After a few weeks in New Bern preparing – renewing passports, obtaining visas, securing Sol Purpose, etc. we set off on our next adventure!
We had reserved the cheapest rental car we could find for the drive from New Bern to Raleigh. We went to the airport in New Bern to pick it up and were handed the keys to the only car available – a bright yellow Mustang! Moray was in heaven! He was only sorry that it was less than a three hour drive to Raleigh!
On the way to the airport, we stopped at Snoopy’s Hot Dogs for a bite to eat – http://snoopys.com/ . If you’re ever in Raleigh, you must try them.
We dropped off the car (much to Moray’s dismay!) and headed to the airport for our next piece of good luck. We had been TSA pre-checked, so clearing through security took no time at all. Of course, that gave us extra time before our flight so we sat down for a drink, and to watch the World Poker Championships. I never thought I would enjoy that but after learning how to play in Georgetown, it’s fascinating to watch the professionals.
Right on time, our flight left Raleigh for the short trip to Atlanta, where we had a couple of hours layover. We used the time to recharge our iPads, ready for the long flight ahead. Again, right on time our Delta/Korean Airlines flight took off for the almost 14 hour flight to Seoul, South Korea. The flight was full and we weren’t able to get seats together but we did have seats with no one in front, which gave us a little more legroom. The flight, food and service were all excellent. There were many movies to choose from, and I watched four (although truth be told, I probably dozed off at least once in each of them!). We arrived in Seoul at 4am local time, and as we left the plane and headed to the transfer area, the airport handed us vouchers to get a free drink and breakfast sandwich. That was very welcome, as we had a five-hour layover here. The airport was very comfortable, with lounge chairs, rather than only the usual hard chairs at the gate, so the wait wasn’t bad at all. And once again, right on time, we boarded a Korean flight for the last leg of our journey to Thailand. I don’t think I have ever seen so many cabin crew on one flight! Once again, the service and the food were excellent. As all the writing on the packages of food was in Korean, we weren’t entirely sure what one item was. It looked like it should be yoghurt, but it came with a packet of soy sauce. The Korean lady sitting next to me explained that it was soft tofu. You pour the soy sauce on top and eat it, much like pouring honey on top of greek yoghurt. It was delicious!
Two nights in Bangkok…
Very soon we were coming in to land in Bangkok. Immigration was painless, and we got our 60-day visa stamped without a hitch. The bags were waiting by the time we got to the carousel, so the next stop was an ATM to get some Thai cash – Bahts. Next task was to get a SIM card so that we could use the phone while in Thailand. This proved a little more problematic as we couldn’t get the card to work in the phone, but eventually we got it working in the iPad, so it looks as though we will be using Skype to make phone calls! We will therefore not have a physical number we can be contacted at while here in Thailand, but we do have email and Facebook. Next stop was to head out to the meeting area where we had arranged for a driver (whose name was Sombat) to meet us and take us to our Air Bnb in Bangkok. As we pulled out of the airport, I got my first sight of Asia. The first half hour of the drive was much like being on a major roadway in the West, but the closer we got to Bangkok, the more it changed. The drivers are very aggressive and seem to make up the rules of the road as they go along. Also, there are a million scooters, whose riders don’t follow any rules at all! It’s a bit of a shock to see a whole family on one, two-seater scooter, none of them wearing helmets. The kids just perch in front of their parents casually. Anyway, somehow, everyone seems to find a way to where they want to be!
The further into Bangkok we got, the narrower the roads became until they were about the same width as the car we were in. And, unlike the US, there is no grid pattern – streets head off in all directions. We wondered how many times we would get lost trying to find our way to our apartment. Even the driver got lost twice, but eventually, we pulled up in front of our apartment building. We picked up our keys and headed up to the 13th floor (thank goodness for working elevators!). It was a nice apartment with a mini-kitchen, wet-room, air-conditioning and king-size bed – yes, a bed that we can get in from both sides! If you have ever spent time on a boat or in an RV/caravan, you will know what a big deal that can be!
View of the Chao Phraya river from our apartment
We took showers, which made us feel better, and then set off to walk to the Thai Travel Clinic, to get our vaccinations taken care of. Now I have lived in Texas for a long time, and thought I understood (if not enjoyed) heat. I was wrong – the heat and humidity was indescribable, especially for two very tired travelers. By the time we got to the clinic, we were soaked through! Everyone in the clinic spoke English, so it was a very easy process. We filled in some paperwork, met with a doctor, who checked where we going and what we were going to be doing, before recommending that we have vaccinations against Japanese Encephalitis as well as the Rabies pre-exposure shots. We were happy to hear that the recommendation for the Rabies shots has been reduced from three to two! Moray also needed to get a Tetanus and Diphtheria shots, as his last one was about 12 years ago. The doctor wrote a prescription for each of us, which we took to the clinic’s payment department. After paying the vast sum of $80 – yes, you read that right; not the $2,400 the US wanted to charge us just for the rabies shots – we picked up the vaccines from the pharmacy, took them back into the clinic and had the shots.
We started back towards the apartment, stopping off at a street vendor to buy some chicken satay. Three sticks of satay cost 20 bahnt, which is about 70 cents. Absolutely delicious! Then we continued our walk until we came to the central train station – Hua Lamphong. We stopped there at a bar and sampled our first Singha beers. Finally, back to the apartment for a good sleep after two days of travelling. As we were to find, all Thai beds are very hard, but we had absolutely no trouble sleeping!
We woke the next morning to the great news that the 12 boys and their coach had been discovered alive in the caves near Chiang Rai. The country is hanging on the story, which as you can imagine is on every TV, 24 hours a day. For us, this was to be a sightseeing day – a market, a temple or two and a palace.
We walked around our neighbourhood for a little while, which was fascinating. Every building has items spread out on the street for sale (so much so that everyone has to walk in the road). In our particular neighbourhood, the items were all car parts, each store front selling a different part. And of course, none of these parts were new or boxed up and stacked tidily – they were reclaimed parts piled high!
this store broke down complete engines
this one did all sorts
Our first sightseeing destination for the day was Chinatown, where we spent a couple of hours, looking at all the merchandise, sampling street food and taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of the market.
there are many Chinese temples in Bangkok
great cheap street food
local water taxi speeding down a local klong. Can you say WAKE!
We also walked down to the river to see how the water taxi service worked. While there we saw how heavily populated the river was with fish as the locals feed them.
Then we headed to our first temple. Bangkok and the northern parts of Thailand are predominantly Buddhist and so there are hundreds of temples and shrines. We selected just a couple of the most famous to see in our two day stay. The first was Wat Pho, which was built by King Rama I in the 16th century. There is a school there, as well as a massage school where the 4 types of massage are taught. Visitors can get a massage at the school, but we decided to give that experience a miss, just for now. The temple itself is stunning – I will let the photos do the talking.
there are Chinese influences everywhere in the statues
many of the walls are covered in teaching material
for the first time since my childhood I saw bamboo scaffolding. OSHA would never sign off on this 🙂
temple guards (Yaks) at the Grand Palace
close up detail of the previous picture
My favourite part was the Reclining Buddha. The statue is about 50 feet tall, and about 182 feet long, and fills the temple. The statue is covered in gold leaf, apart from the soles of the feet. These are about 16 feet long and are covered with mother of pearl.
this Buddha has almost no butt!
As this is a temple, and the Buddha is so revered, all visitors have to remove their shoes and leave them outside the temple. There are huge racks of shoes and it seems that there is very little problem with finding your own shoes when you leave! Another form of respect is to be covered from head to knee. At this temple complex, there are robes to put on to provide the required coverage, but we had read about this in advance, so had worn long shorts and tees that covered our shoulders.
Wat Pho is actually a whole complex of temples, with a huge number of images of the Buddha. The gold and glasswork on the temples and the Buddhas are absolutely stunning. We spent a couple of hours here, just awestruck.
After a delicious lunch of green curry and garlic chicken, we set off to look around the Grand Palace. We had to buy a pair of trousers for Moray, as his shorts were considered too short! I think they are on to something here, as at least 25% of the men and women in the Palace complex were wearing the pants and sarongs made of the same Thai fabric!
I had thought Wat Pho was amazing with the amount of gold and jewels on display, but it paled into insignificance when we saw the Palace. The King is held in high regard by many in Thailand, and it is a crime to say anything against him. The wealth on display was staggering. One part of the palace was being restored by a team of artists, repainting the wall decorations.
model of Angkor Wat
local artisans working on the building walls
By this time, we were both very hot and the jet lag was beginning to take a toll. Neither of us relished the long walk back, so we made our way to the nearest water taxi stop. We knew there was a stop very close to the apartment so that would save us about a two hour walk. When the taxi comes in, there is a lot of commotion – the man on the back is using a whistle to give instructions to the driver at the front. They pull in and if there are several people to get off and on, they tie off with one line only. If there are only a few, the passengers literally leap off and on while the driver holds it against the pier as best he can. We jumped on the taxi when it arrived, and made our way inside. They pack as many people as is physically possible into each boat and the river is chock-a-block with boats. It’s amazing that there aren’t lots of disasters every day, but somehow, just like on the road, they seem to avoid each other. A few minutes into the journey, a ticket collector came along and we paid for our ticket which is the same for one stop or the whole route, the vast sum of 15 baht each (about 45 cents each). Next door to our apartment building was a bar where we had a drink while enjoying the phenomenal view of the river.
relaxing at the River View
After showers and a nap, we headed back into Chinatown. We saw a place that said Chinese Hot Pot and Dim Sum, so we thought we would give it a try. With hindsight, not one of our best decisions, but it was an experience! Basically, it was a Chinese fondue. It’s a set price, and they put several bowls of raw ingredients on the table. Instead of a place mat, each place at the table has a hot plate on which they place a bowl of water. Once it comes to the boil, you drop in the various ingredients and make a sort of broth with whatever you choose. We weren’t sure how long everything would take to cook, as we didn’t know what everything was, but we gave it a go, and it was fairly tasty! We know that some of the ingredients were tofu, sausage, squid, fish, chicken, beef, dumplings and noodles. There was also lettuce and several other green leaves – possibly basil and some other herbs! I’m sure we were the source of much amusement to the regulars, but it was fun, though maybe a one-time experience!
As we had feared, the maze of streets proved a little daunting in the dark and we took a couple of wrong turns, but eventually we found our way back and fell, gratefully, into bed.
After a good night’s sleep we woke bright and early. We packed up our bags and tidied the apartment before heading for Hua Lamphong train station. Several tuk tuk (local taxis) drivers called out to us, but it wasn’t a long walk, and we were soon at the major road intersection in front of the station. Crossing this road without bags would be bad enough, but with bags, it proved to be an absolute nightmare. There doesn’t appear to be any time allotted for pedestrians to cross the road, so you have to understand the sequence of the traffic lights AND have a deathwish to get across! We decided that the best thing to do would be wait next to a local and follow their lead. It took a few minutes but eventually we were safely across and in the station.
Train travel is very reasonably priced in Thailand so the station was already packed with travelers. We weren’t going to be leaving until the evening, so we dropped off our bags at the Left Luggage area for the day. I didn’t worry much about security but I was a little concerned when I saw the sign advising people not to have any food in their left luggage because of the rats!
Without our luggage, we were now free to spend the rest of the day sightseeing, but first we stopped at the station food court to get some breakfast. There are several food stations, all selling different kinds of food. You decide what you want, find the price, then go to a ticket office and buy a ticket equivalent to the price of your meal. Then you take it to whichever station you want to pick up your food. We paid 40 Baht (roughly $1.40) each for a bowl of rice with two additional items. I had a fried egg and ground chicken, while Moray had green curry and an egg. There isn’t really a concept of breakfast food, lunch food and dinner food here – all meals are available at all times. I’m afraid after breakfast, I caved and went to a coffee shop for a cappuccino!
Our next task was to brave the intersection again, to go to the travel agent’s office to pick up our train tickets for that evening. We were going to travel by sleeper train, which is a popular mode of transport for travelers and locals, so the trains get booked very quickly. Knowing that, we had booked online through 12GO, and they had our tickets waiting. That done, we headed toward the river to take a water taxi over to Wat Arun, another of the most famous temples in Bangkok. Unfortunately, I had packed up my wrap, so I had to rent one to cover my shoulders. This temple was even more stunning than Wat Pho, with a huge amount of gold and coloured glass. The giants guarding the temple were a sight to behold!
a close up of the elephants at the top of the tower in the previous photo
After visiting the temple for a while, we headed over to the café area, where there were misters blowing, which were a godsend in the heat. Moray had a Magnum ice cream, while I decided it was time for me to be adventurous. There is a very common fruit in Asia called durian. It can be bought at pretty much every market stall and is very popular. However, there is one big drawback – it stinks like sweaty feet! It is so bad that lots of hotels and apartments ban you from bringing them on premises… seriously! As it is such a staple here, though I wanted to try it, so I decided to start small with some durian ice cream.
Next we took the water taxi to Wan Lang Market. I had to video the taxi docking and disembarkation as the captains and crew really know what they are doing. Keep in mind that this is a fast flowing river.
We had lunch in a little café, before taking a look around the market. It was fascinating but the best part was all the different foods.
its hard to tell but these were tiny pieces of sushi
They had a pancake stand where the owner wiped a ball of “dough” onto a hot plate to make the pancakes…
After a couple of days of walking in the intense heat, we decided we would like to spend some time on the river, but rather than pay for a private longboat tour, we just rode the taxi all the way to the last pier, then turned around and came back again. The changes in building styles and quality as we made our way along the river were very interesting to see, as were the various styles of boat on the water. We spent a pleasant, and much cooler couple of hours doing this!
high end apartments that were just finished
There was also a lot of barge traffic on the river. However the local barges were very different from those that we have seen in the US, although equally well captained…
It was time to head back to the station, where we found a stall selling noodle soup. We chose one beef and one pork – it was excellent. Now I had succumbed to a western craving for cappuccino that morning, so now it was Moray’s turn. There is a Dunkin’ Donuts in Hua Lamphong station and it was doing a roaring trade!
It was almost time to leave, so we picked up our bags and boarded the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, a journey northwards of about 700 miles. The train is split into first, second and third class. Third class tickets give you a seat in a carriage with no air conditioning or fans. Second class tickets give you a seat which converts to a bed in an air conditioned carriage. There are about 50 beds, one row below and one row above, on either side of the carriage, all with curtains so that they are private. First class tickets give you a private carriage with up to 4 beds in each. We had chosen second class, so we boarded our carriage and found our seats. These were two seats facing each other. Once we got going, an attendant came round and prepared the beds. He converted the two seats into a bed, and then made up the bed. Next he pulled down the top bunk and made up that bed. He was incredibly efficient! There were little luggage racks for each pair of seats, so it was a little crowded but perfectly easy to get around. As it was already dark by the time we left, we each settled into our bunks, curtains closed to read and to get as much sleep as possible. It was actually very comfortable, but the lights weren’t dimmed, so it was a bit bright. I still managed to get enough sleep though.
Around 6am, the carriage attendant gently pulled the curtains a little way back to start waking people up. There is a kitchen car on the train, and it’s possible to order breakfast when you board the train so that it can be delivered to your seat in the morning. We were planning on getting breakfast in Chiang Mai, so we didn’t order anything, but I did go the kitchen area and get a coffee. I was in the top bunk which has no windows, so I sat on Moray’s bed and watched the scenery as we passed. It was like being in a different country from the sights of Bangkok. We were passing through areas of jungle, rice fields and banana plantations, all against a backdrop of mountains. It was breathtaking scenery.
a local station an hour out of Chiang Mai
As we were travelling the carriage attendant came along the carriage, preparing the train for the return journey by clearing away the used bedding, putting out fresh bedding and putting up the top bunks. Finally, he converted the lower bunks back into seats where we sat for the rest of the journey.
Markets and Massages
Right on time, at 8:00am, we pulled into Chiang Mai station. Moray negotiated a price with a taxi driver who took us to the Kamala Guest House, right on the edge of the Old City. We were too early to check in, but we were able to leave our bags. That done, we headed just down the road to The Cat House – where we enjoyed the breakfast burritos, with a bowl of lentil curry. Even better, we got to meet the resident kitten!
It was still too early to check in, so we took a walk into the Old City to find somewhere to get a foot massage. None were open at that time, but the owner of one said that he would be opening in about 30 minutes, so we went to a nearby café to have a smoothie (Moray) and a coffee (me) while we waited. Then it was time to take our dirty feet and swollen ankles to be massaged. We each had an hour-long foot massage, which included a 10 minute shoulder and neck rub. It was wonderfully relaxing and cost us the grand sum of 471 Baht, including the tip. Yes, you did read that right – $14 for an hour-long massage for 2 people!
Our next stop was a wonderful café, where I had chicken satay and spring rolls. Moray opted for the spring rolls, vegetable tempura and banana flower salad. All the food was excellent. This was a café selling excellent Thai food, but owned by a British expat, so we asked him where would be the best place to watch the World Cup Final matches. He gave us a few suggestions in various areas of the city.
Finally it was time to check in, so we headed back to the hotel. We weren’t too happy to find our bags sitting in the lobby, with no one there, but it appears that nothing had been tampered with. The receptionist returned and asked for our passports, as is usual. However, she didn’t notice when she opened mine, that she dropped the exit document into the trash! Luckily, I spotted it and the precious piece of paper was retrieved! The room was small, with nowhere to put our clothes, but there was a nice big bed, and a great shower, so all was good. We took showers and turned on the TV to find it was showing Harry Potter – in English!
the view from our apartment in Chiang Mai
The next morning we headed out to find breakfast. The area we were in has a lot of tourists and most places were offering American breakfast. This wasn’t what we were looking for so we kept looking until we found a place offering both American AND Thai breakfasts. We chose spicy ground pork with sweet sausage wrapped in a kind of omelet – very tasty. Then began another day of sightseeing. Chiang Mai was a walled city, but only a few parts of the wall remain today. Where the wall used to stand, there is now a waterway surrounding the old city. We walked to Tha Phae Gate, which is one of the four remaining gates into the city. At the gate, people were selling bird food, and visitors were feeding the pigeons. The birds were sitting on people’s arms, while photographers roamed around taking pictures. There was even a bride and groom having their pictures taken.
Tha Phae Gate
time for a break
who would have thought it…. a Boots in Thailand!
From the gate, we walked down the main street, called Walking Street, to Wat Phan Tao. This was very different from the temples we saw in Bangkok, being more influenced by Burma’s (now Myanmar) form of Buddhism. Outside was much more austere, but inside was just as opulent, with lots of gold. As we approached the temple, a local man tried to get us to hire him as a driver for the day. He did not want to take no for an answer, and kept changing his tactics. When he asked if we were father and daughter, I couldn’t stop laughing and just started to walk away, at which point he tried another approach. He told Moray that his beard made him look like a monkey!!!! Not an approach that I would think works with many people! Although Moray laughed and joked with him, it probably won’t surprise you to know that we didn’t hire him!
The next temple was Wat Pha Singh, which again was very beautiful. There was a Buddhist couple who had given a basket of food to one of the monks and were receiving a blessing in an elaborate ceremony, which was fascinating to watch. We were amazed at how still the monks at the front were sitting. It took a few moments to realize that they were actually statues – they were as lifelike as anything Madame Tussauds has to offer!
We then made our way around the edge of the old city until we came to Suan Buak Haad City Park. It’s a lovely park, with trees, grass and a lake fully stocked with fish. People were feeding the fish, or sitting under the trees having picnics. All around the edge of the park there was exercise equipment for general use, with instructions in Thai and English. One of the teachings of Buddhism is that to have a healthy mind you need a healthy body, and this was written at each of the pieces of equipment. Unfortunately, we didn’t see anyone other than ourselves try out any of the machines.
After stopping at a café for noodles, we made our way to Wat Chedi Luang. This was the most unusual temple we saw in our whole time in Thailand. It was wooden, rather than stone, and very plain on the outside. Inside, it was just as ornate as any other temple we had seen.
beautiful wooden temple
I half expected a monk to come out and play the donation bowls like a glass harp 🙂
your donation could get you some gold leaf and you could then apply it to the Buddha
We popped back to the hotel to take showers before we headed back to the massage place to get an hour long Thai massage. Can you see a pattern developing here? 🙂
The evening was to be spent at the Night Market. There were a couple close to our hotel. The first was a street market, with stalls along the side of the road, leading to an open square, surrounded by various food stalls. In the centre there were Thai dancers performing traditional dances. We had a bite to eat here, and then continued along the road to the covered Night Market. It was all very colourful, with lots of beautiful silk and jade items for sale, but it didn’t seem to have the atmosphere I had anticipated. Many of the stalls had signs that the price was fixed, so it was clear that haggling wasn’t an option. Not what I had been expecting and a bit of a let down.
A little disappointed, we stopped at a cocktail bar for mojitos, where we were chatting with an Indian couple who were in town for a conference/mini-break. This was their first trip since their children had left home and they were thoroughly enjoying themselves! We also chatted with an Australian expat, who was a sailor. We talked for a while about sailing in Australia, before it was time to head back to the hotel.
The next day, after a lazy morning, we headed back into the old city to see the Three Kings Monument, which is a sculpture of King Mengrai, King Ramkamhaeng and King Ngam Muang, who are the founding fathers of Chiang Mai. They stand in a plaza where the royal palace once stood.
Moray visited another nearby temple, while I waited outside, as I was wearing shorts!
intricate doors on a hotel near a temple
nice lip gloss if you can get it!
a reel of burnt orange material which visitors sign when they give a donation. It is then used to wrap the chedi prior to renovation
this chedi is almost ready to be worked on.
Back to the hotel for a shower, before round three of massages! This time Moray opted for a shoulder and neck massage, while I treated myself to a pedicure. I felt so spoiled, with my lovely soft feet, and polished nails!
That evening, we planned to try another night market. This market is held every Sunday from 4pm till 11pm. It is held on the main street through the old city, called Walking Street, which is closed to all traffic, even scooters, for the duration of the market. We wandered along the street, just taking in all the sights and sounds, until we reached the end of Walking Street. We then made our way to Huen Phen, a restaurant we had found on TripAdvisor that specializes in northern Thai, or Lanna, food. We settled on the set meal, as this gave us the opportunity to try a number of dishes, along with sticky rice.
the set meal
inside of the restaurant
A couple of the dishes were spicier than I would have normally chosen, but they were all delicious. Accompanied by local Chang beer, it was a wonderful meal. We then headed back to the market. By this time, the street was absolutely packed, and in addition to the earlier sights and sounds, we could hear people haggling over prices. This was more like it! There were so many lovely local handcrafted items to choose from as souvenirs – silk scarves, sarongs, bowls made from coconut shells.
There were even bags made from teak tree leaves, which were very beautiful and incredibly strong. We jumped in and bought some items after a few minutes at each stall, working on getting the best price. It was a lot of fun! But, as much fun as that was, the most bizarre, yet entertaining thing about the market was the Band of three Thai men, one a local police officer in uniform, singing “Hang down your head Tom Dooley”. I don’t think I have the words, so please see for yourselves…
All shopped out, we made for Annie’s bar, to watch the World Cup final match. We got there a little early, while the owner and his friends were playing their favourite tunes. Their rendition of Hotel California is probably one of the best versions (apart from the original, of course) that I have ever heard. The place gradually filled up, and I think it was a pretty even mix between supporters of France and Croatia. It was a packed bar, lots of audience participation, and at the end, well… we all know what happened……
We were up bright and early to get breakfast at the Cat House, before being picked up from our hotel at 8:30am. After a couple more stops, we were all dropped off at the office of an adventure company, where we were given a little instruction on kayaking, kitted out with safety gear, and loaded into a minivan. After a 90 minute drive, we arrived at our first stop, which was the Chiang Dao cave in Doi Chiang Dao Mountain, one of the last teeth of the Himalayas.
Doi Chiang Dao Mountain, its top enshrouded in clouds
Don’t worry – this wasn’t THAT cave! At the entrance to this cave system, there is a Buddhist monastery, so all the girls were given sarongs to wear. We walked through the monastery area into the cave. At the mouth, and in several places inside the cave system, there are shrines, with statues of the Buddha. We walked for a while, looking at the wonderful stalactites and stalagmites, as well as the huge number of bats. Then we were met by a guide, as there are over 12 kilometres of caves in the system and it is easy to get lost. She led us through the caves, at some points, through gaps that we had to crawl through. We hadn’t actually signed up to do the cave part of the tour, and at this point I was beginning to regret that I hadn’t stuck to my original plan, but the spectacular caves were worth it! The route out was much easier, and soon we were back in the daylight.
entrance to the cave
one of many shrines in the cave system
can anyone say BATS!
some of the passages were a smidgen tight
a 45 meter drop… straight down
Above ground, the monastery had some more shrines and a chedi.
The monastery has a little restaurant, and we were all provided with a plate of sticky rice, fried egg and garlic & basil chicken. It was delicious. After our meal, we took another 20 minute van ride to a river, where we were to start our kayaking trip. Back in the office we were told that we would get a little time to practice, but when I saw the speed of the water, I wondered how we were going to practice without getting swept away. Moray was first in, with the instruction “Get in, turn 180 degrees, head 100m down river, then eddy out (turn round and face back up river to stop)”. Really, was it going to be that easy? He was amazing and did it with no problem at all. I was next and managed to follow his lead, which gave me more confidence. The other 7 kayakers, along with 3 guides, all followed, with only 2 spills, and soon we were heading down the Ping River, through the jungle. It was very peaceful, and most of the time very relaxing. Every now and again, there would be a quick current change which led to some frantic paddling, but it was all good. At one point we reached a little weir, so we had to drag the canoes out of the water, past the weir, then drop back in and start paddling again. I had a couple of mishaps when I misjudged the current and went swimming, but the guides were there to reunite me and my kayak, and I continued on my way, a little bruised but in no way put off! The whole trip down the river lasted about 2.5 hours, and we loved every minute of it!
raring to go
in her element
beautiful scenery, This is a bamboo bridge that the locals use to cross the river
It was a long ride back to the hotel, but they dropped us right at the door, so we headed straight in to take showers. We had dropped off some laundry at the reception that morning, and it was waiting for us, clean, dry and folded – not bad for 40 baht per kilo!
We walked into the old city to pick up some street food, which we ate outside a bar, while listening to the live reggae band inside. The satay, sweet sausage and Pad Thai were all delicious – the tripe that Moray felt compelled to try, not so much! We stayed and listened to the band for a little while, but were pretty tired after an energetic day, so turned in early.
The next day was another early start, with breakfast, followed by a taxi to the airport. The journey was easy, and we were dropped right in front of the check-in gate. Security was efficient and speedy, and soon we were sitting at our gate.
Phuket – remember, that’s pronounced “pooket”!
The turbulence we experienced on the descent into Phuket forewarned us for the torrential rain that was coming down in Phuket. This is the rainy season but so far we had managed to avoid any bad weather. Rain is going to fall at this time of year, but we just hoped it would stay away while we were exploring the country! Anyway, first things first. Moray negotiated with a couple of taxi drivers before he found one that would charge a reasonable fare to take us to Patong, about an hour’s drive south of the airport. We drove over a couple of mountains, and through several little towns, most notably a strictly Muslim town, called Kamala. Finally we arrived in Patong. As we weren’t staying in a hotel, but a condotel, with apartments, the driver had a little difficulty finding his way, but soon we were checking in and heading up to our 8th floor apartment. We were very relieved when we opened the door. After we had booked the place on Airbnb, there had been a couple of negative reviews, but we were pleased to see that they were unfounded. The apartment was clean, had a well-equipped kitchenette, a huge bed, and a big bathroom. The only downside was that, in order to preserve electricity, the power only came on when the key was inserted into a socket inside the door. This meant that we couldn’t leave the a/c running to come back to a cold room, but it was such a good a/c unit that it really didn’t take too long to cool everything down.
The very first order of business was to get to the hospital to get our second rabies shot. This cost a little more than the first round in Bangkok, but was very quick and painless! We were walking back to the apartment when the heavens opened again. We hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since breakfast, so we ducked into the King Kong Seafood Bar. It served great Thai food and drinks, the prices were reasonable, and Boney M classics were playing the whole time we were there! We waited out the storm, before making a run back to the apartment. We plugged the computer into the enormous TV in the room and watched “I am Legend”. When that was over, we turned on the TV, to find that one of the stations was ITV classics in English. We watched a couple of episodes of “Come Dine With Me” before the storm caused a loss of reception at about 10pm.
The next morning it was still raining, so we relaxed with our IPads for a while. The rain let up a little late morning, so we headed out to explore. We spotted a Chinese restaurant that was packed, so we went to take a look. There were several long tables, and you just sit in spaces when they become available. Luckily, just as we arrived a couple of people left, so we took their places. The food was absolutely delicious and by the time we left, there was a line about 15 people long. In fact, every time we passed by this restaurant over the course of our stay, which was twice a day, there was a long line outside. And in all that time, apart from ourselves, we only saw one other white face – it must be on the radar for all the Chinese tourists as the best place to eat.
We continued our walk through Patong when the rain started again, so we went into a covered market area to look at the stalls. It was much the same as the market in Bangkok, with sarongs, silk clothing, and tailors offering to make Moray a suit for $100!
Next we took a daytime stroll along Bangla Street. This is a long street of pretty much nothing but bars, and it ends at the beach. All the bars are open to the street, so we sat with a beer and watched the people passing by. Every so often, a street seller would try to sell us a watch, sunglasses or other items. Some just took no for an answer and walked on. Others tried a little harder and there was some light-hearted banter – especially when it came to sunglasses. When Moray pointed out that he was wearing sunglasses, they said yes, but they are terrible – these are better! I’m glad they didn’t try that on me as I was wearing my Maui Jim’s!!!
Next it was back to the condotel, to book tickets for an upcoming adventure. While we were there, we chatted with Nick, the owner for a good while about our plans in Koh Lanta. He gave us some great ideas and tips for things to do when got there.
Later that evening, it was back to Bangla Street, to experience it in all its glory! At night, the street is closed to traffic, and it is packed with tourists. This is the seedy underbelly of Thailand, the side that unfortunately many people think is the only one Thailand has. This is where you find the sex shows, the lady boys, the go-go dancers in all the bars. This is where people are walking up and down the street with signs advertising live sex and ping pong shows, as if it is normal. But that’s just it – here it IS normal. It’s business, pure and simple. And like any business that wants to be successful, they keep their premises clean. There’s not a single piece of trash or graffiti anywhere. And the tourists flock here to witness it all. There were families with young children walking around amidst all the Thai people selling shows, groups of young people determined to drink themselves into a jail cell, older expats accompanied by their young Thai companions and couples like us, just curious to see just what all the fuss was about.
the start of Thanon Bangla (Bangla Street)
it got busy and this is every night n high season, November to April is is heaving with tourists
Every McDonalds in Thailland has Ronald doing the wai
even at night there are plenty of people there
the bar below the Moulin Rouge was our favorite with great cover bands
After walking the length of the street, we returned to a bar where we had heard a live band playing. They were excellent, and had a varied repertoire, covering Bruno Mars to AC/DC! The drinks prices were reasonable too, so we stayed for a while to listen before moving on to another bar. The music there was not as good, so we decided to move on again. We were walking around another part of the street when we saw that a drag show was about to begin. We stayed for the whole show which had several acts, all lip-synching to songs by such icons as Marilyn Monroe and Tina Turner. It was awesome! At the end, they all came out to take pictures with us, all for a “donation” of course!
hangin’ with the locals
Moray played a couple of rounds of pool at this bar, winning one, which cost him a round of drinks, but winning the other which resulted in us being presented with tequila shots! When the shots come out, that’s my cue to leave, so we headed back to our apartment.
The next day was a lazy one, reading and relaxing. We decided to have another foot massage, but the experience was nothing like the one in Chiang Mai. The place was very small, so that every time someone wanted to pass by, our masseuses had to stop what they were doing to let people through. Moray’s masseuse kept yawning and looked like she would fall asleep at any moment! Ah well, our feet still felt good afterwards!
The highlight of our Chiang Mai trip came on our last day. We had a lazy morning before being picked up outside our condotel. After a couple of stops at other hotels to pick up passengers, we were driven just north of Phuket to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. This sanctuary rescues elephants and educates visitors about them. Many outfits in Thailand still take visitors on elephant rides, but it is now known that this damages the elephants’ spines, so places like the EJS are trying to stop the practice. As we pulled up, we were greeted by two elephants. I must admit, I had been a little nervous about being close to an elephant, but they are incredibly gentle creatures and my apprehension dissipated immediately. There were a lot of visitors, but we were all gathered in the meeting area, where we were given some information about the different types of elephants in the world, the elephants found in Thailand and the elephants in the sanctuary. We were going to see Asian elephants, which are smaller than African elephants. We were especially excited to hear that the group we were going to meet had three babies!
We next went to the food station to fill buckets with bananas and watermelon, before heading up to meet the elephants. We spent about half an hour feeding the elephants, which was a lot of fun. For the babies, we had to start the peeling process, then hand the banana to the elephant, who took it with the “finger” at the end of their trunk. They then squeezed it in their curled trunk until the peel came off, before eating it! Some of the elephants were very picky, and would throw away bananas that they were given, and accepting only watermelon. And some couldn’t wait to be fed, and dived straight into the buckets!
ready for the feeding frenzy
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After feeding them, we headed back down to the meeting area for a little more instruction, before removing our shoes, donning swimsuits etc. (sexy time as the local mahouts called it). Now the real fun was to begin! We walked back up to a dirty, muddy pond, and got in it with the elephants. We were going to give them a mud bath! Elephants use the mud to remove insects etc. from their skin, so we helped them by rubbing the mud into their skin. Of course, if we threw mud at each other, it all added to the fun!
prepared for the madfest
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the motley crew
covered in mud, including under all our clothes and in our ears. It was like being a carefree kid again.
After about 20 minutes, just long enough to cover 6 elephants and about 25 people with mud, we left that pool and headed to another. There we scrubbed the mud off the elephants and played around in the water with them. The babies in particular were so much fun. They loved the splashing, and kept rolling over in the water with only their trunks above the surface!
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All too soon, bath time was over, and the elephants were taken back to their area. We all headed down to take showers and put on dry clothes. We were then treated to a lovely meal of massaman curry, pad thai, steamed rice and fruit. We got to try dragon fruit and mangosteens for the first time, both of which were delicious.
It was almost time to leave, but not before we were all given a gift of a local-made traditional woven top. This is what the mahouts traditionally wear and is a lovely memento of a great day.
After being taken back to our hotel, we had one last night in Patong, so we ate dinner at a roadside café, and then went back to Bangla to listen to the band we had enjoyed so much a couple of nights before. It was a great night out and a nice way to end the “holiday” part of our trip to Thailand.
We stayed a little longer than we should have, and probably had a drink (or two!) more than we should have before heading back to our hotel, given that we needed to get up at 6am to pack in time for our 7am pick up. I woke the next morning and went into the bathroom. Gradually it dawned on me that it was daylight. I went back to the bedroom and realized that it was 6:35am! Panic stations! We ran around the room stuffing everything into bags as fast as we could. We got down to reception and asked if they could do their check of the room quickly as we were being picked up at 7am. They were very understanding and went straight up there. Just as well, because we had missed our IPad charging cables which would have been a disaster! Just as they were handing back our key deposit, the van showed up! We spent the whole time in the van trying to calm down, and every now and again, bursting out laughing! The van ride was to Old Phuket Town, where we boarded a ferry. Recently, there have been a couple of incidents involving the ferries here, over 40 died in a sinking this month 😦 , but this seems to have all been taken to heart, and as everyone boarded, they were handed a life jacket and told to put it on and keep it on. There were even police on board to ensure that jackets were worn at all times. Still, the ferry was very crowded, mostly with tourists going to spend the day at Koh Phi Phi (pronounced Ko Pee Pee). This is the island featured in the Leonardo Di Caprio movie, The Beach, and has become incredibly popular. The journey was about 2 hours, and as we approached the island, we had a wonderful view of this stunning island. It rises up almost vertically from the sea, with what look like stalactites on the cliffs. The top of the mountain is covered with jungle, and it’s an incredibly beautiful sight. There were very many boats taking people on tours, scuba diveboats, snorkeling boats and ferries. We even saw a couple of charter catamarans anchored in front of the caves. Maybe we’ll get to bring Sol Purpose here one day.
local fishing boat heading out of Phuket
small island approaching Koh Phi Phi
neighboring island to Koh Phi Phi
another 200 person ferry to give perspective
dive and snorkel tour boats near Koh Phi Phi
cave system that has been used at some time
About 10 minutes later we arrived at the dock on Koh Phi Phi, and the mass exodus started. Most people were spending the day on the island so headed to their tour boats. A few, like us, were heading onward to Koh Lanta, so we boarded another, smaller ferry. This was to be another 90 minute journey. The boat was much smaller and faster, and the water was a little rougher, so one poor young man had a miserable ride. It was pretty uneventful until we approached the ferry port in Ban Sala Dan, Koh Lanta. The water got shallower and shallower, and we could see the rip currents. The captain slowed the boat right down, and basically timed the waves so we surfed in rolling from one side to another! It was nerve-wracking and more than a little insane! This is one place we won’t be bringing Sol Purpose! We made it in safely, and disembarked on Koh Lanta, our home for the next three months.
We had a wonderful two weeks travelling around Thailand. We stayed in three different areas of the country, and it was almost like three different countries. The area of Bangkok we stayed in was not touristy, so it was a good insight into how people actually live in a big city in Thailand. Of course, we also saw the touristy side, with the temples and palaces, which were incredibly beautiful, but leave you with an uneasy feeling about all the obvious wealth on display, when the people live such simple lives.
Chiang Mai was stunning in another way. The jungles, banana plantations, the mountains and rivers are beautiful. The city is touristy, but is more aimed at backpackers, so is much more laid back. Of the three places we visited, this was by far my favourite and I would go back in a heartbeat.
Phuket was insane. It’s like a seedy Las Vegas – it’s brash, naughty, irreverent, but you can’t look away!
All in all, a fantastic introduction to Asia! Now it’s Koh Lanta, and the Lanta Animal Welfare Center. More soon!