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Adventures of Auroraman and Cupcake Woman

The stress of getting to a relaxing place

Thailand Posted on Wed, November 03, 2010 08:09:17

‘I like your skirt, sexy sexy….’ – Thai Masseuse, Koh Tao, Thailand.

Bus and boat trips to the popular Thai islands are never easy – and they are almost always overnight. This is seen as a great point to budget conscious travellers as they save money on a night’s accommodation. However, I’ve never met anyone who enjoyed the experience. The journey would probably be quite short if it wasn’t for all the waiting around you have to do at various intervals, but this seems to be a common feature for trips in Thailand.

We started from a travel agent on Koh San Road at around 7pm. After around 1/2 an hour of waiting, we were picked up by a lady who got us to all follow her through the busy markets of Koh San, while we were dragging all of our luggage with us. At one point she had us walking down the centre of a busy road at night in a long line, with traffic passing either side of us.

We reached the bus pickup point and waited another 20 minutes or so for our bus to arrive. The bus was reasonably comfortable with reclining seat, curtains and various multi coloured blankets on the chairs. There was also entertainment in the form of action movies played on a tv at the front. We decided to stay up to watch some movies – however they must have been purchased from Koh San Road (knock offs) as we had a few instances of DVD’s stopping working just as they reach the climax of the films.

Just as we started to settle down and drop off for the long journey ahead, the bus stopped at a roadside cafe for a “15 minute” break – 45 minutes later everyone got back on board and we set off again. It can take a little while to fall asleep on public transport, and we gave it our best shot. After about an hour I started to fall asleep again, although as he couldn’t sleep, Ram decided to watch the new film that was playing instead.

We knew the boat we were catching was at 6:30, so assumed we had all night on the bus – however at 3am we were told to get off with our bags and wait at another road side cafe in the middle of nowhere for “15 minutes” as a mini van was to pick us up. An hour later, after lots of worrying thoughts of “what do we do of nobody turns up?”, sure enough a mini van did show up. We were taken about 20 minutes down the road and dropped off at a ferry pier, 2 hours before the ferry we needed. It’s not too easy staying chipper after a night of interrupted sleep, or in Ram’s case, no sleep. Sitting outside in the dark, surrounded by many travellers with miserable faces, we could tell we were not the only ones feeling that way. Then the rain started….

The ferry journey was rough, not only was the sea very choppy, but the seats were hard and plastic, and a French lady seemed unaware half her bum was on my leg. Arriving at Koh Tao we found we had to climb onto a floating pier. Floating piers are adventurous things on a choppy sea, and would have been fun if we hadn’t been trying to take all our worldly possessions with us. We both have very large rucksacks, with a small rucksack and a wheelie case. The easiest way to hold everything is to strap the small bag to our front, the big bag to our back, tie all the supporting straps around the waist for security and then wheel or carry the wheelie bag. It was only once I did all that and tried to walk across a plank of wood from the floating boat to the floating pier that I realised should I fall into the sea, I’d never be able to get all my bags off in order to save myself.

We’d previously researched a bay on Koh Tao that was good for snorkelling and spotting reef sharks and turtles. When looking up places to stay, Black Tip Resort seemed to tick all the boxes and reviews online were all good except for a few strange negative comments about the road to the resort. Despite deciding we wanted stay there we hadn’t managed to book anything in advance, so we were arriving with our fingers crossed. Oddly, as we reached the end of the pier there was a guy standing there looking at me saying “Black Tip?” – so we followed him and hoped for the best. He threw our bags into the back of a pickup track, and then gestured for us to jump in too. We were with another British couple and it soon became obvious we were going to get to know them very quickly as the ride was so unsafe we had to grab onto everything and everyone to make it to the other side alive.

The pickup truck took us up and over the steep mountainous island, through the winding forest and on a track that looks more like a dry river bed. I was hugging our luggage to weigh myself down so that I didn’t bounce right out.

Arriving at Black Tip Resort we found it to be exactly what we were looking for. Quiet and secluded with enough activities and a few eating places to keep us entertained. The room we were offered was a basic double bungalow for around £8.30 between us per night. The bungalow was made of wood and placed on stilts at the edge of the forest with a balcony overlooking the beach. It was as clean as you could make a wooden hut, there was electric and a fan on the ceiling – which is pretty much all we needed. The only thing missing was hot water – a luxury we could have paid extra for, but we decided to give it a go without.

I assumed at this point that Ram and I would have a kip to catch up on the night’s missed sleep – however Ram’s eyes were wide open with excitement – he wanted to go searching the forest for exotic creepy crawlies, and find the sharks in the bay that we had read so much about.

Our first plan was to go to an ATM, which we soon found out was back at the pier on the other side of the island. The only way to travel this way was by pickup truck – 100bht per person each way – 100bht is about £2.10, so it added up to be quite a pricey journey to take. We decided to make the most of the trip over and stocked up on supplies while we were there – sweets for me, snorkels and underwater camera bag for Raman.

Back at Black Tip Resort we kitted ourselves out for snorkelling and set off down to the water. Despite looking like a white sandy beach, the “sand” on the beach is actually broken coral which is quite unpleasant on the feet. The water is a turquoise colour and beautifully warm.

It was Ram’s first try of snorkelling and he took to it very well. Although the bay was full of coral and sea life, it wasn’t as brightly coloured as that you would find in somewhere like the Caribbean. However, that’s not to say it’s not worth doing. There was such a great variety of fish

We spent the rest of the week in the bay, eating, reading, snorkelling and generally winding down from London life. We popped into the main town at one point for a change of scenery and a massage. Upon arriving at the massage place, I noticed they also offered leg waxing. Due to the cold shower in our hut, I’d neglected my full beauty regime, so decided to go for the leg wax instead of the massage. Ram went for a head, shoulders and back massage.

My legs were being waxed by a small Thai lady who didn’t speak much English. She started waxing and I just watched the clock, waiting for it to be over. A little while into it, she called in another Thai lady to help. They were both waxing my legs and talking in great concerned tones to each other in Thai. I noticed they were going over the same patches again and again, each time as painful as the last. Then one of the ladies said to me “too difficult” – but she kept going, so I just nodded and carried on watching the clock. It was 40 minutes before they moved to a new area of my leg – now quite excited that they seemed to have found a method of making it work.

After an hour I could hear Ram talking in the next room, his massage had finished – the ladies (there were three by now) still hadn’t done half my legs. At this point they called in the woman who had been doing Ram’s massage and she turned up with a pair of tweezers and started trying to pluck the hairs out individually. By now I was in great pain, normally in the UK this takes 30 minutes. After an hour and a half of having the wax stripped off my legs continuously, I had to tell them to stop. I walked out the room to find Ram in a dressing gown, drinking Jasmine tea and listening to tranquil music. I paid up and left, just happy to ordeal was over. Back in the pickup truck I finally looked down at my legs – they looked exactly the same as when I went in, only pinker. I must have grumbled about this for about a week after.

I will always go for the massage option from now on……

S+R xxx

Getting into the swing of things…

Thailand Posted on Thu, October 21, 2010 18:28:11

‘What is Thai for vegetarian?!’ – Auroraman, 7th October 2010. Bangkok, Thailand.

So here we are in Bangkok – currently in a 4 star hotel watching every episode of the American Office, breaking only for food and hospital visits, but more about that later.

On our arrival into Bangkok we were met by a taxi driver sent by our hotel to pick us up. A very friendly guy who called himself Jackie Chan, he had brought his wife along in the front seat to keep him company. They instantly won us over by calling Stannie beautiful and saying Raman looks like Keanu Reeves. Yes we are that easy to please.

Our first two nights were booked at Bansabai Hostel, a lovely quiet hostel about 30 minutes outside of Bangkok centre ( We paid a bit extra for a Superior room, which was a large room on the top floor with a garden view. Raman found the idea of being located next to a garden very exciting as the moment our plane wheels touched the ground he has been on a hunt for dangerous creatures/insects. After a close examination of the area, he came to the conclusion that all we were going to see here were geckos and mosquitos, much to his disappointment.

The hostel provided a free taxi to the river for our first day, where we could catch a boat to the Grand Palace in Bangkok centre. The boat was public transport rather than a tourist ride, so it was a great introduction into the everyday life of those in Bangkok including an area at the back of the boat that only Monks can occupy.

Outside the Grand Palace, we treated ourselves to milk straight out of a coconut with a straw, like the tourists we are. Unfortunately we then found out we could not enter unless we had our elbows, knees and toes covered, as we were dressed in flip-flops, shots and t-shirts, we put the Grand Palace on hold and made our way to Koh San Road.

Koh San Road is often referred to as a backpacker’s paradise. It is a busy street made up with shops, hostels, bars and travel agents. Lined down both sides of the street are market stalls selling knock off designer clothes and jewellery, fake CDs and DVDs, and many Thai made tourist gifts. If that wasn’t cramped enough, down the middle of the street are food stalls with tuktuks weaving through. Day and night this street is cram-packed full of tourists – along with haggling for the slightest purchase, spending time here can be an exhausting experience.

The Thai people are very friendly, and haggling should be done with a smile on your face. They’ll try to catch you into conversing with them by asking you where you are from as you pass their stall. We found the answer “London” was usually met with their attempt of a cockney accent and a “corr blimey guvner!”. Not only that but they’re able to read when you are about to excuse yourself and they’d predict “just looking yeah?”

After a little while of browsing and trying to avoid buying all the tempting things on offer, we decided to make our way to the MBK Centre (a massive department store incorporating designer shops for everything you can think of, along with the same type of market stalls we saw on Koh San Road). We only went for a camera card reader, but I ended up buying some green contact lenses and Raman couldn’t resist a Lady Gaga t-shirt. Honestly.

We had planned on taking a bus and boat to Koh Tao in the morning, however Raman started to feel quite under the weather, so we delayed it by a day. We spent the next day in our hostel just resting while Raman recovered. I decided to pop out to a pharmacist for him, and ended up caught in a tropical downpour, with no coat or umbrella. As I walked home in the pouring rain, I was laughed at by all the locals sheltering in their doorways. This was the beginning of many incidents where we have been amusing to the Thais just by being ourselves.

Late afternoon when Raman was feeling a bit better, we went to the roof to check out the hostel’s infinity pool. It was such a lovely setting, and being the rainy season we could see a thunder storm over Bangkok in the distance. As the sun began to set, we wrapped up our handstand competitions and took in what we thought was going to be the last of our time in Bangkok as we were off to Koh Tao the next day.

S+R xxx

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?? No, it’s AuroRaman! (being carried by Cupcake Woman due to mass alcohol consumption…)

Dubai Posted on Sat, October 09, 2010 09:21:57

‘Its just you and me Baby’ – AuroRaman, 6th October 2010. Dubai, UAE.

And so our adventure began, six days ago in Dubai. Having bid an emotional farewell to our respective families, friends and our ‘home’, we hopped on the Airbus to meet relatives and take in a city neither of us had been to before. A good starting point to ease our way into impending travels. If I may so humbly make a prediction, every pre-conception you have of Dubai is probably true, and if it isn’t, they’ll build it for you.

The people are polite and professional. Service is key in this part of the world, which is refreshing after watching manners and common courtesy slowly evaporate in London over the years. Everyone we conversed with was fairly fluent in a host of languages. Food is almost fully imported, so our cheese fix was never far away and a host of cuisines were available to enrich the taste buds, which we took full advantage of.

The resorts, oh dear lord, the resorts! New stars had to be created in the hotel rating system to incorporate what Dubai’s finest have to offer. We kinda went on a whistle-stop tour of most of the big-hitters, each one vying to be even more ludicrously impressive and OTT than its neighbour. My personal favourite was the Madinat Jumeirah resort, a utopic man-made paradise complete with a canal system Venice wouldn’t kick out of bed for breaking wind.

Day one saw us arrive in Dubai to be picked up by my little cousin, Karan. By little I mean he’s a few months younger than me, not because he is 6’3 odd and built for a rugby scrum. The first thing you notice is obviously the searing heat and humidity, which I felt I should mention, considering we were fairly near the equator and surrounded by desert. Apparently this time of year is ‘mild’.

It was hard to believe we were travelling through what was once sparse desert, the landscape was nothing short of unbelievable. Think of a futuristic metropolis that wouldn’t look out of place in latter-day Superman films. Just without the flying vehicles, although they’re probably not far off…

Our arrival in the Jumeirah area and what would be home for the next three days gave us the chance to see my aunt Nindi, a very peaceful, beautiful and serene lady who reminds me a lot of my own wonderful mum, Taranjeet Uncle, a warm-hearted man who oozes calm and confidence, and Bhuaji, Karan’s grandmother and the quintessential matriarch of the family. Oh and how can I forget Sonu, the 17-year old Yorkshire terrier who I met on the day he came into the family.

After a much-needed sleep (Emirates do the most divine in-flight entertainment), my uncle Kawal took us to Jumeirah Beach to have a look round the famous landmarks/hotels in the area, and afterwards, lounge by the pool with a refreshing mocktail.

Kawal reminds me a lot of Robin Williams in full flow. Every other line that comes out of his mouth is either a witty comment or deprecating low-blow (for comedy purposes obviously). As he kept reminding us during our mocktail session, we needed to get on the hard stuff soon or risk ‘deportation’ for crimes against lack of alcohol consumption. His second name is Kohli. People call him Al-Kohli round these parts, which is rather fitting if you get the play on words.

That evening, Karan and Al-Kohli took us to a lovely outdoor bar/restaurant by the Creek, which is a river that separates ‘Old Dubai’ from ‘New Dubai’. We enjoyed a mixed buffet of Mediterranean and Eastern delights plus some fried stuff with cheese. Luckily for us, according to Kawal, we had done just about enough at the end of the evening not to get deported. Karan isn’t drinking at the moment and training hard, so apologies if your reading this mate, I know I’m hard work at the best of times, thanks for dealing with Drunk Ram so well.

Our penultimate day in Dubai saw us go on a desert safari in the golden sands between Dubai and Oman. In specially-fortified Jeeps, we were thrown around the dunes in maniacal fashion, only just being able to steady ourselves to see the fantastic view of a troupe of at least 100 cars like ours, fighting the sands at the same time. I found it rather hilarious that Stannie didn’t realise the drivers released the air from their tyres to counteract the punishing terrain. I knew that all along, I just neglected to tell her until it was obvious. Obviously…

As the sun was setting across the golden sea, we arrived at our next destination. The exterior reminded me of the Roman camps illustrated in the Asterix series of comics. Four wooden walls which housed an interior of a large dancing area, buffet, souvenir shops, shisha area and communal meeting points. Around the large dancing area were tables of 6 where we, the guests, could sit on Persian rugs and cushions and enjoy the festivities. Oh yeah, I also tore up the dune buggy track beforehand like a young, Indian Ayrton Senna.

Before dinner, Stannie had her first experience with Shisha smoking. I must say, for someone that believes ‘only bad people smoke’, she took to it very well. I may well purchase one when we get to New Zealand in that case. It’s that or a Playstation…

The next day, we went to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest man-made structure in the world. To do this, we had to enter the biggest mall in the world, which houses the biggest aquarium in the world. As we were going up the elevator at a rate of 10 meters per second, my insides started churning and I realised I needed the biggest shi….

The view from the top really encapsulated how much work had gone into making Dubai a thriving centre for luxury and decadence in the middle of an extreme environment. We were on the 124th floor out of 200+. You weren’t allowed any higher. I felt disappointed until I looked down. ‘Flippin’ eck!’.

Our last evening in Dubai saw us starting off with a few drinks at the aforementioned Medinat Jumeirah. The bar we went into was like one big Martini advert, except they were playing hits from Pearl Jam, The Police and Beastie Boys. Many people came up to Karan and Kawal to shake their hands, like a scene from The Godfather. I ordered a pint of Stella.

After having dinner at a family friends’ oriental restaurant, complete with covert drinking operations, we headed to what we kept being referred to as a place to view our ‘culture’. Now, the only thing I’ll say about this is that people can interpret the word ‘culture’ in many different ways. What goes on tour stays on tour.

I should mention, this was hopefully my last night of drinking whilst we are away much to Al Kohli’s displeasure (‘Vegetarian and teetotal? You disgust me’). I think it was a fitting send off, thank you dearest family.

I feel what surprised us during our trip was that although some of the most impressive feats of human engineering are on show here, there is also an approving nod to our natural world in a lot of Dubai’s steel. Buildings based on the shape of a delicate flower, the insistence of water being a theme in most constructions and an abundance of approving nods to Mother Earth’s animal kingdom in the world’s tallest towers and crystal-clear lakes, delight and confuse at the same time. It would befuddle even the most hardened tree-hugging, left-leaning, Guardian-reading, vegetarian hippy (do you know anyone that fits that description?).

The most enjoyable element of our time in Dubai, with utmost sincerity, was the conversation, banter and musings we engaged in with our family. The backdrops were stunning, but they pale into insignificance. It’s times like these that it hits you, New Zealand is going to be a lonely place sometimes.

In a land fit for the bluest of blood, our family still surpassed themselves with the care they took into making our stay as pleasurable as possible. Nothing was too much to ask for and we sincerely thank you for all you did for us. We were truly treated like royalty, my mate Ben would’ve been proud of the way his ‘little Indian prince’ was handled!

Hungover, uncomfortable and hot, we settled into the seats on the plane. One chapter down, who knows how many to go before we reach Middle Earth? Thailand please, Mr Pilot. I closed my eyes to reflect on the last few days. This is it, now we really are on our own. Six weeks of not knowing what lies ahead, bar meeting the incomparable team Politz-Damergi’s in Cambodia (looking forward to it guys). We miss our friends. We miss our family. But thinking about our future? What a rush! I turn to Stannie. ‘It’s just you and me Baby…’

S+R xxx

In the beginning, there was northern lights and cupcakes…

Introduction Posted on Fri, October 08, 2010 09:32:27

‘I still can’t comprehend what we’re doing!’ – Cupcake Woman, 6th October 2010. Bangkok, Thailand

I consider myself a rather astute and aware individual, but I don’t think I could have envisaged that this would be our setting, on this humid, sticky evening. One of eight people dining at a spacious Thai eatery in a non-descript suburb, half an hour from the centre of Bangkok.

The décor going for ‘traditional’ yet comfortably screaming ‘1970’s British/Indian family home’ and a wonderful backing track of tuneless yet sincere Thai karaoke threatening to drown out our conversation, makes for an intriguing scene. All the more surreal considering we were in one of Dubai’s most exclusive resorts 24 hours earlier, knocking back a host of exotic beverages in the exquisite surroundings of a man-made paradise.

And so, in a pregnant pause between a forgotten melody line, Stannie, one of the most in-control, logical and organised people I have ever met, swallowed her mouthful of vegetable stir-fry and uttered that unnerving line. What better way to encapsulate all that inspired that outburst than to chronicle musings, stories, strops and moments of enlightenment from what will surely be a magical quest between the two Poles. Oh yes, it is a quest. Is the spare room still free Mum?

S+R xxx

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