A Travellerspoint blog

Armed escort to paradise

Myself and Letha have now left Malaysia and are in Thailand, somewhere a bit more familiar to some of you reading; those not familar probably associate Thailand with white beaches and palm trees. This is what I'm experiencing right now on Koh Phangan, the most popular backpacker island. We had an interesting journey here from Kota Bharu in northern Malaysia.

Kota Bharu was a very different experience to anywhere I've visited in Asia before. The city (and area around) is very Muslim and without too many westerners around. This gave us a lot of stares from the locals, particular towards Letha with her bright blonde hair! All the local Muslim women were covered from ankle to wrist and wearing headscarves, they probably found us a bit strange despite our attempts to also cover up. There wasn't a huge amount to do in the town except wonder around and observe the locals, but we did get very excited upon discovering a huge Tesco!

The journey through the Thai border took us through the Southern States of Thailand which have had some serious problems with terrorsim as a group wants to seperate the states from Thai control. We took the train from the border despite it being attacked a couple of times in 2006 and 2007. Everyone we spoke to seemed to say the problems had died down and all was safe now, unless we took a 10 hour detour the only option was to hope.

The day went something like this:

09:30m- left Kota Bharu via a local bus which would take us to the border. Despite the road being good, it felt very bumpy due to the bus!
11:00- Exited Malaysia and walked the few hundred metres to Thailand. Thai border official decided that despite there being plenty of room on previous used pages, he'd stamp a brand new page of my nearly-full passport. Start of my bad mood!
10:30 (Thailand is -1hour)- Despite thinking the train station would just only just into Thailand, walked with full backpacks for about half an hour in the heat to eventually find the station. Start getting a little concerned as there is a massive tank outside and about 15 soliders carying AK-47s checking bags
11:30am Having bought tickets and a cold drink we found our seats on the train (which weren't right next to eachother) and expected the train to leave. Instead they started loading a lot of boxes of American Sultanas under the seats and in any space they could find.
12:30 We finally left, concerned we would be late for our nightboat which would leave 2 hours after the train would be arriving.
13:00 A group of around 5 Thai soliders walk up and down the train continuously, looking very macho with their big guns
15:00 Thai Solider comes and sits on an empty seat near us, singing along to his mp3 player and eventually decideing he's bored of protecting the train, he falls asleep!
19:00Despite the sun only just going down the train is transformed into its sleeper-mode. We were due to get off in only 2 hours so weren't too happy about this.
21:00Train pulls into a station, stops and waits. I point to someone my ticket showing my destination as 'Surat Thani' and they reply comes in Thai with 2 fingers held up. I assume he means we'll be there in 2 stops time so start packing up.
23:00 Train is still in station where it stopped and our nightboat would have been departing its pier. I try and find out whats going on by showing my ticket to one of the guards, he points to the number 2 on his watch, meaning 2am!
23:30 The train suddenly starts moving again
00.15 A guard comes and wakes us, telling us our stop is next.
00:45 Having departed the train we need somewhere to stay and need to get into the town of Surat Thani (as the station is some 14km away). We're in taxi-driver heaven as the local buses had stopped and they can effectively charge what they want. End up paying probably 4 times the price we should have during the day and double what we should have for a hotel room!

Luckily, I don't encounter days like this too often and things normally seem to work out somehow. Was certainly pleased to get some sleep and get on the boat to Koh Phangan yesterday. Plenty of time here to relax on the beaches now!

Posted by pullboy 01:33 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Tigers and turtles

semi-overcast 34 °C

DSCF5717.jpgDSCF1958__2_.jpg View from bungalow and the beach on Perhentian Islands
DSCF2042.jpgDSCF2034.jpgDSCF2030.jpgDSCF1991.jpgDSCF1968.jpg Snorkelling fun!

Its good to be back travelling and writing again, my stops in Melbourne don't give me much ammunition for writing these little updates to you all and its something I've always enjoyed doing. I'd hoped to have written a couple of updates by now but internet has been unreliable, so this one is slightly longer than usual.

Singapore was the first destination on my latest trip through South-East Asia; all seemed to be going well besides a sore but managable hangover from my last night in Melbourne. This was untill the check-in lady asked to see our onward travel documents. As we were (quite obviously) backpackers, we'd planned to leave overland by bus into Malaysia and didn't poccess such documents. Luckily we quickly discovered bus tickets could be purchased online and the wonders of Letha's laptop and wi-fi managed to allow us to board (but still lose a few dollars). Lesson learnt there!

Of course, upon arriving and nervously passing through the 'Death to drug smugglers' signs in Singapore we were stamped in within a few seconds with no request to see any information.

Singapore is a unique city in that it so nicely merges Western and Asian cultures. The main city district with its clean streets, upmarkets shops and hotels, and infamous ban on items such as chewing gum is an example of a well planned, modern and forward-thinking city. The city gives way to the suburbs such as Little India in which we were staying that have all the food, colour and culture you would expect of an Asian city.

A couple of days was enough for us here and we spent most of one of these at the city's fantastic open-planned zoo, in which apart from White Tigers and Komodo Dragons we even went to visit the 'Australian Outback' section!

A comfortable 11 hour nightbus journey saw us up into North-East Malaysia and to the Perhentian Islands, notable for their white beaches and amazing diving/snorkelling. The was one of the places I was dissapointed to have missed in my last trip to Malaysia. Despite being worried about the weather (due to humity and showers in Singapore) it turned out almost perfect and a nice place to relax after saving hard during the last few months in Melbourne. Myself and Letha spent a lot of time just relaxing on our shady beachview bungalow balcony watching the huge monitor lizards running around in the garden!

We took a memorable snorkelling trip with four others which stopped off at several points around the islands, its by far the clearest water i've seen and the coral and fish were fantastic. The stars of the show here are definatly didn't disppoint as we saw two huge turtles and got in to swim with them. The supporting cast included small sharks and clown fish (nemos!)

We just arrived into Kota Bharu, which is far north and close to the border with Thailand, which will probably be our next destination. The city is apparently good for exploring Muslim culture so we'll see what there is to do here (and try not to sound American!)

  • *photos to follow very soon (including underwater camera!)

Posted by pullboy 04:52 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Its that time again...

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The time has come once again when my visa expiration date has been reached and its time to leave Melbourne, a city I have spent over 16 months in over the past 2 and a half years. Quite remarkable considering I was only meant to come and work here for 2 or 3 months!

I have already said goodbye to this city so many times that I'm becoming used to the routine of the last few days before I finally leave on Friday, every time I have sent my parcel of excess luggage home, taken my last ride on one of Melbourne's iconic trams and got all nostelgic visiting my favourite places for the last time. There are so many memories for me here.

There's always been something drawing me back here, whether it is friends, work or just the security of being in a place I know I like and will enjoy being. My friend Debbie, also a seasoned Melbourne addict, told me when she was visiting that St Kilda (our beloved suburb on the beach) feels more like home than home actually does; I know that feeling too well!

Everyone when they first embark on trips like mine will always vow to try and experience as many new places as possible. But I've found that trooping through tens of cities without really getting to know them makes each city seem so similar. Getting to the stage where you know so many locals, can drive around a city without a map and really feeling like a place is a second home is a great feeling, The pleasures of this shouldn't be underestimated by those attempting to simply check places off some 'list' they have drawn up only to conclude at the end of it that they are 'done' travelling and can now proceed to the next stage of their life!

Myself and Letha will fly to Singapore at the end of the week to begin an undetermined stint of time in South-East Asia. It'll be her first time there which will give me a bit of a tour-guide hat to wear for some of it, I really liked my previous two trips there but I missed some apparently great places due to time or weather constraints. Thats one brilliant thing about South-East Asia, you can always return to a complete different beach, see a different temple or meet some very different people. It's taken me 16 months to feel like I really know one (very anglo-dominated) city, a few weeks countries as different to Westerners as Vietnam or Cambodia will hardly suffice!

I hope you all find some time to read my updates when they arrive over the next few months, there's no real plan at the moment other than a flight to Singapore and a request for 'beach time' after that by Letha, I'd like to think we can get right across South-East Asia and up into China, however the thing holding us back this time might not be financial or time, my passport is looking quite full already and the border guards are so stamp-happy!

Posted by pullboy 19:06 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Melbourne +1

Another few months have passed where I have promised and failed to deliver a blog post keeping everyone up to date with what I'm up to on this side of the world, so another apology and another update are in order now I have some time to write.

As most of the observant young facebook users (and mum) would have noticed the most significant update is that I have aquired a girl by the name of Letha out here. As a family grilling cannot occur from 10,000 nautical miles away, I'd better give her a brief introduction. We met last time I was in Melbourne but only really got back in touch when i came back here as she remained in Australia all this time (and has seen a lot more of it than me). She likes football (Leeds?!) but not beer, backcombing hair, running, and pronouncing words very strangely- she's from Newcastle you see.

And here she is!

As you can tell, her transition into a Chelsea fan is almost complete....

We've been in Melbourne together since around Christmas time when she moved back down here from Brisbane, which is very understandable as Brisbane is about as exciting as an outback town.

The plan was to save whilst here in Melbourne and that started off very well, at the turn of the year I was regularly working 50+ hour weeks earning great money compared to home (as the exchange rate is very favourable). This helped our decision to move out of my beloved backpacker hostel and stop working there as well as my labouring jobs. We're still in St Kilda, a great suburb by the coast, but in a sharehouse with Irish, French, Dutch and English; there are 10 of us in total and it reminds me of being back as a student sometimes.

DSCF1526.jpg Our leafy street- complete with palm trees
SDC14666.jpg After work milk!
SDC14519.jpg The early days of the house

In terms of the weather, summer was a bit of a disappointment over here; especially since I was here for the hottest summer ever in 2009. It never seemed to get going and any 30+ degree days seemed to be in small blocks rather than for a good extended period. We've made the most of the good days when we can though and have got out to the beaches, music festivals, sporting events and some of the nightlife here. Even when I'm having a bad day I still love Melbourne and especially the area we live in, its such a refreshing mix of people and has everything I'd want right on my dootstep.

Here's a few more pictures with some of the highlights of the summer.

DSCF1549.jpgDSCF1573.jpg Brighton Beach, with their famous coloured huts and city view
DSCF1626.jpg DSCF1630.jpgSunset over St Kilda Pier and views of city
SDC14923.jpg Some great DJs and rain at Future Music Festival

My (favourite?) sister Danni passed through Melbourne a couple of weeks back and I gave her a brief tour, fed her as she was short on cash, and took her to Phillip Island (featured on the BBC series 'Penguin Island'). It has some nice scenery but the main attraction is the 'Penguin Parade' where a mass of tourists watch from grandstands as small penguins waddle from the sea up to their nests on the mainland. Its a pretty impressive sight but unfortunatly photos weren't allowed. We also stopped on the way at a Animal Sanctuary to see some Australian animals.

DSCF1683.jpgDSCF1685.jpg Danni and Letha feeding Kangeroos (including an Albino!)
DSCF1706.jpg Very cute Koala
DSCF1727.jpg Coastal views

Unfortuantely, since the highs of mid-summer work has gradually slowed and I've been struggling to keep my savings where they got to, let alone add to them. I've just got to try and battle through the next 6 weeks without spending too much and hopefully the odd days keep coming. It's time to get out of Melbourne anyway, we're approaching the dreaded day when I check the weather at home and realise its warmer than here as Autumn is well underway now.

The plan after my visa expires towards the end of May is still undecided, there will certainly be some more travelling and tales to tell but we're still working the details on where we'd like to go before returning home. I promise to let everyone know once flights are booked and everything is finalised.

Those of you who have access to it, I'll put some more pictures on Facebook soon!

Posted by pullboy 21:39 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Blogging on life back in Melbourne

First off, a delayed Merry Christmas to everyone reading. Its been a very hectic peroid over christmas for me and I've been terrible on contacting people, sorry for that! I hope everyone had a great time, especially my immediate family who went to Lanzarote for the third time without me!

This was my third Christmas away and my second staying in the hostel I work in in Melbourne, but a very different experience as I am still settling into being back here. Last year I had a group of friends here that I knew very well from a year of living with them, nearly everyone has moved on overv the past 10 months though and I was left feeling like the new kid in the hostel again!

Having returned to australia with little money, my first task was to avoid the lure of backpacker nights out and the hostel bar and attempt to find myself some work. After a couple of odd days in my first week, the manager of the hostel helped me out massively by putting me in touch with a friend of his who was looking for a reliable hand in his tiling buisness. This has worked out brilliantly as I have been working almost every day for him since.

The boss is Fergus, a Northern Irish guy with a very Irish sense of humour. Its quite a small companies that does all kinds of work re-tiling, re-grouting and cleaning up expensive tiles. Obviously I'm not laying tiles but I help out with a lot of the preperation work and the clean up jobs- I'm an expert with the big buffing machine on shiny tiles! Its all very relaxed and easy work in some very nice houses, and with the current pound to dollar exchange rate- I'm earning more money than in London with very few outgoings.

This has been helped more by me returning to work on reception at the backpackers hostel I stay at, mainly covering people who are away or not able to do their shift; this pays for my accomodation costs. I forgot how much I enjoy this; after a weekend working three shifts I felt like I knew everyone in our 230 bed hostel as there is a constant stream of people passing by, buying beers, paying their rent or asking questions.

After just a couple of weeks I took a quick trip up to Brisbane to visit someone and see a dance music festival there, this was a really nice weekend despite me not liking Brisbane too much! Australia has become very easy to get around like Europe now with a lot of budget airline competing on the intercity routes. I'm hoping to see a lot more music festivals and sporting events this time I am here, I always seemed to be just saving cash last time so its nice to be able to pay out for things I enjoy.

The city is currently full of English people as the Ashes (cricket) is being played here. I went along with 84,000 others on boxing day to see a great day of England battering the Aussies. The weather that day really summed up what I've seen so far, cloud followed by a bit of rain followed by sun. It's about time it started getting to being proper summer! I have managed a few days on the beach though.

When home a few people commented on the quietness of my blog during my time in Melbourne. I just found that in comparison to time I have spent moving around from place to place, nothing much happens here, it would be like you guys attempting to write about your day at home in an interesting way! I'll put together a few pieces like this though and pick a few major things I've been doing with my time.

Have a great 2011 everyone!

Posted by pullboy 18:03 Comments (0)

If all else fails... go to plan B

Well it has been a complete nightmare since I last updated, I can't believe that was only on Sunday. The past 5 days has seen me spend the majority of my time on buses, annoyed and attempting to form a new plan of action. Here's why..

Upon leaving Hanoi, which I was very fond of, I embarked on an 18 hour bus journey to Hoi An, which is supposed to be a nice little historical town by the beach. What I found was basically a town underwater, there were actual flash floods coming down the street at one point! It rained for 10 hours solid, stopped for about an hour and then began again. No way was I staying there! I heard a few whispers up in Hanoi that the south was very wet but just expected the normal 'wet season' of Asia where in rains for an hour or so and then goes back to bright sunshine... apparently not!

With my plan of spending my last week on a beach before returning to Melbourne now in tatters, I decided to call it quits with Asia for now and take the option of changing my flight to Australia. This meant I'd rush down south to Ho Chi Minh City (another 28 hours on a bus!) and fly from there.

I'm in Ho Chi Minh City now, if I described Hanoi as the 'Asia we all dream of' in my last post then Ho Chi Minh City should be described as the Asia we don't want the rest to become. Everything about this place is terrible, the food isn't great and its much more 'european' with wider streets and more planning, but its the people you really notice down here. You can't walk down the street for 5 seconds without someone selling you sunglasses, bracelets, books or **insert useless item here**. I feel i can' walk down the street without suspecting of being ripped off too, whereas the rest of Vietnam i've felt quite safe.

Well its only been a day here and although I didn't see all the sights, I'm leaving in an hour or two on to Melbourne. Its funny how whenever everything goes wrong, I always end up in the same city! I'll update from there

Posted by pullboy 18:27 Comments (0)

Hanoi and Halong Bay

Enjoying Vietnam's north....

semi-overcast 28 °C

Having been in Vietnam for a week now, an update is much overdue. I spent two days in Hanoi; Vietnam's capital and second largest city, and then two nights on a trip out to the nearby Halong Bay; Vietnam's most famed tourist attraction. I returned from there a couple of days ago and enjoyed Hanoi so much I have stayed untill tonight, when I'll begin to head south down the coast.

Having arrived by overnight bus to Hanoi from Laos, I was tired but pleased to be off, the entire journey took 31 hours from start to finish but wasn't as bad as it sounds. I did manag to have a little scare with a German girl when a crazy driver managed to bump his car into another car when being transferred to the bus station, but it was all fine!

Hanoi is a city that really smacks you in the face as soon as you enter it, the first thing you notice like in so many Asian cities is the traffic; I've never seen so many motorbikes in my life! The fact that all drivers wears helmets here (they're in a minority elsewhere) speaks volumes too. I've never really taken to any big Asian city before- the likes of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpar are fine for doing a bit of shopping, sorting a visa and experiencing something different, but Hanoi has been great.

I can't find a better way of explaining Hanoi than the way the author of my Lonely Planet summerises it: '..the Asia we all dreamed of from afar'. Everywhere you go in this city you are fansincated by whats going on around you, walking out of the door of my backpackers hostel the city hits every sense at once; the noise from the motorbikes, the smells of the street food, the narrow streets causing you to brush past the locals.

Looking back on it, I seem to have spent most of my time just watching the locals. The draught beer here, Bia Hoi, sold on street corners is famed for being the cheapest in the world- around 13p a glass! Perfect for taking a low stool on the pavement and watching the world go by. The pavements here aren't just for walking, they're used as resturants, bars, parking spaces for bikes and day markets. This forces the pedistrians into the street and into some quite nervy moments with the motorbikes!

I'd been advised to join the Halong Bay tour of the largest backpackers hostel due to the social nature of it, and I was hugely impressed with how well it was run and how much we managed to see in three days. I often think that the reason I enjoy backpacking isn't just about the places you see, but about the people you meet. Well in Halong Bay I got the best of both worlds, as we had a really fun group of people and got to see a totally beautiful area. The Bay consists of literally thousands of pointy islands, some with vegetation and beaches, that make an amazing setting. On the trip we got to kayak, jump off the boat, spend a night on a private beach and do a lot of sitting and gazing at the surroundings.

I'll post pictures soon as I'm running a little late for catching my next bus. I'm out of time in both the short and long run though as I'm already looking at cutting corners in my itenirary here. This always seem to happen!

Posted by pullboy 00:58 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Loving Laos...

sunny 29 °C

Its been a short while since my last update and I've spent 4 days each in Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, the two most popular places for backpacking in Laos. Its easy to see why they are both so popular.

Luang Prabang is like a French resort town, and very unlike anywhere I have been in South-East Asia. The city is beautiful and has been well preserved, as it is now a World Heritage Site. For many places, when they become popular with tourists a thousand ugly guesthouses suddenly appear and the place becomes a jumble of bars, makeshift buildings and tacky signs. Not here, everything is kept very well and there is a fantastic street market every night. There is also an 11.30pm curfew for bars/restaurants.

The French left the great architecture and some great bakeries and coffeehouses, its strange seeing such amazing bread and pastries in this part of the world! Nearby to the city is a multi-tiered waterfall which is easily one of the best I've seen. I'll post some pictures next time as my internet isn't great here.

I'm currently in Vang Vieng, a proper backpacker hangout and famous for being a good party-place! I'm well and truly on the 'banana pancake trail' here! The town's biggest draw is the tubing, a strange activity which is probably best explained through its history. The river by the town has amazing scenery and at some point backpackers began to float down it at a slow pace on inflated tractor inner-tubes. At some point afterward bars/restaurants started to appear on the river to cater for these tourists. The situation now is there are about 15 bars playing very loud dance music, with rope swings, slides and cheap alcohol! A few hundred people each day 'tube' between the bars getting drunk and sunburnt! Alcohol and rivers isn't always the best mix though, and there are a few serious injuries and even deaths.

It has been fun though and have seen a lot of the same people again, I'll probably lose them now though as I'm heading into Vietnam via a grueling 28 hour 'sleeper' bus. It won't be fun, but I need to go all the way to Hanoi in the north of Vietnam to start travelling down the coast. I rather scarily had to give my passport over for 3 days here in order to get my visa (it went via motorbike to the embassy in Vientianne), its back in my possession now though!

I've really enjoyed Laos and wish I could spend more time here, the friendly people make it such a relaxing place to come. When I came over the border about 10 days ago I went for some breakfast whilst waiting for my bus, the restaurant was empty so I took a seat and began to eat, some locals came in and, ignoring the 6 empty tables came to sit at mine, exchanging smiles and a 'Sabahdee' (hello). Its little things like that you notice when in a different culture, imagine doing that at McDonalds in London or New York!

Posted by pullboy 08:40 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Keeping flexible

The fun of travel in Asia

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The past couple of days have reminded me once again while I love backpacking across this part of the world and why I prefer going it alone. Whilst some people dislike the inevitable time spent by yourself when not having 'travel buddies' I see it as such a great opportunity to find yourself in unplanned situations. You really have no idea what the day will contain when you wake up!

Take the past couple of days as example, I had a general plan in my mind to cross into Northern Laos and go on a 3 day/2 night trek through the jungle. Having got to the town of Luang Namtha, I sat down to have a bit of lunch following the bus journey and read up on what was available. Within a few minutes I was chatting to another English guy sat nearby in the restaurant, also travelling alone and wanting to trek. Within an hour we had managed to secure a group of 8 of us to share the cost of transport, a guide etc. to go on a trip across the local National Protected Area and stay overnight in an ethnic village.

So we set off on our trek along a river, though amazing valleys, crossing small streams and across amazing rice fields toward the dense forest ahead. On our first break from the heat we discovered everyone has several leaches attached to their shoes! The recent wet weather here causes more of them to appear, I managed to avoid them getting onto my skin but others weren't so lucky; getting some nasty looking bites!

Crossing a small river by boat, and the great scenery over the rice fields

The actual walking was fairly tough due to the up and down terrain and the humidity once in the forest, we kept our eye out for wildlife but didn't see anything major, our guide did make things interesting by giving us some details on trees, fruits etc though. We stopped for lunch just past the halfway mark which was an event in itself, they produced mixed vegetables in different sauces, some very spicy curry and a packet of rice each wrapped in a leaf! The food itself was served on giant leaves on the floor with everyone getting their hands dirty and tucking in!

Lunch stop

Having filled ourselves up on great food and all getting a bit tired, we headed on for another 90 minutes towards a river we were told we would be crossing on a bamboo bridge. Much to the shock of our guide, due to the recent bad weather this bridge wasn't actually in existence anymore and had apparently been swept downstream as the river levels were high! The river was much to wide and fast moving to attempt swimming across so after about a 20 minute discussion we had to backtrack all the way back to the starting village. We were initially quite concerned we wouldn't make it out by dark, but managed just about!

All the drama meant we wouldn't be spending the night in the village we had planned to and we were all exhausted by 7 hours of tough, hot walking. We spoke to the manager of the company we booked with and arranged for a partial refund! It was still a fun day though!

On a note about Laos, you notice the relaxed culture as soon as you cross the Mekong River that is the border (literally, the immigration official spent about 20 mins having a coffee rather than giving me my passport back!). Everyone here is incredibly friendly. I've started to try their local foods here too, spending a couple of evenings on the stalls at the night market in town.

DSCF1103.jpg Crossing the river border early morning by longboat
DSCF1104.jpg Some amazing noodle soup- best I've had!

I'll still spend today relaxing in the Luang Namtha before moving onto Luang Prabang, a beautiful French designed city, tomorrow

Posted by pullboy 19:45 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Exploring Chaing Mai and getting wet

sunny 28 °C

Having not been to Chaing Mai before and hearing a lot about it from friends it was a really worthwhile stop-off on the way to Laos.

The overnight bus I caught from Bangkok was surprisingly comfortable, but I still only managed a couple of hours of sleep, meaning the first day was a bit of a write off as I spent a lot of it sleeping and getting to know my area of town. I was also awaiting the arrival of Kie, a friend from Sixth Form that has come out to Asia travelling with his girlfriend, I've spent a couple of days with them and should catch up with them in Laos too, and eventually in Melbourne when they travel Australia.

The city itself is a real gem, the old city is about a mile square and surrounded by a moat having used to be a walled city. They've managed to reconstruct the gates to the city mainly as a tourist attraction, but you wouldn't know they weren't completely original unless you read the information sign next to them.

Thailand_048.jpg Chiang Mai city walls

The biggest attraction in the city itself is the number of Buddhist temples around. There are as many here as in the whole of Bangkok, quite remarkable when considering how much larger Bangkok is. I spent a warm afternoon walking around and seeing some of them and heard from a local that due to it being a Buddhist holiday there would be a large prayer in the afternoon, we went along and could watch a group of about 100 monks praying and chanting, no-one seemed too bothered about my camera so I took the chance to get a few pictures.

Thailand_022.jpgThailand_064.jpg Buddhist monks at prayer

Because the city is the biggest tourist destination in Northern Thailand there are plenty of places to stay and plenty of English spoken, there are literally hundreds of travel shops offering all kinds of trekking tours, elephant riding, rafting, cooking courses, local visits and countless other things.

I've been quite conscious here on the ethics of travel, I heard a story from a German girl who went to see some of the 'hill-tribes' here only to find it a completely unauthentic, touristy experience. The most famous local tribe are probably the Paduang, most distinctive as unmarried woman stretch their neck using heavy coils. The villages that were once disconnected from the outside world are now overrun with tourists snapping photos of these young girls like animals in a zoo. Also, elephant trekking is hotly debated due to the methods used to train elephants and for the effects of having several humans sitting on their backs. I think its important to not only go and see amazing places in the world and the different cultures that exist, but do so in a way that isn't completely detriment, its a tough balance sometimes.

One activity I didn't get too depressed about was the option for white water rafting. Some may remember that I did this on the 'mighty' Zambezi in Zimbabwe a couple of years ago- it was one of my favourite days of 18 months of being away last time. Seeing it advertised here I was straight away interested, especially considering Kie and I got a day including our equipment, transport and lunch for about £16. The rapids weren't quite as fearsome as those in Africa (few are) and our raft didn't end up upside down this time but it was still quite challenging a lot of fun! The scenery we passed with lush green vegetation and little village communities with rope bridges was unbelievable, some of the group we were with took their waterproof cameras so hopefully I'll get passed on some pictures to put on here.

Yesterday, following a night of drinking with some new friends from the rafting, we signed up for a Thai Cooking course, which are very popular here. They include a tour of the market and then the chance to cook 4 or 5 thai dishes, it was really good fun. The highlight was making thai curry paste from scratch including pressing all the chillies, and then seeing it form an amazing panang curry.

I'm currently overnighting in a border town on the Thai/Laos visa as the bus to my next town, Luang Namtha which is in the north of Laos towards China, from here I'll try and organise a trek into the thick jungle for a few days. Possibly (hopefully!) encountering wild leopards and even tigers!

Pics from Bangkok:
Thailand_004.jpg A rather gloomy raincloud approaching victory monument

Thailand_003.jpg The famed Tuk-Tuk (motorcycle taxi) next to Khao San Road market

Posted by pullboy 02:46 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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