Cambrian Mountains

With the current state of the world, I think 2021 is the year I finally explore the UK.

I’d booked a Wigwam Holiday at their Hafren site, near Llanidloes in mid Wales, for 3 nights in the middle of the wettest May in recent history. It’s about a 2 and a half hour drive from Cardiff, up the A470, which once you get past Merthyr Tydfil is a very scenic drive.

I’d planned a couple of pit stops on the way, and after 2 hours I stopped for lunch in the pretty town of Rhayader.

Rhayader

After a quick walk around the town and down to the River Wye, I hopped back in the car for the short drive to Llyn Clywedog, which has some lovely views

After that it was a 10 minute drive to my home for the next 3 days, a Wigwam cabin just outside of Staylittle. There are 6 cabins on site, all of which have a double bed, kitchenette, and an en-suite bathroom, and 3 of the cabins also have wood-fired hot tubs. It’s owned by very friendly farmers who made me feel very welcome.

After settling myself in, I decided to go for a short drive to the nearby Dylife Gorge, with this fabulous view:

Dylife Gorge

After an evening spent hoping the clouds would part to experience the Dark Skies that this region is famous for, I retreated unsatisfied to bed.

The next morning after a slowish start hoping for the rain to stop, I headed off on the short drive to the Hafren Forest. This is a working forest, with several trails, some on short loops and a longer one, approximately 8 miles round, to the source of the River Severn. There is a small car park with toilets, and from there, all the trails are very well signposted. I started off doing the 1.5 mile loop to Severn-Breaks-Its-Neck, a waterfall. After stopping for my packed lunch at the picnic benches on the Cascades Trail, I continued on to the Blaenhafren falls, which was approximately 2 miles from the start. Originally I’d intended to turn around at this point, but I felt good (despite the rain) and as the Source of the Severn was only another mile and a half, I decided to carry on.

This part of the walk is described as ‘strenuous’, and it does get quite steep in parts, rising to over 2000 feet. It is, however, a very peaceful walk, following the Severn as you wind your way up onto the open moorland. The source itself is marked by a wooden pole. All the paths are well maintained and well marked. It was quite cold and still raining so I didn’t hang around for too long before retracing my steps back to where I’d started.

All in all, it was just over 9 miles in just shy of 4 hours, and a great way to spend a day in the outdoors, despite the rain.

The next day, after another slow start, I headed 40 minutes south, back towards Rhayader, and out to the Elan Valley. I parked up at the Visitor Centre and paid for parking (£2.50 all day), and then set off walking along the well-maintained trail which runs alongside the reservoir. It was quite pleasant as I approached the first dam, but the weather quicker turned and I steadily got wetter and wetter. I kept wandering through the rain, hoping for it to brighten, but turned around after 3 miles and retraced my steps. I had a short detour across the Garreg Ddu Dam to see the Nantgwyllt Church. Obviously as I approached the end of my walk, the weather cheered up enormously. All in all I walked 6 miles in 2 and a half hours.

I then got in the car and decided to drive along the road which hugs the shores of the lakes and made it to Pen y Garreg Dam.

Pen y Garreg dam

After that, I retreated back to my cabin, where apparently the weather had been pretty reasonable all day – typical!!

I returned home through the rain the following day. Even though this was only a short break, I was so thankful for the change in scenery and to spend some time outdoors instead of being glued to my laptop. I think that UK-based breaks are likely to be the norm for a little while, and you could definitely do worse than spend a few days in this beautiful and peaceful part of Wales.

Peru

This one was a long time ago – 5 years now, back in November 2015.

This was my first real solo foray into a non-western country, and one which I didn’t speak the language. I’d actually taken some informal Spanish lessons for a couple of months in the run up to this trip which proved invaluable, and useful for a few trips to Spain since then.

At the time I went, there were no direct flights between the UK and Peru. I had 2 viable options – via Madrid or via the US. I choose to go via the US to extend the amount of time on my trip that I could speak English, but having done this and transited through the US, I would not generally recommend this. Whilst I had booked connecting flights from London to Lima, via Dallas Forth Worth on the way out and via Miami on the way back, you always have to clear immigration in the US even when transitting which made for some slightly stressful connections and BA leaving my bag in Miami on the way back.

I don’t remember much about immigration into Peru – I didn’t need a visa, and I don’t remember it taking particularly long. I’d arrived early morning after an overnight leg from Dallas, the one thing I do remember is the hustle, bustle and chaos of the arrivals hall, finding my transfer (and another group member), and the traffic en route to the hotel being utterly insane.

This was my second trip with G Adventures. We were staying in a hotel in the Miraflores district of Lima. Having arrived in the morning we weren’t yet able to check in. However, having arrived with someone else who was on my trip, we hatched a plan to go to the downtown area and got a taxi/paid a guy at the hotel to drive us. I’d read beforehand that whilst Miraflores was a relatively safe area, the centre of Lima was a little more dangerous and you needed to have your wits about you. I think it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t have ventured there on my own so was glad for the company. There is some amazing architecture in downtown Lima, and loads of churches and the cathedral with unbelievably ornate decoration.

In the evening we met up as a group – there were 8 of us and we became a really close group – and went for our first dinner together. It wasn’t a late one as most of us were jet-lagged from travelling and we had an early start the next day to catch a flight inland to Juliaca. We arrived in Juliaca at altitude and travelled towards Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at over 12,000 feet above sea level, and the start of our acclimatisation ahead of the Inca Trail hike which would start in a few days.

Lake Titicaca

This was the first time I’d ever been at real altitude. Living in the UK doesn’t expose you to these heights, and whilst I’d done some exercise and preparation at home ahead of a 4 day hike, there was no way I could replicate the altitude. I was even more worried when we arrived at our hotel for a couple of days in Puno and got absolutely knackered walking up one flight of stairs!

We had a brief walk around Puno before dinner and drinks – though at this stage I was avoiding alcohol (unusual for me on holiday!) in preparation for our hike in a few days.

The next day we had a boat trip on Lake Titicaca and visited the Floating Islands of Uros on the lake, made of reeds, and people live here year-round. We had lunch on Taquile Island (grilled trout according to my diary!), and then in the afternoon and evening we were introduced to our homestay families where we would spend the night with local families, learning about their way of life and being welcomed into their homes. This was where it was advantageous to have learned some Spanish, though my roommate was way more fluent than I was. After a delicious dinner of quinoa soup, rice and vegetables, we turned in for the night. The next morning we helped the family with their daily farm chores (taking the sheep out to graze) and watched on as the mother soaked and prepared the quinoa (now a western health food, but a staple in Peru).

In the afternoon we sailed back across the lake and back to Puno for a final night before heading to Cusco on a local bus the next day. I was very impressed with the local bus – it was a double decker and we had lots of legroom and reclining seats. It was pretty much an all-day ride to Cusco, but it was super-interesting to watch the scenery go by. I had no idea what to expect from the landscape beforehand.

On the bus between Puno and Cusco

When we arrived into Cusco, the first thing we did was head to G Adventures’ hiking depot to get kitted out with sleeping bags, hiking poles and other kit for the Inca Trail hike. We would be leaving our main bags in storage at the hotel in Cusco as we’d be returning here in a few days.

The next day on the way out of Cusco, we stopped at the Cristo Blanco statue high in the hills on the way out of Cusco. We were heading through the Sacred Valley and stopped off at various spots, including at a women’s weaving co-operative, at Pisac which has some great Incan terraces, and at a wonderful restaurant which is supported by G Adventures for some more delicious food.

We ended the day in Ollantaytambo where we hiked briefly into the ruins – a spectacular view over the town and mountains from the ruins. After carbing up with a pasta dinner, it was an early night and an early start the next day to Kilometre 82 and the start of our 4 day hike to Machu Picchu. We got all our gear, met our porters who would be carrying food, tents, most of our stuff. We were also given snack packs to sustain us through the hike.

Ollantaytambo

The first day of the hike is relatively gentle (certainly compared to what was to come on day 2), and it was absolutely beautiful. We also really lucked out with the weather. After a couple of hours we stopped for lunch. Again I had no real idea what to expect with the food but it was beyond anything I could have imagined – we had asparagus soup, fried trout, and jelly for dessert – all ideal for sustaining hiking, and the jelly was a very welcome surprise. At every meal stop we were also able to fill up with water which was obtained from nearby streams and boiled for sterilisation.

After lunch we headed off hiking again. You have to have a permit to hike the Inca Trail, which manages the numbers of people on there at any one time. This was arranged for me with the trip I’d booked. As you can imagine, this is a very popular hike so you would need to book well in advance. I’d booked this trip in February 2015 for a late November departure. We arrived into our first camp in the late afternoon. Our tents had already been set up by the porters so I took off my hiking boots and relaxed for a while before dinner.

Day 2 involved walking up hill for about 5 hours as we reached the highest point of the hike at Dead Woman’s Pass (13,800 feet above sea level). There were times during the hike uphill where I could only make it literally 10 steps before needing a break due to the thin air. And whilst munching on coca leaves helped slightly, it was still very hard, but very rewarding work.

After a 3 hour walk downhill we arrived at the campsite for the second night where again our tents had already been erected and we were able to relax before another delicious and nourishing dinner. In the evenings we would sit out chatting and stargazing. It was approaching a full moon whilst we were there, you do get amazing views of the night sky here.

Day 3 was a long day of hiking – around 9 hours in total, but not quite as steep as day 2. We passed several Incan ruins which we were able to explore. We were also walking above the clouds at several points which was really awesome.

At lunch on day 3, our chefs had prepared a cake for us which was a huge surprise. the porters are truly amazing people who do this trip several times a month.

After an early night on day 3, it was an early morning for the final 5km into Machu Picchu. We were woken at 3.30am and headed out in the dark at around 5.30am. After climbing up a near-vertical wall, we arrived at the Sun Gate at around 7am and after getting down to the main citadel, we almost had the place to ourselves as only the early day-trippers from Aguas Calientes were arriving.

After reuniting with others in the group who didn’t do the Inca Trail hike, we briefly freshened up in the bathrooms (actual flushing toilets after a couple of days of squats and holes in the ground) and then had a guided tour of Machu Picchu. It’s so awesome to walk amongst the ruins, and large parts of it are very well preserved.

After the tour, we took the bus down the winding road to the town of Aguas Calientes where we had lunch, wifi and a well-deserved beer before heading on the panoramic train back to Ollantaytambo, and then a bus back to Cusco.

Back in Cusco I had the longest shower I was able to take in the intermittently hot/cold/dribble/gush of the shower head, as is usual in Peru. We then headed out for a celebratory dinner and Pisco Sours in Cusco. Definitely a night to let your hair down and celebrate a great hike.

The final part of the trip had meant to be a trip into the rainforest. However at the time of our trip there was some unrest in Puerto Maldonado and so we ended up staying in Cusco for a couple of extra days. Cusco has a lot of history, a lovely cathedral, and we enjoyed a cooking class including sampling the Peruvian delicacy of ceviche (cured raw fish).

We flew back to Lima for a final night before I flew home to a rainy UK (sans my bag which eventually made it a couple of days later). This was one of my favourite trips for many reasons. My first real time in a different culture, the food was so delicious (I think Peru and Vietnam are tied first in my favourite food experiences), the scenery was epic, the people on my trip were so lovely and to have the opportunity to hike the Inca Trail is something I will never forget.

Gooooooood morning Vietnam

It’s actually over 3 years since I went to Vietnam, better late than never in writing up about it! This trip was March 2017.

I had a direct flight from London to Hanoi with Vietnam Airlines, an extremely reasonable flight price of around £450 return if I remember rightly. After a 12+ hour flight, I landed at 4.30am local time, and after swiftly clearing immigration (British citizens didn’t – at time of travel – require a visa for stays under 15 days) I had quite a long wait for my bag as it was basically the last one round the carousel – always a slightly worrying time! I’d arranged a transfer to my hotel in central Hanoi, and after arriving at the hotel at around 6.30am I took myself off to bed. Top tip, especially when travelling somewhere where accommodation is cheap by western standards – if you are arriving somewhere first thing in the morning, book a hotel room for the previous night so you can check in and either get some kip for a few hours, or freshen up before you start exploring. The hotel I was staying in was approx £30 per night which was worth every penny to be able to crash for a few hours.

As it turned out, I was absolutely knackered, the product of being in a job I didn’t enjoy (part of the reason I’d gone on sabbatical the year before), and at the time I’d actually just been successful in interviewing for another job in the same company which I would start shortly after returning from this trip. Much less stress and a better work/life balance, but that isn’t the topic of this blog, and as such I pretty much slept through the entire day. Fortunately I’d arrived a day early to join the trip so I didn’t miss out on that much, and it gave my body clock a chance to adjust.

After a long sleep, I awoke refreshed on the second day and after breakfasting in the hotel, I set off exploring Hanoi. One thing I had been warned about prior to this trip was that attempting to cross the street in Hanoi would be an interesting experience, certainly if you waited as you would in the U.K. for a break in the traffic, I’d still be stuck on the wrong side of the street now! It is a little unnerving basically having to walk out into traffic but, unbelievably, it works. Most people in Vietnam ride scooters as the taxes on (usually imported) cars are prohibitively expensive, and they are used to adjusting their speeds for pedestrians. After building up confidence to cross the street, I made my way to Hoan Kiam Lake and walked around it, enjoying the early morning sights including the locals enjoying some early morning yoga/meditation along the shores.

Hoan Kiam Lake, Hanoi

After some more wandering to a temple and to the market, I headed back to my hotel for some much needed air-con. After a short break from the heat, I ventured back outside and grabbed lunch – a delicious Bánh Mì from Banh Mi 25, one of the top-rated places for Bánh Mì in Hanoi. Bánh Mì are a delicious fusion sandwich, a baguette-style bread roll filled with pate, grilled meat, cucumber and pickled veg, and an absolute bargain with a Bánh Mì and bottle of water costing the equivalent of 75p!

In the afternoon I walked to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum complex and around the botanical gardens before retreating back to the hotel. In the evening I met the rest of the group (a G Adventures trip) and we headed out for dinner.

An early start the next morning as we headed to Halong Bay. It was a 4 hour drive punctuated by a stop at a project which creates employment for disabled people by teaching them crafts and needlework which is then sold. A very interesting idea.

We arrived at Halong Bay and boarded our overnight junk boat in time for lunch. As we set sail through the bay, the limestone karsts that we passed through reminded me a little bit of Milford Sound. I’ve since also been to Khao Sok in Thailand which was very reminiscent of Halong Bay. We sailed through the bay in the afternoon, stopping off in a couple of places including Ti Top Island where we climbed up 400 steps to take in the views.

Halong Bay

We had dinner on the boat, all freshly made on board and plate after plate of delicious food was served up. After enjoying the stars with a couple of drinks, I retreated to bed. Another early start the following morning with breakfast at 7am before we visited a Sung Sot Cave, the largest cave in Halong Bay, which had this amazing, wave-like ceiling.

Sung Sot Cave, Halong Bay

We then headed back to land and late morning got off the boat and headed on the 4 hour journey back to Hanoi. We were taking the overnight train south to Hue but had a few hours spare before then, so I went on a street food tour. If you haven’t already gathered, I absolutely loved the food in Vietnam. I think it’s the best food I’ve had anywhere, and certainly the cheapest. We wandered the streets of Hanoi, sampling lots of delicious food before ending up in Hanoi Food Culture where we had the Vietnamese speciality of egg coffee (or egg chocolate in my case as I’m not a coffee drinker)

Egg chocolate – an alternate version of the Vietnamese speciality egg coffee

We boarded the train in the evening, around 9pm. We were travelling in first class which comprised of 4-berth bunks with shared toilets/squats at the ends of the carriages. Second class was 6-berth bunks, followed by soft seats and hard seats (as you might recall from the Top Gear Vietnam special). I took a top bunk. The journey itself was very loud and the train was very shaky, and I don’t remember sleeping too much. The overnight train I’ve since been on in Thailand was a much more comfortable ride.

We arrived in Hue at 10.30am the next morning. It was noticeably hotter and more humid. Despite arriving early, we were able to check in to our hotel where I promptly showered before heading out for a quick wander before we went on our included trips in the afternoon. I ventured for a walk along the Perfume River before retreating to the air con ahead of our afternoon tours. Firstly we went to the Tien Mu Pagoda:

Tien Mu Pagoda, Hue

We then went to the main attraction in Hue, the Imperial Citadel. An imposing collection of buildings, and much, much larger than I imagined. The citadel was built in the early 1800s and was targeted during the Vietnam War. You can see the bullet holes from the Vietnam War in some of the walls.

Imperial citadel, Hue

We also squeezed in a visit to the Royal Tombs on an busy sightseeing afternoon.

At the Royal Tombs, Hue

The next morning I did a motorbike tour (as backseat passenger!) – an absolute must-do in a country where motorbikes/scooters are the primary form of transport. We were taken out to the countryside outside of Hue, seeing rice fields, monasteries and a colosseum where elephants and tigers once fought. We had an included vegetarian lunch at the monastery which was, once again, absolutely delicious.

We arrived back in Hue after lunch and then headed south over the Hai Van Pass towards Hoi An. Unfortunately it was a bit cloudier than ideal which didn’t make for the best photos, but we still saw some great views.

We arrived in Hoi An in the late afternoon. Our guide took us on a brief orientation tour as we had 3 nights here to explore. We bumped into Jack Whitehall and his dad filming their Netflix travel series whilst we were wandering down tailors row – an unexpected sight! Hoi An is famous for getting cheap tailoring which can be ready in as little as 24 hours, but I didn’t partake on this occasion.

The following day we had an included excursion in the morning to Planeterra’s project here, Oodles of Noodles. This project taught local kids both the skills of cooking in a professional environment, as well as some English language. We learned to make rice pancakes, and then enjoyed a delicious bowl of noodles for lunch:

Lunch at Oodles of Noodles, Hoi An

We had a free afternoon where I enjoyed walking around Hoi An old town. Sincerely the prettiest place I’ve ever been.

The next day was a free day. The weather was a bit dodgy, grey with the occasionally downpour but still very warm, so after a relaxing morning at the hotel, I went for a hot stone massage in the afternoon. £20 for a 90 minute massage was an absolute bargain, even if I was a bit sore the following day! In the evening we enjoyed a walk (and some bargains) in the night markets.

The next morning was an early start for a flight from nearby Danang to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), formerly Saigon. Even hotter and more sticky than Hue. After checking in to the hotel mid morning, and then going for lunch to have pho (finally!), we then had a free afternoon. Ho Chi Minh City has some pretty spectacular architecture, including many remnants of the French colonial era:

The following day we had an included trip out to the Cu Chi Tunnels, a network of tunnels built by the Viet Cong outside of Saigon during the Vietnam War. It was fascinating to learn about the guerilla tactics used by the Viet Cong, and amazing to see the size of the tunnels, which were utterly minuscule.

Cu Chi Tunnels, barely big enough for a body to fit through

We came back to HCMC for lunch and then had a free afternoon. I decided to go to the War Remnants museum which is is a sobering affair. Be warned – there are some very graphic pictures of the effects of the chemical warfare. It was also horrifying to learn that people still live with the effects having been exposed at the time, but also because some of the effects can be passed on to offspring. A sobering reminder of the legacy of war, and well worth a visit.

That evening was our final group dinner before I left the following day. More delicious food, this time Vietnamese barbecue.

Vietnamese BBQ – cook your own dinner!

I had most of the next day free before an evening flight back to London via Hanoi. It was extremely hot and sticky again, and after a walk in the morning to the Reunification Palace and a failed attempt to find the Jade Emperor Pagoda, I retreated back to the hotel and air con and a shower before heading to the airport in the late afternoon.

So, what were my impressions of Vietnam? Genuinely part of the reason I went was after I’d seen the Top Gear Vietnam show, it looked a beautiful and fascinating country. A few people I’d met on my previous travels had also been and talked about what a wonderful country it is. And it certainly was. Everyone was friendly, I didn’t feel afraid walking around by myself, a solo female traveller (albeit on a group tour). It was very cheap – obviously I’d paid for the trip and accommodation/transport beforehand, and so all I had to buy whilst there was food, drinks, excursions and souvenirs. I was there for 10 days and spent less than £150 – and that included a $40 motorbike trip and a £20 massage. The absolute best food I’ve had anywhere I’ve been either before or since (with Peru close behind). And a fascinating, and devastating, recent history. Would absolutely recommend, and when I do go back again to South East Asia, I wouldn’t think twice about going back.

Thailand

I’ve previously taken holidays in November, in many ways it’s a great time of year to take a holiday, just before the festive season gets into full swing, and before the worst of winter sets in. It’s been a while since I took a winter holiday though, and I was excited to get back to it. I was even more excited about being able to get to Thailand from Cardiff airport. Less than an hour between me leaving the house, to being sat in the airport lounge with a glass of vino – ideal.

Qatar Airways fly 3-4 times a week from Cardiff via Doha, and to say the plane wasn’t full would be an understatement – I had 3 seats to myself! I would definitely encourage anyone in south Wales or the south west of England to use this route if you’re thinking of heading to Asia, Australia or New Zealand, it is no more expensive than flying from London, particularly when you factor in the cost of getting to Heathrow, and especially on the way back, being home just over an hour after landing is almost priceless. Anyway, after that pitch for Qatar Airways (I am not affiliated with them in any way…), onto Thailand…

I had been warned that immigration in Bangkok could be a long experience, but I must have landed at a fortunate time as there was a very short queue. British citizens don’t need a visa for trips up to 30 days, you just need to keep hold of your stamped departure card until you leave. After picking up my rucksack (gotta live the backpacker lifestyle in Thailand), I then had a transfer to the hotel. It was about an hour in some pretty heavy traffic.

I travelled with a company I haven’t been with before, Intro Travel, always good to try a new company. You can see the trip itinerary here.

We were staying in a hotel one street away from the famous backpacker mecca of Khao San Road. The plus side of this was that it was very close to the hubbub of this part of Bangkok, and the nightlife, the downside was trying to sleep over the noise coming from outside!

I arrived mid afternoon, and after a brief snooze, we met up as a group in the evening and went for dinner before going to a sky bar on the 84th floor of Baiyoke Sky Tower. I love getting up high in a new city, especially at night

The next day was a late start (10am!), we had breakfast, and then headed out on a bit of a city tour. The first stop was Wat Chana Songkhram, a temple (Wat means temple), where we received a Buddhist blessing, and then individually we offered a prayer along with incense and a lotus flower, which is an important symbol in Buddhism.

We walked through the streets and then had a short river cruise. I had no idea that Bangkok had so many rivers and canals in it. After that we headed to a market for some coconut ice cream before heading to Wat Pho, one of the largest temples in Bangkok and home to an enormous reclining Buddha

as well as numerous smaller Buddhas

We then had a tuk tuk ride back to the hotel for a little down-time before our big night out on Khao San Road. First up we went for dinner at Bombay Blues, an Indian restaurant (when in Rome…), where we started the drinking with enormous sharing cocktails and jelly shots, before heading to a bucket bar on Khao San Road for buckets of alcohol and some critters as snacks (the second time this year I’ve eaten fried critters on holiday, they have got no better since Mexico!)

I retired at midnight and left the others to it. The next morning we had a cooking class, for which I was very glad I didn’t have a hangover. We made Tom Yam soup, Pad Thai and Massaman curry, all delicious:

We then had a free afternoon before we were getting the overnight train south to Surat Thani. The train journey was about 14 hours, we were sleeping in bunks (which had been converted from seats) in an open carriage. Definitely comfier than the bunks on the train in Vietnam:

In Bangkok, the skies had been clear, but as we headed south it was greyer and more prone to tropical showers, still very hot though, absolutely no need for a sweater. When we got to Surat Thani the next morning, we had breakfast before hopping on the minibus inland to Khao Sok National Park. We drove for about an hour and then got on a boat across the lake for about an hour to the floating bungalows. A pretty idyllic place, the lake is man-made, but the scenery reminded me of Halong Bay in Vietnam. We spent the afternoon lounging around in big rubber rings with an adult beverage in hand, admiring the scenery and enjoying life.

The next day was a long travel day, we started off with an hour back across the lake, and then an hour in the mini bus back to Surat Thani, then an hour’s break in a mall for lunch before another hour or so to the ferry port, before a two-and-a-half hour ferry to Koh Pha-ngan, and then a 15 minute taxi ride to Sarana Bungalows, our home for the next 4 nights. It’s in a perfect location right on the beach, I could definitely get used to this view:

Koh Pha-ngan is famous for its Full Moon Parties on Haad Rin beach. Despite not being there for full moon, we still partied as though it was. We had dinner at Same Same in Haad Rin, got painted with luminous body paint before heading to a bucket bar to get pre-fuelled before eventually heading to the beach. A fun night of drinking and dancing before getting into bed at 3am

The next day I felt surprisingly well, which was a good job as I had a Thai massage at 11am. Not necessarily a relaxing experience as I was pulled into angles I didn’t know I could do! I spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool and in a hammock – blissful. We went to Pandip Food Market in the evening, there was a large array of food to choose from – I had sushi and some Thai-style ice cream, before heading back to the bungalows for a chilled evening.

The next day we did an island tour, heading firstly to Secret Beach:

As became the norm with the weather, the day started off with blue skies before turning cloudy and showery in the afternoon. There was a downpour whilst we were at lunch, and then it was showery at Malibu Beach in the afternoon. I lounged in a hammock, sheltering under some palm trees, whilst some of the others played volleyball.

After that we headed to Apichada viewpoint, where we would have been able to see a lovely sunset if it hadn’t been quite so cloudy.

In the evening we had a barbecue and bonfire on the beach, a lush, chilled evening. The lights you can just about see in the distance are on Koh Samui:

The next day we had a Muay Thai boxing class in the morning. Hot and sweaty but very enjoyable. After a chilled afternoon we had a final dinner with those only doing the 9 day trip, including more buckets and beach-partying. A late evening was then followed by an early morning and another long travel day to Phi Phi Islands.

A 6.15am start (following a 2am finish), with a taxi to the pier, a 2+ hour ferry back to the mainland, a coach (I think 3 hours but I was asleep for most of it) across the mainland to Krabi, and then another 2 hours on a ferry to Koh Phi Phi, and a 10 minute walk (no cars on Phi Phi) to the hotel. A downpour greeted our arrival. After relaxing in the room for a bit, we then went for dinner, and went to see a fire show, somewhat similar to those I’ve seen in Fiji and Rarotonga.

The next morning we met at 8am to walk up to the viewpoint on Phi Phi, it was a sticky walk as it was very humid, but the view was well worth the effort:

All the main hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars on Phi Phi Don are on the isthmus you can see in the photo, and from this angle you can imagine the devastation which was caused by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. The isthmus is so low-lying and would be easily washed away by a tsunami. Thankfully it has been rebuilt, but as the island is so heavily dependent on tourism, this brings new issues. Everything has to be shipped on and off the island, including all food, drinks, consumables and waste. It certainly eye-opening and made me think about the environmental impact of tourism on these idyllic islands.

In the afternoon we had a boat trip to some of the other islands, including Ko Phi Phi Lee, which is where Viking Bay and Maya Bay are located. You might know Maya Bay from the film The Beach. As a consequence of over tourism following the popularity of that film, Maya Beach remains closed to tourists. You can see it from the water but can’t get close or land on the beach, the red flags signal it’s closed, and later on there was a security boat patrolling the bay.

It was also raining again. We all got in the water for a swim – lovely and warm, like having a warm bath – before having dinner on board. After dinner, once it had got dark, we all got back into the water to see bioluminescent plankton which reside in these waters. I’ve seen this phenomenon once before in New Zealand whilst kayaking, but this time I could see it up close. It’s pretty cool to see the water lighting up beside you.

The next day, after a free morning, we went on another boat trip, this time around the main island of Phi Phi Don. We went to Phi Phi Village, Nui Bay and Monkey Bay. The monkeys were cute, but be sure to keep back as they will bite!

That evening was our last night on the trip, we went for a final group dinner before drinking and dancing the night away in some of the local bars.

All in all, a great trip. Lots of great (and different) sites, lovely food, great people, and generally good weather – I even came home with a bit of a tan!