Posts Tagged With: backpack

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).

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Pad Thai at the airport

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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!

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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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A bag for Southeast Asia – Osprey Farpoint 70

My prep continues for the trip to South East Asia, as the clock is ticking down – my gAdventures app now happily reminds me i’ve just got 70 days until departure!

Thankfully most of the gear I bought for my adventure to Peru is the same stuff i’ll need in South East Asia, but one thing I did need is a sensible travel bag.  As you probably know I do a lot of travel for work – but that’s always ‘easy’ travel – a suitcase, into a taxi, into a hotel.  Whilst this trip is fairly comfortable, it’s much more suited to a backpack style packing than a suitcase, so it’s time for me to invest.

For Peru I borrowed my friends bag, a Haglöfs backpack, but since i’m no longer living in Sweden, that’s not a convenient option.  On top of that, i’m planning to more of these style trips, so it makes sense to invest in my own.

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Osprey Farpoint 70

Today, I decided, was shopping day – and I headed into an area of London where there are a bunch of outdoors shops.  I’d already done a bit of research online so I knew roughly what price point I was looking at, and who stocked which brands.  In the end my decision was fairly easy – hanging right by the entrance to Cotswold Outdoor was the beautiful Farpoint 70 from Osprey.  It’s a brilliant idea – a 70 litre backpack which combines a holdall style packing with the carrying convenience of a backpack.  The whole thing zips up so you can hide the backpack straps and turn it into checked luggage, or you can quickly unzip it and stick it on your back at the other end.  On top of that, there’s a front section which doubles as a day-pack, but zips to the main bag when you’re ready to carry them together.

Backpack-6

Two bags in one!

What a brilliant idea!

Essentially it’s two packs in one, but they can be carried as a single pack – one of my big fears about having my own pack was having to do that silly front/back carry which you see travellers doing all the time.

A 70 litre pack should be enough for 18 days, plus some space for souvenirs.  The really neat thing about this pack is that rather than packing top-down as most backpacks do, it unzips open like a hold-all.  This makes it much easier to get in and out of it when you’re travelling quickly between different hotels – rather than having to delve deep into the bag to find that one illusive item.

BackpackPacked

Front-loading packing system

I’m really happy with my purchase, and looking forward to getting to the stage where I can pack it!

Video review here

Categories: Gear, Shopping, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2 months to go!

Well here we are – September 1st. That means it’s exactly two months until I leave for my big adventure to Peru! I’ve still got loads to do before I go!

Thinking from the top of my head, the first big thing I mustn’t forget is the second injection of Twinrix on September 12th.  Apparently the travel clinic will text me to remind me, but i’m still trying to keep that date locked in my head.  After that the only medical thing I need to remember is I have to take two ‘shots’ of the Cholera medication at the start of October, and I must also get hold of some Mosquito spray with DEET.

I also still need to find a lot of clothes, a big backpack and many other things – hoping to do a lot of this when i’m in London for the weekend on the 19th-21st September.  My spreadsheet still feels like the majority of it is un-purchased, rather than bought, which is kind of scary considering how much money i’ve already spent!

The last thing is that I must get some more practice hikes in, before the weather turns fowl!  Swedish Winter starts in about October, so the clock is definitely ticking on this!

BRB, panicking!

Categories: Gear, Peru, Training | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spend, Spend, Spend

One of the things I hadn’t considered when I booked the trip was just how much extra gear I would need to buy in order to actually make the trip possible.  I decided to try and spread the purchasing out across the summer, so that it’s not such a shock when October comes and the trip is just days away.

I’ll not bore you with the details of exactly every purchase I make, but I thought i’d post some of the highlights.

Osprey Talon 18My day pack is an Osprey Talon 18, which i’m really really pleased with.   Continue reading

Categories: Gear, Peru | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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