Katie & Ben’s wedding – Koh Samui

Sadly, I couldn’t get to the wedding because of work commitments… but Katie and Ben almost didn’t make it either! Due to a handful of incidents involving forgotten cases, volcanoes, monsoons and bad airlines, what is usually a stressful time for any couple became unreal for them.

However, thanks to Holiday Inn Atrium, Singapore and Napasai Koh Samui, things ended very happily indeed! I don’t mind giving credit where it’s due and Katie tells me both of these places went above and beyond to help smooth things over. I’ll let her tell you the rest in her own words from an email she sent. Published with her permission and I’ve only edited it for appearance’s sake.

There are also photos of the wedding on Esther’s blog.

I thought I’d write a wee update while I am now emotionally stable and awaiting the Big Day to kick off in a few hours.

It has been the most stressful week of our lives.  It all started in Darwin, one of my bags got left in the boot of a car on the airforce base (containing the rings, flight details, veil, ipod, camera…)  and we were at the airport. We managed to get the bag as Ben’s friend had runway clearance so made a mad dash from the airport back to base to get it via the runways!

Then we were delayed due to a volcanic erruption for 4 hours.  We arrived in Singapore, myself Ben, Richo and Nordo where we found Ben’s aunty and cousin. We ended up arriving at 11pm and my friends Li and Andrew took us out for dinner in Singapore that night. We crawled into bed at 1am.

The next day we went to Universal studios in Singers which was lots of fun! Crazy rollercoasters.  We headed to the airport at 4pm for our 8pm flight to Koh Samui but were not allowed to check due to severe flooding in Koh Samui. They eventually checked us in at 10pm, after 3 hrs in the departures they cancelled our flights. We were now a party of 7 as American Alison joined us.

Bangkok Air were awful, they couldnt tell us anything and sent us back through immigration, where immigration tried to take our duty free off us. Ben cracked it as we had been waiting for hours and immigration wanted us to get refunds on our booze, but we all just walked past them and kept our drinkies!

Bangkok Airways then left us to fend for ourselves!  Finally at 4 am we found a hotel to put all 7 of us up for a night. Amazingly the Holiday Inn were fabulous! They upgraded us to suites and gave us free breakfast. The next day we had no idea if we were flying out, the airline did not call us we had to call them every 2 hours. Then they told us we would not be flying out tonight due to the storms and the airport was still under water.

I went to the poshest shopping centre with Alison that day and when she went into the changing room, I had a very public meltdown! I cried my eyes out.  I came back to the room and cried for 3 hours!  11 months of wedding planning and waiting to see friends and family about to disappear!

The Holiday Inn were fabulous, they allowed us to checkout at 4pm! We then arranged to stay another night as the plane was cancelled and they had no rooms left but put all 7 of us in the Honeymoon Suite.  They also gave us keys to the Executive Lounge for free nibbles and alcohol. Pour your own. As you can imagine we were told we were definately not flying out that night so we had a very drunken night courtesy of the Holiday Inn!

We returned to the Honeymoon Suite and drank our duty free as they told us we would not be flying out until Saturday afternoon!!! OMG after the wedding!!!

I had friends and family stuck in different airports, and we were not going to see them! We thought we would have to get married via Skype!  Also friends on Koh Samui had been sand bagging the beach and wading through water waste high to get food and water!  So we drank lots to commiserate!

Then at 11pm we got a phone call that we had to be at the airport in 1.5hrs to fly out to Koh Samui. As we were rather drunk, Alison was passed out on the couch! we got to the airport and boarded the plane with some more guests.

The landing was worse than the Universal Studios rollercoaster! We missed the runway and had to ascend at the last minute! We thought we were going to die. However we finally got to the Napasai at 5am.

It was too wet to bring our luggage so they took Ben and I  to the room and said they would bring our bags in the morning and check us in. We got 4 hrs sleep before going to breakfast and checking in wearing the same clothes!!! Gross.

The funny thing was I was convinced that they had us in the wrong room, so I told Ben not to touch anything as we were supposed to have a pool villa, but there appeared to be another residence further down the hill that had the pool! We then told reception who pointed out that we had the entire hill side consisting of two houses each with bedrooms, set among tropical gardens on the mountain, a separate lounge house and then the pool and pool lounge area was also ours!!!!!!!!!!!  Amazing, it is spectacular.

We had a “thankgod we made it party” at our villa on thursday night – the day we arrived, as it’s so massive, instead of the Hen and Bucks do as the town was so flooded.

The Napasai have been lovely. We have settled for Backup plan C for the wedding venue, we have canned the marquee but its all good. In fact the reception venue is better than a marquee on the beach.  All 61 guests are here including us! And there is a tiny bit of sun.

The most hilarious thing is I had my make-up and hair trial yesterday and I have a team of ladyboys! They look more feminine than me!! I have never seen the assistant who sweeps the floor strike a pose so much in the mirrors than one of these ladyboys!!

So that is the excitement and dramas, I think i need a holiday to recover. Who could predict we chose our wedding venue to be declared a national flood disaster zone.

Ben and I have been exceptionally lucky that everyone is here and have just been so fantastic to us and supportive, the Holiday Inn Singapore and Napasai have just been outstanding.

Now I am getting very excited as the big day is about to begin and the preparations start! Bring on the ladyboys!

All I can add to that is my personal thanks to Holiday Inn Atrium, Singapore and Napasai, Koh Samui for looking after my friends so well. Katie and Ben took such great care of me the last time I was in Darwin, and it’s lovely to see karma giving them some help in return.

Guys – have a wonderful life together. I hope it’s full of many more, less stressful, adventures than the past week has had for you!

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Chào Hà Nội

Yeah, back here again after a restful couple of days in Singapore. A quick catch-up as it really was restful:

I lazed around the hostel, updating blogs and emailing people. Went on the walk around Bugis with Karen and a bunch of tourists (hey – I keep forgetting I am a tourist) for the second time. I was quite pleased I remembered everything she’d told me the first time around.

After deciding on an early night, I stayed up until 5am talking to some people who came rolling in drunk before forcing my itchy eyes open after far too little sleep to try and convince people to go to the water park with me. Which failed. At least a lot of them were heading to the zoo which is a worthwhile alternative. Instead, I loafed. I made a start on Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell but gave up after two days. It’s crap. Avoid.

I collected my passport avec visa from the Vietnamese office. They have given me the 14 days I applied for. I was expecting them to give me 30, which is the most they allow, but I did only ask for 14. Still, I’m expecting to only stay there for 10. The extra four are in case flights/buses are full or expensive and I decide to wait it out.

Saturday was spent just chilling out until the evening. Leah – a teacher from the wilds of north Scotchland – and I went to see The Hills Have Eyes 2. Sick, brutal, violent and hugely predictable. Full of “what the hell are you doing?” and “I bet you a tenner he’s not dead” moments.

Back at the hostel we worked on making our eyes bright red by staying up till silly o’clock watching the second Harry Potter film. It got quite a crowd – good choice of film!. Then someone put on From Dusk Till Dawn 3 and everyone left.

Oh, yeah. And I accidentally bought a PlayStation Portable. Given that it was less than half the price I’d pay in the UK I decided to just get the thing. Great for movies and so on, especially when I take a lot of budget flights.

Sunday was the day of my flight so I had the usual rush around packing things and panicking that I’d written down the flight time wrong and stuff. Leah and I took a wander around the Colonial area – me being tour guide again – and I left her in a techie mall looking at cameras as I (literally) ran back to the hostel as I realised I was running late.

Beans on toast comfortably (almost – they were too damn hot) down my throat, I said my goodbyes and pegged it to the airport. It was great to see the people at the hostel again. A shame it’ll be so long until the next time. Hopefully I’ll catch Karen in Europe later in the year. Not sure when I’ll catch up with Dylan and Raj again though.

And then to Hanoi. Again. I got talking to a few people on the minibus who’d just flown in from Vientiane and got dropped off near the Backpackers Hostel. There have been a few changes around the place, but it’s still cosy.

I dumped my bags quickly, ran to an ATM and found a cafe/bar showing the Newcastle match. A great start to what I hope will be another memorable visit. 45 minutes of passably entertaining football, a point against a team I thought we’d get stuffed by, a rather tasty chicken burger, some delicious fresh fruit, a bottle of Hanoi Beer… and I only spent around 2 quid.

It felt like coming home after a long trip. I really do like it here. Tomorrow I’ll sort out my trip to Sapa and maybe catch up with the good folk at Blue Dragon.

Ahhhh… back in the Lion City

After a fairly uneventful flight that reminded me more of The Big One at Blackpool pleasure beach than floating gently on a cloud (not the pilot’s fault, flipping turbulence), I landed for the third time at Changi Airport. The route to the ATM and the MRT are now routine, as is approaching the guard to get some change for the ticket machine. As is customary, I stopped at McD’s for breakfast as the hostel doesn’t open reception till 8am and I surfed the net and chowed down on hotcakes.

My laptop decided to throw a wobbly and blue screen – the first time in about 10 months. Worst was that I lost all my bookmarks (thankfully Firefox backs these up automatically each day so they were easily replaced) and all my Firefox Extension settings, which is more of a pain. I’ve not dared look to see if anything else is jiggered yet. If you ever boot Windows and it tells you that the recycle bin is too large and you need to empty it when you know for a fact it’s empty… be afraid.

After semi-checking in (i.e. registering but not getting my bed yet), I scoured the net for details of the Vietnamese embassy. After a couple of phone calls to a very helpful guy and the aid of the (as usual) superb staff here, I located a sub-office much closer and set off to get my visa. Further details in a separate post as I think the particulars may be of use.

I took the MRT down as I needed to be there early to ensure getting the paperwork back tomorrow, but walked back which took about 40 minutes. Oncemore it struck me how Singapore is very much like London. Only cleaner, hotter and full of significantly nicer people.

I had exactly one man ask if I wanted to ride in his rickshaw (no thanks) and saw another cycle past with his seat cushion decorated with a Blackburn Rovers flag. Much as I’d like to park my posterior on them, it still wasn’t tempting enough to make me want to be pedalled around the city.

Situation as of now: I have booked a flight direct to Hanoi on Sunday. I wish I’d booked it before I set off for the embassy as it was SGD10 cheaper then! I have also hit a slight problem… to get the visa for tomorrow (i.e. 2 working days), I had to cough up SGD130. My bank account when I arrived in Singapore held SGD180. My accommodaton is SGD18 per night and they don’t take credit cards.

Now do the sums.

I already have money transferring from one account to another back home, but due to the inexplicable lag in money leaving one account and arriving in another, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to get my hands on cash money until Monday which is after I’ve left. This is soooo going to be fun to work out.

Tip – Obtaining a Vietnamese visa in Singapore

I had a very slight runaround and got some good information while I was doing this, so thought I might as well pop the info up here as I can’t find anything as specific elsewhere online.

Please note that the prices are as of the date of this post. Visa prices fluctuate and also vary depending on which country you get them from, what type it is, where you are from and so on. The visa I was after was a single-entry 1-month tourism one.

First of all, there are two phone numbers published online for information. Ignore them and use this one: (+65) 63233833. It will get you through to a chap in the visa office who speaks very good English and is incredibly patient and helpful.

There are also two locations you can visit if you’re applying in person. The actual consulate is in the middle of nowhere, and quite a way from the major cluster of embassies near Orchard Road. It’s at 10 Leedon Park and the phone number there is (+65) 64625938, but this only takes you to an answering machine message.

The other office is much more convenient if you’re staying in the usual backpacker areas round Bugis and Little India. Get the MRT (or walk) to Buena Vista station and exit via route C (Anson Road). Straight over the crossing is Prince Edward Road. You’re after number 12, but it doesn’t have a number on!

The building is on the right as you walk away from the MRT station and also houses several TV networks. Their sign outside makes it easy to spot. Go through the glass doors and to the lifts on the right hand side. Floor four, come out of the lift and turn to the right and look at the doors facing you. One of then says “Vietnam Visas” amongst a lot of other things.

You need: passport, 2 x colour passport photos, money.

You can turn up: between 9:00 and 11:30 Monday to Friday.
You can get your visa/passport back: between 13:30 and 17:00 on the date they give you.

The cost depends on how quickly you want the visa back and is payable only in Singapore dollars as cash.

Same day: SGD285
Next day: SGD130
3 days: SGD100
4 days: SGD85
5 days: SGD70

Note that these are *working* days. Hand your passport in on Friday and pay SGD130 and you’ll get it back on Monday, for instance.

And I think that’s all!

Moving on to Malaysia

 Following on from the previous post, I woke for about the 8th time when Karen was leaving after finishing her night shift. She’s one person I’m really going to miss from Singapore – an utterly delightful lady, great fun, always smiling, generous to a fault and mother to a great-looking 2 year-old! Dylan and Angelo returned around the same time having stuck the festival to the end. Angelo decided he’d just stay awake until early evening and then sleep for a long time.

Purely in a bid to help him stay awake, I suggested going for a walk. I needed some currency, and to pick up some malaria tablets for Hans who’d not had a chance to get any in Qatar. Cash was easy – a quick trip to Sim Lim Square. Leaving without buying a PSP or a Nintendo DS was the tricky part, but I managed it.

Angelo suggested going to the coach station to change the cash, though I didn’t remember there being a money changer there when I’d bought my ticket. There certainly had been one there last year, as Angelo had used it. After 15 minutes of wandering, we concluded that they weren’t actually there any more and walked to Mustafa’s instead.

Mustafa’s is huge. Apparently the guy started many years ago, selling second hand stuff from a dodgy shop. Now he owns two city blocks and has created a massive department store within them. Everything from a money changer to trainers to a supermarket to a restaurant… no beer, though – it’s a Muslim business. We’d gone a couple of nights previous when we had the munchies and I swear I illegally entered Malaysia without mny passport when I was looking for the fruit juice.

 This trip should just have been a quick one. However, as the minutes ticked down to 12:30 and the time I was supposed to be at the bus station with all my luggage, I got stuck behind a guy converting his entire family estate into three different currencies. At least that’s what it seemed like. Gah.

At 12:20 I finally converted my last remaining Singapore Dollars in to Malaysian Ringgits. The Indian populace were then treated to the site of a Phillipino and a Brit sprinting through the midday streets, sweating like two of the proverbial. I dashed into the hostel, said my goodbyes, panicked some more, ran back in to get the stuff I’d forgotten and then speed-walked to the bus station, rather glad I’d shed some luggage recently.

The bus was a very pleasant surprise. We were given a free bottle of water on checkin and the seats were very nice. Footrests that popped up and very reclineable – like a series of LayZ-Boys on four big wheels. I actually slept on public transport – and very well at that. In between naps, I got talking to a French guy and his partner who are living in Kuala Lumpur for a few months. This was their first trip to Singapore – a visa run, basically – and they were enjoying the trip, too.

 The procedure when the bus reaches the bridge connecting Singapore to the Malaysian mainland if a pain, but I suppose necessary. First you have to get off the bus to get your passport stamped as leaving Singapore. Then it’s back on the bus, and over the bridge. Off the bus – taking all your luggage with you – to check into Malaysia. And then back on the same bus again.

I met one guy who’d got off in Singpore and not realised what was going on. He walked over the bridge (a good few kilometres!) and actually ended up in Malaysia, before he twigged that nobody at their end had seen his passport. He doubled back and they were somewhat surprised that he’d managed to do it. It is actually cheaper to get a bus ticket from Singapore to Johor Bahru and then from there to K-L, but it means standing around waiting for another bus and dealing with touts, so I decided to just get the straight journey up.

I’m definitely glad I did. After the stop to go into Malaysia, it was onward and upward – dead easy. The weather closed in a few hundred kilometres north and the rain started. Malaysia’s going through monsoon season and it’s horrendous! Hot, sticky, frequent downpours… not a good first impression! Though if I head back I know it’ll be in the dry season.

Another thing I noticed is that Malay, the language, is like Japanese in that it doesn’t have words for any objects or concepts newer than the last century or so. Instead, they just use a “Pidgin” version of the word. As an example, you may need to get around on a “bas” or in a “teksi” if you don’t own a “motosikle”, for which you’ll need “insurans” the cost of which could be affected by your “poscod” district.

 Not all Malay is this easy to follow, however. I’ll be sticking to my Vietnamese teach-yourself CD.

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur at around 19:30 and waved goodbye to my French companions. I was expecting a hoard of touts, trying to convince me to stay in their hostel as I’d been warned about this, but I guess the rain was keeping them at home. I had one man ask if I wanted a taxi (I didn’t) and that was my lot. I walked to the hostel in about fifteen minutes. I’m staying at The Green Hut, recommended by Dylan at the Inn Crowd. I got a great welcome, directions to a gazillion places in the area, and gave up 40MYR in key deposits.

After dumping my stuff and having a quick chat with a Dutch girl in the bunk opposite, I went for a quick walk and some food. KFCs are prevalent here, and I decided to get my “one KFC per country” obligation out of the way quickly with a Zinger MAXX meal – which wasn’t as zingy as I hoped. The McSpicy I’d become addicted to in Singapore was way burnier.

Nighttime is a great time to wander around Kuala Lumpur. Most of the shops are open till 10pm or later, food’s available round the clock and the Petronas Towers are just mindblowing. They are the single most astoundingly beautiful modern architectural creations I have ever seen. They simply glow in the lights. I’m quite pleased with my pics of them, but they have to be seen “live” if you’re ever over here.

Back at the hostel I managed to get online (when I wasn’t loaning my laptop to Daniel – a 6 year-old Linkin Park fan who seems to be fuelled on Lucozade and e-numbers) and then crashed for the evening. My bunk was a little wobbly, but I slept OK. I guess 2 hours’ or so sleep a night isn’t enough. You have to catch up on it sometime. Posted by Picasa