Getting Ink Done

I won’t bore you with all of the details of how we got from Koh Samui to Bangkok then onto Chiang Mai, a distance of about 1000 miles, it involved a boat, a bus and a train in that order.

Chiang Mai is a very interesting city, quite different to Bangkok in that it is more laid back and it caters for those who are looking for more adventurous pursuits such as whitewater rafting, trekking and visiting local tribes. As mentioned before, we chose not to do these things just yet, there are cheaper alternatives in the other countries we are visiting. Instead, we decided to get tattoos.

As we walked through the streets of Chiang Mai we came across a tattoo shop called Buffalo, had a look through their design book, thought ‘why not?’ and walked right in. Before us sat two young Thai’s called Tawan and Mike (yeah, this isn’t his real name) with their tattoos dotted around their bodies they could quite possibly have been an intimidating pair but within seconds we could tell they were both good guys.

Gareth went first, telling them he wanted something, but not sure what, but he definitely wanted it to go with the tattoo of Veni Vidi Vici he already had on his right arm.

I (Jen) have never had a tattoo before. I’ve waited a while before getting one as I want my first to mean something to me. I love lilies and roses and those two flowers mean something very special to me. My middle name, Susan, also comes from the Hebrew for Lily. While Gareth was trying to decide exactly what he wanted I just waded in and said ‘I want a rose and a lily on my left side please’.

Gareth was still trying to work out what would look best, maybe a wing or a cloud effect, I sat there looking helpful by going through the heap of tattoo magazines strewn on the coffee table but really I was fascinated by the scope of designs, and the places people actually tattoo!! (Did you know that you can tattoo inside your nose?!) I came across a photo of a woman with huge wings tattooed down her back, it was beautiful. I showed it to Gareth and his mind was made up. Working with Tawan, they both came up with a design that was truly magnificent. The wings represent the roman eagle and work well with his Julius Caeser quote.

I had the pleasure of being tattooed first, and being a woman I can handle pain. It is what we are made for! But Oh My God, what I didn’t expect was to feel like a knife was slicing through my body for 4 long hours. And my hip, my poor poor hip. Throughout the ordeal Gareth was there wiping my face, stroking my arm and distracting me with Italian verb conjugations.

Here are some photos of the most agonising 4 hours of my life.

My design. The rose was made a little smaller

Owwwwwwwwwww

Halfway there and I’m exhausted and a quivering wreck

Finished!! 

The next day I got to witness Gareth’s 6 hour trauma. In the end I just wanted to hold him close to my bosom, stroking his pretty face and tell him that everything was going to be alright. But he was a brave Englishman and told me, in want of a better phrase, to please go away.

And here now is Gareth’s 6 hour ordeal.

Tawan’s design. The wings were moved to opposite ends of the border

Smiling and optimistic

The 6th hour

We left Chiang Mai today and entered Laos by longboat across the Mekong. That was fascinating to say the least even though the journey was less than 2 minutes long. Tomorrow we will begin to make our way to Luang Prabang by taking a slowboat for two days along the Mekong River.

Da bomb

Sarongs and Thong Flip-Flops

I couldn’t find a more perfect setting to regale you with week two of our orient odyssey. Jen is curled up on a sunbed asleep and I am looking down a tropical beach as the sun sets, while drinking an ice cold beer.
It sounds like paradise in every sense of the word but as budget backpackers our route to this hedonism wasn’t the comfortable or relaxing experience your ‘suitcase tourist’ might have.
We landed in Bangkok at 10am on the morning of Friday 16thMarch and after we had gotten through customs and out of the air-con airport we were just in time to be greeted by Bangkok’s mid-day humid heat (38 degrees C). With severe jet lag, and all that it brings, the first thing we did once at the hotel was what any intrepid explorer and stiff upper lipped Englishman would do; we donned suncream and hit the hectic, overcrowded streets in search of exotic delicacies and great picture opportunities. In Bangkok both come in abundance.  
On the bounce through Bangkok in a Tuk Tuk
I could spend this blog, and the next five, describing the sheer madness of Thailand’s capital; the people, the streets, the vast amount of food vendors found on every corner, the hawkers, the tuk tuks, the barefoot monks in their orange robes. One moment energy is draining from you, maybe due to the unbearable heat or an unreasonable taxi driver who won’t put on his metre so he can fleece you (albeit by a few pounds, bit still, it’s YOUR few pounds) the next you are revitalised by some tasty noodle soup you found which cost you 80p but left you feeling more satisfied than any roast dinner could.
There is no in between with Bangkok, you either love it or you hate it and for us it is definitely the former. One word of advice though is to question every price told to you or (as sad as it sounds) question anybody who stops you in the street to give you ‘friendly’ advice as this more than likely involves them sending you off in a tuk tuk to a far away temple with a stop at a travel agency on the way.
My ‘temple’ pants hiding my pale legs
After spending a night in Bangkok we left the city a day earlier than planned to get to the island of Koh Samui in South Thailand because the train information we acquired before leaving England was out of date. We took the sleeper train on the Saturday evening at 7:30pm from Hualamphong Station and our mammoth 16 hour trip to Koh Samui began.
Hey now, where’s my bed?!
If you plan to travel big trips in Thailand then the sleeper train should be your first choice although it is like trying to sleep through severe turbulence on a plane but at least you will have an actual bed.
Jen comfy with her Kindle 
At Suratthani Station, 12 hours after departure, we were swiftly ushered onto transport number two, a coach, for 2 hours, which took us to the port at Don Sak. We then hopped onto a ferry for the final 1.5 hours.
When we arrived on Koh Samui we were drained of all bartering savvy-ness and headed straight to the nearest taxi to just take us to our beach bungalow and the start of a week of some serious R&R.
Maenam Beach is what you would call a tropical paradise as well as an animal lovers dream. Everywhere on the beach and streets are the most friendly of pet cats and dogs as well as stunning birds with their relaxing songs and bright colours. The owners of our bungalows have four dogs and four cats, one of which has spent the last few nights sleeping in between us.
Yeah? And wha’?!
Our resort, Moonhut Bungalows, is actually perfect. Set on a quiet turquoise beach, barely any hawkers, or tourists to be honest. The food is tasty and cheap. Our rooms are cleaned to a high standard. The staff are also a delight. We have hardly ventured out to the more busier beaches and when we have we just want to come back. This place is a real gem and has only cost us £10 a night.
Moonhut Bungalows, Maenam Beach
Many people stay on Koh samui for a few days and head over to Koh Phangan which is a 30 minute boat trip away. Koh Phangnan is well renowned as being a party island but with its selection of quiet beaches. After this, you can island hop to the much smaller Koh Tao where you can then take a boat back to the main land and pick up the train to Bangkok from Chumporn. Jen and I discussed this trip but for financial reasons we thought it best to go back to Bangkok the way we know.
We are leaving Koh Samui on Tuesday and heading back to Bangkok for a night. After that we intend to travel North to Chiang Mai, a city known for its trekking and homestay excursions into the rural jungles that surround it. We won’t be doing those things there (there are plenty of opportunities for that in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, for much cheaper, if we wish) but instead are using it as a stop off point before heading towards the Laos border. Thailand is an expensive country in comparison to its neighbours so the quicker we leave the better.
My tan looks great in white

From Europe to the Orient

Today is Monday 19th March and on Monday 12th March we left Liverpool for Berlin. Not by plane, oh no, that would be too easy, but by train. And not just one train but three. The first, Liverpool to London, took 2 hours 8 minutes, the second, London to Paris, took 2 hours 16 minutes and the third, Paris to Berlin took 12 hours 40 minutes. Altogether the journey was almost 24 hours from leaving Gareth’s house to arriving at our hotel.

Travelling by train these days is considered second (if at all) to flying when it comes to leaving the UK, especially if you don’t live in London when jumping on the Eurostar in the morning could be your commute to work, so really speaking it was inconvenient for us to travel in this way. But it was an adventure and it has seasoned us for later train travel we will take in Southeast Asia.

I got terrible travel sickness soon after leaving Liverpool and I just felt that there was really no hope for me for the rest of the journey but it was mainly because we were sitting in seats facing the wrong direction so thankfully that was the only time I felt like I was going to puke up my guts.

The Paris to Berlin train was an overnight sleeper train. We had booked seats, as opposed to beds, in a compartment, something we started to regret quite quickly. When we arrived at our compartment we met Valentine who was to accompany us for the whole journey. Valentine was a French street performer with black choppy hair and dirty jeans. He lives in Berlin but had travelled to Paris to visit his girlfriend. I thought he was harmless enough, although he did talk to himself on a few occasions. Gareth was suspicious so naturally didn’t trust him. We both hardly slept a wink, mainly because we had to spend a few hours sleeping on the floor, which we took in shifts, while Valentine spread himself out across three seats for most of the night.

Berlin is a wonderful city. It is filled with history and culture and as Gareth is a first class war bore, it was his Mecca.

We visited the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gates, Checkpoint Charlie, the foundations of the old Gestapo headquarters (now a very informative museum) and, most importantly, sampled a few of the local beers.

Reichstag

We spent our first day trying to find a local pub that was JUST a pub not some restaurant with a beer sign outside (which was pretty much all of the time), alas it was not meant to be. A quick search online the next day told us that Berlin actually wasn’t all that great for pubs compared to the beer capital Munich but there were a few gems to be found in East Berlin. And they were right.

I could spend the next 20 minutes telling you all about the beers we sampled (which was my full intention), but as I write this I am actually sat in a beach-side bar on Koh Samui in Thailand and I really couldn’t be more lazy right now. Instead take a look at these lovely pictures of beer:

One thing I will take from Berlin is my newfound obsession with Currywurst. This is a Berlin speciality that quite simply is a chopped up sausage with a tomato-curry sauce over the top. I’d heard of this most intriguing dish before we’d arrived so I was on the lookout for it straightaway and it didn’t take long to find some takeaway selling it. There is a German bakery down the road from where we are staying on Koh Samui, and they only bloody do Currywurst! I am in actual heaven right now.

Below is a picture of a Currywurst that I tried at a Currywurst Express in Alexanderplats Station in Berlin. What do you think?

Currywurst

We left Berlin for Bangkok on Thursday evening by plane, something I thought I would never do being petrified to fly, but I did it. I DID IT!!! Although with a little help from my friends Red Wine and Cognac… I really feel that I have conquered my fear, so much so that we are discussing flying from Koh Samui (an island in South Thailand) to Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand), our next destination.

Stepping off the plane the heat hits you straight away. Berlin was about 10 degrees while Bangkok is about 36. Everything was different, even the airport had a scent that you would only find in Asia. I think it was the smell of Thai food that travels with the breeze.

I want to take this opportunity to apologise for the lack of blog posts this last week. We have travelled for literally 48 hours in the past six days i.e. with our bums sat on a train, plane, bus or boat. It’s been tiring but I’ll tell you what, it is worth it.

So here we are, in Southeast Asia, and our journey really begins now.

Gareth and Jen x

So, here goes…


Sadly the days of the great intrepid explorer belong to the 19th century and all that was left for us lot that followed was the bottom of the ocean and space. Not fair really but with high speed trains, airports and most importantly, the internet, where at the touch of a button hotel rooms 10,000 miles away can be booked and paid for, tropical seasons can be considered and ‘dodged’, exchange rates, bus times, cultural do’s and don’ts… We can do what they did a hell of a lot faster, safer and better informed. Plus we don’t have to wear stupid hats and have handle bar moustaches!

There is something about other people telling you stories of their trips, be it backpacking tales of adventure or weeklong holidays taken as annual leave. You want to listen, and take it all in, be polite, woow and aaahhh at the right places while you think to yourself ‘Oh go and be happy with someone else’. Maybe that’s just me, I’m not like that all of the time, I can be excited for my friends but I think it gets harder for everyone the longer time passes between your last airport arrival lounge encounter and your next online booking form.

Ok, I am miserable. I get jealous. There, I said it. The irony is I, Jen, have travelled myself, and not just your typical destinations either. I have been to India twice, Cuba a couple of times, Cambodia for two months, I even lived in Morocco for six months. Albeit fantastic trips, but none of them really involved me being a tourist; I either visited friends, family or travelled for business purposes. Although Gareth has been on a whistle-stop backpacking trip around Southeast Asia before, he never got the opportunity to truly enjoy and take in the vast culture Asia has to offer.

It is now soon time for Gareth and I to be the storytellers of our next journey. Like a number of young people our age we are going to backpack across Southeast Asia, starting in Thailand, moving on to Laos, Cambodia and finally settling in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Our journey begins on 12th March where we will be leaving Liverpool and moving on to Berlin by train. (It’s a long story as to why we’re doing this, I won’t go into detail now.) After two nights in Berlin we will then fly direct to Bangkok. We don’t know when our journey will end, but we hope it won’t be any time soon.

We are doing this because we both want to decide what it is we are going to do with our lives. Sounds cliche, but we don’t care. Just like most people we found ourselves in jobs that neither of us particularly wanted to do. I have personally had a dream to become a travel writer. Maybe, just maybe, this trip is the key to that dream becoming a reality.

We both love food, we love to people watch, we love to laze about and do nothing, we love to get up early and seize the day. We want this blog to inform, entertain and above all, for our mums, provide evidence that we are still alive and well.

So, here goes….

Gareth and Jen x