Tuesday, 5 June 2012

South East Asia: Summary - Thailand


We vanished a bit again, we had quite a lot of trouble trying to find jobs in Australia which in turn made us not really bothered to do anything and unfortunately the blog did fall a bit by the wayside. We decided to just give up on Australia as it was costing so much and we are now in New Zealand! We got to the North Island yesterday after spending just over a week on the South Island and we are having so much fun! New Zealand is an amazing country!

However that's not why I am here today. Get ready for our super amazing summary of South East Asia. I will cover Thailand today, then Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia and Sinagpore. All will be a separate blog post apart from Malaysia and Singapore which I'll throw in together!

  • Bangkok - We stayed at the Udee Bangkok, it was a great hostel, super clean and modern with a great roof terrace and we would recommend it. HOWEVER it was VERY far out and was more in the "real" Bangkok, you won't find any other backpacker things around here and can be a bit daunting to end up here straight from the UK but other than that it's great and close proximity to the Chatuchak Weekend Market.

Udee Bangkok
  • Trains - The trains in Thailand are fine and definitely nothing to be scared of, we didn't do any coaches in Thailand partly because some of them can be very dangerous (there are a lot of accidents) and partly because on a coach you do have the option to move around. I would totally recommend Seat 61 for any train queries you have in ANY country. It helped us no end in SE Asia. If you have to chose ALWAYS go for the night train up to Chiang Mai. We went up on the night train but came back on the day train and compared the day train was absolutely awful! The night train was fab, it obviously depends who is sharing your little compartment but it's a great experience. Those of you on the top bunk just be wary when the train starts moving again as it really does nearly make you fall off! Also slight tip, when you get on they come round with "orange juice" this isn't free and is VERY sweet, they don't answer if you ask if it's free but you do have to pay (Eventually!) Also the food on the trains is surprisingly nice, however you get LOADS of your money so if there are two of you I would suggest just buying one meal and sharing it between two! Finally on the day trains just to confuse you further you actually get all drinks and food included! A lady comes round now and again with a drinks trolley and you get lunch, it's fine and a good bargain!
Train Compartment

  • Chiang Mai - By far the best place in Thailand/SE Asia in our opinion. Partly because of this hostel - Finlays Cottage part of me wants to keep this hostel secret from everyone else. The hosts are great, the breakfasts are literally INCREDIBLE honestly if nothing else stay here for that. The bathrooms (Shared) are good, very clean and there is a lovely seating area inside and out, plus it's literally a 5 min walk from Tha Pae Gate. 
Finlays Cottage

    • Cooking Schools - Both of us would not hesitate to recommend Asia Scenic if you want to learn some Thai cooking schools! You get teachers and a brilliant recipe book to take home. We did the full day course out on the farm which was amazing, a complete bargain and was the best day we had whilst in Thailand. There are a million and one cookery schools to choose from but this one was amazing.
Cookery Class

  •  Pai - Unfortunately we didn't get up to a lot in Pai due to illness. One big tip if you get travel sick then go to Boots in Chiang Mai BEFORE you make the journey to Pai as it's honestly the bendiest road we have been on, and whilst it's only three and a bit hours long the minibus drivers are crazy. We just booked our accommodation once we arrived there are loads of bungalows and all are similar, a chilled out vibe. It's a great place and we wish we could have explored more.
The view from our Bungalow

  • Koh Lanta - A quieter island than Phi Phi and one to go too for sunbathing, reading and relaxing. It's not super cheap on the island but you can get a lovely bungalow for not a lot of money and just spend the time chilling out and relaxing. We went to a fab restaurant called Red Snapper which is pretty expensive for Thailand standards but did absolutely amazing Tapas. Also to give something back whilst on the island and if you are also a dog lover please take the time to visit the Lanta Animal Welfare it's a fab charity helping to rescue and rehome stray dogs on the island. They also run a neutering and worming programme for the island dogs. You can help by taking some of the dogs for a walk. It was honestly one of the best days on the island, we loved meeting Chilli and Woody and would have loved to rehome them all!
Sunset on Lanta

Woody and Chilli
 So I hope some of this has been useful for anyone planning a trip to Thailand, it's a fab country, it can be a culture shock but embrace it, don't worry about getting scammed, this doesn't particularly happen in Thailand except around some of the Temples in Bangkok, a bit of advice if someone comes up and tells you the Palace is closed, or the Temple is closed just ignore them, they are just trying to tout you into their tuk tuk. Let me know if you have any questions about anywhere we've visited in Thailand stay tuned for Vietnam!

Friday, 18 May 2012

AWOL in Aus

Hello again,

So first we must apologise we have been AWOL from the blog for a couple of weeks! Unfortunately due to limited access to the internet in Malaysia and Singapore, then arriving in Australia and again with limited access to the internet we have put the blog on a bit of a back burner!

I'm not sure now whether we will finish our trip in detail around SE Asia as some of it happened so long ago for us I don't know if we will do it justice! However I do plan to do a review of SE Asia and the countries we visited so I'll cover some of the missed cities in that!

We are now in Australia, we have currently visited Brisbane and Melbourne and taken a road trip along the Great Ocean Road. Our plan was to find work pretty much as soon as we arrived unfortunately not really taking into account that it is winter this has been a lot harder than first thought. We have now decided to give up on Melbourne and go back up to Brisbane as we have both secured an interview. Hopefully this will get us a bit extra money so we can afford to do some more travel around Aus before moving over to NZ. Aus is ALOT more expensive than we realised and seems ridiculous when you come from SE Asia (although perhaps not Singapore!)

We do love it but at the same time it seems very english and it's a bit bizarre sometimes to remember you are in Australia, especially on the GOR when at time we felt we were driving along Dartmoor or Cornwall! We fly back up to Brisbane tomorrow and our internet access will probably be sproradic until we find somewhere to stay whilst working, but I promise we will do an update soon.

For now I shall leave you with a few snippets of our recent road trip...

With our Jucy camper
Torquay, VIC
12 Apostles, VIC

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Battenburg...Whoops Battambang

So we decided to make a little trip across to Battambang from Siem Reap, it was a bit of a last minute decision as we were orginally going to go down to the coast but decided the coaches etc. were too annoying and would be easier to go across to Battambang.

We booked a hotel and make tentative plans of what to do. Battambang itself is VERY different from Siem Reap despite it being the second biggest city in Cambodia. Because it is in the middle of the countryside the surrounding roads were riddled in mines for years and have only in the past few years been cleared which means more visitors. However it is still developing and as such does not have a bit tourist population. 

The hotel we stayed in was nice enough however we chose the exact moment they were deciding to put a swimming pool on the roof....which meant VERY VERY loud noises from about 7am - 6pm...not great when you are trying to have a sleep after a super long journey.

There isn't really a lot to do in Battambang itself, the town is small and there isn't really anything to see, we walked around for a bit and had a fab breakfast at the Gecko cafe, and decided to take a Tuk Tuk into the surrounding countryside as this is where the appeal of Battambang lies.

The first Temple we climbed up

We visited various mountainside Temples, including hiking up a MASSIVE mountain, with a lovely little guide. We were practically dead by the top of the mountain but the views were magnificent and really made it worthwhile. The countryside itself around Battambang is beautiful and well worth the trip out of the town.

The views from the top
We were at the top!!

We didn't really get up to a lot more in Battambang and only stayed a few nights, it was worth seeing but I personally wouldn't suggest staying longer than 2/3 nights there, you'd run out of things to do very quickly!

However we did try some fabulous juice made from a Bamboo shoot, it was absolutely amazing, tasted completed unexpected and was super sweet and refreshing. If you ever see anyone pressing some Bamboo whilst in SE Asia, TRY some, honestly you will be very glad you did!!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Angkor Say Wat!

Sorry for the break in posting, we got distracted by the beautiful island of Koh Lanta and didn't manage to access the internet or our blog for a couple of weeks! However we are back now and need to get a crack on with our Cambodian adventures! 

We did arrive in Phnom Penh first but as we only spent a couple of days there before heading up to Siem Reap we will come back to Phnom Penh later on when we return! 

After a hellish bus journey that was meant to take 5.5 hours and took about 8.5 (including a little boy deciding to use the seats opposite us as a toilet...) we arrived in Siem Reap! After haggling for a tuk tuk and being pleasantly surprised at how cheap they were, we were led on a whistle stop tour of the town on the way to our hostel. Our first impressions were how lovely and laidback the town felt. This was reinforced with our wander around that evening.

The town itself is definitely geared towards tourism, more so than Phnom Penh I would say, there are a lot of Westerners, this isn't definitely a bad thing, and we did like the fact it made it easier to get food and to communicate but at the same time when towns are more geared towards tourism it also inevitably brings with it the darker side of tourism and there were a lot of child beggers who would run up to you and grab you demanding money as well as mothers with babies demanding for you to buy formula milk. Now unfortunately as heartbreaking as this can be we can't help everyone and a lot of the time you unfortunately do have to ignore them after saying sorry, but it does but a bit of a dampner on an otherwise charming little town.

We spent 5 nights in Siem Reap and loved it, there are countless markets to choose from and lovely little eateries to explore as well as the famous Angkor Temples complex. We decided to only spend one day at the temples, originally we were going to buy a 3 day pass but when we decided to cycle on the first day the heavens opened for pretty much the whole day so we gave up! We were very grateful the next day when we realised just how big the complex was!!

Angkor Wat

The temples themselves are amazing, after posing for a somewhat unflattering ticket photo we were on our way, first to stop at Angkor Wat, it's about a 15 walk to get to the temple where the Tuk Tuk drops you off and it was already well over 32 degrees celcius at half 8 in the morning!! It's very impressive on the walk towards the temples and even the glance of scaffolding does little to disrupt the impressiveness. Unfortunately although I thought I had come prepared with my maxi dress and shawl to cover up I was informed this was not good enough and wasn't allowed up to the top of the temple so Dan had to go it alone (I later purchased a T-Shirt for the other temples!)


After Angkor Wat we made our way to Angkor Thom with the famous Temple of faces Bayon. That was a fab temple and we really enjoyed ourselves, the other temples in the complex are just as breathtaking but by this time we had probably walked about 8 km and were getting tired (plus navigating pretty rickity wooden stairs which is pretty scary!!) we visited one more temple before we decided to stop for a bite to eat with our Tuk Tuk driver! Quite hilariously in the temple complex you can bargain for your food, we got two stalls going against each other and managed to get our meals down from $4 each to $2!!

After visting a few more temples including the famous "Tomb Raider" temple which unfortunately is crumbling to pieces and pretty much surrounded by scaffolding we decided to call it a day as we were temple-d out!!

Tomb Raider temple
 It was a brilliant way to spend the day and absolutely amazing to think these structures were completed with no machinary of any kind but we were glad in the end to only go for a day pass as I'm not sure we would've wanted to spend three days exploring the temples!

Temple Chic
 On another note if you are ever in Siem Reap you HAVE to check out the Viva! mexican restaurant it is absolutely AMAZING and for pudding make sure you try Blue Pumpkin one of the best cafe's/ice cream shops in Cambodia!!

Join us for the next installment where we venture off the beaten track in Battambang!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Across the border

So the time has come for us to cross the border into Cambodia, now as we wimped out and flew to Vietnam this will be our first land border crossing! I was slightly apprehensive as we had no idea what to expect! We booked a coach from HCMC to Phnom Penh so that was sorted and at least we had transport all the way.

The coach itself was fine, we went with Capitol Tours, and compared to some of the coaches we've been on it was nice, there was a toilet (a luxury in asia!) and we got free drinking water and a little wet wipe, very VIP!! We were two of only four westerners on the coach, luckily we did have an english speaking bus attendant! About an hour in the attendant came round to collect our passports and asked if we wanted to do our visas ourselves or for him to get them. I have read it's usually better to do it yourself so we told him that, apart from him looking surprised this way fine!

We reached the Vietnamese border and it all got very strange, everyone had to get off the bus with all of our baggage and we went to wait in another room and the man with all of our passports just sort of disappeared, no one had any idea where he had gone and I did panic for a moment worrying we'd be stranded at the Vietnamese border!

Luckily it turns out he was bypassing the queues for us to get our exit stamp, unluckily me and Dan were the last to be processed, so just had to wait whilst everyone else sat on the nice air conned coach!! Eventually we got our passports back and got back on the coach to drive about 100m to the Cambodia border where we had to get off the coach again! Everyone else got to go inside but we had to go and fill in the visa form. It was all very simple and we opted for the $20 Tourist Visa. There was no bribing of any visa officials as some of the guide books and website like to lead you to believe, we paid our $20 and we had our visas!

Once we had queued up and provided our fingerprints and photos we had our entry stamp to Cambodia and were on our way to Phnom Penh! It turned out later when we were talking to others over lunch they had paid $25 to the bus attendant for the same visa, so whilst only a saving of $5 we were very pleased we had opted to do it ourselves, it was super easy and nothing to worry about at all!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Saigon gone

We touched down to Saigon airport and were amazed at how easy it was at this end, my backpack even ended up being the first off the conveyor belt! We negotiated a taxi into the centre and got dropped off at our hostel. We stayed at the Phran Anh Backpackers Hostel, but it is definitely a very POSH backpackers hostel, one of the best room's we've had and definitely the best bathroom. It was an absolutely bargain and I would recommend it to anyone.

The city itself has lots to see, most of it related to the Vietnam war and unfortunately as happens with war a lot of it not very pleasant but important to see nevertheless. We visited the Reunification Palace, both of us were slightly dissapointed as it looked more like a bad 70s government building than a palace and in our opinion was not really worth the 30,000 dong entrance fee, you could join a free guided tour but you were only allowed around about 4 rooms and to be honest we would have been just as happy looking at it from the outside.

There is some lovely architecture around the city and we enjoyed just walking around enjoying the parks and people watching. You can even partake in a bit of exercise if you fancy it, although it's not necessarily advisable in the 34 degree heat! Dan still decided to show off a little bit...

One museum you should definitely visit is the War Remants Museum, it's only 15,000 dong to enter and it is WELL worth the entrance fee, we spent a good two and a half hours looking around, and it definitely makes you think. There are many artifacts from the Vietnam War, as well as an exhibition on the Prisoner of War camps. The Agent Orange exhibition is very harrowing and upsetting in places but interesting to read and understand more. There is a slight Vietnam bias throughout the museum but that is to be expected. Definitely do not miss this museum if you are in Vietnam.

Finally we went on a tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, we had a very entertaining tour guide who went by the name of Mr Bean, he literally lectured us for two and a half hours about the war, and he seemed to hate everything, Vietnam, Communists, Capitalism, American's, English. I'm not really sure what he liked but it definitely was not a boring bus journey and he was a great tour guide if slightly crazy...

The tunnels themselves were very interesting and was fab to learn about the guerilla fight, both Dan and I decided to do the tunnels but I had to give up half way through as everyone in front kept stopping and it was getting smaller and smaller and I got very panicky and claustrophoic so was very thankful for the little escape routes dotted throughout the tunnel. It's definitely an experience and I'm glad I did at least half of it! I definitely have a lot of respect for the people who lived and fought in these tunnels for years.

One of the grass/bamboo traps
We both really enjoyed our time in HCMC and definitely preferred it as a city to Hanoi. Although it was very big it seemed to be easy to navigate and there was always lots happening! We have enjoyed our time in Vietnam however it definitely hasn't been our favourite place, we have met a lot of friendly and helpful vietnamese but unfortunately we have also met with a lot of hostile and unfriendly people which has some what tainted our experience. 

We are very excited to be moving on to Cambodia tomorrow but are somewhat apprehensive about our land border crossing, we'll let you know how it goes in the next blog post!

See you on the other side,

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Tailor of Hoi An

So after we enjoyed a few lovely relaxing days in Hue we decided to travel down to Hoi An, this time we went via coach as it's a lot easier when arriving in the town. The weather took a bit of a turn for the worst when we left Hue and it dropped about 8 degrees and was chucking it down!

Hoi An is famous for cheap custom made suits and dresses, you can't step anywhere in the town without someone trying to make you a custom designed suit, dress or shoes. Neither Dan or I wanted anything made (nor did we have the room to carry anything!) but it was fun exploring. The old town is shut off from all motorcycles and cars from early evening which was lovely and really helped the atmosphere not to be nearly run down every time you step off the curb! The riverside is beautiful, we weren't too amazed by the Japanese bridge, especially not to spend 90,000 dong (about £3) to walk over it! But we were very impressed by the abundence of fresh beer, most restaurants sell it and you could get half a pint for 3000 dong (9p!!) and it was absolutely amazing, and this is coming from a non-beer drinker!

We decided to do a tour to My Son whilst in Hoi An, My Son is a group of abandoned temples that are unfortunately mostly partially destoryed after the Vietnam war when American bombs were dropped in the area in order to try and kill the guerilla fighters hiding in the jungle. However the temples are still beautiful and the area they are located in is breathtaking. It was a thoroughly interesting day and we had a brilliant guide. 

We got the boat back along the river to Hoi An which is a fabulous way to enter the town, and it's definitely worth the extra dollar to enjoy this experience! We really enjoyed our time in Hoi An and if you do go make sure you take an empty suitcase (or two) as it's worth it to get a few custom made suits (or dresses)! 

We're venturing down to Ho Chi Minh city next, our final stop in Vietnam!


Friday, 6 April 2012

Come away to Hue

(Hue is pronounced Whey, by the way).

So, Hue. It was awesome. I loved it. The vibe in that place is killer. I can't quite think of the words to describe it, so I won't go on, but by comparison to EVEYRWHERE ELSE we have been in Vietnam, it was by far the best spot. In fact, it comes a very close second to all the places we have been so far in SouthEast Asia as a whole, (running up to Chiang Mai, Thailand).

It's a pretty small city, very clean (in relativity), and the people are all pretty freindly. The weather was great, the river running through the middle was a delight, and the citadel was beautiful.

We have found that the Vietnamese aren't fond of giving change. Literally any transaction made where you purchase goods or services for money, you will get incorrect change. We were growing used to this, as it was generally only a few hundred Dong (which amount to only pennies, Sterling). But, we got douched out of a lot of money at the citadel. It put kind of a downer on the thing, which sucks because the place is truely majestic, full of history and culture. But it was still a serious highlight of the trip.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Bay of Dragons

So after a few days exploring Hanoi we decided to do the obligatory tour to Ha Long Bay. I think it's probably a must if you come to Vietnam that you visit Ha Long Bay. Unfortunately the day we were due to go the weather was still pretty rubbish and it was chucking it down and rather foggy but we were hoping for more when we were on the open water!

It took a few hours to get to Ha Long but we had a lovely mini bus (although Dan unfortunately chose the short straw and had to sit in the middle of the aisle the whole way!!) when we arrived we had to somehow squeeze through the crowds to get to the harbourside it was amazing how many tour groups were descending on the bay in one day.

Our boat wasn't situated right at the harbourside so we had to get a smaller boat out into the bay but once we arrived into our boat (and tried not to fall over board when changing boats!!) we were welcomed with a rather random cinnamon flavoured drink and were allowed to check into our cabins. I'm not really sure what I was expecting, some kind of Brittany Ferries tiny little cabin you can hardly move in but both me and Dan were pleasantly surprised and apart from the gentle rocking it was as good as some of our hotel rooms!

We were then treated to a lunch which seemed to go on forever whilst the boat was taking us to the caves. Unfortunately when we arrived at the caves my memory card decided to break so we only have two photos from inside but they are amazing if slightly fake looking. Our tour guide was absolutely hilarious and kept pointing out all the shapes in the rocks such as an "elephant", "dog" and "monkey" however as Dan pointed out the person who came up with all of the shapes must've been pretty stoned or drunk...

We then thought we would be going back to the main boat before kayaking in the afternoon so we could get changed into swimming gear, how wrong we were!! We got taken straight to kayaking, now I am not particularly confident around water but Dan really wanted to do it and as there were only two person kayak's available I took one for the team. I wasn't particularly filled with a lot of confidence when everyone else kayaking in the other groups had life jackets and our guide said "as long as you can swim you'll be fine..." I did kick up a bit of a fuss and demanded a life jacket even if I did look like a bit of an idiot...

It was actually probably the best part of the trip and we both really did enjoy ourselves, apart from Dan completely soaking his only pair of shorts and having to wear swimming shorts for the rest of the trip!!! Lucky he doesn't wear speedo's really...

The evening consisted of Karaoke something no-one apart from the Vietnamese crew really wanted to partake in and ended in us learning a new card game Yaniv!! Which is an amazing game and will definitely be getting played everywhere on our trip.

The next day we went to visit a floating village and we could have a tour of the Tomorrow never Dies rock/cave but we decided to opt out and play Yaniv instead. After another massive lunch we had arrived back at the harbour ready to begin the trip back to Hanoi, this time snagging a pretty good seat, no middle seats for us!!

We venture down to the old capital of Hue in the next installment so stay tuned...


Friday, 23 March 2012

Raining in 'Nam

There's something to be said for the rain in Vietnam. Having just touched down and gone for a drive through the city of Hanoi, it is abundantly clear that torrential rain does not cause the city to slow any. Let's face it, if the city moved any faster on a given Saturday than it was today, it'd be washed away!

But yes, it was pouring. Not only that, but foggy too. There was a strange moment, crossing a bridge that went into the city that kind of summed up the whole thing. An odd feeling of drifting into the unknown. Looking out the window to the left, all to be seen was the railing of the bridge, then an impenetrable white-grey nothing. To the right, the same. Out the front windsheild could be seen a couple hundred yards of the bridge, but then it dissolved into the white-grey nothing, too.

Coming from the sheer madness of Thailand, what I've seen thus far of Vietnam seems fairly civilized. Sure, there are women hanging up washing outside in the pouring rain. Sure, there are men driving mopeds on the highway with multiple kegs of beer or entire tree trunks strapped to their bikes. Sure, there are guys sat on the curbs in the broad day light smoking what look suspiciously like foot long bongs. It feels like a good place. Everythings taking on a slightly skewed, surreal tinge thanks to the massive sleep deprivation I'm currently handling, but I think we'll be happy here!

Time for some sleep!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Pai Oh My

Pai is, for all intents and purposes, a hippy commune. Unfortunately for it's founding fathers,  it is bereft of hippies. There were a few lone wanderers to be seen with dreadlocks and glazed eyes, searching, no doubt, for peace and free love. Probably more for the free love. But generally speaking, it was filled to brimming with posers. 

That said, I like Pai alot. Delightful little town. But it's a town very much geared toward travellers, and most of the ones that actually wind up there know exactly why they are going. Cheap living and loose morals.

 Nestled high in the mountains of northern Thailand, it really is an escape from the bustle of what the rest of Asia seems to call everyday life. The further from Chaing Mai we went, the worse the twists and turns, hair-pin bends and treacherous mountain roads became. My travel-sick co-conspirator was not happy with any of this business, but we got through it sure enough. Mini-bus for four hours, Ah yeah.

We got to talking with a Swedish girl on the bus and when we eventually made it to Pai, we wandered with her for a while to her hostel, which was very nice. But we had already seen one online that we thought we liked better, so we parted ways. Upon reaching our destination, however, comprehension crashed around us: the place we had so liked online was not quite what we had been expecting in real life. The owner was such a dude, however, we didn't want to upset him by moving that evening. Instead we stayed the night and moved on, back to the original place with the Swedish girl. Oh, and when I say dude, I really do mean in the Bill and Ted sense. But Thai. He was excellent.

Anyway, as I said, the town itself is splendid, all wooden shacks and outdoor bars and about three actual roads. But, alas, my travel-companion came down with a bug on the first day, and I got whipped with the business end of some mean man-flu, so we saw little more of the place than Main Street.

Thai Countryside

If ever there is to be another adventure into South-East Asia, Pai will certainly be a spot for some further exploration. Right now, thought, I wish you all a fond farewell.

See you on the flip-side, bitches. x

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Back to School...

So whilst in Chiang Mai we decided to do what any self respecting traveller seems to do when in Thailand and learn to cook Thai! Now since arriving in Thailand we hadn't been particularly good at eating Thai food but we were determined to try and after a particular good meal at Ratana's Kitchen the night before (as recommend by just about every guide book going!!) we decided we needed to jump in with both feet!

We chose the Asia Scenic cookery school as we had heard good things about it and we'd heard it came with a brilliant cookery book at the end of the day. We decided to go for the full day cookery course out on their farm.

We got picked up from our hostel at 8:30am and taken to the cookery school in the centre of Chiang Mai, from there we were split into the different cookery groups and met our host and teacher for the day Palm. We had to decide what dishes we wanted to cook before going to the market to look at the ingredients. We had to 5 dishes + 1 curry paste.

We were then taken to the market where Palm talked us through the different types of rice, noodles and tofu. And showed us the Thai equivelant of a grocery store. Markets are very important in Thai culture and they don't really buy fresh produce from a supermarket it's all from the markets and they are absolutely amazing, you can pretty much buy anything you want from the market!! Whislt we were being shown around the drivers were rushing around haggling all of our ingredients from the stalls!

Lots of Rice!!

After Palm drove us out to the farm which was about 20 mins from Chiang Mai, it was beautiful and really in the middle of nowhere! We were then taken on a garden tour where all of the different plants and herbs used in Thai cooking were explained to us, there are so many different herbs some of which we have never heard of before so this was great, although we did have to keep dancing on the spot to avoid getting bitten by the very viscious ants!!

Thai Welcome Snack

We started by cooking the stir fry course of the menu, I made Pad Thai and Dan made Chicken with Cashew Nut. Both were fab and it's amazing how quick it is to make once all of the prep is done. The only problem with the cooking course was we got to eat our food after cooking it. Everyone was full from the stir fry course and we still had four courses to make and eat!!

All of the food was fab, but I think we both enjoyed making the stir fry course the most, although we both enjoyed making and eating the deep fried banana's they were amazing!! It was really interesting to learn how to make a curry paste and make the curry from that. We also learnt more about thai eating culture and table etiquette. 

Overall it was a really great day and we got an amazing cookbook to take home with us, so hopefully we'll be able to find the ingredients again as we would love to cook them for our friends and family! If you are in Chiang Mai then definitely do a cooking course we had so much fun and it was a great way to spend our last day before heading up to Pai!


Saturday, 17 March 2012

Chiang Mai-Zing

So I've finally managed to get the computer away from Dan to start on the Chiang Mai portion of our trip! Although I've no doubt he'll manage to wrangle his way onto this post. He does have a good way with words after all!

So after our train journey we arrived at our new hostel for the next FIVE nights, which in backpacking terms is practically settling down! We chose the lovely Finlay's Cottage it was AMAZING, we had superb hosts of Keith and Ratree. The room was lovely and the air con was very welcome after the heat of the day and every single morning we were greeted by a very happy "Good Morning" from Ratree and the choice of whatever we fancied for breakfast. I had a bacon sandwich nearly every single day! It's hard not too when the offer is there. If you are looking for a place to stay in Chiang Mai I would not hesitate to recommend.

 We didn't have a lot of plans for Chiang Mai, we didn't want to spend the whole five nights there not in the actual city, we wanted to explore the city and just soak in the culture. So the first day we just decided to wander around the old town. At first we were slightly let down by the "moat" and "gates" I think we were expecting some kind of old castle and moat but really it is pretty cool when you get over the fact it isn't a castle.

That evening we decided to visit the Night Bazaar for the second time already and were joined by two fab friends from the hostel Max and Ruth. They had just finished 6 months teaching in Southern Thailand and are on a whistle stop tour of the rest of Asia/Oz before returning to the UK for work. We had loads in common and a "quick" trip out to the night bazaar ended up in Ruth and I having foot massages whilst encountering the wrath of an angry German man. Dan and Max managed to conveniently find some beer and we kept losing them as they went on the look out for food! 

The Night Bazaar outside stage
 We also visited Chiang Mai zoo whilst there. I'm not a MASSIVE fan of zoo's and I do get worried about how some of the animals are cared for but we had heard good things about CM Zoo so we decided to give it a chance. We managed to completely haggle a tuk tuk driver down not intending to get one at all and managed to get out to the zoo for 60 baht (about £1.15) which for a half hour ride is pretty good! The zoo admission itself was only 200 baht each (£4!) which included the whole zoo and admission to the panda bears and the use of the zoo bus. Absolutely amazing when you think how much zoo's cost in the UK.

We did enjoy the zoo and there were some really cool animals, the pandas especially were hilarious, but the zoo itself is huge and it's set on a hill, we must have walked about 4/5 km by the time we decided to go home and we still missed out a section of it. We enjoyed ourselves but some of the animals enclosures did make me sad, and I wasn't very happy about some of the elephants being chained. But overall it was a good zoo and I think they were all cared for very well.

We didn't do a lot of exciting things in our time in Chiang Mai, the city itself is so fun and laid back that we enjoyed just being there. We did however partake in a cookery day on the Sunday but I think it deserves a post all of its own so I'll save that for the next blog post....

Until next time...

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Fear and Loathing in Thailand

 So we escaped Bangkok with our lives, sanity, and purses intact. I will admit that the city is an ideal jumping in point for a person beginning their excursion in South-East Asia for the simple fact that it will probably break you. Do not fret, for this is a good thing. Once you have experienced the squalor in its streets, the blind rage of its Tuk-Tuk drivers, and the murderous stares from its local population, the rest of Thailand the world seems a much nicer place!

As I say, we made it out without experiencing as much tragedy as one could easily face in Bangkok. There was this one Tuk-Tuk driver who almost brought us to ruin, and we sadly discovered that at least one of the cities holy men was not quite so holy as he first appeared.

Our salvation came in the form of the night train to Chiang Mai. The train itself was not an altogether unpleasant exerience, as we shared a cabin with some delightful Americans, Scott and Meredith, who are travelling through Asia for six weeks. We chatted a long way through the night before turning in for a restless slumber on the small bunks which offered marginal privacy and zero comfort.

The next morning we arrived in Chiang Mai where we were instantly fleeced by a Tuk Tuk driver upon leaving the platform, however we didn't allow the con to worry us for long as this new city is such an overwhelmingly relaxed and hospitable place, we forgot all our worries and got involved in the frivolities and festivities of Big Buddha Day!!


Sunday, 4 March 2012

Apathy in Bangkok

Greetings from Bangkok!

Today was our first full day experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of Bangkok. As today is Sunday, the weekends latter half, we decided to start our day off with the Chatuchak Weekend Market. Due to serious lack of foresight in terms of body clocks, we decided to go to sleep around 7pm local  time last night, and so woke up at 2am fully refreshed for the day ahead. Not ideal. We did manage to kill some time by going back to sleep before setting off for the market at around half 7 this morning!!

It was about a 20 minute walk to the market, which was great as at that time in the morning it was hot but not oppresive. We had to navigate a massive road to get to the market, walking further than necessary just to find a bridge to be able to cross over! (It is noteworthy that some of the more aggresive Thai locals do cross the road as we would in the UK, however most of the throng will seek out safety first. Traffic on this particular road was akin to the kind of madness you would expect if every driver was fully drunk.)

The market itself was really interesting. When we got there it was only just opening so a lot of stalls seemed to spring up from no where whilst we were looking; it seemed to expand as we wandered through, stretching on forever! A lot of the stalls stocked the same kind of tat as one another, but we made a few purchases, and really enjoyed just getting lost, soaking up the atmosphere.
Chatuchak Stalls

We were a bit sad when confronted with all of the caged animals being sold, there were SO many puppies which were really cute but unfortunately we didn't think the parents would be impressed with the 100 or so puppies we wanted to 'rescue'! 

Unfortunately, after a couple of hours not only had it started to get ridiculously hot but our feet were beginning to feel the strain. Lucy has been afflicted with the first of what will no doubt be many blisters. So we wandered back to the hostel which probably took us longer than it should have, and just had a bit of a relax, a sit down and a read! It was still before 11!!

This afternoon we decided to venture on the Sky Train into more central Bangkok. The Sky Train itself was really easy to use, the ticket system seemed really innovative, and the LED lights on the map in the carriages really helpful for beginners to know exactly where you are.

We decided to get off at Siam as it was a big station, so thought it would be some kind of hub of activity. It turned out to be shopping mall after shopping mall. And whilst it was interesting to look at all of the shops they were pretty much the same as at home and not really why we came to Thailand! However we were pleased to see a Forever 21 which had been a favourite stomping ground in the USA last year. It proved to be the first port of call for our International Crime Wave, too. We unwittingly tried to steal a Minnie Mouse t-shirt, which appears to be frowned upon over here as badly, if not worse than it is at home! A word of warning: there is only one floor to 'Bangkok Forever 21'. Ignore the escalators and the signs, if it looks like there are two floors this isn't real and you do need to pay for any items before trying to leave.

We then decided to walk a good 10/15 mins extra to go and see the Erawan Shrine, making good use of the Skywalk to avoid the VERY busy road. However when we arrived we couldnt help feeling underwhelmed.... It was tiny, right on the corner of a busy intersection, and thanks to the ever worsening condition of our feet, not really worth the walk...

The Shrine...
 At the moment neither of us are very enthused with Bangkok. The street food which seems to be widely praised by the travelling community is far from appetising. Watching raw and cooked meat alike sat on the edge of a cart in the boiling hot sun all day, not to mention the stink that emanates from the stuff, it doesn't particularly make you want to eat there. Also I'm not sure what it is but the atmosphere just doesn't seem very fun or happy in Bangkok. When you get a local on their own they are all incredibly cordial and polite, but on the street there is something of a 'New York' mindset.

Both of us are looking foward to going up North and getting to Chiang Mai. At the moment we are re-considering whether to return to Bangkok for Songkran or go up to Chiang Mai or even down to an island.

We are off to the old town and Khao San Road tomorrow, so hopefully that will change our opinion of Bangkok.

Over and out for now.