Friday, 30 May 2014

My quick fix trip to Morocco!

I decided to take a quick trip away from London, and Morocco was my destination of choice. I was to be in Morocco for 4nights, 3 nights in Marrakech and 1 night in Essaouira.

Day 1 - I arrived at Marrakech airport after a 3.5hr flight from London Gatwick. The time I landed was approximately 9:50am, I think we even landed slightly earlier than scheduled. After waiting in the passport control queue for quite a while, I proceeded to collect my suitcase and then went to arrivals where my driver which was arranged from the Riad was waiting for me and 20mins or so later I was at the Riad Jonan.

I quickly dropped of my bags, freshened up and went back downstairs where the riad manager gave me a useful map and pointed out the key places to visit. Whilst I was in the reception I came across 4 guys from California and we exchanged hellos.

I left the Riad and my main priorities was to find an money exchange bureau and to get to the Supratours bus station so I could purchase a bus ticket to Essaouira in 2 days time. I had barely walked for several minutes and I had already started to get confused as to which direction to go to head to the main square, as useful as the map was, I am no good with maps! At that point I stood for a few minutes trying to figure things out and watching where the main bulk of people was heading, but it was then that I saw the 4 guys again from the Riad, I approached them to ask them which way I should be going and as they was going to the main square too, they invited me to walk with them and whilst walking they was advising me of the key landmarks to look for when I was due to go back to the Riad. After a few minutes I saw an exchange bureau and we said our goodbyes....for now!

After I exchanged my money, I walked for a little while around the square and then got lost some more in the Souks, once I found my way out I sat at a cafe and ordered a bottle of water and people watched for the next hour until I wondered back to the Riad, once again getting slightly lost. Back at the Riad, I rested for a while and then wondered back out to get a taxi to the Majorelle Gardens. Although I am not a big gardiner type of person I enjoyed looking at the plants the garden had to offer but it was a lot smaller than what I had anticipated.

After an hour I left and took another taxi to the Supratours station to purchase my bus ticket and then I took the same taxi back to the Kasbah area where I decided to pop into the Sadian Tombs as this was a 2min walk from my riad.

Once I had finished at the Tombs, I went back to my riad and I relaxed for a couple of more hours in my room and then went and sat by the plunge pool where I bumped into the 4 guys again, we ended up spending the rest of the day and evening together as they had invited me out for dinner but before dinner the guys wanted to do some shopping at a shop in Kasbah where the prices were marked and as the next day they were due to move onto another destination in Europe so today was the last day for them to shop. After shopping they dropped there goods off at the riad and then we headed back into the main square. It felt like I had stepped into a different world from what I had seen earlier in the day. Absolute chaos but in a good way. We wondered around for a bit and then sat at one of the stalls and had dinner. We walked around some more and came across a snail stand and 2 of us brought a bowl of snails. I managed 2 snails out of the whole bowl and my fellow American managed none! It was near to midnight and we headed back to the riad and it was here where we said our final goodbyes and exchanged email addresses and off I went to bed.

Day 2 - It was a Saturday morning and I was due to go to a cooking course with faim d'epices, it was a whole day being picked up at 9:45am and not returning to the riad until 5pm. We had a game where we wore blacked out glasses so you couldn't see anything and we had to guess what the spices was that was being held under our noses. We then went onto make our own bread and a chicken Tagine. It was a long but worthwhile day. After I was dropped off at the riad, I rested for a while and then prepped talk myself into going into the main square, I think I was more apprehensive as I had been spoilt the day before with having the American guys as company. By 8pm, I was in the main square, went to stall number 1 and ate some decent food, whilst trying to avoid the people walking with the snakes as I was sitting at the edge of the table. Having a snake put around my neck was the one thing that I was dreading! After this I wondered for a bit and then found a roof terrace spot where I ordered a drink and watched all the madness going on around me. It was 11pm, and I decided to make my way back to the riad to get some sleep.

Day 3 -  As you know I had already purchased my bus ticket to Essaouira but it was supposed to be for 9:30am and I had purchased the slightly more expensive ticket where you are supposed to get a bit more luxury, however my alarm did not go off so I missed the bus. I decided to eat breakfast at the riad and then took a taxi to the Supratours bus station to find out what my options was. I was asked "why am I late" and I replied that my alarm had not gone off.....for a brief second I felt like I was back in school, and then she transferred me onto a later bus, at least I did not have to pay again but it meant I had to hang around in the bus station for about 1hr 15mins until the next bus. The bus was due to leave at 12pm I believe and by 3pm I was in Essaouira. In hindsight, I  am not sure how much more luxury the more expensive ticket would have given me but I was more than comfortable with my normal seat. When we arrived in Essaouira, as I had been advised to purchase my ticket back to Marrakech once I arrived, I went into the reception area to try and get the first bus back the next morning which was about 9am in the morning, but the bus was full so I had to get the next bus which was due to leave at around 11:30am, I was sort of OK with this as it meant a couple of more hours in Essaouira the next morning but I also had a few other plans that I wanted to do when I was back in Marrakech such as the palaces, shopping and having a Hammam. After I purchased my bus ticket for the next day, I pulled out my Essaouira map which the riad had emailed to me, I then proceeded into the Medina and walked around in circles until I found my riad but just at the last minute I had asked someone for directions and there was a couple of kids with him, he pointed down an alley way to indicate that it was there but the kids wanted to show doubt for a small fee although the riad was 7 steps away. I checked in, put my bags down and then walked back outside trying to take notice of any landmarks to find my way back. I walked around the fishing port as I wanted to see where I was to purchase fresh fish and I was also looking for the place to cook them where you could apparently by spices and they cook it for you as mentioned on Trip Adviser. I then sat on a wall for a couple of hours overlooking the sea. At that point I noticed a couple of  ladies from the cooking course and we sat for a while and talked. After a while I decided to go back to the riad whilst walking around the Medina and stopped and had a bottle of water at a restraunt\cafe on my way back. Once I was back at the riad I went to the roof terrace and relaxed whilst taking some pictures. One of the workers on the roof terrace had mentioned a live bar in the square which turned out it was at the end of the alley where my riad was, so by 9pm I found myself at the live bar. I was glad I was told about it as I enjoyed it very much, there was 4 guys beating on drums, playing the guitar, etc and they had a good vibe to them. I think the music is called Genouda music. After an hour, a guy came in who lives in Germany but is half Moroccan and we started talking so all in all, my evening turned out very well especially as I had company. By 12pm the band had packed up and I went back to my riad to turn in for the night.

Day 4 - I woke up, walked around the Medina, along the beach and paid to go on the Rampart walls. I had been looking for the rampart walls the day before as I wanted to see the sunset along there but I couldn't see it.....I know, not only are my directions bad but my observation skills are equally as bad. I did not spend to long along the wall as I did not have much time so I went back to the riad, had breakfast, checked out and proceeded to the bus station to got my bus back to Marrakech. By 3pm I was back at my original riad. I put my case and was debating between going to the palaces or having a Hammam, the riad guy suggested the Hammam over the palaces so he arranged an appointment for me to have a Hammam, at a nearby place but I had to hang around at the riad as the appointment was in the next hour as they had no other appointments for that day. I am glad the guy at the riad suggested the Hammam, it was a basic scrub and massage, so you literally strip off to your underwear, knickers only, you put on a big dressing gown and slippers which are shortly taken from you as you go into the steam room and sweat buckets for about 15mins. A lady then came in and applied the black soap all over, left me for a little while longer and then came back in to scrub it off, she made me feel the dead skin and I was amazed at what I was feeling. I then sat with my feet in a bucket of water and then showered off which lead to my hour long massage. My skin felt so smooth as I left but before I knew it I was back in the mayhem. once I got outside again. I decided to take a horse carriage to the Jewish quarter, Mellah as I wanted to buy some silver, but mainly earrings. I found that I liked a lot of the bracelets and necklaces but I thought it was a bit lacking in terms of earrings so I did not purchase any silver. I wondered around the spice souk markets as I was thinking of buying a spice that has about 10 dozens spices all mixed up but I think the price I was quoted was about £30, so I decided against it as I was not at all that bothered. After the Mellah area, I went back into the main square ready to haggle for a couple things that I wanted, this included a couple of bags, a mirror and a candle lantern type thing. Apparently, I am a good haggler and this was said by one or two of the stall holders where I had not purchased from them but after they saw me walking with certain goods they asked what I paid and I told them and basically indicated to me that I would not have got it from them at that price. After some shopping, I went to stall number 13, where I had Sheep's head, there was somebody else eating it and it looked quite appealing to me but when I tasted it was not that warm and I also found it quite bland. I did not finish it and there was a local Moroccan lady with a baby who was asking for it so I gave it to her. I decided at that point it was time to go home, so off I headed to the riad, sat and spoke with the riad guys for a bit and then went to my bed.

Day 5-  Early start to the airport for a morning flight. I was feeling glad that I had chose Morocco and enjoyed every moment of it.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Day 8 - In Bangkok

Floating Market, Tiger Temple and River Kwai Bridge

I had an early pickup at 6:20am to do the floating river market, river Kwai and the Tiger Temple. I had set my alarm for 5:30am, and by 5:40am, I received a call from We Tour Thailand advising me to be in the lobby at 6:10am....10mins makes all the difference at this time of the blinking morning. The driver was on time and so was I more to the point and I was also the first pickup. After we picked up the other guests which took a good 1.5-2hrs due to Bangkok traffic we  then made our way out of Bangkok city.
The First stop was the Floating Market which was great fun and would certainly do this all over again, absolute chaos, so many boats along the river, clashing into each other whilst the market stall holders hurl you in with their sticks and hook so you can take a close up view of their goods.

After 30mins along the river, we then went back to the bank where we could shop some more, it was here I brought a couple of bits for family members. After the Floating Market we moved on to see the Elephants where some people rode on them, I was not interested in this as I have ridden one before in India and on a tour in Phuket. Some other guests also did not bother with the Elephant ride so our tour guide who was constantly rushing us and putting a 2min time frame on everything so I named him "Mr quick, quick, 2min man", suggested that we go to a snake show, as most of the other people were going to go to kill time and save us waiting for the Elephant rides to finish, Snakes do creep my out but figured I would go with the flow. We drove about 10mins before we arrived at the show, and it was here that I realised that you had to pay to go in, it was only 200bht but that was not the point. The guide from We Tour Thailand "Mr quick, quick 2 min man" was by now starting to get on my nerves with his rushing around and blatant lies, he actually said to me when I was contemplating going into the Snake show that his previous guests had said it is "the best show they have ever seen".....absolute rubbish!! I just paid the money and went in and what a joke it was, I also did not like the way the Snakes were being spun around and grabbed and thrown from one place to another.

After the Snake show "Mr quick, quick 2 min man" rushed us on again to the van where the other guests from the Elephant show had been waiting, we drove on further and the group separated depending on what tour you had booked. After we was in our new groups we stopped for a spot of lunch. It was average to say the least, and after here we drove on for about another 1hr to The Tiger Temple. We spent about 20mins here, queuing and being led from one tiger to another snapping pictures, after which I realised was time to move on to the next stop so we did not even have time to feed the baby cubs which I had really been looking forward to.

Initially, I had wanted to do the VIP morning tour as people seem to have different reviews from when they visit in the afternoon, but due to the cost I decided against it. I have no idea if these Tigers are drugged but what I do know is that they were pretty lifeless some more than others, I am not sure when you are able to lift up any Tigers head from off the ground and simply place it into someone's lap without the Tiger literally biting your head off!!, but what do I know. 
Once we left Tiger Temple we drove on for about 40mins when we arrived at The River Kwai Bridge. We all got out of the bus and that's when Mr quick, quick 2 min man said we have 10mins, by this time everybody had really had enough of him so we decided to just take our time, think we stayed about 30mins on the bridge and never got to see the cemetery where the 7000 POW are buried. 

By the time we left it was roughly 5:30pm, and we got back to Bangkok city at about 7:30pm, I had met another lady on this trip from New York so we decided to get something to eat before we would say our good byes, we thought we would try the Sky view bar but that didn't go according to plan, me because of my flip flops and my new NY new friend because of her shorts. I did not even think of there being a dress code, Oh well, you live and you learn so in the end we just found a decent restaurant and had something to eat and a local Singha beer before we said our goodbyes as I was moving on the next day to Phuket.
Video link to the floating market

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Day 7- In Bangkok

The next morning, my plan had been to go to The Temples and on the way back do the Klongs. So, I showered and changed and went to Asok BTS, bought my ticket and changed at Siam to get the connecting train to Sathorn Pier to get the boat to the Pier. As I waited for the 2nd train, I suddenly felt tired so I turned right back around and went back to the hotel. I then partially slept\relaxed until 2pm when I suddenly felt awake again. I done a quick Google search to find out what time The Temples closed and figured I had time. I started my journey once again, heading to Asok BTS, taking the train to Siam, then getting another train to Sathorn Pier and get the boat. Once I arrived at Sathorn Pier it was quite hectic and there was 2 queues, the queue on the left had definitely been there the longest as most of the people in the queue had been there when I arrived at Sathorn Pier, I somehow got pushed into the queue on the right and thankfully when the boat came, the lady at the Pier let the rope down for my queue so we all piled on the boat, the people in the left queue also let their rope down and some of them managed to board until the lady realised and then quickly put the rope for there queue back up again, to which this caused some complaints to put it mildly. The boat was an experience itself, going from 1 stop to the next with the breeze, I would of been happy staying on the boat and just going with the flow. We eventually arrived at the stop for The Grand Palace and I followed the useful directions which was posted on Trip Advisor to get to the temple itself, plus you could also just follow all of the other tourists.

Fellows, please wear appropriate clothing if not you will be force to wear these Elephant pants!!

The palace was beautiful but as time was moving fast, I did not spend very long here, I had also wanted to go the other 2 temples but decided to give this a miss as I really wanted to do The Klongs, so I went back to the boat stop and took it to another stop which was a good ride away, this was where I was to hire the long tail boat and the man would take me along The Klongs for 500bht. As I had not realised how long it would take to get there, by the time I got there it was already 16:30pm so it soon started to get dark. I sort of regret doing The Klongs now but only because I didn't go on the Chao Praya dinner cruise because I wanted to do The Klongs instead and it was dark, so my regret is that it wasn't earlier but I will return to Bangkok and do it again at a sensible time and also do the temples all over again.
Long Tail boat

Along the Klongs

Along the Klongs

Along the Klongs

Along the Klongs

The Klongs tour lasted about an hour, after which I went back to the boat river stop to wait for the boat to take me back to Sathorn Pier.

On the boat going back to Sathorn Pier.
After I got to Sathorn Pier, I took the train to Siam and decided to pop into the cinema as Catching Fire -Hunger Games had been released the day before and I wanted to inquire how much it would cost to get the VIP treatment, this VIP treatment apparently consists of blankets, popcorn, refillable drinks and reclining seats, anyway the answer was 3000bht as they only charge per couple and not individually, so I gave this a miss!! I then headed back to Asok with the plan of eating in Terminal 21 as it was now getting quite late, came to realise Terminal 21 had already closed so I ended up having the most cultured and tastiest food ever....wait for it..McDonalds, after this I went back to the hotel as I had an early start the next day.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Day 6 - Bangkok

Arriving in Bangkok & Siam Ocean World

After a couple of hours of sleeping we arrived in Bangkok, went through passport control, collected my luggage and proceeded to arrivals where my transfer (at least this one bothered to turn up). I was dropped off to The Legacy Suites in the Sukhumvit area Soi 29, 4 star hotel but nothing glam, however the room was big and roomy! By the time I got to the hotel it was about 10am, but at check in they needed a deposit and I did not have enough money on me as I had only changed up a little bit of money when I got to the airport, I gave her the thai bahts that I did have and explained that I needed to go to the bank. The lady at reception was fine with this but I had also pre-booked tickets for Ocean World at the Siam Paragon shopping mall but this particular ticket meant I had to get there before 12pm that was apart of the deal and today was the only morning that I could fit this in. Luckily there was a room available for me at that time, so I showered and changed and headed towards Asok BTS station, bought my ticket for 28bht one way and was at Siam in around 10mins. I entered the shopping mall and noticed the sign for Ocean World and took the lift down, by this time it was about 12:20pm, but figured there was no harm in asking if I could still go in and luckily she let me in. It was my first aquarium visit so I really did not want to miss it although I had viewed the big display in Dubai mall.

Ocean World - Bangkok
A varied amount of sea life here, some not so pretty that I would have to brace myself to turn the corner wondering what I would be facing next. I spent about 1.5hrs looking all around me and sometimes just sitting and watching. After the time had passed, I went to leave the mall but wanted the ATM  to which I got "Computer says no", yep...good old Natwest had decided to block my card in case there was fraudulent activities....Here we go again!. I went back to the hotel and tried to ask the reception to call the Thai operator as Natwest had informed me before I left England that if I had to call them due to any problems, (ie, blocking my card), then I can reverse the call so this is what I was trying to do but then the receptionist advised that they do not have a Thai operator, in the end I went to my room and called the bank directly as I needed cash and fast! Got through to someone who then unblocked my card and told me they would credit my account with what I thought the cost of the call was to which I had no idea so I just said £15 and 24hrs later it appeared in my bank so I was finally able to withdraw cash and give the rest of my deposit to the lady at reception. That same evening I had planned to go to china Town but tiredness was creeping up on me, so in the afternoon I went to one of the many local 7-11's and bought some bits and bobs to put into the fridge and later that evening I went to Terminal 21 as the lady at the reception had advised that this was the best place to go locally for food. About 8pm I got to Terminal 21 which is about 10min walk from the hotel and it takes even longer to cross the damn road....still all part of the fun in Bangkok in my opinion. 
I was not used to the system in the mall as it was my first time in Bangkok, but if you have never been to Terminal 21, you get a card (pay as you go card type thing), go to a counter and tell them how much money you want to be topped up on the card and then you hand over the cash, you then go to whatever food\drink station hand over your card, tell them what you want and the price of the food\drink is deducted from the card. It took me a while to figure out what the heck I was doing. Anyway, once I got my food (80p), I was struggling to look for a table as the food court was packed. Whilst I was roaming I noticed another guy roaming and looking for a table with his tray of food. I find a table first and then he asked if he could join me, he had obviously noticed me before looking for a table and figured out I was travelling solo, so we sat and ate. He was from Germany and he was travelling around SE Asia and was due to move on the next morning. After the meal, my energy had picked up somewhat so he asked if I wanted to go 1 stop away on the MRT to where it is a bit more livelier, so I agreed as Bangkok is busy in numbers and the MRT is packed so I couldn't suddenly go missing. We went the 1 or 2 stops to Nana and yes, it was a lot more livelier in the lower Soi's rather than the latter Soi's where I was staying. I also said to myself, that next tine I would probably stay nearer to Nana BTS. As he was familiar with the place, he suggested a couple of bars, so we had a couple of drinks, couple of snacks, talked and people watched and this was my evening, I then took a taxi for 100bht back to the hotel.