Category Archives: Thailand

Posts made in Thailand!

Last but not least – Thailand!

After 15 months it has come to the point where I am writing about the last country of our amazing trip – Thailand. As you may know this is my third visit here, I previously came here in 2005 and 2006, but it’s Lisa’s first time. Entering the country overland from Laos, and having visited several other countries in South East Asia recently it is quite a different experience to my previous visits. I remember on my first visit, which was also my first visit to Asia, everything was strange and different, but this time it all feels quite familiar and normal. This may be because I recognise many things and am now used to the ‘way-things-work’ out here, but I also suspect that it may also be due to us being ready to come home.

Compared to Cambodia and Laos the mass tourism of Thailand isn’t too appealing, but nevertheless we have enjoyed our two weeks in ‘the Land of Smiles’. We’ve been trying to take things easy and not rush around sight-seeing for the sake of it. Therefore our first week was very slow paced enjoying the culture of Thailand’s second city, Chiang Mai, which is in the far north of the country.

It’s a bustling city, but not so hectic that it’s too much, that is a mix of new and old. The old part of the city is a perfect square that is surrounded by a moat and medieval wall built 700 years ago to protect the city from Burmese invaders. The primary attraction of the city are its temples, and with over 200 of them they are not hard to find! Of course many are similar with plenty of gold paint and smiling Buddha statues taking centre stage, but our favourite was the ‘Wat Chedi Luang’ that dates from 1441 and features a massive brick ‘Chedi’ as its centrepiece.

Here they also offer ‘Monk Chat’, which is an opportunity to talk to the monks to learn about their culture and lifestyle. We had a really interesting chat with a friendly 20 year old monk, and we found out that many of the monks study Buddhism at a temple for a few years before returning to a normal life – kind of like us going to Uni! It was quite a humbling experience, he showed a level of maturity way above the 20 year old back home, and as much as we were interested in finding out about him he was equally interested to hear all about us too.

Perhaps even nicer than the temples is the food on offer in Chiang Mai, which has Burmese and Chinese influences. The curries are mild(ish!) and stew-like with herbs and vegetables taken from the surrounding jungle. My absolute favourite Thai meal is Khao Soi, a mild coconut based curry soup with pork or chicken and yellow noodles – since I first tried it here in 2005 I have been making it at home but it doesn’t match the real thing!

Like me northern Thai’s love pork and their favourite snack is Kaap Muu – deep fried pork crackling, which is a bit like pork scratchings but without the saltiness! They also prefer sticky rice with their meals, which Lisa really liked, particularly the dessert version of sweet sticky rice with coconut and fresh mango.

All that good food made us feel like we should do something to burn it off, and as Chiang Mai is a good place to embark on a trek to visit some of the hill-tribes that inhabit the surrounding areas we thought we should give it a go. We arranged a 2-day trek with one of the tour agencies in town that included an overnight stay in one of the villages, an Elephant ride, and white water rafting. After meeting up with our group, a friendly bunch of 10 tourists (including us) from Korea, Italy, Canada, and Brazil, our first day started early as we drove out of the city into the surrounding jungle covered hills. On the way we stopped at an Orchid farm and then at a ‘Long Neck Tribe’ village, which turned out to be more of a tourist souvenir market/trap. Although the women were friendly – allowing us to take photos of them with their staggeringly long-necks.

I’m not sure exactly why they want to extend their necks like this but I think it is because they believe it makes them more attractive. The rings are really heavy and must be uncomfortable, the lady in the photo above could hardly talk – I guess she is now reliant on the rings to support her neck.

The rest of the day was all about trekking and we walked for several hours, with our friendly guide through some villages and up into the misty mountains and through some dense jungle. Along the way we visited a cave that was home to lots of bats that didn’t seem too happy about us waking them up. Once at the top of the mountains we were greeted with some nice views over rice fields down into the valleys below.

We slept overnight on mats on the floor in a basic ‘tourist’ bamboo hut at the edge of a small village. The villagers were, unsurprisingly, used to tourists and barely acknowledged us, which didn’t make us feel too welcome. To be honest it was a meaningless experience apart from a place to stay for the night. That said we had a fun night with our fellow trekkers as we sat around a fire and drank a few ‘Changs’ – Thai beer.

Next morning after breakfast we trekked about an hour down the mountain to an elephant centre on the banks of a river. We weren’t too bothered about riding elephants ‘tourist style’ after the fantastic experience we had only a few days earlier in Laos (see previous post), especially when we noticed that the mahouts here used sticks with a metal spike on the end to control the elephants. Firstly we helped bath the elephants in the shallow river, which the baby Elephant was so appreciative of that he gave Lisa a kiss!

Later, despite our reservations, it was relaxing to sit in the seat on the elephants back as we meandered along the river – amusingly we stopped regularly whilst the elephant pulled up any bush in reach to chew on as she plodded along.

After the elephant ride we then boarded bamboo rafts and drifted peacefully a few KM’s along the river, a very tranquil experience.

Then the fun began as we swapped to a white water raft to undertake the rapids, which wasn’t so peaceful but a lot more exhilarating – thankfully the water wasn’t too cold (we got soaked) and we managed to stay in the boat all the way!

After the rafting it was an hour drive back to Chiang Mai, it had been a fun two days, mainly thanks to our fun group, albeit a very touristy experience. The next day was very lazy as we didn’t do much besides sitting in a cafe with a frothy coffee. However we did check out the night market which is setup every evening in along the ‘Th Chang Klan’ street. Here you can buy handicrafts, souvenirs, and plenty of fake designer goods from the traders who are eager to sell you anything you happen to look at!

We couldn’t leave Chiang Mai without learning how to cook some of the delicious food so we enrolled onto a cooking class with the ‘Asia Scenic’ cooking school. After meeting up with our tutor, ‘Maen’, the lesson started at a local market where we learnt about some of the important ingredients of Thai cooking and bought groceries to cook with later.

Then we (a group of 6 wannabie chef’s) drove out to a scenic farm on the outskirts of the city where we would do the cooking. The school try to grow as many of their own ingredients as possible at the farm so we had a little walk around and collected more ingredients for us to cook with – interesting to see how some of the plants look like. We liked this school because we could each choose, from a menu, what we wanted to cook. Lisa and I chose different things but I opted for spring rolls, a Pad Thai (Thai noodles), Tom Yum soup (a sour soup), red curry, and for a desert sticky rice with mango. We started with the Pad Thai as by this time it’s was lunch time and we were hungry!

Maen first demonstrated how it should be done and then we all had a go under her expert supervision. Pad Thai is a very easy dish to cook – heat oil in Wok at medium temperature, put in garlic, diced chicken, and add fish sauce, oyster sauce, and a bit of sugar as to your taste, then add an egg and mix it all together, add bean sprouts and thinly sliced carrots, before adding the noodles (pre-softened in cold water) – do all this whilst constantly stirring. It only took a few minutes to do all of this and, even if I do say so myself, the result was delicious!

The spring rolls are made as above but without the noodles, the cooked mixture is then wrapped in the pre-made spring roll pastry – bought from Tesco, which we were surprised to find has quite a few stores in Thailand! The tricky bit is getting your spring rolls to look nice and even, it’s a bit like wrapping presents and I’m no good at that either!

After a bit of fiddling I finally got something resembling a spring roll, which was then fried in oil in a wok at high temperature, surprisingly easy and I was pleased with how they turned out – here they are next to Lisa’s papaya salad.

The tricky part of the curry is making the paste, which is a collection of herbs and spices including lots of the same colour of chillies as the curry you want to make (NB. Green curry is spicier as Green chillies are fresher!), pounded into a paste with a mortar and pestle. You then fry the resulting paste with chicken, add whatever veggies you like, and pour in coconut milk – jobs a good un!

I won’t bore you with how to make the soup and the sticky rice, but both were good and the mango we had was the best I have ever tasted – I’m not usually a big fan of it but this was sweet and juicy. It was an interesting and enjoyable day during which we had a lot of fun, and I look forward to trying out the recipes at home. I would definitely recommend doing a cooking class in Chiang Mai if you want to learn about Thai cuisine, and the ‘Asia Scenic’ cooking school is high recommended.

The next day, after one last Khao Soi, we left Chiang Mai in the afternoon on a train headed south overnight to the Thai capital, Bangkok. The Thai sleeper train had probably the most comfortable beds we have found on any train on the trip, but the air con was for some reason set to arctic temperatures! Wrapped up we slept well and arrived in Bangkok early the next morning, however we didn’t linger as we took a bus 3 hours south to the Ban Phe ferry terminal to take us to the island of Koh Samet. We chose this island as we wanted to spend a few days on a beach and it was the most accessible (and cheapest to get to) option. Besides as it’s not as popular as some of the islands further south it is much less touristy ?

It was a 20 minute cruise on the rickety old ferry from the mainland to reach the island, which is only a few KM’s long. Once we reached the island we took a pickup truck taxi and went to the east side of the island, along some very muddy roads, where we stayed in a bungalow at the ‘Samed Villa Resort’ at Ao Phai beach. This resort was a step up from our normal budget but we thought why not treat ourselves to a bit of luxury in our last few days! The food from the restaurant, particualry the BBQ seafood, was delicious and was served on the beach – it felt like being on a holiday from a holiday!

Whilst the beach may not be the nicest in Thailand its fine white sand and turquoise water make it appealing enough. As it is the rainy season we were a little concerned about the weather, but thankfully apart from a few showers it was mostly sunny during our stay. Therefore we were able to sit back and relax with a book – no sight-seeing necessary, lovely!

We really didn’t do much for four days, although it’s surprising how quickly time passes when you’re busy doing nothing! So we soon found ourselves taking the ferry back to the mainland and the bus back to Bangkok. Traffic in Bangkok, especially in the evening, is a real pain and it took us over an hour in a taxi to get across town to our hotel, which was near the infamous ‘Khao San Road’. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are fresh out of school/uni on a gap year and looking to go crazy! It’s packed out with young backpackers who cram into the pumping bars and it’s not our sort of place, but accommodation is cheap here and it is near the sights plus it’s a good place for buying some cheap stuff at the market that runs along it.

The easiest way to get around Bangkok is on the river ferries which plough along the busy Mae Nam River, and you get the added bonus of some sightseeing along the way. Numerous temples line the river bank, including ‘Wat Arun’ – one of Thailand’s most famous landmarks.

We disembarked the ferry at the ‘central pier’, which conveniently connects with the Bangkok Skytrain system – no underground here, the city train runs on an elevated track over the city. We took the Skytrain to the north of the city where we visited the enormous Chatuchak Weekend Market. Pretty much everything is sold here including handicrafts, clothes, live animals, and plenty of souvenirs all at bargain prices. You have to battle through hordes of people in the tiny alleys between stalls, which is an exhausting but nevertheless fun experience!

The market spans a large area with thousands of stalls, which make it feel like you’re lost in a giant maze. A couple of hours at the market was plenty for us and we retreated back to the city where we met up with Lisa’s uncle, aunt, and cousin – Didi, Tik, and Marissa – who were in Bangkok visiting Tik’s family who live in the eastern suburbs. We were kindly invited to the family’s house for a delicious dinner, which was a lovely experience and an interesting insight into Thai culture outside the tourist domain. They even drove us across town back to our hotel, thanks guys it was much appreciated. 🙂

Today was our last day of the trip and we spent the morning looking at some of the sights of Bangkok’s old town. Firstly we had a walk past the Grand Palace, which is used by the popular Thai king for ceremonial purposes. It’s a lavish palace with grand golden buildings and stupas plus an imposing fort wall surrounding it. Nearby is the Wat Pho temple, which is the oldest temple in Bangkok and houses Thailand’s largest reclining Buddha – a 46m by 15m giant! Very impressive and a fitting ‘last temple of the trip’!

We had a ‘Pad Thai’ for lunch overlooking the river and then walked a loop around the old town and through Chinatown, which was full of gold traders. It’s was a very hot day and walking around Bangkok is quite tiring so we decided to spend the last few hours of the afternoon in our hotels roof-top pool – any excuse for Lisa to sunbath 😉

Tonight after some final souvenir shopping we have had one last penang curry, now a firm favourite, washed down with a bottle of Chang whilst reminiscing about our trip – where has the time gone! To be honest we won’t miss Bangkok too much, a couple of days in this throbbing monster is enough!

Nevertheless Thailand is a lovely country with some of the friendliest people in SE Asia, good food, exotic beaches, and a range of activities on offer – if you have never been to Asia then this is a great starting point. We have struggled a little with the mass tourism, especially after Laos, but then again we have enjoyed the hospitality that makes Thailand so appealing.

There’s a load of photos from our time in Thailand here.

So that’s it, after 15 months (456 days) away, tomorrow we will board a flight to take us home. Sadly Lisa and I are taking separate flights to our respective countries, and after so long together it will be strange to be apart again – albeit not for too long! We’re sad that our big adventure has come to an end, but are very excited about seeing friends and family again, having a ‘home’, and even going back to work! I can’t wait for a decent cup of tea, a bacon sarnie, and a roast dinner – Mum are you listening?! No doubt on the plane back I will reflect a bit on our amazing journey, through 17 countries, the experiences we have had, and the lovely people we have met – but I’ll leave the reflecting for another post in a few weeks.

All journeys end somewhere…and now it’s time to come home.

Laid-Back Laos

It may have been only a bus ride from Vietnam but laid-back Laos feels a world away from its hectic neighbour. It’s a country of golden temples, tangerine-robed monks, jungle clad mountains, and some reserved but very friendly people. It almost feels like the earth spins a bit slower in Laos and, for us, it has been the perfect place to change down a gear as we approach the end of our trip – we’ll be home in a couple of weeks!

We spent our first couple of days in Laos in its capital – Vientiane, which could possibly be the quietest capital city in the world. There are lots of examples of its French colonial history with wide boulevards, cafes, and architectural refinement. There’s even an ‘Arc de Triomphe’, albeit a concretely replica built in the 1960’s!

Pride of place though is a the ‘Pha That Luang’ (Great Sacred Stupa), which is the most important national monument in Laos, a symbol of Buddism and the country’s sovereignty. Images of the stupa appear on all official documents and bank notes. It’s about 4km out of the city so we rented bicycles and leisurely pedalled out to it, and to be fair it is pretty impressive.

They must use a lot of gold paint as nearly every Buddist monument is covered in it, as was demonstrated by numerous statues and buildings that surrounded the stupa – including the architecturally impressive national history museum (we didn’t go in). Besides the Budist monuments and the Arch there’s not too much to see in Vientiane, but nevertheless we enjoyed lazily cycling around its quiet streets and enjoying a coffee or two in some of the cafes.

With the Euro 2012 footy tournament on at the moment we have to plan our long distance bus trips carefully. For example we wanted to take an overnight but to the northern town of Luang Prabang about 12 hours away, but because England were playing France that evening we decided to break up the journey and stop in the infamous town of Vang Vieng (about 150km north) to watch the game. We didn’t really want to go to Vang Vieng, it has a reputation as a place where young backpackers go to indulge in booze and drugs. Sadly this is exactly what we discovered. Having said that when we first arrived we were pleasantly surprised as the view of the surrounding misty mountains from our guesthouse, at the quiet end of the town, was lovely.

Most people are here to go tubing, which is floating down the river in an inflatable ring stopping at the numerous bars along the river bank to down shots of Whisky or indulge in magic mushroom shakes. Of course taking getting totally wasted whilst playing in a fast-flowing river is not a good mix and on average 40 backpackers a year drown here – an incredible statistic that had us wondering why the place hasn’t been shut down, this newspaper article sums it all up if you want to know.

We went into the town to have some food, a very big and tasty burger, and watch the game. It wasn’t a great atmosphere, but watching it with my drunken compatriots was painful and we couldn’t wait to get back to the tranquil hotel. Unfortunately this tranquillity was ruined when we realised that we were sharing our bed with a load of bed bugs. Thus, first thing in the morning we were on the bus travelling north to Luang Prabang. Lesson learnt – if somewhere has a bad reputation, give it a miss!

It was only a few hundred KM’s but the journey took six hours on a very bendy road up and down mountain passes, which gave us some fantastic views although there were some pretty scary drop offs!

Thankfully we arrived safely in timeless Luang Prabang, which we liked immediately. Lying on the banks of the Mekong River surrounded by mountains the town has a scenic setting, which coupled with some lovely colonial buildings, Buddhist temples, and a easy-going atmosphere make it a lovely place.

Of course this hasn’t gone unnoticed and the town is firmly on the tourist trail, but unlike Vang Vieng it hasn’t had a negative impact. There are numerous guesthouses, restaurants, and European style cafes – you can get a good coffee here – but it all somehow seems to fit in with the vibe of the town. We stayed at the cheap but nice Mao Pha Shok guest house, which had a room with a balcony overlooking the river.

This was a contributing factor that has seen us stay in Luang Prabang for 6 days, which we have taken at gentle pace, this is not a place to rush about, mainly due to late nights watching the football! There are numerous temples dotted around the town, which are all similar, but it was interesting to see what the monks (there are lots of them in Luang Prabang) get up to at the towns main temple, Wat Xieng Thong – pretty much anything that needs doing it seems, including a bit of decorating.

There were other interesting temples across the river, which we crossed in a long thin ferry boat, and it’s fair to say that there’s quite a difference on the opposite back from the town. In Luang Prabang you can get a cappuccino and a croissant in a French style cafe, whilst over the river people live in simple huts on dirt roads – I guess you could say this is the ‘real’ Laos.

We walked a couple of KM’s along the river bank through villages and found several simple temples along the way. Again there were several monks resident and we learnt that parents (especially those from poor backgrounds) send their sons to be educated in Buddism as they cannot provide for them. The monks live a simple life with few possessions but they are highly respected. The most interesting temple was surprisingly in a big limestone cave, Wat Tham Xieng Maen, which we found with the help of a young girl (approx. 10) with a torch who unlocked the entrance doors set in the hillside.

Once inside we were surprised by how large the cave was – the girl couldn’t speak much English but it seemed like they worshipped it as Buddha’s burial site, and we saw lots of broken Buddha statues lying around. It was quite a bizarre experience walking around a dark cave with a child as a guide – of course she insisted on a tip! Another temple, Wat Chom Phet, was set at the top of a step staircase up the hillside, and on climbing it we had a good view back over the river towards Luang Prabang.

The ferry driver picked us up and took us on cruise along the river for the sunset, which was a leisurely trip during which we saw several fishermen working with their nets. We enjoyed the sunset whilst sipping on a can of the local Beer – Beerlao – very relaxing.

We had initially thought Laos’s food was similar to Thai, but this is because many restaurants serve Thai food to tourists as it’s more popular. Traditional Laos food is based on sticky rice, which is served up anytime of the day. We found a restaurant called Tamarind, which specialised in introducing tourists to local food with a menu full of detailed descriptions it really aided our understanding. We tried the tasting platter, which consisted of river seaweed, stewed bamboo shoots, spicy jungle vegetables, a Luang Prabang sausage, buffalo rind chilli paste, and of course sticky rice. An interesting experience with some pretty intense, and new, flavours!

We had a look around the Royal Palace, which was built relatively recently in 1904 for the Laos king and his family. The palace served as the residence for three successive kings until 1975 when a revolution saw the royal family exiled to a cave in Northern Laos, since then the palace has been a museum. As you might imagine it’s grand building with large airy rooms and a golden decor, and includes the Pha Bang Buddha statue that gives the town its name.

For another sunset we climbed the 400 steps up to the summit of Mt. Phu Si where a golden stupa, That Chomsi, sits high overlookinig the town – at night it’s lit up and looks very spiritual from below. In the humidity it’s a sweat inducing climb but the views over the town and river are well worth the effort.

At the top we met some local teenagers who wanted to practise their English and we enjoyed talking with them and learning about their culture whilst taking in the views. After climbing down the steps we had a wander through the picturesque night market, which is setup every evening on the main road through the town outside the Royal Palace. Friendly traders sell some delightful souvenirs, and because in Laos the people aren’t pushy, as is common elsewhere in Asia, there’s a really nice atmosphere. The market is surprisingly long and it’s hard to walk through it all without being tempted to buy something!

After another late, and frustrating, night watching England at Euro 2012, we decided to stay up to watch the Morning Alms ceremony at 5:30am. This is a centuries old tradition where the monks walk through the town to receive food offerings, normally sticky rice, from the town’s residents. For the residents it’s a sign of respect to the monks and for the monks it’s an important source of food. There’s a lot of etiquette involved, such as you should never be higher than a monk (everyone kneels down), which makes it hard for tourists to get involved without causing offence. After much debate we bought some sticky rice from our guesthouse, which Lisa joined in with the locals to hand out (literally) to the Monks who carry a large pot for receiving the donations. It was all over really quickly, twenty or so monks walked past single file and received the rice without speaking or any eye contact – quite a strange experience.

Things happen early in Luang Prabang and at 6am a morning market starts where people from rural areas come into the town to sell their produce. There are no supermarkets in Laos so this is where the locals go to do their grocery shopping, by 9am it’s all finished. Despite it being a rainy morning the market was colourful and vibrant – albeit in the laid-back Laos way!

After the market we were gasping for some sleep so slept for the rest of the morning, suitably refreshed, in the afternoon we visited the nearby Kuang Si waterfall. The waterfall is tiered over several levels with turquoise pools at each level that are ideal for a refreshing swim – although the water was surprisingly cold!

The following day was my birthday and Lisa’s present to me (and herself!) was a 2-day ‘Mahout’ (the driver and keeper of an elephant) experience. There are several companies that offer these experiences near Luang Prabang so she did some research to find one that cares for the wellbeing of elephants and settled on the ‘Elephant Village’ who focus on rehabilitating elephants from the logging industry. Laos’s is described as ‘the Land of a million elephants’ so it seemed only right that we spend some time with them whilst we were here. It’s located about 15km out of Luang Prabang, down some bumpy dirt roads, on the banks of the Nam Khan River.

Our day started by learning the basic commands of driving the elephants “Song” commands the elephant to lift its leg to help you get on, “Bei” is go, “Hau” is stop, “Si” is right, and “Huay” is left. Of course this went in one ear and out the other, but thankfully we had a real mahout on the elephants with us (most of the time!). Next we learnt how to get up on to the elephants neck – use the elephant’s left leg as a step up and grab hold of her left ear and pull yourself up – easy? No, to the unitiated it’s an undignified scramble up and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the elephant as I yanked at her ear!

Thankfully the elephant, ‘Me Wah’, was patient and didn’t seem to mind – they only use female elephants as they are more gentle. Once up on the neck you then have to fight a bit of vertigo as it’s very high up there! You move as far forward as possible and wedge your knees in behind the elephant’s ears to grip on, and then before you know it you’re off ambling around the field.

After this short practice ride we feed ‘Me Wah’ a load of bananas, which she eagerly reached up for with her trunk.

Later, on a different elephant with a seat strapped to its back, Lisa and I, with a friendly mahout walking alongside, rode out through a village down to the river taking it in turns to ‘play mahout’ along the way. I have to say it was more comfortable riding in the padded seat rather than on the prickly (they have lots of sharp hairs) neck but hey that’s not what we were here for!

It looks like I know what I’m doing eh? Looks are deceiving as I felt the elephant did exactly what it wanted, usually stopping to pull up a bush to chew on, except when the mahout gave her some commands. It was fun though and we had a lot of laughs as the elephants, thankfully, plodded along at a relaxing pace.

After a bit of lunch we checked into a lodge on the banks of the river in a very scenic spot where we would stay overnight. Then we rode an elephant each up into the mountains where they are left to their own devices, on a long chain, in the jungle until the next morning.

Afterwards we visited a waterfall up river, not too exciting as it was pretty much dry, and then cooled off in the lovely swimming pool at the lodge, which had quite a view.

We then relaxed the evening away with a few Beerlaos’s whilst overlooking the river – it had been a very different but fantastic birthday! Next morning we were up early as we had to trek up the mountain to help the mahouts collect the elephants, which we then rode down to the river for a bath – I’m not sure what they had been doing all night but they were filthy! To say the elephants liked the water is an understatement – they couldn’t wait to get in! I have to say I was a little apprehensive going into the water on the back of a several ton animal – the river was fast-flowing, chocolate brown, and pretty high thanks to a load of overnight rain – but you grip on and get on with it!

The elephants were splashing water all over the place and ducking under the water so naturally we got totally soaked, thankfully the water wasn’t too cold, but it was a load of fun. We brushed them off, which they seemed to like especially behind their ears, and after 15 mins or so the elephants emerged looking lovely and clean – what an amazing experience!

There ended our training and we were then told we could now consider ourselves ‘Mahouts’! It was then our turn to have a wash (not in the river!) followed by a nice breakfast before we went back to Luang Prabang. I would thoroughly recommend the ‘Elephant Village’ if you are looking to spend some time with elephants whilst in Laos.

We spent the rest of the day chilling out in a cafe by the river, where I enjoyed a gorgeous ‘Cookie Sundae’ as a belated birthday ‘cake’.

In the late afternoon we sadly, we didn’t want to leave, boarded a bus that would take us overnight out to the Thai border. It was an arduous and bumpy 12–hour trip in a cramped mini-bus along some very bumpy dirt roads – not the best overnight bus trip we have taken – but arrived at the border around 6am. Laos and Thailand are separated by the Khong river, so we got stamped out of Laos and then took a little boat across the river and got stamped into Thailand – as far as border crossings go quite cool!

It was then a nice and smooth, it was obvious immediately that Thailand is much more developed, four hour bus ride from the border to the city of Chiang Mai where we arrived late yesterday afternoon. We were shattered so after a bit of Khao Soi, a delicious noodle soup with coconut milk that is a speciality here, we went to bed. I set an alarm and forced myself to watch the England v Ukraine game last night, which thankfully England won!

So now we are in Thailand, the last, and no means least, country of our 15 month trip – we’ll spend two weeks here. We were pretty sad to leave Laos, it’s a lovely peaceful country with some really lovely people – there’s so much more to it than ‘tubing’ and we would definitely go back there again.

There’s a load of photos from our trip through Laos here.

Waiting Game

Travelling is very much a waiting game a times, currently I’m sat in an internet Cafe in the Southern Thai town Surat Thani waiting to catch a train at 00:51 – its now 19:00!  I had to get here so early as the last boat I had to catch to the mainland is at 15:30.  Oh well, it gives me a chance to upload some photos, I’ve put some from Vietnam here, and Thailand here.

Heres me in one of the bamboo hats the Vietnammese like to wear (even hides my big hair!):

Nice Hat!

Not too much to report from the last few days, mainly just been sat on a beach reading!  Spent 3 days on the island of Koh Phangnan, we moved down to the south of the Island on the 2nd day for a bi more nightlife!  It was ok, nice beaches – at night they had a warm up full moon party (which didn’t seem that different to the real thing to me – I went last year) and it was spot the Thai person.  Lots of drunk westerners.  We had a nice hut right on the beach, its cool hearing the sea when you go to bed!  And some fantastic sunsets:

Sunset on Koh Phangnan

Yesterday we came back over to Koh Samui, which is the largest of the Islands.  Again didn’t do much except for swim and read – oh and I watched a bit of the Ashes.  The Islands are nice, but dint really reflect true Thailand as they are so westernised due to the many package tour companies going there.

So its off to Malaysia next, not going to have much time here but looking forward to seeing its capital, Kuala Lumpur, because its got a cool name!  Tomorrow I’ll probably do an overnight stop in the northern town of Georgetown (named by us Brits) on the Island of Penang, whish is supposed to be nice.  I aim to be in Singapore (three train journeys on Dec 8th) as my flight to Australia is on the 10th.  The Asia adventure is nearly over, strange feeling of sad at leaving Asia (love it here) but excited to be going to Australia too!

Lifes a Beach

Arrived in Koh Samui at about 5pm last night, luckily the last ferry to Koh Phangnan was at 6:30 so I managed to meet up with Tom last night.  We met at the guesthouse he was staying in on the west of the Island, Haad Son – a very quiet peaceful beach with hardly anyone about.  A little too quiet in fact, we were the only ones in the bar!  Today we’ve moved down to the South of the Island, near the town of Hat Rin where the Moon Parties are held.  Hopefully should be a bit livelier tonight!  Just been relaxing on the beach and swimming in the millpond calm sea this afternoon!  Toms got a snorkel so had a go with that and its amazing to see loads of fish swimming so close to you – quite big ones too!

Sounds like Toms had a good time on Koh Tao, except when he rented a motorbike that he promptly fell off!  He’s got a nasty graze down his leg and across his forehead – luckily he’s got a thick head so nothing to life threating!

Looks like England might be doing ok in the 2nd ashes test, go on lads!  I get to Australia for the 3rd test so hoping that England are still in contention then!  Two more days chilling out then off to Malaysia, there’s a Moon Party here on the 6th, but did that last year so fancy trying something different.  Seems strange being 30 degrees in December, the plane I flew to Samui on was decorated with Father Christmas’s and Snowman – seemed kinda out of place to me!

Poshing it up!

Just in bangkok Airways lounge at Bangkok Airport – bit posh for a cheapskate backpacker like me!  Free food, drink, internet, papers – nice to have a few perks!  Certainly beats the 3 days of getting bumped around through Cambodia!  Just catching up on the Coventry City highlights, good to see us banging some goals in, playoffs still possible!

Flight to Samui’s delayed 20 mins so I’m off to stock up on the freebies – gotta make the most of a free feed…….