The highlights of our sabbatical

We have had a fabulous time on our six months sabbatical. There are way too many fantastic things but here are some of the highlights: Heliskiing and helicopter flights in New Zealand, trekking in Northern Vietnam, the sunset at the Dry Bar on Sairee beach in Koh Tao, the thai cookery course in Northern Thailand, cycling through the paddy fields in Southern Laos with the local lads jumping on our bikes to get a "backy" home after school, world-class diving in the Similans and seeing a whale while on a dive trip.

We've met some lovely, interesting people (again too many to name all) but just to mention a few in particular - Victoria from Azerbaijan, Eva and Mercedes from Amsterdam (teaching in Thailand), Jim and Jen from the US (also teaching in Thailand), Michelle and Jon from South Africa (via London) and last but not least Jorgen from Sweden and all the scuba guys at Big Blue (Koh Tao) who are now at Kon-Tiki (Khao Lak).

Larry is now off to New York to get in some credit card abuse while the dollar is weak with Anna, Gary, Felicity and Heather. Watch out Madison Avenue!

Now here is the full diary

20 November Ko Lipe and the Similans
After coming back to Thailand from Cambodia, we headed to South-West Thailand for beaches, diving and a bit of hanging out before we return to work. First we went to Koh Lipe (very small island close to the Malaysian border). The island is not really on the tourist trail yet but no doubt it will be beacuse as you can see, the beach is just wonderful.

Then we went on a four day liveaboard in the Similans (west coast of Thailand) and then more diving with our friends at Kon-Tiki (diving with a speedboat is so tough!) The diving has been world-class and topped off by seeing a mantaray and a whale!

In between diving we have obviously been watching the rugby in various bars in the middle of the afternoon, drinking with the Kon-Tiki gang and completing yet another diving qualificaton (Nitrox for those that know about diving).
30 October Angkor, Cambodia
The temples at Angkor in North West Cambodia were built between the 8th and 14th Centuries and are amazing. There are around 20 temples, with the most famous being Angkor Wat. Although we thought Angkor Wat was magnificant, our favourites were Ta Prohm which has been consumed by the jungle (where Tomb Raider was filmed) and the Bayon at Angkor Thom (huge faces carved into the sandstone). Here is a picture looking through the entrance at Angkor Wat.
25 October Ban Lung, North East Cambodia
Not many tourists venture to this far flung corner of Cambodia! For a start, the Khmer Rouge were active in this area until only two years ago, making travel (especially at night) unsafe. Also the road is bad. Really bad! It took five hours to get there from the nearest 'town' (just 165 kms away), bouncing in the back of a pick-up truck over mud valleys in the 'road'. When the road was 'good' (i.e. not looking like a dirt-bike track), the driver belted along at spine-shattering speed. We didn't actually know what speed it was as the speedometer didn't work but it was pretty scary in the dark with dirt flying in your face! Anyway, we were so exhausted after the ordeal that we decided that we would brave the Cambodian airplanes to get back. However, when we got to Ban Lung we found that the last plane in had broken down and that the next plane may not be for another week or so...back on the road for us! However, the National Park at Ban Lung was beautiful and worth the trip. There is a volcano lake, jungle and plenty of waterfalls. Transport was, as usual, on the back of a motorbike!
20 October Don Det (Laos) and crossing the border into Cambodia
Don Det in the 4000 Islands in Southern Laos is a beautiful island (amoung many beautiful islands) in an area of the Mekong just north of Cambodia. Our hut was $1 a night and the people that ran the three huts and restaurant where we stayed were lovely (the wife was just 19 years old and responsible for cooking, washing, cleaning the huts etc). We had fun cycling around the island, through the rice paddies and giving the local school kids "backies" on our bikes! Unfortunately Larry fell from the steps of the hut on the last night (there was no electricity in the huts) but fortunately she was only bruised (it was many, many hours to the nearest hospital and even further to a hospital that we would have trusted). Here is a picture of the sunset taken from our hut.

Crossing the border to Cambodia could be described as interesting! The border in that direction is not really officially open yet so a 'fee' has to be paid to the border guards on both sides of the border (which, of course, had to bartered!) The boat into Cambodia also had to be bartered for - it was a longtailed speed boat which travelled at around 50 km/hr - at least we were given crash helmets!
16 October Bolaven Plateau, Laos and local travel
The Bolaven Plateau in South East Laos is higher and cooler than the surrounding area. Coffee is grown here (Lao coffee is supposedly one of the best in the world) in small 'plantations' (actually someone's back garden). We went on an elephant trek. Larry's elephant insisted on eating the vegetation at every available opportunity and Chris' elephant was very slow!

The trip south to the 4000 islands was on a local 'bus' (actually a large pick-up truck with benches and a cover). The locals on the bus took great pleasure in laughing at our reactions to the local food on sale from the vendors at the side of the road!
14 October The Rugby World Cup, "proper" loos and backgammon
We arrived in Laos on October 7 and we already find ourselves behind schedule. The state of the roads are not to blame. We have just ourselves to blame. We got cocky about eating the local food without getting sick. Thinking that we were insusceptible to such sickness, in Luang Prabang (now renamed "Loo-ang Poo-bang"), we had Northern Lao stew made with river weed and lots of pips of something unknown. Larry didn't like the stew and didn't eat it but Chris did and is now suffering the consequences. Let's just say that each hotel we have stayed in since has had to have a "proper" loo and not an Asian squattie!
However, on the occasions that he's felt well enough, Chris has managed to drag himself to the nearest bar with satellite tv to watch the Rugby World Cup. Larry, who really doesn't like board games, has entertained Chris with the rare game of backgammon which the ailing patient always seems to win.

Apart from all that, Laos is a lovely country so far with plenty of temples and monuments. Here's some pictures of some of the places we've see - a Luang Prabang style temple and the most important monument in Laos. It has also been two important festivals - the end of the rains retreat and the water festival. Here's a young monk collecting bamboo to make a canoe for the festival.

We are off to Southern Laos on the overnight bus tonight (stomach permitting!)
5 October Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School, Northern Thailand
We have been in cookery school for four days and have learnt how to cook 24 different dishes (and we have eaten every single one of them so we are feeling quite a lot fatter than when we arrived in Chiang Mai!) Here's Chris cooking duck curry. It was absolutely delicious!

Chiang Mai is a laid back city with lots of temples, surrounded by hills. It is hard to believe that it is Thailand's second largest city. We are taking a day off cooking school tomorrow (we really have eaten far too much!) and will visit some of the beautiful temples in the surrounding area. Here's a picture of Larry outside our guesthouse in Chiang Mai.

Aside from the restful pace of life in Chiang Mai, there is also Thai Boxing (Muay Thai) on Friday nights. We went with two of our friends that we met in Koh Tao (Jim and Gen). The big fight of the night was really mean -- lots of elbows in the eyes and knees in the stomach and these prize fighters were just 8 years old! Unfortunately the photos from the Muay Thai didn't work out but here's Gen, Jim and Chris in the back of a songthauw on the way to Muay Thai instead!

We also went to a temple called Doi Suthep on a hill outside Chiang Mai on our rented moped. Here's Larry at the bottom of the steps to the temple and Chris beside the chedi (pointy tower) inside the temple.

We are off to Laos (Luang Prabang) on Tuesday October 7.
30 September Bangkok
We had to go to Bangkok to get our visas for the next couple of countries that we are visiting but Bangkok is pretty hot and steamy this time of the year. We just took it easy, limiting ourselves to just a couple of temples a day. Here are a few photos of the highlights - the huge Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho and Chris outside Wat Pho. We also did some shopping - Naomi from HK had previously given us good advice about where to shop up to the limit on your credit card in Bangkok (Chris would particularly like to thank Naomi!)
25 Sept 2003 Leaving Koh Tao enroute to Bangkok
Great news! We have survived our divemaster course and are now divemasters! We did manage it in just about three weeks, despite Chris getting a cold and Larry getting an ear infection. So what was good and what was not so good? We now feel we are more able to look after other divers in the water (Larry is now more able to look after herself too!) and know what to do in an emergency situation. The most scary bit was our "stress test". If you are scared of water stop reading now....the instructor gave us one regulator to share (that is one mouthpiece attached to a tank for those that do not dive) and then we had to exchange all of our equipment while he ripped off our masks, removed our weight belts, threw sand in our faces etc etc. Both of us felt that we were very close to drowning and that was not a pleasant experience. Of course the instructor had a spare air source for us if anything should have gone wrong.

Here are a few pictures of where we've been staying, our hut, the beach, the awesome sunset, some new friends, and a typical divesite .
12 Sept 2003 Big Blue Dive School, Koh Tao, Thailand
We have been in Thailand for just over one week doing our divemaster course. This is a professsional qualification that entitles us to work as "slaves" in a dive school (don't worry Roger, we are not giving up the day job!) We are hoping to get it completed in three weeks but most of the other trainee divemasters seem to have been here for at least two months! Our days consist of studying, lugging tanks and taking our masks off underwater to demonstrate how the skill should be done as slowly as possible. But hey, we are on a tropical beach everyday!
29 August 2003 Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Mui Ne and Saigon
As the internet has been more than a little slow in the cafes, we have decide to update our webpage every 2-3 weeks so that we avoid as much frustration as possible! We have done so much since our last update. Hue pictures are also included in this update -- here is a picture of Larry on the back of the motorbike and here is one of the pagodas that we went to visit on the motorbike tour (Thien Mu Pagoda).

Hoi An was beautiful and we spent a little too much time and money there. It is a Chinese-Vietnamese town full of tailors and artists. The buildings are quaint as you can see from this picture. Near Hoi An we went to My Son, which is a Champa Kingdom site built between the 4th and 13th centuries. The site was poorly maintained but there was one good sanctuary remaining as you can see here.

Nha Trang is the Phuket of Vietnam, full of Western bars. In Nha Trang we completed two more dive qualifications -- Emergency First Response and Rescue Diver (kind of like a lifeguard qualification for scuba divers). We partied hard on our last night in Nha Trang with our dive instructor (Danielle from Austria) and suffered badly on our six hour bus trip to Mui Ne the next day! Mui Ne is a beach resort so we lay in the sun for two days and Chris went windsurfing (sadly the conditions were not right for him to try kitesurfing).

In Saigon we were joined by Naomi from Watson Wyatt in Hong Kong. The three of us went to the Mekong delta to see the local way of life on the river and we went for a cycle ride on some rather dilapidated bikes! We also went to the Cu Chi tunnels where the North Vietnamese lived underground when fighting against the South Vietnamese/Americans near Saigon. Check out how small the tunnels are!
15 August 2003 Hue
We've arrived in Hue, which is about half way down Vietnam after an 11 hour train ride. The trips to Sapa and Halong Bay were excellent. We spent 3 days trekking through the hills in Sapa staying in the houses of local hill tribes. Not quite as ad hoc as it seems as the villagers were clearly used to westerners but at least we were only one of 6 or 8 people in a village rather than 800 in Sapa itself. The scenery was spectacular and yes the hill tribes really do wear their traditional outfits every day not just the days the tourists have their cameras out. A couple of pictures can be seen here, and here. Halong Bay was also spectacular, like a flooded Guilin. We slept on the boat out in the middle of the islands which was cool, but very hot! We also trekked up one of the peaks in ridiculous heat after a rainstorm which made for lots of sweating and a slippery descent. The view was worth it though as you can see here. We've been on a motorcycle tour of Hue today to visit various tombs and pagodas. Traffic is less frenetic here than in Hanoi but it was still nice to have a driver worry about other people while we checked out the sights from our mobile viewpoint. Off to Hoi An tomorrow to learn a bit of Vietnamese cooking and maybe sit on the beach a bit.
6 August 2003 Hanoi
Well here we are in North Vietnam. It is 33C/91F today but 80% humidity means it is effectively 45C/115F - very sticky indeed. Our exploring has been reduced to walking slowly through the narrow streets in the old quarter until the lure of freshly squeezed juice lures us into another cafe. We're off even further north tomorrow to Sapa. From here we plan to trek between a few of the hill-tribe villages to get a feel for rural Vietnamese life. Then we've booked a 3 day trip around Halong Bay which the Vietnamese claim is as beautiful as Guilin in China, if so this should be great (check out our photos of Guilin in the Our Travels section). Then we are planning on travelling down to Hue which is about half way down Vietnam by train. We'll try to update the website in Hue, but judging by the state of the internet cafes in Hanoi it will probably be a long time before we can scan any more photos!
4 August 2003 Heather and Chris have a baby!
At 1.43am our friends Heather and Chris (who live in New Jersey, USA) had a wonderful baby girl called Hannah. We wish we could come to visit her, but that will have to wait until next year when Larry makes one of her (no doubt multiple) absolutely essential wedding dress fitting trips to New York.
4 August 2003 Melbourne/Sydney
We made a 5 day whistle-stop tour visiting Avis and Ian in Melbourne and then Sean, Deryn, Dave, Nic and Roz in Sydney. As usual the weather was great (they say its always like this) 21C in the winter! Sadly Dave's pool had become a breeding ground for algae so we'll have to wait until the next time for a swim. Thanks to everyone for having us - it was great to see you all and the (hordes of) kids.
23 July 2003 Wanaka
In an attempt to plough through as much money as possible, Chris and Larry had wild adventures today! Chris went heliboarding (boring!) and Larry did a tandem skydive from 12,000 feet (about 3,500 metres). The skydiving company state that their jump is the most picturesque in the world and with snow-capped mountains and turquoise lakes, Larry did not disagree. Look at these fab pictures of Larry having the best day! Click here, here, and here.
20 July 2003 Fox Glacier
As we were bored of Mount Hutt and the snow was getting hard-packed, we drove over to the West Coast. The trip over the Haast Pass was absolutely beautiful, almost worth it in itself. The Fox Glacier is 13km long and advances 1m a day! We flew up onto the glacier by Heli and then trekked over the glacier wearing crampons for a few hours. Blue caves, ice falls, and crevasses abounded. Check out the pictures of Chris, Larry, and more Larry.
14 July 2003 Methven (Mount Hutt)
Mount Hutt near to Christchurch has actually had about a metre of snow so it is the place to be in the South Island at the moment. Unfortunately it is very exposed and the road up is little more than a farm track with few barriers between you and a big drop. As a result its known as Mount SHUT as whenever the weather gets bad or windy they close it. So far we have had 2 open days out of 4 but these were good once we had slithered our way to the top. Chris went Heli-boarding yesterday and had a wild time. Yes the Heli did land here!, and check out the ice cliffs here, but you can't get a more beautiful lunch spot than this.
9 July 2003 Leaving Queenstown
Well, we gave up on the snow and decided to have a thrill seeking day in Queenstown before we leave for Christchurch tomorrow. We did the 143 metre (450 feet) bungy...that is a seriously long way down! Click here to see a picture of Chris, and click here to see a picture of Larry. We also did the Shotover Jet (jetboating in a canyon) - Click here to see a picture.

Snowfall looks good for Christchurch so thanks for all the prayers/finger crossing etc!
3 July 2003 Samoa
Well we've arrived in the first 'exotic' location of our trip - Samoa. Situated 14 degrees south of the equator directly above New Zealand, Samoa seems to rank just above Tonga in terms of westernization, but way behind places like Fiji and the Cooks. The people are very friendly and the setting is wonderful - sandy beaches around rainforest covered islands. We started on Upolo the main island and travelled around for a while staying in huts (fales) on the beach, including a couple of nights on a small island where we were the only people there. Would have been idyllic but we found out that the name of the island Namua means mosquito in Samoan! Still it wasn't that bad. We have dived a couple of times on the second island Savaii and generally taken it easy there. Yesterday we went swimming in a freshwater pool in the middle of the rainforest complete with waterfall. We packed 6 people in a small jeep and bounced over unmade roads for an hour, but the result was we were the ONLY people there - how cool. Food has been pretty good, including Taro (root and leaves) and breadfruit as well as lots of fresh fish and lobster. On to New Zealand tomorrow - just a 35 degree C temperature swing in 5 hours!!!
22 June 2003 Visiting Hannah
We've had so much fun with Jim, Clare and Hannah. We've been to Glacier National Park (it snowed), Hannah had her first stamp in her passport (USA) and Chris learnt that throwing his niece in the air when she has just eaten is a bad idea!! Click here to see the latest pictures of Hannah and the family. PS. That is Chris with the blond hair!
21 June 2003 Oscar arrives
Our friends Alistair and Fiona who live in the UK welcomed their new baby boy Oscar into the world at 4.48am. Congratulations to Al & Fiona!
1 June 2003 We're off around the world
We are leaving the US and heading back to the UK to sort out a few details and then on 18 June we set off on our round the world trip taking in Calgary, Samoa, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and maybe Vietnam. We'll be back in the UK in late November.
22 March 2003 We got engaged
Yes we know we took our time, but it's our life! Chris even managed to (half) surprise Larry although given this was the first time he arranged a weekend away in 5 years the penny kind of dropped. Click on the wedding link on the signpost to learn more.
18 January 2003 Our niece Hannah was born
Clare and Jim were ecstatic with the birth of Hannah. They kept us waiting for a few days but it was worth the wait - how cute is she! All the grandparents have been to visit but we have to wait until June to introduce ourselves - we can't wait! Click here to see a picture.