AN ODE TO ALVIN

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We spent four days traveling from Perth to Sydney with the aim of making it in time for Christmas. Here’s the story of our roadtrip…

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Meet Alvin.

Now readers, we’ve taken a different approach with this post,
To try make the story more readable of how we journeyed from coast to coast.
Its a strange kind of love poem, as the journey was by no means romantic,
And in fact was littered with incredulous antics,
However Alvin you see, is our trusted campervan,
And he took us 4000km regardless he’s an 80s Nissan.
We bought him from a man called Fred down in South Perth,
Who quick to sell passed him on for less than his worth.
There were some teething problems initially, and getting him into 3rd gear took a while,
But for $800 we weren’t expecting agile.
He has quite a turning circle and a 3-point-turn is exercise
(In fact, just driving round the block again is probably wise).
He’s heard before he’s seen and he makes quite an impression,
And that was before we’d even started renovation.

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THE CYCLE RIDE: CHIANG MAI TO BANGKOK

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*Warning: excessively long post, only immediate family need feel obliged to read*

For anyone who knows us or has been following our blog, you would not be wrong to assume that we were not at all prepared for what lay ahead. For example, instead of purchasing appropriate road bikes, we opted for the cheapest bikes we could lay our hands on, which happened to be mountain bikes – not at all fit for our purposes (in fact they tethered us to the road!).

DAY 1: ‘NOT THE BEST START!’

Chiang Mai to Lampang – 106km/66 miles (Route 11)

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And so it begins… 0km down, 800km to go…

We’d aimed to start at 5.30am, so rising at 7.30 we were slightly behind schedule. We were slightly put out further when first mounting our bicycles and discovering our little rucksacks were far too heavy for the front baskets that we’d bought to save weight on our backs, and we couldn’t turn the bike handles to steer. Nevermind… they’re only little…. on our backs they go! Rather than panicking at these small hindrances, we went for a calming latte in Starbucks to send us on our way! Of course this was an error, and the enormity of actually doing the bike ride, rather than just talking about it, soon sank in. Continue reading

THE MUDBATHS OF NHA TRANG, VIETNAM

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After a night indulging in Nha Trang’s nightlife, the best cure has to be one their many mud baths. All the hostels and hotels arrange cheap tours to and from the nearest mud spa and it’s completely worth the $10. After just three hours of splashing around in mud, exfoliating under the vigorous waterfalls and floating in a mineral-filled tub, we’d never felt more radiant!

Charlotte and Ellen helping Sarah get the most from the experience...

Charlotte and Ellen helping Sarah get the most from the experience…

Silky smooth,

Charlotte and Sarah x

SILOM THAI COOKING SCHOOL

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Knowing that we’d soon be leaving Bangkok to travel through Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, our Thai meals were numbered! There was no way we could leave Thailand without learning how to cook some of our favourites. With Tate in tow, we booked a day’s course at Silom Thai Cooking School, costing just 1000 baht each. This even included a trip to the market to buy all our ingredients.

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THE TOP TEN THINGS WE’VE LEARNED FROM TEACHING

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1. Be really careful which student you give the marker pen to when inviting them to draw on the whiteboard
2. If struggling to occupy a child, just give them a stack of paper and scissors
3. If someone brings a puppy to the class, don’t bother trying to salvage any part of your lesson plan

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4. Don’t ask the students what they’d like to do next, chances are it has nothing to do with learning English
5. When gesturing enthusiastically with the left hand, don’t forget the right, which is now chucking water over a student’s head
6. Before acting out the word ‘fetch’, decide whether you’re prepared to live the rest of your life having panted like a dog with a pen in your mouth, whilst clambering on the floor in full suit attire
7. Check appearance between classes for marker pen Hitler-esque moustache
8. Don’t pretend to know how to spell something when you don’t

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9. Remember to clear the board after class, especially when teaching essential body parts and someone has just asked how to spell ‘nipples’
10. Don’t laugh when hearing a student’s name. ‘Porn’ means ‘blessing’ in Thai and ‘Poo’ means ‘crab’

MR JONES’ ORPHANAGE

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Part Santa’s grotto, part rustic kitchen, Mr Jones’ Orphanage seems to encompass everything we loved from childhood – wooden toy trains, cold milk and of course chocolate upon chocolate with extra whipped cream! Based upon the idea of a child’s fantasy orphanage, this over-the-top dessert cafe is a whimsical and indulgent escape.

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THE THINGS THEY DON’T TELL YOU ABOUT THAI MASSAGES

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Other than ‘you must have one’, we hadn’t heard much about Thai massages prior to our initial experience. The first thing you should know about massages in Thailand is that they are not gentle.

The classic ‘Thai massage’ is a series of harsh (and sometimes painful) stretches and bends, rather than soft skin strokes. Whilst it may feel like you’ve just paid to be beaten up, you will feel ‘looser’ and more supple afterwards. If you are wanting a more gentle approach, try an oil or aromatic massage; but be warned that a surprisingly severe amount of pressure is still applied. Our most recent oil massage included small punches, clicking of joints, being kneaded with elbows, and a slap around the head. They will not only use their hands and elbows, but feet and knees too! One of us (Charlotte) dozed off mid-massage, only to awake and discover herself intertwined with the masseuse whilst being bent in half.

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Secondly, Thai masseuses rarely focus on just the part of the body of which you have requested. Recently we have had the backs of our legs pummeled during a head massage, fingers pulled during a foot massage, and only today in the middle of a ‘light shoulder rub’, had the entire body pulled into a strange crab shape (Sarah).

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COUCHSURFING IN SAMUI

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We’d been told about couchsurfing by some fellow backpackers who couldn’t speak highly enough about it, couchsurfing being their favourite way to travel. For those of you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a concept whereby people let travellers stay for free in their home. These people are the hosts, and the person visiting is the surfer. It’s an amazing way to meet local people and experience a place beyond the travel guide – and of course it’s a great way to save money.

The couchsurfing community is full of like-minded travellers and generally those who surf will also offer to host people when back in their home country. It’s a way for people with limited funds to travel and experience the world. In some areas where people have little money and cannot travel out of their home country, they can host someone from another country and still have the experience of meeting people from different cultures, practise their language skills and learn about other places. Many hosts take part, however, to meet lifelong friends and to offer support to travellers.

We were pretty excited about our first couchsurfing experience and were unsure what to expect. We set up our profiles on couchsurfing.com and started searching for people in Koh Samui. We saw a host with loads of brilliant reviews and the most beautiful, glamorous home. As first-time couch surfers we had no reviews, and as there were two of us we were slightly more awkward to host. We also acknowledged that this couple were likely to get loads of requests from surfers on a daily basis, so when we sent our request we didn’t hold out much hope.

We could not believe it when we received a response asking if we were available the following weekend, as they’d be able to host us, and if the weather held up ‘we could go out on the boat’. Our only reservation was that it seemed too good to be true…

Our host's beautiful garden

Our host’s beautiful garden

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CAPILANO BRIDGE, VANCOUVER

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Travelling from Mexico on three different planes did very little to stop us jumping in the car and going out to explore Vancouver the second we arrived. We had researched attractions and saw that Capilano Suspension Bridge Park gave some of the most impressive and classically ‘Canadian’ views around.

The park consists of the 230ft high bridge crossing, a treetop adventure (probably better suited to small children than us wobbling along) and a chance to step out over the void on the transparent edge walkway – just a little frightening! Back across the bridge there is an excellent cliff walk that can satisfy those who want something a little more solid beneath their feet, but still want the photogenic views.

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REVIEW: AIR CANADA

Our journey from Mexico to Canada took us via Houston and Seattle before finally arriving in Canada. The final leg particularly stood out to us due to the minuscule size of our aircraft. Was it normal to cross the border via toy plane we wondered?

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CASA DE LES SUENOS, ISLA MUJERES

We found Casa de los Suenos hotel and bar completely by accident – fairly hidden at the south end of the island, it is a little gem worth seeking out. The bar backs onto the calm waters between Isla Mujeres and Cancun, and a dock down at water level provides visitors with the use of kayaks and snorkels.

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REVIEW: BARLITO, ISLA MUJERES

The Pool Girl Panini - BBQ chicken, peppers, onions and mozzarella

The Pool Girl Panini – BBQ chicken, peppers, onions and mozzarella

Though there are numerous great places to eat a hearty midday meal on Isla Mujeres, Barlito in particular stand out for us. It has a glowing reputation as the prime spot for freshly home-baked bread, super friendly staff and beautiful views.

Barlito lunch menu - review Continue reading

POCNA HOSTEL NIGHTLIFE

Be left in no doubt that the way of life here lives up to its reputation – work hard (ish), play hard! For large crowds, dance anthems and free flowing alcohol, you belong in Cancun rather than here. However, that doesn’t mean that Isla Mujeres doesn’t have enough of a nightlife of its own. It’s easy to find Mariachi bands, salsa nights and street performers along the main beach and high street, but if you’re looking to really party, the general consensus is that Pocna hostel is the place to go.

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TOP 10 BEST THINGS ABOUT LIVING IN MEXICO

Granted, we do not live in the heart of Mexico. There are plenty of tourists, we are forewarned of the spiciness of the food and we have certainly never witnessed any of the dangers that we were pre-warned of. But, we have met Mexicans who are from all over the country, learned conversational Spanish and have not only tasted all the local cuisines, but learned to cook them. We’ve embraced life on Isla Mujeres and here’s our favourite things about it:

1. The mariachi bands that play through the tiny streets attracting hoards of people

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2. Waking up to Mexican music turned up so loud that the walls vibrate. Beats the standard alarm and definitely wake you up in a better mood Continue reading

THE BUGGY BRIGADE

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As Isla Mujeres is only 7km long, there is little need for cars and golf buggies are without a doubt the easiest and most fun way for visitors to bound around.

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It should cost around 550 Mexican pesos for 24 hours, but there are loads of places offering them so don’t be afraid to bargain.

Don’t forget, the laws of the road still apply – don’t drink and drive! We’ve seen several arrests and a couple of quite nasty accidents so be careful.

*Lecture complete*

Charlotte & Sarah x