Banda Aceh our last adventure !!!!!!!!!!!

Banda Aceh The time had come! It was time to leave Pulau Weh. We were all sad. Made it down to the pier and to our surprise 2 of the lovely women from Casa Nemo had sped there too, on a moped, to wave us off. Tears flowing again. Thank you. We were met on the mainland by Clo and Lula and spent the last 5 days our our Asia tour in Banda Aceh, the place that was decimated during the tsunami of 2004. What a place! For a province that is bound by Sharia Law, I’ve never seen so much openness and forward looking people. Not what we expected at all. Billboards promoting family planning and how to avoid HIV all over the place.  Doing a better job than us in the west. Even managed to have a beer or 2 in a restaurant. Hired scooters and went off to investigate the city. The museum dedicated to the tsunami was great but the the most interesting sight was the ship that had been carried by the wave form the coast about 5km away. Nuts!

The boat memorial

The boat memorial

The place we were staying was right on the banks of the river and so we hired a small boat to go and explore up-stream. As we were getting in the boat Paul suddenly shouted at us all that he could feel an earth tremor!!!???? We stood on the ground and could feel it shuddering beneath us. Really weird sensation. Paul and I looked at Sam (the owner) for a bit of reassurance as we were only about 500m from the sea and there wasn’t much high ground about should we have needed to go. He said not to worry as they have this quite often (weekly in fact). I was still a bit worried. Anyway, got in the boat and set off. As the boat went round this bend we saw a tree absolutely heaving with fruit bats. We all shrieked as we went past the tree and the bats flew off almost at once. It was an amazing sight – they are big things and looked somewhat disgruntled at being disturbed. We stopped off at the end of the river and went for our last swim. Luckily for me (Paul), as I got out of the water I saw a small frog on the ground about the size of a 1 pence piece, last frog photo opportunity.

Fruit Bats just everywhere.

Fruit Bats just everywhere.

The last wildlife photograph of the tour !!!!!!

The last wildlife photograph of the tour !!!!!!

The water was lapping at the edge

The water was lapping at the edge.

What a cool canoe, Sam and Joe had a wicked time with Paul going up and down the river in it. The tree was dug out a few years ago by one of the local fishermen who used it to go fishing in. Christ! You’d need great core muscle control to go fishing in that I can tell ya! Scarlett got her wish and learned to ride a scooter. She was so excited and did fantastically well in riding around the grounds of where we were staying. The boys, not to be out done were allowed to take control of a scooter with Paul on the back. OMG! I found it hard to watch, but they thought it was the best thing ever. What were we thinking of?

All on her own.

All on her own.

You had to have nerves of steel !!!!!!!

You had to have nerves of steel !!!!!!!

One evening we were down at the tiny fishing harbour as the sun set. The most beautiful sunset ever! Unbelievable! To be honest it didn’t look real but it absolutely was. Paul took this fabulous shot.

No photo shop it was amazing'

No photo shop it was amazing’

On our last day there we spent a few hours at the beach, like all of them here, big beautiful and empty. Great waves. Difficult to believe we will be heading home to cold wet London in a few days.

The last day .

The last day .

And so, we left Banda Aceh, Sumatra and headed for Bangkok once more and for the final time. Had a couple of days at The Malaysia Hotel packing and re packing, then, THAT WAS IT! What the future holds we know not but one thing is sure – this is not our last adventure !!!

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Banda Ache to Pulau Weh and back again

We set off for the island of Pulau Weh in the province of Banda Aceh very early one morning (I think it was about 4:30). With a certain amount of trepidation I must say, as Banda Aceh is the place where Sharia Law rules the roost. So trousers and shirts all round. After the flight and a one hours ferry ride we reached Pulau Weh, an island just off the northern coast of Banda Aceh. We got into what can only be described as a sharabang and made for ‘Freddie’s’ (one of only a handful of places to stay on the island. It was great, from the balcony we had a fabulous view of clear blue sea and palm trees.

Our view from Freddies

Our view from Freddies

Mum and dad did plenty of relaxing, as did I as couldn’t get my finger wet due to the stitches. Paul went snorkelling at least 3 times a day with or without one or more of the Minis. The sea was as clear as clear could be, it was amazing, never seen water like it. Just beautiful. Lots of new fish too. I rigged up a waterproof dressing for my finger after a couple of days as it was driving me mad not being able to go into the sea. Saw a turtle on my first venture out with Paul, Scarlett and Sam. Sam went out almost as often as Paul and putting in the time paid off as they saw some beautiful stuff.

Stripped cat fish

Stripped catfish

Dog faced puffer

Dog faced puffer

Lion fish

Lion fish

We had to move residence after 6 days so we went next door to Casa Nemo where we spent the rest of our stay. It was lovely: had a big sandy beach, huge rooms, all with a balcony and an even better view of paradise than Freddie’s. And then there were the people………run by a young local woman who goes against the strict laws and traditions of the province. She also employs mainly women that are either young widows or have/had husbands that are complete losers. Most of them are bringing up their kids on their own too.  They are the friendliest bunch ever (I know we have written this many times but this lot are the “top banana”).

Casa Nemo

Casa Nemo

Some of the gang.

Some of the gang.

We hired a local fishing boat for the day (along with a local fisherman – The Captain) with the view of the 7 of us going round the island a bit and doing some snorkelling and island viewing. That day started with a lot of rain, wind and big waves. It continued for a good couple of hours. Tropical storms; don’t ya just love em when you’re in a rickety rackety rusty little boat. Mum and dad gracefully bowed out of the trip which was probably for the best as we had a long, extremely bumpy, cramped, wet and stormy trip. I kept checking how far from the shore we were and working out whether we could all swim there. The little fishing boat was a bit past it’s best – held together with rubber bands and nylon fishing line. It had a few leaks here and there but nothing a bucket and a bit of bailing out couldn’t handle. The”Captain” was a man of few words but knew his boat inside out, adjusting the rubber bands and bungs as needed. He did some fishing on the way which was a experience for us to see. A line of at least 70 metres was put out and controlled by his big toe!!! He’d wrap the end of the line round it a few times and wait for the tell tale tug? We kept thinking ” what if he hooks the sea bed or a whopping big fish?” It’d shred his toe! That thought made Paul and my toes curl. He came away unscathed. “FISH ON” Scarlett, Sam and Joe all helped pull the beast in. We ate well that night.

A couple of days later while we were sitting having breakfast we heard the engine of the Captains boat in the distance , eventually he was in sight and came to shore and anchored up. We assumed he had been out fishing all night again which was  a regular occurrence, normally arriving empty handed. This time it was different. He got off the boat, waist high in water with something like a big wet black sack on his back. It reminded me of when the coal man use to deliver coal to our house years ago. From where we were sitting we could see he was struggling but with what we didn’t know. As he got nearer my mouth dropped – it was the biggest fish I have ever seen caught and by a hand line/toe. We all ran down to see him, OMG that fish was enormous !!!!!!!!

Part of our dinner, caught by the Mini's

Part of our dinner, caught by the Mini’s

Thats what you call a fish !!!!!!

The CAPTAIN with what you call a fish !!!!!!

Mum and dad left on the 9th October for their own mini adventure in Penang, Malaysia and then a train journey to Bangkok and home. I think they had a great time. Just what they needed after a couple of very stressful years.

Mum and Dad

Mum and Dad

Idul Adha is a religious holiday where, apart from 2 bank holidays, cows are ceremoniously slaughtered and the meat given to the poor and needy. All households cook beef rendang and have treats on offer to passing guests.
We were invited to at least 6 people’s homes (mostly staff of Casa Nemo). This was a very humbling experience and neither Paul or I could really find the words to describe how we felt. These women have nothing, literally nothing and they made such a huge effort to invite us into their homes and share their food with us. Bare floors, bare walls, bare beds or mats. Bathrooms – no, chairs and tables- no. One or two gas rings in the kitchens. Delicious food! We felt honoured to have been invited into their homes. Haven’t ever eaten so much in 2 days. The Captain also invited us round for cake and drinks which was great. “Anyone for fresh coconut juice?” “Yes”. With that he rolled his trouser legs up, rolled his sleeves up and shinnied up an outrageously high coconut tree. WHAT THE?? No rope to help, just bare feet and strength. Machete stuffed in back of trousers. We all just stood and stared in amazement. And the coconut tasted delicious.

More food

More food

Joe and I both celebrated our birthdays on Pulau Weh, and they were great. Paul had planned and helped do dinner for mine to which most of the staff came back for in the evening. That was really touching, and they brought little gifts too. After our fish feast we had a right old knees up, everyone dancing and being very silly. Great fun!  Paul and got all emotional and both made little speeches about how wonderful the people are. Tears all round. The owner, Balqis, had bought a massive birthday cake with candles and everything. I felt very special. Paul made me a beautiful necklace out of bits he had gathered on our travels. A turquoise bead from India, a seed he found washed up on the beach at the Tip of Borneo (covered in gold leaf retrieved from the floors of temples in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos), coconut shell from Bali and shaped into a heart, a “lucky” Thai coin bracelet found in a plant pot?  a brass inner tube valve from Bukit Lawang on Sumatra. It is beautiful! Needless to say I got all “emotional” again. One of my best birthdays ever!

 Made from pieces found on our travels.

Made from pieces found on our travels.

For Joe’s birthday we took him for his first dive. He was so excited and he absolutely loved it! Went down to 5 metres too which is very naughty but great. Now we are all divers. That evening we had yet another banquet of freshly caught fish. Yum! The women from Casa Nemo turned out again to celebrate and this time bought their kids along which was really lovely. Joe was showered with gifts. There must have been at least 20 children running around. This meal was topped off with ice cream and a big birthday cake.

Joes 8th birthday.

Joe’s 8th birthday.

Joe's birthday present.

Joe’s birthday present.

The people at Casa Nemo moved Paul and I far more than we had realised or expected. We both felt a real pull to these women and their families and they seemed to be drawn to us too. We had such a laugh with them although they couldn’t speak English and our grasp of Indonesian was limited to almost nothing. Another person we laughed a lot with was Clo, or Mama Lula as she was affectionately known. A fabulous woman from the French island of Reunion. Mad as a bleedin Hatter she was, but great fun and lovely. She was travelling too, with her daughter, Lula,aged 10.

Clo and Lulu xx

Clo and Lula xx

The snorkelling off the beach was remarkable not for the numbers of fish but for the variety. We were going out 2/3 times a day and, for literally a week we found different species every day . My camera worked over- time but I did get some really impressive snaps. Patience does reward you in the end!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sam and I went for a short stroll one morning and there on the rocks was a Banded Sea Krait snake laying warming itself in the sun before going hunting in the water. It was the same species that we had been swimming with the previous day. Sam was desperate to hold it so, carefully he got a stick under it and picked it up by its tail. He was really chuffed with himself as was I. I must admit if I’d have known it is one of the most venomous snakes in the world I might have been slightly more apprehensive !!!!!!!!!!! During our stay at Casa Nemo we were fortunate enough to be able to hire the services of the Captain and his boat a few times for snorkelling trips. During one such trip I was ambling my way over the reef scanning every inch as I do, when, out of the corner of my eye, in the distance, I thought I spotted  a different species of trigger fish, one that i had been looking for ever since I was a child (I first saw one in an aquarium over 35 years ago !!!!!!). It had disappeared  under some rocks before I could properly identify it, I quickly lifted my head above water and called to the others to come over and help with the search. I described what I had seen and pointed them in the area to look, we were all staring at the bottom when suddenly there it was right in-front of my eyes a CLOWN TRIGGER  I was ecstatic, the others were pretty impresed too.

First Clown Trigger i have ever seen in the wild !!!!!!!!

First Clown Trigger I have ever seen in the wild !!!!!!!!

First we snorkelled with it

First we snorkelled with it.

Then we found one on the rocks !!!!!!

Then we found one on the rocks, Banded Krait snake a very  VENOMOUS SNAKE  !!!!!!!

Cuttle fish absolutely beautiful.

Cuttlefish, absolutely beautiful.

Banded Coral Shrimps

Banded Coral Shrimps

The best photo of a Star puffer i have taken.

The best photo of a Star puffer I have taken.

After nearly 3 weeks on Pulah Weh (paradise) it was now time for the last part of our epic, year long journey.

Banda Ache, one of the most devastated areas of the tsunami on 26 th December 2004.

Mount Sibayak

The town of Beristagi isn’t known for it’s beauty that’s for sure. It is the hub though to climb the two local volcanoes: Sinabung and Sibayak. Sinabung is the one that erupted the other day and coated the town with white dust. Quite a sight in itself.  We decided to climb the little brother Sibayak. The guide gave us a choice of 2 routes up. 1. a four to five hour trek from town, or 2. a one hour trek from half way up the volcano ??? Decisions, decisions……. The one hour trek it was! The 7 of us clambered into a taxi (dilapidated truck) and headed on up the mountain. Out we tumbled and started our adventure. It was a steep old climb. Mum and dad found it a bit arduous to say the least but carried on with plenty of rest stops, which was fine. Those hiking sticks we brought with us came in handy came in handy.

The BIG one in the background, still eruptying !!!

The BIG one in the background, still eruptying !!!

Our guide was really accommodating and just kept saying “no hurry, no hurry”. It was exciting going up as the terrain changed a lot throughout the hike. Jungle at the bottom, then uneven and stony and finally barren and moonscape like.  The vents blowing out sulphurous steam from inside the earth were something else. Never seen that before, well never been up a volcano before. So loud – like a jet engine, and the lovely stench of sulphur all around us.

The sound and smell of the vents was extraordinary.

The sound and smell of the vents was extraordinary.

The minis skipped their way up the volcano, easy as anything. A bit more than an hour after we set off, we all made it to the crater edge. To our surprise you could scramble down into it. Wow! The floor had a kind of sandy, muddy, claggy consistency which stuck to our boots and there were small rocks everywhere with which you could make your name.

The mini's names are there somewhere !

The mini’s names are there somewhere !

So then, the big climb down again. Harder on the old knees than going up but we all survived. Next stop: Hot Springs. Natural heated spring water had been channeled into about five pools in which you could lie about in all day. We were all quite knackered when we arrived that it took quite a bit of the Minis enthusiasm to get us 4 in. I was determined not to get wet. I don’t like hot baths at the best of times, but eventually we were all in and the only ones there. It was heavenly! Each pool was a different temperature ranging from 25 to 30 + degrees. We ended up having to be prized out as a late lunch was also on the days agenda

Hot springs, lovely after a long trek.

Hot springs, lovely after a long trek.

Bukit Lawang

Bukit lawangIMG_3685

And so we venture into the rainforest once more. Northern Sumatra  has most of the unspoilt bits of rainforest here (although the way things are going with the government selling off land to palm oil companies, who knows for how long?). Wanted to take mum and dad there to hopefully see some orang-utans and many other wonderful creatures.

Just under 4 hours to get there via very twisty roads and a nutter driver. Made it to Bukit (hill) Lawang. OMG. chaos! People everywhere! Bukit Lawang is a weekend retreat for the people of Medan as its only about 2-3 hours away. And this was Sunday – busiest day of the week with all and sundry wanting to enjoy the fast flowing river by either swimming or tubing the day away. Paul and I wanted to stay in the car, turn round and go anywhere else. But we didn’t. Everybody out. Mum, dad, Scarlett and Joe stayed put in a little restaurant while Paul, Sam and I went off room hunting. An hour and a half later, having walked the length and breadth of the village and beyond, we returned victorious. 3 lovely big rooms at Riverside. Lucky us, as there wasn’t too much available, surprisingly. Then a long trudge of at least 2km fully laden with bags and rucksacks etc ensued. Gawd it was hot and  seemed never ending. We made it! Now, this was much better……..a river in front of us, then beautiful rainforest. Hardly any people. Lovely. We went for a walk along the river the next day and I saw some movement up high in one of the trees on the opposite side of the river. Eyes straining I saw an orang utan!!! Yippee. Mum was right beside me so she saw it too. Obviously we called to the others so we all caught a glimpse of our first Sumatran orang utan! Fab!

Sumatran wilderness.

Sumatran wilderness.

The  River Bohorok was a great source of adventure and entertainment for us. Once we’d scrambled over the stones to get to the waters edge we were straight in and pulled down stream by the fast flow. The water was just fabulous as we were rather hot and bothered.
Paul found a great spot for jumping in; a highish rock with deep water at its base. they all loved it. I hated it but had to give it a go, and once you’ve done it once…….they want you to do it again and again. Paul  found higher and higher jumping in spots which the minis really loved.

One, two, three !!!!!!

One, two, three !!!!!!

Our first trek: an all dayer. We set off with our guide Sinar (a real man of the jungle) 47 yrs old and has been a guide forever. He knew everything about everything in the jungle.
Mum and dad didn’t come on this trek as it was going to be a pretty hard hike. A lot of going up steep inclines and then down again. Steep! I can see why we needed a guide, it was real primary rainforest so no well trodden paths and the jungle was thick. We would have got lost in a few minutes once we could no longer see the river. It was magnificent;  trees that were over 600 years old, thick hanging vines that were like trees themselves. We hadn’t  seen many insects but it hadn’t rained for a while. The first primates we saw were the cute Thomas Leaf Monkeys with there cool Mohican hairdo.

Now that is one cool dude.

Now that is one cool dude. A Thomas Leaf monkey.

There was a large troop of them in the trees above us. We had to be careful not to stand directly under them as they are fond of peeing on people’s heads….. We escaped unscathed.  From the start we could hear the call of gibbons up high in the canopy. Our guide (with us in tow) followed their “whooping” for ages. We were getting closer to the true acrobats of the jungle. Then they were right above us but hidden in the foliage. Everybody’s eyes were peeled and all of us craning our necks to catch a glimpse. All of a sudden one of us shrieked as we saw a “funky gibbon” swinging through the trees, his long arms carrying him through the high tree tops. So majestic. Then there was another and then one more. Their iconic whooping as loud as anything. Paul was trying desperately to get a good shot but our cousins had other ideas. He got a good one in the end but not after a lot of racing through the  jungle back and forth between trees.

Ariel acrobatics above your head, this one decided to take a rest.

Ariel acrobatics above your head, this one decided to take a rest ( gibbons ).

The gibbons eventually swung off to another part of the forest and left us searching once more. What next? On we trekked, deeper into the rainforest. Sinar,the guide, suddenly stopped us and pointed half way up a tree about 20 metres away. Oh my gawd…. A massive male orang utan. WOW! What a beast he was too. Staring at us staring at him. This guy was semi wild so was used to seeing people but even so……. If he was having a bad day we would not want to be anywhere near him. 15 times stronger than a man. As the day went on we saw more “people of the forest” some semi wild (been rehabilitated) and a few wild. Their faces have such expression at times it’s amazing.  We saw the cutest baby ever (wild), with her mum (semi wild), bright ginger hair sticking out everywhere and the cutest face you ever saw. He (I think) kept climbing up the tree away from his mum – funny.

Cute!

Cute!

I think we saw about 12 orang utans in all and they are just fabulous to see close up.

Lunchtime in the jungle was an interesting affair. Every small clearing we came to was occupied by an orang utan waiting to steal our well earned nourishment. So we had to keep moving on. Ever get that feeling you’re being followed? Sam and the other guide, Pen, were complaining bitterly as they were famished. We stopped eventually and ate quickly for fear of being spotted. As we sat there eating away, Paul suddenly jumped up and shouted and pointed at something in the bush. Pen  thought it was an orang utan so got quite scared and was ready to run. It was a beautiful jungle peacock just strutting around. We also spotted a new (to us) type of all green Lantern bug, as well as our very first jungle turtle!

Chillin !!!!

Chillin !!!!

An all green Lantern bug.Great spot by Clare.

An all green Lantern bug.Great spot by Clare.

Jungle Peacock !!!!!

Jungle Peacock !!!!!

A jungle turtle

Asiatic soft shell turtle.

I think we got back at around  5, knackered but excited. We slept well that night.

We ate in the same place every night mainly cos everywhere had more or less the same stuff on the menu. Unfortunately the food was a bit on the bland and un interesting side as it was to please “everyone”. On day 3, I think it was, Paul asked the women in the kitchen if they could prepare us something not on the menu, something proper indonesian, something they would cook at home. Wonderful!  So tasty. We never looked back after that, ate delicious food every night. The cooks really liked it too as they could actually cook and were proud of their food. We must start that diet soon.

And then………a very bad day…. The 7 of us went for walk  to see what we could see. There was a river to cross which is done with on a flying fox (a seat on a pulley). It is pulled by hand of course and great fun. Dad was half way across with Paul doing the pulling. I thought I’d lend a hand. Next thing I know my finger is in the wheel!! When I pulled it out the end of my middle finger was hanging off.(just past the nail bed) OMG! Mum and the kids were over the other side of the river, and my dad half way over. I started running back to civilisation while paul pulled everyone back over the river. First stop, I got  a bag with some ice and stuck my hand in it and carried on running back to the village. One of the guys from the restaurant gave me a lift to the doctors on his scooter. Not exactly a surgery or poly clinic, more of an open shop front with someone grinding up tablets, in a mortar and pestle behind a counter. I’m thinking x-ray, anaesthetic, micro surgery………… I insisted on it at least being cleaned with betadine, and wrapped. That was it. What? My bleeding finger was falling off and all I got was a dressing! NO! To cut a long story short, I ended up going to a “hospital” a few km away. Again an open shop front but this time with a doctor in attendance. Had 6 stitches WITHOUT ANAESTHETIC. Pain!!!! Oh yes. I wanted to be home for the first time in a year. No micro surgery for me today then I realised. Nearly 3 weeks later and again on anti biotics. Stitches out after 10 days of course but the offending digit doesn’t look pretty. Went back to doc yesterday ……..she suggested I may go and have the nail removed and finger re-sutured. how nice. Think I’ll wait til I’m back in blighty.

6 stitches, one finger.

6 stitches, one finger.

The cause of the cut finger, the pulley system, not my dad of course.

The cause of the cut finger, the pulley system, not my dad of course.

Anyhow, because of the finger I couldn’t go on the next expedition. So Paul, mum, dad and the minis set off in the rain. They returned 4 hours later having had a fabulous time. It was supposed to be a “flatter ” trek than the one we did a few days previous but ended up as steep as steep can be. How they did it I’ll never know. They saw loads of orang utans and even met up with a semi wild friendly one that took bananas from their hands, off Sam’s head and even from down Joe’s back.The journey back ended on a small inflatable   boat gently carrying them across the river safe and sound.

Just a gentle trek !

Just a gentle trek !

Boat back trek finished.

Boat back trek finished.

While we were there there was a festival thing on in the village. An annual event in its second year now. A sort of cultural activity day. Traditional dancing and singing depicting different tales of legend. Many of the male dancers needed to take “magic potion” apparently, to be able to do their dance properly?????? We could see why they needed to be off their faces as they were taking hot coals into their mouths  and crunching glass. Not sure which myth or legend that was though. Anyhow a fun afternoon was had by all.

Festival Sumatran style.

Festival Sumatran style.

All in all we had a brilliant time in Bukit Lawang. A fabulous rainforest, a fabulous river, and really fun, lovely people.

Sumatra, Medan to Lake Toba.

Mum and dad (Ann and Gerry) arrived on time in Bangkok. We were there to meet them, of course, and off back to our home from home The Malaysia Hotel.

The day had come, the Minis couldn't wait to see nan and grandad.

The day had come, the Minis couldn’t wait to see nan and grandad.

We spent a few days in Bangkok just mooching around so mum and dad could acclimatise and then on to pastures new……..Sumatra, an island with a thousand islands, volcanoes, rainforest, orang utans, tigers and Sharia law (only in the bit we want to go to though). 
We had two nights in the capital Medan which was alright, not huge amounts of sights to see, but gave us a feel for the place. We visited the house of a famous Medanite called Tjong A Fie. A Chinese immigrant before the turn of the century (19th), he became the mayor of Medan after a rags to riches story. Beautiful traditional home, all wood of course.

The house.

The house.

As there was now 7 of us it was almost as cheap to hire a taxi for any long journeys so that’s what we did to get to Lake Toba. Apparently a place where people go to relax and get away from it all. There was also a music/culture festival there for 4 days so we thought we’d have a look. It took us 4 hours to get there and the views were stunning. There is a huge island (Samosir) in the middle of the lake which was our final destination. So, a ferry ride of an hour awaited us as the dark clouds came rolling in. About half way over it started raining a bit. Then a bit more and a bit more til we where in the middle of a proper monsoon storm and on a ferry on the “peaceful” and “relaxing” Lake Toba!! Told the ferryman the name of our guesthouse and we were dropped off on the banks of the lake right outside the place. All the places to stay are on the lake side so you just jump off at the relevant bit of wall. Great idea.

The lull before the storm !!

The lull before the storm !!

We got off and were drenched in the 10 seconds it took to get to the shelter a few metres from the boat. There was water gushing down the 2 sets of steps we needed to get up so we just stood for a while in the shelter and tried not to be the one standing beneath the holes in the roof. Although the rain and wind was so hard that it didn’t make too much difference where we were actually. In a short lull in the ferocity of the rainfall mum was volunteered to make a dash up to the reception to let them know we had sort of arrived. A few minutes later someone came down with an umbrella so I took 2 of the rucksacs and headed on up, leaving paul to bring up the rear with almost everything else. The umbrella was a bit small I must say but as we were wet anyway it didn’t matter too much. The others had all made it up to the house by now.

Rain ,rain and more rain !!!!

Rain ,rain and more rain !!!!

The rooms of Anju Cottages had quite a lot to be desired. Dark and grubby at first sight, then just manky and in a state of disrepair. Mother was not impressed! I could see her point…. At least we had a sink in our room, albeit outside the bathroom and broken. And we had a toilet seat. I’m sure the sheets were clean (once). It had stopped raining anyway.

To cheer ourselves up we stuffed our faces with chocolate and drank vodka (or was it gin?). Bad guts had settled in to the four adults by now too which always lightens the mood on any trip. I suppose a flushing toilet would have been nice.

Next day the sun was shining so nothing seemed so bad. We went off to check out the festival. We got there just as it was coming to a close for the afternoon, so that was good. There would be more “going on” in the evening but at a different revue. We didn’t go and find it, we couldn’t be bothered. The local pass time is fishing so we bought 3 rods at £1 each and Paul set the minis up fishing on the side of the lake. They loved it! Especially when a fish bit of course. Every now and then you’d hear “FISH ON, FISH ON!!” Joe was helped out with his bait by a local fisherman who thought it was all very amusing. Then it was time to get in the water. It was gloriously cool, and clear. So the next hour or so was spent diving and jumping into the lake from a make shift diving board. Mum took over the rods while we played in the water.

In she goes !!

In she goes !!

Fish 1

Fish 1

Fish 2

Fish 2

Fish 3

Fish 3

Two nights at the Anju was enough. Mum and I checked out a little place just round the corner that was set in a garden and looked out onto the lake. There was also the bonus of a flushing toilet with seat, and a sink. Everyone was much happier. I couldn’t wait to tell the grumpies we were moving out a day early. Tried to do us on the price though. While I argued with grumpy lady, Paul took grumpy man to look at the state of the rooms. Enough said.

They told us there was nothing wrong with the sink.

They told us there was nothing wrong with the sink.

The rest of our week long stay at Lake Toba was brilliant. Lots of fishing, lots of swimming, lots of relaxing etc. Sam and Joe would wake up early just to start fishing. They didn’t want to do anything else or go anywhere else. Happiness is……….. They made friends with the boy next door so would spend time there or in the garden playing football with him in between being in the water or fishing. I think mum and dad must have gotten through tons of books as they read almost non stop. We became so lazy that we didn’t even bother going out for food. Got it brought to us! How decadent we are!

There was a resident civet in the garden too (one day anyway). Mum spotted it walking across the garden one morning looking slow and unhappy (the civet not mum). It must have been disturbed by a dog or something. We had plenty of time to gaze and photograph it. Minis thought it was fab. It was.

We celebrated mums birthday on the 18th. That consisted of lazing about most of the day before heading next door for a fish feast dinner. Fabulous fresh lake fish bbq’d beautifully with lovely sauces on the side. Yum!!!

Happy birthday.

Happy birthday.

Our rooms and garden.

Our rooms and garden.

The pace of life here is much slower than at home of course. No rush for anything, why? Everything took an hour. Whether it was tea in the morning, lunch or dinner, nothing arrived under the hour, ever. Didn’t matter though.

Paul and I concurred that this place is the best accommodation we’ve stayed at in our 11 months away.

While we were there Sinabung volcano erupted and we could see it in the distance from the lake. Quite a big eruption too apparently. Loads of people evacuated and stuff. The following night there was a storm over the volcano which lit up the sky with almost constant lightening as the air there was full of charged ions. It was really spectacular to watch and must have been even more of an incredible sight if you were right there. We were due to make the volcano our next destination as usually you can climb it. Obviously we wouldn’t be able to climb it now but we decided to go there anyway to have a nose and climb the little brother volcano, Sibayak.

We could just see the volcano from the bottom of the garden.

We could just see the volcano from the bottom of the garden.

A week of relaxing had made us all lazy and the thought of a 5 hour car journey didn’t lend itself to much enthusiasm in the ranks. However on we must venture ! so, our next  point of call, the now dusty town of Beristagi, home to the volcanoes.

Laos – Vientiane

Laos – Vientiane

Time to leave Bangkok again (visa expires on 3rd, 4 days time). It kind of feels like we’re  leaving home. I think that is down to the fact we have stayed there more frequently than any where else in the last 10 months and the fact that we have left most of our luggage there. We have decided that we cant be bothered to do a day long border run to Cambodia, as we are sick and tired of bus journeys so Laos here we come for a 4 day flying visit. No long bus journey just a quick flight to northern Thailand (Udon  Thani  – £43 return same price as a night bus) then a quick shuttle over the Friendship Bridge and Laos. $35 visa fee plus $1 “overtime fee” (we couldn’t work out what it was for but we paid it and got a receipt). We jumped into a cab and headed to the capital, Vientiane. I had booked a 2 bedroom apartment (£33 per night) that had a swimming pool. It had mixed reviews on Booking.com but we have stayed in a huge amount of accommodation over the past 10 months so a couple of dodgy reviews won’t put us off especially if the person is of Singaporean descent , they seem to be so finicky/fussy its amazing !!!!!!!!!

We arrive at Nong Bone 384 and what a surprise, the place was huge, the biggest we have stayed in so far and we scored it 8/10 for cleanliness. It had a small kitchenette with our very own toaster, microwave, kettle and fridge. This meant we could have tea, coffee, and breakfast in our own place.  The Minis said it was luxury. Just outside our window we had a swimming pool, big and very cold so the Minis told us.

Journal time in our apartment.

Journal time in our apartment.

2 queen sized beds, the most space they have had.

2 queen sized beds, the most space they have had.

Although Vientiane is the capital it has the feel of a small town rather than a city.  We are staying 3 km out so it is just a tuk-tuk ride into the centre. There are quite a few bars and restaurants but we opted for a small family run pavement eatery for our dinner. There wasn’t a huge variety and all the meat was BBQ’d. There was a limited amount of salads (all limey/spicy) which we loved.  The meat was really tasty and the quantities were huge. We would all eat, and with drinks (2-3 large beers, coke or juice for the minis) the bill would be under £20. The family were really friendly and there faces lit up when they saw us on consecutive nights, probably due to the fact that we consumed more than most !!!!!!!!!!!

Our lady who cooked for us 3 nights running.

Our lady who cooked for us 3 nights running.

Limited choice but tasty.

Limited choice but tasty.

On day 2 we went to Buddha park. Just over an hour by tuk-tuk but what an hour! The guide book describes Vientiane as a dusty city, we now know  why. 10 km out of the city the road disappears and turns into a large pot holed dirt/sandy track with the occasional lorry squirting water on to the surface to try and keep the dust down. But due to the constant heat this really is a futile practice. The journey was like sitting on the end of a JACK HAMMER with the added bonus of someone throwing handfuls of dust at you!!!!!!!!!

If you look behind the lorry you can see the HAZE !!!!

If you look behind the lorry you can see the HAZE !!!!

Buddha Park is a piece of modern art. Built in 1958 by a local artist. It is basically a field full of Buddha and Hindu sculptures. Paul and I thought it was interesting, not sure the minis felt the same. They did like the “big pumpkin” as they called it because you could climb inside and come out at the top.

The entrance to the pumpkin .

The entrance to the Pumpkin .

Buddha Park.

Buddha Park, it looks really spacious but it wasn’t.

We felt it needed to be spread out more and set in trees or something. But we are not artists of course.

We visited the national monument  of Laos : Pha That Luang, a giant golden stupa. Said to have a piece of Buddha’s breast bone inside it somewhere. It was ok but what was impressive was within the complex. A huge golden Buddha laying on its side. Surrounding the Buddha where tiny shrine things that held the ashes of the dead. So, there were ceramic pots, glass jars and even ice cream tubs filled with remains. Sometimes ash but often bits of bone too. So, hang on to your tubs folks. The tubs were then surrounded by offerings – strange offerings like fags, biscuits, energy drinks (I mean – really)! to go with the more wholesome fruit and cups of water.

National monument. Minis thought it was dull.

National monument. Minis thought it was dull.

They were a little more impressed with this Buddha.

They were a little more impressed with this Buddha.

parents and in-laws take note.... save them ice cream tubs

Parents and in-laws take note…. save them ice cream tubs

Fish, fruit and fags: what more could you want?

Fish, fruit and fags: what more could you want?

4 days was plenty here in sleepy Vientiane, not much goes on really but rude not to visit when you’re in the vacinity. Did have some fab food though and a great night market, Minis stocked up on things to decorate their rooms and them selves  with when we get back. Next destination Bangkok and our second home HOTEL MALAYSIA. Clare’s parents arrive tomorrow (6th Sept) for 5 weeks – the Minis cant wait !!!!!!! Then off to Sumatra.

Koh Tao Thailand

KOH TAO

We looked up at the sky and saw this circular rainbow, it was there for over one hour.

We looked up at the sky and saw this circular rainbow, it was there for over one hour.

         We needed a holiday after all that templing and war memorialing so off we went to Koh Tao. On a night bus! We headed out of Bangkok at about 6:30pm. It was the journey from hell as the uncomfortable bus arrived at the port at 3 o’clock in the sodding morning!!  And that was after stopping at midnight for food!???? The boat then left at 7:30 so we spent those 4+hrs hanging about getting bitten by mosquitos and having little naps.Well joe and I had little naps, Paul, Scarlett and Sam stayed awake somehow.

3 am drop off (coach) next mode of transport boat @ 7.30 am, grab a few winks !!!

3 am drop off (coach) next mode of transport boat @ 7.30 am, grab a few winks !!!

7.ooam we got the call to queue for the boat On we went and  headed straight for the air con seating area. Only later, once the boat was full to capacity and no space left anywhere were we asked for additional payment for the privilege !  Off we went, engines started and OMG: diesel fumes !!!!!!!! The stench was nauseating, it was coming through the air con unit and we were sitting right in front of it. Unluckily enough it was a low level one so the fumes/cold air were blowing straight at you, no escape!!!!! This was not the only unpleasantness to deal with, the sea was very choppy and as the journey progressed more and more people lost their sea legs and made quick exits so they could chuck up over board. Clare was first to leave with  Joe as he looked and felt dreadful. They found a tiny spot outside and sat there for the next 2 and a half hrs feeling sick but at least had some fresh air. Scarlett, Sam and I stayed put. They grabbed 40 winks on the seats and I decided to lay on the floor to try and escape the fumes but to no avail. The journey took 3 long hours and I must admit I felt nauseous for the most of that. Not sure if it was the fumes or the roller coaster ride or both. We arrived at Koh Tao all feeling a little jaded apart from Scarlett who upon wakening asked if we were all alright, I said  no not really, the fumes and rolling of the boat were horrible, to which she replied “WHAT FUMES?” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So here we are Koh Tao, well known diving destination. 1 week rest and recuperation, after that journey we needed it! We found our lodgings, left our luggage and went out to hire a couple of scooters. There are bikes for hire everywhere and all of them look brand new. They cost £3 per day which is really cheap so we grabbed 2. It was only a couple of days later that I found out why they are brand new and cheap. The roads are just ridiculous! Its all very up and very down, and most of the roads are sand so have big ridges and pot holes. Just what you want when going down hill on a gradient of extremely steep! Like a hard red run on a ski slope. THEY MAKE THEIR MONEY ON REPAIRS! No insurance of course so you are liable for all repair bills. However, if you want to explore the rest of the island it is the only way apart from jumping on the back of a pick up truck (its what they use as taxis) and for us 5 its cheaper to have the scooters. Minor damage only, after a lovely skid by me (Clare) on day one. Paul promises never to mention it again!

Reef Octopus.

Reef Octopus.

Scarlett and I booked up a couple of dives so set off after breakfast to see what lay beneath. The diving was good but it was a very long day ( as we set off late ) and when the woman said snacks were provided on board and we would be back to shore about 2:30 I believed her. Tea and coffee flavoured biscuits is what she meant by snacks and 5:45 is what she meant by 2:30. We were both so hungry when we eventually got back that I kind of forgot about the dives. Scarlett really enjoyed it though so that’s ok. I did see a flat worm swimming which was quite fab, and a school of barracuda. Paul and the boys spent the day at Tanote Bay and did some snorkelling and stuff.

Another camouflaged Stone fish.

Another camouflaged Stone fish.

We had a day mooching about then moved to Tanote Bay where we lazed about for the next 4 days. We had a resident gecko in our room and it was  a whopper, although a bit thick as it would only ever hide its head when we came in. You know, like toddlers do when playing hide and seek. “I can’t see you so you mustn’t be able  to see me” scenario. Highly amusing.

You can't see me !!!

You can’t see me !!!

Even Elmo was shocked by its size.

Even Elmo was shocked by its size.

You can’t beat staying on a beach. Snorkelling right off the beach whenever you wanted. And it was great snorkelling too. Joe spotted a turtle on the sundown exploration which was as exciting as ever. I think Paul spent more time in the water than on land in those 4 days. The big nudibranch hunt was on…….and he found a couple of corkers!
Joe spotted it .

Joe spotted it, a Green Turtle

At last a Nudibranch.

At last a Nudibranch.

The smallest Nudibranch we found.

The smallest Nudibranch we found.

Sam spent so much time snorkelling that I thought he might actually turn into a fish.  He spotted a shark, nudibranch, a beautiful harlequin sweetlips, porcupine puffer and a huge grouper ( over one metre long). He loves being in the water and is so confident these days it’s fab to see. He had a fish identification book for his birthday and spent much of his land time cross referencing the fish etc he had seen each day. Very useful as Paul and I seem to forget the names of stuff all the time.
A shoal of Fusiliers.

A shoal of Fusiliers.

Two beautiful Butterfly fish.

Two beautiful Butterfly fish.

It was good for the minis and us  to spend time just playing on the beach (frisbee, bat and ball, rugby kicks, messing about in the sand).
Our beach for a few days, clear blue sea, great for snorkelling.

Our beach for a few days, clear blue sea, great for snorkelling.

There was this massive rock just off shore……
Climb up on the left and jump off on the right arrggggh!

Climb up on the left and jump off on the right arrggggh!

Someone in the family fancied climbing the rope to the top and jumping off the 10 metre high rock  into the sea below. Guess who? Our very own monkey boy – Joe. Paul climbed with him and then had to jump too of course. I do believe Joe was a little more excited about this than Paul though. I stayed on the beach and just watched as the youngest of my brood almost ran up the side of the rock, marched over the the opposite edge, had one small glance over and aarrggggggggh ! I didn’t want to watch. But I did. Hand in hand they threw themselves into the air and then the big splash. Survived! Back they swam, Joe was so exhilarated by the experience, he was beaming from ear to ear.
So we had a great 8 days on Koh Tao, eating well (as ever), having fun and relaxing. Then back to Bangkok and up to Laos for 4 days before mum and dad come out to meet us.
We all agreed the journey back MUST be better than the one down or we would never leave. It was infinitely better. A catamaran, followed by a comfortable day bus with a stop at the cleanest, most organised service station we have ever been to. The toilets, WOW! They were the true thrones!

Two crabs dancing ??????

Two crabs dancing ??????

Scarlett says….

I really loved Koh Tao because the snorkelling and diving was great.It was also really nice just relaxing playing on the beach all day everyday.We even ate our lunch on the beach which was lovely and meant we didn’t have to get up. I would definitely go back there in the future.

Joe says…

I LOVE KOH TAO. If it wasn’t for me no one would of seen a turtle (Green turtle). I also jumped off a 10 metre high rock with dad, it was so fun (dad didn’t think so).It was supreme to sit on the beach all day playing games especially rugby tackling and doing conversions (O.M.G)!

Sam says…

Koh Tao has been a great island for chilling and snorkelling. The reason I loved it was because I could snorkel all day long,and i saw loads of new fish that i hadn’t seen before. My most favourite thing I saw  was a beautiful Green Turtle spotted by Joe.Playing rugby on the beach was also really fun.

I LOVE KOH TAO