Saturday 9 September over the bridge to Skye

Next morning we set off for Skye!  Stopped for coffee at the most beautiful setting of Eilean Donon Castle at Dornie.

Next…. Over bridge to Skye… many appropriate traveling songs were played to us on the bus but not this one, strangely enough.

Portree for lunch on Skye – lovely little harbour town, beautiful weather.

Weather then changed as we drove up to Staffin. We stretched our legs at cliff edge and looked out across the North Sea – would have been beautiful on a clear day. There was a lone piper in his kilt. You could see Kilt rock – a rock formation that looked like a kilt.

As we headed back down, we caught a glimpse of the Old Man of Storr in the mist and got some quite atmospheric photos.


As we returned through Portree the weather here was still fine and clear and this continued through to Kyleakin where we were to spend the night at the Saucy Mary Lodge.


Our room was at the top (up 2 flights of stairs) at the front overlooking the sea and the new bridge. Well worth the stair climb for the view.

We decided to eat at the restaurant opposite but not before a good walk and a climb up to the old castle ruin, where we enjoyed a beautiful view at sunset.

We then returned to the restaurant for a fabulous seafood platter with a bottle of Pinot Grigio.

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Friday 8 September – day 1 of Haggis Tour

We were up bright and early for our  3 day Tour of Inverness, Skye and Glencoe.  A comfortable night in St Christopher’s although the breakfast left a little to be desired!

We decided to take a taxi to the tour office on the Royal Mile because although it was only a few hundred metres away, it was up a very steep hill . We’d have considered it if it wasn’t for our heavy wheelies.

The tour bus left at 8.30 and our driver and guideSteve, proceeded to describe the city of Edinburgh as we passed through. He continued with his spiel as we headed towards the new Queen’s Ferry bridge, where we sa the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier docked nearby.  His quite useful local information turned into the gruesome history of Scottish kings and queens.

Our morning coffee stop was in the small touristy town of Dunkeld which had a beautiful cathedral by the river.

We stopped for lunch in Aviemore where we we found a nice hotel for a starter of Haggis balls and salad.

He main afternoon event was a visit to Tomatin Distillary.  I found it a bit disappointing that it was more like a museum as it was a day off for the workers.  Also that the casks were second hand supplied by America (bourbon) and Spain (sherry).

We were further disappointed later in the afternoon to be taken the ‘scenic route’ away from Loch Ness.  Our itinerary had described stopping at Inverness and driving down the length of Loch Ness.  However, it was a beautiful day and we enjoyed some stunning views, even taking in some Highland cattle and deer.

Our hostel for the night was Morag’s in St Augustus and the home-made evening meal  Home made chicken breast with haggis and whiskey sauce, green beans, carrots & mash then a relaxing evening with a beer.

 

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Thursday 7 September- Train trip

Back on another adventure, this time to the Highlands!

9:42 Train from Charlbury to Oxford on time, half hour wait for cross country to Wolverhampton at 10:42. Heavy rain shower at Oxford station but beautiful sunshine en route to Wolverhampton but no free wifi! Did I need all those sweaters I brought?

Ooh a bit chillier on the platform at Wolverhampton but free Virgin wifi… not so on the Virgin train to Edinburgh though… ah well time for a snooze before Dot joins me in Carlisle at 3 but first we will be calling at Crewe, Warrington Bank Quay, Wigan, Preston, Lancaster – this takes me back… last time I was in Lancaster was 48 years ago to visit a boyfriend at Lancaster University. I seem to remember walking out miles on Morecambe Bay, would that be right?!

Getting a bit hillier now and more remote after an industrial area.
Penrith next – the last time I was here was maybe 5 yeas ago when visiting Dot in the Lakes, such a beautiful part of England, in a different way to the Cotswolds. ”Tis getting very grey and murky up here now…
Oh dear the rain is on.
Just one stop at Haymarket before Edinburgh finally at 4.20.  Here is Waverley Station in the rain!

Checked into St Christopher’s Hostel- very central, then off to explore The Royal Mile.
We found the Haggis Bus Tour Office and made ourselves known rest for the early start.  Then off to find food.  Bubba Q fitted the bill. We shared a rack of lamb with coleslaw, salad and chips with a beer each.  Then further exploring when we found a bar for cocktails and whiled the evening away with a good catchup.

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Edinburgh to Skye

Outline plans:      Taking the Train from Charlbury to Edinburgh.  My Cumbrian friend, Dot, will be hopping on in Carlisle!  First night to be spent in St Christopher’s Hostel before joining The Haggis Bus to Skye via Glencoe and Inverness, spending two nights in Inverness.  We will then return to Edinburgh to spend a couple of days sightseeing before  returning home.

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Friday 11 November – homeward bound!

Very good night’s sleep, lie in for a change then met up with Gareth and Michael in the lobby at 9.30am as planned.  Michael had done his research and, true to form, led us to an excellent little place tucked away in a side street for breakfast.  Good menu for us all and not too expensive.  I had an espresso and a big bowl of fruit, muesli and yoghurt, Gill had boiled eggs and soldiers, Gareth had the big English fry and I think Michael had the Malaysian omelet…. all so much better than the hotel breakfasts… and such a good price!

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After breakfast Gareth took the lead as he knew the area from a previous visit.

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Michael bought us some deliciously cool mango and orange juices each before we finally returned to the hotel to check out.  We left our bags in the hotel lock up before saying our farewells to Michael who was taking a taxi to another hotel and meeting up with friends.  He would be staying on for a further few days.

Then there were three!  Gareth, Gill and I decided to go up to the rooftop pool for a swim.  …. well Gareth was just hanging out til his taxi at 2.30.  We finally said our goodbyes to him.  Then there were two!

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Our transfer to the airport was exceptional in a private car at 4pm.  Lovely sunset through the mesh at Bangkok International airport as we waited for our flight to be called.  It’s going to be a long night!

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We arrived home on the 12th… some 19 hours later.

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Thursday 11 November – to Bangkok

Up at 6 to the rumbling sound of thunder. Gill made a nice cup of coffee before we packed up to go again. Just time for breakfast which was basic… I’m avoiding the omelettes for now although they have been delicious.

A wet start in the minibus but it gradually brightened

Toilet stop before border – basic!

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Border busy smelly area but not too many queuing and our passage through was straightforward. We changed from one big minibus to two smaller ones with our big bags being carried through on a cart.

img_2006 img_1982 img_1999Iced coffee on the other side, then stop for lunch…. bit of s surprise as we were set for a half hour journey but crossing the border had not been as slow as expected so we were making good time. Delicious pad Thai then back on the road for around 4 hours to Bangkok. img_2009Oh and try not to drop your precious loo roll in the watery gutter than runs along the floor!

The Thai roads are a massive improvement to those in Cambodia. We are now sailing down a duel carriageway and driving on the familiar left-hand side of the road.
Dozed for an hour or so… now speeding along through open countryside, grassy rough ground with plenty of pampas grass and intermittent woods, then open land with trees dotted about. It is bright and sunny with just some high wispy cloud. You get a little more detail when I’m on the bus and have time to write!

Quick loo break at a service station because Rose is bursting. She buys a big ice cream tub to share with us. Then back on the road….this side of the border is definitely more civilised. No roadside vendors. Just occasionally at junctions where we wait for lights to change, someone may approach the vehicle selling something. There is clearly more money probably through greater tourism.  This is our minibus, new and comfortable with good aircon.img_2010

We finally arrive in the vibrant busy city of Bangkok.  I really didn’t expect to be back here.  It was five years ago I spent three nights here with my friend, Dot, on my way to NZ.img_2020

Thailand was currently spending a year in mourning at the loss of its King who’d been in office for over 70 years and died in October well into his nineties.  Many buildings and fences were tastefully bedecked in Smart black and white garlands as a mark of respect and local people were expected to wear black for a year as a mark of respect for this well-loved King.img_2041 img_2038

Traffic was heavy and slow in the city but we finally arrived at Nouvo City Hotel, right in the centre, around 5pm.  After checking in and freshening up, we met in the lobby for our short walk to the chosen restaurant for our farewell dinner.

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I had wanted a Thai Green curry but had been warned this would be very hot!  So opted for a Shrimp Yellow Curry which had a delicious blend of flavours.

img_2060We presented Rose with our ‘whip round’  and made our farewell speeches, then she lead us on a short walking tour to Khaosan Road, famous for its night market.  The atmosphere could be described as hot, steamy, bustling, noisy, colourful, smelly, exciting.  img_2064 img_2071 img_2070I bought some Tiger Balm in the familiar Boots!img_2069

We returned to the calm of the even more spacious hotel than the previous one for our final sleep before our long journey home.img_1653

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Wednesday 9 November – to Battambang

Leisurely breakfast before we set off at 8.30. The sun is shining and it’s as hot as ever. We stopped at a craft centre where uneducated Cambodians have the opportunity of learning a craft to give them a job and future and also keep the ancient Cambodian crafts alive.   The crafts were wood and stone carving, silk making, painting Silk, etc.

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Further on we stopped at Rose’s home town, Pouk, 15000 population. She showed us where she went to school: she had to walk 5k there and back every day. Her family had just 2 bicycles which her parents used to get fish from the lake and then take to the market to sell. Rose has 2 jobs to help keep her family – tour leader and growing and selling vegetables.img_1749 img_1750 img_1751

Back on the road, every once and again you see a white cow stand motionless on the side of the road, as if made of stone, while blue/black ones are grazing up to their chests in paddyfields.  The land is flat and green with rice crops and the main roads are long and straight. Every so often we slow down as we pass through a small settlement.
We stopped at a restaurant in Bantay Mean Chay for lunch. I just had a tomato and cucumber salad.

We stopped at a roadside stall selling ‘sticky rice’. This came in the form of hollow pieces of bamboo filled with rice and coconut and then steamed with a leaf in the top for flavour. Rrose showed us how you peel back the pulped and dried bamboo to reveal the sticky rice inside. It was delicious.

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Stopped at a stall that sold barbecued snake, rat, grasshopper and frogs. I tried some snake – a rainbow water snake. It was nice – tasted like chicken!

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We finally arrived in Battambang at around 2.30. There is a population of 7000 people, many speak Thai In 1907 it was returned by the French to Cambodia. Quiet and untouristy.

After checking into our comfortable ans spacious hotel, Gill and I decided on a swim after viewing quite a reasonable sized pool below our bedroom window.

img_2701Jac later joined us and from the pool we could see Roz in the gym.  She is so fit and energetic!img_1967

At 5pm the group met up for an orientation walking tour of the town.  We stopped at a monastery clad in gold where we were told what it means to be a monk.  At one time it would have meant complete abstinence from every day life with their families, etc and following a strict code of conduct within the monastery which would require a long period of training, usually a year with no media.  But this has become more relaxed and they are now allowed mobile phones.

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We walked on to a bustling market where Rose led me through to a stall where I could buy some whole pepper.  As ever, this market sold all manner of fruit, vegetables and fish with women sitting on their haunches at each stall as if it was the most natural posture to them, and of course it was.  I was most impressed as many were probably older than me!

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We eventually arrived at our restaurant for dinner.  Clearly one of the popular restaurants in town with an extensive milkshake menu.  I chose mango and pineapple!  I then ate a huge dishful of chicken and cashews with fried rice and vegetables… very nice.

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We walked back to the hotel along the river.  It was a pleasant evening and still very warm, though not oppressively humid.  One last stop at the bakery for those young things who didn’t think they would survive tomorrow’s long journey to Bangkok. without snacks.

img_1963…. a stark reminder of how fortunate we westerners are to live in the time and place that we do!

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Tuesday 8 November – Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Alarm set for 4.15 but I was awake on and off most of the night feeling like my head would explode.

We set off in the dark to watch the sunrise at Ankgor Wat.  Our guide found me a chair so that I could sit and watch it by the lake.  I think she was glad I managed to come as I had felt so ill the evening before.  The sunrise was quite spectacular – we were lucky the clouds cleared for it.  img_1723p1100649img_4587

Then we had some breakfast in the open  – muesli and fruit brought from the hotel. We returned after breakfast to look around the temple. I sat at the entrance waiting for them as there were many steps to climb and I was still feeling rough.p1100677

We returned to the hotel at about 10 where I rested again until lunchtime. There was a walking tour with the guide which Gill and Gareth went on but everyone else was too sleepy.

I joined the group for lunch at a restaurant in the city.  I chose a light Caesar salad while the others had beef burgers and chips!  Rice is off limits today!  There were one or two optional activities during the afternoon including quad bikes and zip wire. I declined both but the boys had a great time on the quad bikes!

Our evening meal was a cultural affair, spent with a local family.  Again very humbling.  We were invited into a home shared by three families…. just four rooms!  A tiny kitchen, a big sitting/dining room, half under cover with earth floor and two bedrooms which everyone shared!  The women were out at work when we arrived by tuk tuk.  The men had prepared a delicious meal of fish soup, beef amok and a vegetable dish with lemongrass.  Rose’sntwo young sons joined us as Siem Reap was Roz”s hone town.  The family had just acquired a new music system and were eager to try it out with us so after dinner members of our group took part in karaoke, led first by one of the young Cambodians and the Rose’s older son, who was only 14 and had a lovely voice.  The evening was rounded off with us all dancing to the YMCA song before being taken back along the dark bumpy track to the main road and our hotel.

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Gill and I noticed buy one get one free cocktails on the roof, so after packing our bags yet again for the onward journey in the morning, we rewarded ourselves we a Banana Daikeri and a Pineapple something or other.  There was a jacussi on the roof but we refrained from sitting in it with our cocktails!

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Monday 7 November – to the temples

Woke up this morning feeling awful…. picked up a cold from somewhere…

It was pouring with rain and we walked around 3 temples Ta Prohm, Banteay Srey and Angkor Thom. The fine detail of the stone carving on every piece of stone was pretty amazing, especially when each piece of stone was joined and built up to form a picture or pattern, and each picture told a story!  These temples date back to the 12th century and there were about one and a half million people living there at that time.

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It was quite incredible the way the roots of trees had grown through these ancient buildings over the centuries.
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There were monkeys nearby but we we told not to go near them in case they had rabies.p1100606 p1100616

We were taken to a restaurant for lunch but I had no appetite and just had a pineapple juice.

On the way back we stopped at a roadside stall where they sold pink dragon fruit – I had only eaten white before.  It supposed to be good for breast cancer and is deep pink inside with tiny black seeds.  I bought two!.

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Stopped again to see how sugar is taken from the palm and made into sweets or just sold in jars as a sweetener.img_1907
I was glad to get back to the hotel and rest as I was feeling rough.
Later in the evening everyone went out to dinner then to a local market but I still wasn’t hungry and just stayed in bed. Later Roz, our guide, came to my room with some tiger balm to rub into my feet. Apparently that helps a cold. She also brought some rice to eat but I only had a spoonful. We needed leave at 4.45 the next morning for the Angkor Wat sunrise and I was determined not to miss it.

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Sunday 6 November – to Siem Reap

Wet start on bus
Talk about spiders – our next stop. Spiders make useful medicine for malaria and for pregnant women. Crickets, water beetle, silk worm, spider.  Skun town is where they sell the insects for eating near the Mekong River.  We stopped at the ‘spider town’ where the locals sell deep fried insects.  Here is a photo of our guide eating her tarantula.  I ate one too!  It was crunchy but not a lot of flavour.

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We drove along the motorway then on to smaller roads where we stopped at the roadside to buy some lotus fruit, tastes like unripe nuts. The lotus flower is offered to the Buddha.

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As we continued along the highway, the rain was torrential so probably still on the cusp of the rainy season. Glad we brought our plastic ponchos – although ever tried going to the loo in a wet plastic poncho where the toilet is a hole in the ground and there is no loo paper!

The land either side of the road flooded with muddy brown water. I noticed a type of palm not seen outside Cambodia which was tall with a Pom Pom shape at the top.

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We stopped for fuel. Fuel very cheap imported from Thailand 75c per litre.

Early lunch stop at a Silk farm. Interesting watching the process from the Silk worm eating the mulberry leaves and creating the cacoon from which the Silk is spun. The Silk worm grubs are edible and I ate one. Tastes like peanut.img_1751
We enjoyed a delicious homemade lunch, a variety of home produce fresh from the garden. Our money helps to support the workers on the farm.

We passed a funeral procession.

Stopped to see hammering of the fresh rice. Mixed with banana and coconut is sweet to eat to celebrate the moon. It is the season for rice and the fresh rice mixtures are used to celebrate the water festival 13-18 November when they have floating candles down the river. 6 people in one family working together in the business at the side of the road. They also have cows and chickens behind.

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Old sandstone bridge 12th century, one of only 11 leftp1100509
Frangipan flowers growing nearby.  Roz picked some and we put them in our hair.img_1587

Tonle Sap Lake freshwater from the Mekong River, brings thousands of fish. 3m live around the lake and build their houses on the lake on stilts and grow rice. Snakehead fish over exported.img_1580

Intrepid funds help road improvement so tourism helps the local people

Great boat trip on the lake through the village of stilted houses. There was even a primary school and a hospital. We were very lucky that the weather had dried up for this trip and pond fascinating to see how people live their whole lives on water. It reminded me very much of Inle Lake in Myanmar.img_1575 img_1578 img_1148
Arrived at our hotel about 6pm. Out again to a local cultural show and dinner at the Kulen Restaurant. Put my posh dress on and taken by tuk tuk.p1100560 p1100563p1100552

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