NZ North: Lake Aniwheniwer and Blue Duck Station

In the afternoon we drove to Lake Aniwheniwer which is a cultural stop. A Maori family own a hostel and have close links with the local community and mori for their tribe. So in that afternoon they take you to look at some stone wall carvings and then to the mori where they welcome you onto the land by singing and everyone completes the hongi.

That night they cook a hangi which is a traditional meal cooked in the ground. This was pretty tasty; mainly the stuffing!

This one night stop costs $95 dollars so it’s pretty pricey but quite a unique experience.  If your tight on money, work out your alternate route (Rotorua to Taupo) in advance otherwise you won’t end up saving money. Unless you plan to hitchhike!

There were great (paid) activities you could do throughout the afternoon such as bracelet weaving, bread making, poi making and in the late evening eeling.

Can definitely recommend the bread making as it tasted so good ( its fried like doughnuts) and the late night eeling – used to feed the next stray bus so no waste.

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Day 6 AM: Lake Aniwheniwer day trip to a maori school.

This was a very unique and nice experience to share with the kids from the school.  Their school was fantastic and it was lovely to hear about their progress with their academic achievements because of the visits.

Day 7: Blue duck station (farm)

Quiet day just enjoyed being in the middle of nowhere.  Did a long and very muddy walk to a waterfall.

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TIP

If you are not on the Stray bus it’s not necessarily worth the detour.  There are hikes there but we couldn’t do them due to the bad weather.

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NZ North: Hobbiton and Rotorua

Day 4: Lord of the Rings tour on route to Rotorua

From Raglan we drove onto Rotorua. We didn’t have much time to do anything that night because we spent 3 hours wandering around Hobbiton – so fun. Definitely for everyone and not just the hard core LotR fans.

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TIP

Use bookme.co.nz for this trip

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Day 5 Rotorua

The next morning we went on a geothermal walk. It was interesting to learn about and see all the pools but the walk was a bit lengthy and sometimes difficult to hear the guide.

We tried to stay in Rotorua a bit longer as one night feels really rushed, however, the bus behind us was full so we had to stick on our bus.

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IMPORTANT TIP

Before you get on the Stray bus have your route completely sorted with all the buses booked in where you want to have extra stops because unless you’ve got months to play with, time starts to constrain you to the same bus. We loved our bus, the people and the driver, Lolly, were great, but we did get a but stuck!

 

Indonesia: Bandung and Jakarta

Bandung

From Yogyakarta we went to Bandung which was an 8hr night train. This time we paid the much more expensive 350,000 IDR pp executive tickets as we couldn’t face the economy over night. This was definately the right choice as the seats reclined and had lots of leg room, however they kept bright clinical lights on all night so make sure to take an eye mask!

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Bandung is meant to be really good for cheap shopping however we didn’t really find this the case and only bought Danielle one t-shirt!

Bandung was a bustling city from sunrise to set.  It had some type of stall lining every street, they are most famous for their tshirts. It was challenging for us to shop as their super cheap stalls were mainly local clothing and the huge malls were incredibly expensive, think Westfield type of shops and tags.

We did take advantage of the western culture of Bandung.  We had a Dunkin Doughnuts breakfast,  KFC lunch and Pizza Hut dinner. Very naughty but after a month of fried rice for every course a change was needed.

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Jakarta

From here we went on to Jakarta by train in economy again as it was only 3 hours.  This time it was great. The seats were in twos and were individual rather than a bench. There was a charging station and tray for every seat. Sounds like a normal train right! We don’t even have chargers in the UK sometimes.

From the train we tried to get an Uber but they cancelled twice as the traffic around the station was awful. We ended up getting in a bemo type taxi (a scooter with two seats and a little cover).  It was a fun ride as we could skip loads of traffic but he got lost about three times and in the end kicked us out as he couldn’t cross the main road. We walked the rest of the way.

We had 24 hours here so not much time to do anything and I (Danielle) had to get yet another PhD application in.  We did however find an amazing restaurant. The food was Indonesian but in a funky style and they did these amazing milkshakes.

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Our hotel was nice for the price but people were allowed to smoke inside and in the eating area which means it smelt disgusting as well as giving you sore lungs.

Then next day we managed to get a grab taxi to the airport. The traffic was so manic it took about 30 minutes just to get onto the main road. Just as we were starting to get a good flow we were being bibbed at and harassed by a taxi behind us, he even drove between the two lanes to get by the side of us.  We had no clue as to what was going on. In the next breath we were pulled in by the police.

It appeared that the grab car was driving in the taxi lane, he ended up with a ticket and a fine. In all this time Lara and I were panicking about getting to the airport on time as it had already taken so long to get to that point. The taxi man gave us the international money sign and said toll road.  After agreeing as we needed to get there he stopped at a toll card vendor and said 50,000IDR.  We realised he didn’t have his own card so instead of just us paying the tolls he wanted us to buy his card and weeks worth of tolls for him! Needless to say we were pretty ready to be leaving Indonesia…we had had some great experiences here but also a lot of stresses, we would just say be careful if you are a female travelling alone. It is still a very masculine dominated environment.

TIP

Toll roads are usually about 10,000IDR per car per road and are a good idea if you want to get anywhere quickly. If you have loads of time you can go the long slow route.

Northern Thailand – Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle

Next day we took a day trip to Chiang Rai and the golden triangle.

We left at 7am. Got into the usual minivan, where every Thai and other Asian seem to have permission to drive like an F1 racer. We first stopped at the eggy hot springs. These have been encompassed into mini wishing well like creations and dumped in the middle of a car park so everyone can visit and eat at the same time. They were pretty hot and steamy (with the usual sulphur odour). The difference here is that some very cleaver ladies started up their own boiled egg business, plopping small baskets if eggs in the boiling ponds to then sell on.

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We then drove onto the white temple which is a must see! Even if it was rather rushed and very crowded, it’s still beautiful.

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We then kept driving and went on a boat trip over to Laos For a quick stop. After a buffet lunch we went to the viewpoint where you can see Myanmer,  Laos and Thailand.  We had a great local guide called Tik who was a really interesting guy.

 

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The hill tribe and long neck was the final stop and we just about managed to get a quick photo and chat with one of the ladies before a storm decided to set in!

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We all bundled into the van and then about halfway back to Chiang Mai the van broke down…It was our lucky day! Tik was very good about it and 40 mins later another van turned up to deliver us back to the hostel…sleep time!

We had a chilled out day in Chiang Mai after this, walking around the markets.

Vietnam: Dalat – Mui Ne

Next bus journey took us to a little place called Dalat, we stayed in a hostel called ‘Dalat Green’, the owners were lovely; we had nice breakfasts and a free dinner one night. However, it was very small so quite difficult to meet people and was far away from the town (we would advise to stay near the lake). The main thing we did here was rent a scooter and enjoy a proper tourist day going to; Pongour waterfall, Elephant falls, a silk factory, a temple with a huge laughing Buddha and a coffee plantation (worst coffee we’d had in a while!). It was a beautiful day and quite easy to fit it all in as all fairly near each other…Pongour is just a bit further away and be prepared for about 500m of a bumpy scooter ride down a dirt track.

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So after our busy day we had a good nights sleep and in the morning got the bus to Mui Ne. To be honest the only thing we would recommend here is the sand dune sun rise tour which was pretty stunning even though our driver got us there late and we missed the first part of the sunrise….also our jeep didn’t actually drive on the sand which we thought it was going to so check that out when you book, we paid 70,000 dong so maybe you have to pay a bit more to get a better service. After the sunrise we also got driven to the red sand dunes where you can surf, to the fairy stream which is a stunning little walk, then finally to the fishing village which is quite sad as they don’t know anything about conservation and throw away scraps they don’t want and leave the poor little fish to die on the sand instead of putting them back in the water. We are not sure what/if anything we can do about this so if anyone knows or works in this area please tell us!

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From Mui Ne we took the us to our final destination in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon, we found they were both used interchangeably).

Vietnam: Hue – Hoi An

From Hanoi we then got another night bus to Hue. We only stayed here one night but had a great day exploring; took a dragon boat trip (300,00 for two people) to the pagoda and then got off by imperial city. We only walked around the outside as the entrance ticket was 150,000 and you can see so much from the outside anyway. One thing we would recommend is a little cafe called mandarin orange, lovely food and the owner gave us some really nice postcards of pics he had taken himself.

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From Hue we rented a scooter to do the next leg of the journey to Hoi An; The Hai Van Pass made famous on Top Gear. This was really fun, got some great views of the scenery. If you’re not confident driving you can pay for someone to drive you. On the way we stopped at Lang co bay, a massive white Buddha and marble mountains.

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Hoi An was really lovely and the first night we stayed in a great homestay called golden bee, sadly it was really busy so we could only book one night but we’d definitely recommend and they have free bicycles to use. We had a lovely day cycling to the beach. We then went to a hostel closer to the old town which was still good just a bit more expensive, Hoa Binh.

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Next day we hired a scooter and drove to ‘My Son Temple’. This was beautiful, a definite must if you’re there! Be prepared for the 150,000 entrance fee but we thought it was worth it.

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From Hoi An we got another night bus to Nha Trang, which is basically a holiday destination for Russians. Imagine southern Spain for the Brits. We had a really lovely time mainly relaxing here and taking couple of days out of travelling, especially as it was Dani’s birthday. We treated ourselves to a facial where they wrapped us up in cold cucumber, much nicer that it sounds!!

Las Vegas (Day 1-3/207)

 

The journey begins!!!! Vegas baby !

We had a great start to the journey as it was Norwegian airs’ inaugural flight to Las Vegas to they had complimentary drinks and cakes before we got on the flight 🙂

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When we arrived in Vegas, we got a bus to the hotel….which took about 2 hours, luckily we got a good tour of the strip! Shuttle bus huts to the strip are at the airport as you walk out, surprisingly small airport so pretty easy to find.

**TIP

If you’re tired or in a hurry get an uber (normal taxi’s are expensive) and the shuttle (we took transbell) takes agessssss as it goes around every hotel to drop off,  unless you have a central strip hotel, and there’s a tonne of traffic.

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On the first night we set off for a walk down the strip…The strip is massive; top to bottom is about 4 miles and takes a whole day to navigate one way so maybe split it into sections so you can enjoy it over a couple days rather than rushing through.

The best places to go that we found; Take the monorail to see the different hotels from the Bellaggio. A little quicker and fun way to get about, it’s free:)

-Bellagio fountains

-Bellagio gardens

-Luxor

-Excallibur

-Mandalay bay hotel

-Flamingo hotel (see the flamingos)
-Planet Hollywood (go see Britney… so fun).

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The next day we went to The Linq and went on the highroller (we got a good deal on show tickets plus the highroller and open bar ticket). This was great, the view is fantastic and we got a bar for just the two of us with unlimited drinks for 30 minutes… being Brits we definitely took advantage ;). Would definitely recommend this open bar ticket, well worth the money and a lovely bar lady from Rhode island.

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After finishing all our cocktails, we went to see Britney woooooo:

Going to see any show is a must in Vegas. We went to see Britney which was incredible, really good all round show; she plays all the classics, great dancers and costumes.

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We also really wanted to go to one of Vegas’ clubs, and when we were there the chainsmokers were playing. There are always great DJs in Vegas, we got tickets to see the chain smokers in Omnia (in Ceasers Palace). It was a great venue,  smallish club and ram packed but great sound. The club entry is very reasonably priced but the drinks are a killer so have a few before.

The chandelier dropped and moved with the massive beats really fun to dance under!

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TIP

Water is $10 for about 250ml and $25 for a single shot and mixer.

We didn’t get bag searched so could prob sneak something in, or get drunk before ;).

Another must do is Freemont street (at night as the lights are brill) and play some craps (stand next to someone nice and they will teach you). The casinos are a little cheaper around this area for the min bets so it’s great if you’re a novice and are a little intimidated at the big hotels.