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Van Riper’s Resort (Sekiu, Washington State USA)

3 Case Rating
Location Van Ripers resort motel is in the idyllic fishing village of Sekiu. Located just beyond Olympic national park of which is 30 minutes drive away to the edge of it. Unless your fishing one of the few reasons to be here is if you are enroute to Cape Flattery - amazing spot (45 min drive) of which is the most northern western point in mainland USA. About 1.5hr drive away is Ruby beach, also stunning. Port Angeles, the closest main town with ferry service to Canada is about 1hr 15 drive & Seattle is around 4 hours. There is a diner in the village but not much else except relaxing scenic view of the coast and Vancouver Island. Chilled spot & from the room you can hear the seagulls & enjoy fresh sea air. Room The motel room consisted of two rooms, a simple bedroom with quite a firm smallish queen bed along with one bedside table, lamp & a random chair. Facing bed is a non-flat screen cable TV on wall. The bed was ok but bedding was felt old along with everything else, however it was clean, slept ok but wouldn’t describe the bed as initially comfortable. The other room is a kitchen area with a table for 2. An old style electric oven with utensils and tableware. In addition a microwave, filter coffee pot, a fridge & two sinks - one for kitchen & other to use for bathroom. Bathroom was tiny with simple shower cubicle & toilet. They offer just a small soap. However water was hot and worked well. Since you are in the middle of nowhere & mainly for fishermen who have their boat here, it’s ideal for self catering. Despite the age & lack of amenities in bathroom, the room had a great ambience & character with a somewhat Twin Peak vibe going on. Especially enjoyed listening to the seagulls & sea air thru the bedroom window as I fell asleep. Facilities The motel is simple but does offer adequate working WIFI. The reception is in a store shop where you can buy coffee, some snacks but it is mainly supplies for fishermen & Campers etc. The staff mentioned they can arrange rental boats out but stated the guest mainly bring their own. Plenty of space with free car parking. Staff Staff impressed me with their relaxed and flexible attitude. Despite check in closing at 8, I called them & explained that due to delayed flight & 5 hour drive that I wouldn’t make it until 1130pm. The guy kindly left my room unlocked for me to enter when I arrived & we did the check-in in the morning before I departed. It is unlikely I will stay here again since I saw the nearby sights I had planned. However I would recommend those looking for a cheaper place to stay closer to Neah bay & also Ruby beach. Seems like a great fishing spot as well.
[geo_mashup_map enable_scroll_wheel_zoom="false"] 280 Front St, Sekiu, WA 98381, USA
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Villa Caemilla Beach Boutique Hotel (Boracay, Philippines)

4 Case Rating
Location Hotel is located on Station 3 - the quieter end of White Beach. The main clubs, bars, restaurant are all about 10-15 min walk at Station 2, though some are closer. For transportation - I used hotels own My Boracay guide to get to hotel from Caticlan Airport & is six hundred peso's. Very well organised pick up from airport via private bus, shared boat, private bus & small walk. Staff will carry your bags. It is worth it as there are many fixers trying to rip you off at the boat terminal. They also offer a private boat but costs nearly two thousand peso. I would suggest only if you have a family or group. The location is very chilled directly on the beach with complimentary chairs & towels. The odd local does come & try to sell you boat tour but it is done so politely & not pushy. The sea water is colourful but don’t expect to see any fish since many boats off shore nearby. In close proximity is some convenience stores & restaurants. I highly recommend Sunny Side up, 5 minutes walk away for a top breakfast. Room My room was a superior deluxe located upstairs near reception. Very comfortable room & this is what you pay for since the hotel does not offer breakfast or a pool. Large queen bed had nice soft mattress topper & soft pillows of which you can select different ones from a pillow menu. Either side are personal reading lights & large lamps, though one was stained. Light controls include a dimmer function. In addition to a phone there is an alarm clock with apple lightning cable charging capabilities but it was broken with wrong time displaying. Facing the bed is a large TV with about 150 channels at least via cable with viewing for every nationality including Sudanese! However controls are confusing since you need two controls, with no instructions or explanation meaning a call to housekeeping to come and explain. There is a large desk with mirror, kettle & mini bar items in fridge. They offer a nice chocolate bar but be wary its nearly 5 euros. A wardrobe contains a laptop size safe, a robe & slippers but no flip flops in which most beach hotels in Asia of this standard offer. The bathroom is modern & boutique with nice water flow tap & shower cubicle but does take a while to get warm. Amenities are a mix of hotel brands bottles, dental kits but also Dove shower dispenser & Dutch brand Rituals hand soap. The room is carpeted in which is initially odd for a beach room but it does collect sand well. AC is good but only issue I had is that it is not very 'beachy' because the window is frosted and tiny & therefore slightly claustrophobic. Obviously you wanna be at the beach, but when it rains it can be a little depressing just being in the room due to lack of natural light. Facilities The hotel offer WIFI & whilst slow at times it works fine for FB or emails. There is a restaurant / bar in reception but the food is not that memorable compared to other restaurants & is kind of pricey. They don't include breakfast in any room rate & one should therefore consider the additional expense of your staying for a week or more, since most hotels on the island do offer breakfast. The beach is nice & they do offer chairs & towels. But since the chairs are fixed curved upright, I found them a bit uncomfortable for more than an hour. Also the layout of the chairs means sun will not come over you, since you are under palm trees until about 12pm. However view is fantastic especially for sunset. Staff Staff are generally nice but not particularly special that others have described. If you have been around Asia & Philippines in particular, hotel staff are nice everywhere. I found the reception girls a little lazy and somewhat rude unenthusiastic when it came to tours, despite at the tour desk. After researching many hotels in Boracay & deciding on this hotel - I was a little disappointed. I found the vibe a little pretentious (talking about fellow Europeans as opposed to staff). If you are deciding and a room is important to you then it's a great place to stay but for the price you can get breakfast included & also a swimming pool included at the some great other hotels on this island. Perhaps I had too higher expectations reading other reviews but I would say it's feels a little over priced & underwhelmed.
[geo_mashup_map enable_scroll_wheel_zoom="false"] White Beach Path, Malay, Aklan, Philippines
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Fusion Suites Danang Beach (Da Nang, Vietnam)

5 Case Rating
Location The hotel is located right on Da Nang beach of which is right across the road. Situated in a quieter area area of the beach hotels. From Da Nang airport it takes about 20 minutes by taxi costs around 10 dollars. Within area are the odd fish restaurants but is not really near a major night life area. However across street on beach is a water sport facility such as hire of Jet Ski or Parasailing and costs about twenty five dollars for use. Room Upgraded to large suite corner of building room on the 12th floor, after some having issues with the air conditioner system in another lower grade room. The main room offers a large living room, bedroom and kitchen all in open plan design with a separate side room with bunk beds for say kids or other guests. Living room area offers a table with seating for four people with modern kitchen equipment such with electric stoves, large fridge, microwave, kettle, sink and various tableware items suitable for self catering. The bed is in the centre of the room and is very comfortable with easily accessible light dimmer switches, located on the side of bed. However there are no bedside tables and no plug sockets close by, so not so convenient for placing drinks or charging phones etc. In fact plug sockets are quite limited in this room as only by kitchen and close to window in living room area. On one side of the bed are large mirrors and a small bench seating offering large drawers underneath. Each side if the bench are open wardrobes for each person, but they only provide 2 coat hangers each of which seemed limited. At the end of the bed is the living room area and offers two arm chairs with a comfortable corner design sofa. These face the flat screen TV that offers 54 Channels of which 25 are international that include HBO, BBC, National Geographic etc. A large bathroom exists with both shower and bath tub offering large bottle shower gel, body lotion and shampoo. As well as dental kits and other items. Water is not that hot but Da Nang is very hot. There is a digital AC system and this had some initial problem due to some power outages before my stay but worked ok. The room is finished in contemporary light coloured decor and is very clean and boutique in design. The highlight of the room is the remote-controlled blinds that face the sea and the side view of beach road. I left these open at night and found it very relaxing to watch the city lights as well as waking up to sunrise with the ocean in front of you. Overall a very nice room and suitable for those that like self-catering and enjoy a splendid view of the coast. Facilities The hotel offers open WIFI in all areas including the pool located across the road and it is generally fast but does drop a bit in the room. There is a cafe downstairs and where the breakfast buffet is served. There is quite a good selection of items with made to order eggs and this is included with room rates. There is also a roof top bar but never visited it. The pool, as mentioned, is across the road and is of nice size and design right on the beach with decent amount of sun loungers, there is also a convenient pool bar with reasonably and decent snack food and drink items. On the 2nd floor is a small gym and yoga studio. Also this is where the SPA area is and it is expensive compared to street places but the quality of the massage was good. Staff The staff are meeting a five star standard of service at this hotel. I had an issue with room being presented very hot and not cooling down that quickly so complaining to one of the front desk staff, he came and offered me a choice of 3 more premium upgraded different rooms and even gave me a fan to borrow for the night. Issues do occur in hotels but this hotel did go out of their way to make the guest happy. I also found staff to be very friendly and helpful with advice for tourism places including in the cafe with general restaurant staff. Overall as normal in Vietnam the service is very high standard and thus contributed as to why I gave this review a high rating.
[geo_mashup_map enable_scroll_wheel_zoom="false"] Võ Nguyên Giáp, Mân Thái, Sơn Trà, Đà Nẵng, Vietnam
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Tanzania – Zanzibar Sunset (Nungwi)

UK – British Seaside (Swanage)

Thailand – Railay Beach (Ao Nang)

Thailand – Koh Hong (Ao Nang)

Thailand – Koh Phi Phi (Ao Nang)

USA – Hawaii Surfboard Rentals (Oahu, Hawaii)

A Few Days in Koh Samet

So with a friend visited me recently and wanting to visit an island with 'least hassle of travel' from Bangkok. We decided on the weekend short stay island retreat favored by Bangkokians : Koh Samet. I am aware there are other cheaper ways to get there but to observe in my friends request we took a taxi from basically close to Sofitel on Sukhumvit road. This after some negotiation with the diver came to 2000 baht. The taxi agreed so long we paid the road toll fees (less than 150 baht). Others wanted 2500 but he had a SUV so was more comfortable.  We left about 2pm thinking it would only take 1-2 hours not 2.5-3 which it did, but this is the main road to Pattaya, so did have quite heavy traffic. As we drove we figured we needed to get to Bai Phe port by 5pm for the last ferry. So the long drive was uneventful until we did a rest stop somewhere enroute the road to Pattaya that had the biggest amount of shops & restaurants, I've ever seen at any rest stop. Thailand - Drive Rest Stop (Pattaya) It basically had housing and a market with all kinds of foods including fast food options. It was after this that the ever so quiet taxi driver perked up. We joked maybe he took something or just drank x2 super strong Thai redbulls, but the very mention of Ladyboys he launched into this crazed state of laughter doing ladyboy impressions and noise examples - it was incredibly entertaining and the very word 'ladyboy' would spark him off again, he was quite funny. We finally arrived at Ban Phe port & he picked up this large lady, 'look my fat friend' hs says laughing. As predicted this lady was a planned interaction to take us to her speedboat desk in which she offers direct speed boat to the hotel on Hat Sai Kaew beach. It cost 600 each both ways, you share with others and the journey is half the time of the ferry. However the ferry only costs 50 baht but at the same time it doesn't drop you off outside your hotel. At the same token, the island we later found out is so small that one end from port to other probably takes 15 minutes. Ferry Vs The Speedboat Thailand - Ferrry Crossing (Koh Samet) Thailand - Speedboat Crossing (Koh Samet) It was quite funny speeding past in the ferry where the speed boats really does go up/down quite hard against the waves yet no life jackets are given. The ferry plods along slow and smooth & you see everyone wearing life vests. However there was an impressive sunset as we travelled across the 25 minute journey to the island. Thailand - Sunset Crossing to Koh Samet (Koh Samet) We finally arrive at the Hat Sai Kaew Beach and the speed boat drops you about 5 metres from the beach edge - so expect to walk in sea a little bit. Though staff at the hotel will meet & greet you taking your bags to reception. There were some issues with hotel but basically if your wanting twin beds don't book the Thai traditional cottages. The bellboys made us laugh as we got to our room he took us to the balcony and pointed to some building and said 'girls in this bar' we kinda of laughed but same time I felt embarrassed that obviously we looked the characters that would be interested in the seediness to make him say this. Anyway the hotel had banging house music playing in this late afternoon and we watched some really impressive fire shows even from a 10 year old doing the hoop hoop with a ring of fire. It was impressive. Thailand - Friendly Bar Fire Show (Koh Samet) After having a beer at the hotel we continued to explore the night life. Hat Sai Kaew is the main beach for night life, though in comparison to other islands its more of watered down (just like the cook tails) chill beach as less than a handful of bars existed. It has some good and bad points- the sand is lovely & powdery, it's fairly clean. The sea on the other hand is full of boats though there is a dedicated swimming area. The sea was hot cloudy & the odd piece of plastic floats up to you. There is no real swimming just jumping the waves. Jet Ski’s, Para Gliding and boats are all in this beach - which is probably why the sea itself didn’t feel that clean. The general Island vibe felt much more for Thai's & Chinese groups, we white farangs were at such a minority with the occasional Russian couple that it was quite interesting. Not judging but it was obvious it's not a farang island. Some of the general interaction and lack of effort with service reflected this. It had an air of Thai snobbery and in my opinion out of 6 islands I have visited in Thailand- it was the coldest or at least Thai’s working there were not that warm and hospitable. Our hotel bar was probably appeared to be the best night spot as it had lots of seating, plenty of bean bags, seating on layered levels that face the sea. It’s a whole neon experience at night. The only issue the live DJ music, likely directed to the young Thai crowd. Terrible EDM David Guetta dribble or hip hop so badly mixed that the DJ just flips the fader without any skill. It was ok for a few drinks but the music gets annoying very quickly. We ventured down the beach to explore further, we found basically Chinese/Thai restaurants that didn't look too appetizing or inviting to the none part of these groups. Though seats were taken there wasn’t the usual vibe of staff outside pushing you to try their food.  We did though found a cool bar called 'friendly bar' it had those floor Thai pillow triangles & was very chilled out with a tiki hut bar. They also had a fire show. Thailand - Friendly Bar Fire Show Instruction (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte This was the only bar where we actually chatted to people, we met a group of Lithuanians, an Irish man & really cool Thai bar tenders. Though when we saw lights further down the coast asking what kind of bars are there, the bar tender response 'you don't go there it's only gay bars'. By no means are we homophobic but we took it that he didn't want to leave his bars. Thailand - Friendly Bar Tender (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte Thailand - Friendly Bar (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte The next day I woke up early and observed the very chilled out Sunrise where monks were walking down the beach. Thailand - Hat Sai Kaew Sunrise (Koh Samet) This was the nicest point the beach got, very relaxing and no boats in sight. Thailand - Hat Sai Kaew Sunrise by Sea (Koh Samet) That day we sunbathed, the sun and sea are so hot that back to the room for AC refreshment is much needed every hour or so. There were lots of traditional beach chairs. Thailand - Hat Sai Kaew Beach Day (Koh Samet) Thailand - Hat Sai Kaew Beach Chairs (Koh Samet) This evening we actually noticed a street as my friend had to go to pharmacy it's quite a small street with two 7/11 directly facing each other, massage places and restaurants. Occasional shops but not much else. This is where we noticed that people can hire mopeds (350 baht full day) or golf carts (1000 baht full day- with some strong negotiation). We decided there and then to explore and get a golf cart. We also realized after a bit of a bar crawl that we had arrived at the so called girl bar, the bellboy had pointed out- since this was 50 metres from hotel not on beach side. Thailand - Girl Bar (Koh Samet) What a weird place, the pool table is what attracted us to it. The place has a moody bar tender that looked exactly like Mr. Miyagi (from the movie Karate Kid)) but the beers are cheap. There was a closed room that we were both initially afraid to go in. So we remained outside, Thai girls just linger about but speak no English. Its cheap but its got a weird vibe. Eventually I ventured into the room and it was just tables of guys and girls with only thing seedy were the whole room was lit up in UV lights but no seedy undressed or anything like that. My friend returned to this bar the next night while I had an early evening kip and he said, he eventually was brave enough to venture into this room, he said karaoke was being played but in the most weirdest description. He said the people weren't actually singing but miming to the only song karaoke songs that were being song. Very strange. Our next day was golf cart today we had no real idea about this island, it didn't look big but we were determined to do one end to the other. Though we were worried these battery charged carts would last. Thailand - Golf Cart Driving (Koh Samet) Well the drive was interesting up and down hill with signage % declines showing up or down so at least we knew what to expect.  The golf cart almost near stops with our weight on the uphill yet uncontrollable on the downhills, with the steering being  hardest thing I've ever experienced. Coming down hills with foot on brake was pretty scary as the cart just swerves about- clearly the bearings if they have them couldn't handle the speeds down with two full size blokes in it. So we ended up at the end of the island at a place called Ao Karang it had some pathway through foliage saying 'view sight' .We came across some people leaving, we asked what's down there and the British guy's response was basically 'it's just a few rocks mate'. Thailand - Ao Karang (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte Thailand - Ao Karang Above (Koh Samet) So then we decided we needed a beach so we looked on Google Maps to the nearest beach  and came across a resort called Paradee Resort. It looked rather fancy and we could feel it had a vibe not open to non guests, so as a blagger goes we said we were meeting a guest here for lunch. Security escorted us to reception whom then got escorted to restaurant, told if I want to walk anyway else to let the staff know. I decided to go and check out the beach Ao Pakarang & Ao Kiew Nanok walking past a nice pool with a huge sign saying guests only (we were told we couldn't eat at beach despite tables set up & pool bar). I checked out the beach and the waiter had clearly come to tell the lifeguards that I wasn't a guest so I quickly returned to the bar. It looked like a nice place but very Thai snobbery. We decided against lunch, had a beer and continued our drive to the next beach place. It was probably the nicest beach on the island and if you’re a Paradee resort guest it’s all yours. Thailand - Paradee Resort Beach (Koh Samet) Thailand - Ao Pakarang Beach (Koh Samet) We continued down to find Samed Villa Resort and decided to check out that beach: Ao Wai. It had one or two resort with a chargeable pool option (300 baht) but it was nicest beach we saw on the island that you could access. It had like nice trees (not palm) leading over at the edge of the beach so you could get some shelter. Lunch was pretty good and staff were really polite - this seemed like the chilled secluded beach for couples and people wanting to mediate etc. as only one boats and cleaner sea - though still cloudy. Thailand - Ao Wai Beach (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte Thailand - Ao Wai Beach 2 (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte We decided to continue on after some time lazing about and swimming in the sea. The next place was called Ao Wong Duean , it attracted us to it due to a big foam party sign on the main road so we followed it down a lane to see if anything exciting was happening. I have to say the golf cart despite its simple looks can handle off road deep sandy condition driving quite well. Thailand - Ao Wong Duean (Koh Samet) This beach was bigger with multiple resorts, curved but again many boats. There are a few bars and resorts and we stayed for a drink. This seems like the beach was more chilled than ours, but probably more boring as well. The resorts certainly looked better. Again we left and we drove past the so called 'gay bars' which weren't so and one bar in particular between the two beach’s (ours next along)  had a neon paint wannabe full moon party vibe to it. We later went here and it was the only place with energy watching all the young backpackers drench themselves in neon paint so they could dance to crap EDM music under a blue neon light. As my friend said it was lively but the music was painful, Steve Aoki type stuff (sorry for those that like it but I prefer more underground stuff like Sasha). Thailand - Neon EDM Bar (Koh Samet) Back to the golf cart, we had to return but there was two more places to visit- my friend was adamant there was enough battery power but I wanted to risk so we drove to the only beach on the sunset side, a beach called Ao Phrao. Here there is security as it seems this is the place the top rate premium resorts. You can't enter with any vehicle unless it's the resorts one. There was some parking for motorbike but the security guard had discrimination against the golf cart, we didn't really understand why but he wanted us to park it right up the hill close to the dangerous road edge. There is a cliff with a view point above that showed a nice sunset shot. Anyway this beach was nice , it was an opening between two large hills one of which we took a photo from & was very nice. The resorts looked nice and we sat and brought the beers we had from our minibar. Unfortunately due to the evasive golf cart hirer we had to bring it back by 6, so our time there was short. [gallery type="slideshow" link="none" size="full" ids="5843,5844,5845,5846"] Our last stop was the wharf, which is only 500 meters from our beach Hat Sai Kaew. I was told magnets would be there as I needed a Koh Smaet one, alas no luck. But I did find an awesome shop on the walkway from the town to Hat Sai Kaew Beach. Thailand - Wharf Pier (Koh Samet) Upon returning that was it we had seen the whole of Koh Samet. I decided to chill at the beach & had a watered down Mojito and watched the sun set on my beach which was ok. It had a nice vibe. [gallery link="none" size="full" type="slideshow" ids="5848,5849,5850"] In my opinion, it's ok but resorts are more expensive than Koh chang. The island is definitely aimed at the Thai market and overall we found a slight attitude from Thais to us, perhaps they thought we were perverts from Pattaya having a break (well I thought anyway). The place though is pretty dull there is not much to do and though the beaches are nice I don't think I would take say future guests staying in Bangkok with me there. To put it simple it's boring the sea is not that clean the night life is annoying EDM music, why can't they have reggae or chill out. There are simple no excursions to do either unless you return to the mainland (or hire a gold cart). We also thought it was expensive place to visit, drinks are a rip off and I would advise if your visiting to not order cocktails as they are most definitely watered down. However, for a few days of sun out of the big bad city of Bangkok it was relaxing. Our taxi driver back wasn't as exciting but he did have a dvd pull down TV, just shame we didn't have any DVD's to watch.

36 Hours on Palawan Island

I was very lucky that I was given a schedule that enabled me to visit the beautiful island of Palawan, voted number one island in the last few years from Travel surveys conducted by travel magazines: Conde Naste & Travel + Leisure. However as usual my time was very short, 2 nights but with awkward flights meaning I had 36 hours on the island in total. Unfortunately, the 8 hour drive to the most spectacularly beautiful spot of El Nido, mainly responsible for the awards, was not possible. After some research & finding out that Palawan island has what they call the 7th nature wonder of the world : Puerto Princesa underground river, which is about 2 hours away. I decided to stay at the closet place to it, a small village called Sabang. The best place in my price range was a large resort called Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa in which they provide the 2 hour one-way van trip from the nearest airport Puerto Princessa International Airport) for 500 peso shared but they do offer the opton of a private van, in which I used on the way back. That costs 2800 pesos but negotiable with taxi drivers in area to 2000 pesos. The sunset drive thru the city of Puerto Princessa was interesting, a very clean city compared to the likes of anywhere else I’ve seen in Phillipines especially Cebu. However the drive though becomes progressively arduous after about an hour when the road has at least 100+ tight turns thru the mountains. I found it fine in the front seat, but recommend motion sickness tablets, if you dred such a journey. That's the basic problem with Palawan, it's big and nothing beautiful is near the airport so long transfer times are required to the beautiful spots. There is though a small airport at El Nido (ENI) where small propeller (ATR’s) fly to, currently only Air Swift fly’s there from Cebu and Manilla. So I arrived at the Sheridian resort in Sabang to a warm welcome & confirmation they had booked my underground river tour. (Please note you need a permit in which can be got in the city of Puerto Princessa but the hotel will process this if you email them in advance with your passport. Highly recommend you do this if your stay is short like mine- since a limited amount of permits are offered per day so it make take a few days to process if you just arrive and do it there & then. Next morning I wake early and firstly enjoythe beautiful grounds and sunrise of the location I am at. Philippines - Sabang Sun Rise (Palawan) The underground river tour starts early at 730am in the hotel lobby. A group of about 12of us were briefed in the lobby about the process, the two boat rides, waiting time & warning of monkeys attacking you if you have plastic bag or smile - in reality I only saw one monkey so don't be too concerned just don't smile, as showing teeth is a sign to them that you want to fight. We walked over to Sabang wharf & waited there for about 45 minutes dealing with the bureaucracy as they have re-register every visitor- though staff do this, you just sit & wait & watch the van loads of tourists doing the same thing coming from all over Palawan island. It didn’t seem staying at the closest major resort next to the wharf had much priority or difference in price from staying in the city of Puerto Princessa & doing it as a day trip. You just can wake up a bit later and don’t have that terrible drive both ways in the day. Philippines - Sabang Wharf (Palawan) The first boat is really cool, you go at an enjoyable speed & able to see the landscape of Palawan from the boat- which includes the sleeping giant - a mountain shaped like a man sleeping. Philippines - Sleeping Giant Mountain (Palawan) You then arrive at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park on a beach before walking into the jungle a bit and again some waiting while they install audio kits. This is a result of the river experiencing a huge bat decline, which they relate to noise so there is no talking inside the river therefore this one ear piece audio does the tour for you. After this you walk thru some jungle before you see the lagoon area where the cave entrance is and paddling boats are. Philippines - Underground River Beach (Palawan) Philippines - Underground River Sign (Palawan) Philippines - Underground River Entrance (Palawan) So the UNESCO world Heritage cave river consist of 5.1 miles / 8.2km though you only travel thru 1.5 miles meaning the tour, in which cost me as part of a group; 1,800 peso actual inside cave time lasts about 20-25 minutes. Birds are flying small bats are everywhere but they never flew into you or boat. Many mentions of not looking up with mouth open for reasons of dropping bat urine. There are some very alien wall structures, on which you are not allowed to touch as it damages them. It's a relaxing boat ride, but they cram you in & as a big fella I found the boat uncomfortable though luckily I got front seat. The tour explain rock formation shapes that look like food & even they have found what they describe as the face of Jesus Christ. The guide in your audio goes into much detail about different parts of the cave such as St. Pauls area which is the largest open cave area, apparently based on the London cathedral that early explorers described it as. Overall it's very interesting but it is a relief exiting the cave as it can feel a little claustrophobic at times. One of the annoying things is the boat paddler handles the light and he moves around frequently which makes it hard to film as you will notice on my you tube video. I would recommend bring a nice powerful torch like a LED tactical tactical flash light. I wish I had brought mine but didn’t think of it at the time. After disembarkation I was lucky enough to see this huge lizard called Asian Water Monitor in which looks like a baby Komodo dragon but it is not harmful to humans. Unfortunately, the minute he spotted me he legged it so ended up with a poor shot. Philippines - Asian Water Monitor (Palawan) So back to the wharf where the tour ends. Here your find some amazing fresh fruit juice stalls which was great before I headed back to Sheridian Resort to relax and sunbathe, though 30 minutes in April (the hottest time) on the boiling hot beach sand sent me to my room for an hour after nearly suffering sun stroke- yeah it's that hot. The beach is clean though as is the sea but you it is cloudy. There is many boats chugging along to the river tour, which isn’t too noisy but it affect the otherwise idyllic ambience. Philippines - Sabang Beach (Palawan) So my second tour occurred a few hours later, the mangroves & zipline. I was so tired I decided on chill out & do mangrove tour first. The highlight though was my transportation to the sight - an original 1942 American world war 2 jeep picks you up on the beach & drives you to the sights- it is awesome. Philippines - 1942 WW2 US Military Jeep (Palawan) Philippines - 1942 WW2 US Military Dashboard (Palawan) The mangrove tour includes a paddler & tour guide, the tour guide emphases at the start that they are volunteer in which I got the assumption that get ready to tip at the end - no problem. The tour is very relaxing you just go deep into swamp land with huge roots shooting out of the small river occasionally seeing small Gold Ringed Cat Snake circled up on tree I which the guide will spot for you. They sleep during the day circled up on branches but it’s not something you want falling in your boat. Philippines - Sabang Mangrooves Tour(Palawan) I got to climb up on this huge mangrove tree as a photo opportunity and that was fun.. The guide also explains the trees and on the way back of the 30 minute boat ride, the paddler and guide sing a song for you, about preserving the natural habitat- it was a bit cringe to me but nice for a family with kids. They were really nice people though and I found the paddler in particular more interesting talking about the Japanese occupation during WW2 and how the locals hid in the Jungle. Philippines - Sabang Mangrooves Tour Guides(Palawan) After this an adjacent bridge follows signs to the zipline which then leads to a 10 minute walk down the beach before you climb a steep hill which is quite tough for the unhealthy and the path seems to go on forever thru the jungle, about 25 minute walk from entering the beach. I guess no one really does the zipline twice because of this. At the Zip Line you have 2 options sitting zipline (500 peso) or superman zipline (750 peso) which is lying flat - highly recommend the latter as the sitting down one I noticed people were spinning around a bit. The superman is so amazing it like you are coming to land as you launch of a mountain side over the sea to the island. It was awesome - again see my video to view it. Philippines - Sabang Zip line (Palawan) After all this my body aches from jet lag plus climbing the zipline mountain so straight to the hotel spa, which I was incredibly impressed with. The masseuse fully unknotted my back, I used the Sheridian Spa which is more pricey than the open beach ones but it was meeting an excellent standard. After I did what would become my favourite thing to do on Sabang, lying in the hammock between trees listening to sea & watching the sunset was about the most relaxing thing I've done in a long time. I could of slept there that night. A stray dog joined me underneath. Philippines - Sabang Beach Hammock (Palawan) Next morning before my lunchtime departure, the hotel was kind to offer me a snorkeling tour following some advice I offered their corporate marketing management. The snorkeling tour as a private boat is costly at around 3000 peso. You get taken with one of the hotel guide and snorkels by private boat to a random small island with small amount of coral surrounding it. Philippines - Sabang Snorkeling Island There you board a floating bamboo hut and you launch into the sea from it. Initially as you see in my video there is the odd fish all small & not as special as I've seen in Fiji & Indonesia but the nonetheless the guide caught a sea turtle, which I felt seemed a bit harsh to pull him out from under the sea rock as it was struggling, he looked scared so I told him to eventually let it go. I also saw prongs of a lobster poking out if the coral sea terrain & finally I actually found Nemo which was awesome highlight to end my video on. It was fun and overall worth a snorkel the people at the place also swim about on the look out for you in which was helpful. Back to hotel & off to the airport completed one of best 36 hour visits anywhere I've been to. Tiring but well worth the fun. Sabang offers a good amount of activities & Sheridan resort was so chilled out - they even have outdoor movie night by the beach. I would say for short visits to Palawan without enough time to El Nido, Sabang is an excellent alternative. Hotel website link: http://www.sheridanbeachresort.com Please check out the first Travelman video which films my experience.

South Africa – Cape Point (Capetown)

South Africa – Boulder Beach (Capetown)

Sheridan Beach Resort and Spa (Palawan Island, Philippines)

4 Case Rating
Location The resort is located around 1.5-2hrs drive away from Puerto Princesa. There is a shared van at set times that costs 1000 peso round trip or private one way is 2-2500 pesos (one way) the hotel offers it at 2,800. If you don't book with them, you need to contact them but it's not an easy process. To get to El Nido is 5.5hrs drive away. The wharf (to get boat to the underground river) is a 5 minute walk away. Room The very wooden finish of my 2nd floor room was fairly spacious offering two beds, medium softness in which I found was comfortable for sleeping. Back lit lights are behind with plug sockets next to each bed. Between the beds is a bedside table that has a lamp, telephone & one spare plug socket. A symmetrical look faces each bed with opposite wall offering a wooden desk & chair with a large mirror in front & two plug sockets on each desk. There is a TV in the middle above a cabinet that contains a refrigerator with beers & juices. TV has 18 channels both Asian, Russian & American choices such as HBO & discovery channels are offered. Along walk way to bathroom is a open shelf, where the kettle is with slim selection of sachet coffee and tea. They do offer a 1 litre complimentary large bottle of water though in glass bottle (replenished each day). Some snacks from the mini bar items are here. Below is a luggage rack for smaller cases & below that another shelf that offer complimentary hotel branded flip flops. Opposite is a wooden wardrobe, 2 robes & some coats hangers plus a small safe really for jewellery & money only etc but not large enough for a big camera or laptop. However the hotel is quite secure and I didn't worry leaving my stuff out. The bathroom was spacious & is the most modern part of the room. A large shower cubicle is offered, granite finish top sink area with good lighting. Hotel branded amenities include dental kit, cotton buds & mini bottles of shampoo, shower gel, soap & body lotion. There is also a torch on side of sink. No bottle water in bathroom that you usually find in Asia etc so assume tap water is clean to brush teeth with. In addition as my room is on second floor a balcony was offered with tall stools & a small matching table. If you are on the ground floor you get one sun lounger. Overall the room is dated but nonetheless comfortable, some maintenance issues with 3 lights not working but still clean. It had a separate AC unit in the corner controllable via remote. Facilities Catering includes a restaurant near the sea that has quite an extensive breakfast buffet catering to both westerners and Asians alike with an egg & noodle station. There is also a lunch & dinner buffet offered depending on occupancy. However there is wood oven pizza which I had & was generous & enjoyable, plus a very extensive menu of Chinese, Filipino & western choices like Burgers & Pasta. Also like the local restaurants on the beach outside - there are barbecue fish options. The restaurant, though expensive compared to others on the beach, does have a really nice ambience at night with a live singer and candle lit tables outside. Quality of buffet is also good, tasted fresh & some interesting items. There is also 3 bars other than the one in the restaurant. One is tiki hut style closest to the beach, another inside the pool that you can swim up to & another located on one side of the pools which is also a games room. You can order food from these locations & 24 hours room service is available. Business facilities include free secure WIFI for multiple devices, it worked in my room off/on just slow for my MacBooks but my iPhone wouldn't pick it up. It does drop frequently but at this location what can you expect, At some areas like the restaurant & lobby area it is stronger & phone works there. There is a library by reception with book & dvd rentals available. It is an area you can sit & check your emails as well as just get out of the sun for a bit. The room also contains two computers but this was the first hotel in all of my reviews to charge to use them (150 peso per hour)- they are simple computers and I did not see any printers. There is also a small shop selling souvenir of crafts & coffee shop selling drinks deserts & some odd Korean items such as s happy shower head. Conference / function facilities are also available in adjoining building near reception. Leisure facilities are of course extensive, suitable for families and adults. The pool is huge, really long for laps & is the best feature of the resort, there is also 4 different size jacuzzi pools. There is an outdoor but covered small workout gym - weights & cardio. Looked modern. Facilities for young children are good as they include a tree house & covered play area outside with teddy bears & toys etc. For adults there is a chess set, multiple pool tables, table tennis & beer pong offered at the side bar. There is also a SPA which offers 30% off during sunbathing hours of 10-4pm. Lyn gave me a really impressively good standard of massage fixing my bad back which condoned the high price when compared to outside local beach side places. There is a tour desk & the hotel kindly arranged my underground cave tour before I arrived since it was a short stay. You need a permit to go (so contact hotel & email passport copy if your stay is short). Also the hotel has an organic farm that you can visit & paint trees- this is 5km away & apprently many items in the restaurant are home grown there such as rice & fruit. Other tours include the zipline, mangroves, snorkelling etc. You can also hire mountain bikes. In the evening I arrived they have a huge projector screen close to the beach where they organise a movie night placing the sun loungers there. Quite relaxing sitting with a beer with fresh sea air but loungers could do with cushions. There are also some really nice hammocks between the palm trees at the beginning of the beach (part of hotel) .These are great for relaxing & rocking while listening to the sea. The hotel also have there own swimming area in the sea & plenty of sun loungers. The beach itself is clean but don't expect to see any fish, their swimming area is also quite shallow. Staff Staff are the highlight and I found them to be very consistently friendly, always acknowledging guests & easy to talk to. I would say the discipline & friendliness is better than some 5 star's I've stayed at & I give this the most credit from the staff. Overall a nice resort & great alternative place to stay in Palawan with benefit of being with walking distance of getting a boat to the underground caves, which is worth seeing. Resort does have a very relaxing ambience & the staff are the highlight, the rooms could just do with being better maintained & more modern.
[geo_mashup_map enable_scroll_wheel_zoom="false"] Sabang Beach, Cabayugan, Puerto Princesa, 5300 Palawan, Philippines
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Australia – Gold Coast (Gold Coast Airport)

Thailand – Koh Samed Beach (Koh Samet)

Samed Grand View Resort (Ko Samet, Thailand)

3 Case Rating
Location Hotel is located on Koh Samet party beach called Saikaew Beach. The beach has various restaurants & bars. It is a busy beach more for younger people with some party bars but light tamed- not like Koh Phan Ghan etc. Beach itself has powedery white sand & is clean. Sea is ok but the odd floating rubbish is quite frequent. Many boats are there as parasailing is offered. It's not the most chilled place but not a major party place just at nights some bars have loud music & fire shows. This hotel is one of them. During the day, it is relaxing with deck chairs but at night quite loud until about 12-1. To get here you there is a direct speed boat from Ban phae pier (300 each way) - it is quite bumpy but fast (20 min) with direct drop off outside your hotel. You just have to jump in sea, but its o your bags won't get wet as assistance is offered. Otherwise a ferry service is 50 baht, which is slower & drops off at the pier on Koh Samet-about 1-2km from hotel. From Bangkok to pier in main land to get speedboat expect 2-3 hours to get there by taxi (cost 2-2500 baht one way) but tourist buses are cheaper & available. Room The booking was for twin beds - but which hotels.com state only Thai cottages (the most expenses product) offer twin beds. However when you arrive at these cottage certainly do not offer twin beds. Only deluxe rooms do. I did see the cottage - very traditional Thai wood work design nice & cosy with a covered porch- perfect for a romantic couple but not for two friends. As we complained we needed twin beds as requested- hotel provided the cheaper deluxe room in main building. This room is like a duplex. As you enter the bathroom is presented on ground floor- large room with glass front offers shower & toilet in same room- overhead and separate shower head- be careful not to get water on toilet paper as toilet is next to shower. Large sink with hotel branded amenities of generous size - shampoo, body lotion & shampoo & soap, dental kit and vanity as well are offered Large mirror & wooden chair. To side is a wooden staircase which takes youup to the industrial clinical characterless room with two twin bed - quite hard beds. Each bed offers a bedside table with two twin pin US plugs - though one is occupied with a mosquito plug. There is oddly a window on wall where you can see into other people's room- so remember to close curtains. Facing the bed is a very poor TV - all crackly offering some channels some times but mostly crackly, some times channels are not working. We found only English speaking channel was NHK Japan (but in English) & a Korean Channel. All else is in Thai & very basic no movie channels. To the left corner is a cupboard unit with a mini bar full of beers & soft drinks in a fridge , coffee machine along with salt & sweet snacks. In addition on top is a large safe suitable for large laptops & everything else- somewhat easy to use. There is no wardrobe in room 18 which is why my review is so bad - we had to put our clothes on the floor, which for $100 is totally unacceptable. (however noticed other rooms had wardrobes). The highlight of the room was the large balcony with two chairs & is great for smokers. Overall the room is a terrible product, especially for price. Even 2 stars have wardrobes. There is also no ironing board. There is no hotel guide & beds are hard. There is also a basic A/C unit that is kind of noisey. You have to put clothes on floor which was totally unacceptable- they do have only coat hangers (2 ) I noticed was in balcony for wet clothes.I wouldn't hang up normal clothes up there as it will fade in the powerful sun. Overall the room for the price was terrible- avoid room 18 unless you like to put all your clothes on the floor as no wardrobe is offered. Facilities Catering - the hotels offers a main restaurant in which complimentary breakfast is offered. Service omelette station which also has fried eggs, pancakes , French toast , bacon rashes- all pre made. Buffet items include various breads & got foods of Asian dish such as sweet & sour pork, fried rice, fish dishes etc-they were quite nice. Some fruit is also offered. Food is actually ok but the eggs are luke warm unless you demand the chef cooks it again, she does but just cooks and leaves it there- they are heart shaped though. They also offer dinner there but did not try this. Other outlets include a neon bar(finale bar) which plays load music and offers comfy bean bags on beach. Another beach bar is opposite the neon bar that does sell Thai to western food. Pad Thai was particularly tasty. Fresh coconuts & cocktails are offered in both. Lesuire facilities include a pool table, darts & table football- at the bars. No pool but bar is directly on sea. This is where they gave an impressive fire show at 9pm at night. This bar, finale bar, has a more Bangkok boutique feel to it but dependant on the music it can be terrible or good- depends if you like banging terrible EDM music like David Guetta. Lying on the bean bags though are very easy to fall asleep to. There is some toilets & washrooms on site so you don't have to go back to your room. Inside the main building I noticed a book shelf library area. No gym, and I did not see any spa. There are no business facilities except free wifi in which frustratingly drops frequently. When it works it is ok and is secure for multiple devices. Staff Staff couldnt be more incompetent, there was no details about room at check-in and because we wanted twin beds- it seemed to obviously inconvenience them. On our 2nd day they demanded we came to reception at 6pm stating we were suppose to check out- but after showing email they agreed it was next day - no apology though, just rude & woke my friend to do this. The bar servers were only nice staff but still hit & miss. There is certainly we couldn't careless attitude & staff never smile. Check in they explained very few details. Overall for 3 nights at $320- it's a complete rip off of what is a distinctional 2 star hotel. There is nothing very strong about this hotel other than its clean. However my experience was negative & certainly hope to never stay here again.
[geo_mashup_map enable_scroll_wheel_zoom="false"] 95/2 Moo 2, Ko Samet 21160, Thailand
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Thailand – Monkeys on Beach (Koh Samui)

USA – Large Texas Lady (Houston)

My short visit to Fiji, Kava and Category 5 Cyclone Winston

So I have always wanted to see Fiji and the Pacific islands in general, a first for my travels. I heard it was the real natural tropics. Due to originally having only 2 days here, I decided to book Bounty Island since it’s the closest reasonably priced resort to Nadi, 35 minutes by the South Sea Cruises Catamaran. I booked a modest treehouse, £39 at the time in which is in the mid range accommodation, offering privacy and a private bathroom between cheaper priced  dormitories or  more expensive cement AC buildings. Mine only had a fan but it was fine. Since the whole island is owned by the resort there is no alternative place to eat on the island, therefore you must pay the mandatory 3 course meals with WIFI which cost around £35. Upon arrival I was greeted by a small boat that picked me up from the big boat, the guys want to know your name, introduce themselves and upon arrival I was greeted by guitar playing staff singing a traditional Fijian welcoming song. Immediately I was excited, the majority of hotels I stay in might offer the juice and towel but not a singing welcome. At check-in you get an intro, all the staff introduce themselves sporadically and you suddenly feel like you are staying with a family. I am bad with names but they remembered mine throughout and constantly asked how I was doing, addressing me by name, it was the start of being welcomed into what I assume is unique Fijian hospitality. The island itself is small; circumnavigating the shoreline takes no more than 20 minutes. There is a sort of jungle in the middle with plenty of spaces to loose yourself. Coming off a flight from LA as I always do from long haul flight - I felt bloated and fat, so I skipped lunch and went kayaking around the island for exercise, which is available at no cost. So popping my headphones on I listened to Lee Burridge’s Live @ Burning Man set, which fitted the mood for my journey around the island. It made me feel almost like a castaway; most of that side of the island you see no one, which is great. I noticed some guests on the beach far from the main entrance having their own peaceful time as I kayaked past occasionally looking down at the turquoise sea and coral below. It was hard see fish but some colourful formations were below me. The music and the surrounding had a sense of meditation, free of any thought, just absorbing the complete seclusion of paradise. Fiji water Once I got back I decided I needed to see the sea so I took the free snorkelling equipment. In all honesty there was quite a lot of damaged coral but plenty of fish, I had a 2-3 foot fish with a blue stripe on it's back which swam with me for ten minutes. It was awesome. Fiji is the place where you can swim with Reef Sharks and manta rays – it’s the real deal. I tried to swim around the whole island, which went on for an hour. It was hard work against the current so I gave up and just lay on the beach in the sand. It was a real sense of freedom with the calm warm water just brushing against my head. I just wanted to stay here for a while in total relaxation; it was just so overwhelmingly blissful. There were moments though back at beach when the weather had started to look slightly unpredictable. IMG_3742 Back at the resort I started to engage more with the staff. I had an interest in trying kava kava, a traditional welcoming drink in Fiji which staff had invited me to join them in. It’s the national drink of Fiji that comes from a root of a plant – it is suppose to have a sedative effect to aid you in sleeping but also to relax your muscles - it was described to me as like weed without any paranoia high as such but just body relaxation - I was interested. At this point I had just learned that a Cyclone was headed for Fiji. I get confused with storms, Typhoon and Cyclone I assume are just bad weather so I didn’t realise the severity of what was happening. It wasn’t until later that I made the connection to a terminology more familiar to me: hurricane. So rather obliviously I just chatted away to the staff and we sat in a circular group in the corner of a bar as I was introduced to Kava. There is a ritual to drinking kava - they swell the powder around in a cloth in rain water in like  large round bowl, constantly striving the magic formula, it is then handed to me, and I say “Bula!” (which means “wishing you happiness and good health”). I clap my hands before taking it and knock it back like a shot, it isn’t supposed to be sipped. The taste is unusual but not foul. It is kind of salty and spicy at the same time. My tongue tingled a bit, not unpleasantly so. To complete the ritual I handed it back and clapped three times and this is done by all as the drink is passed around our circle. A sort of tribal ceremony. The effect is not immediately obvious, but there was definitely a relaxing feeling slowly coming. Discussing with the staff, they said it helps with relaxing after work, the loneliness of not seeing their family for long periods and in general it aids to relaxing the muscles and helps you to sleep like a baby. Everyone smiles and everyone is very chilled out. I chatted amongst everyone and felt that I was in the company of friends that I had known for years. They offered me this, didn’t want anything back and I really felt this is so unique in today's world. Fijian’s are known to be some of the happiest people worldwide, the combination of the island life, the natural peace of the surroundings and I’m sure the kava helps to contribute to this. This area was once full of rival families and to resolve conflict they would sit together and share kava before they discuss their issues. In most circumstances they resolved the situation, I was told. I thought why can’t the UN, EU and G8 all have this prior to their meetings. After about 10 drinks I decided to go for dinner and later returned where the staff were now outside. I brought some new travellers that I shared dinner table with; a Dutchman and German girl. She had tried it before, he hadn’t. Both seemed up for it as I said I would return. I felt a real bond with the Fijian Staff as well a these travellers but not many others, there were three different crowds; the young on gap years staying in the dorms who partied at the bar like it was a musical chairs but without the chairs. The resort organised entertainment activities for them. There were people like me, happy to chill and hang out with the locals, some families too and a big group of Chinese of which only a young girl in the group that could actually speak English, they were having a great time in the swimming pool at night, all 8 of them.kava_session I liked the staff a lot, it wasn’t like your typical hotel customer service; it was personal, you are our friend, join us, do as you please and we don’t expect anything in return. They told me they just liked to talk to their guests. It kind of reminded me of working in hotels in Miami, I loved chatting to the guests but Miami was different, there was greed in Miami and all interactions had an undertone of a desire for being tipped well. The second kava session seemed much stronger, my lips numbed for a short period and my body felt totally relaxed, myself and the Dutchman decided to play ping pong. We didn’t care about rules or anything, we just wanted to keep the ball flowing, and we went for it. We were definitely under the influence of the kava, there was no competitiveness we just keep the ball flowing between us and were having a lot of fun.One issue with Kava is it makes you feel really hot, it was now night time and even with the fresh sea air I was dripping in sweat and this was even prior to the ping-pong. After the ping-pong we all sat round the pool, the Dutchman cooled down in the pool and I chatted to the resort’s engineer. It was then that he strongly emphasised how serious this cyclone was, that it was category 5 and was headed for the island within 48 hours. He had a relaxed approach and explained his previous experience of a cyclone. He was a interesting fella, we talked in depth about Samoa, Vanuato, Tonga - he had positive and negative things to say but he was most proud of his Fiji. I am now really interested in this very secluded part of the world where it seems nature is untouched and the people are the happiest I have ever met.After a few more kavas around the pool, the talk was increasingly about the cyclone and what to do. Mostly it was the guests who had extended trips that were concerned, the locals just smiled and the atmosphere was warm and friendly. I almost wanted to give them all a hug but it may have come across as weird - at least that’s what my western sensibilities were telling me. The talk of a cyclone being category five didn’t really bother me, I was only here for one day but perhaps it was the kava that made me think it will be fine; I was actually excited, thinking that it could be an experience. There was a huge circle around the moon that I gazed at - it was beautiful, the fresh air and peace was mesmerising. Maybe at that point I had had a little too much kava. Overly kavaed up if there is such a word but I just felt purely at peace and in my element, not many places offer this – there was no pretentiousness no judgement and everyone was so polite doing their thing. I went to bed early at 10:00, I still really hadn’t slept from the LA flight from which I had landed from 15 hours prior. Back in my room the fan was fine and a small lizard joined me in bed, I didn't really want him there but couldn’t be bothered to do anything so we just looked at each for a while before he’d had enough and jumped off. I guess I wasn't it's type. The day of the Hurricane “Everyone must be evacuated all islands, you will be taken by 12” was the welcome at the breakfast buffet. “Oh shit” I thought. I haven’t even seen the jungle yet or taken a walk around the island by foot. This was my priority; forget breakfast. So I put my headphones in, this time the Pig and Dan debut album which fitted the sunshine vibe great and I took a nice stroll. I came across a lady trying to explain to the Chinese man about the evacuation he didn’t speak any English but my “Ni hao” (hello to him in Chinese) made them assume I could speech the language, my quick attempt at sign language to say we must go, didn’t look well understood so I continued my walk. It was beautiful, the weather was cloudy but no real sign of a storm coming, the air was pure, the smell of the sea and palm trees on the small clean beach was just fresh as can be. I ventured into the jungle, which really was not that interesting. I found some pathways, which made the walk a little more interesting. The only real wildlife were birds, many beautiful ones, squawking and welcoming me to their home just like the Fijians, at least that is what I imagined in my high morning spirit. IMG_3773IMG_3775Back at breakfast there was some degree of chaos, some were calling their parents, others embassies, the Dutch guy was told by the Dutch Embassy to drink plenty of beer! The staff explained that boats were on their way to take us all to safety. I booked the 9am ferry but it never came, there were two boats evacuating: a small one, I guess part of a package tour which unfortunately included a Australian family with very young children, which made everyone worry as the children were young. Another scheduled service, a large catamaran which I booked as well as the rest. Mine was suppose to come later but never came. The sky was grey and the view to the destination in the distance showed dark clouds, the air definitely started to feel like something bad was looming. The sea became progressively rougher. By now the cyclone had already struck the northern island of Vanua Levu, the smaller of the larger islands quite far north. I felt sorry for the resort; they had a map with the predicted path showing the eye of the storm will pass straight to the island. It was due in about 10 hours. It took 3 hours before the first set of passenger were able to leave, the issue was that the boat to ferry passenger to a larger boat was just a small 10 seater. After loading all the luggage and passengers, it started filling up with water due to waves and the weight. Looking around people were becoming nervous as all the passengers had to get off while the boat sped off to offload the water. Everyone was begining to think ok, "so we are stuck" to brave the storm. Saying that the male staff had to stay so it seemed a little insensitive thing to think/say. Anyway, as the sea starting getting very choppy, I talked to the Fijians for a while before having a chill out session just watching the turtles. The resort had a turtle pond to protect the new born for a year before they then free them, its because the government say they will become extinct since their survival rate in the wild is poor now when first born. Fiji_turtles Overall the spirit got better but the current weather looked worse with sea waves getting higher. Certainly no longer safe for swimming. Much of the male staff were packing everything away, to avoid damage such as the food supplies, a few of us give them a hand. There was a community feeling and I felt like we owed it to them to help and at the same time the reality was that within 24 hours this island could be badly destructed, as shown by the path on the maps at reception. Unless the luck of the land was to make the cyclone change path. cyclone At the back of my mind I worry about these new friends of mine. They show me their underground bunker, which should be safe. But what if the sea covers the island I was thinking? I mean it’s a category 5 - the king of damage. We all wait around the pool and restaurant – everyone has checked out but waiting for the boats to take them to the big island under the instructions of the Fijian government. The younger dorm back packers are in high spirits, singing together to Celine Dion that is playing on the radio. Kind of annoying actually I was thinking at least keep the spirits high with something good like a Bob Marley classic.  I see the news on the BBC website ‘Megastorm To Hit Fiji’ which gets posted straight on my Facebook to mixed reactions from my friends back home. We were told that the last remaining boat would have to leave the island by noon after which time the port authority will shut down the boats. It was 12:30pm. The sea was so choppy its now that I think it’s best to fully cling film my laptop and other essential electronics up and cover my bags with the help of the staff- whom do this with everyone using clear bin bags. Eventually a Catamaran turns up at 1pm. But the small boats still need to get us to it, they think about it this time and only take a hand full of passengers 3 times to avoid getting water on board. It pretty full on ride but nowhere near as bad as what is coming. The staff still remain in very high spirits bless them. Fiji_evacuation On board the large Catamaran, We are told we need to go further north and pick up passengers from two more islands. The ride there and back to Nadi can only be described as hell. I have been through the worst turbulence and can deal with that, with over 1000 flights in the last 4 years it doesn’t generally worry me. Boats on the other hand I cannot deal with. I move to the middle after sitting at the side - the boat jumps, huge waves hit one side, it is quite terrifying and many people are vomiting. It’s almost like one of those pirate ships that you find at a theme park. Jumping up and down, the waves fully engulf it. I was just trying hard to hold down my food. Headphones in, I am now listening to dark drum and bass. It feel inappropriate but I think its making me trying to absorb the vibe. I was wondering if the boat was sturdy enough to take the constant battering of these big waves for a full 40 minutes. Fortunately all was okay and I was relieved to arrive in port. I said goodbye to my new friends the Dutchman and his German girlfriend who were a lovely couple and I wished them the best of luck through the impending doom. I had a friend that I am involved with in a business capacity, pick me up, she shows me her town of Nadi which reminds me of a high-street in New Zealand but also has that South African feel to it with some of the designs of the buildings. Overall it’s small but this is the largest island and the biggest town where the international airport is located. One thing I notice is that very few people have boarded up their windows. When I lived in Miami Beach, even the slightest mention of a hurricane, even a category 1, all shop windows and homes have wooden boards drilled in. In Nadi very little presence of this surprised me especially because so many places have full glass fronts. I even drive past a window shop which is on a 2nd floor, full glass windows. I wonder now as I write this what happened because it looked very vulnerable. I guess I will never know. My contact recommends that I stock up on fruit and water so we visit a very interesting fruit market. It is now raining heavily. The Fijians goodbye, after buying my bananas is "happy Hurricane" with a barrel of laughter - I love it here. Even the prospect of one of the worst cyclones coming does not damage the spirit of the people. Fiji_fruit_market I checked in to my hotel, The Toka Toka Resort, which is walking distance to the airport. Here I also learned that my flight was cancelled for at least 48 hours. The airline had moved all aircrafts off the island for safety. Once I checked in I asked the porter if he had any Kava as I was thinking how chilled I was the night before and with a night coming like this, I couldn’t think of anything better. With 5 hours to go, he came back and made it in the same way that they did on the island. We drank together and discussed the hurricane, he told me about his experiences in 2012. His house in his village was flooded, the water came up to over 7 foot causing his furniture to float - but he said he was right on the sea. I think about some of the fellow travellers that booked accommodation right next to the sea, and whether that was a good idea. For me I assume I am okay as I am quite far inland now. Not much happens other than a few staff join me for a kava now, i gotta an open door policy  until about 7 o’clock when I fall asleep. The wind is noticeably getting louder but not much to worry about. I talk with a security guard after I hear a huge bang, one of the palm tree branches had fallen on the roof, they are quite heavy you know. I then fall asleep. About 9pm, I can hear the wind inside my room. I opened my shutter windows and venture out of porch. It’s night but I have a powerful torch and shine on the leaning trees, a staff member comes and joins me for a kava. He explains the palm trees that surround my ground floor hut wont fall but some of the other trees will. He says they have been working all day cutting dangerous branches as so not to hit the multiple buildings, since the hotel is totally full due to flight disruptions. Again I fall asleep, I suffer from nightmares, which are rare for me and must be connected to the general energy in the atmosphere. At 11pm I am woken from the sheer roar of the force of nature – it’s scary. This is it, Cyclone Winston is above me. The force of nature beats anything else. It’s the noise the ceiling drips with water but impressively the lights remain on thanks to the hotel generator. My bed is getting soaked from ceiling water, I now worry the ceiling is going to take off so everything goes into the wardrobe. I just lie on the bed. I don’t have much fear but strangely enjoy this unique experience. To be fair the one drink of kava turns into 15. It occurs to me that this should really go in my website as a blog entry- we here we are. I wonder what will happen if the roof takes off. There is no local TV, no WIFI and the roar is unimaginable. It’s midnight – I open my shutters and although it’s dark, so much is going on outside that it’s hard to focus on anything, so much rain and wind that I recon is now almost 200mph. I also notice a huge puddle covering most of the floor of my room. I stop writing and I think about the new friends on Bounty Island, the guys that had to stay. I mean, I am on the main land but the island must be so devastated - I hope and pray that they are safe, I am not religious but I feel it’s the least I can do. I’ve drunk almost all the kava now and with the unrelenting wind blowing hard outside I fall asleep again. About 3:30am I wake up, it seems all is calm now. There is no noise; nothing and I decide to go for a walk with my torch. Tree branches block the path leading behind my hut but there is another path that is clear, I see a few trees down but no damage to the multiple huts on the resort. Just fallen branches, mess everywhere and I notice a bird shaking on the grass - the poor animals I think, this must be like some kind of apocalypse to them. The place is messy as expected but not as much damage as anticipated, at least to the building but surely other places do have. Staff come and find me and tell me there is a curfew in effect and all guests must remain in their rooms since they expect a second wave - they escort me back to my room. There is no second wave just constant rain. IMG_3808 IMG_3817 The next morning I can see the damage in full. All the guests are walking around. It seems that everyone is in good spirits and no damage affected anyone, most people just had water in their rooms like me. My door was slightly damaged as branches bashed against it in the wind. I couldn’t re-open it and needed assistance. One tree was down and that was it. It was not really that bad because it was the fastest moving Cyclone in the history of the south pacific had it stayed above for longer then the damage could have been much worse. IMG_3819 IMG_3830 Flights resumed the next day and luckily I got out on the first flight to Hong Kong. I will never forget Fiji that is for sure, it is simply beautiful, natural and such a happy place to be. It is as much the surroundings as the people that make it this way. It’s a shame it is so far from anywhere but New Zealand and Australia. I must come back. I hear the island survived okay, apparently no rooms were damaged and the staff were fine. A few trees came down but thankfully that was all. Here is the picture of the kind staff that made me feel so welcome. Bless them all. Fiji_bounty_island
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