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Ko Lipe

Island hopping 3: Crystal clear waters and white sand beaches

sunny 40 °C

We finally arrived on Ko Lipe at about 5pm and the music was already blaring for New Year's Eve. We were dropped off on the beach and were surprised at how easily we located our accommodation; it was a little more challenging accessing it. We walked the entire length of the beach, and fortunately the tide was out, leaving nice compressed flat sand to walk on. After about 15 minutes, we came to some seemingly impassable rocks with our accommodation on the next bay the other side of the rocks. We noticed the most rickety walkway over across the rocks and so we clambered up some of the boulders on to the wooden path. All this in the 35 degree blazing sun with our packs on our backs. Our walk around the rocks looked far more precarious than it actually was and 5 minutes later we were at our bungalow.

We have had some pretty interesting rooms over the past six months with us getting ever closer to our hundredth place. Bearing that in mind, we have generally done very well and not had to rough it too much. This bungalow definitely had to grow on you with its walls covered in plastic laminate boards printed with green palm and bamboo trees. The bed was a matress on a raised section of floor with a pink flower bed sheet which would not have looked out of place in a 5 year old girl's bedroom. The curtains were a pink satin like material with frills along the edge and the mosquito net was florescent pink. The bathroom had a matching pink sink, shelf and mirror with a pale blue toilet, which was no more than a foot off of the ground. The toilet was a dipper toilet, meaning it did not flush and required you to pour a bowl of water down after you had used it. Obviously, despite not managing to plumb the toilet in, their was still a bum cleaning hose. The shower was cold. At least we had an uninterrupted view of the sea from our balcony.

That evening, we went out for dinner and although the bars were all playing loud music, none of them seemed particularly inviting for new year. We decided to buy some drinks and ice and use a dry bag as an ice bag and saw in the new year from our balcony. From 11 o'clock onwards, there were constant fireworks from the bay. As we walked along the sea front, we saw people lighting fireworks from their child's outstretched arms!

The following day was spent on the beach. We did the ten minute walk across the island to Sunset beach, which was quieter and less touristy. We saw some children going out and catching fish with a rod to spear them. They managed to get quite a large lilac and green one, some small ones and also a puffer fish. We decided to go snorkeling sooner rather than later in case the children killed all the good fish.

We had to swim quite a way out to see any decent fish but saw plenty of sea urchins, some large blue coloured fish and plenty of black and yellow striped fish. I wish we had had a waterproof camera for this part of the trip as we have seen some pretty cool fish and coral on all our trips. Maybe next time.....

We headed back round to the main beach, Pattaya beach, where we hired a glass canoe for an hour. This was clearly just a novelty as it was very hard to control. The water is so clear here, it was actually a little scary passing over the sea urchins and being able to see them brushing up against the boat. We also saw a couple of blue starfish on some of the rocks.

The following day we had a speedboat booked to Langkawi in Malaysia.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 18:19 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches islands beer boat beach island sand Comments (1)

Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay Junk Boat Cruise

Our 3 day trip with Ethnic Travel


While sitting for our bus to pick us up, a couple of shoeshiners came over and started trying to mend the holes in Chris' Vans. Seeing as they were beginning to look a bit desperate, he decided to let them and before you knew it, they had lent him a pair of flip flops for him to wear while they were fixed and they were busy with the glue and the thread. They did a pretty good job, apart from they used brown thread on his blue Vans. They also re-soled the heel for him. They scrubbed them clean before suggesting this work should have costed £12 but didn't seem too fussed when we only have them £3. Clearly we still overpaid, but a shoeshine alone is supposed to be £1. Let's see if it makes them last!

Our 4 hour journey to Halong Bay involved a pukey Christopher who had had a bit of a funny tummy since yesterday and our driver being pulled over by the police and fined for infringing goodness knows which one of their nonexistent traffic laws. According to our guide it was for crossing the white line, which everyone had to do to pass us while we were stopped. He was fined 500k, which is about £15, which is a lot of money in Vietnam!

We boarded our very nice junk boat with 11 other people in our group and began our journey through the gorgeous limestone towers, which make up the stunning scenery. We travelled for about 2 hours before reaching a floating village where we got onto a 4 man rowing boat and were given a tour around, during which, it was a little chilly and Chris announced that he'd forgotten what it felt like to be cold, even though it was not as cold as the day we spent in england at the end of October. After that, we travelled for another hour before stopping for the night.

The following day, we rose at 7am and headed out straight away on the kayaks and spent an hour exploring the caves and the rocks around where we had spent the night. Before breakfast, we returned to the boat and took a quick swim, jumping off of the boat. The air was quite cold, but the water was warm. As we ate breakfast, the boat headed back towards Halong Bay, where we took a minibus through various towns for 90 minutes in order to board a boat to Bai Tu Long Bay. As we got closer to the dock in Halong Bay, there were so many more boats than we had seen on the whole of our trip.

Bai Tu Long Bay is a lesser visited bay, which is very similar to Halong Bay. As we headed out, some of the clouds began to break and the sun shone through onto the rocks, making it even more stunning than it already was. We stopped en route for 40 minutes to explore the rocks on the kayaks again before continuing on to Quan Lan island where we spent the night.

We stayed in a guesthouse and helped prepare and make the spring rolls for dinner.

The following morning, Chris and I got up at 5.30am to go to the fish market at the top of our street. The boats had not long arrived and were unloading their fish. Some of the locals were desperate to show us their catch and one really wanted us to take pictures of what he'd caught, which was really sweet. Although they get groups of tourists staying in their island every night, they probably don't get too many head down to the market at dawn.

After breakfast, there was the option of a bike ride in the mud and rain or a tuk tuk ride along the same route. With the memories of our bike ride last week in the mud and rain in Laos still clear in our minds, we opted for the tuk tuk ride to the beach. The beach was a gorgeous white sand beach which I would imagine on a hot sunny day would be like paradise.

At 11, we started sailing back to Bai Tu Long Bay, in order to take the minibus to Hanoi. We arrived back on shore at 1.30pm and had a long 6 hour drive back to Hanoi through quite along stretch of roadworks.

If you get the chance to go to Halong Bay, I would completely recommend Ethnic Travel for a mid-range budget trip as they travel further out of the bay, so there were no other boats around us at night. They also own their junk boats, so you will get what you pay for. Just take a cushion as the bench seats get a bit numb! That's my one critiscm of Ethnic Travel.

The following day, we visited Hao Lo prison, which was used for both political prisoners and American POWs during the 20th century. Naturally it looked pretty grim, but there were some images used for the media by the Vietnamese which portrayed prison life as being a very pleasant and enjoyable experience.

At midday we took a taxi to the airport in order to catch a flight to Danang. We knew it should have been about $15-18, so approximately 350,000 VND. Our metre was showing 352k when we arrived, but for some unknown reason, our taxi driver only charged us 300k. We had to keep checking the 200k note we'd received as change to make sure we hadn't miscounted the zeros and it was in fact only 20k. It's strange being in a country where as a tourist, you are there to be ripped off and then have a taxi driver voluntarily under charge you!

The other end in Danang, the 50k taxi was not available for less than 150k. Eventually we managed to get one for 40k from outside the airport. There must have been nearly 100 taxis hidden round the corner waiting for their tourist....

Posted by Roaming Rolts 02:23 Archived in Vietnam Tagged boat cruise bay halong junk taxis bai Comments (0)

Paraty, Brazil

Finally hit the beach in this colonial town.

overcast 25 °C

Our 120 mile bus journey from São Paulo did not take six hours, but seven. To be fair, it was mountain roads and foggy but it still dragged.

After our last accommodation, this next one felt like a five star hotel with its shower cubicle that didn't contain a sink and toilet and best of all, a mattress which not only gave a little when you sat on it but better still was not made of plastic. There was also a lovely garden, which as the only guests there only needed to be shared with 2 friendly cats.

Paraty is a colonial town on the coast of Brazil with a small pier, mainly for tourist boats with the mountain forests as its backdrop.

The following day was forecast to be stormy before lunch and again in the evening so instead of taking a boat trip around the islands, we planned to hire bikes and head to some waterfalls inland and afterwards try the beaches. We tried one bike shop; however he wanted to keep the passports as security in his not so secure bike shop come workshop. Having lost them once, we were not prepared to risk this, particularly as the man was incredibly rude and treating us as if we were stupid for not understanding Portuguese, even though I understood him perfectly, just struggled immensely to respond in coherent Portuguese. We suggested leaving a cash deposit, so he asked for 1000 real (£300). That's the first time we've ever had to leave any kind of deposit!

With bikes out of the question, we decided to do a boat tour around the islands, which was definitely the right choice in the end. The water was lovely, the boat was so relaxing and the beaches were very pretty and inaccessible by land. At one beach, there was some black sand, which Chris decided to throw at me. Within minutes, the pair of us were covered head to toe from a watery black sand fight.

In the evening, we wandered around the cobbled streets looking at the whitewashed colonial buildings with their brightly painted door and window frames.

Tomorrow's bus is 2½ hours to do 30 miles to Agra, the port to catch the boat to Ilha Grande. Excellent fun.....

Posted by Roaming Rolts 04:56 Archived in Brazil Tagged beaches sea water boat beach sand paraty colonial Comments (0)

Lake Titicaca

Peruvian and Bolivian side

overcast 18 °C
View South America 2013 on Roaming Rolts's travel map.

Puno, Peru
Sunday 25th August

We arrived in Puno, which is the main town on Lake Titicaca on the Peruvian side of the lake at around 3pm. We hung up our damp and still soaked clothes from the Inca trail and headed out for some lunch in Puno. Afterwards we headed down to the port to find out about trips to the islands.

Monday 26th August

The next day we took a boat at half 7 to las islas Uros, which are the famous floating islands on Lake Titicaca. These islands are built on square feet blocks of roots which float in the water. They put a wooden pole through the middle and then tie each block together to make a platform. On top of these floats, they lay reeds across once a fortnight in opposite directions to build the islands up. The roots last 20-25 years, but the reeds need topping up every 2 weeks. The houses are made of the same reeds tied together. Each island is about 250m². There are loads of these little islands, each with about 5 houses and then there is an island in the middle with a school on which all the children attend. You can if you wish do a homestay on these islands, but it gets very cold by the lake at night and there is no electricity other than the odd solar powered lightbulb in the houses and so would be pitch black after dark. Chris and I were more than happy in our hostel!

The island's men spend their days fishing and trade the fish for other produce at the market back on dry land. The women make tapestries showing Uros life on cushion covers and small table covers to sell to the passing tourists.

After taking a traditional boat also made from these reeds across the lake to another island, we headed off on the boat for another 2 hours to Taquile island.

Taquile island is a proper island about 3 hours by boat from Puno. This island had great views of Lake Titicaca and if you climbed up past the main square, it was so peaceful and quiet. We sat for about an hour, enjoying the sun before deciding to head back down to port for the return boat.

We started heading back the way we came, when we heard a young child going in the opposite direction ask his Dad why they were heading that way to the boat and not the way they had come. (The way we were going.) The Dad explained that the boats picked you up from the other side of the island. Chris and I suddenly had a minor panic as we realised the chances are we needed to be on the other side of the island as well. We had 25 minutes to work our where we were going and get to the port before the last boat left for the day. Fortunately, we had not started the downhill section to the original port and were only a few minutes from the main square. We had the name of the port and so asked the locals which way. I checked to see how far it was, and one man said 15-20 minutes. We picked up the pace, which is not easy when you're at 3800m above sea level and heading uphill. Knowing we didn't have any spare time, we checked a few times along the way that we were going the right way as it was not signposted and as we were still heading uphill, we could not yet see the port. We made it in the end with 5 minutes to spare, which allowed for us to realise how close we were to missing the last boat. Never have we been so grateful for inquisitive children!

We arrived back at 5pm and headed into town for dinner before heading back to the hostel.

The next day, we caught the bus to Copacabana, Bolivia.

Copacabana, Bolivia

Tuesday 27th August

We caught the bus at 7.30am and it took about 2½ hours to reach the border and 30 minutes for the whole bus to clear immigration. Bolivia is an hour ahead of Peru and we arrived shortly before midday local time. We were unexpectedly greeted at the bus by a free transfer to the hotel, which was a matter of minutes away on foot, but being up a hill we were very grateful.

We dumped our stuff and went out for some lunch. The food in Bolivia cost the same as in Peru; however their currency is a lot weaker which therefore meant the main course for 35Bs was not £8 as it would have been in Peru, but just over £3. We found what looked like a nice restaurant and ordered a couple of burgers and drinks. The food came very quickly and while I was busy putting sauce on mine, Chris got started on his. He took his second mouthful and said is it alright to eat raw burgers? I said no and he spat out a mouthful of completely raw burger. These burgers were incredibly thin, so thin that they barely stayed together. I cut into the middle of mine, and it was bright red. It was completely raw. I didn't think to take a picture in time but it looked as raw as mince in the supermarket. As you can't eat raw mince unless it's chopped there and then, which we doubted very much we decided to send them back and head off.

When I told the waiter the burger was raw, he just stood there staring at the almost still moo-ing burger and before questioning me as to whether it was cooked our not. If that wasn't proof we didn't want to eat there then I don't know what is. Commence trying to explain to the waiter that the burger had put us off our food and we just wanted to go. He disappeared off, I assume to check with the manager as he returned with the bill for the drinks. These came to £2.80 and I tried to pay with the equivalent of a £4.50 note, which was too big to him! Eventually he found some change and once we'd finished our drinks we found somewhere safer to eat. We think....

Isla del Sol

Wednesday 28th August

This morning, we checked out of our hotel and caught a boat to Isla del Sol which is an hour and a half from Copacabana. We trekked up the mountain and spent about an hour looking for accommodation until we finally found one with a great view of the lake for the princely sum of £11 including breakfast and a private bathroom. I have noticed that whenever discussing with people how much something costs, when I go to translate the options to Chris, I think they seem to think we're backing out because the price has often dropped before I finish even telling Chris. This was the case here as the man dropped his price by £2.

We set off walking to Challa, a village which according to 'good old never one to exaggerate, Lonely Planet, ' it had a 'white sand beach straight or of a Greek holiday brochure'. We arrived at this beach after an hour and a half's walk and unsurprisingly it was not picturesque by anyone's imagination. We sat on the wall for about half an hour with school children staring at us as they went past before we headed slowly back up to our hotel.

We went out for dinner, remembering to take a torch for the journey back. Our restaurant only had lights at the front to light it up from the street and so we ate our dinner by candlelight before walking 10 minutes in pitch black down the mountain to our hotel.

Thursday 29th August

The next morning we woke up in our unheated, single glazed room to a substantial covering of frost on the ground outside. We had breakfast and headed off down the mountain to the port to get the boat back to Copacabana. Today was to be the day of no seats as despite being one of the first down to the port to buy a ticket for the boat, we initially ended up with no seat until some people shuffled along reluctantly on the bench. The boat ride back to Copacabana was quite funny (for me) as most people on the boat looked ready to chuck at any moment as it was incredibly choppy today. Unfortunately Chris was made to eat his words as yesterday he'd questioned how anyone could feel seasick on one of these boats. Luckily he and everyone else survived and there was no potential chain reaction.

We bought a bus ticket to La Paz and had an hour to get lunch. We arrived at the bus 30 minutes before its departure time, as advised to find there were no seats left. It was OK though, the angry bus man has a solution; there was one seat at the back and the other person could sit on the jump seat at the front. We declined his great offer for the 4 hour bus journey and he got annoyed. He said there wasn't another bus until much later and just got angrier when I tried to ask what time. We knew we still had time to buy another ticket with another company, but I'm guessing as he already had our money, he was not to fussed about sorting us out. Eventually another lady offered us a seat on a different bus. We were reluctant, as we have heard Bolivian buses race and overtake crazily to beat each other to fares. They also have a tenancy to end up in ditches. This bus didn't look battered and so we went with it. We were the only foreigners on the bus.

All was fine for the first couple of hours until for some unknown reason, the bus turned off the ruta nacional and onto dry, incredibly bumpy fields, which was to be our route for the next half an hour. We eventually arrived in the centre of town where we sat in traffic for about 15 minutes. We soon headed out to the middle of virtually nowhere which it turned out was where our bus was to terminate. We finally managed to flag down a taxi to our hotel.

We went into town for dinner, but managed to go to the one part of town which had nothing but a load of market stalls. We found an awful restaurant to eat at and left most of it and got a hotdog on our way back to the hotel.

Here's to tomorrow being a more successful day in Bolivia. At least our hotel is warm!

Posted by Roaming Rolts 18:12 Archived in Bolivia Tagged boat beach bus lake island floating uros isla_del_sol Comments (0)

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