A Travellerspoint blog

Brussels

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

After a very early morning flight we arrived in Brussels Charleroi airport. First thoughts - so cold! This airport is not Brussels main one and, therefore, further out. But, after some research, we found it was a lot cheaper to fly here and get a shuttle bus, rather than flying direct to the more central one. Due to us saving some money on the flights, we decided to increase our accommodation budget. We ended up getting a good deal at the Renaissance Hotel, part of the Marriot chain, paying £112 each for 3 nights. It is a beautiful hotel and rather posh - we did feel quite out of place in it! To be fair, as nice as the hotel was, we could have got somewhere cheaper that was still nice and probably a lot closer to the things we wanted to see and do. School boy error on our behalf.

Thanks to the trusty [i]Lonely Planet[i] book my friend had borrowed to us, we had a general idea of the things we wanted to do. Seeing as we could not check in till 3pm (it was only 11am when we reached the hotel!) we set of in search of the centre of Brussels.

One main thing that has to be seen in Brussels is the Grand Place. It was about a twenty minute walk away from our hotel. We knew straight away when we had reached it because we could see the tall buildings with gold on the front of them. You can walk into the centre of the square, which is pretty big. There is currently a huge Christmas tree there, as well as a nativity scene in the centre complete with live sheep! We did walk through the square when the square was all lit up and it was a lot prettier and very festive. On our second night, by sheer luck, we walked through the square whilst there was some music on. We quickly realised that the buildings were being lit up in different colours at different times to match the music. Adam and I were truly mesmerised and stood there watching for quite some time. It was quite magical! I would definitely recommend going around then to see the Grand Place. Next to this is also a chocolate factory that we visited. It was quite interesting and did not take up too much of the day - plus you got to sample lots of chocolate!!

There are two statues in Brussels that I was keen to see; Manneken Pis and Jeanneke Pis. On the first day we went in search of the most famous one, Manneken Pis. We used the map until we started seeing the signs directing us to it. All of a sudden these signs stopped and we were a little baffled, until we realised we were there. The statue was a lot smaller than what I was expecting. It is of a little boy that is urinating and it does have quite a reputation - the Belgians love it and you see replicas everywhere! We also walked past it the next day by sheer coincidence and it had been dressed up in a Santa outfit that had a little hole cut out for it's penis. It was very funny looking and I was glad we had seen it again!

The true mission was trying to find the second one, Jeanneke Pis - the female version of the urinating boy. We did look for it on the first day but gave up after we had walked around the same area for over twenty minutes. On our last day we had ran out of things to do, so decided to try again to find it, which we eventually did. It was rather hidden and down a small alleyway. Not all that great or as funny as the first one, but I was still happy we eventually found it!

One of the best things about Brussels at this time of year has to be the Christmas Markets. There are a few stalls around Grand Place, but for the full Christmas experience you need to head to St. Catherines. The market here is huge with loads of different stands selling all sorts of things. There was also a big fair and an outdoor ice-rink (we were so cold and out legs hurting that we ended up not going on!). It was good fun to walk around and we spent an afternoon in a man made bar watching the festivities. Well worth visiting!

One big mistake was made by us. We decided we wanted to go to the Atomium. After walking a few miles already to get to St. Catherines, Adam concluded we were looking at around another two miles - so off we went. What a trek! It was horrible - my legs were already hurting from the previous days adventures and it was so much further than what we had expected. It took hours. We barely spoke to each other the majority of the journey as we just kept our heads down and kept ploughing on. The building is huge and it was miles before we could even see it - then we still had to get to it! A few hours later we finally got there and I did enjoy it. The view from the top was amazing - you could see most of Brussels and throughout the rest there were some interesting displays. The structure of the building itself was very cool. It is worth a visit just make sure you get a taxi! Safe to say we did not walk back...

My highlight - had to be the waffles! Oh my they were so good! The best one that I had has got to be one I got from a place called "Australia" that was covered in melted white chocolate, seriously tasty. The Belgians are certainly known for their waffles for a good reason.

My lowlight - Not necessarily a low point exactly, but I did find that by the third and final day we had ran out of things to do. Perhaps two days would have been enough time?

It was overall an enjoyable trip and one that has definitely left me in a Christmassy mood :)

Posted by LaurenF3 08:40 Archived in Belgium Tagged brussels Comments (0)

Too, too long

Gosh it feels like forever since I have been able to write on here...too long! Meaning, of course, that I have not been off exploring in far too long! But, fear not, my next trip is planned.

I am going all European and heading to the capital of Belgium...Brussels!!

The Christmas Markets are the main attraction for me, especially now Christmas is getting so close! There are a few other things I have read up about that I would not mind checking out....does anyone have any suggestions?

Full review to follow!!

Posted by LaurenF3 01:26 Comments (0)

Thailand

Bangkok

Final stop....Bangkok!

It was definitely a nice treat to fly instead of getting on a very long bus journey. It saved us a whole day and only cost around £50 to fly from Phuket to Bangkok.

Got to the hotel and unpacked, chilled out for a little bit then forced ourselves to get up make a plan for our short amount of time there then set off on our final leg of the adventure...

We got on a local bus to go to Wat Pho (a.k.a. the Reclining Budha). On the trip we went through the streets on Bangkok and it was such a change! You can certainly tell it is the capital - it was so busy! Each pavement was so busy that you could not see the floor...thousands of people everywhere and lots of different markets stalls. It was mental but seriously cool too. The Budha was really cool, a lot different from the last one which made me glad we had chosen to get and see that one. The area it was in was so different, I actually felt like I was in USA!

We just so happened to be in Bangkok during Songkran, which is the Thai New Year. It was pure coincidence as we had no idea when we booked it but I am really glad it fell onto that weekend. During Songkran the locals (and the tourists!) all join in in a massive water fight. I did not realise beforehand how involved they get in it, but it is crazy! We would be walking down the street and a truck would drive past with the back full of both kids and adults with huge buckets of water that they threw at everyone and anyone. We went to Kho San Road on the main night of the celebrations, so the road was cut off and a huge party and water fight took place. It is safe to say we got soaked. There was some local celebrities that everyone was going mad over walking down the main street (they were something to do with the government and tourism and very popular - although we had no idea who they were) and they came over to us to ask us questions, it was all filmed so I was on Thai TV!

The next day we got up early and went to Chatakan Market. We had been told it was big but I had no idea it would be like that. It was ten times bigger than any market I have ever been to - at least. We saw a bag in a shop earlier on and decided to go back to get it - it took nearly an hour for us to find the shop again. It was such a maze. The only thing that I did not like was the "pet" section. Lots of animals, mainly puppies, in tiny cages looking like they were dying, it wasn't nice. We easily spent our remaining money on souvenirs and presents.

We had tea in China Town. I have been to a few China Towns before but this one has to be my favourite. The food was amazing and very cheap. Plus the atmosphere was unreal. And it was mainly outside - so we just sat at a little table on a random pavement eating wantons and noodles. Really good experience.

Our final day in Bangkok (and in Thailand) was one that we took a while to decide what to do. I was torn because I really wanted to go and see the tigers and Tiger Temple. I was torn because of all the rumors you hear about how they are all drugged up, but at the same time who doesn't want to get their picture taken with a huge tiger? It was also not the cheapest trip, but after some deliberation we decided it was not something that we wanted to regret not doing - so we got some money out and booked the trip. The most annoying part was that you couldn't do a trip that took you just to the temple, you had to do a full day and a lot of other things that we were particularly wanting to do.

The first stop on the trip was the floating markets in Karachinabari, which to be fair was really cool. It was so different to anything I have seen before, which made it worth while. Next we went to the bridge over the River Kwai (for those of you who don't know there is a film named The Bridge Over The River Kwai and it is set there) We also stopped for lunch. Then finally we got to go (after another two hour bus ride) to Tiger Temple.

Once we got off the bus we were immediately told that we would not be allowed inside because of what we were wearing. Beforehand, we were only told that we could not wear bright colours but had not been told anything about being completely covered up. There was, of course, a shop there where you could buy clothes from but they weren't cheap and I didn't even have my card with me. A girl that was on the trip with us kindly borrowed me a spare blouse she had with her. I put that on and pulled my dress down to make a long skirt and got told I could go in. Clare and I made a deal - I would go in for the first half hour, come out and swap clothes with her, then she could go in for the second. Once I finally got in I had to run to get near the main area. I saw one tiger and got a random girl to take my picture with it, which resulted in one of my head only, and one of the tiger only. Oh, and a near-by tree. Great. I saw another one and got a guy to take it for me and, although it wasn't great, you got the idea. Conscious of the time I asked a woman that worked there where the rest of the tigers were, who replied with "Oh, it all finished at three, they have all gone now" (We did not arrive to the place until three!). She mentioned that there would be two more making their way past in the next five mins, but that would be it. I was worried Clare would miss out so ran all the way back, only to get there and for them to tell us it was too late for her to go in, and I was not allowed to re-enter. Basically, it was a bad experience and I did get really annoyed. To top it all off once we got back our plans to go for a drink on one of the skyscrapers roof-top bars got called off as a big rain storm came in - so we ended up in McDonald's! I do feel though that the tigers that I saw were not drugged, as they seemed very awake and with it, if not a little fierce.

Even though it was our last day in Thailand and it had not gone to plan, we were able to do so much in the two and a half weeks that we were there and so much could have gone wrong, so really it wasn't ruined. It was just a shame.

I had such a brilliant time in Thailand, doing so many things that you could not do anywhere else and ticking a lot of boxes on the old bucket list. I am already looking forward to the next trip back - there's still so much more to do there!

Posted by LaurenF3 27.05.2013 13:42 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thailand

Phuket

Stop number 4....

We got to Phuket later on in the evening so did not do much that first day. Went for a bit of a walk and did a bit of exploring then had tea. On the way back we saw a bar that we had read about in the Lonely Planet book, so decided to stop off for a drink. There was a band playing when we got there, singing songs in Thai, but when they realised we were foreign they decide to play some English songs for us....which was basically Ronan Keating and The Lighthouse Family on repeat! It was really cute though....

The next morning we knew what we wanted to do - but finding reasonably priced transport was proving difficult. Then out of nowhere this little man in a little yellow van popped up (the same man who had been pestering us the night before to use him) and we bartered a good enough deal with him. We went to see The Big Buddha, which is a new monument that they are constructing in Phuket. It is not quite finished but close enough. It is huge! Looks really cool as well. Inside the building next to it was a monk blessing people. So, obviously, I had to have a good. It was a very different and interesting experience...although I don't know how genuine it was. Either way it is a pretty cool story to say that you have been blessed by a Thai monk....

On the way back from the Buddha we came across lots of elephants, some baby ones too which were ridiculously cute and playful!

On the way back the taxi man did not take us where we wanted to go...pulling over in a random place. He asked if we would do him a favour and took us to a shop insisting that all we had to do was look around. We had been warned about this before but he was nice enough to us and pre-asked us so we thought we would help him out. The shop was actually decent and we both ended up buying something from there! Then he took us to a tailors and that was just seriously awkward, so after that we put our foot down and he knew he had pushed his look and took us back. We did make a deal with our taxi man to pick us up later for our night out though - saved us quite a bit too.

We then went for a Thai massage. There was all sorts of massages available and, surprisingly enough, the cheapest was the full body traditional Thai massage. It was unlike any other I have experienced - and some times almost hurt! It was great though and I did feel relaxed and re-energised afterwards. It was also only 200Baht, which works out at about £4....so cheap! Went for street for afterwards. We were literally sitting in some Thai woman's garage. She had made lots of food and you could tell it was not meant for tourists because it was seriously hot!! I am a whimp when it comes to spicy foods but my small budget meant I had no other choice...so I ate the lot!

That night we went for a night out in a popular place called Patong. I did have a good night out but it was so Westernised I could have been in Magaluf. It was just one strip and it was full of poachers and reps trying to sell you things and get you into their bar. It really did not feel like Thailand. It was also full of lady-boys! I have to be honest...most of the lady-boys have better figures and bodies than half of the female population! And a lot are hard to tell..... good luck lads!

I tried my very hardest at the end of the night in my rather drunken manner to order a McDonald's (Yes, they do deliver in Thailand!). But, for the life of me I could not figure out how to dial out on the hotel phone and the night guard did not speak a word of English. My impression of the golden arches did not go down well and I am afraid it was mission unsuccessful!

On our final day in Phuket we got a bus to Kata beach (local bus service cost us 35Baht whereas a taxi would have cost us 500Baht!). It wasn't great weather but we chilled out on the beach and went for food before returning to the hotel for a chilled night in. The hotel was really nice and modern but two things went wrong....1) the guy on reception told us he had booked a taxi for us for the morning to get to the airport. We were leaving around 5am when there were no taxis patrolling the streets. When out taxi did not turn up a random guy helped us and we made it with plenty of time. 2) We paid cash upon arrival at the hotel, but once I got home to the UK they had also charged my credit card (which I used to book and pay the deposit with online) in full also. They have since refunded it but it was not a hassle I needed!

I can't say I didn't like Phuket because I did, I just did not enjoy it as much as everywhere else and do not feel it had as much to offer! Still, it is one of the main cities in Thailand and needs to be experienced.

Posted by LaurenF3 22.05.2013 14:27 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thialand

Koh Phi Phi

Yet again - more traveling! We got a bus to Krabi where we had a three hour wait. Then a taxi to the port and a ferry over to Ko Phi Phi.

First impressions of the island - so cool! It is so unlike anywhere else I had been. It was similar to a small shanty town but with a seriously cool and edgy vibe. It was not at all like I imagined and very different from the places we had been previously. There was so much going on with little stalls and markets and food everywhere. And there are no cars on the island either! Everyone is on bikes or foot. But seeing as it is only a small place it does make sense.

We got to the hotel - nice place. Got ourselves cleaned up and went for a wander. There was so much that I wanted to buy, but I managed to hold back (partly because I wanted to see if it was cheaper in Bangkok and also because I did not want to have to carry it around in my backpack until I had to). The shops all sell similar stuff so if you want something BARTER!! They will go cheaper 90% of the time.

Before I went people we always asking me "Are you going to try street food?" with a worried look on their face and concern in their voices. Of course I was going to try street food. It is one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Thailand - to try all sorts of new food. We immediately went to try some once we had left the hotel. Standing in front of the food I can see why people would be cautious about trying it; there were flies landing on it constantly and you had no idea how long it had been there for. But, nonetheless, Clare and I chose a selection of different things including prawns, fishcakes and BBQ chicken, and tucked in. I have to admit, it was the best food I'd had since I had been there, as well as the cheapest. And after that, we barely ate in a restaurant again!

At night we got dressed up and went to see what the island had to offer. We had read that the fire shows we a must see on Phi Phi so we went to watch one at a bar called Slinky's. It was really good. The guys were pretty fearless when it came to throwing fire all around and above them and they certainly did put on a show. As much as I enjoyed it, it did seem to be never ending! Eventually we moved on, only to find that every single bar along the beach front also had a fire show on! We walked right along the beach front, stopping off now and then in the bars and having a boogie in one. We headed back (and got slightly distracted, running onto one dance floor when we heard One Direction!).

One the walk home I came up with a brilliant idea....let's get a tattoo! Clare is not a fan of them but that didn't stop me! I only wanted something small, and mainly did it because I wanted to try it native style - with bamboo! I chose a little elephant (fitting, don't you think?) and had it done just above my ankle. It was really cool and interesting to watch the guy do it with no electricity just a long, thin piece of bamboo that he moved so quickly! I thought it was going to be more painful but have to admit it did not hurt as much as the usual way...

The next day we decided to go over to Phi Phi Ley Togo so we could visit Maya beach (the famous beach from the film "The Beach"). We inquired about a boat and got told they only go at certain times, so waited around, paid and got on. What we didn't realise is that we had ended up paying for a half day trip, when all we wanted to do was get to the beach and sunbathe! We first went across to Monkey Beach, where lots of small monkeys hassled tourists for food. They were far too greedy and confident!! We went snorkeling again, this time it was much better and I saw some really amazing fish! Even saw a snake in the water (which was probably around the time that I got out) then finally got the boat to Maya beach. We were told we only had an hour there and first had to climb through a cave and across a broken bridge before getting there, and we had to pay to get onto the beach. When we finally got onto the beach, which I admit was very beautiful, we lay down to sunbathe to only be completely covered in sand. It was unbelievably windy and the sand actually hurt as it slammed against my body. So basically it was not the most successful of days. Throw into that the added factor that on the way back the wind got worse, causing the waves to get very bad and the small boat that we were in was not quite managing. It was a rather scary experience!

Phi Phi is well worth a visit. It has a cool, fun vibe and there is lots to do and such a great atmosphere. The only thing I would say is it was full of British people and tourists, which did start to take something away from the island!

Posted by LaurenF3 18.05.2013 05:00 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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