Category Archives: Adventures

Pinky Agony of Traveling Alone

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Lady in pink: Excuse me. Could you take a photo of me, please…

Woman with the twins in pink: Yeah, sure.

Lady in pink: And can you lend me your twins for a second? You know, pictures of twins are like gold to me. They’re so adorable.

Woman with the twins in pink: Sure, no problem.
(Click!)

Trios in Pink (Olympic Stadium, Berlin 2011)

Lady in pink: Dankeschön

Woman with the twins in pink: Gern geschehen! Tschüß.

Lady in Pink: Tschüß!

(How I wish angels disguised as human tripod were just that easy to find…)

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Skimpy Clothing, Shorts, Bare Shoulders, Banned in Vatican

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It was 12 noon on the dot at the Vatican City when we got there after two hours of trekking roads and rides under the scorching 39°C temperature. I took a seat for a while to cool down and collect myself. After which we pressed on to stand in the long lines of visitors to witness the interior of the St. Peter’s Basilica. Getting in was like getting through the airport check-in process- very strict security.

The clear blue sky and the magnificent St. Peter

As the sunlight beamed upon my skin, I put a big smile on my face. Finally we were getting in! As I excitedly marched forward, one of the guards screeched and motioned. “No, no. no!” pointing at my one shoulder red dress with long sleeve styling (a mini length in a body con fit). So I stepped aside and joined the others who were stopped from entering the Vatican Church due to what they considered “immodest outfits”- shorts and sundresses. My dress was considered inappropriate because its length was so above the knees, and because my right arm/shoulder was uncovered. While the others were lucky enough to have brought their Roman shawls and scarves which they bought from the souvenir shops, the ones who didn’t have anything to cover the forbidden human flesh were sent out. Men who had their shorts on were not exempt from the rules.

Watching the ‘out of the ordinary’ scenes the crowd made, I shook my head in disbelief. Standing in a long winding queue, in vain, are you kidding me? Well, I wasn’t the only one grumbling. I overheard the other disappointed ones as they walked away disapproving and complaining about the no-no’s- “The h**k are these control freaks. It’s summer! How could they….”

Think, think, think… I didn’t want to take another effort to go back to the hotel just to change clothes. Snap! I put on my short-length jacket and resorted to pulling down my dress to cover the shown or exposed skin. I wanted to ask the guard if what I did to my outfit was already acceptable, however he was up to his ears and eyes checking the newcomers. Thus I snuck in under his radar and advanced to the next check-in security. This time the guards let me through. Stubbornness and persistence paid off in my battle with the guards ;-).

Just exited from the majestic St. Peter's Basilica

Indeed when in Rome, do as what the Romans tell you, especially when following dress codes in the Vatican City. It’s somehow a good lesson for the tourists to respect other people’s customs and culture.

So, if you are planning to pay a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica, be sure you know the dress edict, but if you  want to play naive, do sneak through in some humor when the guard is not watching :-).

Shakespeare in Budapest

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To be or not to be (in Budapest)? The question could be asked if ever Shakespeare’s monument should be in Budapest to represent a cultural aspect of the city. The monument can be found by walking along the Danube bank on the Pest side. Why was it erected in the city? Does he have a bloodline with the Magyars still living in Budapest today? Or was it just arbitrarily erected due to Shakespearean influence to Magyars?

Here’s the full English transcription/description below the Shakespeare’s monument. So if you ever find yourself wandering around the Danube bank and find a bowing statue , at least you already have an idea why.

Shakespeare's monument in Budapest

Shakespeare's Monument in Budapest and his guest

Engraved on the Monument:

“The original of this statue, which depicts the Bard as an actor bowing t his audience, was created in 1960 by renowned Hungarian-born Australian sculptor, Andor Meszaros (Budapest, 1900; Melbourne 1972), for the Australian City of Ballarat.

This thriving city, founded during the Gold Rush in the 1850s, is a cultural centre in Victoria that takes pride in its history and rich heritage. In addition to the statue by Andor Meszaros, Ballarat has other Hungarian links to boast. Writer György Sarközy has a novel of his set here, and the First Gold Medal claimed by the Hungarian team during the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games were won here by kayakers János Urbányi and Laszló Fábián.

On visiting Australia in 1998, Dr. Károly Nagy, a retired attorney and an admirer of Shakespeare, envisaged that a replica be made of the statue and be erected in Budapest. On returning to Hungary he founded the Shakespeare Statue Committee and began to raise funds for the project. His plans went into fruition when in 2002, with the approval of the city of Ballarat, the moulding was organised on site under the guidance of Andor Meszaros’ son, Michael, who is also a sculptor. The casting was done at the Foundry of Hungarian sculpter, Gábor Mihály.

Fundraising was organised in Australia, Hungary and England; contributions came from friends, relatives and associations; two-thirds of the costs were borne by Andor Meszaros’ widow, Elizabeth and their two sons, Michael and Daniel.

May the statue serve as a spiritual link among the discerning public in Australia, Hungary, Great Britain and visitors to Budapest from countries around the world.

Erected on the 23rd of April 2003, the 439th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and the 387th anniversary of his death.”

Berlin, Berlin, wir fahren nach Berlin!

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Berlin, Berlin, wir faren nach Berlin! The night before my travel, insomnia attacked me, the case I always experience when I get excited about my trip. Berlin here I come!

I was so glad that I’ve got a ‘no-train changing’ ticket and that was according to the travel agent, who explained my itinerary. She clearly said that the train I was going to take would go straight to Berlin Hauptbahnhof- the Main Station. That’s great! I could sleep the entire trip. Alrighty! I got an itinerary of fuss instead. And the adventure comes knocking. (Verbs in present tense, as I reminisce these events.)

1) Finding Seat # 32
Get on the train called “ICE.” Seat number 32, to the left or to the right? Let’s try left. The compartment looks like the one for VIPs. But wait, I can’t find seat 32. There are seats from 30 to 38, where’s 32? Never mind, I’ll just seat here, #33. The ticket inspector approaches me and asks for my ticket. I show it to him then he says ‘This is a special conference compartment, seat 32 is not here, it’s to the right’. OK. No problemo senior!

2) Seat # 32 screams out, “Over here!”
Look to the right, to the left, my head reads 21-23, 22-24, 26-28, 31-33, 35-37. Damn, where are you 32? Out of the blue I hear a lady’s squawk ‘Oh My God!’. ‘Oooops, My God too! I’m soooo SORRY. I didn’t see that.’ My bulky handbag accidentally spilled a full jug of coffee all over a woman’s leather handbag and onto her papers. Awful! I use all the tissue papers I have with me to wipe the spilt coffee off her stuff. I apologize again after cleaning the mess. When I continue my seat number quest, there it is- 32! To the woman who got victimized by my clumsiness: ‘I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused and I’m sorry to tell you that this is supposed to be my seat.’ She transfers to another seat immediately with a smile. And I set myself down on the coffee- stained seat. 32 and dirty too, I finally found you!

3) ICE orders you to CHILL!
We, the passengers, normally take our jackets or coats off when on the train. But in this ICEy moment, the coat I wear is not enough to keep me warm. Is this why they named the train ICE? I want to go to the information table to speak up on behalf of the passengers but I just sleep it off.

4) ICE Edge 2
The train conductor is announcing something about changing lane? Train? Lane? Insane? What? He speaks both in German and English, but I can’t understand every word he slurs. I have to resort to the translation of people who understand and speak German. I get it- we all have to transfer to another train, not change lane. Which train? Another ICE train. Oh, so that would be the ICE Edge 2. Feels great being on this train, unlike the first one, this is comfortably warm. Sleep again.

5) Sail away, Sail away, Sail away!

Deck 6

Just when I am about to drool while asleep, I sense that my train-mates  are getting off the train. I ask the lady with a fur coat, what’s going on?  She replies, “We’re sailing away. We have to leave the train and go up to the ship.” Oh, I see.  OK. When you find yourself lost in the entire announcement, then you fall asleep because you’re exhausted, the next thing you know, you’re on board- cruising! Isn’t that cool? So I follow the lead of the Russian woman who patiently instructs me what to do and when to go back to the train.

Well, aside from rail-trekking, cruising made the trip even more worthwhile.

After 45 minutes, we head back to the train. There, I finally get the chance to nap.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Willkommen!

Hear ye, hear ye! Announcing my arrival at exactly 3pm, the busy Berlin Hauptbahnhof welcomes me with the ‘on the go’ atmosphere.

THE HOTEL

Since I had a package ticket- ticket & hotel, I didn’t have to think about where to stay. But getting there was the fuss. I always dislike maps so I didn’t take one with me. I just use my charm asking people for directions (but the charm doesn’t work all the time). It should only take five minutes to get to the hotel from the station. Relying on the different directions that people pointed- go that way- then this way and that way-, it took me an hour to locate the hotel.

the hotel key 😉

After checking in, I was handed a key that looked like a man’s genital. Ooops, is it just my wild imagination? I don’t mean to be perverted but it really did look like it. I couldn’t wait to see my room so I took the elevator and finally unlocked my abode. Welcome to Le Château Chez Moi! It was roomy indeed with ceiling height up to 3.80 meters. First impression didn’t last though, my first night here was sleepless due to the thumping noise in the other room. I tossed and turned, I even had to cover my head with pillows. Maybe it was just a sound of two lovers passionately savouring their night together. But the noise went on the whole night. What the heck is that sound. ‘I’m giving this hotel a nasty assessment’ I murmured. They claim that their rooms are sound-proof? I don’t think so.

I love breakfast buffet

The next day after having my lovely breakfast, I went straight to the reception lobby, talked to the receptionist and expressed my discontent about the room. “Okay then, here’s the key to your new room.”- “Thank you!” And I’ve finally got a real sound-proof room. Such sound of silence gently cradled me to sleep after a long day of stroll.

There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin!
-Kennedy, John F(itzgerald)

Berlin, an awesome city!

THREE World Heritage Sites in a Day

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Having learned that ‘Windsor, Bath and Stonehenge tour’ is the best- selling tour from London, I insisted that we should take the trip. I thought if I lucked out, I could get discount tickets by 10 %. It ended up costing £69 each, which is reasonable for a guided tour from London (better than flagging down bus after bus).

The most awaited day, Monday: Got up early, walked the track and waited for the tour bus in front of Marriott Hotel-Kensington. And as written on the voucher, the bus should pick us up at 7:45. We were there at 7:30. Along with the other excited tourists, we waited for the bus. At long last, a tour bus stopped by for pick up. The tour guide (holding a list) got off the bus and started checking her list. All of us, of course, presented our reservation tickets to the guide. But when we showed ours, she said: “Apologies, haplessly, this is not your tour bus.” So we kept on waiting and no bus popped by to collect us. We waited in vain till 8:30am. With puckered brows, we hurried back to the hotel to bellyache about this. The receptionist telephoned the company and did the inquiry. Eventually, we were instructed to go to the office location where buses were waiting. We zoomed to the Tube, got on the train, ran like cheetahs and finally blowed in at Victoria Station in time for the 8:45 departure. Whew! The bus ended up leaving at 9 something though as a consequence of some chaotic list hitch.

TOUR DETAILS

Follow the Pink Umbrella

Presenting our Tour Guide holding her Pink Umbrella

I. WINDSOR CASTLE

Built high above the River Thames, Windsor Castle has been home to the Royal Family for 900 years and is still an Official Residence of the Queen. It’s the world’s largest and oldest castle.

Hello! We're about to enter the Castle

To do and see:
(1) Visit the magnificent State Apartments at your leisure which are still used for State occasions and Royal receptions. The Apartments are made up of the drawing rooms, salons, ballrooms etc. The rooms themselves are striking- the paintings of previous monarchs, old weapons, world renowned artworks, wow! It’s simply spectacular.

(2) Visit the fourteenth-century St. George’s chapel, one of the most beautiful examples of medieval church architecture in England and a burial place of numerous kings and queens reside, notably Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour

(3) Check out Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House and be amazed by the magnitude and intricate design of the world’s most famous Dolls’ House

By the time we got off the bus in Windsor, we took the trek up to the castle even without listening to the whole blah blahs of our pinky tour guide. The only distinct to me was: “Please follow my pink umbrella.” Ok, maybe she was implying she was the fairest of them (tour guides) all… haha! Peace coach, I’m just clowning. Pointing to the raised flag, our dear TG(tour guide) told us that the Queen was home but I didn’t spot her. But some did- lucky peeps! (The Queen’s flag, ‘the Royal Standard’, is raised at the top of the castle while she is there).

St. George’s chapel, the place of worship at Windsor Castle

We had about 1 1/2 hours to spend in Windsor Castle; we didn’t see all the good stuff especially the changing of the guards due to time pressure.

1click=£1

BTW, when you’re posing for the camera with costumed people right outside the castle (particularly the part that faces the street), be sure that you have some pence in your pocket, I mean coins. They’re aware of you and the camera- one click demands 1gbp on their hands or coin baskets. Drop a pound, then you can take picture of them with you. Clever! Maybe I should wear a jaw-dropping costume and roam around the Castle, then and there, I can make some dosh! Humor me.

 

LUNCH
Before hitting the next stop, the bus pulls in at a traditional English pub near Stonehenge where you can tantalize your taste buds with traditional British food.

II. MYSTERIOUS STONEHENGE

The very reason I’ve chosen this trip was all because of the Stonehenge. I like visiting sacred sites; they just have this elevated energy that can be felt but that feeling is unfathomable or profound on many levels. Sounds creepy.

Certainly the best known of all megalithic sites, Stonehenge stands in isolation on the undulating chalk of Salisbury Plain, west of Amesbury, between the busy A303 and A344 roads. At first sight this unique and enigmatic site appears smaller than imagined, but the tallest upright stone is 6.7m (22ft) high, with another 2.4m (8ft) below ground. The site is also a beautiful spot surrounded by burial mounts.

Got to admit, my mind had been excitedly thrilled to see the ‘mystery-clouded’ Stonehenge and I’d been itching to come up with my own theory about the Stones but I’ve got to see it first.

On the road: Marge, our tourist guide, was untiringly imparting her travel expertise while I, the diligent tourist, was up to jotting down notes. I’ve got no notebook with me so I just scribbled on a magazine (TIME) some appealing stuff from Marge’s tales. I’m actually turning pages at this moment to recollect what she told us on the bus. In advance, Marge asked us to feel the spirit of the Stonehenge so we could craft a concept of the mysterious stones. But why make a fuss out of those stones? “It’s just a pile of stones!” emphasized Kimberley.

The Megalithic Ruin and the Slaughter Stone

When we arrived at the site, some sounded thwarted… So this is the Stonehenge?! But if you look through the stones, there was something in them. As I wandered around, I got captivated by the unique rock formation: 40 ton rocks stand alone since their arrival 5,000 years ago. Being so near this mysterious settlement with its fascinating and ancient history gave me an apparitional feeling, I just delusionally assumed . This ancient circle of Stonehenge is indeed an amazing feat of engineering and the most important prehistoric site in England that’s surrounded by abundance of theories and is always overwhelmed with tourists

Outer Circle Tour

I was disappointed though for I didn’t get the chance to hug any of those stones even just for the sake of photo-ops. Tsk. Visitors are no longer permitted to touch the stones and the inside parts of Stonehenge have been long closed to tourists and visitors since 1974 because of vandalism. Back in the 19th century (so I’ve read), tourists were given a small hammer and pick to take a piece of Stonehenge home with them. But now, they require visitor to stand behind a rope about 30 feet away from the actual pile of rocks. However, by paying about double the entrance fee you get to step over the rope and walk through and touch the stones. But to obtain a pass for the “Inner Circle Tour”, you have to contact the Stonehenge visitor office by phone or email and set up an appointment. This inner circle tours are only allowed before and after normal visiting hours. We didn’t have time for this. Otherwise, we could have stayed longer there until all the visitors were gone! Just my spooky thought.

Free audios, that could guide us along the way, were also given to us but I didn’t spend my time listening to it while viewing. I’d rather take a lot of photos at the location. Regrettably, as we were speeding through, Kimberley forgot to get my “jumpy” signature photo. Also, asking strangers to take pictures of us wasn’t easy especially when you wanted some striking or jumping photos.

Pink Scarf can feel the Phantom!

Back to the mystery, “Who did build the Stonehenge?” This was Marge’s question that got stuck in my mind. Until now, I’m bewildered by the creation myths and I don’t know which one to believe and no one knows for sure the unquestionable history of Stonehenge.

So They Say:

a) Early legends link it with Merlin (the Wizard directing it to be removed from Ireland because of some superhuman giant) and King Arthur, but over the last hundred years the midsummer sunrise has attracted pagan groups and followers of the Ancient Order of Druids.

b) They also said that the stones were transported by slaves to create a religious temple.

c) Astronomically, this mysterious monument served as a clock, used for both the solar and lunar calendars.

d) Archaeological Significance: The Stonehenge was a Bronze Age burial ground.

Interestingly enough… Once you see it, decide for yourself whether Stonehenge was a place of sun worship, a healing sanctuary, a sacred burial place, a site for a planned temple or something different altogether. Who says Stonehenge is not worth seeing? It’s just a pile of stones, but I got stoned when I saw it.

Written at Stonehenge

Thou noblest monument of Albion’s isle!
Whether by Merlin’s aid, from Scythia’s shore,
To Amber’s fatal plain Pendragon bore,
Huge frame of giant-hands, the mighty pile
T’ entomb his Britons slain by Hengist’s guile:
Or Druid priests, sprinkled with human gore,
Taught ‘mid thy massy maze their mystic lore:

Or Danish chiefs, enrich’d with savage spoil,
To Victory’s idol vast, an unhewn shrine,
Rear’d the rude heap: or, in thy hallow’d round,
Repose the kings of Brutus’ genuine line;
Or here those kings in solemn state were crown’d:
Studious to trace thy wondrous origine,
We muse on many an ancient tale renown’d.

Thomas Warton the younger, 1777

III. THE BATH
-the England’s most beautiful Georgian City

Taking THE BATH CITY was the last leg of the day. Our trip here was as reinvigorating as taking a plunge into a natural hot spring. Dubbed a World Heritage Site in 1987, the breathtaking beauty of Bath is surrounded by other equally splendid examples of the heavenly English countryside including the Cotswolds, Somerset and Wilshire. More to the fact, Bath was the first city in England to receive this prestige and proudly stands on the slopes of the River Avon.

The City of Bath is also one of the most famous secrets of England because it’s still partly undiscovered. Nearly 2,000 years ago the Romans established a complicated system of baths and a Sacred Temple. This city is a vibrant place in middle England with numerous galleries, theatres, restaurants, tea rooms and excellent shopping areas.

To do and see:

a) Enjoy a whistle stop tour of Bath’s famous monuments from the comfort of your seat.

b) Take in Bath Abbey, which saw the coronation of the first British King in 973AD. On the front of the church, there are angels climbing the ladders to heaven on the outside of the stonework.

c) Admire the architecture of the stunning Royal Crescent.

d) Marvel at the famous Pulteney Bridge, modelled on the Florentine Ponte Vecchio.

e) Explore the Roman Baths, built around thermal springs, which have been supplying water for over 2,000 years. In Roman times, a great Temple was built next to the sacred spring – the waters were believed to have healing properties and attracted visitors from across the Roman Empire.

The Reincarnated Roman gods and goddess 😉

Sacred Spring Overflow

When we were lining up to get inside the temple, it so happened that we were at the back of the queue, hence, we didn’t get what our tour guide had just said. And for us not to be misled, we pleaded for the rewind of her directive utterances. What we got was nagging words . “What? You didn’t hear what I said?!” said she cantankerously.
Me: “Well, we were at the back so we couldn’t hear yah.” She then exasperatingly repeated what she just said and gave us plastic money chips for the entry and for a glass of Spa water.

As we ducked in, we were given (as usual) a little audio guides that looked like the very first models of cell phones, to help us understand the sights and every room we entered and passed by.

The Great Bath

Bath houses are the best preserved Roman Spa from the ancient world. The Great Central Bath has a greenish shade and the water itself was very hot. It looked more like a swimming pool with nice pillars and old statues surrounding the site. You might think the water was clean but never get tempted to dip your hands in it; it’s been actually infested with different pests, rats and other germy creatures over the years.

THE PUMP ROOM

The Pump Room

When I saw the label of this room, I couldn’t help myself but chuckle. Pump Room? Pumping what? Pump, the magic water! As I walked in, I told the lady in charge that I had a ticket, so she gave me a glass of the famous Spa water- a glass cost 50pence. I enjoyed drinking the water straight from the historic Pump Room, others didn’t because of its weird taste. Believing that the spa water has a magical-rejuvenating effect, I lapped up all that was given to me, to the last drop! The spa water was quite hot and had an unexplainable flavor.

Out of the Baths: There is a lot to see in the Roman Baths- artifacts, millennia- old coins and mosaics. Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to explore everything inside because we decided to see more of this Georgian City. Some chose to stay put in the Bath instead of going around as we only had less than an hour left before leaving the city.

Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon

After trotting around the Roman Baths, we sped off to have a glimpse of the city. We strolled around and took some photos of the River Avon and the Pulteney Bridge; it was a marvelous site, I so admired the city’s architectural splendour.

 

River Avon: While catching sight of the River, I was reminded by one of the remarkable things from the talkies of our tour guide- about the Avon River. The River Avon is a river in the south west of England. Because of a number of other Rivers Avon in England, this river is often also known as the Lower Avon or Bristol Avon. The Avon rises near Chipping Sodbury in Gloucestershire, dividing into two before merging again and flowing through Wiltshire. In its lower reaches from Bath to the River Severn at Avonmouth near Bristol the river is navigable and known as the “Avon Navigation”.

According to her, the name Avon is a cognate of the Welsh word ‘afon’ meaning “river” (f is pronounced as v in Welsh), so if you put these 2 words together, you call the river “River River”.

As soon as we were done with pictorials, we headed back to the bus and went home. We got back to London around 8pm after 350 miles of travel. T’was a looong day but all in all it was an amazing voyage… zzz…

One Day, Three World Heritage Sites

Just a Memo: This trip runs for almost 12 hours but it gives you a brief time to see some wonderful sights. Here’s the deal: You will never get to see everything at Windsor and Bath because the tour is like ‘hit and run’ or ‘touch and go’. There is so much to explore at these sites. But since the tour company was such in a hurry to get to the next destination, we never even had time to sit down, enjoy the site and pore over the enchantment of the place. Walked fast, peeked in, took photos, and then rushed back to the bus. Don’t ever think about getting late for the bus or you’d get chewed out. Well, they were just doing their job. A million thanks to Marge (our coach) and Derek (the bus driver) for this great trip!

TOP 10 Bits of London

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London is full of take- your –breath- away views and vistas. With its hilly terrain and marvelous buildings, anyone can have the opportunity to behold the city’s many facets and angles. By getting around London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show. The city has served me well, I think. I am so grateful that we have discovered and explored ‘the most visited attractions’ in the city with the help of public transport (bus, Tube, Tram, Overground, etc.), Oyster card, and flat shoes… London is perfect for seeing the sights on foot.

By the way, before I forget , for the first time during our stay in London, I was able feel to the spirit of Shakespeare, one of my favorite English literature icons. If W. Shakespeare were still alive, I would make a way to see him in the flesh and ask him to write a poem dedicated to me, col (chuckling out loud)! Anyway, I am sure most of you are either bored stiff or cheesed off at this point so I shall move on.

Since I have already recapped a bit of our London trek, let me just enumerate some of the tour highlights by picking the Top 10 major bits to see or do in London. These are the landmarks you should not miss. And apart from these, there are so many other tourist attractions that can be looked for when visiting London.

(1) London Eye

London Eye

Take a spin on this Ferris wheel overlooking the Thames. More than a Ferris wheel ride — London Eye’s rotating attraction offers 32 enclosed capsules for full, 360 degree views of historic London.

The London Eye is a major feature of London’s skyline. It is the world’s highest cantilevered observation wheel and offers passengers spectacular views of over 55 of London’s most famous landmarks – all in just 30 minutes. And while taking in the amazing views, you can enjoy a glass of champagne to spoil yourself. Champagne flight normally costs £35.

Tickets to Buy

(2) Westminster Abbey

The Abbey

Westminster Abbey is neither a cathedral nor a parish church. It is a Gothic monastery church owned by the royal family. When you pay visit here during the day, you can attend a church service for free. An architectural masterpiece of the 13th to 16th centuries, the Abbey has been both the coronation and burial site of English monarchs since William the Conqueror.


(3) The Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben

The Parliament

The House of Parliament is one of the largest parliaments in the world. Dating back to the nineteenth century, it contains about 1,200 rooms and displays intricate architecture and holds ceremonial events. The House of Parliament is also known as The Palace of Westminster. It is where two Houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom meet: the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

Big Ben: When I first heard about “Big Ben”, the image that came to my mind was the famous tower, or the four huge clock faces. However, during my stay in London, I’ve learned (from a planner booklet) that Big Ben actually refers to the largest of the five bells inside the clock tower. In other words, “Big Ben” does not refer to the whole clock tower, but to the huge thirteen ton bell that strikes the hour.

Jumping for Joy 🙂

Another theory that I’ve proven wrong was that the bell was named after a popular heavyweight boxer Benjamin Caunt. The consensus however, seems to be that it was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, a (literally) weighty politician of the time who was the Parliamentary Commissioner of Works.

Parliament is open to the UK public and overseas visitors. You can attend debates, watch committee hearings and tour the buildings. Beware, MPs have absurdly long holidays or “recesses”.

(4) Trafalgar Square

National Gallery

Trafalgar commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), a British naval victory of the Napoleonic Wars. Trafalgar Square is the largest square in London and has been a central meeting place since the Middle Ages.

What makes it ‘the Square’: Nelsons Column surrounded by 4 bronze lions, the National Gallery, Fountains and statues , including one of Charles I on horseback, and of course the pigeons. The Column itself is some 170 foot high, with the statue of Nelson himself being some 18 foot high.

(5) Piccadilly Circus

Spending hours hanging out in here, you will see street performers, travelers, and busy business types wearing pink ties with blackberry as their weapon. If you are into books, you can hit the Europe’s largest bookshop, the Waterstone’s Piccadily bookstores, situated in the heart of London’s West End.

Piccadilly Circus

The name ‘Piccadilly’ originates from a 17th century frilled collar named piccadil. Roger Baker, the tailor who became rich making piccadils lived in the area. The word ‘Circus’ refers to the roundabout around which the traffic circulated. Piccadilly Circus is a good place to meet before heading off to eat, shop or go to area theaters. Soho isn’t too far a walk from here and neither is Trafalgar Square. The fashionable stores of Carnaby Street are also nearby. The area is quite a sight in the evening, with colorful and brightly lit advertising signs illuminating the area, high above the streets.

Further, Piccadilly Circus is an intersection where five roads meet; it is most famous for the advertising signs that light up the sky at night. It is London’s version of Times Square and the first ever lighted neighborhood in the world. People crowd around the steps of the statue known as Eros, the Greek God of Love (but really meant to be the angel of charity), erected in 1892 as a memorial to the Earl of Shaftsbury, the Victorian philanthropist. I didn’t dare to take a seat here though. The bustling noise made me giddy.

(6) The Royal Parks

Spring is a glorious time to discover London. With blossoming flowers and warmer-brighter days, and the great outdoors bursting into life, there’s no better time to venture outside and embrace the wonderful history and culture that London has to offer. London is blessed with eight royal parks offering 5,000 acres of historic parkland – and entrance is free! (but not the chairs). The grass carpet will serve as your bed when you get tired of walking . You can read book too, while savoring the crispy breeze. We had a lovely stroll through the park on a beautiful sunny day.

(7) Buckingham Palace and Changing of the Guard

It’s the Queen’s home. Tourists love to go to see Buckingham Palace not because they wanna see the Queen but to witness the colorful ceremony of the Changing of the Guard: Accompanied by a military band, a detachment of the Queen’s Foot Guard march to Buckingham Palace in their bearskins and red tunes, and change with the Old Guard. Yes, we strolled around and in front of the palace and mingled with groupie tourists, unluckily, we missed the Changing of the Guard.

Surrounded by vast park lands and gardens, this grand palace has been the Royal London residence since Queen Victoria’s time, and contains priceless works of art, fine furniture and decorations that form part of the Royal Collection.

(8) The Tower of London and Crown Jewels

You wanna get bloodily fascinated? Try the “bloody tower” and find out about the story of the two princes that mysteriously were murdered there.

The Tower of London is one of the most famous fortified buildings in the world. If you are in London, place the Tower of London under your ‘must see’ list.

(9) Covent Garden

No trip to London (or nywhere in the world) is complete without shopping experience. London boasts cutting- edge fashion houses, world famous department stores and quirky shops that are full of intrigue and wonder, making for a truly unique experience. Covent Garden offers a world- class cultural experience as well as excellent shopping. Talking about shopping, even if you close your eyes, it would be hard for you to resist some tempting shops; you might as well get carried away 😉

Primark is also a ‘going for a song’ shop but difficult to navigate. It is always jam-packed with shopaholics and the long dressing room lines… OMG! Anyone impatient like me, standing in queue was a No way José! So I just did the ‘pick and grab your size’ thing then zoomed to a cashier. I thought I could dodge the long lines but getting face to face with a cashier was another course of action. Sigh!

(10) St. Paul’s Cathedral

To experience the whole of St. Paul’s Cathedral, you should climb 220 stairs to the enormous dome and Whispering Gallery and on to the heights of the Golden Gallery above the Dome with its panoramic views of the capital.

St. Paul’s Cathedral is so much a part of London skyline. In recent years, it has seen the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, to Lady Diana Spencer and, most recently, the thanksgiving services for both the Golden Jubilee and 80th Birthday of Her Majesty of the Queen.

St. Paul's Cathedral

That’s all for now.

Note: I have tried to mount numerous pictures but I got tired of uploading them to the galleries one by one. Time-demanding.

So This is London

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So, this is London! The line I uttered upon arriving at the airport at 6pm, March 31, 2009- the same day that Obama and other leaders of G20 arrived in London for the summit.

Catching the train to the next station to the underground, I had a good time clicking the camera as I feasted my eyes on the views from the train. If you’re a first- timer in London, you’ll wonder why houses here have small and few windows- a question mark that we’ve been querying since we stepped into this ‘has it all’ place until the lady tour guide told us about the Law on Window in UK.

Finding our way to the hotel wasn’t that hard. You bet. It was fun getting lost as always. The Underground (aka Subway) was also stressful. It was a maze of passages and tubes, literally. Anyone would need a crash course on it.

look right, look left

RHT. Despite having been to other countries (e.g. Thailand) that have the right-hand traffic (RHT), I still haven’t learned my lesson. For me, this system is still confusing and will always be. But that’s the rule of the road in London. It was a lot different from what I’m used to. No worries though- if you have been looking for traffic left to right (your entire life) before crossing the street, the signs can save your life.

To get in as much sightseeing as I could in my first day in London, I tried to get up the next day (April 1) notwithstanding the jet-lagged mind and body. We first visited the University of London to get some infos and hand-outs, and then set out to the underground to check on the gorgeous sights. First Leg: London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, etc. Do Brits realize how wonderful London really is? I hope so.

A Federal Mega University Made Up of 31 Affiliates

The London Eye- height:135 metres (443 ft). It's the biggest Ferris wheel in Europe

The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster

Big Ben- The World's Famous Clock

Trafalgar Square Monument- at its centre is Nelson's Column

The things I’ve seen here lived up to expectations. Emmm… except for the Big Ben. It was a bit smaller than I originally thought. Well, it wasn’t my first time to experience such. When I first saw the Moulin Rouge in Paris, I was a bit disappointed. I thought it was a huge Red Windmill… it’s not.

A sense of direction. Unluckily, you can’t rely on me when it comes to maps. That’s the irony of me- a traveler who sucks at direction. Thanks Mik2, maps are just in the palm of your hands. To get a glimpse of the metropolis, we thought that it would be a great idea to take the Routemaster where we could sit-relax on the upper deck. This way, we could also go sightseeing by simply parking our feet on the bus minus a tour guide piloting us. But it turned out that taking the bus wasn’t really the best way for us to get to the planned destination. In the first few days we’ve gotten on the wrong bus and ended up much farther from where we were meant to go, not only once, but all the time. Knowing how to decipher maps from dot to dot is as essential as understanding what trains have transfer points to what lines. But even if they have the Tube, I advice you to take a Walk around London first and see what the Capital has to offer. With free maps and guides available at the hotel or stations, the routes in the leaflets will ensure you see all the sights and enjoy your moment in London.

Sightseeing is no doubt fun but marching to and from many places can be exhausting. My feet hurt and burnt so bad that at the end of a day I couldn’t walk. Everyday was a tour day- long walk, long street but worth every step.

You have to see the city for yourself. There’s lot to explore, lot to do. It’s not the cheapest place in the world, but it still rocks!

This is the London Trip Part One. More to tell.

An Invinsible Summer

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There’s nothing more enjoyable than waking up on warm summer morning to the birds chirping and the sun gleaming. And oh la la! The smell of suntan lotion in the air, and all the tanned souls walking around under the blue sky…

The promise of summer unfolds- a time to renew, recharge and be more in harmony with the world. Summer simply appears in all its glorious beauty. We become more relaxed, calmer and our mental state naturally alters in the warm rays of the sun. What’s not to love about summer?

Sure-fire, the heat can be uncomfortably hot and stuffy, but the benefits far overshadow the few negative things about summer. Taking a vacation and going down to beaches make you forget about things for a while.

Yes, the beach! Having the opportunity to dip your feet into the ocean (with cheery waves hugging your bare skin) makes you feel good. Life seems easier and lovelier in this season. Don’t you just love watching couples walking on the beach, some kissing on blanket on soft white sand? They look so romantic, don’t they?!

But what’s significant being at the beach is that you can feel the soothing effect of the sea. I could just sit on the sand and watch the breadth of the briny. The large ripples on ocean, curling over and falling as it reaches the shore, make you feel like you are being swept away into paradise. Moreover, you blank over the hassles of life and simply enjoy the cool water lapping at your feet as you contemplate your prescience into the horizon. Without a doubt, the sea has some potent power to make you think things you like to think. Even more amazing is looking at the clear blue sky- not a single cloud can be seen.

“To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me.-I.N.”

To boot, what else do you get from beaching? Tanned skin. Summer gives you a chance to put a little color into your fair skin before winter comes. Seeing your naturally sunburnt skin makes you feel sexier 🙂 and gives you so much pleasure.

Most importantly, when all the good things about summer are well-thought-out, the feeling of solitude at the beach cannot be repudiated, even if you’re with friends, someone you love or family. And when you finally have gripped this so called blue serenity, the voice of the sea speaks to your soul as you feel at one with God’s grandest bequest of nature… Ahhh, summer.

Be off to the broad, blue sunny deep tomorrow again. Gonna enjoy the summer to my heart’s content and shouldn’t be just a couch potato, sitting inside blogging at all 🙂 .

Enjoy your summer, everyone!

My Trip to Germany

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Germany was just one of the amazing countries I have visited here in Europe. I spent few days there and was hosted by my German friend. Despite the short span of time, Silke and I did a lot of stuff including walking and running just to catch the intercity trains. Twice we did almost miss the train- just when we stepped in, the train doors closed and the railway tracking began.

Historic Germany has much to offer including mountains, marvelous scenery, picturesque villages and castles. The best time to travel there is between May and September. I should have thought about this. And once again, I realized that I’ve traveled in the edgy season- windy, downy-dark, foggy, dry autumn. The weather didn’t hinder us though from enjoying the outdoor bustles such as visiting cafes, strolling and shopping.

Instead of putting the narration down, I think it is better to mount some photos. (October 2008)

Silke, the host and my tour guide

Sausage stand

An angle of Hamburg

Just another Autumn in Hamburg

Trekking Tours in Asia

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SINGAPORE
For 10 dollars per night, you can enjoy the backpackers’ inn in Singapore, clean and cozy. Of course, hostels in Khao San Road are far much cheaper than here. Spending your nights on the streets here is also cool. I enjoyed watching couples cuddling, caressing, and doting with each other. This sucks though cuz I just noticed that I was the only one walking all by myself just busy clicking my digicam capturing every scenery that struck me and filming the beauty of the city. I didn’t stay long outside having in my mind what another tourist has told me, “Keep your eyes wide-open.” This implied that if you’re not smart enough, you’ll be cornered and get mugged!

One thing I can’t forget about Singapore is the concert. It just amazed me that I was able to watch a 10-member reggae Thai band which according to a Singaporean this group is becoming popular these days. They performed quite well and I love their music!

BLOOP: Again, strangers would just approach you and ask why you’re alone. And if you gave in and got magnetized by their smile, you’d just find yourself hanging out and drinking with them.

MALAYSIA
Like Thailand, there are lots of things to do in Malaysia. I found people here pretty strange but cool. “Am I in India?” I asked myself. Most of Malaysians look like Indians. Out of curiosity, I indirectly asked a native some questions that were playing on my mind. I’ve learned that one of their ancestors is Indian folks and he spelled it as ‘Indu’ ancestors. I spent most of the time in China Town well at least I didn’t feel alienated here.

BLOOP: For the first time, I saw a guy who was attempting to jump down from the 9th floor of the building. Everybody was looking up, watching and screaming. ‘What is his problem?’ Split up? His girlfriend broke him up? Whatevah! Video cam was on. I filmed the scene as edgy as his state standing on the edge of that 9th floor. Why not on the top of Petronas Twin Tower? It would be more memorable cuz the building or tower has got its name and fame. Just like a movie, messiahs on the rescue! Firemen and Men in Blue saved him. The edgy guy lost his balls maybe because of an angel’s touch and whisper (with wings)- absorbent.

Back to Bangkok to Islanding

Pattaya
Itinerary:
Picked up other group tour mates
Departed : 7:30AM
Upon the arrival, we got into the speed boat.
Parasailing
Coral Island- swimming until you get burnt, snorkeling, submarine tour, jet skiing,
LUNCH
Swimming again
Left the Island
Headed to THE WORLD’S LARGEST JEWELRY STORE
GEMS GALLERY SHOW IN PATTAYA- rode on a mini-train cart inside the tunnel.

BLOOP: I really wanted to rush-track away while the virtual presentation was on. It was damn dark inside! And it was only me in that tunnel! The lights were only turned on every after station. Those statues as representation of the GEM MINING seemed real! Shivering, I told myself, “Relax, this is just a show not ghost hunting.”

Phuket
Instead of taking the plane I took the bus to Phuket Island.
Time: 17:30pm to 11:30pm.
From the peaceful beaches to the pristine white stunning sands, you can grasp the ultimate natural beauty for only 500 Baht (13USD) but you have to keep watch of your butt, traveling by bus for how many hours?! This is how I pinch my pocket.

BLOOP: That stranger- Indian guy who supposedly my official photographer… He carelessly dropped my digicam into the beach water! Did he intentionally do it lamely because he wanted to swim with me rather than just being the photographer, wahahahaha?
*****

Bags were packed. Got two hours left before going to the airport. I left my stuff somewhere and took my last walk on the Khao San Road. Goin back and forth, same scenarios you see there. After an hour, I sat down with the streetwalkers on the roadside. Another friendly stranger would say ‘Hi!’ and the chat went on till you get to know each other a bit. Eventually, you would be beering and cheersing. You refused but persistence smacked you out. Having boozed by two cans of beer Chang, I had to bid goodbye to this ‘stranger turned friend’ guy.
Airport blues: Too early for the check in, I pushed the cart goin’ around bump after bump saying ‘sorry’ to the person hit by the cart I was hand- gripping. Toink! Tipsily, I was zigzagging while looking for a bench where I could sit on.
*****
JASS (Just A Simple Suggestion):
If you do really love being digicammed, never ever tour or travel without an official photographer with you. Your tripod can do but it’s kinda toxic setting it there and here spotting the right angle with all those people who are eyeing at you while doing your gestures and posing. Awkward, this is how it seems and feels upon ambushing and patting those people who are within your sight just to ask them “Excuse me! Sorry for bugging you but can you be my photographer just for few seconds please?”

Descriptum:
The bloopers and all, “The entire tour was really awesome!”

Safe and sound, I’m back to the real world… real world in a sense that I have to deal with Mr. Rut and Mrs. Mundane once again.


Travel Date: August 2006

THAILAND-ing

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My timetable has been framed for tracking the airways since last summer break. Some circumstances were really inevitable though. I was battling with my villains for few months and was bottled in with the summer camp. Longing to see the other parts of the world, I never stopped ringing the travel agency asking about the ticketing and hotel booking. Peak season, I had a hard time booking some periods I wish to stay. Been rutty to rats, I asked Gavin, my friend, to book the ticket for me. I wanted to gain back the momentum of my sanity so I set aside everything and packed my knapsack and snuck out for a while. I’ve never thought about the fund I would be spending anymore. The invisible rope tied around my feet, was so tight that it was stinging my epidermis. I wanted a place where I could possibly breathe real oxygen that I’ve been missing for years. Simile- I am just like a wheel that ran out of oil or gasoline, stranded in the middle of the road that has not been taken, waiting to be dragged and towed away.

Tagging along with me was my dearest snoopy. He can’t talk but at least he listens to me and he’s off with me.

The Treks:
Departed: Shanghai Airport

Destination: Bangkok to Phuket- Pattaya- Bangkok- Singapore- Malaysia- Bangkok

I ain’t gonna narrate the commas, the exclamation points that could describe the entire tour; I’ll just connect the dots with the lines to the last bar-dot. It would be a lengthy piece if I’d write on every single move.

THAILAND-ING

BLOOP #1: No map, no travel guides book just the info I got from the internet, Thailand, here I am, stepping and hopping on your womb! But I have a notebook where I listed the places I should see and some hotels/ inns/ hostel addresses.

BLOOP #2: I didn’t know which way I should be heading to, couldn’t even pinpoint where east-north-south or west was. All I knew was ‘this is Bangkok International Airport’. Where do I go from here? I showed the address of the booked hotel to some Thais and they instructed me how to get there- By taximeter plus 50 Baht for the airport charge.

BLOOP #3: The receptionist: ‘Sorry Ma’am but your booking was not fully processed.’ What??? But what are these invoice and papers for that they sent me thru email? It takes 5 to 7 days to book a hotel, they emphasized. And you came here after 3 days since you’ve started to process your online booking. It was too late for me to go and look for another place to stay in; no other option than to pay for my overnight stay in their hotel. After paying, I went straight to the internet corner and I bullied my friend thru email asking what the hell happened to the booking. He has a visa card; I don’t have it so I paid the money to him to book the hotel. I demanded him to just do the money transfer thing so I could get my money back. He did after a day.

I moved from that hotel to Sukhumvit Soi Noong for lodging then to Khao San Road. While on the road, my eyes were wandering. Taxis come into different colors mostly neon ones. Colors such as orange, purple, dual colors- yellow and green, blue and pink, these look so cool! They also have fuchsia!

Overview:
Bangkok – City of ANGLES, Thailand’s famous capital city gets more visitors than any other city in Southeast Asia.

Why is this so? Because every visitor finds something exciting to do in Bangkok! This is the city in Asia that never sleeps. You will find fun and excitement in Bangkok twenty- four hours a day, seven days a week. During the day you may want to go sightseeing at one of Bangkok’s historic and beautiful Buddhist temples.

Bangkok has so many auspicious shrines and images, and the local people will tell you that if you make an offering to the right shrine, you will become rich and happy (dunno if this is true though). Bangkok is also the best city in the region for shopping, and most visitors spend their holiday hunting for many bargains to be found in Bangkok. You will find so many wonderful things to take home with you, and always for the best prices. As a matter of fact, I promised myself not to buy anything because I didn’t wanna be stuffed. But gosh, I just couldn’t control myself!

After a day of sightseeing and shopping, you’ll want to eat some of your favorite Thai and Chinese dishes. (Pat Thai is my favorite.) Then the fun begins when the sun goes down. Bangkok has the most exciting nightlife in the world. No matter what you are looking for, you will find it in Bangkok and this can be testified by RJ who’s more legible and reliable to talk about Thailand. I was there for just a short span of time.

Khao San Road: Where the world’s young travelers meet! It’s my favorite place in Bangkok too! It is a favorite crossroads for the young travelers on a budget. Actually, I decided to move here from the hotel where I first stayed in when I got to Thailand. It has evolved over the last two decades from just one small hostel providing low- budget accommodation become one of the worlds well- known destinations. It has been featured in many movies and TV documentaries.

Suntime: Khao San Road is the scene for the back-packers looking for a cheap room while others are arranging transport to their destination in Thailand or overseas. I was able to reach other countries by simply taking the train where you can buy cheap tickets here at Khao San Road. As a solo tourist, I met different nationals here and chatted with them anything goes under the sun. So much to say and share about culture differences.

Moon/light-time: It turns into a lively thoroughfare lined with street stalls selling cheap clothes, handcrafts, souvenirs, and thousands of other items. The lights are on at many bars where travelers tell tales of the days adventures and discoveries and the plans for tomorrow.

Khao San Road is not just for foreign travelers, many young Thai people like to hang out there, including members of the TV and film production industries. The location is very convenient! It is just a 10-minute walk to The Grand Palace and Sanam Luang. You can also try their TUK-TUK if you don’t wanna walk.

Bangkok Nearby Attraction (These are just some of the places that I’ve been to. I’d have been ripped off if I tracked all those tourist spots.)

Grand Palace– Built by King Rama 1, Chakri Dynasty, as the king’s residence when the capital was moved from Thonburi to what is now Bangkok. This is a spot to view Thai style and culture.

BLOOP: I was wearing a skirt and a topsy when I went there but I was told to wear a monk-like outfit before entering the palace. As sacred as their King huh.

The Crocodile Farm and Zoo– Largest farm and is situated approx. 10 km outside Bangkok. The crocodile shows include crocodile wrestling.

BLOOP: While taking photos with those crocodiles after the show, I couldn’t help but to run away in a jiffy! They were opening their mouths like hungry monstreals! Yaay! I’m not a mafia of the World Wide Wrestling Federation for the crocodile kingdom.

Rose Garden– As the name denotes, this is a garden of roses, name the color and they have it. Inside the garden you can also watch the Elephant show. You will surely go bananas once you see those gigantic elephants. I was so excited to ride on (Not for free, it’s 50 Baht per round 5 meters elephant walk.) Thai cultural show is also a part of the program- It encompasses the lifestyle of Thai folks especially in the village and for few minutes you can watch the famous ‘Thaiboxing’.

BLOOP: Our tour guide was not that good in guiding. He would just say some blah blahs about the place then he’d set you off wherever you wanna go. After my pictorials with the Thailywood elephants, I went straight to the stadium. I was wondering why only 10 or 11 persons were inside. I’ve waited… Bored, I stepped out to look around the garden. For 2 minutes, I saw those elephants doing their stunts and exhibitions, they danced with the music, they grooved. Just when I started filming, I heard the emcee announcing “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the end of the Elephant Show. Please proceed to the stadium for the Cultural Show. Thank You.” Golliby! I missed the Elephant Show.


Floating Market
– World famous market on water located in Rachburi province and is available easily in Khaosan as a day trip. All sorts of souvenirs, goods, products, veggies, fruits, etc. you can find them here. My tour mate and boat- seatmate Rodrigo, a Spanish national, was like a mute hunky. ‘I speak English a little.’ said he. And that was the only thing I heard from here. He scarcely talked. Here comes my tandem, the Japanese guy who majored in Spanish language. Finally, the Spanish guy opened his mouth and started chatting with us. Though my Spanish was not really that fluent, I engaged in their conversation.

BLOOP: As for service fee, we gave a certain amount to some vendors who did the clicking for us. They didn’t want to hold the cameras without charge. Money here is an aqua-talker!

Jungle Trekking– Jingling in the jungle. Gonna ride the elephants to drive you around until you reach the rafting area. After the tiring trek, you can indulge yourself into therapeutic hot spring. Staying in a tree house is a part of the program too but be ready to be bitten by wild bugs and insects while you are asleep at night! But how could you get some sleep, if you’re bugged by these tiny species? Mosquitoes there would even love your ‘off lotion’! That’s how they treat the jungle trekkers.

BLOOP: Echo! Echoooooo!!! Blood- sucker!!! This wild leech was attacking Becky, my tour mate! She was screaming that her husky voice  echoed and bounced back there and here. The rest of the group didn’t know what to do so I got a handful soil and rub it on her leg where the leech was sucking in. We calmed her and said “That was only a leech not a vampire.”