Friday, 29 May 2009

4 x 4 in North Wales.

I have wanted to go to Botswana on holiday for a very long time. To the Okavango Delta. So this year we thought that we would do just that! Then, the UK pound went into free fall against the world currencies. So, I did not think it was affordable and was not going to go. Then, The BBC had a David Attenborough programme of the Okavango on......fate! Don't know about that, but its what MasterCard is for.
Botswana is a very expensive option for tourists, this has been a deliberate strategy by the government of the country. Within the Okavango Delta, the Lodges quote their prices in US$$.
The lodge I had in mind is now costing £ 870.00 per person, per night! Thats a NO then!  However, with a bit of Googling, I found an alternative to staying at the Lodges. This is at the opposite end of the price scale, in the form of camping.To camp in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana you have to have a 4X4. The roads in the game reserve are notorious, and are either sand or mud, and basically can not be navigated in a car.
So with all this in mind, I booked a weekend in Wales to learn to drive a 4X4.
I found a company on the Internet called Ultra Adventure Driving, they are based in North Wales.
I have not been to that part of the world before and we booked to stay in Wrexham.
We met the owner and our ‘teacher’ for the next two days, Stuart at a McDonald's just out side of Wrexham. Stewart went through all the theory there and then, using cigarette packets to represent the Landrovers.
We then drove to a spot just under the A5, and started the lesson. This course was especially built for Landover, and whilst it looked like a field, it had many challenging climes, bridges, and verges to try out our new found skills.

We had time to go into the town of Llangollen, a very nice place, plenty of adventure holidays going on.
Then on the next day, we drove off road, over the mountains, and ended up on a 'fun' couses where we got stuck on a ridge! It was good fun and hope it will be of use in Botswana?

The Tolkien Trail.

This is a 9Km/5.5 miles circular walk starting and finishing at Hurst Green in Ribble Valley, Lancashire, Is a great favourite of our dog, as after 5 ½ miles she knows she has had a do I.
It starts in the village of Hurst Green is 8Km/5 miles west of Clitheroe.
It is said that J.R.R. Tolkien who wrote 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy got his inspiration for the hobbits in these woods. Tolkien,his wife and other children, regularly stayed at a guest house in the grounds belonging to Stonyhurst College. Their son, John, who was studying for the priesthood at the English College in Rome, was evaucated to the Jesuit seminary at St. Mary's Hall (now the preparatory school for Stonyhurst College) during the Second World War. J.R.R. Tolkien spent much of his time writing, both at the guest house and in the College itself.
This is from the Web page of the Ribble Council.

1. With your back to the main road, walk along Warren Fold. Just beyond the last of the houses, go over a stile - you will see the domed turrets of Stonyhurst College straight ahead of you. Follow the wall on your left, pass through a gateway and turn sharp right. Walk across the field, passing a lone tree, to reach the fence on the other side.
2. Don't go through the gate, but turn right and follow the fence, heading towards the red brick cricket pavilion. Go through a kissing gate and continue to follow the field boundary. After passing through another kissing gate, follow the path downhill and over the stream. Climb uphill with Fox Fall Wood on your left.
3. As the gradient levels, bear right across the narrow paddock to follow the iron fence to the corner. Go through the gate in the corner and turn right, passing the current Observatory for the College. Follow the tarmac track downhill towards Hall Barn Farm.
4. Turn left before the gate and go through a wooden gate, following the line of the farm buildings. There is a magnificent view of Stonyhurst College and the Pavilions to your left. You will shortly emerge on to a track. Keep straight ahead, following the hedge. To your left is St. Mary's Hall, formerly a seminary. Across the playing fields to your right is the distinctive profile of Pendle Hill, with - a little to its left - Clitheroe Castle.
5. When you reach Woodfields, cross the road, bearing slightly to the left and turn down the lane between the houses. The lane soon becomes a rough track and swings to the left. Turn right and go over the wooden stile, then follow the edge of the field alongside Over Hacking Wood. Near the corner, turn left over a stile, then right to descend a stepped path.
6. Cross the bridge over the stream and follow the path which forks to the right towards the River Hodder. Just before reaching the river, turn right over another bridge and climb steadily uphill. Passing Hodder Place on your right, the path now descends towards the river. Herons can be seen along this stretch of river. Go through the stile at the bottom of the hill to emerge from the woodland on to a wide, surfaced track. You will now follow the river as it curves gently round to the right.
7. Where the track meets the main road at Lower Hodder Bridge, cross over, pausing to admire Cromwell's Bridge just a little downstream. Turn right along the footway and follow the road uphill. Opposite the junction, go left over a stile and bear slightly left across the field to another stile in the fence opposite. Go over the stile and walk straight uphill, crossing another stile before the brow. Bear slightly right across the field, passing through a kissing gate and heading towards the hedge to the left of the farm buildings.
8. Go through the kissing gate and turn left along the tarmac track, which drops steadily downhill. Where the track levels, go straight ahead, through the gate and into Winckley Hall Farm yard. Turn right, go through the yard, then turn left, passing a brick wall on the left to reach a gate. Go through the stile and turn immediately right along a gravel track, with the River Hodder again on your left..
9. Where the Hodder joins the River Ribble, take the path to the left, around the gate, to reach a stile by a bench. Go over the stile and turn left to follow a wide track alongside the Ribble. After about 1km, the Ribble is joined from the left by the River Calder, with Hacking Hall on the opposite bank.
10. Continue to follow the bank of the River Ribble until the path narrows near a stone building on the right. Go through a gate on to a track and over a stile, heading towards Jumbles Farm. Follow the track around to the left to pick up the line of the river again. Where the track turns right, keep straight on alongside the Ribble. As you walk you will see a stone cross on the hillside to your right.
11. Where the cross disappears from view, go over a stile, across a gravel surface, then over another stile to continue alongside the river. Ahead of you is a graceful three-arched aqueduct. When you reach the aqueduct, go over the stile to its right, bearing slightly right across the field and through another stile on the edge of a wood. Cross the wooden bridge and climb the stepped path to another stile. Go over this stile and walk straight ahead, following the fence on the left.
12. Where the fence turns sharply left, keep straight on downhill. Cross two bridges and another stile, then turn slightly to the left. You should now be walking uphill along a low ridge with streams on either side. After about 200m, cross the stream on the right and turn left to continue uphill, following the line of the field boundary on the left. At the top of the field, go over a stone stile in the left corner and pass through the car park of the Shireburn Arms Hotel. Cross the road to return to the start of the walk.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Rugby world cup Sevens in Dubai.

The IRB Rugby World Cup Sevens, were held from Thursday 5th March to Saturday 7th March. The tournament was held at 'The Sevens' stadium in Dubai.
The IRB web page says this 'Built by Emirates Airline, with the support of the Government of Dubai, The Sevens features a permanent grandstand with 4,500 seats and temporary stands, which will be erected around this permanent structure to increase the capacity to 50,000. ' The stadium consists of tempory structures that look as if they could be moved if and when needed to. It also says that the stadium is 1/2 a hour from Dubai. I did not time the drive, but it is a long, long way from the city center of Dubai. The stadium, it is next to the Camel Racing Track.
We got a taxi to the venue, buses were put on to bring the crowds back.
If you have ever been to a Rugby Sevens Tournament you will know it is a real party atmosphere.I have been told by a very good friend that the best Sevens to go to is the Wellington Sevens in New Zealand, she went to the tournament whilst on holiday there.
Well, we got a bit of the ‘Welly’ Sevens ambiance at the RWC Sevens Dubai, as we were sat among a great Kiwi crowd, they had all ready got stuck in to the Heinekens when we arrived at about 11.00 am day one, two and three. Those fans really know how to party!
Lots of the crowd were dressed up, we saw Dame Edna’s, Knights Templers, Smurfs ect and the best Rugby shirt I have seen, a ½ Wallaby & ½ Springbok ...brilliant for supporters with a divided allegiance. It was two, long, hard days of partying, I think it is why it is put so far out in the Desert.
Good fun, even if Wales did win it!?! .....getting us in the mood for the Rugby World Cup, New Zealand 2011.
Our last day of our holiday, we chilled out on the 'Public Beach' in Dubai.
Our flight home with Ethihad was at 02.00 am, the bus left Dubai at 23.00. There was thick fog and a sand storm on our way to the airport. I don't know how the driver drove in it, as you could not see a thing! there was a very bad accident on the SZR on the way to Adu Dhabi.
The flight home with Ethihad was one of the worst flights I have ever been on. Far, far worse than any UK Charter! A Small cramped seat, on a packed plane. No drinks, not tea, water , just NONE! the stewardess running over our feet all the time with the trolley, (what was served? Not drinks.) it was not her fault, it is that the aisle are so small. At breakfast, the food ran out 1/2 way down the economy section of the plane...good job I was not hungry. I hope I don't have to fly with Ethihad again as I was not impressed.! In fact I will only fly with them if I do it as a ZED, 10% of the full price, as that is all it is worth.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Thailand. Phuket.

The last 6 days in Thailand were spent relaxing on Kata Beach.
and Karon Beach.

We did very little in this time, just enjoyed the Sun, Sea & Sand.
It was then time to get a late flight back to Bangkok. The Ethiad flight the next day was an early 06.00 check in, and we could not have got from Phuket to BKK airport in time. So went the night before.
That night we stayed in a very odd place 5 minutes drive from the Airport. It was a bit like a Motel / Hotel / Brothel, the only thing to comment about it was it was very cheap!
The Ethiad flight took us to Abu Dhabi, it was then a 'One Hour' bus trip to Dubai. More like
1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Upon arrival at the Cabin Crew Flat. We took her car out to the Dubai Rugby 7s Stadium in the Desert to pick up the tickets for the Rugby World Cup 7s taking place that weekend.
We then got off to the 'Belgium Beer Cafe' to meet the crew for dinner. We were also joined by a friend of mine who is working as a midwife in Dubai. It was great to catch up with all her news.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Bangkok to Phuket.

We hired a Taxi to take us from Kanchanaburi to the new BKK airport. It took just under 2 hours.
We were checking in on an internal 'smooth as silk' flight to Phuket. I could have got this flight a lot cheaper had we flown with Air Asia, One-Two-G0 or Air Bangkok. I was unshur about the safety of One-Two-Go
And could not really understand what airport the others flew from, the old or new BKK airport? It was very hard to find this information out in the UK. This was more of an issue for the return flight, but I paid the ££££ and flew with Thai! It was at this point that Trolly left us and headed back to Dubai, she had a 36 hour wait at the airport to get on a plane. She had her Emirates standby ticket, and a standby ticket for Cathay Pacific, but all flights were full and she did not get on. Some crew at the airport had been waiting three days! In the end she got on a flight to Muscat, then on to Dubai. The joy of Cabin Crew Travel? We had a good flight to Phuket, the plane was packed.

I had pre booked this hotel and taxi to take us to the hotel on 'late'. I wanted a hotel on a hill as I was scared of another Tsunami. I had read many reports and complaints on Trip Advisor that the Peach Hill Hotel in Kata Beach was on a hill, this was the one for me.
Our taxi was waiting for us at Phuket airport, and it was a 1 1/2 hour drive through rush hour traffic to Kata Beach, and to my joy the hotel was at the top of a steep hill. The taxi struggled to go to the top.
After check in, we followed the porter to our rooms. Down the other side of the hill the taxi had come up. To a very new wing, so new it was still being built. The new '@Peach' was built on land the Tsunami had cleared at the bottom of the hill, as it ripped through the resort.
At least I was on the fouth floor!
The 'White Wing', AKA @Peach.

The old hotel.
Very nice rooms.

The pool at the top of the hill.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Thailand Day Six. Good Time Tour. The River Kwai.

Our last day of the 2 night/ 3 day tour had come. It had been fantastic up to now.

(This photo is of the Raft Hotel.)
First thing was a ride in a long tail speed boat up the river to look at the Sai Yok Yai waterfall. This is very close to (and can be seen from ) the suspension bridge. It is also very close to the Namtok Railway station, ‘Hellfire pass’ and the ruins of the death railway.
A very odd site on the river were very large rafts being pulled by long tailed boats, packed with tourist being pulled up and down the river, it was 08.30 am, not very warm, but all on board were ready to swim?

After our boat ride, we were taken to the banks of the River Kwai Yai where we had our best lunch to date. Noi really pulled out all the stops! We were served a Soup, Pad Thai, Rice with about three other dishes. We had a garlic River fish. Then, Noi appeared with a terracotta pot with charcoal in the bottom half of it. It the pot was boiling water with Lime, Garlic, Lemongrass and other herbs in. At the side was a plate full of raw Squid, Chicken, Pork and Liver. It was a ‘fondue’! This was followed by fresh Pineapple.
Following this feast we were to paddle our canoes down the river, a three hour journey! I felt to full to do any thing!

The river current was once again strong, but you did still have to paddle. As we saw the famous bridge over the river Kwai approach. One of the tourist rafts was being pulled right towards us, in an attempt to move out of the path of the vessel one of our party pulled in between two Raft Restaurants moored on the banks..........DISASTER! The current, caused by the gaps in the floats on which the restaurants stand, sucked the canoes towards the large flotation devises at great speed, within moments the canoes had tipped up and HWMBO disappeared under the floating restaurant. My youngest daughter  managed to hang onto some pot plants at the side. The drama continued for some moments and I am sure that we spoiled a lovely relaxing lunch for diners with all the commotion! We got her out of the water, I then looked round for my partner, I saw him emerge by the bridge. Thank God he was all right.
We were very shaken by what had happened, and Noi got a long tail boat to rescue the canoes...he then wanted us to get in the finish the trip! Some of us were too distressed to do this, so we got a taxi back to the office, whilst in true British spirit the other two paddled on!

As I had inkling there would not be hot water during our tour, I had pre-booked the Felix River Kwai Resort before we set off on the tour. This was a treat at £30.00 per room per night B&B! It was a top end luxury resort. The Felix River Kwai markets its self as ‘an oasis for luxury and relaxation’. With its beautiful grounds and gardens, two swimming pools, nice rooms, the description is very accurate, and I enjoyed my deep, hot bath.Good Times Travel Services, who’s office is located on the main road towards the Bridge had provided us with a fabulous tour. It is possible to do this trip on your own, either by visiting all the places we did as day trips from Kancanaburi. Or, to hire a car and stay at the National Park Accommodation independently, you can book the Karan Village through the National Park. But, I an glad we did the tour with this company as thanks to our tour guide Noi and driver Chung, we ate many foods we would never have tried, canoed on the river (!) and did not have to worry about navigating our own way around. The cost of the tour was THB 6000.00 per person. (about £100.-+).

Thailand Day Five. Good Time Tour. Erawan Waterfall. Elephants.

It was another early start, but that was not really a problem as we were awake waiting for the ‘wake up call’ having had a real 'wake up call' at Dawn, a Cockrell crowing very loudly!
The drive down to the Si Nakharin Dam was very picturesque, going through the Chalom Ratanasin National Park and the Si Nakharin National Park. Both roads were tarred and could be driven by car with no problem.
We crossed the dam on the car ferry. This area was obviously used by local people as a Holiday destination as the Dam had many Raft Houses to rent for the day or for a week.
The Car ferry travelled very slowly across the Dam, giving you plenty of time to bye and eat a Coconut with coconut jelly inside from the on board shack.
Once on the other side of the Dam, it was a short drive to the Erawan National Park. Here we had lunch, then walked to the top of the waterfall.

Erawan National Park has a seven tiered waterfall and is a 2km hike to the top. The waterfalls were very busy up to level 4, then it was basically just us going up to level 7. At times Noi did appear to take us through the most difficult routes, maybe he was trying to turn a walk into a trek?
Each level was different, all were spectacular. Some kind of film set was being constructed on level 2, it was made to look like primitive African houses, Noi said it was a Hollywood Studio that would be filming here, so I will be looking out for the scenery.
We had a good time swimming and sliding down the waterfalls, before it was time to head for the River Kwai North.When we got to the River Kwai Noi, I think we were very close to Kancanaburi, but at the road junction we turned right and drove towards the Burma (Myanmar) boarder. When we got to the river we got on to a very rickety bamboo raft, this floated down stream at a very fast rate, the river current was very strong. The man controlling the raft used the paddle as a rudder to keep us in the right direction.

When we got to the river bank, we were loaded into an open backed ‘bakki’ and driven at very high speed to the Elephant Sanctuary.
I think we were at Sai Yok Elephant Camp, we joined another group having a day trip with ‘Good Times’ to the Elephants. Firstly we rode them, and actually got the chance to be Mahouts and drive the Ellies. Then it was down to the river to wash them. This was a lot of fun, and we really enjoyed it.

By now the sun was setting and it was getting dark, we had a long drive to The Sak Yoi National Park were our accommodation was in ‘The For Rest (Sai-Yok View)’ River Rafts. Once again this was National park accommodation. Basic, in that there was only cold water, the waste from both showers and toilets going out into the fast flowing river! But tonight ...we slept in BEDS! Thai beds are very hard, so in fact it feels like the floor!
This was the worst food we had all holiday, this was because the ‘hotel’ was catering for Western visitors. Apart from us, the rest of the resort was full of a very noisy Russian party. I don’t know what they are used to eating in Russia, but the way they tucked into the cold (should have been hot) rubbish that was on offer was very worrying? I think the vast amounts of Vodka consumed was properly masking the tasteless food.On a positive note, As we had been fed so well since starting our tour one night of small rations was not going to hurt us.
As we walked the narrow gang planks to bed, I was very concerned about the fast flowing, very dark and deep river beneath us. I urged the girls not to go out on to the gang planks alone that night....was this premonition?

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Thailand Day Three. Kanchaburi.

It was another early start today. Using the Nancy Chandlers map as a guide.

It was a quick walk from the New Siam Guest House to the river crossing at pier number 11, and a ride on a water taxi over to Bangkok Noi Station, also known as Thonburi Station.
We arrived in plenty of time and got our 4 tickets to Kanchanaburi. They cost £2.00 for four.
This railway line is on the historic ‘Death Railway’, built by the WW II POWs. The carriages were very basic, with fans on the ceiling for the AC. The journey took 4 hours and travelled through very nice countryside. I saw lots of Lotus and paddy fields.

On arriving in Kanchanburi the first job was to locate the offices of ‘The Good Times Travel Service’. I had seen a 3 day, 2 night tour advertised by them on the Internet and liked the sound of it. But I had not been able to verify if they were a real company so did not want to book it on line. We hailed a Songthew...a Thai Taxi, and negotiated a price with him for a tour of Kanchaburi and to end up at Good Times.
First, we visited a real tourist Trap, the WW II Museum. This was a very odd place, full of old war Kitsch. Including, life size sculptures of Hitler, Mussolini, Churchill and others. On the top floor is a collection of clothes worn by Miss Thailand entrants in the Miss World Competitions. In the cellar there is a replica wooden bridge, it is all very odd, but quite funny. Are you meant to come out of a WWII Museum giggling?
On the 'Real Wooden Bridge'.
We then went to the Chung Kai Allied War Cemetery. This is build on the former POW camp. The JEATH War Museum was far simpler then the WWII one. Just replica POW huts full of photos and drawings done by the POWs. It was a very, simple but very moving, exhibit. One I will remember for ever.
We then ended up at the famous bridge, walked over it, where a man was playing ‘Cournel Bogie’ on his violin.
At the ‘Good Times’ Travel office we caused a stir when we said we wanted the 2 night / 3 day trip, it was booked very quickly, and we met our guide Noi.
We then found our nights accommodation at The Pong Phen Guest house. The beds did not have blankets, just big pink towels to use as blankets...but to late, we used them towels! It must be a regular occurrence as the girl at the reception desk just smiled when we asked for new ones!
Once again the accommodation was simple, but clean, bright and airy. It was £19.00 per room per night. B & B.
That night we headed into the night market to eat ‘street food’ for our supper. We had some very nice looking stir fired muscles. I had some chicken with rice.
Note...the unused Chili Sauce.