Thursday, 3 May 2012

Time to come home....

Just realised I haven't written at all in my final 4 weeks so sorry for that, we haven't had internet and somehow going to write my blog at the internet cafe never quite happened....obviously!!

Today was my last day which means that in 3 hours i'm going to be heading to the airport with a rather full bag but unfortunately no children...smuggling really wasn't an option! As I will be seeing you all shortly I'll be brief in this message of the last 4 weeks highlights. For anyone who will listen I will natter away in person about these wonderful kids i've had the privelege to work with over the past 10 weeks.

So in the last 4 weeks we've had Song Kran (Thai New Year). This basically was a 4 day water festival, if you left the house you could guarantee that you would have buckets of water (warm and ice cold) chucked over you and white talcum power paste smeared all over your face. We braved 2 trips up one of the roads and being white we attracted lots of attention and even had to pose for a few photos!!

Last week we went on Rainbow Camp, organised purely by and for CCD. We went to a huge centre about 4 hours away by the seaside. It's an opportunity for all of the projects to get together, for familes at the community rehabilitations projects it may well be their first holiday, for some of our girls it was the first time they'd seen the sea. We each had a child who was our responsibility 24/7. I was looking after a lovely girl with cerebral palsy called Wasana who's 11 years old. She needs a wheelchair to get about and has to be carried the rest of the time so it was quite heavy work and i was exhausted at the end of the 3 days. Each day had activities organised, a swim in the sea and then evening entertainment when the kids sung songs, danced around. Wasana hated the sea on the first day but on the second day was splashing around...very cute!

Aside from these bits it's been pretty standard days with the kids at all the projects. This week we've done a couple of extra trips, taking a few of the girls swimming on monday and then Ben and I took Somsak swimming on Tuesday. Somsak is normally quite hyperactive in the day centre and i find him really hard to feed as he generally just spits it out again. On the trip, however, he was so well behaved, he seemed to really enjoy himself and then calmly went in the taxi with us and back to our house for dinner, which he gobbled up. Seeing how differently he acts outside with just a couple of us just makes me hope that one day soon he finds a family to love him and give him the attention/stimulation he needs.

I'm not sure really how to sum up my last 10 weeks. I feel so blessed to have been able to meet these girls and boys and the adults who work so hard at the projects and without whom the projects wouldn't be possible. I've met wonderful volunteers, some who feel called to be here long term and it's that consistency that these children need.
What gets me is the injustice of it all. There should not need to be homes like these, there should not be hundreds of children in each home, staff should not be so overworked, each child should have a loving family to hold them, cherish them, encourage them and help them to reach their full potential in life. Unfortunately, that cannot happen overnight so I pray that workers come, volunteers come....come serve these kids...they're awesome!!!!

Love and hugs...see you all soon!!!!

Tiff x

Saturday, 7 April 2012

What a fortnight...

Well somehow I've reached 6 weeks through my time at CCD and can't believe that in 4 weeks I'll be back in the UK. Whilst I'm really excited about seeing you all again, right now the idea of leaving these kids is a bit too much to think about so I'm not, I'm going to chat away about what we've been up to these last couple of weeks! It's been exhausting!!

After getting back from camp last Monday, we all struggled getting up on Tuesday but did make it to Bann Fueng Fah on time, quite a success as we're normally cycling in just as we're leaving to collect the kids from the wards! At this home I now join 2 of the thai physios and go to the younger kids ward to help feed/dress and bring the children, who mostly have cerebral palsy, down to our trolley to wheel them back to the day centre. I spent the morning, during music time, avoiding being hit by Samsak, one of the kids, throwing any musical instrument that came his way at me! This week,  I helped at Rachawadee in the morning instead, taking a few of the girls swimming, unfortunately we were called back to the wards before we could take them out to lunch as the doctor was visiting and needed to see them but they did at least get a swim. Tuesday afternoons are always hectic, taking the kids at Fueng Fah to the soft play's a very tiring afternoon, although i do quite enjoy the slide into the ball pit!!

Last Wednesday was Jules 21st birthday, one of the long term volunteers in the house. We started the morning with birthday breakfast of pancakes...yum and watched as she opened her huge mound of presents. We'd got her a piggy shaped frying pan (she loves pigs!) so her first pancake was pig shaped which was pretty exciting!! Spent a successful morning at Rainbow house doing physio with Don, Bee, Ploy and Aek all of whom have cerebral palsy to differing degrees. Did the same this week with mostly the same kids and talked about using the hydro pool so all going to plan we shall hopefully take some of the kids in next week. It's a shame that there just aren't the staff for it to be able to be used more regularly but hopefully this is something that will change over time.

Last Thursday at Rachawadee was one of my best and worst days at the home rolled in to one. We spent the day going to 3 different wards putting on music and dancing around, interacting with the girls and generally just making lots of noise!! It was a very sweaty experience but wonderful to see the girls laughing and joining in and copying my ridiculous dance moves! Unfortunately alongside the fun was the realisation that Rasa, the lovely girl we'd taken swimming a few weeks ago wouldn't come out to join us as she was probably tied up (we aren't allowed on her ward). We made sure we sung the songs she loves extra loud just for her! The afternoon on a different ward was also tough, it was the first time I saw first hand some of the violence that's inflicted on these girls. Focusing on the positive though, it really was great getting all the girls engaged in the music time. One particular girl who'd been rocking in the corner when we first arrived with a bit of gentle persuasion came and joined the fun and it made me so very happy to see her smile :D and dance with made my day!

Yesterday was a slightly different day at Rachawadee.  We spent all morning on Yellow ward, which is mainly for those with Cerebral palsy so I spent a few hours clambering into cots trying to get the girls sitting up, looking around....looking anywhere other than the ceiling!! By the afternoon, it was really hot and I was pretty knackered so I was very thankful when we decided to get the lego out outside - we had a lot of fun building huge towers while Kik sat by me, colouring as usual!

Last Friday we had 'Sports Day' at Rainbow house - only it wasn't really a day, just the morning and it started off as being just one sport - trying to kick the football into the net! We managed to expand the ideas somewhat taking the kids out to the larger garden and getting them doing egg and spoon race, running, hopping, skipping etc. We did try a wheelbarrow race however it failed miserably, instead we just went for a rolling race..I was covered in grass by the end and really really dizzy!! Botey amused everyone by taking off all his clothes and climbing in the bucket of water, it was a tight fit but he managed!!

Last weekend I travelled into Bangkok to see Caraline, who I used to work with, and her family who are over here on holiday. Was so nice catching up and relaxing over the weekend. It was especially nice to be able to show them Pakkred and Sirin house, where I live. This weekend has ended up being a long weekend for us too, unrelated to the Easter Bank Holidays you guys have, in fact we only found out we had monday off on wednesday...apparently someone in the royal family died last year and its to mourn for them. We've been told if we leave the house Sunday-Tuesday we have to wear dark clothes to show our respect. Today, Saturday, we've been to Chatachak Market, a sprawling market on the outskirts of Bangkok. We left before it got too busy and had to make a quick dash for our bus home as the heavens opened. Driving back was an experience, we're not in wet season yet but you'd have thought we were, the roads flooded so quickly, was quite impressive!

ooo and final bit of news, we have 2 new residents in the Sirin household, Joop Joop and Buttercup who are flying squirrels. I'd probably describe them as flying mice but actually they're a bit cuter than the image that conjures up.  We're looking after them for a girl at church who's returned to the US for a few months.. the only downside is they really smell.

Anyway enough rambling from me. Will blog again soon! Happy Easter to you all!! x

Monday, 26 March 2012


The week leading up to camp was fun! As it was Gems last day on Monday we did a special activity - smoothie making!!! The kids loved picking their fruit...

then using the blender...

watching us try and mend the blender...

and then of course drinking the delicious smoothie...

as well as eating the remaining fruit!!

After work we took a few of the girls on a trip to Svensons for ice cream. Most of them had eyes much bigger than their bellies but thankfully Wanah powered on through to help finish the other girls' ice cream!!

Tuesday and Wednesday went in a bit of blur with lots of running around at Fueng Fah and Rainbow House respectively in the soft play rooms. I tried really hard to wear out Botey (again!) at RH but was rather unsuccessful and by the end of the day he was still as hyperactive as ever and I had a bad back...
Thursday and Friday were equally unsuccessful, unfortunately a painful back rendered me a little useless on the wards so I was sent to rest at home and recover before the weekends camp.

6.30am Saturday morning, dosed up on painkillers we reported to Fueng Fah for our coach to Sattahip Camp. The camp is organised yearly for kids in orphanages throughout Thailand by the Marines although this was the first year at this particular camp site. Each of us had been assigned a kid for the weekend, mine was called Kik, a lovely little girl obsessed with colouring and snacks (kahnom!). She was not impressed when she realised that we had to fit 'Ong' (one of the RH kids) on the seat with us on the coach too but thankfully they both fell asleep on me pretty quickly and all was well!! We arrived on base by 10am and settled into our room where, expecting to sleep on the concrete, we happily found rows of mattresses!

The next task was getting ready for the days activities - a welcome talk then lunch followed by swimming in the sea! Now getting changed is really quite an art in this situation as to be respectful we have to keep covered so we had sarong type coverings with elasticated tops to get changed under...getting into a swimming costume under this was a real skill which we'd only just about mastered by monday! Thankfully the kids (and adults) found it pretty amusing watching me and Jules race each other!!

After a random welcoming ceremony we were ushered to lunch which was lots of stalls serving all kinds of hot meals/snacks/drinks and from which the kids could have whatever they wished! There was such a huge amount of food with each of the stall holders wanting to give all the kids their food. Needless to say the kids loved it - Kik was in her heaven with all the kahnom she was given, in fact I had a hard time getting her to trust that it wouldn't be stolen from our room when we went swimming or anywhere for that matter! On the wards they keep any kahnom they get down their shirts or trousers to keep it safe. Making her realise she didn't need to do that here was a struggle.. in fact there were a lot of tantrums over the issue!!

Swimming was great fun, a huge number of marines were out in the water forming a human barricade to stop the kids going out further than they should - it was quite a sight! Our group stayed pretty closely together and after coaxing a few of the kids into the water they had a great time spashing around, trying to escape from their rubber rings etc! Next stop was communal showers, once again using our sarong things and a bowl to scoop water from our alloted basin which under no circumstance were we to get soap in..another new skill i've developed with Kik's help, she even washed my hair for me!

All changed and ready for action it was already time for more food, I tell you this place was all about feeding the children up! We went down to the field where more stalls had set up and we wandered around and got given lots. Kik was so happy with her bag full to the brim of kahnom she wouldn't even look up from it...

The evening was the official opening ceremony for the camp and went on for ages. It started with a dog ''obedience'' show, although I'm not sure they could be classed as obedient, the dogs kept wandering off or flatly refusing to do what they were told, gave us a laugh anyway!

Next was some performances, some speeches (I think from people giving big cheques for the running of the event), some Marine band music followed by the national anthem, the raising of the flag and lots and lots of marines parachuting down, was quite an impressive sight!

After about 4hrs I was really thankful when Kik said she wanted to go to bed so off we trotted, turned out she wanted to do some more colouring in and despite lights going out at 9 she this point I was really praying we'd find a sharpener soon otherwise the coach home may be an issue..Kik without colouring is not a happy Kik!!

After an eventful night being woken up hourly with Kik's feet in my face we all started getting up in time for breakfast at half 6. There was a lot of waiting around after this, before being ushered onto a coach and again some more waiting around before being driven to the Navy ships. Here we were loaded in groups onto the huge navy ships and taken on a 2hr trip out to sea and back. The marines were really good with the kids lifting them all over onto the ship and then carrying the wheelchairs down the steep stair cases. After a quick glance out to sea, Kik returned to her colouring book and that was our morning on the ship!! We spent the afternoon in the sea and playing some games (Kik won a pencil sharpener!!) and then in the evening watched performances by some of the groups. A group from Rainbow house did a song and dance which was very cute!!

Well that was last night, this morning we were up at half 5 ready to leave at 7. Kik slept all the way back and thankfully we got back to Sirin house in time to have a chilled afternoon and get ready for work again tomorrow :D   We've had an exhausting but wonderful weekend, really enjoying being able to give our kids some 1:1 attention and whilst there were some tears pulling back into the government homes they all had a fun weekend!!


Sunday, 18 March 2012

my time so far...

So after my last blog my week got more overwhelming as Gem and I met up with a physio who works in the slums of Bangkok. We spent the day going and seeing some of the projects which are going on in amongst the slums. It was an eye opening experience. We weren't prepared for the fact that some of the children who've come from the slums probably are better off in the government homes, a scary fact! Some of the workers in these projects have felt called to live amongst the people they work with so they live in the slums and their experience of this is both scary and inspiring. A week won't go by without one of their neighbours being stabbed/attacked and every night they are surrounded by sounds of abuse going on in families and other relationships, even having people run along their roof to escape. A large number of children are left to fend for themselves due to a high incidence of drug abuse and scarily they see children drawing knifes to defend themselves for small childish argument...its a sad world. The projects are really varied, from providing day care/schooling/dental and medical care for the children to running football coaching in the evenings for them. For the adults, they run a hospice for AIDS/HIV sufferers and have a charity shop/jewellery making shop which some of the parent/grandparents run and are paid for. It was a very overwhelming day, I guess nothing quite prepared me for seeing so much suffering. I know it exists, you can't fail to see it on our tvs at home but seeing it infront of me made it so much more real. I've never had to worry whether i'd have a roof over my head that night or where my next meal will come from, somehow any worries I have seem so insignificant now.

That week was more chilled than our previous one. We went over to Ko Kret, a little island near us which has a nice market on it. We are the local celebrities being white and often get stared at, pointed at or shouted at with 'phlang phlang' (foreigner!!) We caused quite a stir at the ferry running off the docking point as it was swinging a bit too much for our liking. Oh well, we like to amuse!! We headed into Bangkok on the sunday for some birthday celebrations after church going for a roast - i realise i'm veggie but the veggies were soooooo good and we even got it cheaper being vegetarian, which i think is how it should be at home, after all the vegetables are the best bit!!!

The past week has been much more positive, don't get me wrong the wards are still awful but in true Tiff style i'm going to concentrate on the positives. On Monday we had a great day with the girls acting out ''We're going on a bear hunt'' - it involved getting very messy but i got to be the bear and scare the kids which was very fun!! I may have made a few of them cry, apparently an apologising bear is still scary too!!

That day we also successfully did a bit of physio getting 2 of the girls, Salanyah and Bee, into good seating for their lunch. Was so nice seeing them sitting up for lunch rather than feeding them lying on their backs as is the norm.

That afternoon we took Rasa swimming. Apparently she is a LOT better than she has been. For the last few months she has been given to high a dose of anti-psychotics (which virtually all the kids are given) making her really drowsy, but more manageable for the wards mums (She's highly autistic). She loved singing songs in the pool and then having lots of snacks and we tried to keep her occupied while, Ellen (a nurse) dressed her infected wounds, a result of being tied up and beaten/hit by the wards mums/other children.

Wednesday was a fun day at Rainbow house doing messy play with the kids. It took all my control not to want to clear up as paper made its way into the water, creating a nice amount of sludge. The highlight was definately Krit covering Banya in corn flour and then attacking us...

The next of the weeks highlights was taking some of the girls from Rachawadee to the Funarium in Bangkok which is as fun as it sounds! Basically, a huge indoor soft play with slides/ball pits/cycling track. I think we loved it just as much as the girls!!

Suddenly it was Friday again and at Rainbow house we were cooking with the children. I think we were meant to be cooking bananas however Bot-tey (one of the autistic boys) /kept running and stealing and eating the bananas so we ended up doing corn fritters while we attempted to restrain Bot-tey and keep him away from the hot oil or help him cook in a controlled manner!!

Krit and Don

That afternoon was Nathan, Ellie and Gemmas leaving do and Fuang Fah. It was really lovely as they got kids from all the projects to come and celebrate and say thankyou to them!

So now i'm at the end of my 3rd week, my thai is (very) slowly improving, I'm feeling a bit more helpful and i'm finding it very hard to choose which kids i'm going to smuggle in my backpack home....

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

And then there was one...

Hi everyone! So I thought it was time for an update, to let you all know I'm still alive and well and settling nicely into life in Pakkred.
Pakkred is about 40 mins from Bangkok and from what I can gather taxis don't particular like coming out of their Bangkok zone to bring people here. Thankfully the hotel found me one willing to take me and armed with my map in thai the taxi man delivered me safely to the charity last Monday. It was an eventful first day, my ear infections making it difficult to hear what anyone was saying, a real issue when it's difficult enough to understand the thai/english accent! Anyway, after work they took me to the doctor (I'm not convinced of his qualifications) who diagnosed that i had a perferated ear drum and needed to go to hospital. So, back to Bangkok we went to visit the ENT clinic who thankfully diagnosed it was just infections, they even poked cameras in so i could see - not pleasant i can tell you! Sparing you all the disgusting information, an hour later, after a hearing test in thai (the audiologist found it hilarious getting me to speak thai) I walked out being able to hear again with a bag of medications to clear it all up which have been succesful you'll be glad to know!

I'm living in Sirin House with 8 other volunteers and a few geckos - it's a busy house spread out on 4 floors but actually much nicer than i expected. We each have a mattress on the floor and a fan, which i'm so grateful for at night - its really hot and sticky! During the day we go off to 3 different projects which I'll try and give you a run down of as i work at all of them, there are others but I feel this blog's going to be long enough anyway!

Firstly, I'll just say a bit about the charity I'm working for, for those who don't know.  I'm volunteering for CCD (Christian care foundation for Children with Disabilities). It was set up by a Thai couple who, when international aid stopped coming to Thailand, they saw the ongoing desperate need of orphaned/abandoned disabled children.  Disabled children are abandoned for 2 main reasons, lack of social care funds and cultural issues. Lack of social care funds is the most common issue as the parents need to work to live and cannot leave these children safely at home. There aren't the day care/school facilities available to meet their needs and there isn't the education and support to help the parents care for the children at home. Secondly, as a Buddhist country a disabled child brings bad luck and great shame on a family as they believe that they must have been bad in previous life and deserve this 'affliction'. Both of these issues lead to children being abandoned and they end up in the government orphanages. Some of these children are loved, left by families who want them but just can't provide for them, can't afford to keep them and I honestly don't know which is sadder, being loved and left or being left becuase you're not wanted.

So, the 3 main projects we work in are Rainbow house (the main CCD project), Rachawadee girls (the government home for girls aged 8+ pronounced Ra-chow-dee) and Fuang Fah (Girls and boys aged, theoretically, up to 8 yrs). There is Rachawadee Boys too but, unfortunately, the new leader of the orphanage won't permit CCD to go in.

This explains the projects much better than I'd be able to.... .. but i will give a quick run down of the things it doesn't say...

Rainbow House is a 20 minute hair raising cycle away from Sirin house, and is the best thing that can happen to the kids in the government homes, it gives them the possiblity and hope of escaping a life which nobody deserves and enter a loving environment they can flourish in. A lot of the older kids who are resident there go to school so we don't see them but the younger ones come to the day centre.  We also have kids come in from Fuang Fah by bus and others come from the community to give the parents respite during the day and allowing them still to work.
The days are chaotic, we start by getting the children to line up outside and they raise the Thai flag and sing the national anthem and pray for the day.  We have a morning activity and then lunch followed by showers (conveyor belt- esque) and then its nap time!!! Afterwards its time for afternoon snack and music then its time for those who aren't residents to go home and those left, to play as they will - it's mayhem!!! I don't doubt these kids get a significant amount more stimulation than they would at the gov. homes but there's still so much more potential for this centre.  From a physio point of view it's frustrating that they have a hydrotherapy pool, which would be great for some of the kids, and a well kitted out physio room but these facilites aren't used to their full potential. There isn't the staff to allow regular use of the hydro pool or for children to be taken off regularly for one-to-ones, its done on a 'as and when' basis.

I actually spent my whole first week at Rainbow house, thinking all of the above and then have had 2 days in the government homes (1 day at Rachawadee and 1 at Fuang Fah) when I've realised just how great Rainbow house actually is. I don't think I can adequately describe to any of you the government homes but I'm going to try and be as objective as possible.

The government homes are really close to Sirin house and they are each named as to what 'type' of children they house - from those who are able-bodied, those who are disabled but mentally intact, deaf, blind, babies...the lists go on - i don't even know how many homes there are, they are just everywhere down long roads and side streets. 

Rachawadee girls has lots of buildings within it housing the girls on wards (previously these were named according to the most prevalent condition on the ward, now they are named by colours). I've only been on 2 so far, the sick ward and yellow ward (mainly children with Cerebral palsy) which I'm told aren't the worse. Yellow ward has probably 15 beds, each bed has 3-4 children in it. There will be 2 ward mums to look after all these children, it's no wonder the state a lot of them are in. Without movement a lot of these kids are left with heavily contracted limbs which are stuck and will not improve with physio. They can't necessarily move much for themselves so they have sores on the back of their heads from lying on their backs all day. We take a few of them to the day care centre at the home in wheelchairs which wouldn't pass any kinds of English health and safety tests, let alone be suited for the child. At the centre we help them to move a little, get them into different positions, help them with an activity (this week was messy play) and most of all just give them the love and attention they need and deserve.  The afternoon I was there we took 5 of the older girls in taxis down to Pakkred swimming pool - it's so lovely to hear them giggle!

The wards at Fuang Fah aren't divided up by the childrens condition, as far as i can tell. I was so overwhelmed at how many children there are here! We only really go to the wards to collect the children selected to come to the homes day centre and to drop them off there's less beds and more just thin mattresses to go on the floor, I doubt every child gets a piece of mat to sleep on. Again we do an activity in the morning, some singing, have lunch and then another activity in the afternoon - they have a fantastic soft play room which was exhausting with very energetic kids!!

From now on I'm going to be going to Rachawadee 2 times a week, Rainbow House 2 times and Fuang Fah for 1 day, but yeh, that's a relatively brief run down of what i'm doing...I could probably talk for a lot longer as I'm sure many of you don't doubt but I won't! Overall, so far, I'm having a challenging and frustrating time, every day is heart wrenching...but the kids are awesome, they put everything they have into every activity we do and they deserve so much more than we could ever possibly give them - any of you who fancy doing a sponsored activity or who can spare a few months to come and volunteer please think of CCD!!

Ooo quickly, just to finish, we went away this weekend with the church everyone goes to. We're really blessed that there's what can only be described as a compound near us where a lot of americans who work for big organisations in the city, or who teach live. They have an olympic size swimming pool we can use on sundays after church and they're really supportive off CCDs work, letting us take some of the kids to their swimming pools and for food etc.  Anyway, so we went 2 hours away, on an air con coach (luxury!) to one of CCD's community projects which was damanged by the flooding in October last year. We spent the Saturday painting and decorating and transforming it back into a nice centre to be used to support families with disabled children living in the surrounding villages. It was a really fun weekend meeting and getting to know people outside of CCD.

Right enough rambling from me...if you've made it to the end, well done!!! 

Love and hugs to you all


Friday, 24 February 2012


Final stop Thailand! We arrived into Bangkok and found our hostel surprisingly easily! We spent a few days in the madness that is Bangkok, visiting the Grand palace, temples and taking trips on the river. We've had a great time eating the food off the street stalls, never having a clue what we're ordering! (Tiff always with the phase book pointing to "I'm a vegetarian" hoping they understand!)
We then took a very comfortable over night train up to Chiang Mai. We really enjoyed Chiang Mai, more chilled out and less humid! It even gets cold in the mornings, so refreshing! Whilst there we did a trip into the country side, took a ride on an elephant(not the most comfortable way to travel), went rafting(normal and bamboo rafting!) and trekked to a beautiful waterfall(nearly killed us- the guide walked so fast and it was so hot! And it wasn't the easiest path we've ever walked down... at one point we got to a log about 10m long which the guide walked over- we took one look at it and were like your joking right?? She was, she showed us a way around thankfully because I'm pretty sure neither of us has that good balance!). We also went on a cooking course! (which we nearly didn't get to do because they forgot to pick us up!) The course was on a farm just outside of Chiang Mai, we took a train to the village and on arrival were told we would cycle to the farm, now this wouldn't normally have been a problem but Lizzy did choose to wear a long skirt that day! So in trying to be respectful by covering up ended up having to cycle with the skirt tucked in! Always so ladylike! having said that she still didn't show nearly as much leg as the guide in the mini skirt! The cooking course was lots of fun, we got to pick our own veg and herbs from the farm and cooked lots of Thai food which we then ate!

Apart from that we spent time looking around Chiang Mai, visiting more temples, the night market, the sunday walking markets(amazing food!) and the prison... no not a typo... Tiff went to the women's prison for a Thai massage! It's part of their rehab program they teach the women skills and then they run a spa and the money they make is saved up for when they are released! Tiff was very impressed!
We then took the train back to Bangkok, just for the day, we spent the day at the cinema- it was just too hot outside! Saw a couple of films in luxury, standing for national anthem at the beginning! Then we took an overnight coach and ferry to Ko Tao, a beautiful island in the south of Thailand. We turned up with no where to stay hoping it would work out... it did! We found a beautiful resort on the east of the island in a remote bay. Access only by 4WD or boat!

We stayed there for 6 nights enjoying the quiet, and relaxing! The bay we were in only had 5 resorts, so of course we tried all the restaurants, and had our favourites pretty quickly! And had the perfect end to every day, sitting in the bar at our resort... I say bar but really it was just chairs and tables set up on the beach lit by candle light.

We've now made it back to Bangkok for our last couple of days, today we are checking in to a beautiful posh hotel for Lizzy's last night(so cheap we couldn't resist), so I can tell you in advance that we will be relaxing in the pool, maybe checking out the fitness center and the spa!
Well this ends my(Lizzy) adventures, I look forwarding to seeing everyone VERY soon! and I leave you with Tiff for the next 2 months(I've told her she must continue blogging!) 

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

North Island

After a scenic ferry ride from Picton over to Wellington we went downstairs to fetch Jack to find he'd been right by the sheep lorries all the way - it really smelt! Escaping into the fresh air we headed to hostel car park we were staying at, only to find that their car park was on a hill - an obvious place to advertise campervan parking!! Anyway after trying out a few spaces we left Jack and headed into windy Wellington which really does deserve it's title and joined a friend of Lizzys, Jon and his sister for dinner. Taking pity on us they invited us to stay at theirs while we explored Wellington which was greatly appreciated!

We spent the next few days exploring Wellington - shopping, sightseeing, trying to sort Tiffs Thai visa! Was really nice to be part of other peoples 'normal life' for a few days. The Friday was Jon's birthday so we joined him and his friends for drinks, a meal and a trip to the theatre to see 'Lonely Hearts', a musical his sister, Eleanor was producing which was really funny! The following day we drove an hour north of Wellington to the New wine conference where we had a great day seeing Richard and Hilary again, seeing Richard preach and attending the morning and evening services. We left feeling thoroughly blessed by the day which, a couple of week earlier we hadn't known about!

After finding out that Tiff's visa was going to be delayed for a few days we left Wellington to explore new ground. We ended up being invited to stay with Jon's friend Dan and his parents who live in Masterton which just so happens to be in a great wine region known for its Pinot Noirs. We spent a lovely few days staying here, going to a few wine tastings, some olive oil tasting and exploring down to the south coast where we found a huge seal colony with seals basking in the sun right by us - we avoided being chased by them successfully! Dan and his brother also took us to an animal sanctuary where we got to see the iconic New Zealand Kiwi (a white one and a brown one!) and some other, more noisy birds!

Driving back to Wellington in a retired hearse (Dan's parents are funeral directors), we spent the day helping Dan move flat while we waited for Tiffs visa to be ready for collection. Thankfully her visa was granted and with passport collected we met Jon and Eleanor for dinner followed by drinks and jazz before driving back to Masterton. 

The next 2 days we spent journeying north towards Hamilton, where Parachute festival was happening. Dan was also going to Parachute so, hitching a ride with us we squidged 3 in the front of Jack (don't worry parents, there were 3 seats!) and set out towards Roturua via Lake Taupo (the largest of NZs massive lakes) where we stopped for refreshments (FYI - Gingernut ice cream is delicious!). Roturua, known for it geothermal activity, was a very surreal experience. On arrival we went via bubbly mud pools to kerosene creek, a natural hot spring where we went for a dip and a shower under the hot waterfall...lovely! Next stop was the hot/cold river where a hot river and cold river merge (bet you couldn't have guessed!) and you bath in whatever mixture of hot and cold you wish - weird but wonderful!!! The following day we went to Whakarewarewa Thermal village where we were shown around by Maori guides. The village is still very much a lived in village complete with an impressive kitchen area (just hang your food in the boiling water or into the box for a steamer effect) and communal outdoor baths. Wandering around we saw the nearby geysers erupting, steaming lakes and then went to a Maori cultural performance - Tiff got picked to try one of the dances and rather unsuccessfully managed the little poi left handed - best left to the professionals, the Haka was much more impressive!

Next stop was Parachute festival which started Friday afternoon and kept us entertained until Monday with loads of live music all day, everyday. The festival which has about 20-30,000 delegates combines a morning worship session and preach in the sunshine followed by live music by christian artists in a number of venues over the rest of the day. Was a great few days and now have plenty of new music to look up when we get back.

With a week left before we had to hand Jack back we hotfooted it up the Coromandel Penninsula to Cathedral cove, a very pretty beach and cove - the best bit being the toilets with a window looking out over the ocean! Afterwards we stopped at Hot water beach where, at low tide hot water bubbles up - finding a spot to dig a hole where there weren't people digging already however, was impossible, so we settled to paddle through the warm/boiling bits and left to find our campsite.

The next few days we spent exploring north of Auckland, reaching Paihia on our first day, where Sian and Debs had lived and worked for a few months quite a while ago now.  We headed out on a day sailing trip around the beautiful Bay of Islands, stopping at a gorgeous island for lunch and clambering up the hill for 360 degree panoramic views of the stunning surrounding area. The following day, we went to the Waitangi Treaty grounds where the 1840 treaty was signed between the British and the Maori people which was really interesting. After this we headed up the coast, stopping at Mangonui for 'World famous' fish and chips whilst overlooking beautiful coastline and watching the local fisherman bringing in their next catch. We carried on up to the very top to camp for the night.

Just a quick side note from Lizzy:
Now everyone, if I asked you if it was possible to break a toothbrush in 2 what would you say? I know what you're thinking of course it's probably not that difficult. But what if I said, is it possible to break a toothbrush in 2 whilst brushing your teeth, what would you say? Previously I would have said no of course not, they're pretty strong, you don't hear of people snapping toothbrushes. Well that night whilst brushing our teeth Tiff managed just that! how? I still don't know. I think she's a superhero trying to hide her identity and in a moment of distraction showed her super strength and true self! Of course she denies this...

Next day we did the final 5km to Cape Reigna, the northern most tip of the North Island where the Tasman and Pacific seas collide into each other, although not in a straight line as Tiff hoped for. On our way back down we stopped of at the huge sand dunes and at 90 mile beach, a strip of beach similar to Fraser Island which people can drive along, Jack however would have got stuck so we kept him on the road and headed down to Whangarei for the night. We found a great campsite with free hot showers and hot tub (ahhh luxury!) which was right next to some beautiful waterfalls we explored the following morning. Before carrying on our journey back to Auckland we drove out to Whangarei heads, another portion of beautiful coastline. We spent our final night in Jack right next to the sea, packed him up (it's amazing what we've accumulated in 6 weeks!) and then dropped him off the following day in Auckland.

We had a few days in Auckland where, to be honest we didn't get up to much. Found a nice church followed by a chinese lantern festival in one of the parks on the sunday and then spent the next couple of days shopping and exploring Auckland. We did make our way up the sky tower and watched people jump off it (attached but still weird to watch). Our final day we got a ferry over to Devonport and wandered up an old volcano, the view from the top is meant to rival the Bay of Island and we'd have to agree, it was beautiful!

Next stop, Bangkok.....