E: Nikoklia Village Retreat – Cyprus

IMG_1149It’s good to go back to your roots every now and then. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past 19 years of my life. Every summer I’ve been spoilt rotten by being granted the privilege to escape the murky English summer and return to a place where I feel very much at home. I have a huge adoration for my little island homeland in the Mediterranean sea and that’s why often when discussing Cyprus I can be very critical about the mentality of some of the locals, the government and (a small number of) ignorant tourists. It’s safe to say my little island has had more than its fair share of problems and issues even prior to gaining it’s independence.

Yet if you get the chance to take some time out and are willing enough to do a little exploration, you’ll understand why so many people, past and present hold a fond place in their hearts for my little island. Somewhere beyond the financial crisis, swarms of Brits flocking to Ayia Napa and the often tasteless new architecture, there lies an untainted charming sun bronzed landscape painted with golden hills covered by olive trees and ancient relics waiting to be discovered.

IMG_1234When browsing for accommodation I stumbled across various alluring hillside apartments and classical hotels. The typical beach-front hotels in Cyprus were too expensive for us to afford and knowing most of them I didn’t particularly feel the majority offered good value for money.

My father then forwarded me a link of an attractive old building conversion into an inn. The  price was very reasonable (roughly 50€ a night including breakfast) and they still had availability so we went ahead and booked it. Nikoklia Village is a tiny village and I had not previous knowledge about the area it was located. My grandpa proudly recollected some old memories telling us he used to know of two policemen he worked with from Nikoklia and how there was an abandoned Turkish village nearby. Without much idea of what to expect we set off just as the sun started to dim and in about 40 minutes we arrived at our location, the Vasilias Nikoklis Inn.

IMG_0949First impressions were good, the staff were friendly and the Inn was furnished in Cypriot antique furniture. The conversion of the building has been done very tastefully and we were lucky to have a beautiful balcony overlooking the countryside. A few minutes after arrival we embarked on a small wander around the village itself. The village is definitely on the smaller side, people were very friendly and greeted you as you made your way down the street. A beautiful little church which broadcasts the service to the village via speaker phone can be found near the bottom of the village. Various abandoned buildings are also dotted in the nearby countryside. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to make it to the abandoned Turkish village just north of Nikoklia, we did however manage to catch a glimpse of it from afar and it looked very eerie. I’m sure it would make a brilliant subject to photograph, hopefully I’ll return another year to have a go at capturing the scene.

In terms of food the village doesn’t offer many options and we had all our meals at the Inn. Food is available from the tavern which opens in the evenings, the menu is full of traditional dishes and the prices are quite reasonable too. I would really recommend the ‘Mixed Grill’ option which consisted of some lamb, sheftalia (a type of sausage), chicken and pork souvlaki served alongside local fried potatoes, all the meat was cooked to perfection and currently writing about it is waking up my appetite.

IMG_1085Aside from the village you can also get some relaxation done by the pool and there’s also a rather tiring walk to the nearby dam. The walk is ok at best, I recommend heading there much later in the day as even departing at six, the weather was too hot to make the walk very enjoyable. I enjoyed a lot of sleeping under the shade of the Inn’s greenery. We had a really restful time and the inn sets a prime example of how alternative types of tourism can be very successful. I’m not saying spend all your time within a small village but as you can see from the photographs it can be really rewarding to do a bit of research and incorporate a village stay into your time in Cyprus. Unfortunately due to work I had to cut my ‘home time’ short this year but I’m sure I’ll be back again before I know it. (After all that abandoned village needs photographing!)

Favourite things to do/see :

  • Explore the nearby countryside
  • Walk through the village
  • Hike to the dam (Probably better during the winter months)

#Pupsforlikes

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It’s a depressing rainy Monday here in York and although I saw this guy last week I miss him so much already, looking at December flights back home. Sure this rubbish weather would be much improved by his company.

E: Island Hopping around Railay Beach

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After a speedily eaten Pad Thai we reluctantly boarded our boat to leave the Phi Phi’s. Our next point of call was Railay Beach, a coastal resort in close proximity to Krabi town. Our initial plan incorporated a short stay in Krabi town, but after hearing from multiple sources that Krabi was in fact a shipping town we decided follow up Kate’s friends recommendation that Railay was her favourite place in Thailand.

The Railay beach area is made up of three stretches of coast, one pristine white sand beach tucked away by limestone cliffs (above, Phra Nang Beach), another perfectly nice beach lined with hotels (West Railay) and one small stretch of coast comprised of rocks and concrete promenade (East Railay Beach). Upon arrival we set eyes on the latter during low tide where all the rocks and mud was visible and I turned to Kate, “You made us leave paradise for this!?”

The other two coasts of Railay Beach however are the perfect place to set your worries aside and relax. The only way to get in or out is by boat and transport can be arranged at various travel agencies dotted along the sea front. Prices for drinks and food at most of the restaurants are noticeably a lot higher than the rest of the places we visited in Thailand. I’d recommend sticking to the east coast for more reasonably priced dining options. My favourite activity of Railay Beach aside from the actual shore was hiking to an enchanting viewpoint and a gorgeous green lagoon tucked away behind some forest.

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The hike entrance is located between Railay east beach and Phra Nang Beach is quite challenging and for the majority of it you find yourself climbing vertically holding on to patches of red mud and tree trunks on your way up. The distinctive red mud in Railay later proved that it was ridiculously hard to remove from clothes, since that day I have still not managed to remove a few marks on my swimming trunks. They make nice if not slightly odd reminder of our time in Railay.

At the viewpoint we met a very friendly Austrian couple where we discussed the Bangkok protests, holidays and Austria’s recent victory in Eurovision. Regrettably although getting close, we struggled with the downhill climb to reach the lagoon. It was difficult to see how we would get back up once down, a rock climbing instructor later comforted us by letting us know she didn’t get to the bottom the first time she attempted the hike either.

Finishing the hike and turning to the opposite direction of the route we came, we exited from under the cliffs and found ourselves shrouded in a large group of Asian tourists, walking a little further along away from the cliffs you discover the full beauty of Phra Nang Beach, often voted as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. It’s so easy to see why. Beyond the soft chalky sands and turquoise waters the views consisted of limestone islets laced in greenery, distant cliffs and longboats scurrying across the sea.

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Some longboats even offer fresh juice and snacks, what more could you ask for in paradise? The crowds in area  weren’t too plentiful either, probably due to the limited options for reaching the peninsula. We spent the majority of the day going for dips in the water under the isolated limestone islet and listening to music whilst drifting in and out of sleep under the shade of the local flora. It was a truly brilliant day rounded off with some delicious green curry, morning glory (the vegetable) and ridiculously overpriced mango sticky rice.

Following a visit to the enchantingly noisy bats located in Diamond Cave, we opted for a small island hopping boat tour to Chicken island, Poda island and Tup island as a way of keeping us busy for the second day. The trip provided numerous opportunities for some brilliant snorkelling where we witnessed all sorts of coral and an interesting array of tropical fish. We had booked this through the restaurant which doubled as a travel agency that we had eaten breakfast at.

All the staff on the boat were extremely friendly and welcoming, seeming very proud of the place where they call home.  As the sun set over the peninsula of Railay we sat down on the sand and devoured a delicious Thai barbecue. Just before delivering us back home the boat tour ended with a visit to see some photosynthetic plankton which lit up when disturbed by movement underwater.

The time to depart from Railay arrived the next day, once again very reluctantly we arranged our transport to Bangkok before heading back to our favourite beach for a final few hours of bliss. It was there we accidentally encountered our friend from NUS Jan! In disbelief I sighted him on Phra Nang Beach and ran over to him. Both of us where pretty shocked, I mean what were the chances of us accidentally running into each other on a coast in Thailand? He decided to join us for the next leg of our journey, to the mighty Bangkok!

Railay beach was indeed one of the most special parts of our journey.

Favourite things to see/do:

  • Hike to Viewpoint/Lagoon (free)
  • Phra Nang Beach (free)
  • Four Islands boat trip
  • Diamond Cave to see the bats
  • Fluorescent Plankton

Tips:

  • East coast Railay is much cheaper for both food and accommodation
  • It might be advisable to take some climbing gear for the descent to the Lagoon

E: It’s Better in Bangkok – Thailand

Expectations were grand for the world famous Bangkok. Stories which had previously caught my ear included scenes where drunken backpackers were mugged by ladyboys and tales that violent stray dogs roamed wild between the city streets. Through word of mouth Bangkok had compiled a reputation as a place of danger, a place where things went wrong, where the people were troubled and trapped in a frantic malfunctioning metropolis. Certain films like the Hangover sequel and a few stories from my flatmates may have been to blame for this distressed image I had painted in my mind. The time we visited was also the time of the 2014 protests. Now travelling with the addition of our friend Jan the three of us had no clue as to what awaited us after liberation from the confinement of the night bus.IMG_9019

Around 3 AM we were flung out to the roads no longer the bus driver’s responsibility.  The usual gathering of tuk tuk drivers amassed around us attempting to convince us our desired location was a good hour away and any journey there would be expensive. Disputes and difficulties aside we arrived at ‘Amazing House’ where we rented a private room for £2.58 a night, by far the best deal on accommodation on our trip so far. (Compliments to Kate) The lady at the desk was very kind considering we had woken her from her sleep and our check in time was around 2pm. She gave us the password for the wi-fi and let us leave our bags behind the desk while we ventured into the city in search for breakfast.

Following some parents with school children, they led us to a modest shop producing scents of warm food. The school children didn’t seem much bothered when we sat down amongst them. The waitress proceeded to approach us concerning our order, gesturing for food for three people with an added thumbs up, we sat in anticipation of what she would present us. ↓ Below you can see what she brought us, I found it a little heavy but served it’s purpose, keeping us satisfied for a good while through the busy day that followed. Surrounded by images of hungry groups of school children laughing and busy parents swiping screens on their smartphones my first impressions of Bangkok severely distorted my previous frame of mind on the city.

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Upon thanking our cooks and the waitress we continued along the road to accidentally stumble into the heart of the Bangkok protests. It’s hard to explain what it feels like when within three minutes walk of being in a normal everyday environment you can turn a corner and be surrounded by a protest camp. We strolled through the site and to our surprise, the atmosphere was very different to how the situation was being portrayed by the international media, things were relatively peaceful. Families lay together in temporary tent fixtures surrounding the Democracy Monument and people smiled at us as we tried to find our way through them. The atmosphere did seem a little uneasy but we saw no form of violence or anger while we were there. However later that night, upon returning to our hostel we heard people had been killed that morning, just after we had left the site. No information was released at the time on who the killers were. You can read more concerning  the protests we saw throughout in Bangkok here.

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After deciding we had seen enough of the protest camp to get an idea of the situation we headed towards the Grand Palace. After sighting a large temple we decided to take a short break. There we met ‘Vis’, a very friendly local lass who spotted us as confused tourists and offered us a hand when we requested some route information. “I can take you there, I’m heading there later anyway”. Vis guided us through some streets and after picking up some (I think it was robes) for some monks she got us there safely. It was very kind of her to show us the whole road and once entering the temple she let us get on with our sightseeing while she went off to finish what she had to do.

The Grand Palace was a feast for the eyes. All the temples we had seen up until now had been very beautiful but the Grand Palace was  different as many of the intricate decorations were still in pristine form. There are a large number of tourists at this site however for some reason they didn’t seem to detract as much from the atmosphere as the tourists in Angkor Watt. An interesting museum on the history of Thailand’s textile industry is located right next to the grand palace. It contains a lot of information about the local clothing industry and how it contributed to improving the livelihoods of many villagers, as well as strengthening the country’s external trade.

Jan had to leave us early the next day so we decided it would be a good idea to locate the train station for him. We walked down random streets and past various apartment blocks. On our way meeting numerous giggly locals and unintentionally finding China town. One market nearby stood out to us in particular, not only due to the delicious noodle soup which a very cheerful lady made for us but because every working Thai in the market was more than willing to take a photograph when setting eyes on a camera. Kate went ahead and sampled some Thai iced tea which is ridiculously sweet and a peculiar orange colour. These vibrant people again completely shattering my pre-conceived image.IMG_9199

Night fell and we hopped onto a local bus to take us back to where we were staying. A night in Bangkok awaited! There we found the most probable route of the infamous stories we had heard. One particular road was lined with the classic backpacking night-life entertainment, the phone cases, the fake beats headphones and of course the rowdy bars run by westerners. One stall even offered fake ID’s, I was very tempted to purchase an Australian driver’s licence. The strip wasn’t that much different from Phuket so we didn’t feel the need to stick around. The following day we visited the Museum of Siam which was fairly large and surprisingly interesting, all the dots of what we had learned about Thailand seemed to connect.

Bangkok is a stunning city. In a place like this, it’s fair to say you see what you want to see. It could be perhaps a lot of visitors have been missing out on some of the lesser known aspects of the Bangkok lifestyle. I’m sure if we had more time we could have explored more of the night scene aside from markets and the typical tourist bar strips, yet Bangkok can offer a whole extra range of things to explore, even if you’re slightly hungover from the night before.

Favourite Sites To See / Things To Do:

  • The Siam Museum
  • The Grand Palace
  • Floating Markets (We didn’t get a chance to go but heard many good things)
  • Walk around! Bangkok has endless lively hidden street corners
  • China-Town
  • Night markets, (Tourist and Flower markets)
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