More Travelling Summaries…

I’m a terrible blogger. I have to come to terms with this. Here I am, galavanting around the world and one of the things I wanted to do was blog it all. Everything. All the little details, what I had for lunch, the people I met, where I stayed, awesome local knowledge.

I need to (and plan to) write more detailed individual posts about each country, experience, activity, whatever.

Forget about it.

The last time I blogged I was in Krabi. From Krabi we flew to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and stayed there for ten days, then dropped down to Singapore on a luxury bus (and unlike the ‘Luxurious VIP’ bus that came off the road in Cambodia, this one was really really nice).

After ten days in what I believe is the safest city in the world we flew (Singapore airport it awesome) to Australia. Spent a week in Brisbane (AirBnB), then got a JUCY campervan. I won’t go into details about us having to change campers because of a cockroach infestation, dead batteries and a sunroof that wouldn’t close right before a heavy heavy thunderstorm; but it was really fun and Australia is an amazingly chilled place with amazing coffee. Like, seriously – they know their coffee.

A month done in Oz and we fly out of Sydney and into to Auckland, New Zealand. New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. It’s relatively small but still with a load of untouched landscape. We stayed in Auckland for a month (another AirBnB) but rented a car and drove all around the north island (even did a few days in Wellington). We also checked out the Glowworm Caves in Waitomo which was a highlight of the trip that I’ll never forget.

Yet again, another month passes and from New Zealand we head to the states. We land in Los Angeles, stay in Hollywood for a week, visit a few key places – checked out Santa Monica, rented a car and road tripped through Santa Barbara, Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Yosemite (jaw droppingly large trees), Las Vegas (gambled on Red… landed on Black), down to Palm Springs (#cougartown) coming full circle and dropping the car off back in Hollywood.

From Los Angeles we get the Amtrak from Union Station – 43 hours sitting on a sleeper train with no horizontal laying space – we travel through California, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico (picked up a traditional Navajo blanket in Albuquerque), Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and finally Illinois where we get off in Chicago. It was an intense couple of days but with the stunning views and enthusiastic new Guatemalan friend sitting on the seat next to us (whose goal it was to teach us Spanish in its entirety in that one trip), it was fun.

Now I’m writing this in another AirBnB in Lakeview, Chicago and so far we’ve walked along the lake, checked out Navy Pier, visited The Loop and tasted far too much of the amazing food here. Oh, and we saw someone order a ‘chocolate milkshake’ at this burger joint that doesn’t actually sell milkshakes…

…they sell burgers, hot dogs, a whole lot of abuse and a black chick who gets her tits out and shakes them at you if you order a chocolate milkshake. Chicago is pretty cool.

Next stop: New York.

(or obesity, whatever comes first.)

10 little big things I’ve learned in South East Asia

Travelling through south East Asia has already taught me so much about the world, life and myself (cringe!). I could go on about the pursuit of happiness, how important family is, the kindness of strangers, blah blah blah. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all very valid and life changing stuff.

Everyone wants to tell you how to change your life with big, bold, life changing advice. I probably will too, but for now here are 10 little things that blew my mind.

10. The Bum Gun is amazing.

Holy crap, why have I never seen this in the UK. I’ve seen the Bidet in a lot of homes but man, that’s a lot of work. Using a Bum Gun on the other hand, means not even having to get up and you’ll save a ton of money on toilet paper.

Imagine a garden hose next to the toilet that instead of using to spray on your on your flowers, you spray on your flower… *wink wink, nudge nudge*. Next level cleanliness.

9. Thai Chili Paste is the shit.

It comes in a tiny jar and starts with a consistency similar to strawberry jam – mix this with anything and turn your boring, lifeless, good-for-nothing food into a gourmet treat. Rice, soup, pasta, even spread on bread. A little goes a very long way and sits firmly in the “Why did I not know about this as a student?!” category.

8. Planning is okay but not essential.

With a plan you’re unstoppable, without one you’re unpredictable. Throughout this trip the only things we planned were accommodation over Christmas and New Years near the start of our journey, and even that changed. It’s good to have to have a roadmap but don’t be scared of the dirt track.

7. You’re going to worry, even if it’s about not worrying.

What makes us human is the constant questioning of every possible variable in our lives, all the damn time. Are we fed? Thirsty? Safe? Is that mouse coming back when I’m asleep? Are those guys gonna steal my kidneys? If it happens it happens, don’t worry,  – or worry that you need to not worry.

6. Plane wings can flap.

They shouldn’t, but the way I’ve seen a plane (from the inside!) bounce across the clouds is kind of reassuring. Those things are resilient.

5. I’m a tourist.

Calling yourself a nomad, traveller, explorer, wanderer doesn’t change the fact that you’re a tourist. You’re touring the world. It sure makes us feel superior and cultured to try and avoid the ‘touristy’ places, and perhaps we’re not the stereotype of a tourist but the fact is – if you’re not a local, the only people you’ll be kidding are other tourists. And yourself.

4. Money can buy happiness.

Not in a sense of a literal exchange of money for happiness, but in the sense that if you know you’ve got enough to eat, get from A to B (and worst case scenario C) and a bed for the night, then there’s a less worry and more happy… just remember number 7 and don’t get too bogged down.

3. Bugs are everywhere.

Embrace them. The majority of them won’t kill you especially in the UK – there’s nothing to worry about – and they’re an affordable source of protein (there was an ant colony in my Pineapple).

2. Home comforts are awesome.

I can’t wait to get back and play Playstation, order a Domino’s pizza and get a Pick ‘n’ Mix and that’s okay. The things we miss fill the mind with happy nostalgia.

1. Face value means nothing.

You may think the fancy (and relatively expensive) beachfront restaurant will have better tasting food than that of the guy standing outside his home serving food from a stand in unmatched plastic bowls onto rusty tables with questionable hygiene standards, and, well, you’d be wrong.

Also, just because something looks artificially colourful, doesn’t make it sweet.

 

The Story through Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

Where did all the tumbleweed come from?!

Sorry my updates have been a little but non-existent for a while. Truth be told, a lot has happened in not a lot of time and blogging seemed not that important.

It’s been one hell of a ride! I’ll do a quick run-through of everything in hopes I’ll write a longer post for each place in more vibrant detail (and with some pretty pictures too!).

So where did I leave you hanging? Oh yeah…

Luang Prabang, Laos
Retrospect is a funny thing. I remember writing how Laos was a weird one but when you look back on old times you only seem to remember the good things. I loved the elephants, the mountains, the sheer beauty everywhere I looked and the bakeries.

Flight from Laos to Vietnam
We flew from the quietest airport I’ve ever been to, Luang Prabang — from boarding the plane to taking off within 15 minutes. Flight time was about 50 minutes and was great. The clouds looked like candyfloss and we even got an inflight meal (albeit rushed).

Hanoi, Vietnam
Touchdown at Hanoi’s airport, pick up a SIM card and get transferred to our hotel. Drop off the backpacks and head out for food. The place is heaving. Traffic everywhere, street food galore. This is far removed from where we just came from.

We find a place next to the train tracks, sit on the children-sized stools and blindly order whatever it is they sell. The guy comes out with a portable stove, frying pan wrapped in foil and plates upon plates of raw meat and veg (and a few little extras too). It gets lit up, we start cooking and before we know it have already fall head over heels in love with Vietnamese cuisine.

The rest of the time was spent walking around exploring the streets and markets and tasting what else was on offer and holy crapdogs I discovered Vietnamese Coffee. It’s incredible. Hanoi is also where I truly learned how to fearlessly cross a road of non-stop oncoming traffic.

Sleeper train from Hanoi to Hué
Next stop was Hué (pronounced Hwey). We took a sleeper train there (14 hour journey?), it wasn’t as nice as the one from Bangkok to Chiang Mai but it wasn’t that bad. We both had top bunks (always, always, ALWAYS try and get the bottom ones!) which meant we were stuck laying down for the majority of the trip. This train has 4-berth cabins and has a door that closes and if needed, locks, all four passengers in the room. We were bunked with other travellers so not all bad.

Hué
WEYHEY! We arrived safely and almost instantly regretted our decision to stay for 5 nights after everyone we spoke to who asked how long we were staying said “Woah! That’s a long time.” and that’s coming from the people who lived there… even our hotel when we checked in. We reduced it to 2 — not that it wasn’t a nice place but because there wasn’t much to do.

Truth be told it was actually really nice, I mean, except for clouds blanketing the whole place making everything grey and also being targeted for money by some begging schoolgirls. I’ll get into more detail later but the gist of the story is that this small group of schoolgirls, fascinated by Charlotte’s blonde hair and “pretty nose” started talking and asking questions. One would shyly come over, ask a question, we’d answer and they’d run back to the huddle giggling. I assumed they were practising their English and were just curious of western faces. In part they probably were but then they started following us, picking up toys, showing them to us and then brazenly just outright asking for money by saying “mini, mini!”, over and over. The employees didn’t seem to mind this happening…

Train from Hué to Da Nang
We took a 3-hour train ride from Hué to Da Nang. Whilst waiting for the train in the station we had a few photo-ops with some Asian peeps who really wanted a photo with us. We thought it was a bit odd at first but soon realised that it was likely because we are just too damn awesome for people not to have their photos taken with us.

The train ride was okay. The blanketing clouds seemed to not want us to leave Hué as they started crying for the entire train ride. We rode round the mountains and saw our first glimpse of the sea from Vietnam.

Da Nang
We stayed in a hotel called The Finger. Innuendos aside it was a scenic place to stay. Our hotel was really far away from the city but really close to the beach. It was wet and cold so that didn’t work out too well for us. This was made up to us by being placed on a high floor looking at the colourful homes below us. If we were in the city the view wouldn’t have been nearly as humbling. We explored the city (taking a taxi there) and decided to do the long walk back, over the Dragon Bridge (where a mother and daughter pulled over their moped to get a photo with us… not even making this up), through the streets of the homes we overlook. Such a different vibe from one side of the river to the other.

More markets, more walking, more colours, more smells. Beautiful. Time to take the taxi to Hoi An.

Taxi from Da Nang to Hoi An
It took like half an hour. Really close, nothing to report.

Hoi An
Now, for travellers who like exploring places on foot, this is an ancient city made for walking! Aside from the barrage of women who follow you asking to take a look in their shop (only down one or two streets), this is a lovely place. The cakes, the coffee, the lack of scooters and cars and oh man, the Vietnamese doughnuts! Ring doughnuts, red bean filled doughnuts, coconut (real, shredded coconut) doughnuts, peanut (real, crushed up peanuts) doughnuts and the not-to-be-forgotten deep fried banana pancakes. Also more Vietnamese coffee. Damn that stuff is good.

We walked along the river, visited the night market, ate at an amazing restaurant (Vy’s Market Restaurant & Cooking School), rode bikes to the beach (still cloudy but the first beach of our journey!) and then headed back to Da Nang to board our next sleeper train.

Sleeper train from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon)
Same 4-berth cabin, same top bunk situation. The only changes were our fellow bunk-mates below. A few times actually and this time locals, probably commuting. Also I saw a mouse peeking at Charlotte from the luggage storage by her head… for the sake of a good night sleep I didn’t tell her until morning (and I made sure it was gone because I’m an amazing travel buddy).

Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon)
The locals call it Saigon, I call it a place for some retail therapy! Shopping malls galore and with Christmas approaching what a better time to hit the shops. After the disconnect from good old materialistic capitalism I needed an prebuilt ecosystem of commerce and eating. We browsed the shops and enjoyed the artificial lighting but in the end the only things we bought was junk food were food related items.

We were there for Christmas and we heard that Christmas Eve was celebrated by the Notre Dame Cathedral. They weren’t kidding! Hundreds, no, thousands of people lined the streets. Cars jammed in human traffic, people with spraycans of snow, vendors selling food. It was great! That is, until the spraycans of snow were turned on us. Kids chasing each other with cans, spraying and laughing. One sees us and for whatever reason gives a cheeky spray, cautiously waiting to see our response. We laugh, he does it again. Oh, and now his mate does… oh look, there’s like 5, wait, 10, oh crap… 15 or 20 kids surrounding us spraying snow! Not at each other, just us! All in good fun of course. We escaped with massive smiles and somehow a celebrity status as girls and boys pulling is left and right to get photos with us. Like, really, what is it with all these photos?

Then we hit up Dunkin’ Donuts for some good eats getting a lot of looks questioning our moist appearance.

Christmas Day rolls around which is a weird one when you’re not with family. The receptionist calls us and tells us they need to come in, we’re curious as to why but seconds after hanging up the phone there’s a knock on the door and two extremely happy Vietnamese girls. “Merry Christmas!” They roar as they stampede into our room with a plate of fruit, a luxurious looking box, a bottle of champagne, a rose in a vase and a letter we’re not allowed to open until they leave. Still dazed and confused I open the letter — those cheeky monkeys — miles away from home and my family still surprise us with gifts on Christmas. Inside that box was some classy cheesecake with Merry Christmas written on it. It tasted so good and maybe the champagne was thinking for me but I really missed home.

We explored the city more, walked by the river and checked out some local cafés, took countless selfies with Christmas Tree’s, visited the War Remnants Museum (recommended if you’re near), ate more doughnuts (or donuts) and then prepared for our next country. Cambodia.

Coach from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
We boarded the coach and settled down for a 6/7 hour coach ride from Vietnam to Cambodia. We go through the border, a lot of standing and waiting and such, finally get Ito Cambodia and stop for lunch. Get off and go inside a terrible place with terrible food and terrible people, pay over the odds for chicken and rice (and crushed up bones), pay, don’t get change, ask for change, “tip!”, I say “no tip!”, get change, give a tip, have it ungratefully laughed at (but still taken), eat, board the coach and hope I don’t get food poisoning. Half way there we get pulled over for a random police security check, an hour of worrying after we’re on the move again and get to our accommodation above Jay’s Diner.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
We arrive, settle down and get out for some food happy to reach our new destination. We find a place to eat and strike lucky as it’s really good, unfortunately I receive some really bad news and try to hold it together for the rest of the night. The next day we visit the Killing Fields and S-21 Genocide Museum. Interesting, moving, heartbreaking and inspiring. If you’re in Cambodia I’d suggest going out of your way to visit those two places. So far Cambodia hasn’t been the happiest of places, in fact, it’s quite eerie. The rest of the time was spent exploring, visiting night markets, eating, drinking and booking our bus ticket to Siem Reap.

Coach from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
Cambodia doesn’t have trains and we’d heard the buses are okay and the roads are fine. Liars. The internet lies! Who knew? Long story short and I’ll definitely be posting the longer story up — we almost die when our double decker coach drives off the road, down a hill almost tipping! We get stuck at a 45 degree angle thankfully because of a small mound that got wedged under the front bumper. We hitchhike the rest of the way with two Australians (thank you for stopping!), two Germans, a Russian, an Italian and a Dutchman. The driver tries and stops us from leaving but we had a hard time trusting the coach before it left, let alone now. We stop for food enroute and get to Siem Reap.

Siem Reap
We arrive in Siem Reap (barely) and Charlotte gets her stuff stolen. I don’t know why but Cambodia really doesn’t like us! We ask the hotel staff a out the police and they say it’s closed until morning so Charlotte does what she can (blocks her sim, sets her devices to auto format when they connect to the internet). It’s not been a good day. The next day we go to the police station to get this sorted. We go in, start talking, I get asked to leave, Charlotte gets interrogated by three Cambodian police officers shouting at her that they “DON’T BELIEVE YOU!” because she can’t prove she was pick pocketed. They refuse to file the report even though they write it out and refuse to investigate further. Today isn’t so good either. I email the UK embassy in Cambodia. No help either. The next day we get and recover by the pool and relax before visiting Angkor Wat on our last day in Cambodia (also New Year’s Eve). The next day we fly to Bangkok because screw getting anymore Cambodian busses! Flying was pretty scary as well as more Asian planes went missing a day or so before.

Flight from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Bangkok, Thailand
Flight time was about an hour. We land in Bangkok and don’t make the same mistake of booking a taxi inside the airport like last time and instead go outside and get a taxi from the taxi rank (still convincing them to turn on that damn meter!).

Bangkok, Thailand
We decide to stay closer to the action this time. The first place had no windows and terrible service so deciding we want to stay in Bangkok longer move out and check in to a 5 star hotel for a change — The Berkeley (always check hotel websites directly, I got a cracking deal). Another reason for the lavish accommodation was for a solid internet connection and some extra space to I had some freelance work come in. Bangkok consisted of poolside pizzas, shopping mall exploration, Starbucks, work and room service. I love room service. These things can’t last forever though which is why we decided to head over to Phuket.

Flight from Bangkok to Phuket
Only animals and insects are supposed to flap their wings to fly — imagine my surprise when I look outside of the plane window and seeing it think it’s a bird! The turbulence was horrific for the entire journey. Landing was cool though as we come in so close to a beach that you think it’s going to land on it. It doesn’t. Still lands on a runway.

Phuket
We check in at the AllStar Guesthouse which is in the perfect just-off-the-main-road location and has a really great host. We’ve finally landed somewhere consistently sunny! We get drunk the first night and explore the markets a little. The rest of the time was spent eating, sunbathing and swimming in the sea. We were by Karon Beach and we’re lucky enough to watch the sunset over the sea while laying on the sand. Southern Thailand wouldn’t be Southern Thailand if we didn’t visit an island so we head to a still relatively untouched place called Koh Yao Noi by speedboat.

Phuket to Koh Yao Noi
We left our guesthouse and caught the local bus to Phuket Town, from there we were asked by everyone where we were going and everyone pointed to the same bus (by bus I mean small truck with two wooden benches drilled either side in the back). Finally get to the pier, and pay the little extra to take the speedboat over the Longtail boat to Koh Yao Noi.

Koh Yao Noi
We arrive and get taken to Suntisook Resort. We get a little wooden hut, no AC, mosquito nets above the beds, hammock outside. This place is great. It’s such a modest hut and there’s nothing to do unless you hire a scooter and drive a while to the town.

The family who run the resort have a restaurant which we ate at at least twice a day and after eating there and hiring a scooter and eating at the rusty table of a vendors house I can honestly say that it is the best tasting food I’ve had in Thailand. Roasted Duck Soup, Noodle Soup with chicken, vegetables or shrimp, Papaya Salad, Massaman Curry with steamed rice. Urgh. Incredible. Our hut was just on the other side of the road to a beach which overlooked mountain islands in the distance, when we found out that the sun rises behind them we made sure to wake up extra early to catch it and I have to tell you, it was the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen in my life.

Koh Yao Noi is a tiny island where the people are mainly Muslim. It’s just north of Koh Yao Yai and is still untouched. The people are friendly, the food isn’t westernised, there’s not a lot to do so relaxation is at a maximum. I doubt it’ll stay this way for long as once everyone gets wind of it it’ll end up like the rest of the tourist inhabited islands. Actually, I should probably just delete this whole section.

Longtail boat from Koh Yao Noi to Krabi
The Longtail Boat is a wooden boat driven by an engine in the rear which has a long pole coming off it with a propellor on the end that drives the boat. We had the pleasure of boarding it and riding up close and past those distant island mountains that we saw from the shore as we made our way to Krabi.

Krabi
This is where we currently are, staying in a nice condo with a balcony that sees the sun set. We’re a walk away from the main areas but it’s nice. It’s peak season here but it seems really quiet still and the prices compared to everywhere else are the highest for food and drink at the restaurants. Lucky for us this is the first place that has cooking facilities (and a rice cooker!) which we’ve already taken advantage of. We’ve taken a long walk along the beach, seen hundreds of tiny crabs (is that why it’s called Krabi?!) and are excited to beach it up while we’re here. From here we head to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia before landing in Singapore where we’ll leave South East Asia and start the second half of our journey though Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

One last thing — I try and upload at least one image a day to my Instagram which makes it the most up-to-date place to follow me around the world. So what are you waiting for? Follow me!

Luang Prabang, Laos

Laos is a weird one for me. On the one side there’s this awe inspiring untouched beauty surrounding you, and on the other hand it seems everyone is trying to rip you off or sell you drugs.

That’s a broad statement and it’s unfair of me to say that. The locals are actually really nice and to watch them interact is humbling. It’s the few that have come out of themselves to be pushy and annoying that give the rest a bad name as most of the time, they’re the ones you’ll experience the most because they go out of their way to get something out of you.

This mainly takes place on the street though (or by government officials) — the small business owners, like guesthouse, cafés, street food vendors — all beautifully helpful with no other motives that to hope you have a good time in their country.

We ended up staying in Luang Prabang for 8 days before choosing the 1 hour flight to Hanoi I’m Vietnam. The other transport option was the 24-30 hour bus journey but after the slow boat I think we learned our lesson.

Walking about was nice and my favourite part was (as usual) the food. The street buffets were filling and the various bakeries were a well missed treat. Lao coffee is also very very nice.

Actually, my most favourite part was visiting Elephant Village Sanctuary where Charlotte and I had a day of Mahout training where we learned to ride and bathe the elephants.

Beautiful creatures.

The worst part (aside from being seen as a walking dollar sign) was that the internet in Laos is just abysmal. I don’t usually mind as exploring is far more enlightening — but unfortunately Charlotte was a bit poorly for a few days and it would have been nice to watch some shows or something while she got better. Also it made blogging a bit trickier as far as uploading photos was concerned.

We decided not to see any more of Laos for a few reasons but the main two were because we had a finite number of days (limited malaria tablets) and Vietnam was just too appealing so we decided to spend more time there than in a place that we were still undecided if we liked or not.

Would I recommend Laos? Definitely. It’s one of, if not the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. As it’s still widely undeveloped you get a sense of what life was like before technology and industry (protip: it’s all about family and food). The only downside is you have to be a bit more aware of how much you should be spending and to just ignore the fast talking tricksters. It was the only place where I’ve seen a local get visibly aggressive at being politely declined.

Another thing to note is that it’s a good place to get a Visa for Vietnam. There’s the Vietnamese Consulate which if you turn up (2pm seemed the quietest) you can just apply, pay and wait for it to be done with a choice of wait times ranging from the same day to 3 days depending how much you want to pay.

Buying plane tickets from the local tour shops is really easy and they charge the same as the website direct so save the hassle and pop in if you’re planning to fly out of Luang Prabang. The airport is small and quiet, the planes are powered by propellers, you get a snack included an it only takes about an hour to get to Hanoi (Lao Airlines). It’s a nice experience.

Two-Day Slow Boat: Chiang Rai, Thailand > Luang Prabang, Laos

[images for imageless posts coming soon. It turns out the internet in Laos is not too hot]

A note to people in Chiang Rai who book any tours or trips with ‘So Good Travel’… Don’t. Everything we did we were late for (that means shitty leftover buffet food) and the driver was openly and proudly hungover as he was driving us from place to place, though he was a nice guy.

Anyway, waking up for the 6am minibus to the border we were left hanging about until 7 worrying if it was gonna come or not at all. Eventually it did and we were off on a 2 hour death ride to the Thailand/Laos border. The driver at one point — thinking everyone was asleep — put his palms together and prayed before slowing down round a curling mountain road. Probably praying nothing was driving on the other side of the road as over here it seems road markings are more of a suggestion than a rule.

We get to the border and do the passport process at the first border control section, then get on a coach that takes us to the Visa section, wait for a bit before being ushered onto a Tuk Tuk that takes us to a pointless stopover just past the border in Laos for an hour or so, seemingly just so we can buy snacks and drinks before the boat as they said there wouldn’t be any on there… they lied.

They waited for everyone to stop spending money and put us on the Tuk Tuk again to take us to the boat which because of all their shenanigans meant that the boat was already full and everyone was waiting for our group — because of this, our first 6 hour boat journey we had to sit at the back.

AKA the engine room.

This space wouldn’t be legal for cattle. Sitting in the same room as an old diesel engine pumping fumes right into the boat (also the most contained area on the boat) which probably did 40 years of lung damage and on top of this the engine let out a constant deafening noise all encapsulated in the only section walled off with only a couple of windows for ventilation.

I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

The icing on the cake? All these fucking people came to the back (moving away from their well ventilated area) to smoke, so now we’re sitting in a people sized ashtray as well.

The whole experience was terrible.

Finally deaf and hard of breathing we arrive at the stop-over village Pakbeng, where no one really cares about anyone because they know people are only there for one night. The restaurants had nothing on their menu and took an age to bring is anything, if at all (we ordered a dessert which never arrived).

A small stroll getting off of the boat and we book accommodation — not bad but the least comfortable place of the trip so far.

Ready for bed and an early alarm prepared to get good seats I nod off with my game face on for the morning.

Day Two

6am the alarm goes off. I get up, get ready — we’re off. Walking down the street we grab some boat snacks (Double filled Oreos, banana chocolate muffin and banana cashew cake. Awww yeeaah!).

We did it! We get to the boat way before everyone else and have a choice of seats, so we get some in the middle. Not at the front where it gets crowded and not at the back where satan himself lives. We set sail with perfect open views of the Mekong River and it’s exhilarating mountainous glory.

Day two was much better, enhanced only by the pain of the day before. Luckily this was the longer leg of the journey, about 7/8 hours, so we travelled in relative comfort, and despite getting a tan on one half of my body, the journey was nice. Give me a window seat and a good view and I’m a happy guy (or a dog).

Off the boat and about 5 minutes later we get ripped off by officials short-changing for a ride into the city. Finally we make it to Luang Prabang are dropped off at the Night Market.

We scope a few hotels and happen to find one a with a balcony and a bath… do we? Hells yea we do. Just one night. Okay, maybe two. We stay for three before finding another local hotel (Vietnam Visa issues — possibly a later post).

At the night market for a bite to eat it’s noticeably different from Thailand’s markets and a nice gimmick here is the 1 plate, 1 time buffet. For about a quid you get a bowl that you fill up with whatever noodles, rice, veg, spring rolls, tofu, etc, etc that you want which they’ll fry up for you.

Our hotel is really close to the Night Market so no need for a Tuk Tuk but that still doesn’t stop them from trying though.

“Tuk Tuk?”

“No thanks, just walking”

“Weed?”

“It’s good weed!” He says shuffling his eyebrows up and down as he puts a hand in his pocket.

“Ah… No thanks”.

Getting lost in Chiang Rai

We stayed 5 nights in Chiang Rai at a hotel called Na-Rak-O — pronounced locally as Nalak-a which we were told is like “cute with an ‘a’ added to make it cuter”. This made a lot of sense as there were random cuddly bears hanging around behind the curtains.

The hotel was nice. A big double bed on a concrete slab, a shower room with a toilet and as we found out on the last day — an awesome spot to watch the sunrise.

Chiang Rai seems fairly new to the tourism boom. Initially it seems like a hotspot for tourists but spend a few minutes walking in any direction and it’s happy smiles, waves and curious stares again from the locals. I’m not sure many visitors venture too far out from the centre.

We arrived by bus and when we got off we had an ordeal finding the hotel. The tourism officer told us to go left as we leave the bus station following the road to the traffic lights where we turn left, but there were only traffic lights to the right. We walked a bit and returned to her to confirm that it’s definitely not right as that’s where the only traffic lights are. She got a bit moody that we questioned her and insisted we go left.

We did. This is where the story begins.

We follow this road for about 10-15 minutes hoping to come across some traffic lights, we finally did and from here were told to go left, so now we’re walking along a highway… this can’t be right but she was insistent so we continue and take the next left again. Walking down a dimly lit street a pair of dogs come charging at us aggressively barking their faces off. Luckily there was a chain fence separating us! Dogs are usually quite relaxed around people here so maybe not many people come to this part. We carry on and hit another main road. This definitely isn’t right. We see a Seven Eleven so pop in for directions.

Not a word of English to be spoken or understood.

We were lost in Chiang Rai with a language barrier and no internet. We show them the map but they’re confused and of no help. We leave and stumble on a hostel. Thank you Lord! We go in and they upgrade our shitty black and white printout map that we were given at Tourist Information to a colour leaflet that they draw directions to our hotel on. They were confident so we were happy and left smiling.

They didn’t have a clue.

An hour and a half pass and I hate Chiang Rai.

Further into unknown territory with no one on the streets we see a buffet restaurant. We chance it.

“English?”

“Little bit!”

That’ll do. We show the map, we explain we’re lost. The waitress gets the manager. The manager gets the waiter. The waiter gets the cook and there’s another waiter hanging around. There’s like 5 of them — two on Google Maps and three looking at the leaflet.

There’s a lot of talking. Luckily the place wasn’t that busy and they were more than happy to help. 20 minutes / half an hour of running about they figure something out. They’ve pinned the hotel down and know how to get there. They try to explain the road we’re on but quickly give up, opting for a more fail-safe solution…

Mopeds.

The cook and the waiter are ushered outside and given directions. They get on their scooters and the manager looks at us all like “This is happening. Get on”. We’re standing there with all our travelling gear and are like “Yeah. It’s happening”. I thank him and the waitress, offering a tip and they profusely decline so instead we shake hands.

With no helmets and no hesitation we jump on.

Okay okay. Some hesitation. Shit was getting real.

Charlotte and the waiter on the scooter behind, me and the cook leading the pack. Weaving in and out of traffic, holding onto the bike and our bags simultaneously; we turn up at the first set of traffic lights the Tourist Officer told us was the wrong way! Two minutes later — literally two minutes — we’re there. Only accepting a handshake before their departure they leave us and we check in with a relieved smile on our faces.

I love Chiang Rai.

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.

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.