The 14:45 Green Bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

We arrive at Chang Mai’s Arcade Bus Depot, hang out in Dunkin’ Donuts until it’s time to board.

Fortunately for us, our bags are small enough the fit in the overhead so we didn’t have to risk them going under. As we climb aboard and take to our seats, we settle in. We opted for the VIP bus with AC because why not? This is luxury on wheels. Massive reclining seats — kind of like the bus equivalent of a La-Z-Boy. Small TV on the seat in front, free honey-based bread snack thingy and a bottle of water.

The TVs never turned on which I was gutted about because they were connected to gaming controllers but I didn’t mind — once we set off the views had me in awe for most of the journey.

We ascend the mountainous landscape we constantly admired from Chiang Mai. The views far superior to that of the sleeper train from Bangkok. We’re inside the forest, the real forest where small local communities are farming all sorts of animals and vegetation. We saw Ox being herded, streams, rivers and all sorts of trees/plant-life and the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen in my life. Words can’t describe it (and I was too in the moment to take a photo!). Inspired by such beauty I look over to Charlotte sitting there with a look on her face far from what you’d expect of someone seeing this… “I left our swimming stuff at the hotel!”.

Oh.

Isn’t it time you follow me on Instagram?

Sleeping Baby, Working Mother by Marcus as seen on Instagram

Go on, follow me on Instagram

Firstly – I’ll be super grateful and secondly, I’ve been posting some awesome shots recently. Well, I think so anyway… I decided to get away from shooting and uploading everything I see.

I did this by adding an extra step to uploading an image, something as simple as changing the aspect ratio from square to landscape makes for a ball-ache to throw anything and everything up so I take a bit more consideration about what I share now.

People seem to like it, so I guess I’ll carry it on. Why not join in on the fun, it’s insterrific!

The 19:35 from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

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There are two sleeper trains from Bangkok to Chiang Mai that depart every evening. We chose the later one — as do many others — purely for it’s slower service.

Slower service?!

That’s right. In an air conditioned carriage with our seats-that-transform-into-bunk-beds beds (and after eating a suspicious looking Sweet & Sour Chicken and Thai Red Curry with an unidentified meat) we settled down for the 14 hour train journey. It may seem counter productive to go for a slower train, but the beauty of those extra hours means that rolling into Chiang Mai we were greeted with views of northern Thailand’s rural residents and vast forestry doused in the morning sunshine.

The train ride itself was an experience not soon forgotten. We arrived at Bangkok train station — a hotbed for all the scam artists you read about everywhere. We’ve been lucky so far. We sat down for an iced tea at the station’s Black Canyon coffee shop while we waited to board. Nothing to report except for an old frail Thai man that kept staring at Charlotte and hocking spit into a cup. He also had a long white beard that made him look like a wizard.

We finally boarded the train I was surprised at the size of the seats you get, like mini leather sofas that convert into beds. The first part of the trip while the seats are still seats you’re offered food from servers walking up and down the aisle, whom we realised afterwards weren’t actually working with the train’s food carriage. It made sense of the luke-warm cling filmed dishes we were served, still, it tasted alright.

Charlotte and I were saying before the trip that the best case scenario of our seat neighbours were a similar aged travelling couple and the worst case scenario would basically resemble the coffee shop wizard… well we must have done something right as we were seated next to a similar aged Canadian couple — really nice people and the first lengthy English-spoken conversation we’ve had since we arrived.

Everyone had settled in, eaten and the guy who converts seats to beds (let’s call him the Bunk Master) was coming round converting the seats to beds.

If you ever get this train — pay the extra for the lower bunk and also bring a hoody or something because the AC is on overdrive.

I shared the bottom bunk with Charlotte for a bit while we hung out. The lower bunk, once the curtain is closed is well shaded from the light and AC — I later moved up to the top bunk for some shut eye and it was like sleeping in an open-top igloo during the day; freezing cold and really bright. The curtains aren’t placed high enough so it felt like the light that lights the train was in my bunk space.

The conditions generally sound nice but I’ve got to mention — this is a Diesel chugging beast of a train with holes as toilets, bangs and snaps, chug chug chugging noises all night long. You get used to the noise, the bits that woke me up though was being thrown side to side, planning the escape route in my head for when the train topples over. Luckily that was at night and the too bunk doesn’t have a window because when we hit sunlight and I moved to the bottom bunk which does have a window, along with the beautiful sights of the locals farming, building and cleaning when we got into the forest we were riding high, like, the tips of some massive trees weren’t as high as us. The thought of toppling is bad, but the thought of toppling into a bottomless descent is worse.

Those thoughts soon departed as the sights filled my vision. The surroundings gave a sense of calmness, I could already tell it was going to be nicer than Bangkok, but maybe being in Bangkok will make us appreciate Chiang Mai more.

Drowse Exhibition, Bangkok

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The malls in Thailand are surprisingly tourist-free. It wasn’t until half-an-hour of strolling around the place we realised we were the only western faces there! There seems to be a pattern forming with this happening. Anyway, this post isn’t about the mall but the walk to it.

We passed this yellow building which we didn’t initially notice but instead noticed the sign with a roughly written ‘Drowse Exhibition’ on it. We stare at it for a few moments before this guy walks out with an enviable moustache and all around cool-person persona. He invited us in to look at the gallery. We oblige and enter the building. He takes us through a door and up a set of stairs… the place looks abandoned – uh oh. We go up another flight of steps and here we are, at this really intimately sized exhibition. Some really nice work on display and talking to our moustached mate (his work on display behind us in the selfie), find out he’s actually an art teacher for the lessons taking place on the ground floor. He takes some photos of us, we get a selfie with him and we all leave best of friends, well, Facebook friends. And we liked the Facebook Page.

Wat Pho: The Temple of the Reclining Buddha

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In Bangkok (well, Thailand in general) there are temples EVERYWHERE. Temples to the left, temples to the right, temples where you’d expect them, temples where you wouldn’t expect them… they’re everywhere and if you walk anywhere you’ll likely encounter a few of them. The thing with temples, as a traveller, is that they can get kind of samey samey (“same same”).

However…

There are a few temples that stand out – like Wat Pho (pronounced What P-oooh) – Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Yes it’s full of tourists but for good reason. There’s an incredibly huge Buddha just kicking back in this building!

We arrive not really knowing how big this “big buddha” was. Charlotte had to cover up in one of their fashion highlights (by highlights, I mean like the pens. It was neon green.), a surprisingly slimming dressing gown. As we entered we saw the sheer size of this thing. My photos don’t do it justice. Almost 50 feet high, over 150 feet long and covered entirely in gold leaf except for the base of its feet which is mother-of-pearl has intricate toe-prints(?) and ‘laksanas’ illustrations.

After walking the length of the Buddha, we had to walk back up the other side but hiding behind the statue were 108 pots where the idea is to put one coin in each pot as you walk back up, making a wish for each pot. 108 symbolises the 108 positive actions which lead to Buddha perfection. I’m not sure if covering yourself in gold leaf and laying on your side all day is apart of the Buddha perfection ladder, but it definitely should be.

Still in awe at the size of this thing and donating 20baht for the coins necessary to complete the wishing pot coin dropping strip (which I made it to the end with the exact amount of coins needed – a lot of people seemed to fall short or have too many. I think that makes me pretty special. Maybe I should hang out with this guy more often), we head outside to discover that Wat Pho isn’t just about the reclining Buddha. Outside was the home to beautiful buildings, monuments and statues. We walked around for a couple of hours, constantly discovering new areas in places we thought we’d already explored. It’s a lot of fun and a lot to look at so worth taking a camera.

The most surreal part – seeing the quiet, spiritual and often reserved Monks getting super smiley and school-boy excited over taking selfies on their iPhones with the Buddha in the background.

Worth the 100baht entrance fee and includes a free bottle of water.

Chatuchak Market, Bangkok

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Covering over 35 acres with more than 15,000 stalls — I’ve just stepped into the biggest market in Thailand.

If you’re in Bangkok when the weekend market is on, visit it. It’s awesome. It’s so big that every time you visit you’ll get lost in another section you didn’t know about before. The scale of this place is huge and I didn’t quite realise it until it came time to leave.

Dropped off by taxi outside a few stalls I’m thinking, this is a nice market, just like most of the others I’ve seen. A few minutes later after walking past those initial roadside stalls I realise it’s bigger than I thought, but still not as big as I eventually found it out to be.

Anything you need to buy, this place has it at a price you can haggle. Leatherwork sections, bag sections, clothing sections, food sections, illegal animal sections, furniture sections, section sections, every section you can think of and we also saw a magician.

It’s the kind of market where you can come to Thailand with nothing but a passport and a bit of Baht and buy everything you need to stay here for as long as you want.

It’s a nice concept.

To the holiday goer with an empty suitcase, I say to you, go crazy. Myself — as a man with a single hand-luggage sized backpack I had to show more restraint, buying only a T-Shirt, small day bag that holds a camera, passport and sunglasses (The North Face, faux style), a smaller sack on a string (for carrying just my camera and some money), a couple of leather bits and some super airy, lightweight shorts.

Walking through this market, I think we circled the same set of stalls a few times. Every direction seemed to take us to the same place. After navigating our way finally out into the main strip we had our first taste of pork on a stick (so. freaking. great) and Mango with Sticky Rice (also great).

Fed and ready to head out we start walking in thee direction we think is right. We start to see a whole bunch of new stalls and a guy selling the cutest puppies out of a box. This wasn’t the way we came in? We continue walking, hoping to reach an edge so we can find our bearings. There are signs that tell you section numbers but as the Internet has destroyed my long term memory, I’d forgotten our starting point.

An hour later and after seeing a man spinning around while pouring a drink from one container held as high as his head into another by his hip we finally found an edge to cling on to. We were saved!

Half an hour later we finally hit the road we came in on and with no taxis willing to charge on the meter we decide to walk a stretch of it.

Getting lost on the highway we give in to a Tuk Tuk driver who takes us home.

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The Long Walk to Khao San Road














The smell of jet-lag is in the air but we were up and fresh to cease the day. We decide to walk to Khao San and see what all the fuss is about.

The walk is only about 3km but as we were walking shiny thing kept distracting us turning a ~30 minute walk into nothing short of a few hours. Despite this is was actually way worth it. We visited lonely temples, beautiful streets and after straying through a wooden-stepped tunnel we hit a river crossing. The scene was amazing. Waters in the bay were green with floating plant life and ferocious rippling as countless catfish (way too man for the space they were in) we’re attacking bread crusts a little Thai boy was throwing in. A boat came and picked up the people, the boy ran out of crusts and we continued to the famous Khao San Road.

Stark white rooftop needles grab our attention and again we’re sidetracked down another street where we find ourselves in the Buddhism Protection Centre of Thailand. White lion sculptures surround white buildings encasing golden statues that sit within a tranquil garden.

We carry along up a main road and come to an open gate this gate was big and it had a few guards so we did the tourist thing and gestured as best we could to one sitting down “can we go in and look around?”. When confusion left his face and the look of understanding stepped in, he shunned us in and carried on reading his newspaper.

We stumbled upon the floating palace, well, not quite — we still had to walk all the way down to the river. So we did, along the way seeing a two-foot reptilian beast, the largest I’ve seen in the wild, stare at us and scuttle away behind a fallen log. I wanted to get a photo but his stealth moves were next level.

We got to the end and saw the rooftops of what we assume was the floating palace, though there were guards with real guns this time and some chains set up around the viewing area so we turned around for the final leg of our journey to Khao San Road.

A couple more temples later (these things are everywhere), and we come to a bridge where we stand overlooking a modest river seeing first hand the rich/poor divide of Bangkok. It’s a view that evokes emotion. Not happiness, and perhaps not quite sadness — something more inquisitive. A why? A how? A hope for change that’ll never come?

To think if we simply got a taxi we would have missed all of this.

Then finally, finally, Khao San Road!

What a load of bollocks.

Tourist haven, tourist food, tourist merchandise. It may as well have been Camden town with just a few more lady boys, suit sellers and self-entitled “Gap Yaar” hippies!

Okay, the Patthai noodles were pretty good. If you’re in the area it’s worth a look just because it is Khao San Road and it’s known — but if you miss it, you can find a strip just like it in every other country.

Bangkok: Day One

After sleeping for more than 15 hours (well deserved by the way), the day was pretty much gone and we left to explore at roughly 5 o’clock, Thai time. We were still foggy eyed from the trip over and didn’t want anything too strenuous so we did what we do and went shopping.

Anywhere new we go, we like to walk places to get a feel for the area and really explore… 8km later and we hit CentralWorld, this crazy big mall that houses a whole lot of stuff over 5 enormous floors. I’m not gonna lie, the walk knackered me is probably part of the reason why I when it came to ordering a beautiful chicken noodle soup from a street vendor outside (it was a lucky dip whether we got a chicken foot or something, er, meatier), I managed to spill half the bowl scalding my wrist. If that wasn’t enough I also dropped my fresh pomegranate juice breaking the bottle and spilling it everywhere. If this all happened at the same time then perhaps it would have been a forgivable passing moment, but the 5 minute interlude means I’m probably just an idiot when tired.

The food began to digest and I was feeling myself again. Charlotte and I began to explore the mall. We looked around for a bit and then stopped for some coffee at Black Canyon Coffee. I was going to get my usual black Americano but the menu was really persuasive and instead I ordered an Iced Hazelnut Frappucino and Charlotte got a Watermelon Smoothie. Both were great and we head off to explore more floors. The mall closed at 10 so we head out where we wandered through the swanky bars on the lower floor with a cheeky ice-white Lamborghini peeking from around the corner. This definitely wasn’t where I parked my car and we found the exit only to be greeted by a 25 foot, inflatable Snoopy surrounded by another 40/50 mini Snoopys. Some sort of tribal ritual possibly? More likely a marketing stunt? Either way we took some photos before hailing a taxi to take us back to our still-warm bed.

This taxi driver — like the first one — couldn’t find our hotel either.

Day Two: Khao San Road.

London to Bangkok via Abu Dhabi

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Setting off.

I’m not usually phased by much and setting off travelling didn’t seem that big of a deal — until the night before when I freaked out about the size and weight of my hand luggage! “They won’t let me on the plane!”, “it’ll get destroyed as checked luggage!”, “I need to get rid of all me clothes!”. It ended up being fine and in retrospect the panic I placed on my backpack was actually more likely the idea of travelling finally sinking in and how unprepared I was for it. The next morning I woke up and instead of panic, a serene calmness washed over me. I left the house and however prepared I was or was not — it didn’t matter — I had left.

Leaving on a jet plane.

When it comes to flying, I’m accustomed to a certain type of experience. Anything less than the cramped, rushed and lack of empathy just really doesn’t sit right with me — complements from RyanAir, of course.

Wait. What’s that you say? RyanAir is actually really really terrible and no one should be subject to being treated like aviated cattle?!

Well blow me down; you’re right!

London to Bangkok via Abu Dhabi with the sky-high-luxury Etihad Airways. Window seats on the wing, as requested for both flights. Lamb Kofta with Basmati Rice and Olive Sauce for dinner, served with a lovely feta infused side salad and topped off with a Chocolate Orange Delice for desert. Food at 37000 feet had never tasted so good!

Then there’s the entertainment. Films like Lucy, 22 Jump Street, Guardians of the Galaxy, Begin Again, countless TV shows and my personal favourite, outside cameras so you can see the plane land from the pilot’s perspective. I could go on and on about this little window of happiness. 750 hours of entertainment at the tip of my finger (touch screen technology too). The food, free drinks and entertainment were only made better by the overear headphones, fleece lined blanked and mini toiletries kit that greeted us on our seat before take off.

The 7 hour trip from London to Abu Dhabi just flew by, and despite the bad puns, after three hours in the Abu Dhabi airport checking out their array of watches and hanging out in Burger King with a coke, we had another 6 of it all over again.

On the flight from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok the place was a little smaller and had three seats instead for two next to the window but the screens were better and they had a USB and universal charger for my juice hungry devices. They also had WiFi but the price was sky-high so that didn’t takeoff for us.

Touch down.

Landing in Bangkok we were ready to get to our hotel and plonk out. We booked a cab inside the airport as every guide book and internet article has advised – 1,200 baht and I can’t help feel a little ripped off. We happily paid anyway because you can’t put a price on peace of mind and the also the sandman was getting agitated waiting for us.

After roughly an hour and a half of our driver getting out at every Tuk Tuk station and asking for directions, we made it to the hotel. The UMA Residence looks lovely on the website but man, arriving here just made our 20 hour trip worth every minute.

Then we signed in and our room was occupied… so they gave us a free upgrade. Hello bedtime!