Just a quick blog to let you know I have a job!!!! and yes, it's actually an admin role and one I am really excited about =) It's at the head office of Jennian Homes so we deal with all the franchises nationwide, sounds like it will be varied and challenging. I start on 16 March so am looking forward to the fortnight ahead, guilt-free relaxing, and finally can look at flat hunting and wedding stuff!

Jan & Feb at a glance

Niki started his flying course on 9 Jan and has been loving it. His medical certificate took its time issuing so it was a bit frustrating but since coming through 2 weeks ago he has done lots of solo flying including a couple of 3 hour cross country flights. He has done 4 exams since getting back and has passed all of them well. The workload is different every week and often he can just go in whenever he has a flight booked, and other times he is studying morning, noon and night.

I have been spending alot of time at home just hanging out, basically trying not to spend money! The first few weeks back were awesome but as friends started to go back to work and I started looking for a job things weren't quite so much fun! I registered with recruitment agents and have spent a lot of time up the road at the Riddingtons using their computer and browsing their Bay of Plenty Times job sections! I have been receiving the unemployment benefit too, I'm entitled to a half share of a married couple allowance, which equals $150 a week, so not enough to live on at all but I totally am just stoked that we can at least buy groceries and petrol and not have to waste all our savings. As you can guess we are still staying with Niki's Mum in Ohauiti, but that is all working out well although we are looking forward to unpacking all our stuff finally when we get a place of our own.

Social Life
Early Jan we farewelled Donna for her move to Switzerland. In Jan I spent a night in Pukekohe, Auckland with my sister and cute nephew. My first ever Blues Brews and BBQs was a crack-up. Anniversary weekend we went up to Niki's Dad's place in Rawene (Hokianga) and had a fab time there just chilling in the house bus and doing some exploring, on one of our walks we were fortunate enough to see a pod of orcas which was absolutely stunning. Waitangi weekend we went camping at Athenree (Waihi) for two nights with a bunch of pals - Fantastic weather and good times had by all. Lovely Briar's Baby shower. Stefanie (Amercian friend we met in Edinburgh) was over with her boyfriend recently so was wicked to see them. We've been to countless BBQ's and drinking sessions, even trying town 3x (and disappointed all times!), walked around the Mount, copenhagen cones, hotpools...you know the drill, I love this city!

Personal achievements, or lack there of:
Trying to exercise a couple of times a week and failing miserably even though I am unemployed! Getting my confidence up and learning to drive - I am actually getting quite good, even did a solo drive over the kaimais to Cambridge! So am absolutely stoked, just need to work on tricky parking and reversing lol. Got a temp job for a few days last week at Pinto factory, awful mind numbing work but it was amazing what it did for my morale just getting out of the house and knowing I was earning some money.

Homecoming King & Queen

Arriving into Auckland airport was obviously very exciting, we were buzzing about every kiwi we thing we heard or saw. Niki's Mum and Brother were there to meet us and drove us back to Tauranga where we saw Kayley, Niki's gorgeous wee niece who was born in July. We spent the next few days catching up on sleep and seeing all of our grandparents and friends and doing some christmas shopping, Niki even glazed a ham. We had a lovely, relaxed Christmas day at Jared and Shelley's.

For New Years I went down to Wellington with Debra and Justine for a 5 day stay. Needless to say we had lots of fun, so so great to see those gals. New Years Eve we had a party in the penthouse suite of a flash hotel. It was absolutely brilliant. The other days were filled with sangria, watching dvds, shopping, visiting Te Papa, eating, drinking and being merry!

Niki went camping with a group of his friends and enjoyed some water sports and copius amounts of beer drinking.

Last Chance BKK

From Krabi we caught the “VIP” overnight bus to Bangkok. Now this bus wasn’t so much VIP but the seats did recline a little and they provided a wee blanket and luckily we were able to sit together and because it was really cheap it was all worth it. After a long night of little or no sleep we arrived into Bangkok at 6am and were in a familiar area a 5 min walk from Koh San Road. Some of the restaurants were already open so we sat in them buying a drink, using the lavs, and reading for a bit and moving on to the next for something to eat and hanging for another hour there. Once the shops started opening around 10am Niki went for a thai massage while I got a manicure done with amazing hand-painted wee flowers on each nail. You can’t leave Thialand without buying a bunch of dvds and t-shirts so we did that and then grabbed a taxi to HBK so I could do some last minute shopping. I got a few cool things but totally wish I’d gotten more handbags, damn luggage allowance. There were shops laden with handbags for 199B each (£4, NZ$10) Hayley’s paradise! By this stage we hadn’t slept for 30 hours so we were soon over shopping and lugging our gear around (Niki ended up just babysitting gear whilst I shopped!). We spent a bit of time trying to find the airport bus but in the end just grabbed a taxi and got out to the airport by 5pm, well in time for our 8pm flight. Pleased to report our luggage left in storage was all there and we didn’t even go over our luggage limits.

Phuket – Ko Phi Phi

Thursday we flew from Chiang Mai to Phuket, arriving at 2pm. We had pre-booked a hotel in Patong Beach but stupidly took the mini bus which ended up taking hours. We were rather frustrated and eager to get on the beach by the time we had checked in. Patong beach is extremely touristy and it wasn’t very nice at all. You could definitely tell that the tourist season had been affected by the airport closure though as the majority of the deck chairs were empty. That night we went out to explore the nightlife which was very tacky and seedy, think neon lights and drunken people everywhere. You’ll be disappointed to know that we didn’t go to ping pong show…the people on the street try and get you into their bars saying free entry, but your first drink cost you mega bucks. Although that's not what put me off, it’s the list that they show you with all the things you will see in a ping pong show… and I can tell you “ping pong” is very tame compared to what was on that list!

Friday morning we took a 1.5 hour ferry ride over to Ko Phi Phi which we’d heard was gorgeous and we weren’t disappointed. There are no cars on the island and to get to the lovely outlying beaches with all your gear you need to pay for a boat ride. We’d been recommended to stay at Viking Resort by some people we’d met on the overnight train so headed there straight away and were lucky to secure accommodation. We stayed in an awesome bamboo hut with ensuite (cold shower) for the first two nights, and then moved to another hut without ensuite and closer to the beach for three nights. The people were really good and gave us a great discount plus let us use snorkelling gear etc for free.

We spent the next few days laxing on the small secluded beach right in front of our resort. We ate out for every meal (all resorts have own restaurants), explored the shops on the island, Niki had another massage or two and I got a pedicure. From our beach to the main island bit was about 20 min walk over a steep-ish track but it was generally ok until one of the last nights we came back late
in the dark over the rocks and I somehow fell into the water, with our camera in my bag! It’s buggered, we are so gutted, but luckily our memory card is ok.
Sunday we had a 7am start (ouch!) to go out on a dive boat for Niki to do two fun dives and I did some snorkeling while the divers were down. Niki found the dives pretty good, much more to see than in Egypt, but he did have some trouble equalizing on the second dive and unfortunately his particular group of four missed out on seeing a tortoise and shark which would’ve been brilliant. The snorkelling was fantastic though, there were so many amazing colours of fish and coral and I really started to relax more even over the very deep water. I didn’t enjoy the sea lice though, you keep feeling pin pricks all over your body, but nothing comes of it.

On the Monday we spent most the day just laxing on our wee beach again and did some snorkelling in our bay which was really cool although I did have a jellyfish brush past my face eww! At 5pm, once it was getting slightly cooler, we headed up to Ko Phi Phi viewpoint which is a definite puff factor walk up many many stairs. Once at the top though you are rewarded with the most stunning views. That night we had some western food for dinner (which wasn’t half as good as the thai food) and then headed to Hippies Bar for a “vodka bucket” and some cool live entertainment including a crazy fire show.

Tuesday we had breakfast on the main island and arrange to go on an afternoon snorkel tour. This departed at 2:30pm and was on quite a large boat but luckily it wasn’t full so there were about 25 of us. We anchored and we swam (or kayaked) to shore at monkey island, which really was monkey island with the little critters running around and grabbing their treats from us tourists…so cute! We sailed past Viking Bay and did some more snorkelling and kayaking but unfortunately the water was quite rough, plus I had a leaky snorkel so it wasn’t the funnest. We moved on from that spot pretty quickly and tried some more snorkelling elsewhere, the staff threw handfuls of rice in the water and next thing we were absolutely surrounded and covered in amazing colourful hungry fish. It was freaky! Next stop was Maya Bay which is the island where the movie “The Beach” was filmed. Needless to say there were tourist boats aplenty here. It was amazing though, so so beautiful. The sand was so fine and pure, kind of felt like flour! We then headed back to the big boat and watched the lovely sunset while eating dinner. Was a neat afternoon with great staff. We had brought a disposable camera so have thankfully got a few hard-copy pics of our day.

Wednesday was our last day on the island so we sunbathed and swam for a couple of hours before sadly heading to the pier to catch our ferry to Krabi at 1:30pm.

We have since heard of much lovelier, more authentic, quieter (and way way cheaper) islands to go to but I think for first timers having a bit of civilisation and party atmosphere was all good.

Golden Triangle and Long Neck Tour

On Wednesday we were picked up at 7:15am to go on our Golden Triangle and Long-neck Tour. There were only three of us on the tour so we were just in a ute. It was lots of driving but ok for me cos I just napped in between stops! We saw a thermal spring (not as impressive as Rotorua!) and people selling eggs boiled in the water…rather novel! Next stop was a stunning temple which was completely white (the only one of it’s kind in Thailand), this was just breathtaking and made the trip worthwhile. We then drove some more and took a boat across to Laos where we got our passport stamped (wahoo) and looked around the markets on the riverbank. This is where the Golden Triangle is, an area known for it’s illicit drug trade (Thailand, Laos and Myanmar).

After stopping for a disgusting buffet lunch, we drove further out to some more tribes to look at their wares. It was cool seeing them in traditional costume and seeing families interact. The most “exciting” part of this was seeing the long neck people (originally from Burma). The females have rings around their necks which stretches their necks, kinda freaky looking! It originally started hundreds of years ago for girls born on Tuesdays to be protected from the tiger attacking them but over the years it was used on all girls and now it’s a sign of beauty. We were wasted when we arrived back to Chiang Mai around 8:30pm that night, but as it was our last night we went out and had a lovely meal and also visited the night markets again (where I got a fantastic $5 haircut … cheap cheap Hayley fun).

In the Jungle the Mighty Jungle

Sunday was Day 1 of our trek. We left the guesthouse at 9am and drove for about 40 mins to a village market where we were instructed to stock up on necessities (torch, junk food, liquor). We then drove a bit further unloaded the ute and got moving, starting with a three hour trek, nothing too strenuous really, but gee was it hot! That night we spent in a Karen village. The sleeping arrangements were ten of us in one large bamboo hut on thin mats and pillow things with mosquito nets around us. The shower consisted of a hose with cold water and one bit of sheet metal so you got privacy from one side! The toilet was in a wee tin shed and was a porcelain bowl that you squatted over and then scooped water into it to flush. Princess Hayley coped surprisingly well =) The people of the village cooked us dinner which was lovely and then we sat around the camp fire talking and trying to play the guitar. The village people sell the tour groups beer and soft drinks and they also must get a certain amount for letting us stay and feeding us. We only dealt with maybe four people from the village but they were all lovely, although “Handsome Harry” was constantly drunk I’m sure!

Day 2 we left the village at 10ish and hiked for two hours or so to another Karen village where we stopped for lunch, this place had tiny kittens and puppies running around. So cute! Probably caught something off them but oh well, just had to cuddle them! After that we walked another hour or so to a village of small huts near a waterfall. The huts were so cute and fit two people per hut. Our “shower” that afternoon was in the freezing cold water under the waterfalls. The villagers brought out some of their handmade souvenirs as well, unfortunately for them we were a male dominated group but I was the sacrificial lamb and “supported” the tribe by buying purses, bracelets and scarves. Haha shopping in the jungle. That night after dinner we played drinking games, including a lethal game of spoons! Surprisingly the temps dropped pretty low at night so I pretty much wore everything I had packed to keep warm.

Tuesday was the final day and we only needed to hike one and a half hours before getting picked up by a truck and taken to a larger village, where we had lunch at a “proper” restaurant. After lunch we drove a little further and came to an elephant camp where we got to ride an elephant! It was the coolest, craziest thing. Although some of the staff were dodgy and the way the animals were treated was a bit dubious. I had brought a bunch of bananas and the elephant’s trunks were all over me before we were even seated = Hayley covered in slobber! As we rode, our elephant kept lifting up his trunk and blowing air at us until I gave him a banana…so so cute! Unfortunately we didn’t swap our camera with the others so have little pics of us on the elephant.

Next activity was bamboo rafting which really was lots of fun. We had three rafts for our group and each raft was trying to crash into another and splash or push each other off. There were no rapids or anything so it was completely safe and just nice fun. It took about an hour to get back to the guesthouse and once there most of us decided to go out to dinner and have a decent steak as we’d had no meat for three days…no we wouldn’t make good vegetarians!

Chiang Mai

The sleeper train was another one of life’s lil experiences. As we had only booked one day in advance and it was Kings Birthday (public holidays) there was very little availability and we got rather lucky to get the last two top bunks. The seats get changed into beds by the staff as you want them to, it’s all very nifty! In our carriage there were numerous tourists so we felt pretty safe, but I can’t say we slept too well as the light was on, the tracks were rickety and it was just plain uncomfortable - but it was a cheap way of getting to Chiang Mai so we can’t complain. We arrived at 10am the next day and had a guy from our guesthouse meet us which was handy as we were half sleepwalking I’m sure!

The staff told us about the nearby tiger kingdom, which was such a bonus as we thought we had missed the boat on the tigers near Bangkok as our itinerary was so full already. Anyway so that afternoon we took a 40min tuktuk ride out to the tigers where we got to see and interact with both 4 month old tigers and 13 month old tigers. This was absolutely amazing to say the least. It cost 300B (£6 or NZ$15) per person for each age group of tiger and you get to stay in each enclosure for about 20 mins. The workers are great and happy to snap your photo and answer questions etc. The 13 month old tigers were fully grown so it was quite scarey being so close to them…but you soon loosened up and next thing we were lying on them pretending to sleep! The only rule was not to touch them near or on their faces and never touch them from the front. We’d heard about tigers in Bangkok being drugged but I really don’t think these guys were, they mostly lazed about in the sun but we also saw one swimming and playing with a ball. As you can imagine we got a CD with 200 odd pics on it – check facebook for some of these!

We were dropped back into town and decided to check out some of the temples where we saw plenty of Buddhist monks. A lovely local lady that we met at one of the temples suggested other places to visit and told us we shouldn’t pay more than 150B for an hour for a tuktuk (and proceeded to arrange one for us, yay). Considering we’d often been paying this amount for a single trip it was a good lesson to learn! The tuktuk took us to a few more amazing old and new temples and wats and then out to some souvenir factories before taking us home.

At 6pm we had our pre-brief for our three day jungle trek which was to start the next day. We met our guides (JJ & Al) and the rest of our group, four British guys, two Danish girls and two Dutch guys. Later we went out to have some dinner and then explored the famous Chiang Mai Night Market. I got a couple of bargain dresses and fabric handbags and wished I had way more room in my luggage for more!

Same Same But Different

Arriving at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport at 6am on Thursday 4 December, we were one of the first flights to land since it was re-opened after the all days of protesting. The airport was eerily quiet but we had no trouble and actually felt perfectly safe during our entire stay in Thailand. At the airport we found the luggage storage department and proceeded to repack various bags so that we weren’t carrying a bunch of unnecessary stuff (ie winter clothes) around with us for the duration of our holiday.

We took a bus to Koh San Road which is a well-known street where all of the businesses (cafes, bars, clothing stores, beauty parlours) cater to the English speaking backpacker crowd. We quickly found a well-priced hotel and (even though you get told not to) slept from 10am to 2pm before dragging our butts out to explore. We had some lovely Thai food for lunch and then had our first tuk tuk experience, I think they’re kinda fun! The driver took us to a tourist booking shop, we were a bit weary of getting ripped off but the guy who served us was a kiwi and all the licenses and shop certificates seemed to be in order so we went with it. Thankfully it paid off and he was very helpful in giving us ideas and information so we could really nut out what we wanted to do and we left there an hour later with a significantly lighter wallet but with a jam-packed itinerary.

A lot of friends had told us to get out of Bangkok as soon as we could but we actually didn’t mind the place. There was just so much to see and as it was our first Asian country we were in awe of everything. Things like riding down a busy street in a tuk tuk and seeing an elephant on the side of the road are just mind blowing. It was the King’s birthday on 5 December so all the streets were decorated with banners, streamers and photos of the king. There was a real party feel about the place and we wandered through a concert ground watching lovely dressed up dance groups, kick-boxing demo’s, and saw lots of food stalls… including deep-fried insects and dodgy looking meat.

On Friday we went to a snake farm, which was free entry because of King’s birthday! They put on a bit of a demonstration and at the end we were able to hold the snake around our necks!!! It was so freaky but I’m really glad I did it. That afternoon we made our way to Siam Square and HBK which are shopping centres in the new part of Bangkok. On our way to the train station Niki stopped in for his first Thai massage…he loved them! We misjudged our time a bit so I was majorly stressing that we would miss our 7.30pm sleeper train to Chiang Mai but luckily we got there with 10 mins to spare, whew!
Unfortunately I haven't got the pics relating to this post off our memory card (due to the drowning of our camera), but wanted to get going so here it is without the snake pic sorry