Saturday, 25 November 2017

Getting our his and her travel-theme sleeve tattoos in KL!

The Tattoo Parlour Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur

On the last day of August this year, we were back in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia after a month in beautiful Vietnam (you can read about Vietnam in my previous post). We had just a few days to spare in KL before our next adventure – two nights in Macao (the Las Vegas of Asia) and three nights in Hong Kong - before we flew onto South Korea for a ten day visit to see our son and his wife Sujeong, and our grandson Aaron, and the rest of our lovely family in Korea.

In Kuala Lumpur, we checked into one of our favourite hotels outside the city, very close to the place Trav had researched and found to do the tattoos we have been talking about getting this year to celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary.

We wanted to mark this anniversary by getting his and her half-sleeve travel tattoos in black and grey that would represent our love and our nomadic lifestyle.

I'd rather be getting tattooed!

We wanted a compass and a map as the main theme with individual touches such as our astrology signs of Scorpio and Pisces. We wanted palm trees to represent our love of tropical places and three little birds in flight to represent our three boys flying the nest. I wanted a quill pen to represent my writing and Trav wanted a diver to represent his passion for scuba diving.

These are our final approved designs. Mine on the left. Trav's on the right.

We consulted with the very talented young artists and tattooists at The Tattoo Parlor Malaysia at Petaling Jaya, Kuala Lumpur. It took many hours of consultation and skill and patience for them to fine-tune our ideas and to get the tattoo designs just right for us. During this time, while tattoo artists Bruce and Oren Lee were busy designing, Cheryl the owner of the shop looked after us, bringing us coffee and food. The atmosphere in the shop was really friendly, fab, and fun.

Tattoo artist Bruce Lee positions the design template onto Trav's arm

Tattoo artist Oren positions the design template on my arm

With the design templates in place that tatttoing can begin!

Then the tattooing began and after over eight hours in the shop, including five long hours in the chair and under the needle, Trav and I finally had the tattoos we had wanted so much and which meant so much to us. We were more than thrilled with the results. I do have a few tattoos already but this was Trav’s first tattoo. I'm so proud of him and we both agreed that the pain was worth it!

The outline is being tattooed and I'm in a bit of a sweat!

The amazing results - photographed raw - after five hours under the needle!

Thank you to ace tattooists Bruce and Oren at The Tattoo Parlor Malaysia!

We love our his and her’s travel tattoos and we will wear them with pride.

Now that our tattoos have healed they look even better!

 Do you have a tattoo/s? What do you think of our new tattoos?

In my next post, I’ll be sharing our fantastic trip to Macao and Hong Kong and explaining to you how the trip very nearly didn’t take off!

Love, Janice xx

Saturday, 4 November 2017

An amazing month in beautiful Vietnam…

The end of July through August is a tricky time of year in South East Asia – as many places are having their monsoon season. Having spent a month on Koh Chang in Thailand in the rainy season and then a few fun days in Singapore and Batam Island, which you can read about in previous posts, Trav and I were back in Kuala Lumpur and looking for somewhere to settle down for a month or more, where I could get down to some concentrated work on my current writing project and where he could get in some scuba diving.

We were also looking for somewhere that satisfied several other criteria too - hot sunshine, a nice beach, and most importantly, affordability. And, quite crucially, to satisfy our wanderlust, it also had to be somewhere we hadn’t ever been before.

So, rather than stick a pin in a map, we did our usual research. I’m aware that my posts and photos on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram just show us jetting off and exploring places - but I think you might be really surprised at how much time and effort we spend on planning our travels. Actually, we often don’t go to our first choice of destination. This could be because it would prove too damaging to our current budget or because of the possibility of violent weather (like somewhere being affected by a category tornado/hurricane) or simply because we have reluctantly decided to heed the advice of the UK government’s warning about a place being deemed too unsafe for travel just now. (The UK Gov's website is a good place to check on your travel plans HERE).

Anyhow, after doing our research, we decided on beautiful Vietnam.

Vietnam ticked all our boxes.  We hadn't ever been there before and August is at the end of their hot summer dry season. Our research told us to expect the weather to be good there for at least another month. The coastal regions are renowned for their stunning white sandy palm-fringed beaches and scuba diving and, because it was the end of the season, we expected the price of accommodation to be low.

Also, we had spotted that Air Asia had a bargain flight from Kuala Lumpur to Da Nang in Vietnam, which is very close to the coastal resort of Cua Dae Beach and the larger An ban Beach, and the beautiful ancient town of Hoi An, which is one of only seven UNESCO World Heritage sites in Vietnam.

The river running through the old town at Hoi An Vietnam

At this point - but only once I had completed my writing project - we thought our tentative plans might even lead us up the coast to Na Trang and onto Ho Chi Minh City too, as we have friends there whom we’d love to catch up with again. Then maybe to even flying on from HCMC to Siem Reap Cambodia, to take in the amazing sights at Ankor Wat as it has always been on my bucket list?

The first thing we had to do, however, to get into Vietnam, was to secure a tourist entry visa. We applied online, and as there wasn’t much difference in the price between a one month or three-month visa, and as we were still unsure of our onward plans, we went for the longer one. Then once the visa came through into our email we were able to go ahead and book our flight with Air Asia.

For our accommodation, I looked at Agoda and First, we stayed in a homestay right opposite Cua Dai Beach. It was clean and reasonably priced – a little bit pricier because of its beach location – but we were swayed by the sea, the sand, the seafood restaurants nearby, and so we booked for two weeks.

Our homestay on the beach at Cua Dia Vietnam
An Ban Beach Hoi An Vietnam

During those first two weeks, Trav went diving and I sat on the bed writing. Really, for almost two weeks, I hardly left the room in daylight hours and because there was no desk I had no choice but to sit on the bed! When I did FINALLY finish my project (seriously concerned that I'd damaged my bum irreparably) I really wanted to spend my days lying in the sun and swimming in the sea, but by this time, we decided we needed to move into town, where the accommodation was a bit more affordable.

Trav enjoying the diving off Cham Island Vietnam

So we moved into Hoi An. Again we stayed in a family homestay – there are so many of them in Vietnam and they are run like small boutique hotels.

We had a nice room with a balcony overlooking a pool. Luxury in this incredible heat! I should mention that during this time, the weather was so HOT that it was almost unbearable at times. We have been to many hot and humid places in the world and we can usually cope with it - even when we don't have air conditioning - but my goodness I can’t think of anywhere hotter than Vietnam!

Consequentially, we spent our days not in town but back on the beach at either Cua Dai or An Bang (and that's when I took all the photos). In the early evenings, however, having gone back to our homestay in town for a lovely swim in the pool and a glass of beer, we often took a walk into Hoi An looking for either a restaurant or good street food.

With the fruit sellers in Hoi An Town Vietnam

Hoi An is at its best at sundown when hundreds of lanterns are lit and all the traditional old boats are on the river. Also in the evenings, the use of motorised transport is banned in the old town and so it is enjoyable to explore the pretty streets at this time, either on foot or in an old-fashioned cycle tuk tuk.

As well as the historic buildings in Hoi An, a must-see sight is the iconic old wooden covered Japanese Bridge dating back to the 16th century, built by the Japanese community.

The Old Japanese Bridge in Hoi An Vietnam

One of our favourite spots in the Old Town was the White Marble Bar – where you can sit in the open (no glass) windows (opposite a fan!) with a vodka lychee martini cocktail (oh wow – they were good!) and watch the world and the hundreds of beautifully dressed Chinese tourists wearing Vietnamese hats being transported around in those cycle tuk tuks.

Hoi An is also very famous for its tailors. You can get beautiful clothes made to measure very inexpensively here. It seems that every Vietnamese in the town is a dressmaker or seamstress – as was our landlady, Moon. I had a dress made by her during our stay (that's the fabric below right) and Trav had two linen shirts, a pair of smart city trousers, and his old denim shorts that were falling to bits perfectly replicated. We were delighted. You'll see the resulting outfits being worn in an upcoming blog post!

Moon, our landlady, was also an expert tailor and we had our new clothes made to measure

After spending a whole month in Vietnam in Cua Dai and Hoi An, quite spontaneously, we spotted an absolute bargain flight to Seoul in South Korea. 

We immediately called our son James and his wife Sujeong, to ask if they were up for having us come over to see them and our grandson Aaron and the Kang family of South Korean in-laws. Like many of our spontaneous trips – they are booked on the basis of a favourable price – and this flight, in ten days time, was from Hong Kong to Seoul return.

So we just had to plan to be in Hong Kong in time for our flight.

We had been to Hong Kong once before – but only as a transit stop between flights. I fell in love with Hong Kong when I had looked down at the city from our plane and saw it lit up like a Christmas tree as we flew in. So this was our big chance to spend a few days and nights there before flying onto Seoul. 

I’d also always wanted to tag a couple of nights in Macao onto a Hong Kong trip too. Macao, known as the Las Vegas of Asia, was just a one hour ferry from Hong Kong. I could see a fabulous adventure materialising before my eyes!

So we abandoned our plans to explore more of Vietnam and Cambodia (for another time) and we flew back to Kuala Lumpur for a few days - not exactly a direct route to Macao and Hong Kong - but it actually worked out cheaper as all the bargain flights were out of KL. Good job we don't mind flying!

So, at the end of August after spending a whole month in Vietnam, we were back in our Asian hub of Kuala Lumpur for a few days. We relaxed at our favourite hotel just outside the city and we booked flights, hotels, and looked up transport schedules for buses, ferries, and trains in Macao and Hong Kong and South Korea. See, I told you we did a lot of research and planning.

While we were back in KL at this time, through his own research, Trav happened to find the right tattoo artist to do our ‘his and hers half-sleeve travel tattoos’ that we had been talking about doing this year for our thirty-fourth wedding anniversary, and so we jumped at this fabulous window of opportunity.

These are our final fabulous designs for our tattoos.
You see mine (left) has a feather pen to represent my writing.
Trav's (right) has a diver to represent his passion for scuba diving.
Both tattoos have a compass and a map and palm trees and our astro signs.

Please do join me in my next post, where I’ll be excited to show you our fabulous new half-sleeve matching travel tattoos now permanently on our arms!

Love, Janice xx

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Singapore Universal Studios and Batam Island

Towards the end of July, after chilling out on an island called Koh Chang in the eastern part of Thailand, we decided we needed a change of scenery and also a bit of fun. You can read about our month on Koh Chang in my previous post.

So we took an Air Asia flight from Pattaya to Kuala Lumpur with the intention of taking a flight over to Singapore the next day, where we could catch a ferry over to nearby Batam Island.

Air Asia is a budget airline and we fly with them often using Kuala Lumpur as our transit hub in South East Asia. We keep an eye on their flash sales and have managed to get some amazingly cheap deals. In fact, we often make decisions on where to fly next on the basis of their cheap and available flights.

But sometimes, as is often the case with budget airlines, they are occasionally subject to cancellation or delay. Unfortunately, our flight with Air Asia from Pattaya was delayed several hours and when we eventually got back to KL and our favourite Holiday Inn hotel, it was well past midnight and we were tired and hungry and a little grumpy because we’d missed our complimentary food and cocktails in the club lounge!

The next morning, when I checked-in online for our Singapore flight, I suddenly realised that the flight we had booked was mid-morning and not mid-afternoon. So after a crazy mad dash to the airport in an Uber Taxi - we managed to get to the gate just in the nick of time - only to be told the flight was delayed. Phew!

Batam, although part of Indonesia, is very easy to get to from Singapore via a subway ride from the airport and a ferry from the harbour. It is also an extremely affordable place to stay compared to the expense of Singapore and it also has a Holiday Inn Resort and Spa. And, as we had enough hotel loyalty points to stay there for free for a few days, we decided it was just the spot for some R&R before heading back to Singapore and finishing off our trip with some fun at Universal Studios.

The weather in Singapore was hot and humid and overcast when we arrived but we had a great view of the famous city skyline from the ferry as we headed over to sunny Batam.

Our hotel on Batam Island was lovely – with a fabulous pool – and I had what I now consider to be my best-ever spa experience there at the Tee Tree Spa with a full body aromatherapy massage and facial treatment. Bliss.

Back in Singapore, a few days later, feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, we checked into another Holiday Inn not too far away from Universal Studios.

We have been to Singapore once before – two years ago – when we took a pre-Christmas trip from KL for shopping and sightseeing. Back then, we took in all the famous sights like Marina Bay and Raffles Hotel and we went for a Singapore Sling cocktail at the Long Bar. This time, we made the theme park our focus of attention. Universal Studios Singapore is very like the one in Orlando Florida – a bit smaller perhaps – but lots of rides like ‘The Mummy’ are exactly the same and so much fun that we went on that one twice. We found the waiting times for the main attractions much shorter than those we encountered in Orlando – maybe an hour rather than three hours without the expense of an express pass.

We had a wonderful day out – although it was blisteringly hot all day.

Feeling rested and rejuvenated by our trip we headed back to Kuala Lumpur for a quick twenty-four hours - just long enough to meet with our next Air Asia flight. This time we were looking for a bit of adventure and culture - so we were headed to a top destination in South East Asia. A country known for its breathtaking natural beauty and unique heritage - and, excitingly, somewhere we'd never explored before. Join me here on the blog again very soon to find out about our next exciting month-long destination!

Love, Janice xx

Monday, 9 October 2017

Rainy season on (เกาะช้าง) Elephant Island Thailand

After an amazing and exciting month in Malaysia during the whole of June this year - exploring caves in Kuala Lumpur, helping out at a turtle conservation in the Perhentian Islands, seeing Orangutans and Sunbears in the wild in Borneo, and riding through towns and jungle on the North Borneo Railway, all of which you can read more about by clicking back through my last few posts – Trav and I decided to head onto somewhere for the month of July where we could take things easy for a while and I could get down to some serious writing and Trav could do some serious diving – all while not having to pay too much for our travel or accommodation costs.

As an easy option and with the help of a bargain-priced flight with Air Asia, we looked at travelling back to Thailand for a few weeks. We know Thailand quite well by now – having travelled extensively throughout the country - although we had still yet to discover the eastern part of Thailand and Trat Province. On this side of the Gulf of Thailand there are a string of tropical islands that are known for snorkelling, diving, jungle hiking and waterfalls. The larger of these islands in the archipelago is known as Koh Chang or Elephant Island (เกาะช้าง).

These islands are also reportedly much quieter and less-touristy than other islands in Thailand – like Phuket or Koh Samui for example – so they sounded exactly like our kind of place. There was only one catch - in July it is rainy season in this part of Thailand.

In the off-season, especially on island resorts in Thailand, you have to be aware that not all hotels or restaurants or shops will be open. Some close up for the whole season but for those that remain open in off-season that also means lower prices for tourists. We managed to bag two whole weeks in a luxury resort on Koh Chang using for a fraction of its high season price.

If you are flying into Thailand (with a UK passport - other passports holders may be offered different entry visa options) on arrival you will get a thirty-day entry visa. We intended to stay for the month and then perhaps look for an even cheaper hotel deal for the second half of our stay.

It couldn’t rain there all month, could it?

We flew from Kuala Lumpur to Pattaya in Thailand. Pattaya is a town with a seedy reputation for crime, prostitution, and drugs - so not our kind of place at all - but it was a necessary transiting point for us on our way down the coastline. 

In Pattaya, we booked a room for one night at the Holiday Inn – always our preferred hotel chain - as we benefit hugely from collecting points for stays with their customer reward programme called IHG.

On checking in at the Holiday Inn Pattaya Beach we were given a penthouse suite upgrade with a wraparound balcony and spectacular views of the beach as well as club access at the rooftop bar – meaning complimentary cocktails and canapes. Score!

The next morning, as you might imagine, it was difficult to leave our luxurious surroundings, but after breakfast, we had arranged for a taxi/minibus to take us on the seven-hour road trip down to Koh Chang.

Yes, really, seven hours – including a ferry crossing - and this is the only way we could see how to get there. The Google map shows a five and a half hour journey - but if you are heading to Koh Chang from Pattaya then be prepared for it to take you a little longer.

The journey was a little laborious but we had a very good driver, and on the ferry, we were delighted to meet a Buddhist monk in his orange robes. He was happy to speak with us and to practice his English. One of the things I love most about travelling is the wonderful people you get to meet along the way.

It was overcast and raining as we travelled but still incredibly warm and humid, and as we approached Koh Chang island, it looked beautiful in the mist. But we still had another hour or so to get to our destination – a resort on Klong Prao Beach – and our driver and car were still with us on the ferry.

On arrival, our hotel far exceeded our expectations – we had a lovely room in a palm-thatched deluxe bungalow with a covered private balcony overlooking the gardens and the pool. I decided that even if it did rain the whole time we were here, I really wouldn’t mind.

Of course it didn’t rain the whole time – only about half the time – but then I did have lots of writing to do. Trav didn’t mind the rain either because he planned on going diving and so he knew he would get wet anyway.

Sometimes, though, when we did venture out on showery days – to find a 7/11 shop for essential supplies of snacks and wine and beer - we ended up sheltering in a street side café or bar.

Not such a hardship - and it was hot rain after all!

On the days when the sun shone, it was really beautiful and we made the most of them. We sunbathed and swam in the hotel pool, or we took walks along long empty beaches, that I’m told get incredibly busy in high-season.

We also strolled along jungle tracks looking for elephants. There really are lots of elephants on Koh Chang, so we made sure to always take some apples with us so that we could feed them and stroke them and talk to them. Some are left wander freely in fields or some you meet just strolling along the road and being ridden by their mahout (elephant keeper). They are such lovely animals and this was the first time I’d ever been up close to an elephant.

There are several elephant trekking camps on Koh Chang where tourists can ride on the back of an elephant through the jungle. As I don’t agree with elephants being ridden, I didn’t go near them.

You can learn more about elephant camps on Koh Chang HERE.

One of the most wonderful things we did on a sunny day was a jungle trek by foot to the nearby Klong Plu Waterfalls. It was a testing walk uphill on slippery muddy steep tracks, but it was so worth it, as the waterfalls were magnificent – another bonus in rainy season - and we could swim in the water pools that were full of beautiful fish.

In the evenings, we were entertained with live music at our hotel bar. Sometimes we ate at our hotel and other times we went to other restaurants and bars. We also ate street food – some of the best we’ve ever had. Our favourite bar was called Sabai Bar on White Sand Beach where they had a fire dancer show on most nights (when it wasn’t raining obviously). Many of the nicer restaurants on Koh Chang will pick you up at your hotel for free in an open back truck/taxi and our favourite restaurant who offered this service is called Iyara, which is famous for its yummy seafood and river estuary location.

On one beautiful clear and starry night after having dinner at Iyara, Trav and I took a ride in a small boat along the riverbank to see fireflies. It was a magical moment to sit in the dark and the silence and to see all the trees and bushes on the riverbank twinkling with tiny white firefly lights.

Painting (public domain) Fireflies at Ochanomizu by Kobayashi Kiyochika. 1847-1915

After our two weeks at our beautiful resort, we would have loved to have stayed on but reluctantly we had to find another hotel on the island. The reason for this was an upcoming week-long Thai holiday, that we hadn’t previously known about, which would put our resort’s prices up to high-season levels.

We were lucky and found an inexpensive but very nice hotel further along the beach. This was a newly built resort and although it wasn’t fully open in the off-season as their bar and restaurant were closed, they rented out rooms, which were small modern villas built around a swimming pool that we could use. Hence the lower prices.

We decided this would do us fine. The resort was quiet and I was still working hard on structural edits for my next book. Over our month on Koh Chang, I’d planned to rewrite 30,000 words of the mid-section of the book and add another 20,000 words to the storyline bringing the novel to around 90,000 words. It was a grueling task that meant spending many hours at the laptop but at least I had a swimming pool available to swim away the knots from my shoulder muscles and plenty of Thai massage places to go to if I needed it - which I did on quite a few occasions!

By the end of July, we had had a wonderful time on Koh Chang but Trav was bored with me writing for so much of the day and the weather and rain on Koh Chang was getting steadily more persistent and that was causing bad visibility in the sea and so he wasn’t diving either. I heartily agreed that we both needed a change of scenery, so we decided to move on to somewhere where the weather might be improved, and where we could also have a bit of fun together.

So we headed back the same way we arrived in a taxi/mini-bus but this time we stayed in Pattaya a few nights so that we could make our new travel arrangements. While we were there we explored the town and saw that it was indeed a bit of an eye-opener!

But where to go next? We did our research carefully because while some regions and countries in South East Asia are in the middle of their rainy (monsoon) season in July and August, others were just finishing theirs and others were just coming into it. Spotting a bargain flight, we decided to head over to Singapore for a few days and then take a ferry boat over to Batam Island - which is part of Indonesia and stay at their Holiday Inn Resort - which we paid for entirely with our IHG loyalty points.

So in my next post, I'll be blogging about our amazing time in Singapore where we went to Universal Studios for a day and had a lot of fun - and also our lovely week spent at the Holiday Inn on Batam Island in Indonesia - before we headed back to our south-east Asian home hub of Kuala Lumpur to make the decision on where in the world we would travel to next!

Do pop back soon – and please consider signing up to my mailing list on the top right of this page. I only send out newsletters when I have news or offers or something exciting like a new book release to share with you and you will get a free download of my bestselling book ‘How To Party Online’. Thanks!

Love, Janice xx