Our Belizean Wedding…

20151228_191726.jpgIf we had a dollar for every friend and family member that asked ‘Why Belize?’ we’d be a very rich couple. Our wedding – or more of an elopement really – was low key, no shoes, no fuss, completely unique and absolutely perfect for us.

The answer is; because it’s slightly off the radar, it’s hard to get to, it’s legally straightforward (for an English / Australian couple) and home to one of the best scuba diving sites in the world at The Blue Hole.

Our venue; Xanadu Resort in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, was a rare combination of luxury and ramshackle. It was beachfront and rustic, with flawless customer service. Plus, we will forever enjoy singing the Olivia Newton John classic hit every time we fondly think of it.

Highlights included screaming with laughter as we jumped from the Xanadu pier into the warm Caribbean at sunset (i’m a less than $100 dress kind of gal.) Our wedding brunch was local jerk chicken from Robin’s roadside hut, and dinner featured rum chocolate cake & cerviche from the candle lit Hidden Treasures restaurant. We discovered it down a back alley the day before when they let us shelter from a thunderstorm. We successfully and gracefully perfected the art of releasing Chinese lanterns after many a glass of champagne. Finally our wedding photographer Efrain was all sorts of awesome in indulging my requests for NatGeo style travel shots in our location shoots in downtown Belize City and Mayan temple Altun Ha. I just couldn’t resist a cheeky homage to travel Instagrammer #followmeto.

 

 

 

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The Philippines

A nice little tangent that i’m really glad I chanced in the end. It’s definitely hard to really do the highlights (Bohol, North Luzon, Manila, Cebu, Boracay, Palawan) in three weeks. A 21 day visa is free so most people stay only this long. However unless you fly, you tend to lose days to boats and once a week ferries and the like.

I kind of wish i’d done some planning and squeezed more in, like the rice paddies in Banaue and the wide-eyed monkey face things that have eyes like Puss in Boots from Shrek. But when faced with the dilemma of countryside v’s city v’s culture v’s remote villages etc there is only one clear winner for me. Swanning about on beaches instead!

Liked:

1)      So I hate the sweeping statement that is: ‘Filipino’s (Thai’s/Laotians/insert Asian country here) really are the friendliest in the world.” But you can’t deny here has to be noted for immaculate manors. You can escape that level of hassle or confrontation that you can’t in other SEA countries, and generally the friendly vibe feels slightly more authentic and less loaded. Ok, being referred to as ‘Ma’am,’ 24h a day is a little OTT unless you are the Queen but if you ask for directions on any given Jeepney, chances are someone will hop off and walk you there. Love thy neighbour.

2)      San Miguel recycling. Each beer bottle comes with a napkin stuck around the rim for wiping the recycled bottle clean, DIY style. You get to drink and save the planet. Win win.

3)      The magical coconut pie to end all pies. $10 peso. Best thing to ever be sold on a bus. Fact.

4)      Jeepney’s. 7 peso – wherever you want to go – in a psychedelic patterned tin tractor. Cars just seem so dull in comparison.

5)      Dirt cheap £10 ish flights. You can take to the skies for cheaper than a UK cinema ticket/round/bag of fish & chips.

Disliked:

1)      Boats. You are slow, you sink a lot, and you make everyone feel sick. I’m over you.

2)      Sex Tourism.

3)      Music.  Not that I don’t enjoy a bit of Michael Bolton ‘How Can we Be Lovers If We Can’t Be Friends’ whilst on an early morning minivan from time to time, but people playing their entire cheesy MP3 players out loud in public (This goes for China and in fact most of Asia too) kind of grates after a while. Earphones are $50 peso. Buy some.

4)       Cockfighting. I know the little shits are not your fave at 4am, but don’t strap them with razor blades and let them peck each other to the death. Give them a cuddle.

5)      Room prices. So there is a backpacker scene if you look for it, but at $500p ($10) rooms and only fractionally less for dorms, the PP is pricy (relatively) to do alone.

Where I stayed: Friendly’s Guesthouse  Manila, Tuna Joes Puerta Galara, Ruby’s Puerta Galara, The misc bamboo hut/someone’s house? Boracay, Treehouse Borocay, Banwa Guesthouse Puerta Princessa, Tribal Guesthouse Sabang, La Banane El Nido.

El Nido, Palawan, The Philippines

Nice one Philippines, you came through in the end. I love this place. El Nido is right on the Northern tip of Palawan, and a famous little party beach town where you can do tours to the Bacuit Archipelago. This consists of hundreds of cliff islands with tiny lagoons. Gwen (USA) and I opted on our boat from Alternative Cafe on the basis of Junior the owner using the following words “snorkel with sea turtles” and “secret beach.” The secret being it’s only reachable via a man-sized hole in the rocks that you can dive though to reach the shore.

It was here, whilst cruising on our boat that day, that we meet four tanned, bearded, castaway characters, also known as The Italians. Mauro, and Francesco 1, 2 and 3. Yes it’s a common name. The cliché’s don’t stop there. Through the next few days the boys parade around in Speedos, sang loudly & unashamedly, and educated us all on being naturally born foodies and the art of sharing all meals with almost everyone in a restaurant.  They also kiss each other constantly and everyone else within a mile radius, shouting “chio chio” all over town. As do we after a few hours in their company. Almost everything sounds amusing in the accent, and swearing was surely invented to be screamed passionately in Italian. You don’t tend to meet many Italians travelling. No one since the Naples mafia chicks in Beijing in fact. It was honestly like being in a flamboyant, infectiously fun scene from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin for a few days. Add to this my other new fave; Mark. He’s been to 64 countries, and co-founded our crab fortress on Las Cabanas beach. Honestly, you would not believe how long this kept us all all amused for; watching hermit crabs try and escape from a sand maze. We really do all have too much spare time on our hands. I also bumped back into Miro/Shelley from Manila who were friends with Rex from Cambodia, and a couple of Swedish girls and Argentine brother and sister, and American guy who taught us all about how to train cockerels for fighting (The National sport here.) So our nice big extended family, mixed with lots of football, sunsets, & bongo drums playing, and we had quite the blurred Tanduay rum filled few days. Bellisima.

Northern Thailand

Now I like a beach, I really do, so the North was never going to prevail against the south Islands. That said, Thailand part deux has it charms, and us girls celebrated the end of a good run here after pretty much 2 months together.

Like:

1)      Chains. Mock you like, after a 2 months in SE Asia without the Golden Arches, a Mcflurry at 11pm for 9 baht is most welcomed! Seven Eleven’s too – 20 baht toasties, cashews, sour cream & onion Lays, cornettos. Snack heaven.

2)      Bamboo Tattoos. Although I know Thailand is not original a place to get inked anymore, I’m glad mine was in the lovely Pai, and with traditional bamboo, which we even got to keep.

3)      Dare I say it; I actually liked Bangkok 8th time around! We got there in the end.

Dislike:

1)      Waking up with all three of my jumpers on to see my breath freeze in Pai & Chiang Mai I thought we’d left the cold weather front behind in China!

2)      The inability to travel direct from Chiang Rai to Pai, even though maps and logic tell you it should be possible.

3)      The price of the Gibbon Experience/Flight of the Gibbon. I want to swing from a zipline, but not for £60 thanks. I can go to GoApe for that I imagine, all be it in the slightly less glamorous surroundings of Sherwood Forest.

Where I stayed

Easy house Chiang Rai, Diva Backpackers Chiang Mai, Saishon Guesthouse Pai, Lanna Guesthouse, Chiang Mai, Ton Nam Guesthouse Lampang, Charoendee Guesthouse Bangkok.

Vang Vieng (Revisited)

VV has a lot to live up to.

There are 3 F’s to this place; Falang (Laos word for tourists), Family Guy & Friends – they play 24h per day on a loop in every single bar. No escape. Some people may look down on this, but then to be honest we wouldn’t be friends and you wouldn’t be reading my blog. So actually, ill add FUN to the list too. If you are in South East Asia for NYE it’s either here or Thailand Full Moon Party as ‘The’ place to be. Here’s is obvs the cooler option for those that don’t want to be surrounded by 35,000 other tourists on a beach.

Blue Lagoon

So first the Blue Lagoon, Aka a few days spare to scout for NYE friends (i’ve lost Lindsey and Claire to the south, boo).

This is the epitome of how randomly perfect a day can be. I wake up, I hire a bike, I ride 7km to an Organic Mulberry farm all before 9am. I get talking to some WWOOF volunteer s over breakfast of Mulberry pancakes & honey. Having never actually tasked a mulberry it’s quite trek for such a long shot, but turns out they are yum, if not exactly like blueberries/cranberries. The farm also dabbles in do-gooding, by teaching organic sustainable farming to the local community. They run a bar/cafe to raise money, and encourage locals to own/develop their own produce. Which is where the goats come in. I’m quite chatty and ask a few questions about how you get involved, so Volunteer Guy – sensing he has an audience being the eco warrior type – takes me on a full tour which involves me in a stall petting a nanny goat. I managed to stop him short of teaching me how to milk it.

The second half of the day was spent ricocheting off a BMX knock-off, along 14 MORE km of dirt track, with dust cycloning around my face. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was Phu Kham Cave (the blue lagoon.) And worth it it was. The hidden spot included a giant old tree and rope swings. After 20km on a bike in one day, i’m straight in there before you can say spinal injury. Some ozzy boys up the ante by jumping about 9 meters from the top branches, belly flopping with true force. I deem them too rowdy for my auditions for NYE friends. Instead I opt for the much more lovely, Charlie (UK) Moritz (Germany) and Juuso (Finland).

NYE

So, last time I wrote that tubing in Vang Vieng was THE most fun you can have on a river, and to be honest this time was on par. Bracelets, body paint, Lao Lao whisky buckets, zipwires – you know the drill. Despite saying I wasn’t going to jump of anything high, mob mentality takes over and I find myself sliding with the best of them. The highlight was seeing the same 80 lady in ‘puppy bar’ bar rocking out to David Guetta and pouring boys free shots. I want to be exactly her in 50yrs. Actually she was second only to my all time favorites; mud tug of war/mud volleyball. Since it was dry season we spent about half an hour watering the pitch and cultivating the swamp, but it was worth it for 8 of us to play the dirtiest homage to Top Gun you have ever seen. Juuso took it slightly OTT by rugby tackling me and nearly knocking me out cold. Face down in mud is not a great way to go. As always one of the nicest parts of the day was the long hour downstream back to base, three of us hooked together just floating with the current, sun glaring in between the limestone cliffs. Just beautiful. Silly children that we are we arrived back at dusk, too late for our deposit, but you can’t put a price on fun. Midnight itself was spent at the infamous Q bar with Moritz and I hustling Lao guys at pool, with no 8 ball, then over at Smile bar until the early hours….

Hot air ballooning

….which, like all New Year days from around the world was spent with a killer hangover. Made extra worse with the M150 come down (fake Red Bull with debatable ingredients.) You might say that dangling from the skies in a wicker basket powered only by gas/flames was slightly ambitious then. But i’d wanted to hot air balloon ever since Bagan in Burma. For $70 USD you can take an hour’s flight over Vang Vieng, just in time for sunset. The whole thing was actually quite peaceful/smooth. Rather than describe i’ll let you look at the ten thousand pics I took on FB. I’d recommend it for sure, except the next morning took the edge off. I walked down the hill at 7am to see a crowd of locals gossiping around the lookout point, staring at the same yellow balloon I was in only 14h before, crash landed in the river! One lady smiled and seemed to suggest this happened a lot. The pilot seemed unperturbed and after 5 mins of re-lighting it, off they sailed again. Timing is everything.

Previous Older Entries

An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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