Sticking our necks out

The fruits of our travel agent visit paid off today with a days trek into the hills around Chiang Mai, although there wasn’t much walking involved! The first visit was to some hill tribes, a few straw huts set amongst some paddy fields with old women attending to their stalls, strangely enough selling tourist tat! We’d paid extra to visit the long-neck “Karen” tribe, whose women from an early age start wearing ever increasing numbers of brass rings around their neck, causing it to elongate. The place had a touch of theme-park feel to it, added to by the mopeds lined up behind the shacks.
Back in the bus, we suddenly stopped and reversed to a waiting kart being pulled by camel cows! Turns out that someone beat me to it and called them “Ox”, rather boring if you ask me… The Ox kart ride involved us sitting in the back whilst the driver grunted and poked at the Ox to make them move along, whilst a couple of kids ran behind and secretly got a free lift.
The next excitement was an elephant trek, now I thought Asian elephants were meant to be small, but the beast we got on was huge, with us 3 or 4 metres above the ground. The thing was also banana powered, every couple of steps a huge trunk would reach back over his head to where we sat, until a banana was placed in it’s finger like grasp. Before too long he’d eaten the whole bunch, but the trunk still came up, huffing and blowing snot over us until he eventually gave up. We almost got a soaking as the elephant sprayed water through his trunk to cool himself down, good job his aim was good, and the water was cleanish anyway.
The final activity was bamboo rafting. We’d been warned to bring a change of clothes and leave all belongings behind as we were going to get very wet. It turned out that the ride was very gentle, to the point of relaxing. We only got wet as the raft was partially submerged with five people on board, but I had faith in the discarded tyres holding the bamboo together.
That night we boarded the night minibus north towards the Thai-Laos border. We were never going to relish spending the night on the road, but by 3am we’d arrived, enough time for a decent sleep, and worth the day we saved!

More temples

Being a tourist in Thailand is exceptionally easy, every other shop is a travel agent, the only hard bit is getting a reliable one. Seeing as one such travel agent had done a fine job of my laundry, we returned, left some hard earned money (well, earned), and went away with that warm fuzzy feeling of knowing what you are doing for the next few days.
The guidebook listed Doi Suthep as a must see, but at the top of the rather large hill there was just a decidedly hungry elephant, the usual tourist stalls, and a pleasant temple (albeit with a “Foreigner must buy ticket” sign outside). But then it could just be that we are temple-d out, and have been spoilt by Sukhothai. Back in Chiang Mai, we tried to find something else to do, but since everything exciting started in the morning, we opted for a river cruise. The commentary left a lot to be desired, with only two announcements, one of which was to point out a block of flats. Still, it was a nice way to pass the afternoon, even when the engine cut out and we drifted backwards for a while.
In case you wondered why there is a picture of a cow attached, these are seen all over Thailand, but up until I saw this statue today they’ve just whizzed passed a minibus window. I like to call them camel cows (species bovinus dromadarius), due to the big floppy lump on their backs. It was either that or a picture of the king sweating (seriously, can you imagine a huge poster of Queen Elizabeth II with a drip of sweat hanging from her nose?) It’s been a slow day.

The art of cooking

A Thai cooking course in Chiang Mai has been on our must-do list since before we left, and it didn’t disappoint. We started off with a trip to the market to be amazed at the different types of rice, noodles and vegetables available, and hopefully some will be in the shops at home too. Back in the kitchen we were slicing lemon grass, crushing mini-garlic and chillis to make our Tom Yum soup and Phat Thai noodles. The most valuable lesson was that if it doesn’t taste right, it can be corrected: too spicy means put coconut milk in, too salty (my overzealous use of fish sauce) means put sugar in. We also had a go at pounding some herbs and spices to make green curry paste, along with stories about how lovers meet over the making of curry paste. Inevitably we made a Thai green curry, and also a chicken and cashew nuts dish, not bad for an afternoons work, and we definitely regretted having lunch before the course! The final valuable lesson learnt was that it’s much more fun to cook when someone else cleans up after you.
That night we visited Chiang Mai’s top tourist attraction, the night market. Hundreds of stalls selling essentially the same things: fake watches, fake dvds, silk, chopsticks, and fabric bags of all shapes and sizes. We filled our bags, squeezed in a roti (pancake) before catching a Tuk-tuk home.

Busy Buses

There wasn’t much else to see in Sukhothai, so we caught the morning bus north. Everyone else obviously thought it was a great idea too, as there was only standing room. Fortunately for us, we were on the steps so could have a seat, next to a 4 foot high door that the bus conductor told me was a toilet, probably more of a warning than anything else. The makeshift seats weren’t that uncomfortable, but Caroline and then I were later found proper seats even though we had to squeeze passed others to get to them.
We arrived in Chiang Mai that afternoon, and managed to add Tuk-tuk to our list of modes of transport. Settling down to a late lunch, we realised (yet again) that to get anywhere pretty much takes the day.

Wat a day

Sukhothai, being the old capital, is rather flush with temples (wats). The best way to see them is on two wheels, and for a change we skipped on a moped and hired a couple of sit-up-and-beg pedal bikes for 50p each. You get what you pay for, my bike made worrying crunches as it rolled along, and neither had anything resembling decent brakes. The site is world heritage listed, and some effort is being made to tidy up and restore the ruins. In my book it’s a bit of a shame, the temples look quite rustic with plants growing on them. Riding our bikes in a stately fashion, not too fast to get us hot, but fast enough for a cooling breeze, we passed round temples, square temples, some with pillars, and some with a Buddha in one of his poses. The area is famous for the walking Buddha pose, but it just makes him look a bit feminine (like a Bangkok lady-boy…)
After a heavy, but fortunately brief rain, we rode to a massive sitting Buddha, once enclosed in a rather tight fitting temple, but now open to the elements. There was also a herd of cattle, boney and loose skinned, grazing next to a moat that surrounds some of the temples. The lack of tourist crowds, and the freedom of being under our own steam made it feel as though we were discovering the temples for ourselves, apart from a hat and whip, I don’t think I could feel any more like Indiana Jones. He probably wouldn’t be seen dead on a bike though, so with aching bums and a broken brake cable we handed the bikes back and went to try the town’s other restaurant out.


The Thai people do have a lot of pride and respect for their Royal family. Every shop, restaurant and bus has pictures of them, and judging by today, everyone (apart from confused Farangs like us) stands as the national anthem gets played in the morning.
Our journey today, as always, involved a variety of modes of transport. The late departing train made up for it by having a stewardess dishing out food (it was 2nd class carriage too). Some poor unsuspecting grandma and grandpa samlor (rickshaw) drivers pedalled us and our huge backpacks to the bus stop for 50p (I felt like asking if I could do the cycling). Our bags were squeezed on to the bus for the ride to New Sukhothai where a Songathew/pick up truck took us to the old town.
Leaving the town exploration until tomorrow, we called in at the one stop Coffee Cup restaurant – beer, food, cheap internet, massages and travel agent under one roof, with friendly staff too!


After only one hot sticky day of trying to avoid being scammed in Bangkok we were ready to leave. We had booked ourselves on a day trip to Kanchanaburi today, home of the bridge over the river Kwai. Since we have not seen the film (we’re too young… 😉 ) we thought we’d better do a little homework by reading the guidebook. We learned that the famous bridge over the river Kwai is part of a railway built by PoWs under the Japanese during World War II (but you probably knew that already). Our first stop was at the PoW cemetery, with almost 7,000 graves (mainly British, Australians and Dutch) laid out in very neat rows it was quite a moving experience. And it certainly set the scene for our next stop; the World War II museum which gave us a little more insight into the Japanese atrocities at the time (one more heartening tale told of how the PoWs, when building the original wooden bridge, selected the worst timber they could find so that the bridge rotted after a few months).
The museum also gave us our first view of the bridge itself. Which meant there was only thing left to do; walk across it, no easy task when so many other people are trying to do the same thing.
A brief visit to possibly the most boring waterfall ever and we were ready for the highlight of our day out; the Tiger Temple, a monastery turned tiger sanctuary. Our first tiger encounters were with the huge adults at tiger canyon. Even though they were sleeping heavily it was still a little disconcerting to be sat so close to and to be touching real live tigers. The tiger cubs weren’t so scary, they were just unbelievably cute. They were only two months old and still had blue eyes, I was seriously tempted to slip one into my bag to take home. The teenage tiger looked the most unpredictable and possibly the most likely to turn round and have a swipe at you, neither Si nor I were in a hurry to have our photo taken with him, after all we already had photos with us in front of the huge adults anyway.

A grand day out

The original plan (yes Cat, we’re using that same numbered day list style!) called for a day trip to the River Kwai, but we used up a slack day to lie in and get our bearings. With the next couple of days tickets arranged we were advised to check out the Royal Grand Palace. Until recently, Bangkok had no roads, just canals (I’ll refrain from any Venice connection, Manchester is closer…), and as we crossed over one, a huge crocodile was swimming upstream. Well, maybe not a croc, but a good 2 metres of kimono dragon-esque creature swimming through the brown water and flotsam in search of a meal (or maybe wondering what the hell he was doing there, as I was…)
The ferry dropped us off near the palace, but the first sight was the colourful roofs of Wat Pho, a buddhist temple adjacent to the palace. The star attraction was the huge gold reclining buddha, about 50 metres long housed in his own building. I’m betting the builders were glad the buddhists didn’t want a standing buddha as that thing was big. At least my curiosity was satisfied as to what the sole of a buddha looks like (mother of pearl, in case you wondered), and the only enlightenment that sole received was when the camera flashes went off. (sorry, couldn’t resist a rubbish joke…)
We ended up only having half an hour to look around the palace, which was probably a good thing as I had to wear trousers over my shorts in the stifling heat. There were also a number of “helpful” people telling tourists they wouldn’t get in, or it was closed already, probably in preparation for some scam or other. There are plenty of signs telling you not listen to these people, often right next to the scammer, which makes you wonder why they don’t just get the police to stop the scammers. The same goes for tuk-tuks and longtail boats in Bangkok, they look like such a fun way of getting around, but everywhere you look says to avoid as they are probably in cahoots with a scam, and just get a taxi instead.
That evening we headed to Khao San road, bars and tat shops galore, and of course the one time we leave our umbrella behind is when Bangkok decides to have a tropical downpour and change the road into a river. Good job the beer was cheap!

Bangkok, just

With an almost full day of boats and buses to Bangkok ahead of us, we mopeded out to a cafe on a cliff to have breakfast with a view, and soak up the last of what Koh Tao had to offer. As we sat expectantly waiting for the ferry, a little notice appeared indicating that the ferry was running a couple of hours late, the only problem being that we were now due to arrive in Bangkok at 2am, fun!
The journey made us thankful of iPods and their vast selection of music, memories of long bus journeys with a Walkman and a few worn out cassettes are a thing of the past. As expected our arrival in Bangkok was amongst the chaos of taxi and tuk-tuk drivers eager to help make a quick buck, so much so it wasn’t even worth haggling when they start at about 25 times the actual fare. The hotel was only a short walk away, so with that overladen traveller look of big rucksack on the back, and small one on the front we made our way through the deserted streets to the nirvana of a proper bed for the night.

One last snorkel

The wind was still blowing this morning, whipping the seas up, and keeping us sitting by the pool. In a quest to find the amazing snorkelling the island is meant to have, we hired another moped, although this time in more manly blue and white colours, and without a basket. We drove the only road to the other side of the island and spent the afternoon there, reading on the beach and spending a good while on the last snorkel, not really finding anything new apart from another school of fish that rapidly crunched their way around the coral.
We tried to explore the rest of the island, but there was literally one road only 5km long, and we missed even the dirt track turnoffs that were optimistically marked on the map. Still, we managed to squeeze in another beer whilst watching the sunset, and then cheated by going to the local Italian-Mexican restaurant for dinner. The Italian bit was on the opposite side of the road, which meant my pizza took a while to make it’s way over. That’s something the Thais haven’t mastered yet – delivering food at the same time (it is tasty when you get it, so we’ll let it slide…)