Cosy Cafes and an Unforgetable History Lesson

Sunday, 2 July 2017

After a very sweaty stay in Hoi An it was to mine and Craig's relief that our next stop was going to be somewhat cooler in temperature. Way up in the mountains Da Lat is a favourite amongst backpackers for its super cheap accommodation and canyoning. Unfortunately for us we had started to dramatically run out of money and therefore had to sacrifice some trips we once had planned to do (canyoning being one of them). True to the rumours Da Lat was so much colder that Hoi An (around 22-28 degrees) and although back in England those temperature would send myself and Craig down to Camber Sands, those temperatures for us now, since being in hot countries for up to 6 months meant leggings and sweatshirts - it was bliss! For me personally Da Lat didn't have too much going for it. Our hostel 'Lucky's' was really cute and Lucky was so friendly and helpful, providing us with breakfast every morning. Plus he had two of the loveliest doggies ever that he thankfully saved from the cruel dog meat trade - what a guy!

We also found a couple of really cool places to eat. A cheap and cheerful veggie restaurant called Hoa Sen that had the best veggie ban mi we had and a really sweet little cafe with a cosy vibe called Goût that had good coffee and the best chocolate brownie - we took refuge there a few times when it was raining. Apart from that Da Lat is fairly low key and not a lot seems to go on.

Onto our last stop, Saigon. As Vietnamese cities go I defiantly preferred Saigon to Hanoi. It felt a lot more chilled and all in all had a better feel about it. We stayed at 'Budget Hostel' which was cheap, clean and in a great location. Our main point of visiting Saigon was the famous War Museum. We heard great, if not extremely sad, reviews and felt it was only right to learn more about the countries history. The museum itself is well laid out easy to walk around, it takes about 2 hours in total. However it was very harrowing and upsetting to see and learn of the atrocities that went on. Although you could argue that the museum was some what biased towards Vietnam, there was no denying that America were extremely cruel to millions of innocent civilians. The worst part for me was learn about agent orange, a harmful gas used to cause horrendous abnormalities and disabilities - I will never forget some of the images I saw of these poor people. It was a very sad day, but well worth a visit when you're in the city.

Our go to food place was 'The Royal Saigon'. Close to our hostel and very good value for money, this place should not be missed. We loved the veggie curry and the veggie pho!

Not the most exciting places we've visited on our trip, but worth a visit nonetheless. Next up Cambodia...

Elly x

Hot and Heavenly Hoi An

Friday, 30 June 2017

Desperate to see the ocean again and swim in the sea it was no surprise that we were excited to finally make our way to Hoi An. I heard great things about Hoi An, from the pretty lantern lit streets to the sprawling beach; it was a place I was looking forward to explore.

After a short but sweet stop in Hue, enjoying an incredible mint chocolate chip shake in a cafe I can't remember the name of (apologies) we were back on the road to Hoi An. Already the scenery was a lot more up my street, passing beautiful Danang on the way (which we were very sad about not stopping at). When arrived at Hoi An the first thing we noticed was the heat! Blessed with blue sky's and scorching temperatures (between 32-40 degrees) we made an agonising trek to our homestay 'Petunia Gardens' - recommended by the lovely Emily and Sam (thanks guys if you're reading this!). The owners of Petunia Gardens were so accommodating and friendly and made our stay V special - the breakfasts are also ah-ma-zing (I can vouch for both the banana pancakes and the omelette). The location also worked really well for us as it was equal distance from the old town and the beach - perfect. Although most people rented scooters or push bikes we were mad and walked - which if you like walking is really not that bad!

So Hoi An quickly became our fav place in Vietnam, it was everything we could of dreamt for and more - we ended up extending our stay from 3 days to 5. Due to the insane weather we spent most days chilling at the beach, which for south east Asia was actually very clean, both beach and ocean. The water was surprisingly clear and cold, making cooling off in the heat a dream! Although one of the days we just laid out towels, most days we opted to rent loungers on the beach as the sand was just too hot to lay on. These were cheap and sometimes free if you bought drinks and lunch.

Beach bumming aside we did partake in other activities, including mooching about the old town, eating loads of great food and I got a fabulous dress made. Not quite the usual adventurous 'backpacking' activities but Hoi An was all about the relaxing for us.

The old town was beautiful - it was like stepping into ancient China. No cars or bikes were allowed which made mooching a lot more safe and fun, and although it was rather busy it was never too packed to move about and see everything. The lanterns are one of the things Hoi An is most famous for and seeing them all lit up really was magical. The river running through the town was also lit up with lanterns floating down it whilst little boats took people on romantic night time trips. The entire town was very special.

As for good food Hoi An has plenty, however due to its popularity with tourists the prices are extremely inflated compared to the rest of Vietnam. Luckily my pal Emily (thanks again) saved us by recommending street food vendor and all time legend, Miss Lien. Tucked behind some restaurants along by the river, at the end of the right hand side of the bridge are about a dozen little food stands selling cheap and delicious Vietnamese food. Night after night we return to Miss Lien to enjoy her sweet and sour tofu, veggie fried rice, egg plant in peanut sauce, roasted pumpkin and the best spring-rolls. As well as her dreamy food she was also such a lovely lady, and a pleasure to chat to - I highly recommend to any backpacker on a budget in Hoi An. Heres a piccy below of Craig and his mate, Ryan that we met up with at Miss Liens for a few beers!

As well as the pretty lanterns Hoi An is also famous for it amazing quality tailors making anything from full wedding suits to party dresses to swimwear - you name it they can make it. It is also the cheapest place in the world to have something designed and made to measure. Being the fashion victim that I am I made no hesitation in visiting Baom Diep - a highly recommended tailor near the old town to enquire about having a dress made. The lovely ladies at Baom Diep picked us up on their bikes and from the moment we walked into the shop we felt relaxed and in safe hands, the ladies that worked here were so friendly, attentive and extremely talented. Instantly I felt like a kid in a sweet shop and could easily or designed an entire new wardrobe - however a very frightened Craig explained how it would be best if I only got one dress made to save our budget (and the rest of our trip). Lan the lady who made my dress was so amazing and listened to all my ideas and put up with me flitting between ideas and fabrics. In the end I went for a summer maxi dress, with a plunging halter neck line, low back in a plum and navy Paisley sheer material with a navy lining. In total I visited Bao Diep 3 times for various fittings and Lan didn't stop until it fitted perfectly. The dress cost me £50 which for a once in a life time, made to measure dress, using a lot of fabric (including a lining) is so good! I can't recommend them enough - Lan is so talented!

So as far as Hoi An goes that's pretty much it - a lovely relaxing place with so much individual charm. I would love to return one day with my mum and dad as I reckon this is somewhere they would love! Compared to the rest of Vietnam everything runs a bit slower in Hoi An, the people are the sweetest we've come across and everything just feels like it's on holiday mode. Sadly we had to leave Hoi An, we easily could have stayed another week in the sunshine.

Elly x

Manic City / Mysterious Caves

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

From Chang Mai we flew to Hanoi in Vietnam. We opted to stay at Chien Hostel in the city - which was a brilliant find! We arrived fairly late but were greeted by the friendliest, warmest staff ever. We got a free cup of iced coffee on arrival and were showed to our dorm, which was easily one of the coolest dorms I've ever stayed in - me and Craig got our own double bed bunk! Chien provided free breakfast and free beer, which to Craig's delight we arrived just in time for. After serval beers and an AWFUL shot of snake infused rice wine (Craig, not me) we headed to bed to get some well earned rest for a day of exploring the following day.

Hanoi itself is a manic Asian city! The traffic is mad and it's impossible to walk about safely as a pedestrian! Pushing this fact aside, Hanoi is home to some beautiful French colonial buildings that are so instagramable! Plus the city itself has such a unique buzz.

Our first day in Hanoi consisted of having a wander, soaking up the sights, trying our first veggie ban mi (traditional Vietnamese baguette) and visiting the Vietnamese Women's Museum - which was brilliant. It was astonishing to learn about Vietnamese women's role in society and to see just how relentlessly they worked. It was also fascinating to learn about marriage, fashion and childbirth within Vietnamese culture. On top of all the educating, the museum itself was also a really pretty building.

Not only is Hanoi rich in culture but the food is pretty awesome too. We enjoyed copious amounts of Pho and even found an amazing little cafe called The Hanoi Social Club which did great coffee and yummy French toast. Craig had a burger and it was huge!

The following day we did what most tourists do when visiting Hanoi - a trip to one of the seven wonders of the world, Halong Bay. Sadly we didn't have the money or time to do the usual 2 days 1 night sailing trip most travellers do - so we opted for a day trip. The journey to the harbour took around 4 hours from Hanoi, and wasn't the best journey as we were cramped inside the smallest minivan you could imagine! After arriving and feeling rather rung out we piled onto the boat and got served an 'okay' lunch (the veggie options weren't too inthralling). Halong Bay itself was really beautiful - deep indigo blue waters with dark stone grey islands standing proud covered in lush tropical greenery. Kayaking through the various caves was probably the best part of the day. Sadly the entire trip felt very rushed and we didn't get to see as much as I would have liked, plus the staff on the trip weren't great. I would definitely recommend a longer stay at Halong Bay to fully appreciate it. With that said it was still great to see it!

After Hanoi we travelled via the notorious night bus to Phong Nha. I will quickly add that the open bus ticket from Hanoi to Saigon is probably the best and cheapest way to travel Vietnam. It worked really well for us as we only had 14 days to see the entire country! Anyway onto Phong Nha. This magical little place was probably my second favourite place in Vietnam. Quiet and rural in comparison to hectic Hanoi, it was lovely to relax and see a more chilled side to Vietnam. We stayed at a cute little homestay called Duong - the guy who ran it was lovely and the free breakfast was great! Below is a pic of the view from our room...

We didn't have a lot of time in Phong Nha (only 2 days) but to be honest you don't need more than around 4/5! There isn't too much to see and do - the caves are what Phong Nha are famous for and they are a must when visiting! We saw Phong Nha cave and Tien Sun cave - both easy to get to and reasonably priced (£10 for two people). Phong Nha was so mysterious and magical. We sailed through the cave and instantly the temperature cools and you're surrounded by crazy shaped rock formations. We then got to walk about the cave and explore some more which was great fun! We then walked over to Tien Sun. Be prepared for the millions of stairs, it's knackering but well worth it! The cave was pretty much empty when we were there which made it even more exciting to explore, the cave is massive and full of cool little hidey holes! Controversial I know, but I think I preferred Phong Nha to Halong Bay.

I must also mention an amazing little restaurant we ate at called Nguyen Shack Art Cafe - the ginger and coconuts tofu is soooo good!

Thats it from Vietnam so far! Keep your eyes pealed for my next post where I'll be chatting about our favourite, the stunning Hoi An.

Elly x

Cafe Crawling Around Chang Mai

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Since we've been traveling, myself and Craig have found a new hobby. What's that I hear you ask - yoga?  - or maybe we've joined an alternative dance group?! Although that does conjure up a wonderful image I'm afraid it's something a little more mundane. As you've probably already guessed from the title of this post, it is in fact going to cafes. We have named this new hobby of ours 'cafe crawling' as just like a bar crawl it involves moving around from place to place although this hobby involves a lot more coffee and cake, and a lot less beer and hangover food (although we do believe some of the cafes we've visited to be awesome hangover spots!). Although this post features only cafe's in Chang Mai, I must also note that we have guiltily been cafe crawling all over the world - the addiction started way back in Japan, when we discovered drip coffee. Anyway, enough rambling - let get down to it!

Chang Mai is Thailand's northern 'go to' for the backpacking brigade. It's rich in culture, character and best of all cafes! Asia itself has a surprising good cafe scene, with some of the trendiest brunch spots popping up in the most unlikely places! Out of all the places so far, Chang Mai seemed to really nail what Craig and I look for in a cafe...

1. Super sexy, inviting decor, vibe + ambiance (plants, good lighting + music and colour schemes)
2. Great menu with loads of quirky vegan and veggie options
3. Strong yummy coffee
4. Comfortable, cosy seating (slouchy sofa preferable)
5. Some sort of theme or focus
6. And for Craig... The ultimate peanut butter and banana milk shake

In this post I'm gonna give a little rundown on a few of the cafes we visited and hung out in during our stay in Chang Mai, and I'm gonna start with our all time favourite...

My Secret Cafe
So this cafe was dreamy! From everything down to the beautiful exterior when you noticed it tucked away on a little side street, to the rich botanical vibe inside. Greeted (like most places in Thailand) with lovely smiley staff, we were seated at a huge 'slouchy sofa' yaaaaas! The music was also a winner with soft, indie coffee break style tunes humming in the background whilst clicking cups and friendly nattering filled the room. The interior felt warm and homely whilst remaining stylish and minimal - a hard combination to find! As for the food... YUM! Here I enjoyed the best carrot cake I have ever had as well as many fresh detox juices, strong and tasty iced coffee and pots of fragrant tea. Craig also had an awesome peanut butter and banana shake, check! We never actually ate breakfast or lunch at My Secret Cafe as it was actually a little bit pricey for our backpacker budget. However it was perfect to come and chill for a few hours with coffee and cake and enjoy the fast internet that you don't often get in hostels. It was the perfect spot to write up blog posts!

Overstand was our go to breakfast spot. Serving reasonably priced, strong coffee and huge fruit, muesli bowls - it was easily a winner with us. The decor was really cool - and had a very urban New York 'hip-hop' vibe. Industrial style lighting and furniture added to the hip vibe, however the seating wasn't the comfiest to chill on, therefore resulting in a flying visit. Nevertheless this didn't stop us returning as the service, food and drink was spot on and ticked everything we needed out of breakfast.

Akha ama
This tiny little gem can be found a couple of steps away from My Secret Cafe (which made our crawling a lot easier). A very small space, but don't be fooled as the coffee packs a punch. We didn't eat anything at Akha ama as its not renowned for its baked goods - it is however famous for its coffee. They do all your regulars (Americano, Latte...) hot or cold but they also do drip and cold brew. It's a little bit more specialist and if you're a bit of a coffee boff you're gonna love this place. Like Overstand the seating isn't great and therefore it's more of a grab a coffee and go kinda place but comfy seating isn't what you come here for. I also really like Akha ama's focus on sustainable coffee farming and using local produce - they sell a wide range of different coffee beans in store that support this.

Free Bird
Recommended to use by a fellow travelling buddy, this place was classically 'vegan/hippy' in appearance. Lush botanicals and dreamcatchers hung against a minimal white wall, and comfy yet simple bench style seating was available - the cafe defiately had a great feel. Everything on Free Bird's menu was vegetarian and near enough everything could be made vegan if you wanted it - which was a huge plus for myself and Craig. With that said I was left a little disappointed by my food. I ordered a coconut coffee, which was nice, and the french toast with fruit. It was a little small and lacklustre, not thick and indulgent like it should be. Craig enjoyed a fruit salad, which was actually really good - so I reckon I was just unlucky. Although I wasn't in awe of the food I was so impressed and thrilled to find out that the cafe supports a charity helping refugees from Burma who are treated badly by the Thai government. It was great to know that the proceeds of my food and drink was going to a good cause.

So there you have it! If you're ever in Chang Mai in search of the perfect coffee, slice of cake or just after some downtime (I find cafes to be a great source of relaxation) then I hope this blog post finds you! I'm off now to track down yet another cafe for my caffeine fix.

Elly x

The Story Behind Thailand's Cruelest Tourist Attraction

Friday, 23 June 2017

When we think about Thailand many of us think about elephants - I mean they are even the logo for their local beer, Chang! Travelling from England, a place not renowned for its elephants, I wanted that elephant experience we all want when we visit Thailand. Like most people who want the 'elephant experience' I am also a HUGE animal lover. From as young as I can remember I have been obsessed with animals, and elephants were no exception. Having this profound love for all creatures, great and small I became super aware from social media and even word of mouth just how cruel some of the conditions most of the elephants were kept in, in Thailand and other areas of South East Asia. If you had asked a 6 year old Elly what was one of her 'must dos' in her life she would of replied 'ride on an elephant!' but with what I know now I can't imagine anything worse.

On the 24th of May 2017 myself and Craig visited Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Set in the beautiful, tropical Chiang Mai country side ENP is home to 200 elephants, 400 dogs, hundreds of cats and loads of water buffalo - it's literally a haven for all animals (many of the cats and dogs at the park were rescued after the 2002 tsunami). Lek, the lady who founded ENP works relentlessly helping to rescue and rehabilitate these creatures, giving them love, hope and a place to call home. I cannot begin to tell you what an incredible place it is, and I feel so unbelievably lucky and proud to have been part of Lek's journey.

We were lucky enough to stay at the park for a night, allowing us to enjoy the animals for a full two days - I HIGHLY recommend you do this as one day would simply not be enough! Plus the accommodation you stay in is stunning and over looks where the elephants sleep (you can even hear them snore!).

Before arriving at the park we watched a video in the minivan that picked us up. Although I was aware of the cruel mistreatment of elephants in Thailand, nothing could prepare me for what I saw. Before elephants can be used in the tourist industry, the mahout (or elephant trainer) has to perform something called 'the crush' on the elephants. This involved chaining them up and torturing them. During this time the elephants will survive on hardly any water or food and be constricted to a small area where they will have to remain standing in their own urine and faeces. They are taken away from their family, which if you know anything about elephants you will know this would be extremely traumatic for them as they are extremely social and family orientated animals. The elephants taken will usually be babies and sometimes still be suckling from their mother. This process happens for around 2 months. Eventually once the elephants sprit has been crushed they will be ready to endure a life of suffering for the entertainment of tourists wanting 'the elephant experience' we so desperately crave!

Elephant show/circuses, watching an elephant paint, riding, giving money to a street begging elephant these are all acts of animal cruelty and if you, like me, love animals please do not enter into any of these activities or give money to organisations that do any of these. Even if it's just to get that one Instagram snap or just to say 'When I fed an elephant in Thailand', it's not okay, by giving money you are still supporting the cruel mistreatment of elephants.

During their lives working in the tourist industry the mahouts will use sharp, knife like hooks in order to 'control' the elephants causing cuts to the elephants skin, often resulting then in infection. Loud noises from shows, or cities such as Bangkok (where they are often seen street begging) causes great pain to the elephants acute senses of hearing and the lights often make their sensitive eyes blind.

When you see that awesome video of an elephant painting on Facebook sadly the mahout will be out of shot with their hook digging it into the side of the elephant, guiding it to where they want the elephant to paint. When you see an elephant swaying or 'dancing' in their pen, they aren't happy - they are extremely distressed and unhappy.

Logging is also STILL an issue and although it was made illegal in Thailand to use elephants for logging in 1989 unfortunately it still goes on. This is where elephants are made pull gigantic heavy logs in the smouldering heat, often causing them to fall and seriously injure themselves - we met and fell in love with an elephant, Kabu, at ENP that became a cruel victim of the logging trade.

And as for riding or trekking, probably the most common tourist attraction in Thailand, it is not okay, under any circumstances. Despite their sheer size and apparent strength these animals are not designed to carry over 40 kilos of saddle or chair, let alone your weight on top of that - it hurts their backs especially as the elephants won't get regular breaks to rest. Plus any elephant you ride would have had to of gone through 'the crush' to make them placid and 'safe' for tourists - do you feel comfortable supporting this?

Okay enough of the miserable sad ranting and onto mine and Craig amazing experience at ENP...

When arriving at the park we met our guide, Jackie who took us on a tour of the park and this is where we were first introduced to the elephants. The majestic, gentle and extremely intelligent creatures were fascinating to watch and interact with. At the park the elephants are assigned a mahout each, that stays with them throughout the day, looking after them and tending to their every need (without nasty hooks or chains). It was incredible to watch the elephants happily roam freely around the park in their makeshift herds. I couldn't believe just how big the park was and it even has a river running through it - a popular favourite amongst the elephants and dogs!

Although we met and grew fond of many of the animals at ENP, one in particular sticks in my mind. I mentioned her briefly before, her name is Kabu. She was just a baby when sadly she permanently broke her leg. Kabu's mum was working in the illegal logging trade. Kabu would follow her mum at work but when a chain broke it sent one of the logs flying into baby Kabu causing her leg to break. You would have thought that after enduring so much pain at the hand of humans that the mahouts would take pity on Kabu but instead they continued to force Kabu to work and even participate in street begging (with her broken leg they believed she would attain them more money). Thankfully Lek was made aware of Kabu's story and rescued her in 2015 - now she lives free at the park and although having what could be the saddest story out of all the elephants she is one of the most loving, softest and forgiving of all the elephants we met - she enjoys hugs and kisses! Currently Kabu has to be kept in a separate area from the rest of the elephants whilst her leg undergoes treatment but she still gets regular visits from her best elephant gal pals!

Another great experience was being able to bath the elephants at the park. As you can imagine Thailand gets extremely hot and elephants like nothing more than to cool down in the water. They love to be splashed, play and roll around covering themselves (and whoever is involved) head to toe! This was probably one of the most magical experiences of our entire trip, being in the water having a bath with a few elephants!

As an over night guest you also get the opportunity to make nutritious rice balls for the elephants. These included rice, shredded coconut, sugar, salt, oats, banana, corn and other grains. It was messy but fun to finally get our hands stuck into actually helping out with the care of the elephants. We made no hesitations picking which elephants we wanted to feed our creations to, you guessed it, Kabu was one luckily lady that afternoon.

Along with morning walks, elephant baths and feeding time myself and Craig also spent a lot of time at 'Cat Corner' cuddling and playing with some gorgeous kitties. We also had a little visitor in our room! Honestly I was in animal heaven!

I will also add that ENP offer a volunteer program, where you can work at the park for a week helping out with all the nitty gritty stuff; poop scooping, dog walking, cat feeding and elephant food preparing! We would have loved to do it but time and money was a slight issue - plus it gets booked up so quickly so get in fast if you want to give it a go.

I have nothing but praise for ENP, it was everything I could of dreamt of and more. Every elephant was chain free and happy, roaming about in a herd of other elephants causing mischief (how it should be). Not only will you have the best day ever BUT your money will also go towards helping rescue more elephants suffering torture and cruelty. ENP continue their journey every single day and although they have rescued over 200 elephants there're still over 1500 in the tourism and logging trade, in Thailand alone.

Below I leave the links for ENP's website, where you can find out more info about the park, how to help and book up your elephant experience. I will also leave a link to a video telling you more about Kabu's story.

I'm sorry if this post isn't quite as cheery as the rest, but I hope now you will think twice before engaging in elephant tourism and instead choose ENP to get your elephant fix whilst also doing your bit.

Elly x (find out more about ENP - donate, volenteer and visit) (Kabu's story)

*images of elephant crushing not my own - found via Google images*

Perfect Pai and THE BEST TOUR EVER!

Monday, 19 June 2017

After Krabi we did what most sensible backpackers do and headed north! We actually flew from Krabi to Chiang Mai, it wasn't expensive and saved us a lot of time - as we didn't have long in the north. First on our list was the picturesque mountainous town of Pai. After a short stop in Chiang Mai we jumped straight on the bus for Pai (with obvious plans to return to Chiang Mai on our way back). We'd heard many backpackers say how much they loved Pai and that 'if you go up north you have to go to Pai!' - it was kind of the 'done thing'. Known for its breathtaking mountain views, hippy vegan cafes and bars, waterfalls and general quaint vibe we were super excited to check it out. Before I move on to where we stayed I want to quickly mention the notorious bus ride to Pai - with 726 snake turns in the road, along side huge cliff faces it was one of the most thrilling (terrifying) journeys I have encountered. It would have been okay if the guy hadn't been driving at 80 the entire way! With that said just pop a couple of travel sickness tablets before you leave and you'll be Aokay!

We stayed at a homestay a little out of town called 'Mountain View' for just £6 a night we got our own little private bungalow set in a jungle environment with (like the name suggests) AMAZING views! Although the bungalow was literally crawling with bugs (you would expect it from the location) it was still really pretty and well kept. The only thing that was a tad annoying was the long walk into town everyday - if you feel comfortable I would recommend getting out a scooter - me and Craig however opted to walk.

As soon as we arrived in Pai I knew I was gonna like it - unlike lots of Thailand Pai has a very different feel. Everyone seems a lot more laidback and chilled and there seems to be much more of a community feel. We only had 3 days in Pai so wanted to see as much as poss in the time we had - that's why for our first full day we opted for an all day tour using a local company AYA. For just 500 THB we got taken to all the main tourist spots in Pai in the back of an open air truck. We were really lucky enough to share the tour with some lovely girls from Korea - who were loads of fun and so so sweet (South Korea is now on our list). So without further ado here's what we got up to in Pai...

The White Buddha
So our first stop for the day was Pai's famous White Buddha, which was actually first caught a glimpse of on the bus into Pai. Unfortunately for us the Buddha was under construction when we visited, which did take away some of the 'wow' factor. However nothing could spoil the outrageously good views from the top of the Buddha, it made climbing all the stairs 100% worth it!

Yun Lai View point
Now as we just came from the view point at The White Buddha I wasn't expected anything more than the views we got there but this view point was even more special. Not just for the views but for the entire experience! At the top was a little tea shop and anyone who visits the view point gets there own traditional Chinese teapot and tiny China cups. It was such a cute experience sitting drinking our tea, admiring the views. I have to also mention the extremely adorable kittens having a little snooze as well - views, tea and kittens what more could you want?

Chinese village
When I saw this on the list of stops I have to admit I wasn't that fussed about it - I hadn't come to Thailand for a Chinese style village! However it was actually really great. A women gave us some freshly grown berries, some corn on the cob and some more tea! Plus the village was really cool and we got some pretty cool pictures overlooking the mountains.

Tha Pai Hot spring
Next we enjoyed Pai's famous hot spring. Although it was an extremely warm day and it felt a little odd wallowing in hot water it was very cool, I felt a bit like Jane from Tarzan! There were loads of pretty butterflies around by the hot springs and I even got one to land on my hand! After the springs and we were all relaxed we enjoyed some lunch (included in the price of the tour).

Coffee in Love
Next on the list was probably my favourite stop 'Coffee in Love' this amazing little cafe is like no other! Completely love themed and set amongst the most breathtaking scenery and views (yet again). The coffee here was also amazing, we both enjoyed iced lattes. It was so much fun exploring the little garden and all the hidden treasures here.

Bamboo Bridge
So this was another surprise! I feel like a lot of these 'things to do' are played down in Pai because this was also spectacular and we hadn't even really heard about it! A bridge completely made out of bamboo set out amongst a little river and some rice paddies, it was wonderful to walk across (if not a little risky) and take piccys!

Pambok Waterfall
I was excited to visit this waterfall as we were told we could swim in it and I was so ready for a cool off! Although it was quite tricky to walk down to, especially as the rocks were very slippy but once you were in it was so refreshing! There were even some daredevils jumping in from the rocks above.

Strawberry Fields
Another beautiful stop! A bit like Coffee in Love, this place took the theme of strawberries and ran with it! You could literally buy anything strawberry themed, from wine, to cake to juice (which I sampled and can confirm is delicious). It was a lovely place to explore and chill - plus the owners had a very cute puppy.

Memorial Bridge
This was a must see when visiting Pai, a very important piece of history. Memorial bridge was built in WW2 by the Japanese as they wanted a way to invade Burma, which at the time was owned by the British. Sadly many people and elephants actually died making the bridge. It was really cool to walk across the bridge and think about the history - however one of the girls on the trip actually really hurt herself falling through one of the planks of wood that made up the bridge. Luckily she didn't slide completely through but she did really cut her leg! If you ever visit be sure to watch your step - it's a very old structure!

Pai Canyon
This was our final stop on the tour and the perfect stop for sunset! I had seen tones of pictures of Pai canyon before visiting and knew I wanted to see it for myself. Although I wasn't brave enough to walk the entire way round (I probably would have slipped knowing me) we still found the perfect spot along the side to watch he sunset and marvel in the beauty of this place. Be prepared for tones of selfie snapping tourists though!

Our other days in Pai involved lots of wandering about, cafe crawling, eating and noisying in the little markets. Some of the places we loved and would highly recommend are...

Grunge Burger
Come here for the best dirty veggie burger ever (yes that's right a veggie burger that's healthy but tastes naughty) plus they had two or three options which you don't often get as a veggie.

Incredible Mexican cafe! You have to try the veggie breakfast burrito - it's huge and delicious. They also do blue bottle coffee here - which if you read any of my Japan blog posts you will know it's a fav!

Earth Tone Cafe
Came here when we first arrived. Really lovely chilled vibe with good simple vegan and veggie food. They also ran cool events and had a free drinking water fill up station.

So that's it from Pai - we both wished we could have stayed for longer, it really was a place we felt at home in and loved exploring! Although we were sad to leave - we both couldn't contain ourselves for the next step in our journey...

Elly x

Island hopping around the phi phi islands

Thursday, 15 June 2017

A week into our Thailand travels and we were joined by Craig's mum and dad, Elaine and Mick! We were super excited to see them after 6 months and we couldn't wait to show them all our fav spots we found so far - especially Railay Bay.

After a day or two of catching up and lazing by their humongous pool (see picture below) we decided to venture out to the phi phi islands. We decided to go all out and book a private boat for the four of us. We booked with an independent company 'Big's Castaway Tours' that we found on Trip Advisor with AMAZING reviews. I can't recommend Big and his crew enough. The traditional Thai fishing boat added to the authentic experience yet it was a lot cleaner and better equipped than most of the little boats you get out to the islands. Unlimited soft drinks, an incredible Thai lunch prepared on our own private beach, free snorkel equipment and the loveliest, kindest crew ever. Plus Big's knowledge and passion for the phi phi islands was great!

Unfortunately for us we didn't have the best weather day (see picture below). As you may know Thailand (especially the west side islands) are notorious for unpredictable weather - luckily we bought very fetching rain macs that made us look like 21st century teletubbies!

With that said we defiantly didn't let the rain spoil our day and we still had an amazing time - and the sun did make an appearance for us when we got to Bamboo island to enjoy our lunch.

In total Big took us to 7 different stops. Below I will tell you a lil bit about each one...

Nui Bay
This was our first stop and about an hour boat ride from Ao Nang. A tiny, quiet bay that was amazing for snorkelling. As we had quite a stormy day the water was particularly choppy making swimming and snorkelling rather tricky. However we still managed to get into the water and saw a huge jellyfish as the bottom of the reef.

Monkey Beach
Again slightly jeopardised by the rain, but a beautiful beach nonetheless. Usually the beach is full of monkeys (hence the name) but they were all being sensible and hiding from the weather! Lovely warm water which was fun to swim in whilst it was raining plus big swings to chill on on the beach. I can imagine this to be a real gem in the sunshine!

Maya Bay/Loh Sammah Bay
Notorious for Danny Boyles' 'The Beach' starring Leonardo DiCaprio! Having always loved the film this was a massive must see for me - however Maya Bay was a massive let down. The bay itself is impossible to get to and see due to the 100s of boats full of tourists. Due to not even being able to get to the front of Maya Bay, Big decided to take us round the back entrance (Loh Sammah Bay) instead. A lot less crowded myself and Craig swam about 100 metres (feeling like Richard and Françoise) to the netted rope ladder to get onto the island. Once finally making it onto Maya Bay, I have to say I felt rather sad by the sheer amount of people squashed onto the beach, you could hardly move! Putting that fact aside the beach itself was actually really pretty and I can see why they chose to film there - just another area of Thailand spoilt by the ever growing tourist industry.

Pileh Bay (The Blue Lagoon)
This was incredible! The bluest water and most dramatic coastal scenery I have ever witnessed - I literally felt like I was sailing through a movie set. Perfectly still water and a sense of serenity and calm in compassion to the choppy ocean we had been used to.

Viking Cave
After passing through Pileh Bay we saw Viking Cave which just added to the 'movie set' feel. Here we saw the famous spit birds in action making their nests.

Bamboo island
Last but by no means least was Bamboo Island - this was my favourite stop, not just because the sun had come out but because this island was so unspoilt, quiet and beautiful. We had this little slice of paradise for ourselves - the clearest, pale blue water and creamy white sand. Here we enjoyed an amazing Thai feast cooked by Big's crew, it was delicious! The snorkelling here was also so good - we saw leopard fish and tones of sea cucumbers.

Despite the rain we had such a fun day and couldn't thank Big and his crew enough! The phi phi islands are defiantly a must see in Thailand - backpacker or not.

I would like to end this post by saying a HUGE thank you to Elaine and Mick! You made our Krabi trip so special and we can't thank you enough for treating us to numerous pad Thais, Thai green curries, Chang beers, fruity cocktails and for generally being the best company. We so badly wanted to take you both up north with us to Chaing Mai!

Elly x