a way. I wanted to stop to take a picture, but Paul quickly shut down the idea, reminding me how unsafe our current situation was. We quickly walked the rest of the way, and sighed with relief when we made it out. Even though the street was very sketchy, and it should have been avoided (especially with giant money bags attached to our backs), I’m kind of glad we did go down it. It was like nothing I had seen before, and I can still picture it perfectly in my head. Although we did feel unsafe, I would choose walking down that street over East Hastings in Vancouver, any day!

An hour and a half after we started, we reached the Amarin Inn. We were drenched with sweat, not only from our 5.5 km walk, but from our now escalated cold symptoms. We grabbed (what would be our final) 7-11 toasties, and hit the pillow hard.

Waking up the next morning, after a 12+ hour sleep, we felt slightly better. We skyped with Ma and Pa Demsky and got ready to check out of our hotel. After a VERY stressful traffic jammed cab ride to the airport, we just barely made it on time for our flight to Myanmar.

Our 3 weeks in Thailand had now come to an end. It went by quicker than we had hoped, and our next destination was uncharted territory. As excited as we were to discover Myanmar, a part of us dreaded the idea of leaving behind what had temporarily felt like home… But so the adventure continues!

Love Allie & Paul
Demsky Duo Disembarked

It’s Gunna be a Wet Christmas

It was one hell of a rough longtail boat ride as we departed Railay Beach in Thailand; not because of any rough water, it was definitely the hangovers, haha. Thankfully it was only a short 15 minutes later that we arrived at the punitive Ao Nam Pier, mainland Krabi. After waiting around 45 minutes, and watching other people gradually be picked up, we were the one of last few people left from our longtail boat that had departed Railay Beach over an hour ago. With nothing but a piece of paper with the name of our next destination scribbled on it (‘Khao Sok’), we began to worry that our money had gone to waste. Not to mention that the last flicker of alcohol was wearing off, and we gradually felt worse and worse. Just as Allie and I started to think about our options, a Thai man walked up from the only road leading to the small port. He strutted up to us, and a wave of relief started to creep up.

“You go to Phuket?” He asked.
Our hearts sank, and plummeted to our stomachs.
“No”, I replied, “we’re trying to get to Khao Sok.”
He looked perplexed, and signalled me to show him our ticket.
He took a quick glance at it, nodded, and waved for us to follow him.
YES! Success! Hahaha!

We walked a couple of blocks and eventually came to a sleek white mini bus with tinted windows. He opened the sliding door and to our surprise it was nearly full! I had wondered how long they had all been waiting, but no matter, we were finally on our way!
Or so we thought…

15 minutes later we arrived at a pathetic looking shelter stuffed with a huge mass of people, lined with a barrage of white mini buses. We were instructed to go wait inside.

Another hour or so passed while workers shouted out destinations, and the crowd around us slowly diminished. Finally Khao Sok was called, and the largest sum of people yet got up and wandered out to 2 buses. We boarded our capacity filled bus, and were finally on our way.

A 3 hour winding drive later, we arrived at our accommodation ‘Khao Sok Jungle Huts’. There was some miscommunication between what we had booked online and what they had reserved for us, and we were given a completely different room. We’re still not sure if we ended up getting an upgrade or not, as we had paid a bit more than we were accustom to (approx. $34/night), due to the fact that there was VERY few places to choose from online (a constant trend). What we ended up with however was a beautiful private villa perched about 5 meters up from the ground, surrounded by the thick jungle. It was pretty cool!

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We relaxed for a bit before going for a walk down the single main street of shops and restaurants. Everything was pretty much dead, so we eyed a couple places for dinner and headed home for a well needed nap.

We got up and went for dinner at a riverside Italian place for a change from the Thai food. Allie got gnocchi and I got wienerschnitzel. Unfortunately, we were both pretty disappointed in our meals, and the mosquito swarm was a little unpleasant.

We meandered back onto the street and ran into a group of Germans that had been on our bus earlier that afternoon. We all chatted about our plans in Khao Sok and our trips in general. After bidding adieu, we headed back to our villa, and after a couple more attempts, were finally able to upload our blog post from Malaysia. Shortly after we collapsed into bed. Ugh, what a struggle of a day. Never drinking again…

The next morning we were up bright and early. Feeling much better, we packed our bags, strapped on our hiking gear, popped into a Cafe for a full breakfast, and headed north to the entrance of Khao Sok National Park.

We each paid the 1500 baht entrance fee, signed in at numerous posts, and headed into the trails. We looked at different tours or possibly hiring a guide a few days prior, but they were ridiculously expensive and had useless perks included that Allie and I truly didn’t care for. Besides, we had learned climbing Mount Batur in Indonesia that we were fast hikers, and didn’t want to be held back from our natural pace.

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The main trailhead passed along seven waterfall viewpoints over a distance of approximately 7 kms (one way), with a few 1 km detours that branched off to view multiple falls. The scenery was extraordinary; with towering bamboo shoots leaning in over the path, massive ancient trees with odd wall roots, and strange plant life.

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We came across numerous lizards, tons of beautiful butterflies, and Allie swears that she smelled and heard elephants nearby, haha. We made our way to the viewpoints, and we’re let down by the underwhelming ‘waterfall’ at each spot. They were more like creeks with a couple of boulders creating brief white water. Not as spectacular as we had hoped.

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During our trek, we bumped into the doppelganger German version of Allie’s father, Jeff Mitchell. I swear they could have been twins… He appeared to be in his late 50’s, dressed the same, was out for an adventure all by himself, spoke in the same manner (but with a thick German accent of course), and had stopped numerous times for a cigarette break. The resemblance was uncanny, and Allie had to restrain herself from running up and hugging him, haha. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a good opportunity to snap a photo of or with him, and thought it may be awkward to ask for one. This is the best picture we got:

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5 hours later we made it down and out of the park, signed out, and headed back to our room for water and hiking gear removal. The whole trek took us a lot longer than we had planned with the detours, getting lost off of the poorly marked trail a couple for times, and taking our time at each ‘viewpoint’, it added up.

We were utterly famished after we showered, as we had not eaten since that morning before the hike. With the miscalculation of time to complete our trek, we had not brought any food with us. We walked back out to the main road and went into the first restaurant we came across. The place was dead, and only had staff members sitting at the tables. We both ordered pork and rice dishes; I had curry and Allie had sweet and sour, and we split a plate of spring rolls.

We walked back to our villa and relaxed after our tiring day. As we were watching Narcos, I started feeling… off. Not long after I made myself ‘comfortable’ in the bathroom, where I spent the entire night ejecting out of both ends. Again! Fun! 😧
If there’s one thing I can tell you as a Canadian travelling to Asia, it’s that you’ll never poop so much in your life. Lol!

It was definitely food poisoning. Since we both had pork and shared the spring rolls, we have no idea what did it. The next morning I struggled to pack and get it together, as we had a mini bus picking us up at 8:00 am. I wanted nothing but to lay in bed, but again we had a full day of travelling ahead of us. Although extremely horrible and uncomfortable, Allie and I both agreed and were thankful both times I got horribly sick was during days of travel. Imagine if we had big plans or something expensive booked that we would have missed out on? I rolled with the punches, and dealt with my condition as we travelled from Khao Sok to the island of Koh Samui.

2 hours of driving, an hour at another horrendous bus shelter, 1 hour on the road to a pier, and we finally boarded a ferry for the final hour and a half stretch. We unloaded on Koh Samui and jumped into a shared taxi truck, which is basically a pickup with a tall topper on the back, and benches running down the left and right sides.

I had our hotel called ‘The Icon’ located on Google Maps, but none of the locals had heard of it and the address was difficult to come across online. As we were cruising around the island, Allie pointed out the back of the truck in the distance and spotted the sign for our hotel. It was a 15 minute drive away from the location on my phone, and if she had not seen it, our hours of travel would have extended far longer than either of us had hoped. Luckily my beautiful and ingenious wife spotted the place, enabling my suffering to end much sooner. I still felt like shit, so we took a nap. Dinner time had crept up, and I had not eaten since the night before. Not having the energy to go far, we went to 7-Eleven and got Toasties, fruit, and yogurt. I forced it down and passed out for the rest of the night while Allie worked on our budget and some planning.

The next morning I was finally alive! I felt like a million bucks and was rearin’ to go! We stomped down the street and rented a swanky scooter, strapped on our helmets, and hit the open island road!

1 minute later, the sky opened up and unleashed rain the size of golf balls. The streets began flooding instantaneously, I couldn’t see a thing, and it hurt! We pulled over as quickly as we could, and darted into a coffee shop to take cover. It lasted over an hour, during which Allie and I looked into ideas of what we could do. There was a mall on the island, so we figured we could make a rainy day out of it.

As soon as the storm let up, we hopped back on the scooter and headed a half hour North to the mall called Tesco Lotus. Just as we were pulling into the covered parking lot, it began to pour again. We ran inside and started to browse the small ‘L’ shaped mall. The main reason for us going there was to enjoy an ancient form of entertainment which we had not experienced in what felt like a lifetime. They had a MOVIE THEATRE.

In the middle of the mall was housed 4 very small theatres, all 2D and seated less than the 100. Guess what they were playing? STAR WARS! IN ALL 4 THEATRES! WESTERN MEDIA! EhrMahGerd! 😂

We went to buy our tickets, but the shows were sold out for 4 hours! We bought our tickets for later in the evening, and wandered up and down the mall, back and forth, passing the same stores numerous times. We poked our heads outside to see if the weather had subsided. NOPE. NO DICE.

We scampered back in, and began searching stores for a deck of cards to pass the time. I asked a couple employees if they had any stocked in their stores, and they all looked at me like I was crazy, and said no. Eventually one guy told us that he thought 7-Eleven might sell some. There was one located down the street, but it was outside of the mall in the wrath of the unforgiving monsoon. We bolted out through the downpour and got to the Sev’ in stellar time. No matter though, we were soaked to the bone. We searched the handful of aisles, and came across no cards. We asked the clerk at the till, and they opened a locked door next to the cigarettes and pulled out 3 decks of cards. I grabbed the smallest common looking one and had it rung up. $9 CAD!? That’s like a whole meal for us! Allie and I said no, apologized and left.
[Allie did some research later, as she thought she recalled that Thailand had insanely strict gambling regulations. Turns out this is true. The only real form of gambling is the lottery. Hence why cards were utterly impossible to find, and grossly overpriced.]

Sprinting back through the rain to the mall, we contemplated what to do next. Lucky for us, right next to the movie theatre was a bowling alley! We were so glad that this monsoon hit us while on Koh Samui, as it really could have ruined plans and wasted our time elsewhere. We paid for a game, and we’re disappointed to find that it cost basically the same as it did back home. Far too expensive, but I guess it’s the only place you can 10 pin bowl on a tropical island! We got some beers, and took our sweet time milking each frame.

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We killed an hour and a half, and headed out to the food court now ravenous with hunger. We ate and had a couple of beers at a small coffee shop.

To chew away at the remaining time a little longer, we popped into a kids arcade area, and played some air hockey. I kicked Allie’s butt…  Hahaha!

Not long after, it was time to see the Force Awakens!
It was awesome! We both loved it! 😄

We came out of the theatre with our fingers crossed and found that mother nature had obliged. The sky had thinned out, and rain subsided. We jumped onto the scooter and drove back to the area of our hotel through massive puddles and flooded streets. Not wanting to travel far or spend much after our expensive afternoon, we grabbed Toasties once again as well as a couple of beers from 7-Eleven. Feeling competitive from the events earlier in the day, and the struggle to find a deck, we withered the rest of the evening away playing card games in our room.

We woke up to a lovely sight that tugged both of our heart strings so strongly, we were flourished with emotion brighter than a thousand suns!
Just kidding, it was effing raining again… lol!

We waited and waited until the stupid sky calmed down, and drove over to the closest main beach called Lamai Beach. The area was very quaint with lots of shops and enticing restaurants. Within a few minutes of us exploring the neat little area, it started raining heavily once again. We ran for cover in a patriotically decorated Swedish restaurant where I ate a fantastic burger and Allie had a scrumptious tuna baguette.

The heavens eased up once again, so we walked out to admire the beach. It actually seemed quite nice, but drenched and abandoned isn’t a great look for anyone…

With the sky behaving a little, we scooted up to Hin Yai & Hin Ta, also known as the Grandmother and Grandfather rocks. Among a pile of boulders on the West Shore there were 2 distinct rocks that look like the male and female reproductive organs. Not every day can you see a towering rock cock overlooking the vast sea! Apparently we didn’t actually see the proper ‘Grandmother’ one, and instead I took pictures of the wrong rocks? Looked like a hoohaw to me! BaHaHaHa!

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Just as we were finishing up, it began to drizzle again, so we headed back to the safety and comfort of The Icon Hotel. We wanted to check out the Fisherman’s Market but it was 45 minutes away, and the rain had not calmed down much. We decided to go back to the Lamai Beach area, and ate westernized Thai food at ‘Aussie Bar’ with a crowd of tourists hiding from Mother Nature’s wrath. The ride to and from was pretty crappy, as we slowly made our way through pouring rain and completely flooded roadways on our 125cc Honda Click scooter.

We hung in for the rest of the night and packed our things readying for the bus that was to pick us up in the morning and take us to the dock for our departing ferry. It truly is too bad that we didn’t get to see Koh Samui, AT ALL; even more so that Allie had not been there on her trip 4 years prior. If anyone asks us, “how was Koh Samui?” We’re just going to have to tell them that “honestly, we don’t know!” Hahaha!

The next morning, we awoke to a glistening gorgeous sunny sky, with the clearest of blue stretching in every direction as far as the eye could see. EFF. Our ferry arrived an hour late, and we departed Koh Samui on our 3 hour voyage North to the much much smaller island of Koh Tao.

We arrived to the beach on the south end. Our accommodation was walking distance away, so we made our way along the shore through walkways of other resorts until we came across our place. We splurged a little this time on ourselves, hoping to have somewhere to unwind, relax, and really enjoy our Christmas abroad! The place was called Charm Churee Village. Each hut was custom built with unique artsy attributes, and was situated on a steep hill facing the ocean. We had a fantastic deck area overlooking lush jungle, which most likely over grew the view of the water that was once advertised. The place was super cool though, and had weird touches and decor, including massive boulders that made up the walls in the bathroom.

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Just as we settled in and got comfortable,     it     began     to     POUR.
Give us a friggen break! I guess we travelled North with the storm. We prayed that it wouldn’t destroy our picture perfect idea of spending Christmas on a beautiful sunny beach.

When the drops had finally slowed, we headed into town donning our rain jackets for the third straight day, and wandered through the streets near the docks we had arrived at. We walked around for a bit, and actually came across a fully authentic CANADIAN eatery! No joke! They had poutine and the works, and we loved the name haha!

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Unfortunately, ‘Moose Knuckle’ was closed for the night, so we decided on a place to eat called ‘Cafe Del Sol’, where we had incredible flat bread pizza and lobster/crab ravioli. It was REALLY good, haha!

We picked up a bottle of SangSum on the way home, and played cards on our patio until midnight. We wished each other a very Merry Christmas, and headed to bed. Next morning we tried to Skype Grandma Faubert, aka the Great Goobies. It was her 90th Birthday, and we really wanted to wish her the very best on her special day. We miss you!
The calls never went through properly, and we tried to get a hold of some Demsky’s, but all were caught in the hustle and bustle that is Christmas Eve back home in Calgary.

With no luck after several tries, we stepped outside to see that for the first time in 5 days, the weather had cooperated! It was a Christmas miracle; nice sunny skies! We skipped down for an amazing Christmas themed buffet breakfast at our hotel restaurant, and hit the beach!

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The resort had a private beach in a nice little inlet, decorated with lounge chairs and tables. The spots were filling up quickly, so we nabbed a nice setup with 2 chairs and a table, and relaxed the day away. We spent hours and hours sunbathing, reading, swimming, playing with the Wababa ball, and just relishing in our gorgeous Christmas abroad. It was wonderful!

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We watched the sun pass us overhead, and we started to get hungry, as the overpriced waterfront beers weren’t holding us off any longer. We packed up our sweet spot, and headed up to the villa to freshen up. All showered and ready to rock, Allie made us hold off for a little longer, so that we could go to the hotel lobby and take some Christmas pictures in front of their little Christmas tree. She had been missing our dog immensely, and made sure we included him in our ‘family’ photo, lol! 😜

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Then we headed out for dinner and quickly agreed on a place called ‘Famoso’. We had some yummy pasta… once again. Most of the restaurants on Koh Tao were super Westernized for tourists, and we wanted to splurge a little for the holidays. After our tasty meal, we grabbed some drinks and headed home to await a Christmas Skype date with the Demsky’s as they awoke back home on Christmas morning. It was late for us and early for them, but we wished them a tipsy tropical Merry Christmas, said goodnight to our eavesdroppin pet mosquito hunter, and hit the hay.

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The next morning we got up a little early to make sure we got back on Skype. This time, to fulfill our attempts to wish Goobies a very happy 90th Birthday! Most of my Mom’s side of the family was gathered at my Aunt & Uncle Wood’s place, and we visited with everyone through the magic of the internet. We bragged and showed them all the wonderful sunny view from our patio; while they turned the camera to the vast dessert trays full of Xmas goodies, and some bottles of red wine to make Allie jealous! After some laughs, hellos, and catching up, we said farewell and began packing our bags.

Although spending Christmas abroad in the sun and avoiding the harsh reality of our first Calgary winter was delightful, we truly missed all of our family and friends we usually spend the holidays with. We really miss you all, and can’t wait to be home for good, for the next, and many years to come!

Our time on Koh Tao was over as quickly as it had began, and our next stop was none other than the Lady Boy capital of the world, good ol’ Bangkok!

Stay tuned to see if Allie or myself got a little work done!

Love Paul & Allie
Demsky Duo Disembarked

Touched Down in Thailand

Thailand here we come! Allie was very excited to show me around the beautiful beaches and places she visited back in 2012; as well as getting to see new and exciting areas she missed during her 6 week tour.

December 12, 2015 – After a short 1 and a half hour ferry ride from the Malaysian island of Langkawi, we arrived in Thailand, at the small island of Koh Lipe. We were ushered off of our ferry onto a longtail boat, made entirely out of wood with a motor of some kind (most likely from a car or motorcycle), jimmy rigged with a long metal pole and propeller. The entire motor and prop is mounted on a pivot that allows the driver to drop the prop into the water in any direction, making them extremely manoeuvrable. The longtails taxied everyone from the ferry to the shore, and brought our luggage shortly after.

It took us a little to get through customs, as we had to get our 30 day visas approved. Once free and allowed into the third country of our trip, we headed to our hotel called ‘The Reef’. We were given a very small room with a terribly noisy and slow fan, and shared bathroom again. We were only going to be there for 2 nights, and with our tight budget we didn’t have very many options on the tiny island, so we made due.

We dropped our bags off and set out to explore the narrow but busy streets nearby. There’s only really room on the roadways for people to get around on foot, but there are still many locals trying to weave around on scooters, and some have a sidecar attached with a bench to act as the only ‘taxis’ on the island. All of Koh Lipe is accessible by foot; as it is about 30 minutes from one side to the other. There were 3 beaches: the main ‘C’ shaped cove that pans the entire South end called Pattaya Beach (where we arrived by boat), Sunrise Beach on the far East, and Sunset beach on the far West. The island as a whole was very beautiful, and the shores had the clearest of water that glistened all shades of turquoise.

There was a 7-Eleven on the island, which made Allie giddy with excitement. Toasties! They’re a small bread pocket filled with all sorts of yummy concoctions, including: shredded pork (our favourite), ham and cheese, chicken pizza, mushroom, chicken carbonara, strawberry, and more. Once you’ve picked your Toastie and paid the $1-$2 CAD, they toast them up for you in store in a little sandwich press. Delicious and super cheap! We realized they were probably gunna be a huge part of our diet over the coming weeks.

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We weaved through the streets for a little while before returning to The Reef Hotel to do some more planning and research for our coming weeks. At this point, planning our next move had become almost a daily necessity, and we were going to be hopping around the Thai islands quite rapidly during one of the most busiest of seasons.

Once we had our bearings and a rough idea of how the next few days were going to be spent, we headed to one of the most popular places on the island called ‘OMG Bar’ for dinner. The place was pretty cool, with a chill island vibe but all the high end details of a pub back home, even a slick pool table! The food was pretty good, and halfway through our meal they started playing ‘The Other Guys’ on a large movie screen with the sound playing throughout the bar. Apparently they’re known for playing a movie each night starting at 6:30 pm.

We hung out until the night grew weary, and we packed it in and prepared for our only full day on the island.

The morning that followed brought Allie another tasty Thai treat that she had been missing oh so dearly: the unique Thai Pancake. They use an extremely thin dough, almost like a crepe, and fold ingredients inside to make a square pastry that is cut into smaller squares, and you eat with just a toothpick. You can fill them with just about anything; from bacon and cheese (for the hearty food lovers), to Nutella, peanut butter, and any kind of fruit available on the island. They’re pretty freakin’ good, and once again a very affordable snack!

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You bet your ass it was beach time! First stop was Pattaya Beach, where we had come in via the long tailed boat the afternoon prior. You’d think that a beach being the main port for tourists and shipments would make the beach and the water a little, undesirable… but that was not the case! A gorgeous sunny day gave us the perfect opportunity to enjoy the wonderful beach. The white sand slipped through your toes like butter, the water was warm, crystal clear, and looked as if it was strung with crystals of blues and greens reflecting the hot sun. We laid back and relaxed soaking it all in from the shore, and floating in the dead calm waveless sea. It felt like paradise!

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I don’t know if you recall us mentioning the ‘stingers’ we’ve encountered in certain bodies of water, but here’s a quick reminder: during the Komodo Tour in Indonesia, most of the snorkeling and swimming spots were littered with microscopic jellyfish or something that sporadically stung you. It was like a little jolt of electricity, and stung for several seconds. We came across them every now and then, even in Malaysia, but this beach had absolutely NONE.

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We relaxed and played with the Wababa Ball I had brought from home. It’s a little smaller than a tennis ball, floats, and skips across the water like a skipping stone when you throw it. I didn’t think Allie was going to be the best companion for a little tossing around of the ball, as she’s kinda, well to put it nicely, not so good at the sports stuffs. But to my surprise, she’s actually quite good, and made for some extra fun in the sun between us!

The day wore thin, and we wanted to head to Sunset Beach for dinner, and… The sunset! Big surprise eh? So we packed up our stuff and headed from the South point of the island to the farthest West, a 30 min walk. Once we got there, we set up on the sand once again but were not as impressed with the beach. It wasn’t bad or anything, just really didn’t compare to Pattaya. To our surprise, there weren’t more than a couple of restaurants along the oddly quiet beach. We soaked up some more rays and had a couple of beers before noticing that the sun was about to tuck away behind the edge of the beach, completely setting out of view of ‘Sunset Beach’. Pretty lame. Maybe it’s very dependent on the time of year?

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Without a view of the setting sun, we vied not to eat at one of the over priced beachside restaurants, and headed back in towards the busier streets. Deciding to maybe go a little cheaper, we came across a very tiny vendor stand that had a couple of chairs and a table in the back of their kitchen. The 2 cute Thai ladies that ran the place invited us in, and we ate a smorgasbord of BBQ, sauté, and rice. It was delectable, and funny to be tucked into the tiny corner with the 2 Thai ladies cooking away and dancing to classic 90’s hits and pop songs. Vengaboys, Aqua, Goo Goo Dolls; it was awesome haha! They sold us beers cheaper than the mini marts, and sang along with us. Allie said it was her 2nd favourite dining experience thus far on the trip (only next to dining with dolphins).

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After ‘Gettin Jiggy Wit It’, We grabbed some more Chang beers and hung out at the hotel room before drifting to sleep.
[I wanted to mention too, that for anyone who’s been to Thailand, we’ve been drinking mostly Chang beer. For some odd reason, Singha is more expensive, sometimes ridiculously more. We’ve been opting for the Chang-overs.]

Before leaving the island, Allie and I made it our goal to make sure we hit all 3 of the beaches, and what better time to visit Sunrise beach than at the crack of dawn. We scrambled awake to the buzz of our alarms and headed out in the shade of night. The walk took us longer than expected, but we made it to the beach just in time to watch the sky blossom with the colours of Spring, then in only a few short minutes it ignited with the oranges and yellows of a May Long bonfire.

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After some photos and admiring the beautiful sunrise, it got far too bright quickly and we were forced to avert our eyes and head back to the busier part of the streets for breakfast. It was just after 6 am, and nothing was quite open yet. We wandered until the pancake stand we had visited the day before fired up. After enjoying our tasty pastry, we walked up and down the streets soaking it all in for a little longer.

Boom, just like that, our time in Koh Lipe crept to an abrupt end, and we were rushed to the docks by one of the girls from Reef Hotel in a scooter side car. We boarded a longtail boat with our bags and were dropped at our ferry boat anchored off shore. 3 hours later, we were forced to get off our boat onto a random island, still a ways from our destination, and wait on a dock with little to no explanation. We were with a fairly large group all heading the same way, so we weren’t too concerned. Eventually we were directed onto another boat, as Thai workers struggled with the language barrier with all of us tourists, and scrambled to usher people in very chaotic fashion. Finally we were headed to our stop, the slightly larger island of Koh Lanta.

We took a short cab ride from the port to our hotel called (get this one), ‘Lanta Just Come’. Lol! No joke. The staff were ridiculously nice and accommodating, and we rented a scooter for the 2 following days. We then spent a couple hours doing laundry and looking into ideas to maximize our short 2 full days on the island.

Rain began to fall, so we kept close to our hotel opting to try a little eatery across the street called ‘Bamboo’, which Allie read about in the hotel reviews. They had awesome 100% authentic Thai food, and the meal cost us just a handful of loonies. We headed back to the room for some reading, blogging, etc, and called it a night.

We kicked off our next morning by eating at a small cafe, again just across the street from us. It was called ‘Peak Cafe’, and was one of the highest rated breakfast places on the island. Ice coffee and tea were amazing, and we ate boring American Style Breakfast, but it was super yummy and very fresh. It was a little too expensive for our liking, but sometimes we have to splurge to get things that remind us of the tastes of home.

Afterwards we hopped on our rented scooter ($8 CAD for 24 hours BTW…) and went to Long Beach. There seems to always be a  ‘Long Beach’ in every country, common name I suppose. The beach again was fairly beautiful, but the water wasn’t very clear or pretty, waves were much more apparent, and we got stung a couple of times by the little stingers. Definitely not as breathtaking as Koh Lipe had been, but still a wonderful place to spend the day. After a few hours of swimming, soaking up sunshine, and reading, we headed to 7-Eleven for some Toasties and cheap beers. We cruised to another beach a little further north to enjoy our afternoon delights.

Upon returning to our hotel for a few hours, we decided on eating at a highly rated authentic Thai restaurant called ‘Irie’. The place was completely dead, but the food was incredible and we were given superb service.

I had done some looking into the most suggested activities on Koh Lipe, and came across a caving adventure. After breakfast the next morning and a little convincing of Allie (who hadn’t read or heard about it at all), we jumped on our scooter and drove to the centre point of the island and Khao Mai Kaew Cave. The whole operation was run by a single family that took tours through the caves every half hour. The cost for a guide and headlamp was 300 Baht each, approximately $12 CAD. We set out with our one and only guide (who couldn’t speak a lick of English) and a group of about a dozen tourists through a jungle pathway. Our guide was a little slow, trekking in flip flops behind us all, so Allie and I ended up taking the lead. The trek was somewhat tricky, where water ran over slippery rocks creating questionable footing, and steep cliff faces that were only traversed with the help of a rope. After a 20 minute climb, we reached the mouth of the cave. It was a tiny crevice that didn’t look like any human should bother to wander into. We were handed the shittiest headlamps of all time, and with no helmet or waiver signed, were directed to enter by our poorly communicating guide.

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The cave for the next hour and a half was a pit of black, only illuminated by the ill beams of the dollar store headlamps. Seriously, using your phone’s screen would have been brighter. We walked across makeshift bamboo bridges, climbed down sketchy ladders constructed with twigs, and slid down steep damp rock faces being lead deeper and deeper into the earth’s guts.

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Some pathways lead to vast chambers where the ceiling opened up and danced with sparkling stalactites. We tried numerous times to take pictures, but the lightless void prevented our camera from being able to focus or shoot practically anything. A couple of times we stumbled upon these odd looking cave crickets, with antennae 4 times their body length. As we crept around another corner, I shone my headlamp’s joke of a beam near my hand and saw 8 eyes a few inches from it looking up at me. It was a strange spider a little smaller than your hand, and had crab like claws on its front. The women in the group all cringed and shuddered as they had to creep past it.

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Some areas were absolutely stunning, even if barely visible from our collective illumination. We came near the end, with no one falling off a steep slippery edge, or tumbling down a ratty ladder or bridge. Honestly we were absolutely floored trying to grasp the fact that we didn’t have to sign a single safety waiver… Near the final room of the cave, we had to shimmy through a muddy rock tunnel on our stomachs, inching like a worm though the claustrophobic corridor. Once our group was all through, we came to an opening where a little light finally shone in, and the ceiling was littered with bats.

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Our guide took us around some boulders where he pointed out another large cave dwelling species of spider. He poked at it with his bare hands so that it would move into a better area for photos, causing a few girls to scream in horror, haha!

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After some pictures and everyone inspecting how muddy we truly were, we made it back out into the bright lush jungle. Our guide showed us a cluster of rubber plants, which were harvested to make all sorts of rubber goods for the Thai people. The plant’s ‘rubber’ was practically the same composition of an elastic band or a deflated balloon.

We came out of the cave at a different location, and the hike down was much easier and quicker. The entire trip took just over 2 hours. We handed in our pathetic headlamps, thanked and said farewell to our guide and our group, and hopped back onto our scooter. All in all, a fantastic adventure that we would do over again any day!

Since we were nearer to the south point of the island, we decided to hit up a beach at Bambou Bay for some relaxation. The beach was a little rocky, but looked different and neat, and had some spectacular houses and villas built into the careening cliffs surrounding the bay. After some more sunshine, reading and tossing around the Wababa ball, sunset approached. The sun was nearing the ocean in the distance, but looked as if its pathway would bring it out of view before we could actually see it set. With the possibility of losing sight just before the beauty of another Thai sunset, and with our stomachs YELLING at us for sustenance, and we opted to leave and make them happy.

Next stop was one of my favourite places to dine yet; ‘Phad Thai Rock N’ Roll’! It was a tiny street front restaurant, ran by a former Thai rock star. He cooked our meal right beside our table, cracking jokes and being a friendly host. Allie and I both got the expected dishes of Phad Thai, and they were amazing! We devoured our plates giving praise to the chef, and asked if I could take a picture with him.

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We drove back to ‘Lanna Just Come’ hotel under a beautiful night sky, and hit the pillows quickly after.

We woke up a little early to make sure we had a good meal before departing on another ferry to our next destination. Allie has been keeping in touch with her best friend Steph McKinnon, who had travelled Thailand with Allie for 6 weeks, 4 years ago. She reminded Allie of an awesome Greek Taverna on Koh Lanta that they had visited, so we set out to find it with a few remaining hours left on our scooter rental. Trip Advisor and Google brought us to a place literally called ‘Greek Taverna’ and Allie said it looked familiar, but was in an entirely different location. We’re still unsure of it being the same one, but it did have incredible Greek chicken souvlaki!

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We didn’t have long after to pack our bags, check out, and head to the main ferry dock. We boarded our ferry and arrived at Railay Beach 2 hours later. The landscape and ride in towards the main beach was absolutely breathtaking. Huge mountain ranges spiked straight up vertically out of the sea creating small islands, and incredible marbled limestone cliff faces; with lush plant life at the base and even on top of some. The spectacular pillars looked like they were straight out of the movie Avatar!

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We anchored off shore, took another longtail boat right up onto the beach, and made our way to the far East side to our hotel called ‘Diamond Cave Resort’. We didn’t have many options when trying to book something online, and ended up having to stay at a place a little outside of our price range, but we weren’t complaining, haha! Funny thing too, it was the exact same hotel Allie stayed at during her previous tour of Thailand! We checked in and were given a sweet little bungalow, then went for a walk around Railay.

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Railay Beach is actually attached to the very South point of the Krabi province, and is not an island. However, the entire area is only accessible by boat, and is far beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Because of its sheer natural beauty, the area has become very popular with tourists, and again being near Christmas, it was very very busy.

The restaurant owners in the area were much more accustomed to tourism, and barked and hollered at us as we walked by to look at their menu or come in and sit at a table. Eventually we gave in to one at a Thai family restaurant, where we ate mediocre pizza and enjoyed cheap Chang beers.

We headed back to our hotel after, and stumbled upon the cutest family of little kittens, just outside of our bungalow. We played with them for hours, laughing at their clumsiness, curiosity, and endless playful energy.

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Next morning we worked on the blog and spent a couple of hours while it continually failed to upload. Internet access is not a specialty of the Thai people, and even in higher priced resorts the connections can be shotty, especially in a more remote location. After numerous tries and compounding frustration, we gave up and decided not to waste any more of our day.

We headed out for brunch immediately after, swinging by the ‘One Stop Takeaway Shop’ for the best sandwiches in Asia, so far! After inhaling the delicious baguettes (yup, no picture haha), we walked down to the main beach and rented a kayak for 2 hours. We paddled out into the bay and around some of the astonishing towering mountain islands, and through extremely cool cave systems. It was an awesome experience!

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We returned our kayak just in time, and headed over to the Phra Nang Cave and Hidden Beach. Phra Nang Cave is where some people of Thailand go to pray to the Princess Goddess of Love for fertility in hopes of soon becoming pregnant. They place an ‘idol’ in the cave and ask for the blessing of a child. I sure hope there isn’t a part of the ‘ritual’ that enquires the ‘idol’ to be, you know, used… Lol!

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After taking photos and giggling at the obscure cave filled with a mountain of penis idols, we set up on the extremely packed “Hidden Beach”, and enjoyed the remaining sun on the beautiful stretch of beach. I really wish we had stayed longer in Railay, because some of the views from these beaches I could just stare out at for hours…

Night struck, so we headed to an authentic Thai restaurant called ‘Mom’s Kitchen’ for dinner. Allie had some unbelievably tasty Panang curry, which made me super jealous. After we ate, it was time for me to experience my very first stupid Thai party drink; the infamous bucket. It is quite simply a sand bucket filled with an obscene amount of booze and mix… Definitely not tasty, but for $10 CAD a pop, they were cheap and gave us quite a buzz! Not letting our night end early or easy, we headed to ‘Last Bar’, at the very far end of the East side of the island. They had a ‘buy 2 get one free’ bucket sale. We obliged happily deciding to give our liver its first good workout in weeks.

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We were quickly notified that the bar would be shifting shortly for a Muay Thai Boxing match, and tickets were far too expensive for us to justify staying. With time running out before we were charged to watch the fight, we sucked back the last of our buckets, and set back toward our hotel in a horrid stumble.

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Things got blurry from there. We made it back to our bungalow, not before Allie tried to entice some Germans across the way to dance with her while they blasted corny traditional Bavarian music. We ended up paying the ultimate price for drinking buckets, a little too fast maybe as well, and spent the next hour or so fighting over the bathroom…

The morning that followed was a flurry of alarms, packing, headaches, nasty taste in our mouths, stumbles, Advil, and did I mention headaches? We scrambled out of our hotel, checked out, and just made it to the docks in time to catch our long tail boat.

Unfortunately, that was it for Railay. If the accommodation wasn’t so absurdly overpriced and it wasn’t completely overrun by tourists, we would have LOVED a few more nights. But alas, we were off to our next destination; the lush, beautiful and remote interior jungles of Thailand in the National Park of Khao Sok.

Stay tuned!

Love Paul & Allie
Demsky Duo Disembarked