A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam and Thailand

Tiny chairs, tiny pigs and big fun.

sunny 32 °C

This is a long one....get a comfy seat....

Getting to the airport everything going exactly how it should and completely unflustered, I relaxed with a glass of Shiraz and a superfood salad before my flight, while I watched all the other people run around in a fluster including an older Russian couple who much to my amusement stank of alcohol and were doing everything they weren't supposed to. Not emptying their pockets at security and putting everything in their bag they weren't supposed to, standing in everyones way at every given opportunity and giving the air hostess a mini breakdown when they three times tried to start boarding before their seat numbers had been called at the gate.....brilliant!
I had used my brain and booked a night flight so that I could kip on the plane and arrive fresh in Vietnam at 9am...this was spot on I almost couldn't believe it when I woke up after 7 hours sleep, must be all the camping that has got me used to sleeping without a bed! Delighted I rounded off the flight with a great film The Butler. A quick change in Hong Kong to the plane to Ho Chi Min City and some ear wigging of other people's travel research of areas in Vietnam which might come in useful later....then I was there! I had already booked the first night in a hotel as Sam and Kate weren't arriving for another day and I was met by the airport transfer which made things easier and slightly celebrity like! Ho Chi Min City as is renowned for its traffic chaos, everyone is on mopeds and there aren't really any rules of the road or restrictions meaning that you can put as many people on a moped or as much cargo and fly around the city while beeping the horn every 2 metres!
I already knew what I wanted to do when i got to the nice hotel and that was nothing!! I hadn't slept in a proper bed for so long or bathed after camping and going from place to place over the last 5 weeks I decided to treat myself to a day of luxury. Gym session to burn off the kilos from New Zealand, 3 hour spa session with all the trimmings and massages to feel fresh, lovely vietnamese dinner in the hotel with fresh coconut water and bed at 8pm.......delighted!!! Tourism can wait until day 2, I was extremely happy with my decision and the whole lot including dinner and the hotel cost was £45....bargain!
The next day I walked all around the city taking in the womens museum, getting lost which is always actually quite useful for seeing things, eating some street food while I awaited the arrival of my British Northerners!

They arrived in a flurry of excitement with the announcement from the hotel bell boy that Mr Sam was at the door...that stuck! We then did what all other friends who haven't been together for nearly 18 months do....we went out!!! HCMC is an interesting night but as we were later to discover not a touch on Hanoi. So we did our research and hopped around a few roof bars, one very odd nightclub which may well have been a teenage night out with karaoke and finally an internationally peppered established where we danced our little legs off! Much of the next day was trying to decide where to go next and with Kate and Sam needing to soak up some beach vibes we booked a flight to Phu Quoc. Sam and I managed to have a fun filled afternoon while Kate got on top of her jet lag strolling all round the city having the worlds best Banh Mi (Vietnamese kind of filled roll with coriander, salads, pork and chilli). Sam then accidentally accusing a shop assistant of not giving him the correct change quickly learnt sorry in Vietnamese. The rest of the afternoons 5 hour walk included witnessing a full blown fight between two men at an intersection hitting each other with planks of wood...who knows what over! A free beer, a night market, some delicious coconut smoothies, noodles, dirty feet, nearly having a massage and so many mopeds...we were in awe of the city!

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Phu Quoc was next and we were staying in a resort with bamboo huts pretty much on the beautiful beach, next door was a much nicer resort so we took full advantage of their comfort too! We liked it so much we ended up staying for 5 days. The best way we decided to maximise what we saw was to rent scooters and with that being the preferred method of transport in vietnam they weren't hard to find. Kate and I being the test dummies while Sam chilled at the beach set off down the sandy and rocky lane and headed towards town. Sand and rocks are not the best way to start off your moped adventure but with a few skids and two drops of the bikes after that we were fine and in fact later becoming off road moped pros! Scooting in town was full on, imagine a swarm of bees on roller skates and that's how hectic it was to drive around but like good women we styled it out even when some teenagers laughed at us for chickening out going over a muddy slippery wet bridge...thanks but no thanks 'One Direction'!
Sam joined us the next day as a novice but slotted straight in to it, we spent the whole day scooting all over the island, in the forest passing pepper farms and meeting other travellers on the way and stopping for Vietnamese coffee which is thick sludgy delicious ice coffee sweetened with condensed milk!! We all prob need a trip to the dentist by now! On the north side of the island there were a lot of tiny local villages and the sea is dotted with houses on stilts which I'd heard before coming that can be a pretty common way to live. Later an Aussie woman told me that a lot of the islanders moved into these houses in the sea as tourist companies used their land on the coast to build hotels, I find this quite sad really. Although tourism must be good for local employment and boost the economy, having to move out of your house to make way for it takes the edge off. However I guess it's similar to people having to move to make way for a bypass in England...I hope the locals at least got some 'Dong' for that. People also live in house boats and float around in the sea or on rivers which we witnessed later on a boat trip when someone floated their house next to our boat to sell the captain sea urchins!

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So the nights in Phu Quoc were relaxed just eating and chilling out but with the help of our scoots we were able to see much of the island including pretty extravagant fish stalls where we had dinner at the night market and passed on our Phu Quoc tips to some new arrivals an older couple from Ireland sat next to us, although they informed us their scootering days were long gone!
Highlights other than much serious off road scootering including through a construction site were Sams 'princess bed' or more commonly known mosquito net cover, earning him the nickname Princess after he exclaimed he couldn't help us pack up as he was organising his princess bed ...ooops slip of the tongue! A boat trip which we did for the day including snorkelling and fishing with the tour organiser Jerry like 'Tom and Gerry' which he told us many times! We met a few people on the boat and invited one to dinner that night as he was staying in our hotel and travelling alone. Great guy from india and who gave us some interesting Indian culture lessons while we ate!

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Next up with a bit of last minute travel plan changing we were heading to Hanoi. Originally we were thinking of getting a sleeper train up to Da Nang but with it being Vietnamese New Year tickets were pretty scarce so we decided to change plans all together and head North. Hanoi was a totally charged city even more so than HCMC with its Colonial buildings and French influence there was a more vibrant feeling here. City's seem to end up being the same for me, less about the culture and more about the socialising! However I did fit in a few walks around to soak up the atmosphere, loads of street food, a quick carry of the street sellers pineapples and quite a lot of coconuts. I actually really liked Hanoi especially with the buzz of it being new years eve. We stayed here two night and we had a great time partying including meeting two Norwegians who apparently weren't 'successful high brow gays' after all, table football in what turned out to probably be some sort of dodgy den bar, a great big dance in an off the beaten track club (you can take us out of Hackney but you can't take Hackney out of us!). To top it off, a second night now joined by Sams French friend who happened to be in Hanoi too tagging along to what ended up being a lock in and with Kate and I teaching the whole bar the dance to Candy Cameo with a quick hide upstairs in the front room for the whole bar when the owner said the police were coming past and would fine them for being open late! Hanoi you have impressed!!

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Fulfilled with our party fun we now headed off for some rural exploring culture! Ninh Binh to be precise. Having read that it would give Halong Bay a run for its tourist money we were planning on hiring scooters, staying in a homestay and visiting Tam Coc and as it happens this turned out to be beyond incredible!!
Now it started off appallingly all of us lets say feeling the effects of the party and the street food weren't in particularly good condition to be squashed in a public mini bus for a 3 hour journey with more people than there were seats.....what do you expect for £3! If I am brutally honest I had a panic on and if I hadn't slept I would have got off like I had pictured in my head for the fist 30 minutes where more and more people got on and filled in gaps in the seats. The answer after turning round to Kate and saying 'I can't do this' was simply let the bus vibrations make you go to sleep, it worked a treat. We got there and with some excellent common sense and not a word of Vietnamese between us but apparently quite a lot of unhelpful French we concluded that the best place to hire a scooter would be through a hotel in town and we were right. Two scooters between three and 3 small backpacks we were off into the country. Understandably we got lost, maybe something to do with the fact we had overlooked the idea to pre plan jotting down the directions instead being somewhat surprised when our very Western compass 'the iPad' didnt save the booking page with the address on. Again with no Vietnamese, but 100 dong we managed to communicate 'homestay' to a semi tour guide somewhere near the foot of a mountain who jumped on his scoot, pocketed our 100 dong and drove us down some seriously narrow gravel paths lining rice paddies showing us right to the door or our accommodation. Money well spent and he seemed pretty happy!
Now when we arrived we were delighted especially to find a tiny pig called 'Bacon' who greeted us amongst chickens, goats and baby ducks. Bacon was to feature much in the next few days with Kate's emotional attachment to her becoming a worry at how was she going to ever be able to leave her! The story of Bacon was she was the runt of the litter, bruised and battered from her siblings and undernourished she was rescued by the owners from their next door farmer neighbour, she will probably always stay tiny and she only eats rice and turns her piggy nose up to everything else.....she is also extremely fond of cuddles!
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The owners of this incredible homestay showed us to our minimalistic semi open bamboo hut but with all the amenities we needed, a hot shower and a comfy warm bed with duvet it was like sleeping amongst nature but in a double bed with electricity. Waking up to the lake and the goats was really something when you are partially covered by the hut but warm in your bed! The link to the homestay is http://www.nguyenshack.com

After a long home cooked dinner and a good sleep Maxime took us on a bicycle tour of the area over rice paddies, to the local school, to pagodas, into his friends house for a beer and some raw sugarcane (so much for a packet of dry roasted) and finally to his friends farm where bacons giant parents were housed! On the way he taught us everything from the cost of schooling to how to make tofu and rice wine, we learnt so much just in a morning! That afternoon we scooted to Tam Coc and hitched a boat ride along the river, winding through and underneath limestone caves (with wet feet thanks to Sam getting into the boat like an 80yr old woman balancing on a jelly!). An indescribable and peaceful journey at times rowed with the guides feet which I'm sure was much more relaxed than Halong bay would have been and with only one incident of hustling to buy things!

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Next day was Bai Dinh and with quite a lot of scootering and difficulty to find it was one of those places you just thought this isn't going to be worth it. We were however proved wrong when South East Asia's largest single golden Buddha towered over us. I found this so peaceful and a really special place which without sounding too ridiculous i felt had such a spiritual air around it for me and I was in awe. I think it helped that it was a misty day adding to the mystical feel of the place. Onward and keeping an eye on the time we climbed many many steep steps to reach the top of mount Moa nestled between spectacular views of Tam Coc one way and the vibrant town in the other it was a lovely way to round off that section of the trip with the noise of Tet celebrations warming up in the background.

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We were due to leave and dropped the scoots back at the hotel with the receptionist telling us not to get the bus as they would be too overpacked and instead sent us running down the road with 5 minutes to spare to get the last train to Hanoi. One angry Vietnamese ticket attendant (no idea why) and a quick supermarket sweep of biscuits for dinner which was the only identifiable snack we could see, we sat in comfy clean seats of the train....delightful! I absolutely can't tell you how much I loved this bit of the trip....actually all of Vietnam but especially the exploration and free spirit of Ninh Binh. I would highly recommend exploring it, you get a real sense of freedom and 'real' vietnam doing this. The homestay was called Ngyan Shack and can be found on the Internet if anyone is interested, they also have a property on the river of the Mekong Delta.
So with 24 hours left before it was time for Sam and Kate to go home we flew to Bangkok stayed in a lovey room in amongst the Bangkok protests and took in some long awaited Muey Thai boxing which was exceptional

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My next stop was to meet Stephy O'Grady in Ko Samui. Now the next four days were about soaking up sunshine and catching up over Piña Coladas. The only downside was we hadn't figured out where the quieter less commercial part of the island was til the last 2 days when we scootered round the whole island, taking in waterfallls, pancakes and local markets along the way and beautified ourselves in the islands many Spas. One word of advise though dont buy local sun cream it has about as much SPF in it as a teapot does chocolate..... much burn later i was not impressed and thinking about watchdog. We both decided seedy middle aged mantown 'Chewang' or 'chavwang' as it should be called was not for us! We made the most of it though, introducing Steph to Thai rum, having a lads night at the boxing, a sufficient amount of dancing and being accused of being Irish for drinking a beer by the pool at sunset; one of us pale and the other a redhead....stereotyping indeed!

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For my final hours of what had been a mammoth trip I was spending one night in Bangkok with my great friend Sarah who had just finished a 10 day silent meditation camp....hoping she was now in the mood to chat I made my way across the city of Bangkok's easy metro system and with one last treat checked into a 5* hotel with an Infinity pool hanging over the city of the 14th floor (exchange rate considered 5* Bangkok is much more affordable than 5* London). Luckily she was in the mood to talk and in a flurry of hugs we were reunited after 16months of being away and spent the next 24 hours pretty much solidly talking in luxury living round the pool on huge comfy pool beds sipping at cocktails and a buffet breakfast so good we were nearly pushed out the door. All this except for an adventurous out to dinner walk which saw us run thorough 10 lanes of traffic and a family of giant rats in the street on the way to the riverside restaurant!
When you travel around a lot some of life's simple things are absolute luxuries...ie crisp sheets and clean clothes! Coining the phrase "we've done well here" at any given opportunity to describe that 24 hours as quick as we were reunited Lane was heading towards Panang and my next stop was back to NZ!

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What happened next was to be a jaw dropping experience! I had been thinking how incredibly lucky I was to have seen and done so much over the last 9 weeks. Almost feeling guilty for having had such a good time and not having to be at work but off I went to the airport with what i thought was enough time and full of anticipation with what was going to happen in life next. My peaceful thoughts were shattered when I started to realise that this journey across town was taking significantly longer than I had allowed for. Finally arriving at the airport I had only 90 minutes (the check in closing amount) until my flight took off so running through the terminal thinking god I hope they still let me check in I wasn't best pleased to be confronted with the Emirates queue which was approximately 300 people deep! Not good.

I cornered one of the staff who thankfully put up me into another queue only 4 groups long (obviously which always includes a family with 7 suitcases and 4 kids). Getting a sweat on now as we weren't moving and starting to run through plans of what to do when I don't get on this flight I eventually made it to the desk. All was going well until the clerk decided to question me on my NZ visa and why I don't happen to have a copy in my passport. Those of you in the know will realise that most visas are nowadays electronic and therefore it flags up on entrance to the country. After much pleading and explaining to the clerk who still couldn't grasp the electronic system, my iphone copy of my visa or the fact that I had an NZ entrance stamp in my passport for one month previous he sends me off to customer service desk. Over the next 15 minutes another Emirates staff member questioned my visa so much so that he called NZ immigration who judging by the conversation outcome must have told him he was an idiot and to let me fly. Running back to the original desk with 60mins til take off and where my bag and 304 other people were, the clerk thrust two boarding tickets into my hand and told me to hot foot it to the gate. In such a panic now that I still had passport control and customs to negotiate I didn't pay much attention to the boarding card until finally I looked down and saw..........Business Class!!...... Noooooooooooo surely not there must have been a mistake, maybe they have run out of paper to print the economy tickets on, the flights were correct, Bangkok to Sydney but I still couldn't accept the possibility that business class was written on the ticket....and not just any old business class but Emirates business class! I pegged it through the terminal having just enough time to throw my money at the duty free woman to buy perfume before I ran to the gate.

When I sat down in the fully reclining cocoon seat come bed of 9F I finally accepted 'oh my god this is actually happening, I am going to fly business class for the next 10 hours' ...hallelujah!! God bless our Middle Eastern neighbours and their lust for everything glam because Emirates Business Class is De-lux!!!! I still don't know why I was upgraded but I'm pretty confident that they had screwed up check in and overbooked the flight. The ironic thing was the night before I had tried to check in online but gave up when the system was playing up....thank god I hadn't! As I had just about closed my mouth from astonishment and stowed my very non business class type canvas handbag the air hostess asked if I would like a glass of champagne......ummmm YES!
For the next 10 hours i had champagne cocktails, vintage red wine, a four course delux dinner on royal doultan china, 2 movies and all the free stuff I could manage (in a classy way obviously) before having the air steward add a mattress to my bed so I could get some 5* air sleep. I was having such a lovely time I almost didn't want to go to sleep in case I missed something. This upgrade was not wasted, rich people probably just take this in their stride but I fully appreciated everything, most of all the Bvlgari very fancy goodie bag of travel items! I arrived in Sydney as happy as a pig in....

My economy qantas connection flight was a chore after that and as I poked around the naff breakfast on my way back to Auckland I was at least looking forward to see my pals. My bag however was obviously so happy with Emirates that it didn't make it to Auckland and got left in Sydney with the fantastic response from the baggage desk of "we didn't have enough time to transfer it to the other plane" ummmmm isn't that what is supposed to happen on the 90 minute connection which i managed to make in person and on foot. Anyhow at least I didn't have to carry it on the Sky Bus back to Auckland city centre I guess and it got delivered the following morning!

So that's a wrap, the past few weeks have been so good rounded off with an unexpected flying treat. Thanks to all those involved who made it such a great time. Next stop Gizzy and back to work........

L x

Posted by Halgerty12 14:25 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

North Island : Part two of the Christmas and NY adventure

Horsing around the East Cape

sunny 27 °C

Our next stop was Gisborne where we woke up in the morning ready to depart Mahia in a flood of water around the tents. Luckily not enough to have leaked into the tents though we packed up pretty sharpish during a lul in the rain somewhere around 8am. It basically rained for most of the day which matched our sprits which were a bit damp that day too. We decided to take a massive cheat and booked into a motel for two nights to dry everything off clean up and not sleep on the floor. After all we are adults and we can do whatever we want! Gizzy buzzed past in a bit of a haze which felt like the middle ground before the next leg which was to be more rural, our rainy day becoming occupied with a cinema trip. Thankfully the next day some glorious sunshine back again we took in Wainui beach for the afternoon and trawled a few estate agents to search for rentals for when I move there in Feb. Determined to check out Gizzys saturday nightlife we started off in a pop up Mexican restaurant and the food was delicious for dinner, walked past a few potential night spots which were closed for a function or empty but then moved onto what can only be likened to TGI Fridays for beer and pool...hmmmm not quite 'buzzing'! Several beers later we took the walk to Gizzys only nightclub and the anticipation we had for a busy Saturday night party was quickly squashed when we were the only 3 people there bar two dodgy blokes in the corner. A few Peter Andre singles, a couple of bad attempts at a G&T in a plastic glass and one wobbler from a local 'inebriated' customer we left at a savoury 1am not before being treated by another inebriated local performing a Haka to oncoming traffic on our walk home...interesting!

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Next stop Tolaga Bay where we were back to camping and fully stocked up with supplies. This was a nice area, family orientated and quite small, I didn't really like the beach as much as the sand was a bit brown (oh the absolute perils of travel!) Feeling a bit non active over the last few days we took a giant hike and completed the Cooks Cove Walkway which is where Captain Cook docked his boat in 1769 and was welcomed by Moari tribes unlike in other areas of NZ the local iwi (tribe) were said to have been happy to welcome the ship. The pier in Tolaga bay which has recently been renovated also pays homage to the Moari tribes that belong here and tells the story Hinematioro and Te Whakatatare O-Te-rangi.
We only stayed here one night with a rough outline of timing of each place we wanted to get to.
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Tokamaru was next which I loved. We didn't stay overnight unfortunately but we spent the day. Starting off with cranking up the stove on the near empty beach to make a caffeteire of coffee and read the Sunday papers...classy! We stayed here all day and worked on our tans and the water was the best so far. I really want to come back to this little town and as its a stones throw from Gizzy I think I will make a weekend of it. There's not much there in terms of specific facilities but with the spectacular beach as its main attraction, some heritage, a pub and a shop that's always enough of a start for me!

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After a beautiful day at the beach we did a long drive up to Tiki Tiki. Over the last few days we had been toying with the idea of doing another big mountain climb of Ruatoria however following much discussions and some advice and research from Chris we decided we'll work up to this one as it was probably a bit too tricky so watch this space.

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Arriving in Tiki Tiki which having the same name as the Maori aggressive figures we were quite excited about getting to, but unless we missed the town there isn't anything there except for many horses, some houses and three kids on bikes! We decided to look for some horse trekking that we had read about and happened upon an old backpackers which advertised horse treks. Chris obiendiently following the sign not to let the dog in that was happily nuzzling our legs jumped over the fence and went into what looked like the entrance only to be greeted by the biggest man we've ever seen who said the backpackers had closed down 2 years ago. He kindly pointed us in two different directions of where to find the horse guy. I feel I need to set the scene here a bit more we were in the absolute middle of nowhere here, no phone reception, a handful of people, no tarmac and so much wilderness I was half expecting to see someone come out chewing corn wearing blue dungarees and growling at us! We carried on dutifully following the instructions taking us up a dirt trak which was not made for Tina to drive on and were quickly surrounded by several cows and a large family of pigs! Thinking that we might not be doing the right thing here driving around on Maori land we were about to turn back when a man pulled up behind us in a 4x4. Slightly nervous he might give out to us for being on his land we were relieved when he pulled the window down and said "Are you lost?" Luckily he was a lovely older maori guy called Reg and said he offered horse treks which he could do that evening. Apparently not having accommodation yet also wasn't a problem with the conversation taking the effect of "if you've got tents then I've got a front lawn for you to camp on, follow me"......love the kiwis!! We accepted and got about following him down more Tina unfriendly roads before putting the tents up in his garden full of happiness that we had stumbled on this funny adventure!

We met the horses and had a cuppa before getting saddled up heading out before sun set. Michelle had the biggest horse going much to mine and Chris's delight that we hadn't been offered it. I was nervous as I think I was 5 the last time I went on a horse and after Reg telling me to relax a few times and one mild panic that I couldn't get Mona Lisa the horse to turn round I finally figured it all out and started to enjoy it. What followed in the next two hours was the most amazing trip that makes you feel lucky to be alive. We trekked down the beach on our horses and over mountains, through rivers, steep climbs, bee huts and mountain goats all while on our horses. It was breathtaking and I think we must have said "I can't believe we are getting to do this" so many times. Michelle's giant horse was not as obedient as the rest and had her own plan of where she wanted to walk, much to our amusement afterwards but not so much to Michelle's at the time! Arriving back in the dark Chris threw together a delicious veg green curry on our little stove washed down with some cups of wine we were ready to sleep exhausted from all the adventure and fresh air. What an absolute perfect day!!
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Next on we carried on to the edge of the world, which was in fact the most East point of New Zealand the first place in the world to see the sun and the last point before the time zone reverts back to the previous day. There is a lighthouse here and after another 25km of Tina unfriendly roads and several more wishes from me for a truck we climbed to the top of the cliff to get to the lighthouse. Incredible views and outstanding scenery again dotted with a few Maori farming family houses as we drove back round.
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We took in a Manauka Bee farm which thanks to Reg the horse mans recent lessons about Bee Keeping and Manuka our knowledge was already fresh before carrying on to spend a night in Te Kaha. Cards, beers, Mexican camp rice dinner made by me and a beach walk this part was just a lay over really before we carried on to meet up with Brena in Ohope with a pit stop in Opotiki which was actually quite a nice built up town.

For the last leg of the journey we joined Bren and some of her lovely family for 2 nights in Ohope at a Top 10 campsite with some surfing, much better card games and one fancy dinner with long talked about sticky toffee pudding to round off our trip before heading back to Auckland. Ohope is lovely and I really would like to go back when I'm an accomplished surfer!! I can't tell you how much I loved the last 3 weeks. Chris and Michelle are excellent travel partners, I never felt like a third wheel travelling with a couple and we all laughed our heads off a lot! Could not have wished for a better time and I loved the rural travel with rough plans of where we wanted to go, map plan chats and so much adventure.

One more long drive and we were back in Auckland for lunch, carrying on the living by the seat of your pants method I had 7 hours to wash all my stuff, unpack, re-pack, get some last minute shopping and do a few internet tasks before I had to get to Auckland airport to fly to Ho Chi Min City for 3 weeks in Vietnam with my friends from home Kate and Sam....with no specific plans, a tiny backpack and a whole county to explore I pretty much skipped down the road with excitement. Asia here I come ............to be continued!

L xxx

Posted by Halgerty12 02:50 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Coromandel, Taupo and New Zealand's East Cape

In the words of Noddy Holder ...Ittttttttt's Chrrrrrrristmas!

sunny 24 °C

Well im sorry I've been busy having such a good time that blogging has taken a back seat! So I left off in Auckland where everything was new and we had been to Waiheke island for a fab weekend. Well next up was our Christmas and new year extravaganza plan that we were all itching to get to! I met up with some other friends from home in Auckland which resulted in a girls night out in 'Poof' an aptly named new gay bar in Ponsonby complete with pole dancing drag queens and a few attempts from a couple of members of our party.....excellent efforts! First up though I had to buy a car as you do, and after much indecisiveness, car showroom trawling, Frank Butcher East London impressions and a few hitches from the car sales man; aka Japans own version of Fawlty Towers Manuel i got a deal on 'Tina' the Honda Fit Jazz! So far so good she is coping well with all the driving and my Dad is delighted that I've stopped ringing him to ask about second hand car advice!

So in summary:

Christmas: We set off from Auckland a few hours later than planned thanks to Manuels mess up with the car being ready but we were on the road to The Coromandel in no time. A quick stop in Pak and Save and Warehouse (NZ's answer to Costco/Woolworths) for supplies and fancy dress outfits for our Christmas video message (more later) and to meet Brena one of Chris and Michelle's (C&M) friends who was joining us. Beautiful scenery and some seriously windy roads later we were nearly at Cooks Beach! On a separate note Kiwis your driving is atrocious! You drive too fast, overtake on bends and generally have bad road manners...for such laid back people what are you in such a hurry for? Might your crate of Tui get too warm in the boot Bro!! Nutty drivers has been evident for much of the rest of the trip, evident in two accidents we've gone past where the car has driven off the side of the CLIFF!! Seriously people chill out!

Back to Christmas! 4 nights in a tiny cool retro 'Bach' (holiday home) which was on a slope which made for an interesting downhill walk from the kitchen to the living room, 5 mins from the beach, one shop, BBQ, comfy living and as much possible outdoors and breathtaking scenary as you could want! ....Delighted!
We did a huge walk around Cathedral Cove to a surreal beach on one of the days, had beers at the beach and cooked a lot. Brena left on Xmas eve and this year for the rest of us was very quiet in comparison to our past ones! BBQ bottle of wine bed!

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Christmas Day on the other hand was shall we say a bit more lively, one of the most fun I've ever had and a huge improvement on last year. With a slight worry I might miss my family a lot C&M certainly didn't let this thought linger too long! It went a bit like this:

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Long Beach Run 8am
Breakfast and Bucks Fizz hilarious Skype from 'slightly' tipsy family at home
Present opening and an impromptu quick fire round quiz
Fancy dress swim in the sea in the rain to much of the towns delight at these Brits abroad!
Beers and 2 hour monopoly as we underestimated ham cooking time
G&T o'clock and prep
Dinner of roasted ham, colcannon, roast veg, cabbage and potatoes and lashings of wine.
Post dinner sunbathe as sun emerges and a delighted 2nd trip to the beach armed with wine and beers and some songs until sun goes down
Our own version of the alternative Christmas video message which I can only show you as my words won't do it justice!
More Skyping of other family, Rose wine and cheese board followed by a few accidental shots and a good old fashioned dance round the kitchen!!
In the words of Gordon Ramsey......Christmas....DONE!

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Quite relaxed and a few litres of water later we were due to leave Coromandel 2 days later. I feel Coromandel was really the easing ourselves into the trip part!! Next up lake Taupo for 9 glorious nights, this Bach was amazing and had incredible views, really home from home we felt so comfy. Joined by 3 other friends of C&M we hugely outnumbered Chris 5:1 on the girl front, he coped really well and thoroughly enjoyed drinking Chardonnay crossed legged at any given opportunity. We had a jealousy inducing beyond excellent time and it was so good to meet some people who hopefully will be a continuing feature of the NZ adventure!

Highlights of the trip were:
Tongariro crossing where we got up at 5am and walked and climbed for 7 hours up a 1800m active volcano in some might say treacherous conditions. Huge huge achievement and has enlightened my desire to continue on with some of the other 8 remaining great NZ walks!

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Natural Hot springs which just blew me away, luckily not literally. Just up before the Huka falls the mountain falks into the river and because of much thermal underground activity, heats the water so that people like me can just walk down a hill and jump in a ready made natural free bath of thermal pool!! Incredible!! Why go to the spa when it's free by the river!

Prawn fishing where Michelle identified herself as captain Birdseye catching 5 prawns to mine and Chris's 1 and 2 respectively!

Many a competitive game of Articulate
Some stand up paddle boarding which I loved and was delighted not to have fallen in on my first go!
Lots of cooking and a particularly ructious face achingly hilarous NYE and unexpected continuation onto New Year's Day....well for some of us anyway ..ahem!
Joined then for 24 hours by Claire and Falloni my friends I met in Oz for our final meet up this end of the world before they sadly go back to Ireland! Dinner, drinks, walking and lake time....perfect will miss them loads on this time zone!!

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Next on the trip agenda was back to the three amigos and 10 days of camping along the East Cape. A trip to 'Hunting and Fishing' and we armed ourselves with remaining camping gear and drafted out a plan for our route. Luckily we are all on the same page of what sort of things we want to do which makes it easier and we've been pretty laid back so far. We left Taupo on a day of grey rain and drove towards Napier. As soon as we emerged over the mountains the sun appeared and that's the way it's stayed!

Napier is a lovely Art Deco city with some great buildings. Camping started off well with a make shift camp fire dinner we made, the first camps sleep not so well. Noisy birds, airplanes, hot sun in tents and generally sleeping very close to the floor was one to get to used to! Quote of the day from Michelle as she emerges from the tent at 7am after 1st nights sleep "who would go camping, this is a joke".
By day 3 she can't stop talking about how much she loves camping and she's not wrong! In general camping is going really well and I'm really enjoying it so far.

We also hired bikes one day and stopped off at 2 wineries and a brewery on the track a brilliant way to do a wine tour with a packed lunch! 30km of cycling in a day at the end of the trip which is great for the body but not so great for my bum which by the end was not in a good way thanks to the uncomfy seat unlike my bike at home! I was very close to loosing my rag about 3k from home so i got off and walked the rest of the way home to save the bike from being launched into the river!! I thoroughly enjoyed the walk!

We've been in holiday campsites so far with good access to facilities but when we get further along up the East Cape it will get more into the 'wilderness' which we're actually looking forward to a lot.

Now I can't say enough about how beautiful it is here, green, lush land, mountainous and incredible beaches. It's widely known how beautiful NZ is and they are not wrong. Key kiwi identity points: Good Beer, Great food, Amazing scenery, great people, super outdoorsy, a strong love of reggae and a nice chilled cruisy approach ! I love all these things!!
We're currently in Mahia which is a beautiful tiny town, michelle and I woke up this morning and ran up a small mountain after a coffee, went to the beach and then went to some more hot and cold plunge pools as you do and last night we played Darts. I love this holiday!!

In other news I am tanned! This is as tanned as a ginger person has ever been!! Michelle is jealous and I will be wallowing in this until she catches up!! Also my Maori pronunciation has hugely improved, I've watched loads of Maori tv and forced myself to make sure I pronounce all the place names I go past...and google translator has just introduced Maori to its list of languages for my Maori emergencies (I heard this on maori tv news!!)

So tomorrow we are leaving for our next stop Gizzy which will be my new home in Feb so I'm looking forward to showing C&M my new area
The calendar is already filling up with visitors and trips for 2014 which is hugely exciting and I would have had 9 weeks off before I go back to work in Feb! Glorious!

So hopefully the sun keeps shining for our East Cape adventure and we get to do our top 3 things; have a horse trek, have a hangi and see some whales!

Big love

L xxxxx

Posted by Halgerty12 11:49 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

NEW ZEALAND!

Kiwis, Maoris, wine , North Island and decisions

sunny 23 °C

One week after getting back to melbourne the whole week wizzed past in a flurry of packing, re-packing, worrying about suitcase weights and catching up with people. Everything from decent coffee, mexican food, aboriginal art exhibition, beach days in a more manageable 34 degrees and spending time with Alex and the girls. Melbournians you know who you are and you deserve a gold star for car loans, bike loans, storage and bags of fun! Thank you!

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I'm currently feeling pretty overwhelmed but keep trying to remind myself that Rome wasn't built in a day and not everything has to get done in the first few days. Ive done this before and i can do it again, i don't know why but this time I'm feeling a bit uneasy (all suggestions welcome). The very small nervous part of me that doesn't like adventure is saying what are you doing this for again just climb into a comfy chair and live happily ever after. However the other huge part of me that knows as soon as i climb in that comfy chair my feet will start itching and Ill smell the grass thats really really green on the other side. My rationale mind is shouting at me to shut up and don't think too far ahead. I have this terrible habit that as soon as I feel out of my comfort zone i start to worry about ridiculous things 10 years down the line or something equally as silly and let them whirl around my head
So the initial excitement of being here was covered in a light layer of dust at which I've quickly got round to brushing off and manning up a bit.

It unfortunately rained solidly for 3 days when i arrived which wasn't particularly mood lifting. However my good friends Michelle and Chris were there to make the transition much much easier. Huge thanks to them and their friends for the huge hospitality, maps, pointers and welcome!
So my first week in Auckland started with the obligatory dinner and drinks where we tried to contain our excitement and being re-united.......but yes we drank way too much wine and felt terrible for it the next day....but with that out the way and a new pact to stick to beers when heavy drinking I spent the next couple of days exploring Auckland in small doses. My kiwi friend kept telling me how amazing the food in NZ is and he wasn't wrong, everything I've eaten so far has been a sensation!

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For the weekend Chris, Michelle and I packed up and headed off to Waiheke island. Chris and I started off the day with brunch while Michelle went to work...brunch quickly turned into a cheeky G&T at the ferry port and then a fresh fish platter and four locally brewed beers on our first stop in Oneroa......yes we're resourceful aren't we. The ferry from Auckland is 35 mins away. I dont know why but I wanted to try to make sure I kept to NZ food and drink, and that I did. We ate Kokoda (or raw fish) which is white fish in a kind of coconut soup with herbs, spices and capsicum and its delicious....I could live on this, buckets of it!

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Delighted with our afternoon overlooking the beautiful beach from the hillside Michelle then joined us from work. We made our way to the accommodation in Onetangi and then strolled down 180 steps to the beach where I braved the water, it definitely was what I needed after those beers to freshen me back up. That night we went for a beautiful dinner on the beach in one of two restaurants, not too tricky really to decide where to eat! Polished off one bottle of crap wine and one delicious bottle of wine.
Wine carried on being the theme for that weekend with Waiheke and New Zealand come to think of it being pretty famed for wineries! The next day Michelle and I started off with a run and a beach workout followed by another freezy swim to ready ourselves for the rest of the day....a bit like eating an apple it cancels out a cake you know! After brunch where the waiter dropped two plates at the same table before and after their breakfast we went walking a we walked and walked all day. We concluded that he must have smoked something other than his cigarettes that morning!!

This day was the worlds most perfect day. In the sun we basically strolled between wineries up hills, down hills, through forests and vineyards and took in 4 vineyards, wine tasting and small plates of food including raw fish obviously! We laughed our heads off all day with Chris firmly stating at one point that he had had enough of wine tasting it was now time for wine drinking! Added to that a few other expletive jokes at the kiwi and Aussies expense.. .we wouldn't be true Brits if we didn't sarcastically mock the other nations now would we. The day was rounded off with the last vineyard having a DJ and way too many ponsy rich people for our liking dancing to Ibiza chill out!.....we left and went for ribs and sausage and mash and another bottle of Malbec! Oh and yes its true sausages in NZ are much better than Aussie snags!

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Surprisingly we felt ok the next day, the Spanish have got the right idea slowly drink during the day and break it up with small plates of food.......oh and eat an apple it cancels everything out!

The next few days I got braver at figuring things out, you wouldn't think I've lived abroad for 14 months! Did some admin stuff and decided to drive solo to Gisborne (Gizzy) which is where I've been offered a job. I figured it might be an idea to check it out before coming to live here while I had time to spare. It took 7 hours with a stop off in Tauranga for lunch which was amazing to drive this on your own....pretty freeing, ipod firmly on and as expected the scenery was outstanding.
Came across a few tiny little Maori towns on my drive, loads of kids piling out of the little school with no shoes on.... as you know this is my kind of vibe! I probably should have stopped them and asked them to teach me a few things as my Maori pronunciation is terrible. It's working progress though, It'll get there! ...It has to, there's a lot of Maori in Gizzy and a lot of towns I can't pronounce! Maori tv is the way to go! Other sights along the road were sheep, cows, lots of places that looked like Ireland or Wales, kiwi fruits and signs for rodeo!!

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So by the time I got to Gizzy I was wrecked from the driving so i had a mini explore which isn't hard to get your bearings, picked up some food and then chilled.
Had a real good look around the town and walked around trying to soak up what goes on and whether this is for me or not. The beaches are big and so amazing and there seems to be a lot to do. Surf town with lots of sports which is defo me and enough to keep you occupied .

Did some shopping then decided to pop into the travel agents as I still haven't got round to booking my flights to Vietnam for January ....ERROR!
She told me I need to get my visa first so with 1 week til Christmas when they SHUT The NZ visa office for the holidays she told me I would have to send off my passport not get my visa on arrival in Vietnam like I thought! ...Oh and I'm supposed to be going there in 4 weeks plus to spice it up also I won't be at my postage address after next week as we'll be on our NZ Xmas holidays! ..
Pat myself on the back!

With a dose of fate at going into the flight place and Debs advice from the travel agents within one hour after speaking to the embassy I pegged it to the post office and got all the stuff together somehow and couriered it to the embassy in Wellington. The visa woman says it will back by Thursday as long as I send it today!!! Prey for me because I'll be away 3 days after that for Xmas and lets hope I won't need my passport for anything!!!!
Nothing like living by the seat of your pants! I'm not usually one for disorganisation plus my friend Sam has been nagging me to get this for weeks...Ooops. Lets hope it all goes smoothly so I can book my flights!

So one more full day in Gizzy where I'm going to meet up with the people from the hospital to get an idea of what im heading for and then soak up a bit more Gizzy life before I can start thinking about our christmas holidays and less about logistics which is making me feel a bit stressed. It's hard to know if you are making the right decisions about what to do, but I need to keep remembering why I decided to embark on this adventure which has extended into another brucey bonus year. As suggested by my friend sarah put your big girl pants on and do this settling in malarkey again!

I'm mega excited about our trip to Coromandel and 'Tow-Paw' for Christmas and New Year though and next on the agenda is getting together camping stuff, a new camera, a trucker hat and a new bikini for the 'touring' bit of the north island after the holidays. On the plus side today I was thinking I haven't had any kind of winter style weather for 9 months...delighted about this!! However I'm really keen to make this Christmas 'Christmassy' I'm going to bake and buy some things to try to add a bit of British to our beach Christmas and to try to help with missing my lovely family!

Hopefully ill still remember how to be a midwife by the time February roles round! I am super excited to be here and there are tons of really cool things on the horizon in this green lush land!

Big Love

Laura xxx

Posted by Halgerty12 23:44 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Port Hedland and back to Melbourne

Red dirt, rural midwifery and a bit of reflection

semi-overcast 22 °C


Well so I last left when it was nearly Halloween and it was just a mild 36 degrees outside. Well it picked up a bit to a balmy 43 degrees, playing it cool obviously pretending it didn’t bother me, wouldn’t want to be one of those whingeing poms who bangs on about the weather all the time! It was hot, really bloody hot! The only time it severely bothered me is when I moved into my friends house to house sit for two weeks while she was away and thought the aircon had broken. Me and god had a good chat that afternoon, something along the lines of please please if you help me figure out how to fix this I promise ill always do good things. The big mans telepathic advice came through and i've done many a good deeds since! Fixing it turned out to be actually pretty easy not a single tool involved when I resorted to the trusty on/off switch outside next to the fan….click off…click back on…….done!

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So in the last weeks of Port Hedland I house sat for my friend at her house, which was really handy, near to work and nice to have your own house, plus the use of her car. People in the outback are much more chilled about giving out their stuff everyone drives each other’s cars and lets people stay in their houses etc. I like this attitude, much more selfless than peoples ‘everyman for himself’ attitude that I sometimes came across in the places like London. I’ve also become accustomed to driving with no shoes on or actually wearing shoes much in general this county vibe is rubbing off on me too much. God help me when I have to wear heels or jeans!

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This is my first attempt at aboriginal art by the way! I'm pleased!

So we had a real quiet patch at work without many births but it must have been the calm before the storm because I came off working nights and went onto days a cyclone of births hit the unit! We were so busy we had to deliver one very understanding woman in a side room in the ward. Now don’t freak out, I’ve delivered babies in the shower, on a kitchen floor, under water and in a hallway before so its really not that much of a worry. Babies can come out anywhere and safety is never compromised! One afternoon three women all delivered around about the same time and with two midwives per shift that’s not enough hands per birth, luckily for the Pilbara women the midwives who work here are exceptional and in that week everyone pulled together, came in early, stayed late and used their heads to make sure the proverbial poop didn’t hit the fan too much. This included me, who was about to go home when one woman labouring in the bath wanted to get out for some pain relief. With everyone’s hands tied I helped her out of the bath on my way towards the exit but it turns out I wasn’t about to be going anywhere. With a few specific huffs, puffs and grunts which any midwives finely tuned ears would know meant this baby is well on its way. My bag stayed on the floor, on went my gloves and 15 minutes later one little boy was born…actually 4.3kg not so little! It was a really exciting week and tested everyone’s organisation skills and commitment. Its places like this that need people with commitment and the attitude that its ‘not just a job’ when you pull a 12 hour day without a blink of an eyelid because people need you. I’m glad that last week at work was busy I love the action and the decision-making. Everyone’s teamwork was amazing that week, I love this maternity unit anyway but its things like this that remind me why I really love being a midwife and I constantly think I’m so lucky that I get to do this for my job!

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Luckily I hadn’t booked my flight until the following Monday when my contract was finishing on the Friday. It gave me enough time to get my head back together, sort myself out ready to head back to Melbs and say some goodbyes or see you soon’s to some important people!
Originally I was going to travel to the East coast to see my friends Claire and Falloni but it turns out they came for an impromptu visit to Port Hedland anyway after deciding to drive the West Coast. So I got my tourist hat on and showed the round Port Hedland for 24 hours. We were surprisingly sensible and had a nice dinner with just a few beers all of us knowing we had plans the next day that were non negotiable for a hangover! I
I do however really want to come back for a holiday and do the West Coast of Australia and drive up to Coral Bay like I had planned to do however this time ill make sure its whale shark season. I’m also mega keen to camp; I have no idea why i'm so keen to go camping maybe something to do with getting out to nature. Lets see if i'm still as keen when I actually do it!

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After four months my experience here was over, it was hands down the best decision I have made to come here and do this. It helped me get my focus back and just chill in a place where there was no pressure to keep up with the Jones’s. It helped me learn about different cultures, meet different people from round Australia, get to know real Australia and live in a place that was essentially a mound of red dirt swarming with Tradies. Ive loved everything from feral nights out at the finny, fishing at Finny island, swimming at pretty pools, horse racing, catching stray frogs at work and local markets and festivals galore. The midwifery was outstanding and it’s given my practice a massive boost. I’ve learn a lot about what I want and what makes me happy and it actually wasn’t what I thought did when I left England. A lot of people come to away to these rural towns to make money but I think somehow it did a lot more me. It’s given me a different outlook and i've walked away with a few new thoughts about how I want to live my life. I've also been lucky to meet some incredible people, everyone from inspiring midwives from around the world with their stories, local hedlanders and their view on rural life and aboriginal women who even taught me how to good Kangaroo and bush Turkey in a ground!
But next it was time to put my shoes back on and got packed ready to head back to the city.

On a separate note- Michelle I feel like I've semi completed some of my list you set for me:
Flying Doctors - I couldn't get in the plane I have however met a few flying doctor nurses and a pilot?!
First name terms with the coffee lady - I sent a coffee back so I don't think she wants to know my name now!
Serenaded by a miner - many and on most nights out, it's really not hard here!
Worn a flanny - ah yeh g'day mate



If i'm honest I was a bit nervous about going back to Melbourne as much as I had a great time there for the majority of it, there were a few bad memories and also I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about being back in the city. Luckily I got over myself and actually everything is fine! First stop was a mega coffee, as Port Hedland isn’t exactly teaming with decent coffee and award winning restaurants. My first things to do on the list were have a decent coffee and track down some Mexican food, I can cook but I just can’t make Mexican food as good. There are a lot of people I really want to spend time with so two days in now i'm very happy in Melbourne. My lovely friends have put me up in their spare room, which is amazing and very kind of them especially as they live in St Kilda so its nice and near to where I used to live and local haunts plus it means I get to spend maximum time with them. The last two days i've chilled caught up on things, ran and cycled along the beach, drank coffee generally just had a lovely relaxed time.

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The weekend however might be a different story. Mexican food planned at the ultimate place Radio Mexico restaurant, Fancy Hanks BBQ with Alex for some mean ribs and probably a few drinks along the way lets face it. I love having no major plans for this week and to able to just do whatever I want……bliss! It feels like you used to when you were on school holidays at your nans and you watched saved by the bell in your pyjamas until midday, had two different breakfasts then just went over the park!

However, I better not relax too much ill have nothing to write about next!
So ill get up to some mischief and fill you all in next week after my week in Melbourne.

Big Love
Laura x

Oh and it's raining in Melbourne......I haven't seen a drop of rain in 4 months! It smells amazing! I reckon the novelty will wear off though pretty quickly!

Posted by Halgerty12 14:24 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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