Bangkok

Our last week in South East Asia was spent in Bangkok.  I was so not feeling this.  If I’m honest I was a little South-east-asia’d out.  I couldn’t wait for a change!!  Plus I was expecting Bangkok to be super crazy and busy.  We stayed in a hostel near to chaosan Road for the first two nights.  Both of us were knackered and didn’t feel like going to join the madness so we only visited in the day.  We had fish and chips, and just as we were finishing, we saw a giant rat run from under the tables in the bar.  It was so big I thought it was a cat and was getting ready to bother it.

We then moved to another hostel called Mali’s hostel.  The area was much nicer and more authentically thai.  There weren’t busloads of drunk tourists everywhere and people just pottered around getting on with their normal life.  The owners of the hostel were lovely! There were three generations that we met that ran the hostel, and Mali was the little girl!  She was so cute but such a handful!  We spent a lot of time talking to them – The mum (whose name escapes me right now) studied her degree in England.  They were really great and told us how to get around town on the sky train which was really easy to navigate.

We visited Chat market one day which was an eye opener.  They sell everything.  If you can think of it, its there.  Including puppies, kittens, chickens and this weird fish.  Later that day we went to a park nearby – it was a bit overcast, which was amazing as our bodies were thankful for not leaking water all day!

It was so hot in Bangkok we just chilled out in the various malls.  Even for the thai people, we were told, it is too unbearably hot at this time of year, so all people do is go to malls that are air conditioned.  We randomly bumped into Ali and Scott who are two of our favourite youtubers!  We literally watch them at least every week so it was really nice meeting them!  We also saw a really great cover band in a metal bar just down the road from our hostel (Andrew had been itching to go to a metal bar).  You had to take out a mortgage to buy one beer but it was still a good night. (Beautiful aren’t we!)

Bangkok for us was about air conditioning.  If it wasn’t AC we weren’t interested.  So we didn’t see any of the temples but meh – We had seen the same thing in Chiang Mai.  So as well as the many (many, many) malls  we visited a dog cafe and a cat cafe (twice).  The dog cafe was underwhelming (dogs can be selfish asshats) but the cat cafe was amazing (cats are also selfish asshats but it’s expected of a cat!).  There was no entry fee, drinks were reasonable and you could bother all the designer cats that you wanted.  Our favourite was Jabba.  He just loved a good chin tickle and padded and purred his way into my heart!

As much as we loved Thailand, we were ready for a change of scenery and as Japan was next, our wish was bound to come true!

Border crossing to Laos

As I mentioned in the last post, we planned to get an 18 hour bus from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang in Laos.  Everything was planned.  You had to get the bus from the bus station which was a little way out of town.  We were doing the journey with Conah, the guys from Stockport.  We got up with plenty of time and negotiated a taxi to the station.  We queued up for our tickets and were told that todays bus was cancelled and the next one was in two days.  We had already checked out of the hostel and our visas were running out so we had no choice!

Well it was time to start proper backpacking — we knew there was another route but it meant gettting public buses and crossing the border ourselves!!  As we walked away from the ticket counter a japanese guy (Hajime) was just being given the same news.  We banded together to get to Laos.  Annoyingly we had to get another taxi, back to where we had just come from to get the public bus!  Then it was a 2 hour bus to Chiang Khong – The public bus had very hard seats and no windows but I really liked it!  It felt more like actual Thailand rather than what is put on show for us.  We got to the border crossing at 3pm and I knew the last bus from the station in Laos to Luang Prabang was 4pm.  We should be able to make it – The town was ten minutes drive from the border. 

After doing the usual passports, and filling in the paperwork (what is your inside leg measurement and when did you last scratch your ass?) we were in Laos!

 However there is a stretch of land which is called the friendship bridge that you can’t walk across if you are a foreigner.  You have to wait for a bus.  OK.  It’s 3:30 we can still do this, it’s ten minutes away.  We sat and waited for the bridge bus.  And waited.  We were then kept waiting for another half an hour for a bus to come and take us 100m across this bridge and all hopes of my plan had gone out of the window.  At this point we had picked up another friend, Amber, from the US who was getting the boat from Huayxay, the next town in Laos.  We decided that we would go to the local bus station in the town and see if there was a local bus.  

A gaggle of songtheaws were gathered as we disembarked the bus.  They wanted silly money for the short trip.  So we started walking.  However as the price for the ride came to a quarter of what it was initially, we agreed to get in.  (Top tip for asia – walk away and the price goes down – side note – this does not work in Vietnam!). The first bus station had no buses however we realised that this was the tourist one and not the local one.  Our songtheaw driver had buggered off too! We walked what seemed like hours to the local bus station with our heavy backpacks in the blistering heat.  I don’t know why but every time I’ve been a similar situation since, I’ve remembered what Amber said then – “The struggle is good”.  At the time I did not agree one bit.  The struggle was sweaty and tiring.  But I get it.  When something is difficult, you have different experiences than what you expect, plus you appreciate things the next time you have got it easy!  

We arrived starving and sweating our tits off!  The place around was quite barren – there was building work going on but not many people or sign of life.  

As I had thought, there were no more buses until the next day so we decided to stay in the town that Amber was in.  We figured if we turned up at her hostel there might be a bed, even though it said fully booked online.  None of us had internet to google anything so we had to hope for the best.

We did out trick of walking away from a songtheaw driver again and found another one who took us to Huayxay.  It was strange, the town was dusty and seemed desolate but the driver’s young daughter who was sat in the back with us, still had a smart and expensive Samsung!  

We arrived in Huayxay main street outside Amber’s hostel and literally, as we stepped off the truck we saw Matt from our hostel in Chiang Rai!  He wasn’t even meant to still be in this town, and we were never meant to be coming here – things are so random sometimes.  There is only one bed at Ambers (and incidentally Matt’s) hostel so we let Conah have it.  He has been poorly and seems more knackered than the rest of us.  Me Andrew and Hajime set off to find a room.  I had never arrived somewhere and not had accommodation so I was a bit worried.  However the first place we find had a triple room and I realised that you don’t really need to book most places in advance – I probably do plan things too much.  We decided against the first room as the fan was a bit naff, however went for another room just down the road.  We shared the room with Hajime, whom we had only met 12 hours prior!  

We then went out for tea, myself, Andrew, Amber, Matt, Conah, and Hajime at a cafe over the road.  We were all so starving!  This is why the struggle is good and Amber is right.  I was stressing and hot and tired that day – waaaay out of my comfort zone, but we had a really great night, talking, eating and drinking in what was essentially someone’s living room!  

There was the cutest cat that demanded attention which was great.  Also the cafe owner came out after we had finished, with, what we presumed was a dessert menu,  as he was saying “anything else?”.  Nope.  It was a bag of drugs!!  OK, so Laos must be pretty liberal!  We politely declined, laughed and went to bed ready fo the journey the next day, which went without a hitch.  We got up early and got the 8:30 bus and finally made it to Luang Prabang in the evening! 

Chiang Rai

We spent two days here and I was pleasantly surprised by Chiang Rai.  We arrived at a hostel rather than a private room to be a bit more social. (We were turning into hermits!).  The hostel was lovely and the beds were awesome.  When we walked in there was an English guy who had lived in withington, there was another guy in a different room from Manchester and later turned up a lad from Great Moor in Stockport.  It was a bit surreal!!  Everyone from Manchester seemed to all convene at the same place!

The first night we went to see the clock tower roundabout, which was quite special.  

And we went to the night market.  I was feeling poorly (AGAIN) so just had a smoothie, which still came back to bite me on the ass.  We had a fun night but unfortunately everyone got a bit poorly from eating at the night market. 

 Something I have noticed about backpacking – you could have known someone for barely five minutes, but it is perfectly acceptable to talk about poo and poo related problems!!

The next day we got the local bus to see the only thing I was bothered abut in Chiang Rai, which is the white temple. 

Being the avid historian that I am – I knew… well, actually I knew nothing about it.  As it turns out, it isn’t a real temple, although it is being used in that way now. 

It is an art installation and actually quite modern.  I love the artists dark themes, with the hands reaching out of the floor – reminds me of the Robin Williams film, “what dreams may come”. 

 There were also pop culture references everywhere, like hanging heads of deadpool, captain America and other marvel characters, which I felt cheapened it a bit. 

However it was a really good thing to go and see and I would definitely recommend it.

On the way back I thought I would check out the local cat cafe (because I miss Missy and Loki so much!!).  

I had a really nice hot chocolate whilst uninterested and aloof cats floofed their way past me and sneered at my obvious desperation for feline attention!!

The next day we were getting our bus to Laos (18 hours!!) so we had a quiet night and took no risks with our food choices!  You really don’t want the shits on an 18 hour bus!!

A little piece of Pai

We made our way up the windiest road ever (like seriously – people vom on this journey all the time) to Pai.  Pai is meant to be a hill town which is full of hippies and has a cool and laid back vibe.  However I think now, the tourists have got to it, and the only sign of any hippies is the abundance of gluten free foods and wheatgrass everywhere!

I (as per usual on this trip now) wasn’t feeling well so we splurged from our backpacker budget to a place with a bath. 

 It was £24 a night however should have been £92.  It had the biggest bungalow I have seen, complete with bath, huge shower and dressing room.  It also had an infinity pool and would-be amazing views (if it wasn’t burning season).

It was a little out of the way so we spent two days doing nothing other than sunbathing.  I succeeded in burning myself to a crisp on the last day – I literally radiated heat from my tomato red and sore body.

When you don’t feel well on your travels, it really detracts from your time away.  I was too ill to eat some days and nothing was right.  You know when you have a dream that you are somewhere but there’s something not quite right about it and you don’t know why.  Travelling poorly, for me was like that.  I placated myself with a bubble bath, only to find it stressful trying to stop the army of ants that were intent on their suicide missions to get to me.  I tried to watch a program from home and found that we can’t get on UK netflix in Thailand.  Food was awful – All I wanted in the world was mash and gravy, and all I had in the world were awful noodles with unidentified meat in them.  I wanted fresh English air and instead I was choking on the worst smoke ever – honestly, it was awful in the mornings – you could hardly go outside.

After a few days we moved to another place in Pai, which was an upside down house and a which was something of a local tourist attraction.  

We forced ourselves up and got out of our hotel room and found mash for me and proper pg tips tea for Andrew.  

We met up with Becky and Ben again, 

got harangued by the drunkest Irishman ever and on our last day had the strength to walk to the white buddha.  

We had attempted a couple of days prior, but after walking for five minutes I knew my body could not do it.  This time we made it to the top to see the amazing sunset (which again was compromised by smoke) by the giant buddha.

We left Pai to head back to Chiang mai for a few days before hitting Chiang rai!

Northern Thailand – Chiang Mai

I’m getting lazy with these blogs already and I’m only 2 months in.  I want to keep doing them though so I remember all the amazing places I have been!  

With Chiang Mai it is difficult to say what we did because it was like a home from home for us.  We stayed for quite a while and then reorganised things so we could come back for another couple of days after Pai!  

The main thing I will remember about Chaing Mai is eating,  

We ate.  A lot!  And we saw a lot of temples.  But as awful as this sounds you do get a bit “templed out”.  The first one you see is amazing.  

Then the second is good.  The next is OK. Then you just walk past them and through them without noticing them because, although they are beautiful, they are EVERYWHERE!

The first day we went (by accident) to one of the main temples in Chiang Mai which is Wat Chedi Luang.  This is a very old ruin of a temple which is in the centre, and other interesting buildings surround it including the “pillar of Chiang Mai”.  Inside this building is a sacred pillar which is both beautiful and interesting.  I didn’t see it though.  Because I have the audacity to own a pair of ovaries.  Women cannot enter because they menstruate and the people fear that getting menstrual blood everywhere could cause the downfall of Chiang Mai. (Not even kidding – read the sign!).  

The last day we went to the temple on top of the mountain Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.  The view from here was meant to be out of this world.  As you can see from the picture this wasn’t the case!

Top tip. Don’t visit northern Thailand in burning season.  You literally cant see for shit.  However I decided I wanted to “boop” as many things as I could 🙂

We ate a lot in Chiang Mai – It is quite a touristy area so you can find anything that you want.  We had so much food – gyozas, donuts, tasty stone asked pizza and red thai curry from a coconut!  It is also good for nightlife  – we met up with friends we met in India, Ben and Becky from Leeds and found a rock bar so Andrew was happy!

The best thing about Chiang Mai was the elephant day!  Everywhere you go in any of the thai cities there are elephant tours advertised.  It is difficult to know which to go for and I tried to do my research,  Early on I found out that riding is no good.  The elephants backs cannot hold human weight due to the shape of their spines so anywhere that offers riding is no good.  The main place in Chiang Mai is called elephant nature park – They are a rescue centre which started years ago.  However one copycat companies have started where they don’t offer riding and instead you bathe and feed the elephants.   Instead of being annoyed at the copycat company, the original sanctuary actually condone it.  Even though they are purely for tourist reasons, the end results are the same – happy elephants. 

We had an amazing day with them! There were six or seven elephants including a baby called Tulu and his mum (who was our favourite) called Chancy.  

We got to feed them bananas (I didn’t realise how snotty their trunks were) and stroke them!  We went in the water to wash them and two started trying to get jiggy in the water with us!!  

Then we had to throw mud all over them.  Apparently this is a sunscreen and natural insect repellent.  

This was super gross – we were in bathing suits in a mud bath – it was like walking in a giant bowl of porridge which was mainly elephant poop! It was a really great day!

Overall we loved Chiang Mai.  We would definitely come back but maybe at a better time of year when the farmers aren’t burning their crops.

South Thailand and the Islands

After KL we headed straight to Krabi airport rather than drive through Malaysia.  We had planned this so that we could be on the islands for my birthday.  Which unfortunately didn’t happen as I was still sick from India.

First thing we noticed is that is stupidly hot.  Like 36 degrees hot. I wasn’t aware my wrists could sweat but they did.  Every part of my body melted into a puddle here.  I thought I was being clever avoiding the “peak” season however I didn’t realise that all these smart asses are avoiding the heat and humidity.  “Yeah” we saved a hundred pounds or so coming in March, “win” – says the dripping beetroot with “Monica-Geller-Barbados” hair and a limp (story to follow).

We spent the first couple of days in somewhere called banana bungalows which had open air bathrooms and holes in the walls for all creepy crawlies to get in.  Luckily there was a mosquito net in the room so I spent most of my time hiding under it like a den.  It was my safe space.  The first night I went to wash my hands and there was a tree frog in the sink.  We spent one day finding a beach called “secret” beach.  It looked nearby on the map however it was miles and an actual jungle walk, literally moving tree branches out of the way and walking through spiderwebs.  We saw all sorts of creatures including a snake and several lizards.  At the last part, we had to scale down a fifty or so foot sheer drop down the rocks, using vines and trees for support.  My leg muscles weren’t used to this amount of stretching so I strained my thigh muscle and couldn’t walk properly for five days after.

I was also pretty poorly here so I couldn’t wait to check out and chill out under some air conditioning.  We spent a few days in Krabi where eventually I went to the doctors.  They sent me to the international hospital and I got much needed meds. I also wasn’t allowed to eat anything at all at first and then biscuits, fried eggs and crackers for a couple of days.  The antibiotics made me poorly too so my birthday was a bust.

The day after my birthday I felt better so we treated this as my birthday.  We went to Railay beach (only accessible by boat) which was AMAZING.

  Really nice water – warm, and a gorgeous turquoise.  Also lots of caves including this dildo one?

We then island hopped for the next few days.  We went to Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi.  Koh Lanta is not very developed but had some nice beaches.  

It also had a standout animal sanctuary.  The owner came to Koh Lanta as a backpacker like us.  She was upset by all the cats and dog she saw on the street, so she went back home, sold her house and her businesss and opened an animal sanctuary there.  Since opening they have reduced the amount of stray dogs by 90% and reduced rabies to zero!.  They are adopted out all over the world and volunteers can take an animal back with them as extra baggage if they happen to be flying to a country where the animal is going.  If anyone ever goes to Thailand, please check on their website for pets needing a fight companion, as they can fly them from any major Thai airport with you.

http://www.lantaanimalwelfare.com

I chose our guesthouse in Koh Lanta partly because of the good ratings for the price and partly because they had cats.  Which were very cute.  However we also had some more eight legged uninvited guests in our room.  As there was a big gap under the door, on the first night the biggest spider ever ran into our room.  Andrew managed to get it out and we stuffed towels under the door to seal the gap.  However the bathroom was open air again.  So on my second night, when I was having a shower, I realised I was sharing it with another giant spider who thought it was funny to run at me whilst I was nude.  I very nearly ran outside in front of everyone but managed to keep my cool (sort of – if you ignore the screaming part).  So I didn’t sleep very well here.  I laid awake all night feeling every tickle on my body and trying to work out if there were any shaodows moving.  When I did sleep I had a nightmare about being attacked by deadly scorpions.  

Koh Phi Phi was more of a party island.  I couldn’t been in Kavos or something apart from there are no roads so no cars or bikes. They also leave penises (penii?? 🤔)

 It was all very developed and clean, with lots of shit shops and restaraunts.  Because it was out of season though, the music wasn’t too late and we enjoyed a night watching a fire show!  

Again, the beaches were fantastic.  I don’t have many photos as I wanted to relax and go in the sea without beading my stuff so I left my phone in the hotel.  I took memory pictures with my actual eyes and brain instead of looking through the lens.  I snorkelled a bit here too and same some amazing giant and rainbow coloured fish.  It’s so cute!  You can hear them munching on the coral underneath you!

I actually really enjoyed koh Phi Phi – There was some great food and our hotel was good.  And it had a real life doggy love story. Bert (the boy dog) lives in the hotel and every day his girlfriend (I don’t know her name but we call her Ewok) walks on her own over a kilometre to be with him. (And to receive belly rubs from customers!)

We head to north Thailand next so we will see what awaits us there 🙂