Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Thailand adventures

A month ago I took my kids to Thailand for 8 days to reward them for being such troupers for the past 8 months whilst our family went through a separation.  We had had so much going on and we were all worn down and I knew we needed a break and time to refresh and relax.
I had seen a package deal with Luxury Escapes which was $999 for 8 nights including lots of different things and the resort looked like a lovely place, my friend had been on a Luxury Escapes deal before so I knew they were legitimate.  I wish now, looking back that I had done a bit more research of where the hotel was actually located because getting there was a major effort!

We left on a Friday night and flew with Air Asia to Kuala Lumpur which was a 10 hour flight.  Our stopover at KL airport was for 3 hours and then we flew to Phuket from there which is an hour flight. I found Air Asia to be awesome to fly with but the experiences I had with them before actually taking my flight left a lot to be desired.  (that is a whole different blog altogether).
Plane selfies
After arriving in Phuket we were picked up by a driver who then took us on an hour and a half drive to Mai Khao Lak Resort which seemed like the longest drive of my life!  We were absolutely exhausted by the time we arrived at our hotel which was about 12pm our time so 14 hours travelling with hardly any sleep!
And of course our room wasn't ready so they offered for us to go and have breakfast which was still open and to my relief they had drinkable coffee!  They eventually came and took us to our room which was very nice and comfortable, finally our long awaited holiday had started!
View from our room on the first day
Khao Lak is a small town 2 hours north from Phuket and was totally wiped out back when the Tsunami hit in 2004, in fact it was the worst hit province as they didn't have many concrete high rises as they did in Phuket which helped saved many people there, here they only had low lying bungalows so over 4000 people were reported dead from this area.  They have slowly built the area back up and have many beautiful resorts built along the beach now and have a warning system in place in case of another Tsunami. The town is far less busy than Phuket and this was one of the reasons I wanted to come here rather than going to Phuket as it was the first time I was travelling by myself with my kids and I wanted to feel safe which I certainly did at the resort.
The beach right out the front of the resort
After we got changed we went to check out the resort and headed straight to the beach, the view which greeted us was gorgeous and I immediately felt relaxed - holiday mode!

In general our resort was a lovely place but as always with 3rd world countries and cheaper resorts there were a few things that needed attention.  The room had a very mouldy and musty smell which we couldn't get rid of and maybe that was because it was the wet season so nothing seemed to dry completely out.  And, because it was rainy season, it did rain quite a lot and they had no activity room for kids of my age with a pool table or table tennis table so there was a little bit of boredom when it was raining. Thankfully they did have Wifi though so that was a relief.  Another thing I thought was strange was they had no water activities, nothing to take out on the water and have fun with like paddle boards or canoes.  Just a few things I wrote on my trip advisor review! LOL

After the first few days of settling in and trying to get the kids into 'Relax' mode which was interesting (who knew kids didn't know how to relax?) we decided to go on an adventure to some waterfalls we had heard about.  We booked a driver through reception and he picked us up at 10am. We were dressed in singlets and thongs as we weren't sure of what the trek would be like and to be honest the thought of wearing sneakers in the 35 degree heat wasn't appealing, perhaps we should have thought about that a little harder as walking up steep muddy mountains isn't easy in thongs!
Our driver was a lovely guy who didn't speak much English but extremely pleasant and happy and we arrived at the first waterfall about 20 minutes after leaving.
Tahlia checking out Sai Rung Waterfall, doing her best pose for me

He held all of our gear for us, my bag filled with towels, water, sunscreen and everything else we jammed into it but once we got to the falls we realised it really wasn't the type of fall you can swim at and laze around on the rocks looking pretty for photo ops so after a few photos we headed back to the car and he told us in his broken English that the next falls were much better for swimming which is exactly what we wanted.
About an hour later we arrived to a National Park and had to pay 500 Thai Baht for entry which was $20 Australian dollars for all of us.  For some reason I was blowing up about this as I instantly thought they were trying to rip us off but on the way back we saw the sign and yes it was written there that it was 150 Baht for kids and 200 for adults so I did feel a little bit silly for blowing up! I guess because we don't pay to enter National Parks on the Gold Coast I thought it was a bit odd.
Anyway this waterfall was a huge hike up a mountain and it had different levels so you could do all of the levels which went to 5 or less and as I had my 2 lovely children with me, wearing thongs, sweating in the 35 degree heat we decided that maybe the upper levels of the waterfall maybe just a little out of our reach!  We did manage to make it to the 4th level and my goodness what a hike that was.  As I mentioned before it was the rainy season so the tracks were very muddy and slippery and at some stages you are climbing on a very steep incline holding onto tree branches to keep you safe, so pretty challenging.  And the whole time our guide who was wearing jeans and thongs too did not complain once, he held all of our crap including my camera tripod and just kept going!  Well worth the payment of 1800 Baht for the day which is $70.00.
We eventually made it to the 4th level of Ton Chong Fa Waterfall and we could finally get in the water for a swim, but as we quickly discovered the little fish in the waterfall like to nibble at your skin and feet and for some reason my kids weren't having a bar of this!  I was dying to have a swim so just jumped in and the fish started at me immediately but I thought, Hell some people pay good money for this and I'm getting in and getting it for free!  And of course eventually the heat won over and both the kids jumped in the water screaming their heads off the whole time!

We made it to the top! Well the 4th level anyway :-) Not sure who that random guy is in my picture though!

Even though the waterfall day was a huge effort I was so glad we did it, to go and see some waterfalls in another country and experience the beautiful rain forest was something we probably wont ever do again in Thailand and we slept so well that night!

Some of the other things we received through our Luxury Escapes package was 8 free massage sessions, a cooking class and a cocktail making class.  Both of my children had never had massages before so I booked us all in for a 30 minute back massage one day and off we went to the Spa which was so relaxing and calming.  Unfortunately they didn't have 3 beds in one room so my son was carted off by himself to have a massage whilst my daughter and I shared a room.  For someone who hasn't had a Thai massage before I guess it could be quite confronting taking off your clothes and stripping down to your undies and both my kids reported back to me after the session that they hated it and that I could have the last 5 sessions to myself!  I was absolutely rapt as I love massages and made sure I got a massage every day for the last 5 days!

The cooking class was also a funny experience which we all enjoyed. The Thai people really love getting you involved and both my son and I got a chance to cook a dish.  After cooking 4 dishes we all then got to sit down and enjoy the food cooked by their chefs so we didn't have to eat our own cooking!!
I cooked Tom Yum Goon soup
Flyn cooked a Duck Curry

The cocktail class was also a fun experience which I didn't take the kids to for obvious reasons and it was really just an excuse to get sloshed at 1pm in the afternoon (considering I already know how to make cocktails!)

One of the things I did notice about our resort is that the Europeans, other than being extremely unfriendly, have no idea about using sunscreen, so many of them were walking around the resort red raw and still sun-baking more! The kids and I tried not to laugh but when you see a huge man with the biggest tummy, in dick togs and burnt to a crisp looking like a Lobster it is really hard to stop yourself from laughing!

Of course you always tend to gravitate toward the other Aussies and we met some lovely people from Western Australia who had an 18 month old daughter both my kids loved to play with.  These were the people who told us about a cool restaurant down on the beach called Boom Boom and we ended up going there a few nights as it was so cheap! $40 for so much food and absolutely delicious. They also had 2 very cool swings over the ocean which we loved and we tended to take a walk down here on a regular basis just to chill out and go for a swing.
Our favourite way to past the time

And of course the sunsets were what I waited for each night and we did get some amazing ones there. The first few nights did not disappoint and my breath was taken away by the beauty of them.

No editing required

Most of the nights the kids didn't want to come down to the beach with me so I ventured down with the rest of the tourists to take it all in and I would go back to the room and say to the kids OH MY GOD, tonight was mind blowing, you kids missed out...and they would say That's cool mum, and get back onto their iPad!
No description required!

Of course these dream runs could not continue and eventually the rain came and set in. Unfortunately at this time we also got news that one of our dogs was very unwell and the grey clouds seem to fit our mood as we worried about our dog.

Grey skies for grey moods
The last few days of our holiday were spent stressing about our poor dog who unfortunately did need to be put down before we made it home so this really put a dampener on the last part of our trip.  Our boy Harley was 13 and had a heart condition which got very bad while we were away so the decision had to be made which was absolutely heart breaking for us not being there and also to my poor parents who were looking after him for us.  Not sure why he decided to go while we were away but I think maybe it was because he knew we couldn't handle it being there.

Our Harley boy

So after 8 days of being in Khai Lak we were ready to go home and see our other dog.  We had another big trip home but this time we had made sure we booked a day in Kuala Lumpur shopping to break it up and also I had booked 3 seats in a row for each of us on Air Asia so we could all have a good sleep on the way home.  This cost me an extra $180 but it was so worth it!  One crazy thing that did happen at Phuket airport before we had even checked in, I lost my passport!  I opened up our travel wallet and only the kids passports were there.  I went straight into panic mode as I was exhausted and stressed and could not imagine what would happen if I had left my passport back at the hotel which was 90 minutes away.  My beautiful kids calmed me down and we eventually found it in a side pocket of my handbag where I had put it when we went shopping into town one day.  The relief that rushed over made me burst into tears and we knew that it really was time to come home!

So all in all I would say that our trip to Thailand was a lovely trip with some ups and downs.
Would I go back to Khao Lak? No.  It's too far to travel for a resort that isn't mind blowing.  I would definitely go back to Thailand though, maybe Phuket or Koh Samui where its not as far to travel, the people are so beautiful and you can definitely explore and relax there so the best of both worlds.  I also loved that my kids got out of their comfort zones and off their Ipads for a lot of the time which is such a great thing to do.

Family sunset

I would definitely look out for a Luxury Escapes package deal again and most of the people at the resort were on that same deal so its a popular web site.  

Thanks for reading!

Katie xx

Thursday, 25 August 2016

White's beach paradise

Hello everyone!

I am starting this blog as I miss writing and I wanted to combine my 2 passions, writing and photography.  I have been taking photos for nearly 3 years now and I truly love it.  I have finally discovered my passion and I have loved creating my social media presence and learning so much about photography.  I have met some amazing friends through photography and have built up my Instagram account to nearly 10K followers and I have also been an integral part in creating a social photography group account called @igersgoldcoast which hosts regular instameets all over the Gold Coast and has a following of over 12K people.

One of the best things about photography is exploring and discovering places which you have never been to before.  A few weeks ago and close friend of mine, Amanda and I decided to do a mini road trip together and go somewhere we had not been before. We had heard of a beautiful beach called White's Beach which was south of Byron and just north of Lennox Head so we did some research and made plans to venture here on a Saturday together.  We had heard of some very cool caves at White's Beach so we checked out the tide times and planned to head to the caves to get some cool photos on the day.

At 4.15am my alarm went off and to be honest I had second thoughts about our idea of heading down to catch sunrise but once I was up I was excited and looking forward to the day. Amanda picked me up and off we went with all of our gear packed in her car and Siri telling us where to go.

After an hour of driving we headed toward where we thought we were supposed to go and found the car park and loaded up our camera gear in the dark. We headed down a walking track toward the beach and got excited as we heard the waves crashing and as it started to get light.  The views we saw as we came out of the rainforest were absolutely gorgeous.

We wanted to try and find the caves that we had heard about but we knew the tide was too high and we would have to come back at 9am when it was at its lowest so we just enjoyed exploring the deserted beach and watched the sun come up with some incredible cloud action.

Being a photographer on the Gold Coast, you rarely get to experience a completely deserted beach at sunrise so we really just lapped it up for a few hours.

Amanda enjoying the deserted beach
After a few hours we realised the urge for coffee was outweighing the need to explore the beach more so we headed back up the mountain to the car and headed for Lennox Head which was about 20 minutes south.

Arriving in Lennox on a beautiful Saturday morning was a new experience for Amanda who had never been there before. The town is super cute with loads of coffee shops and we found a nice place to stop for breakfast and get that much needed caffeine hit!  If you haven't been to Lennox before I highly recommend it.  I hadn't been for a long time but its just such a lovely little town so close to Bryon but yet so far away from the chaos that Byron has become on the weekends.  The views from the top of the hill looking back down to Lennox are spectacular and we saw so many Dolphins enjoying the perfect conditions.

Had to do a selfie of course!

I was so excited to see the Dolphins!

After our little Lennox tour we decided to head back to White's Beach to find the caves and get some cool shots.  It was already past 9am so we knew we were on a time frame to be able to access the caves before it was too late.  Getting back to the carpark we loaded ourselves up again with our camera gear but this time we took more stuff like our swimmers and towels so we could get in the water as the day was so gorgeous.
Upon arriving back to the beach we noticed a lot more people had arrived and we saw some guys up in the dunes who seemed to be naked!  Amanda:  Oh my god are those dudes nude?  Me: Um, holy crap YES!  Where the hell had we come to?  We tried to be calm and kept walking over to the right side of the beach where we had been told the caves were.  After 20 minutes of rock climbing in thongs that kept having a blow out we started to get a bit over it and frustrated wondering why we couldn't find these damn caves!  A very tanned looking local man was walking toward us and I decided to ask him if he knew about the caves (thank god he had dick togs on).  He said he didn't know about any caves and I then asked if we were at Whites Beach?  He said no, this is King's Beach, Whites Beach is another 15 minutes away down south!  Amanda and I looked at each other and just started laughing, no wonder we couldn't find these stupid caves!!

So we packed up all of our stuff, walked back along the nudey beach and back up  the huge mountain to our car to so we could drive to White's Beach!

After a 15 minute windy drive and messages back and forward to our friend who laughed his head off when we said we were at the nudey beach, we eventually found the pristine White's Beach.  Once again we packed all of our stuff and headed down the mountain to be greeted by such a magnificent scene.
The view from half way down the mountain
We tore down that mountain intent on finding the cave and as we walked around to the right we saw it, a huge big cave which would have been so awesome to explore and take photos in but unfortunately the tide had come up too far and we couldn't access it!!  We looked at each other and just shook our heads, all we could do was laugh and take in the beautiful scenery and the magnificent day and of course take more photos of each other!

Me, striking my best pose!
So our venture to explore and find White's Beach and take photos in the cave was a bit of a failure but we had the most amazing day, discovering the nudey beach, checking out Lennox Head and then taking in the stunning beauty of Whites Beach it was definitely worth the effort.  I would highly recommend taking the kids to White's Beach as it is so protected and when the tide is low you can check out the caves and really do some exploring.  Prepare yourself for the journey back up the mountain which we ended up doing 3 times, twice at Kings Beach and then once here but so worth the effort.
Thank you to my gorgeous friend Amanda for being my partner in crime and we can't wait to go on our next day trip exploring more of this beautiful country!

Katie xx