Posts Tagged With: packing

June 6th – Day 18 – Temples, Facials and Flames

After yesterdays amazing temple experience at Angkor Wat and Bayon, we had another early start (this time at a leisurely 7am!) to go explore the famous Ta Prohm temple – made famous in the recent Tomb Raider movies.

The 7am start actually meant we could get breakfast in the hotel before the adventure – which was great because we headed out for almost 4 hours of temple exploring!  More temple photos follow:

Once we reached the end of the temple adventure, we all agreed we were ‘templed out’ and headed back to the hotel.  I needed to grab a little more cash to get through the last few bits and pieces, so I walked down the street to the ATM – around a 5 minute walk – but in 35c heat that was far enough! We’d been so lucky with the weather during the whole trip – it hardly rained at all, despite the ominous forecasts before we departed.  But the trade off for this was the humidity – the pre-rainy season is particularly humid and we regularly had 90-100% humidity and 35c temperatures on this trip – and believe me, 1000 year old temples aren’t air conditioned!

I decided to make use of the complimentary massage voucher we were given when we checked into the hotel and upgraded it to a package deal including a facial and oil massage, as an end of holiday treat.  I’ve never had a facial before, but hey – i’ll try anything once! It was actually quite a weird experience – particularly being left alone in the room with tomato slices on my face, and tomato juice dripping down into my eye.  Not sure that’s part of the usual experience, but it was interesting for sure!

Our next planned activity was at 5pm, so there was a bit of remaining time after the massage – I grabbed a small snack and beer by the swimming pool, then headed to my room to pack.  The trip is coming to an end, so I can be brutal with my packing – not sure I really needed 3 rain jackets, or 3 packs of suncream! I’m a chronic overpacker, so i’m quite impressed to have stayed under 14kg the whole trip.

At 5 we met as a group for one last organised activity, and headed into the Siem Reap town centre for a sort of farewell dinner.  Dek had arranged a private transfer for us with the hotels transport, but they got kind of lost and he ended up having to get out and get directions to get us to the place we’d booked.

Dinner was at Genevieve’s – a small locally run restaurant which is owned and run by an ex-pat Australian called Phil who welcomed us and was working the room talking to all the tables throughout dinner.  On the back of the menu is the story of Genevieve’s, and it was really interesting to read how it came to be.  The place is the second best reviewed restaurant in Siem Reap, and rightly so – the food was amazing! I ordered a Khmer curry (and spring rolls – because I hadn’t had enough on this trip !!) – which was wonderful, but did remind me very much of the Yellow curry I had cooked way back in Chiang Mai, which felt like a lifetime ago.

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Khmer Curry

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Angkor beer – one last time

Once dinner was done with, we jumped in tuktuks to head to our final G-adventures activity – a performance by the brilliant Cambodian Circus company, Phare.  The Cambodian Circus company runs an education program for underprivileged children in Cambodia and have well over 1200 students, training them in conventional education subjects as well as Circus skills – and over 150 of their students have subsequently progressed to become professional circus performers.

We made our way through the small Phare Boutique – where they had local handicrafts at fairly high prices.  Initially I dismissed this, but I spotted a Bayon head made of recycled paper which I really really liked, and ended up going back and paying way above the odds for it – but since the money goes towards the education program, I don’t feel bad about that!  There are definitely worse things I could have spent my money on (like facials with sliced tomato!)

The show itself was mesmerising – really high standard circus in an intimate venue.  The show only lasted an hour, but everyone in the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy it and at the end, the cast came on stage for photo opportunities and donations.

And so ended our tour – we made our way back to the hotel, and arranged to meet as a group one final time at 8am before my tuktuk to the airport (my flight is first to depart).  It’s flown by, but also, it’s been way too short – there’s so much more to see in these amazing countries!

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My bag still closes!

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Categories: South East Asia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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).

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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!

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

Can I go yet????

Well, after three tries, I managed it! Everything fits into the rucksack. And the rucksack fits into the flight bag.  Which means, it’s time to go!!!

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Except I have a week of work still to go.

Can I go yet?!?!

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The anxiety dreams have started

Last night I was treated to a night of anxious dreams about packing for Peru – in my dream I had epically managed to forget to pack my bag and the flight was leaving in just a few hours. I had to rush around and sort things out and get everything ready for the trip in way too short a time, and of course it meant I ended up arriving with completely the wrong stuff!

I don’t know why i’m getting dreams like that – the bag is sitting in my living room half packed already and I still have 20 days to go! My spreadsheet is basically all ticked off and everything is in neat little piles – i’ve never been so organised for a trip!  I guess the human brain works in mysterious ways…  Let’s just hope it was a one off, I don’t really fancy 3 weeks of anxiety dreams before my departure!

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