May 27th – Day 8 – Monks, Caves and Coffee

This morning we met at 5:20am, before sunrise, which meant a 4:30 alarm (followed by a 4:35 alarm, a 4:40 alarm, a 4:45 alarm and a cold shower…). The reason for our early rising? Today we were to give Alms to the monks who live at the various temples around Luang Prabang.

The daily ritual is the way that the monks in the area receive food and gifts from the local community. Every morning at sunrise the monks walk a route around the city with collection baskets and locals give gifts of sticky rice, crackers and sometimes treats. It’s something of a tourist event now, but there were still plenty of locals continuing the tradition even in down-season.

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Our 5:20am walk

We headed quickly from our hotel to the Main Street, around a 5 minute walk, and took our seats on some small plastic stools. By each stool was a large basket of sticky rice, provided by GAdventures as part of the tour.  Shortly after we sat down, the first of 5 temples worth of monks began walking past us.  Dek instructed us in how to create balls of sticky rice and place them into the donation baskets. The rice was incredibly hot, which made it difficult to handle, but it was an amazing experience to provide for the monks who live their lives from donations.

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The monks arrive at sunrise

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Prepped and ready at 5:30

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Me, giving alms

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The procession of monks

In total 5 temples passed us in the space of about 15 minutes, and a lot of the experience for me was reflection on the life of a monk – taking their spirituality into mind and understanding more about how much it means to them that these traditions continue.

After giving alms, Dek led us through the local market in Luang Prabang where we were warned we would see a lot of unusual products. This market was really for local people, not like the tourist markets we’d been shown so far. As I mentioned yesterday, Laos people are really resourceful when it comes to food and eat pretty much whatever is going in the area – and that included a lot of fish (in various states of disembodiment), snakes, lizards, bags of animal blood and animal bile, snails, frogs and a thousand other things you wouldn’t expect to find as food! It was really interesting to consider how much these people take from their resources which we would normally disgard or not consider as part of our diet. We’re incredibly lucky to be able to pick and choose what we eat, but we are also incredibly wasteful.

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Some stuff was actually packaged

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Chillis of all types

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Some sort of lizard for sale at the market

With our stomachs now rumbling even though it was only 7am, we were offered a chance to try Lao coffee – a local speciality which is prepared with condensed milk at the bottom of a glass followed by strong thick coffee poured on top.  It was served to us outside of a local coffee shop, with a small fried doughnut in an H shape for 6000 kip – less than $1.

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Lao coffee

Just after the coffee, we headed back to the hotel for real breakfast before preparing to leave at 8am for our next adventure.

At 8 we got onto the minibus to head upstream – this was the easier option of two we were given (the other one involved an extra 90 minutes on a boat floating upstream).  The 30 minute drive gave us all a chance for a short nap before we arrived at what was described as a rice whiskey village. This was a local village by the edge of the water where tourist boats stop and the locals sell their rice whiskey, as well as other hand made products – I bought a terrible hat (to match my terrible hat from Peru) but avoided trying the rice whiskey which had scorpions soaking in it (to add to the flavour, or just to make it look scary – I couldn’t really tell!)

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Rice Whiskey lady

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Styling out my new weave/Burberry $3 hat

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Snake rice whiskey

Once the locals had finished convincing us to buy things, we boarded our boat and started a short 30 minute trip on the river to our destination – the Pak Ou Caves.

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Our boat

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River photo

These caves are famous for housing over 2500 Buddha statues, a sort of cave temple I guess. The caves are split into two – the lower cave is easily accessible from our boat and the upper cave is a few hundred steps up the hill.  I decided to do both, and it was really spectacular. The lower cave is well lit and interesting, but the upper cave was pitch black and meant I needed a head torch to see all the statues. Jaqueline and I explored and felt like we were in something out of an Indian Jones movie. It was so hot at the top having climbed the stairs, I was glad to get back down and drink some cool water on the return boat ride to Luang Prabang.

The boat ride back took about an hour but we landed right in the centre of Luang Prabang, just behind the Royal Palace Museum. It was a short bus ride back to the hotel and we were able to relax for the rest of the day.

First on my priority list was a massage which I took in the hotel spa.  It wa a little more expensive than the massage places in town, but still only $20 for an hour!

My stomach wasn’t feeling so good so I opted to just make a short trip to the store and bought some snack foods to have in my room before napping and sleeping off my funny tummy. After all, I had woken up at 4:30!

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My snacks

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May 26th – Day 7 – Ashes, Fishes and Frogs

We begin our tale with a joyful 4am wake up from a friendly mosquito, who decided to become acquainted with my base of my foot.  And my knee. And the side of my face.  Stupidly, I didn’t consider mosquito protection (hey, I’m in a hotel) before going to bed – but apparently there was a little mosquito repellent by the door which you’re meant to turn on before going to sleep.  Hey, you live and learn – at least I’m taking malarials and the bites aren’t particularly itchy, so I think I lucked out.

We had an 8am scheduled start, so I got up at 6:45 and took a shower… A cold one, since the hotel water system doesn’t seem to offer warm water unless you have the patience of a saint.  I promise the day gets better from here on in!

The view at breakfast

Breakfast buffet

Breakfast is served in the little hotel restaurant by the lily pond.  It was again buffet style, but really nice local dishes – coconut pancakes, papaya and dragon fruit, etc. I really enjoyed the watermelon juice.

At 8 we met to start our day tour, and meet our local guide for Luang Prabang. Our local guide is Yang – he works for a local agency which GAdventures use in Laos and he’ll be with us for the days in Laos. We got a quick briefing in the hotel then jumped on the minibus for our 2 minute ride to the first temple of the day – Wat Visoun Narath.  This is quite an old temple in Luang Prabang and definitely a change from the ones we visited in Thailand –  it was old and dusty rather than the bright shiny gold we saw in Thailand. There wasn’t much to see here, a few boats which are used for annual boat races (the monks don’t race, that’s a shame – I’d have loved to see monks racing!)

Wat Visoun or something like that

A view of Luang Prabangs famous hilltop temple

Yvonne checked out the ‘toilet’

The Watermelon Stupa

Inside the temple

Dark and Dusty Buddhas

More Buddhas

Bells for sale

My guide book says that this is the eldest working temple in Laos and was built in 1513.

At this temple were a few small local stalls and I bought myself some brass bells, which will go really well with my hanging boat I bought in the floating islands in Peru. These cost 100,000 kip – which sounds like a lot but it’s basically £10.

After the first temple visit, we jumped onto the minibus for a 3 minute ride to the next temple – Wat Xiengthongratsavoravihanh. Or at least that’s what the sign says.  The G adventures app calls it Wat Xien Thong, which was a Royal temple when Laos was a monarchy led country – it houses amongst other things the ashes of the ‘last king’ of Laos, and many other treasures.  There were a lot of reminders here of the shift from Monarchy to Communist rule and it was interesting to learn this background before our next stop.

Wat Xien Thong

Golden Temple

More dusty Buddhas

Reclining buddha lives in here

Beautiful glass inlays in the wall

More beauty

I loved the look of this little lotus

Shortly after Wat Xien Thong, we headed to the Royal Museum in Luang Prabang. No photos were allowed inside here, but it was fascinating to see how the history of the monarchy is documented until 1975, but after that point there is no mention whatsoever. A highlight for me was seeing two Laos flights combined with fragments of moon rock donated by Richard Nixon to the Laos royal family in 1969 and 1972 – the flags travelled to the moon on Apollo XII and XVII.  Our guides explained that at the time the US was supporting the Laos people as part of the Vietnam war (Laos had both civil and involvement with the Vietnam conflicts, plus was occupied for a long time by the French).

The temple at the Royal Palace Museum

Proof I was really there!

A close up on the building apex, showing the Laos symbol of 3 elephants to represent the 3 tribes which formed Laos

Yang, our Laos guide

After a busy cultural morning exploring these sites, we headed back to the hotel for a 2 hour lunch break at the hotel – nobody was particularly hungry so I grabbed a protein bar and cooled off.

At 13:00 we met to head to the Kungsi Waterfall Park, which was a 45 minute minibus ride along some fairly windy (and at times, bouncy) roads.  The park was interesting, since it had both the waterfalls but also a Bear rescue park.

Kuangsi Waterfall Park

The beautiful waterfalls

The waterfalls themselves were stunning – slightly green in colour due to the lime in the rock, but clear and flowing water led to some amazing photo opportunities.

Photo opportunities at the top

Fred swimming

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Classic waterfall shot

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The calm pool below

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Beautiful view

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Are you bored of waterfall photos yet?

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Portrait format works too

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Steve and Yvonne check out the pool

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Petra and Karl

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Fred and Carol

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Petra

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Another me at the pool shot

The top of the waterfall is reserved for photos, whilst the bottom is the swimming area. I brought my swim stuff and changed in the fairly simple changing rooms (where the lock didn’t work) – before stepping into the water. The water itself was great, but I found the fish quite unpleasant since they seemed to be the same type of fish as the Fish Massage place in Thailand – they really wanted to attack you if you stood still too long! I splashed around a bit in the water, but got out before the others which also gave me a chance to shoot some photos after I dried off.

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Fred and Carol

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Some people had a lot more fun

It was a nice refreshing break from the heat, and definitely a change of pace from our temple-heavy first half of the day.

We had a brief look at the bear park, but the only ones who were being photogenic were slightly artificial:

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This bear didn’t even acknowledge me

Little bit fake

Little bit fake

An unphotogenic real bear

An unphotogenic real bear


At the bottom of the hill, I treated myself to a Cornetto before we got onto the bus for our trip back to the hotel.

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Bottom of the waterfall cornetto

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Retail therapy again

Once back, we had another 2 hour break to chill before dinner – this time on the other side of the town.To get to our dinner location, we took a Tuk Tuk and managed to fit 8 people on there – costing 6,000 kip each (75p!)

A Tuk Tuk for 9 people

Dinner was in a restaurant called Tamarind and was traditional Laos style food. If anyone ever says traditional Laos food to you, the easiest way to imagine it is… Whatever they can find. Literally. The menu featured river weeds, frogs, all sorts of stuff. They’re extremely resourceful, but maybe not catering hugely to our western expectations. I decided to opt for a Laos Omelette together with a Lemongrass and Lime Granita (cocktail).

After dinner I decided to go check out a local bar alone, which was great fun – Luang Prabang is a pretty calm and low risk city, and I got chatting  to some locals and ended up taking a motorcycle ride back to the hotel after the bars closed.

Early start tomorrow, since we’re getting up to give alms to the monks at 5am… Time to sleep. Tick Tock.

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May 25th – Day 6 – Laundry, Laos and Lilypads

Today was quite an easy day – essentially a travel day.  I started with a 9am lie in, followed by almost missing the breakfast closing at 10am – I was the last person there when they closed! Oops!

After a brief breakfast, I popped down to the laundry to collect my 60 baht washing load.  It was really amazing to have everything washed, folded and packed for me for just over £1! As we were due to leave the hotel, I headed to the room and packed… It seems to be getting easier as the trip goes on (which is good, because there’s a lot more packing and unpacking to go!)

At 12:00 we had to check out from our rooms, so I headed down to meet and chat with others outside the hotel for an hour before we headed to the airport.  We were about to fly to Laos so it gave me a chance to read my guide book and clue up on Laos a little bit more.  I also remembered to take my first Malaron, anti malarial drug – nobody else on the trip is taking malarials but since the travel clinic advised it, I decided to go for it.  I read the potential side effects, and it says that 1 in 10 people react in some way… Watch this space!

At 1pm we headed to the airport to prepare for our 15:30 flight.  Chiang Mai airport is pretty small, and the Laos airline check in desk had 4 people handling our little flight check in – it seemed to be a case of each person had one job to do, including one guy who just picked up stuff from the printers and handed them to someone else.  Quite a strange arrangement but I guess it works as we were through check in very quickly.

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Check in in Chiang Mai

After Check-In, Dek warned us that we should probably grab food before we headed through security so I headed off with Karl and Petra to find something suitable.  There were two options – Burger King or McDonalds. I checked my wallet and literally had 100 baht left (£2!) – excellent planning on the currency side, but it meant that I couldn’t buy anything more than a pack of French fries. Karl and Petra gave me 25 baht so that I could get together enough cash for my meal – thanks guys!

Once we’d had a brief meal, we went through the process of leaving Thailand – a departure form and a security check and we were through, ready to head to the gate.  Gate 9 in this case, where Dek was waiting with paperwork.  As Laos has a visa on arrival scheme, we had to fill out a visa form AND an arrival form – glad we got through there in plenty of time.

We boarded QV636 from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang via a bus – it’s a little properller plane (ATR 72-600) and settled down for the short flight.  Lao Airlines are ‘ready to be a national carrier’ for Laos, but so far don’t have that status, but they were putting in the effort – a little box meal on a 45 minute flight, even if it was a nasty looking sandwich and a box of fruit.

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Obligatory plane selfie


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Lao airlines inflight meal

As we approached Luang Prabang, it was clear we were heading to a much smaller town – just 50,000 people live there.  The hills were filled with trees, rivers and a much more natural looking area than Bangkok or Chiang Mai.  I spotted the airport from the plane as we circled and it was tiny – just a runway and a tiny terminal building with what looked like one gate.

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Chiang Mai from the air


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Laung Prabang from the air


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Our tiny ATR plane


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Wasking to the terminal

After landing, we parked quite a distance from the terminal and were let off the plane.  There were no instructions, but people seemed to just walk towards the terminal, so we followed – the rules here are so relaxed about this sort of thing! We were lucky to be near the back of the plane (ATR planes deplane from the rear) so we got to the front of the immigration queue quickly.

The first stage of immigration into Laos was to obtain our visa on arrival.  This was a simple process when we had completed the form and photo in advance – simply a case of handing over our passport and forms, waiting a couple of minutes and going to a different window where we paid the $35 (plus $1 service fee) and obtained a properly printed visa in the passport!  Makes you wonder why so many countries take days or weeks to prepare visas!

After that, the immigration was straightforward – arrival form and baggage collection. Since it was a tiny flight and a tiny airport, the bags were there before we even got our visas.

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My Lao visa

After we all regrouped, and the Canadians complained about their $42 visa (different countries have different costs), some people went to withdraw cash from ATMs.  Since I had USD I wanted to change, I had to wait till later to become a millionaire! In Lao, the currency is the Lao Kip and is worth approximately 8000 kip to 1 USD.  So to become a millionaire, you only need $120 – actually the recommended amount by Dek for our 3 day stay.

During our minibus ride to the hotel, Dek explained that Lao is one of 5 communist countries in the world, and the name here is PDR of Laos – which colloquially stands for People Don’t Rush! He warned us – don’t expect fast service anywhere!

We quickly arrived at our hotel, the Maison Dalaboa.  It’s a really cute boutique hotel next to a lily pond.  My room had a HUGE double bed and there was a lovely pool as well.  Once we checked in (and had another welcome drink), we were to meet at 7pm for dinner and a trip to yet another Night Market!

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MAulson Dalabua


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My huge hotel bed


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Beautiful boutique hotel


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Lilypond outside

Our dinner was at the Coconut Garden restaurant, a fairly nice place just through the Night Market.  On the way there we stopped at a foreign exchange booth and I changed $124 into 1,004,000 kip – making my briefly a millionaire!

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Coconut Garden


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Proof that I was briefly a millionaire

I ordered a pumpkin and coconut soup, steamed vegetables with a spicy tomato sauce and a Beer Lao – the local beer.  Service was predictably slow (PDR, after all!) and the restaurant was quite dark, but the food was tasty when it did come.

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Beer Lao


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Pumpkin and Coconut soup

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Steamed Vegetables and spicy tomato dip

Local shop


After dinner we headed into a local shop to buy some water and some of the group wanted some night booze supplies. It had been a pretty calm day, but I feel like that’s probably the way of life in Laos. 

Looking forward to exploring tomorrow!

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May 24 – Day 5 – Ziplining, Family Dinner and Ladyboys

Today is our free time day – we have scheduled activities starting at 4pm but up until then, it’s our own choice.

I made the choice to book an activity with Dragon Flight Chiang Mai – it’s a 1900 baht experience (about £36, $50) for the day but it sounds super cool!  They drive you up to the jungle and then there is a course of zip lines through the jungle.

Dek booked the trip for me, and I paid him cash for it and was told to meet in the lobby between 8 and 8:30.  Some of the others had other activities booked, so there were a group of us waiting for different mini busses. Mine arrived first, and after a bit of confusion over my lack of ticket (Dek spoke in Thai and the problem went away), I got on board and sat… There were 3 girls already on the bus, and we then proceeded to drive around the town picking up people.  The mini bus was oddly silent on the way to the adventure – I think everyone was afraid to start the conversation, but that kind of worked out because most people were tired so there was a nap opportunity. I chose to check out the scenery instead, and we drove for almost an hour and a half into the mountains, with the minibus really being pushed to it’s limits – the driver had to turn the AC off to get up some of the hills!

Eventually we arrived at base camp and we were given a bit of a briefing, told to sign a waiver, and offered tea and coffee.

Briefing

Briefing

Photo opportunity

Photo opportunity

Tea and coffee

Tea and coffee

Photo package

Photo package

Gear selfie

Gear selfie

I started chatting to a group of girls from Europe (2 from Switzerland and 1 from Germany) and we agreed to group together and pay for a photographer – 1200baht for all 4 of us – to take photos throughout the experience.  At 300baht each (£6) this was a pretty cheap thing to do.  Once we were briefed and fed and watered, we were fitted with our harnesses – Petzl gear, and pretty new looking. They were thorough in checking everything fitted properly and then loaded us onto a van for the short ride to the start line.

Our group at the start

Our group at the start

I won’t bore you with a description of all the lines on the course, but it was a REALLY fun morning.  Here are some of the highlights photos:

The zipline course finished close to the office of the company, so we stopped there and removed our safety gear etc.  The photographer copied all the photos (over 300) onto our memory cards, and we headed down to their little restaurant for the included lunch which consisted of green curry, steamed vegetables and some stir fry noodles as well as rice.  It was a really fun morning!

Once everyone was filled up, we headed back on the bus for the 90 minute bus ride to Chiang Mai.  I was last to get dropped off, but was still back in my hotel before 3pm, giving me an hour to go and relax before our 4pm next activity.  I headed quickly to the laundry to drop off a load of washing which was weighed and she told me the price would be 60 baht (£1.20) for the load!

Laundry for less than £1 per kilo!

At 4pm we met in the lobby for our Khantoke dinner, which means heading out to a locals house to sample their hospitality and learn more about their day to day life.  The home was a short mini bus ride from our hotel and we arrived at Chiang Mai Home Host by Raunkaew Yanon Family. We were greeted by Pat, the head of the family, and his son Joe, who presented us with a welcome drink and welcomed us in surprisingly good English.

Pat welcomes us to their home

Dek and Steve use their drinks covers as party hats

After the welcome drink and presenting us with a necklace of flowers, we were guided around two houses. The first house is the older of the two, made of Teak wood (before the Thai government protected Teak in the 1970s) and it’s neighbouring rice barn.  The family live in the traditional  Lanna way, and this home is home to Joe’s cousins.  The house itself is raised up from the ground to protect from flooding and other intruders, and is separated into 3 main rooms – a bedroom for the parents, and a bedroom for the kids, as well as a living space which includes a small prayer area, a cooking space and a living area.  They only have two bedrooms because the orientation of these is very important – the feet of the parents are allowed to point to the children, but the children can’t point towards the parents (feet are considered dirty in Lanna culture, which is also part of the reason why you have to remove your shoes at all the temples and when visiting someone’s home).

The cooking area

Joe shows us around the house

The rice barn and the collection basin underneath

Joe, our guide

A teak house

The family grow all their own rice in their rice field, and harvest one a year. The harvesting is done in a big basin, which is then separated into small baskets and stored in the rice barn.  6 generations of the family have lived on this site, with 4 generations currently living there – Pat is the 3rd generation, his mother lives there as does Joe and his wife and their daughter. It was amazing to see the way these people live and that they are trying so hard to keep the old cultures and traditions alive.

In the second house, which is more modern, we were given samples of various traditional produce and techniques – including the Lanna way of having tea (soaked tea leaves are chewed like chewing tobacco) and brushing their teeth (which involved tree sap, bitter nuts, a leaf, some bark, and some other stuff… It tasted awful!)

Some produce drying in the sun

Yvonne pays respect with a floral donation to the small shrine outside the house

Tea leaves steamed and soaked, ready for chewing

A wall of pictures of older members of the family

After the tour of the two houses, we were shown around the garden which is where the produce for our dinner has been grown.  This family focuses on growing herbs and flavours, so the meat and vegetables themselves have come from the market whilst the herbs and sauces are all products of the garden.  In the past, all of this would have been traded with neighbours. The most impressive part for me was the greenhouse, which had an incredible smell due to all the drying herbs and spices.  We were also shown the rice field where they’re desperately awaiting the rain in the hope that the crops will grow quickly enough before they need to harvest.

The Greenhouse, such an amazing smell. Kafier Limes were my favourite.

Garden Selfie

The families rice field

Joe shows us some leaves. We ate a lot of leaves.

After the garden tour, we headed back to the area around the house where we were introduced to Grandma who was preparing some banana leaves on a hot stone.  We were quizzed about what we thought they might be for – and it turns out, they’re for cigars!  In the past, almost everyone in the Lanna families would smoke, because it keeps away mosquitos.  Fred and Steve gave one a go, and it looked pretty authentic, but I wasn’t tempted!

89 year old grandma

Steve tries the banana leaf cigar

Soon it was time for our appetiser, and we were presented a do it yourself snack, with a plant leaf to hold our various ingredients.  To this we added seed, nuts, onion, kafier lime, chill is and a hot sauce, wrapped it up and popped it in our mouth. It tasted awesome!

I think we all could have had a lot more of these little snacks, but Pat and Joe were keen to show us the rest of the meal their family had prepared for us.  A normal Lanna meal would be 1 or 2 main dishes but since we were guests they had prepared a whole platter including Pork Belly, Pork Bolognaise, Chicken Red Curry, Steamed Vegetables, Stir Fried Noodles, Sticky Rice, Boiled Rice, Chicken Legs, Crispy Pork Skin, Prawn Crackers… And a ton of other things I didn’t even write down!

As per tradition, dinner was served on the a small Khantoke tray and we sat on the floor, legs crossed, and ate with our hands.  It was really amazing to try these traditional foods in a relaxed and friendly family environment. Towards the end of the meal, Joes 2 year old daughter came over and joined us and she was pretty cute, clearly shy but practicing her ‘peekaboo’ – the only English she appeared to know. Not bad for a 2 year old though!

At the end of the meal we prepared our own herbal tea – I chose Turmeric, which tasted good and is meant to relieve a stomach after a heavy meal.

Just before we set off, we were presented with some goodbye packages of some home made sweets, which looked really cute and tasted good too.  After that, we headed back to the hotel to drop off our bags before our next activity!

At our request, Dek had arranged tickets for an evening ‘ladyboy’ cabaret show in the market that evening – the show started at 21:30, and we paid our 290 baht for our tickets and made our way in.  The show was Chiang Mai Cabaret – catchy name! The ticket included a free drink, which was served to us by a flamboyant waitor/waitress as we waited for the show to start.

The show was great fun – I didn’t take photos since I prefer to let the production do their own photography.  If you’re interested, here’s a YouTube video of part of the show: https://youtu.be/ZJU3YzdzVtk 

Once we were done with the show, I headed back to the hotel since it had been a pretty busy day! Tomorrow we get ‘free time’ before heading to Laos in the afternoon.  I think I’ll treat myself to a lie in!

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May 23rd – Day 4 – Durian, Cooking and Chanting Monks

The day started with an early and light breakfast, since the first activity of the day was starting at 9am. I ate with Fred & Carol, then popped up to my room to grab my bag before heading out to meet everyone for our pick-up.  We were collected by our guide from Thai Orchid Cookery School, who later introduced himself as Kong (as in King Kong).

Breakfast, buffet style as always

Thai Orchid Cookery School

Kong took us to the local market, about a 10 minute drive from the hotel, and we had a chance to see all sorts of local speciality fruits and delicacies, including the infamous ‘1000 year egg’ – an egg which has been buried under ground for 100 days and is completely black in colour inside.  The yoke has a sort of jelly texture to it.  Steve from the group was brave enough to try it, but his reaction told us that the rest of us didn’t need to try it!

In Thailand, eggs are coloured to identify their type – brown is chickens egg, white is duck egg and pink is flamingo egg (only kidding, its 1000 year egg)

1000 year egg

We saw a lot of local fruits including dragon fruit, mangostines and the durian fruit.  Durian fruits are banned from all hotels, due to their strong smell and flavour. They smell something like cheese or rotten eggs, and the smell can linger for days or weeks if they are opened indoors, but Thais love the flavour of them – and Kong bought a pack of already cut Durian (a few days old) for us to try – by then the smell has become manageable and actually the taste was pretty good!

Durian fruit, and the cut durian in the bottom right in cling film

Also on sale at the market were spices, curry pastes and lots of different type of rice for different purposes.  Thai people eat rice 3 times a day, so I guess you have to change it up from time to time!

I bought a small pack of pre-cut green mango, which was provided with a sachet of sugar, salt and chilli mixed together to be dipped.  The green mango is quite firm and bitter on it’s own, but with this little pack of zing, it was a really nice experience to eat it!

Green Mango with Sugar, Salt and Chilli – 10 baht (20p!)

After a few minutes of free time whilst Kong gathered some last minute ingredients, we headed back to the van and drove to the cookery school – which turned out to be Kongs house. He runs the cook school as his business and it was really professionally laid out, with a giant angled mirror above a demonstration station in one room, and a bunch of gas stoves in the back garden (with a covered roof) for us to cook on.  We each got our own station, so the pressure is on to really cook!

Our cooking areas, all prepped and ready to go

The Demonstration Station

A chef in the making

The first dish Kong showed us how to prepare was Vegetable Spring Rolls, which were surprisingly easy.  It was great to see all the different ingredients and learn about things like the rough and smooth side of the spring roll paper, the way Thai people make a glue up from tapioca flour to stick the edges together, and to make up our own sauces with traditional Thai ingredients. Kong made it look really easy, and then it was our turn – first collecting the ingredients for our sauce and then chopping the vegetables, stir frying and then wrapping them before frying off the finished spring rolls.  Kong gave us each a dish of home made Sweet Chilli Sauce and we sat down to eat our first home made concoction!

Kong shows us Vermicelli (glass noodles)

Stir frying for the filling of the spring rolls

My turn!

My first spring roll

And then there were two

They survived the fryer

Starter is served!

Got to admit, I am pretty proud of my first Spring rolls – they tasted good and they were super crispy. The second one kind of exploded on me as I was eating it, but at least it tasted good. There was a sign up in the dining room saying that they had beer and soft drinks for sale for 40baht so we agreed we’d all like to order a beer – which resulted in Kong jumping in his car and driving to the shops! Not quite what we had expected, but a few minutes later we had cans of beer in our hands.

We took our beer through and watched our next demonstrations – for Banana Steam Cake, then Yellow Chicken Curry and finally Chicken and Cashew Nuts.  All of the recipes were easy to follow and surprisingly uncomplicated – lots of measures of ingredients – but the end results spoke for themselves.  It was a great lesson in Thai cookery and showed just how simple their dishes are. As long as you have a handy cup of coconut cream around, you can make most of their things with a very simple powder or paste.

Below are a few snaps of the finished articles, and I can assure you that they tasted amazing!

Kong demonstrates Banana Steam Cake

My banana steam cake

Carol smashing it with her Banana Steam Cake

My yellow curry with chicken and potatoes

Fred cooking Chicken Cashew Nut

My chicken cashew nut

Lunch is served

My Banana Steam Cake

Our free cook book

Thai Orchid Cookery School

At the end of the cookery lesson, Kong gave us all a free cookbook with more simple Thai recipes and drove us back to the hotel for a brief rest to allow our stomachs to settle after so much food!

Around 4pm we set off for the next bit of our adventure – a trip to Doi Suthep, the second most sacred sight in Thailand. Doi Suthep was a 45 minute bus ride up a VERY windy road up hill to reach the temple. The road was pretty scary at places and we were amazed to see people cycling up the hill.

At the top of the hill, the minibus stopped and we were told that there were two options to reach the temple – we could either take a tram, or we could walk 309 stairs. Of course I chose the stairs!

Dek gives us the options for the journey up the hill

Dek gives us the options for the journey up the hill

And I chose the hard option, of course!

And I chose the hard option, of course!

In honesty the 309 steps weren’t that hard, and it was a lovely ornate staircase.  There were even some fallen fresh flowers on the steps, which made it pretty to walk up.

Once we regrouped at the top, we headed to a really fantastic viewpoint over Chiang Mai, where you could see the whole city.  Dek explained to us that the temple was built in this location because many years ago an elephant carrying the remains of Buddha indicated that this should be the site, by turning in a circle 3 times and trumpeting.  Somme stories say that the elephant died, others just that it trumpeted. Either way, they decided to build a temple here.

Dek also explained some details about the life of a Buddhist monk, how they follow 227 rules and dedicate their life to the Buddhist principles.  What was interesting that I had no idea about is that you can also get female monks, and they have more than 300 rules to follow because, as Dek said, women are more emotional so they have to have stricter rules.

The temple contains the remains of the Buddha which were carried by the elephant, which is what makes it such a sacred site.  The remains are buried under the temple, and people make trips from all over the Buddhist world to visit and pay their respects.

Whilst we were getting all this information, Dek also explained to us the story of the first Buddha – how he was the son of a King, and lived his life in the palace, never seeing the outside world. Eventually he left the palace and was shocked by the suffering he saw, the sick and dying people. This is what caused him to start the life of a monk, suffering like those people, and since he was making such a sacrifice, people respected him and started to follow his principles. That was the birth of Buddhism.

After all this information about the Buddhist faith, we were given times to wonder around the temple before sunset when the monks who live there come out to pray and chant.  This was what we were aiming for, and we waited around to watch the start of their chants. This was an incredible spiritual experience, seeing these men and a few women who have dedicated everything to their beliefs.

Here are a few snapshots from the temple:

Doi Sutep

Doi Sutep

Doi Sutep again

Doi Sutep again

Somme of the smaller Buddha statues surroundings the main temple

Somme of the smaller Buddha statues surroundings the main temple

Young (novice) monks praying and chanting

Young (novice) monks praying and chanting

Chanting to the Buddha in the temple

Chanting to the Buddha in the temple

People bring bells with their name on and leave it with a wish. Most were in Thai, but I found one from Kati and Fredi.

People bring bells with their name on and leave it with a wish. Most were in Thai, but I found one from Kati and Fredi.

After that amazing experience, we were free to wonder down the hill at our leisure. I grabbed a couple of shots to show the ambience of the area and the steepness of the hill:

The stairs were easier going down, for sure

The stairs were easier going down, for sure

Another Buddha, at the bottom of the hill

Another Buddha, at the bottom of the hill

The flags at the bottom of the stairs

The flags at the bottom of the stairs

Once everyone regrouped, we jumped into the minibus and headed back into Chiang Mai. We stopped at a viewpoint over the city to see some of the lights switching on, then headed all the way down the windy road again.

Once back in Chiang Mai, we were dropped off at another Night Market near our hotel. We had a bit of a look through the stalls, but most of the people in the group wanted to try a ‘Fish Massage’ – something I ruled out straight away! With my ticklish feet, there is no chance I would enjoy that.

Dek took us to a stall which was really good value for money – the fish massage was 100 baht for 20 minutes, and they offered Thai massage for 100 baht (£2) for 30 minutes. I opted for a neck and back massage, whilst the others tried the Fish Massage!

Steve didn't last long!

Steve didn’t last long!

Feeling accomplished from our mixed day of cooking, temples and massages, we grabbed a light dinner in a bar at the market and I treated myself to a hand made ice cream as well.  Afterwards, we took a Tuk-Tuk back to the hotel and had a fairly early night – preparing for my Ziplining adventure tomorrow which Dek has booked for me! Got to be ready to leave at 8am, so it’s an early start.

Brownie and M&Ms get cream poured over them and smashed together

Brownie and M&Ms get cream poured over them and smashed together

Then the mixture is spread out on a cold plate to freeze, and rolls of it are created using the spatula once it's frozen

Then the mixture is spread out on a cold plate to freeze, and rolls of it are created using the spatula once it’s frozen

Then whipped cream is added and more M&Ms and brownies... Voila, calories in a bowl! But I'm on holiday!

Then whipped cream is added and more M&Ms and brownies… Voila, calories in a bowl! But I’m on holiday!

Night all!

Categories: Food, South East Asia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

May 22nd – Day 3 – Chinese, Canal trip and Chiang Mai

The adventure has officially begun! Today I woke about 6:45 ready for adventures and after a quick shower, headed down for breakfast. In honesty I hadn’t slept well the night before – it turns out that turning off your air conditioning in a country where the ambient temperature is upward of 25c outside isn’t such a good idea.

Breakfast was, like most hotels, a buffet style but in Thailand this buffet included curried vegetables, rice and soups – although I initially stuck with the conventional yoghurt and cereal, followed by some French toast, potatoes, an egg and I did brave some curried vegetables (which were pretty good!).  I also had some amazing fresh pineapple juice, and some terrible tea. I ate breakfast with Karl, since Petra didn’t want breakfast and it was nice to get to know someone in the group a bit more.

Breakfast

After breakfast I went to my room and jammed all my stuff into my bag before meeting the group in the lobby. I have a pretty small bag compared to most people – all the Canadians have tons of luggage, only Jaqueline has a smaller bag than me, so I feel pretty good about how much stuff I’ve brought (I was really worried about this before the trip).

My bag is really reasonable in comparison to others

We loaded the bags onto 2 minivans and travelled over to the Grand Palace, our first stop for the day. The minivans are ours for the day which is great because we can leave all our luggage with the drivers whilst we go explore – I didn’t think twice about this but some others seemed concerned about leaving their bags with the drivers.  Maybe I’m too relaxed, or maybe I should really worry a bit more?

The Grand Palace opens at 8:30 and we got there pretty much bang on time (good score, GAdventures).  Unfortunately it seemed like the entire population of China also got there for 8:30. This place was CRAZY, it was busier than Disneyland at opening time.  In fact it reminded  me a lot of Disneyland – without the rides.  Lots of tour guides waving flags and babbling in foreign tongues whilst people shove and jostle to get through ridiculous security procedures that involve tying a piece of yellow twine around your bag to prove it is safe.

Busier than Disneyland!

There were so many people at the Grand Palace that it was actually fairly uncomfortable – I’m not great in crowds and this was one of the busiest places I’ve ever been.  We queued to go through security and then had a short wait whilst Dek (our CEO) picked up our tickets and then joined another queue (no, a crush – there was nothing orderly about this one) to get through the turnstiles and into the palace.

Once we finally made it through the crush, Dek took us to a shady spot (it was already over 30c at 9am!) to describe some of the history of the Grand Palace and it’s many buildings.  The palace has a lot of Hindu styling which surprised me since Thailand is a mostly Buddhist country but a lot of the Royal history is Hindu and the practices follow a combination of both cultures.  To say that the palace is beautiful is to do it an injustice – this place is quite seriously one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited. There were whole buildings decorated in gold, others with ornate sculptures and carvings, and incredible murals and paintings too.

The amazing view as you enter the palace

This building is made entirely of gold mirror tiles, like a giant abstract gold mirror ball

A close up of the giant mirror ball tiles

Another angle on the giant mirror ball building

Dek, our CEO and Thailand guide

Phra Si Ratana

Amazing carving and sculptures too

The lines of the buildings are so beautiful

The symbolism here is amazing

Another incredible statue

This is where the Emerald Buddha lives, but cameras are forbidden inside

The official highlight of the trip is a chance to see the Emerald Buddah (actually made of Jade) which is housed in an oppulant building of it’s own which you have to remove your shoes to go into.  Dek stayed to guard our shoes, and we proceeded to push our way through the throngs of Chinese to get into the temple to see this famous Buddah. It was really an interesting experience, and the Buddah looked good, but there were an unnecessary amount of people and photography wasn’t permitted, so you’ll just have to believe me on that one.
After the Emerald Buddah, the crowds thinned a bit as we headed into the more modern section of the palace with the latest buildings added in the 1850s – these were built in European or Western style, but with Thai roofs – quite a neat mixture.  We timed it perfectly to hit the changing of the guard procession, and got to see the white uniformed guards following a drummed march off duty.

Chakri Mahaprasat

Beautiful temple, possibly my favourite so far

Changing of the guard

It’s clear that the monarchy in Thailand is still very important to the country, and (unlike in the UK) they seem very proud and happy with their King.  We finishes the tour with a quick chat about the funeral processes in Thailand which involve cremation and spreading of ashes to the earth and water, following the Buddhist principles of returning the physical body to the elements whilst the spirit/soul moves on to it’s next life. Apparently some people get buried with something they want to have in their next life – money, nice clothes, etc are common but occasionally people will go with a car or something else they’re attached to!

After the end of the tour there was a request from the group for a toilet, which seemed to be lacking in the actual complex of the Grand Palace.  Our guide popped us back on the minibus and we headed towards the river, our next stop – where he discovered that the toilets were closed.  No problem – a bit of chatting away in Thai with locals and he was pointed to the university building down the street, where we processed like a group of school children on excursion before invading the university cafeteria building for a quick pee break. The university building actually had a small exhibit showing the old city wall and some bits and pieces which were found in the canal/river next to their site.

Dek on a Deck

Once everyone was suitably refreshed we headed down to the river to board a long tail boat for our river trip.  The purpose of this trip was not to see the major sites, but to see some of the other parts of Bangkok – including the houses which literally border to the river.  These people live their whole lives around the river, even their bin lorries (garbage trucks) float up and collect the bags from the edge of the water.

We saw a lot of interesting sites on this trip, including a water monitor (lizard) which made everyone quite excited, and a huge variety of standards of living from almost collapsed buildings to luxury waterside properties.  I think the highlight for everyone was when a old lady in a canoe floated up and sold us beers (ice cold) in the middle of the river. Clearly a tourist trap, but a great experience too!

Our boat arriving

Boat Selfie

Steve took my photo too

One of the grander places on the river side

The boat trip finished fairly quickly and then we jumped back on our mini bus to head to the airport – a trip of about 45 minutes.  The airport in Bangkok really is streamlined – check in was smooth (although some of the party had problems with overweight luggage) and security also simple (again, others had liquids in their hand luggage and other issues – being a frequent flier is paying off!)

Once we made it through security we stopped at the ‘Food Stop’ for a spot of lunch. I bought a Pad Thai and a coke, which cost 255 baht (£5, $8) – not much to us, but REALLY expensive compared to most Thai food! The food was okay, nothing really special. After my food I decided to treat myself (and our CEO) to a Krispy Kreme doughnut – after all, it’s a holiday! It’s Mango season in Thailand and as a result, they had special Mango doughnuts – I chose a Mango Twirl and a coffee, and together with a doughnut for our CEO, it cost 178 baht (£3.50, $5).

image

Pad Thai at the airport

image

Krispy Kreme Mango Twirl


The group dynamic was a bit weird at this point – a few people chose to sit apart from the rest of us. I think it’s going to take a while to bond with everyone!

Whilst we were waiting, Dek (our CEO) talked about the options for the ‘free choice’ day in Chiang Mai. I was really interested in doing something called the Flight of the Gibbon which is a zip lining adventure course near Chiang Mai which I had read about.  Dek told me that there are lots of competitive options there, and recommended a different company, called Dragon Flight, which is cheaper and better in his opinion.  He showed me their website and it does look pretty good – I think i’ll trust his local knowledge and save myself 1000 baht! The course has 47 platforms, 26 zip lines and the longest zip line is 800 meters – can’t wait!

We headed to our gate (B8, if you’re keeping track) to board our flight (WE164, with Thai Smile airlines). It was a small bus gate but since the plane was also small, that wasn’t really a problem. The plane was a Airbus A320-200, and the flight was short and uneventful – although they did present us with a funny bag snack pack containing a bottle of water and what looked like it was meant to be a Tuna sandwich.

Obligatory plane selfie

Obligatory plane selfie

Bag of food, our 'smile meal'

Bag of food, our ‘smile meal’

Water and a suspect tuna sandwich

Water and a suspect tuna sandwich

As we came in to approach Chiang Mai, it was clear we were in a completely different region of Thailand – where Bangkok had been hot and flat, Chiang Mai was green and hilly.  I asked Dek and he confirmed that Chiang Mai is about 330m above sea level.  Chiang Mai means New City, but it’s also centered around an area called Old Town, so it’s quite a juxtaposition to get your head around.

In Chiang Mai we only had one van, so with all our luggage it was really full when we all got in! Luckily the journey to the hotel was short! During the van trip, Dek briefed us on the stay in Chiang Mai and what our plan was.

Backpacking! (And front packing)

Backpacking! (And front packing)

Tight pack on the van

Tight pack on the van

Nice hotel!

Nice hotel!

Our hotel in Chiang Mai is really nice – the Empress Chiang Mai.  I have a nice sized room and we got around 2 hours to sort ourselves out before meeting at 7pm to head out to the Sunday Night Market, which is a huge attraction in Chiang Mai. Before our meeting I headed down to the hotel bar to use my ‘welcome drink’ voucher, which was presented to me- a glass of what tasted like apple juice… Not that exciting!

As we got ready to meet at 7pm, a bit of drama happened when one of the Canadians got their credit card stuck in an ATM and our CEO had to run to the rescue.  It all ended up okay, but they seemed really stressed by it – understandably.

We took a red truck ride to the Sunday Market. The red trucks in Chiang Mai are great – they’re like a cross between a taxi and a bus. You get on and pay almost nothing (20 baht – £0.40, $0.50) for your ride, and the driver takes you there but he also stops and picks up other people and goes wherever they want to go too.  Because we were 9 people, we got our own truck for just 180 baht.

Our red truck to the market

Our red truck to the market

The Night Market is huge, and crazy busy – tons and tons of stalls line the streets of the old town. They shut all the streets to traffic, so it’s just people walking around shopping and lots of food stalls.  The primary focus of this market is hand made and craft stalls – locals make things and bring them down to sell. I bought a couple of trinkets, but since my backpack is pretty tight already resisted the urge to go crazy and buy a ton of things.  During the market we got split apart as a group by the sheer volume of people, so I ended up on my own which was actually great as I got to go explore a few temples and food stall areas alone.

Sunday Night Market

Sunday Night Market

A temple at night. There are over 300 temples in the old town of Chiang Mai.

A temple at night. There are over 300 temples in the old town of Chiang Mai.

Hand made crafts

Hand made crafts

Glass blowing

Glass blowing

Everywhere you are in the world, there is Starbucks. I didn't try it.

Everywhere you are in the world, there is Starbucks. I didn’t try it.

The market was really colourful

The market was really colourful

Colourful elephants

Colourful elephants

Neat little lamp. If I had space in my bag, this guy would come back with me.

Neat little lamp. If I had space in my bag, this guy would come back with me.

When I got bored of the market, I decided to walk back to the hotel – about a 40 minute walk. Dek had provided us all with maps and the route is really simple, and it gave me a chance to see more of the city. I really like Chiang Mai – it’s small and friendly and not hot and noisy and crazy like Bangkok.

Back in the hotel, I bought a 50baht internet voucher and sent a few reassuring texts home before heading to bed. We have a 9am start tomorrow for our cooking adventure!

Want to read part 4? It’s here!

Categories: South East Asia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

May 21st – Day 2 – Bangkok, Buddha and Sweat

We resume our story much as we left off – on a Boeing 777 somewhere over the middle of the journey.  Truth is I didn’t sleep that much, a few hours and then some in and out of sleep tossing and turning on the plane as we approched Bangkok.  The seats on the BA long haul 777s are pretty reasonable but I was longing for a Premium Economy seat by the time we approached Bangkok.  I’m kind of out of practice with the long haul flights now and 11 hours felt really really long… But finally we approached and were served a standard airline breakfast of Omelette, Tomato, Baked Beans and some mystery passion fruit cereal yoghurt thing which looked, tasted and felt weird (yes, even the texture was blurgh).  Before long we were on approach to Bangkok and I got quite excited seeing all the cities on the trip appearing on the in-flight map – spotting Chaing Mai, Siem Reap and Hanoi made me realise the adventure really was about to begin.

Classic airline breakfast


Mmm, appetising


Getting close!

Once we landed in Bangkok the plane taxi’d really quickly to the gate and amazingly we walked a short distance to the immigration which had virtually no queue. I’ve become familiar with immigration processes in many different countries and had anticipated some hassle entering Thailand as I did not have a visa (UK Passport holders don’t need one) – but shockingly the guy just scanned my passport and landing card and stamped it and handed it back – the whole process took less than a minute and immediately after the passport control we were presented with the baggage carousel, which was already rolling with the Priority luggage. I didn’t have priority luggage (boo, I miss my premium status!) but my bag came out within 15 minutes of us landing in Bangkok. If anyone has ever immigrated to well, basically any country, they’ll know that this is a CRAZY short amount of time for the clearing process. I was in shock!

I headed out of the ‘Nothing to Declare’ lane all ready to spot my G-adventures sign and being my adventure. And then… There was nobody. Well, that’s not quite true… There were LOTS of companies looking to pick up their tour guests and ferry them onto their adventure, but nobody from G-adventures.  Did I screw up? Did I forget to give them my flight details? Did I give them the wrong date? Should I phone them and find out where they are? What do you do in this situation?? I have to admit that I was a bit panicked by it…. But tried to remain calm and double, triple, quadruple checked that my name wasn’t on ANY of the boards by the exit gate. It wasn’t.

Hmm…  I decided to wait it out, and hung around, looking suspicious by the exit gate, when I spotted an equally bamboozled looking person with a G-adventures paperwork in their hand.  I headed over and asked and yes, she was also looking for G-adventures… Okay, good, so it’s not just me!

We panicked together for a few minutes before a friendly tour operator from another company came over and asked who we were looking for.  We told her G-Adventures and she pointed us to ‘Door 4’ – we had no idea, but we were at door 1… About 500m from where we needed to be! Thank you tour operator lady – I’m not sure what we would have done had you not popped up and helped us!

We made our way down and were relieved to find a lady in a bright purple ‘GAdventures’ t-shirt who told us to go sit down and wait. Hmm. Okay.  Anyway, it gave us time to talk and I got to know Louise, who is a student in Bath and just finished a year in industry working in London.  We chatted – she’s on a different tour, hopping the islands in Thailand and snorkelling and doing generally relaxing things, which sounds awesome but definitely not the same as my temple packed adventure.

Did I mention yet that Thailand is really hot? Because even in the airport, we could feel it and I headed over to a touristy store in the airport and bought myself a 35 baht bottle of water.  Little did I know that this was THE most overpriced water – 35 baht is about 70p ($0.50) and even that felt super cheap compared to the UK!

Louise and I were eventually herded into a GAdventures car and told we’d be dropped off at our respective hotels.  Since neither of us had any plans during the first day, I suggested to Louise that we regroup after our post-flight showers and buddy up for the day to go be tourists together.  She was thankful, since she really didn’t have any plans, and we exchanged numbers (although stupidly, not names – I think I’m still stored in her phone as GAdventures guy).

I checked into the hotel and was given a room key, together with the information that I’d received a free upgrade to a suite! GAdventures pricing policy is that everyone shares rooms, but glancing over the passenger list posted in the hotel reception I quickly realised that I was likely the only single guy on the trip – and this I was confirmed when I go to the room and it had only one double bed – win! Another trip with GAdventures where I get a free ‘single room’ status! On this trip, that’s a saving of £750!!

Suite! Sweet!


Double bed… win!


Not gunna make much use of the kitchen!

A short shower later and a few texts and I was back in a Taxi (arranged by the hotel) to Louise’s hotel, where we met and began our adventure. We decided to walk around and try to get a feel for the area surrounding the Central Station – mainly China Town it turns out, which was really interesting and fun to see. We walked quite a long way, exploring little back streets and figuring out how to cross the roads (suicide run seems about the only option!) before stopping off in a small shopping mall food court for lunch, where we ordered Thai food – I had Tofu and Basil with Rice, which cost 40 baht (80p, $1.00)!  It was amazingly cheap and pretty good for the price.  I also had a iced coffee and some water – much needed as we had already been out in the Bangkok heat for a good couple of hours by this point. It was around 33c and humid as hell, and we were both sweating like the just-arrived unacclimatised tourists that we were.  Louise bought a pair of Elephant trousers to enable her to visit the temples with relatively cool legs, and we were both shocked that they cost 150 baht (£1.50!).

Tofu and Basil, Iced Coffee and a water, and change from 100 baht (£2)


Street market in China Town

As you probably guessed, our next step was to find a temple. We had literally just planned to find any old temple but managed to stumble upon Wat Pho, the home of the reclining Buddha and many many many other Buddha statues too.  A 100baht entrance fee (£2) got us in, and we spent a happy couple of hours exploring the amazing sight of so many gold Buddhas all in one place.  There we small Buddhas, big buddhas and the biggest Buddha of them all, the reclining Buddha.  It would have been nice to have a guided tour of the place, since we were pretty much guessing and taking photos, but still it was an amazing place.  I couldn’t believe the colour and vibrancy of it all, with such beautiful architecture and decor in amongst the fairly dusty dirty city just outside of the walls.  Below are some photos from Wat Pho – in no particular order and with no particular sense, since I didn’t really understand all the significance.  Time to get out my guidebook and read!

Some of the many buddhas


Amazing, vibrant buildings. My guidebook says these are the Royal Chedi, built in the Ratanakosin style and the 4 of them represent the first four kings of the Chakri dynasty. So now you know!

I really can’t ca[ture just how beautiful the decor is here, and the statues

Everywhere you turned, more icons


Buddha with snake headrest


Phra Buddha, Deva Patimakorn. His pedestal contains the ashes of Rama I and the statue was given to the temple by the king of the time.


Obligatory cheesy photo. I look so hot here, it was seriously hot outside. Love my stylish grandad trousers too.


The reclining buddha, plus me, and a monk in the background. This is huge!


More Chadi, I really like this photo – it’s how I want to remember the first day.

Feeling like expert tourists to have found such an amazing place, Louise and I decided we’d had enough exploring for day 1 and we should probably head back to our hotels so that I could freshen up before the welcome meeting, scheduled for 6pm. Our initial thought was to grab a taxi, but after trying 4 taxis and coming up dry on a good one (word has it that you should never get into a taxi in Bangkok which refuses to run on the meter), we settled on the idea of getting a Tuk-Tuk.  Our logic was that if we were going to get ripped off, we may as well make a life experience of it! And what a fun life experience it was – bouncing around the streets of Bangkok on this crazy Tuk-Tuk for 150 baht to get back to Louise’s hotel before I then battled and failed to find a taxi willing to take me to my hotel on the meter and ended up spending another 100 baht to do the short 10 minute ride to my hotel.  Anyway, I made it back to my hotel in one piece and for that I was pretty thankful!

Our Thailand tuk-tuk


Tuk Tuk ride selfie!

A quick recharge of the camera battery, shower and unpack of the essentials and I was back downstairs at 6pm for the welcome meeting. After a short wait in the lobby I introduced myself to the group who I will be touring with over the next few weeks:

  • Dek – our Chief Experience Officer (CEO) from gAdventures
  • Steve, Yvonne, Fred and Carol – two married couples from Victoria, Canada
  • Karl and Petra – a married couple from South Africa (Petra is German and Karl is Canadian)
  • Jaqueline – a student from Colordao, USA

The make up of the group is really similar than the one I had in Peru, although the age dynamic is a little different – in Peru we were all age 25-30 whereas here we spread between 19 and 50+.  That’s fine though, we seem to be getting along okay!

Dek, our CEO, called us together and suggested that rather than sit in the hotel and do a briefing, we should go somewhere to see a bit of Bangkok whilst we talked. He told us there was a sky bar near our hotel, about a 10 minute walk and we all concurred that this was a great idea, although many of the others then had to head back to their hotel rooms to grab money or deposit passports and other valuables.  I seem to be the most relaxed on the trip when it comes to my baggage and valuables, although I’m listening to their advice and tucking things away a bit more than I normally would.

Meet and Greet at the Sky Bar


Amazing View of Bangkok


The Bangkok Skyline

So, our first outing as a group was a quick walk to the Sky Bar near the hotel – hidden away in what looked like an office building, we reached Cloud47.  It’s an outdoors sky bar but luckily the weather had held all day (I had feared the start of monsoon rains due to the crazy humidity).  What an amazing view! It’s hard to describe Bangkok since at this point I’d only really seen China Town and Wat Pho, but the view showed me all of the different areas, from the river right through to office buildings, and the city stretched as far as the eye could see.

We sat and talked through as a group the itinerary and Dek added a lot of useful titbits about Thailand, as well as the other countries we’ll visit on our trip. I hadn’t realised that both Laos and Vietnam are communist countries – 2 of only 5 in the world (the other 3 being Cuba, North Korea and China).  Dek is from North Thailand, quite near Chiang Mai (although he then told us it’s a 3 hour drive to Chiang Mai from his home, so I’m not sure I understand the Thai definition of Quite Near and will be watching out for that next time he tells us a bar is Quite Near our hotel!!).

After a really long but interesting presentation from Dek and filling out some required paperwork, we finally got to order a beer.  I wish we could have done that before the talk, because by this point I was REALLY thirsty with the humidity and heat, but it was well received when it came, along with the small dinner of vegetables in oyster sauce with rice which I ordered to go along with it. I like the Thai dining style – light meals and lots of vegetables, that works for me!

During dinner we chatted and go to know one another better – Karl and Petra are really interested in doing a GAdventures tour to Peru so they were very interested to hear a few brief stories about that, and Jaqueline has already been in Tokyo and Indonesia before arriving in Thailand for this tour, so it was interesting to hear a little of her stories as well.

As part of the briefing, Dek had informed us that we would be required to cover our legs during the visit to the Grand Palace tomorrow and this caused a bit of a stir from some of the group who hadn’t prepared for this – luckily nearby the Sky Bar is a night market which Dek happily showed us to and most of the group tagged along whilst people bought Elephant Pants (yes, those are a real thing, no they don’t make you look like an elephant – they have elephants printed on them, and no, I don’t know why!)

By now it was getting late, or at least it felt like it – it was only actually 9pm – but we headed back to the hotel (via some cockroaches and rats in the alleyways) before saying goodnight and arranging to meet between 7 and 8 for our 8am set-off tomorrow.

I headed to the room and forced myself to stay awake a coule of hours, in desperate hope that it would stave off jet lag and allow me to sleep through the night.  Eventually around 22:30 I headed to bed, and rested, excited for the first proper day of the tour tomorrow!

Read about day 3 here!

Categories: South East Asia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

May 20th – Day 1 – Airport, Plane Food and Airplane Food

Well, it’s finally here, the start of my South East Asia adventure! The trip has officially started! In fact I’m writing this blog entry from the plane, somewhere over Eastern Europe.  

The day started with some last minute packing – or rather, unpacking. I decided that my bag looked a little too full, so unpacked a few non essential items. At least I hope they’re non essential because they’re now in London! After repacking the bag still looks pretty huge and full but hey, at least it closes now without me sitting on it.  

My flight was scheduled to leave London at 16:05 so I actually had quite a lot of time this morning waiting around – I ended up cleaning the bathroom, doing a load of washing and generally making the flat a bit more presentable for when I get back in a few weeks time.  I worked backwards from 16:00, allowing 2 hours in the airport and therefore planned to set off around 12 but ended up heading out a little earlier, since I had run out of things to panic about!

Anyway, I stuck the backpack on my back and realised just how huge it looked, then headed to the station. There’s quite a bit of roadworks near my flat at the moment so I had to navigate around those with this massive backpack on my back.  The bag looks particularly huge because I can piggyback my day pack and my big bag together, but that makes the depth crazy… I think I’ll end up doing the front & back thing more since that’s probably more comfortable than having a massive tortoise shell on my back.

My massive full backpack!


I caught the 11:55 train into London Bridge and then traversed the joyous London Underground network to get to Heathrow Airport – an annoyingly long journey by public transport from my flat, but kind ofunavoidable (a taxi is over £60, a TFL ticket is about £4!). The underground was pretty packed so I ended up crushed into a little corner protecting my backpack!

Protecting my backpack on the underground


Check-in at the airport was uneventful, and then I decided to treat myself to a true holiday start – lunch at the Gordon Ramsey restaurant in Terminal 5, Plane Food. I’ve been planning to try it for a while and this seemed like a perfect excuse!

I made it to Heathrow and even managed a smile!


As it was lunch time, they were running a special ‘express lunch’ deal – 2 courses for £25.  I selected the Butternut Squash Orechiette Pasta with Sage & Parmesan for a main course, and a Chocolate Tart for dessert.  To accompany them, I went for a glass of a 2014 Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand – truly a treat for lunch!

Service was prompt and professional and I was first brought a container of breads and butter. The bread had been made really creatively into a long croissant shape with points at both ends – which made it hard to cut and butter but looked great when it was presented.  The butter served was a little too cold, so it took a while to actually concoct something edible by which time the main course had arrived.

The pasta looked great and tasted fantastic – small cubes of butternut squash and a really tasty sauce together with the pasta which had been cooked perfectly and beautiful spears of tenderstem broccoli.  It paired really nicely with the Sauvignon Blanc as well.

After the pasta, my Chocolate Tart was brought out. Presentation was stunning – a generous but not huge slice of chocolate tart, a scoop of Pistachio ice cream and a raspberry with a swoosh of chocolate on the plate as well (after all, it’s a celebrity chef menu!).  The pastry on the Chocolate Tart was amazingly thin and perfect, yet the filing chocolate was smooth and creamy. I really enjoyed the dessert!

Butternut Squash Orechiette Pasta, Sage, Parmesan

Tinpot Hut, 2014 Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand

Chocolate Tart with Pistachio Ice Cream


Soon after paying the bill (and claiming those essential Heathrow Rewards points), it was time to board the plane and I headed out to the C-concourse, gate C66.  It always amazes me the size of Terminal 5 and how efficient it is – they got some bad PR at the start because of the luggage system but overall it’s one of the most efficient airports I’ve ever been through (and there are a few of those!).

I love the signage in heathrow, everything is really clear compared to other airports


Our flight was on a Boeing 777 to Bangkok directly, so after boarding I settled down to some in flight entertainment. Or at least I tried to – the screen was tiny, and during the first 45 minutes of the flight the screen was rebooted twice which lost my place in the movie (Deadpool, fact fans). I was quite enjoying Deadpool, and the opening sequence was really interestingly made, but I didn’t need to watch it 3 times in the space of 45 minutes. I gave in and pulled out the iPad and started writing this blog entry instead!

I made it to the plane too, and ANOTHER smile… must be something wrong with me!

Tiny screen before one of it’s many reboots


A couple of hours into the flight the in-flight meal was served. As I’ve said before, I always book a vegetarian special meal on long haul flights and the same was true of this flight – the food was served far in advance of everyone else’s, but honestly I wasn’t that hungry after my awesome airport meal.  I opened up the package and guess what – it was almost exactly the same meal I’d just eaten, just condensed into rubbish airplane food instead of Gordon Ramsey Plane Food! I tried everything, and admittedly demolished the chocolate pot, but left most of it, and settled down for a restful night on the flight. 

Not quite as fancy as Gordon Ramsey

Pasta with a Cajun Crumb (according to the label)


I will mention one more thing before I sleep… Always always always bring a warm layer on a long haul flight. The plane was FREEZING, and I was so thankful for my fleece – I have to lug the stupid thing around South East Asia for 3 weeks now, but at least it kept me warm on the first flight.

Goodnight all – see you in Bangkok! 

Read day 2 here.

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Departure Day!

Hi all

Just a quick update – today I’ll be heading to Heathrow Airport for my adventure to begin! Can’t wait!! The bags are packed, playlist is made and I’m standing by for adventure mode.

Watch out for updates, coming soon!

Peter

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Countdown… T minus 48 hours!

Okay, it’s super exciting now! Sorry for the lack of updates recently, work has been pretty busy and then I got absorbed with you know, actually prepping for the trip instead of procrastinating and writing in the blog!  Here’s a quick update…

My bag is packed!

I was shocked when I weighed it that it’s only 11kg! I normally end up with a suitcase quite close to 20kg for a normal business trip, so how I’ve managed to pack for 3 weeks in 11kg is beyond me! Just crossing fingers I haven’t forgotten anything significant.

Foreign currency has arrived! 
I decided to go for a mix of Thai Baht and US Dollars, so that I can change to the other countries as I go. I got a good deal on the Post Office website and £3 cash back with Quidco!

I called Gadventures

I initially called to check up on the baggage allowances for the flights which they’re booking – 15kg is what they advised.  But I also managed to find out that on the trip are 8 people (including me) with an age range of 21 to 50, and people from USA, Canada, UK and Europe – so it sounds like a pretty mixed bunch and I’m right in the middle of the group which will hopefully work well.  I can’t wait to meet all my new travel friends soon!

I joined Parkrun!

If you don’t know what Parkrun is, it’s a nationwide (worldwide?) scheme for running a 5km run every Saturday at 9am. It’s a free, volunteer run thing and it’s designed to encourage healthy lifestyles. I set it up and went along to the first run in Crystal Palace park and managed to knock out a 27:06… Pretty great 🙂

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