Travel

Chiang Rai // A Photo Journal Pt. 2

White TempleWhite TempleBlack TempleBlack TempleKaron TribeKaron TribeMonkey CavesMonkey CavesMonkey CavesGolden Triangle ThailandGolden Triangle ThailandGolden Triangle ThailandAs mentioned in yesterday’s post, one of the main things I wanted to do in Chiang Rai was visit the White Temple. I’d seen photos of it and thought it looked amazing, but no photos can do justice to how magical it looks in real life, especially against bright blue skies. We’d seen loads of different tours that included the White Temple advertised around Chiang Rai, and one of the places Marcus really wanted to visit was the Monkey Caves so we made sure to pick one that included both of these. We booked a group minibus tour for 900 Baht each (£18) including a buffet lunch. There was a more expensive private car option available, but there ended up being just one other girl in our tour so it was pretty much private anyway!

We booked with a company called So Good travel who ironically weren’t so good! I won’t go into detail ranting about them, but we booked this tour and the slow boat to Laos with this company and neither of which were particularly great experiences. We thoroughly enjoyed all the sights we saw on this tour, just not the hungover minibus driver we were given (a bit dangerous on the crazy Thai roads!) who changed our schedule around to suit him.

First stop of the day was the White Temple, it was already busy even though we arrived around 9am. It was absolutely stunning and by far the prettiest temple I’ve seen, it’s like Disneyland or something, it just doesn’t seem real! You’re not allowed to take photos inside the temple but the inside is actually like Disneyland, with different Disney characters worked into intricate paintings covering the inside walls. The walls inside are cracked in places from an earthquake that happened in May 2014. Next up was the Black Temple, also know as the Black House which was created by a Thai artist and has not long been open to the public. It was very different, it has a strong theme of death with lots of animal remains around the place.

We were then driven to the Hill Tribes where we could pay an optional 300 Baht to go in and visit the tribes which we did. It was interesting, but not something I’d do again. It was ok until one of the guys called some of the ladies over to do a tribal song/ dance thing which no one seemed like they wanted to do, then they collected money from people watching. I get that it’s a tourist attraction it just felt a bit weird, like the place should be the attraction but not the people. The money we pay to get in goes towards maintaining the way they live, but I wonder if it wasn’t a tourist attraction if they would have integrated into a more ‘normal’ way of life?

Next up was the Monkey Caves, although the monkeys aren’t actually inside the caves but all around the bottom of them. I’d read about monkeys going up to people and grabbing their cameras/ glasses etc but luckily this didn’t happen to us! The baby monkeys were super cute. The caves were up a ridiculous amount of steep steps, a good old thigh work out! Inside the caves there was a buddha statue where we both lit a candle. It was both pretty and spooky inside the caves with bats flying around.

The final stop of the day was the Golden Triangle which is the meeting point of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. This was our first glimpse of the Mekong River and it was stunning, so vast and peaceful.

I think day trips like this are a great way to see a bunch of different attractions for a good price, but the days are pretty intense and tiring. If you’re planning on doing lots of sightseeing on your trip I’d recommend leaving a couple of more relaxed days between days like this depending on how much time you have to play with.

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Travel

Chiang Rai // A Photo Journal Pt. 1

VIP Bus to Chiang RaiNa Rak O ResortChiang Rai tuk tukChiang Rai Clock Tower Chiang Rai Clock TowerChiang Rai CinemaLemon Iced Tea Chiang Rai ShopChiang Rai TempleChiang Rai TempleChiang Rai Turtles Chiang Rai TempleChiang Rai TilesAfter our week in Chiang Mai the next stop was Chiang Rai, it had always been on the travel list as I really wanted to visit the White Temple, and being just a 3 hour bus journey north of Chiang Mai (the direction we needed to head for Laos) it seemed the next logical place to stop off for a few days. We booked into a place called Na Rak O Resort for 5 nights. We later found out ‘Na Rak’ means cute in Thai, which totally explains all the kitsch stuff in our room. It was a rather colourful little hotel! Although in most of Thailand it’s pretty easy to turn up and find accomodation, we’ve found it’s often cheaper to pre-book on booking.com, plus you have the added benefits of being able to read a few reviews of where you’re about to stay!

We booked the VIP bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai which was our favourite mode of transport so far; huge reclining chairs with a leg rest plus unexpected complimentary bottles of water, snacks and wet wipes for the journey. Booking the bus was also really easy, although I have to give all credit to Lani- check her blog for detailed ticket booking tips! We were able to book tickets online, then go to a 7-Eleven with our reference number where we could pay for and collect our tickets. I say ticket, it’s just a standard receipt so don’t lose it!

Chiang Rai is a cute little town with not all that much going on but a lot of culture. It has a lovely night bazaar with much more relaxed vibes than the ones we’d previously visited in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. In the middle of the bazaar is an outdoor restaurant with a stage to one side featuring a strange mix of acoustic singing followed by lady boy dancing! The food was pretty good and reasonable, so this became our local in Chiang Rai. The markets were even cheaper here, I think the further north you travel in Thailand the cheaper things get.

Our first full day at Chiang Rai was spent in the mall, Central Plaza, a 10 minute tuk tuk drive out of town. We went to the cinema there where we saw The Hunger Games 3, we treated ourselves to VIP tickets which meant we had a couch complete with a little silky blanket, not bad for 600 baht for the two of us (just over a tenner!)

The rest of our days in Chiang Rai were spent doing what we do best, walking round and exploring – oh, and drinking iced tea of course! It’s a small town, so walk about 5 minutes in any direction and you’ll be well out of the main drags. We stumbled upon a pretty little temple called Wat Phra Kaew, where a monk asked us where we were from and invited us in. Inside was like a mix of temple and museum. The hanging tapestries in there were really pretty, I love all the brights colours used to decorate the temples.

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Travel

A day at the Thai Farm Cooking School // Chiang Mai

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageOne of the things we both wanted to do in Thailand was a day at a Thai cooking school. When we got to Chiang Mai they were advertised absolutely everywhere so we decided that was the place to do it. The cooking courses didn’t seem to vary much in price or menu, but when we found Thai Farm Cooking School and saw it’s amazing Trip Advisor reviews we went for that one, even though it wasn’t the cheapest of the bunch at 1300 Baht (about £26) each. We also thought it would be awesome to visit a Thai Farm rather than just go to a kitchen in the city. It was super simple to book, they have an office in the Old City in Chiang Mai as the actual cooking school is on a farm just outside the city. Try and book in advance if you can as it does get pretty full up.

On the day we were picked up by our instructor for the day, the crazy lovely Benny, along with the rest of our classmates. They keep the classes small enough for everyone to get some one on one time, but big enough to make a few new friends. First stop was a local food market en-route to the farm where Benny taught us about different ingredients such as seasonings and all the different types of rice (I never knew there were so many!) we then had 10 minutes to wander the market – now’s the time to buy some beers for later in the day if you want them!

At the farm we we’re given rather glamorous aprons and farmers hats to don for the day. We went around the farm learning about all the herbs and veggies they grow there, tasting lots of them in their raw form which was interesting but not always tasty as far as raw herbs are concerned – galangal I’m looking at you! It was so interesting to see everything growing on the farm.

Onto the cooking…
We all had individual cooking stations so didn’t need to share knives etc with other classmates, I know this isn’t the same for all the cooking schools. On my menu for the day was:
+ coconut shrimp soup
+ Thai green curry
+ sweet and sour chicken
+ spring rolls
+ mango and sticky rice
There were other options and also the option to make it vegetarian / vegan.

We started by making the curry pastes for our Thai red / green / yellow curries then set about making our soups. We had a little break and ate the soups (so good, did I really make that?!) before getting back in the kitchen to finish our curries and the sweet and sour chicken. Benny had a big pot full of rice for us as well as an amazing papaya salad and we all sat outside sharing our culinary creations for lunch.

Back in the kitchen I whipped up a few spring rolls whilst Marcus chose the Pad Thai option. We bagged these up to take back to our hotel for dinner. Finally for the piece de resistance, mango and sticky rice – I’m so glad I know how to make this now here’s hoping I can find sticky rice in the UK! At the end of the day we were all given a recipe book from the Thai Farm Cooking school containing recipes of everything we’d learnt that day, plus a few extras.

We were dropped back off at our hotel happy, sleepy and full after a fun day at cooking school!

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Travel

Packing // A Travel First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit Before coming away on our RTW trip I’d never actually bothered bringing a first aid kit anywhere with me, but with 6 months on the road ahead of us I figured it was probably a sensible idea to pack one, even if it did mean it taking up precious room in my backpack. After scoping out the pre-made first aid kits in the shops and figuring they were pretty overpriced and you were just paying for the luxury of having it all sorted in an ugly green little bag I decided to buy everything separately and put together our own first aid kits for the trip. The day before we left Marcus was laughing at me for the industrial load of pills & plasters I’d handed him, but they sure have come in useful!

I packed all my first aid bits into a make up bag and then put a few essentials (plasters, antibacterial wipes, Immodium etc) into a little handbag-friendly pouch I found on Amazon after figuring I was more likely to need first aid bits out and about than when I was sat in a hotel room.

If you want to save a few pennies and make up your own travel first aid kit here’s what you’ll need (well, hopefully you won’t actually need it!)

// FOR THE CUTS & SCRAPES
+ Plasters – buy cushioned ones, they double up as blister plasters
+ Antibacterial wipes
+ Adhesive dressings
+ Microporous tape
+ Bandages
+ Antiseptic cream

// FOR THE HANGOVERS & BACKPACKER BELLIES
+ Ibuprofen – works just as well as paracetamol for headaches but is also great for muscle pain
+ Immodium!!!
+ Laxatives (you never know!)
+ Rennie
+ Travel sickness tablets
+ Rehydration sachets

// FOR EVERYTHING ELSE
+ Antihistamines
+ Hydrocortisone cream – brilliant on insect bites as well as other skin reactions
+ Nail scissors
+ Safety pins

I picked up everything from Poundland, Tesco & Superdrug and ended up paying way less than I would have done for a pre-assembled first aid kit. Plus it means you can tailor it to suit you and your trip.

a little tip // if you’re travelling in a couple split the items between you to lighten the load.

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Travel

Chiang Mai // A Photo Journal Pt. 2

Chiang Mai TempleChiang Mai TempleChiang Mai TempleChiang Mai TempleChiang MaiChiang Mai Walking Street Chiang Mai MarketChiang Mai FabricsEating CricketsChiang Mai Food MarketThai Prawn CrackersBanana RotiChiang Mai was the place we did a lot of touristy stuff, from getting Thai massages (kinda painful, but good!) to buying elephant pants and eating crickets. It was also the place where we discovered roti (or rotee) an awesome crepe-like creation, the pancake bit starts as a dough which they make really thin and fry in butter before filling it with banana, folding it into a square and topping with chocolate sauce, yum- there goes my bikini body!

We also took part in a one-day cooking school in Chiang Mai which was is definitely one of the highlights of the trip. I took a ton of photos that day, so look out for a post on that soon. As part of the cooking school we were taken to a local food market which was amazing, prawn crackers galore!

A week in Chiang Mai was a nice amount of time, it’s only a small city to walk around so you could definitely do it in less, but if you have a pool to chill by then a week is perfect.

Oh, and deep fried crickets aren’t too bad.

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Travel

Chiang Mai // A Photo Journal Pt. 1

Glass BuddhasMoo Rooms Chiang MaiMoo Rooms Chiang Mai Pad ThaiTR Residence PoolChiang Mai DragonChiang Mai Wall RuinsChiang Mai Tuk TuksCoca Cola Chiang Mai TempleAfter Bangkok our next stop was Chiang Mai, which is my favourite place we visited in Thailand. We’re currently at our last thai stop, Krabi, and I’ve not been anywhere that beats Chiang Mai! It has a lovely mix of culture, markets, street food, city cosmopolitan and sunshine. Perfect.

Chiang Mai is a 14 hour sleeper train North of Bangkok, definitely worth doing if you’re visiting Bangkok and have some time on your hands. The city is split into two parts, the old city sits within the ruins of what was once a walled city, and the new city is the area that surrounds this. The old city is where it’s at, any hotel within a 10 minute walk of this would be a pretty good location to stay. We stayed at TR Residence which was a great little hotel with lovely owners. The rooms were basic but it was the outside area that I loved, a swimming pool surrounded by lots of tropical plants.

After arriving by sleeper train around 10am and checking into our hotel we headed for a well deserved lunch and found a great restaurant called Moo Rooms with some gorgeous decor. It wasn’t the cheapest meal we could have got, but was well worth it, that Pad Thai…*drools*

Our days in Chiang Mai mainly consisted of laying by the pool chatting to the other guests and the evenings were spent exploring the city which worked out perfectly as it seems to come alive at nighttime, it has the most huge night markets on Saturday & Sunday where they close of the road to traffic so it becomes a ‘walking street’. There is also a night bazaar every night, not as good as the walking streets though.

We found Chiang Mai such an easy city to navigate our way around because the old city all sits within a perfect square. It’s the kind of place you don’t really need to plan how to spend your time, you can just go out exploring and discover all sorts of things!

p.s. Look out for Pt. 2 of my Chiang Mai photo journal tomorrow.

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Travel

The Essentials // Sleeper Trains

Sleeper Train EssentialsThe first mode of transport (other than taxi or tuk tuk!) we took in Thailand was the 14 hour sleeper train from Hua Lamphong, Bangkok’s main train station, to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. I won’t give you the low down on buying tickets because you can get all the information you need from Man In Seat 61, his website has been our bible when it comes to trains in SE Asia. It was super easy though and Hua Lamphong is very set up for dealing with tourists, just go in looking a bit lost and they’ll soon point you in the right direction. We bought our tickets a couple of days before which I’d advise doing as sleeper trains are always pretty full.

We booked air conditioned 2nd class sleeper top and bottom bunks, which meant in the daytime we had to rather big armchair seats facing each other which come bedtime folded out to one larger bottom bunk (which we both spent most of the night in watching cartoons!) and a slightly smaller top bunk. The bottom bunk is more expensive but only by a couple of pounds. I didn’t try the top bunk but I’d definitely recommend getting the bottom one if you can as when Marcus went up to the top he said it was much colder and really light up there.

Before we got the train we kept discussing best-case and worst-case scenarios of who would have the beds opposite us. We got lucky and got our best-case with a Canadian couple also backpacking SE Asia. It was our first lengthy English conversation we’d had with other people since we’d arrived in Asia and they even gave us a Clif Bar the next morning, result!

Anyway, onto my 5 essentials for surviving a sleeper train…

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+ A blanket
…or at the very least some warm clothing!
The air conditioning is turned right up so the trains get pretty cold, I always travel in warm clothing anyway but for a 14 hour journey you definitely don’t want to be shivering all night. This thin fleecy blanket was perfect as the blankets provided on the train were a little on the grotty side and not really something I wanted to snuggle up to at night, having my own blanket was a nice little barrier in between.

+ A comfy bra
I picked up this crop top style bra from Forever 21 just before we came away and it’s been perfect for the long distance journeys, especially the sleeper train where you want to lay down and get comfy without an underwire digging in your side.

+ Some entertainment
14 hours on one train. Pretty self explanatory. I always make sure I have a couple of new books on my Kindle incase I can’t sleep or just get bored of talking to Marcus. I kid, I kid!

+ Headphones (or ear plugs)
One thing I didn’t realise was just how noisy the sleeper train would be, I don’t know how they expected us to actually sleep! I ended up nodding off with my iPod on as it was the only way to drown out the diesel engine chugging away. Having music playing also meant the bits of the journey when it felt like everyone was asleep but me were slightly less boring.

+Snacks
…I saved the best til last! Days we travel always means guilt-free junk food just because. They serve hot (well, warm) meals on the train which we ate and they were fine. But if you definitely want to avoid getting a dodgy tummy on a 14 hour train ride I’d suggest bringing your own food along. Crackers and dry cereal are good filling options, plus you always need sweets because what sort of a journey would it be without sweets?!

Has anyone got sleeper trains in other parts of the World before and what are they like? It’s definitely a mode of transport I’ll try and use more often now.

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Life

Oh hello there, 2015

Hello 2015…It’s been a while! Yes, I’m still alive. Yes, I’m still on my travels.

I fell out of the blogging habit back in Laos where the internet speeds were similar to the 90s and from there on the habit was a little hard to get back into. Especially after having my iPad stolen in Cambodia. But here I am. New year, new me and all that, we’ll ignore that I’m almost a month late.

I have lots of photos from the places we’ve visited so far (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia & Southern Thailand) so look out for photo journals of those places coming soon. I won’t be posting each day like I’d previously done with Bangkok otherwise we’d be here til about January 2016! As well as that I’d like to start posting some of my travel tips now I’m feeling like a pretty professional backpacker, is there anything you’d like to see in particular?

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I’m normally an avid setter of New Year’s Resolutions, but with the New Year falling part-way through our travels it felt a bit weird to make resolutions. Instead Marcus & I set ourselves some goals we hope to achieve before next Christmas, they’re kind of ‘big life goals’ but I’ve also set myself a few little ones:

+ Enjoy what we have left of our travels!
We had kind of a hard time over the festive period and another 5 months til hometime felt like a lifetime. Things are looking up now and we can feel the time running away and I want to really enjoy every moment we have left.

+ Keep on journalling
Since we’ve been away I’ve kept an (almost) daily journal and it’s been really nice to look back on some of the things we would have otherwise forgotten. Especially handy for prompts when it comes to these very delayed blog posts! It’s been really nice sitting down every evening and writing about my day so I’d like to carry on with this even when we’re back in the UK.

+ #52HandLettered
I’ve always failed miserably at the ‘drawing-a-day’ kind of challenges, but when I saw Pen + Peplum’s 52 Hand Lettered Project on Instagram I was determined to take part and complete the year. Once a week can’t be that hard, right?! Keep up with my progress on my Instagram page.

+ Keep on blogging
Pretty self explanatory! I started blogging in June last year, and although it’s way more time consuming than I ever expected I’ve really enjoyed it and want to keep up with regular posting.

+ Run!
When I started running in March last year I was an absolute fitness noob! Since then I’ve ran a 10km Race For Life raising over £200 for Cancer Research and also have a 175 day running streak under my belt. I don’t plan on running much while I’m still away (other than a few treadmills!) but would love to sign up for a race (maybe a half marathon?!) for later in 2015 to give me something to train for when I’m back at home.

And that’s it for me! Have any of you set goals for 2015 and how are they going so far?

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Travel

Bangkok Day 5 // The Reclining Buddha

Robe at Wat PhoReclining BuddhaMonk at Wat PhoWat Pho BangkokWat Pho BangkokWat PhoWat PhoWat PhoWat Pho StatueBuddhas at Wat PhoGold Buddha DetailWaterlily at Wat PhoOn the morning of our fifth day in Bangkok we decided it was time to think about getting out of there so went to the main train station, Hua Lamphang, and booked tickets for the sleeper train on Thursday evening (two days later). People say Bangkok is kinda crazy (and it is!) and most people only stay a couple of days, but we ended up staying practically a full week. I think it helped we weren’t in a super busy touristy area, so there was a slower pace and we walked around most places just taking it all in. There’s so much to see!

After buying our train tickets we went out to get a cab to Wat Pho, home of the reclining Buddha. We went out to the front of the station- big mistake! There are tuk tuk drivers all ready to hustle tourists, one told us he couldn’t drive us anywhere, we had to get a boat from where we were to wherever we were going, and that a tuk tuk there would only cost 10 baht. If any tuk tuk driver tells you the journey is only 10 baht, RUN!! They basically take you to the boat where you’re charged 1000+ baht for a ticket, and they get a cut of it. That or a dodgy gem store where you’re pretty much forced to by gems. Lucky for us we weren’t having any of it, but we met a couple later in our trip that had been taken to a gem store and spent 800 USD on gems.

So anyway, if you want a cab from Hua Laphang go out the side exit where you’ll find a taxi rank. We grabbed a taxi on the meter from there to Wat Pho. Wat Pho was the first (and only) attraction we paid for in Bangkok, it was 100 baht each, so just under £2, and completely worth it. Ladies, you also get to sport a rather fetching green robe if you’re not dressed decently enough ie knees and shoulder out, ooh er!

It was a stunning area of temples and pagodas, everything was so sparkly it felt kind of like Disney Land. Inside one of the temples is a gigantic gold Buddha laying on its side…the reclining Buddha. It’s 160ft long and pretty impossible to get a decent photo of!

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Bangkok Day 4 // A day of rest

UMA Residence BangkokUMA Residence BangkokUMA Residence BangkokUMA Residence BangkokUMA Residence BangkokUMA Residence BangkokUMA Residence BangkokKangpa Sriyan RestaurantKangpa Sriyan RestaurantKangpa Sriyan RestaurantSo I guess to a lot of people the idea of backpacking seems like one big holiday, and it basically is. But remember how tired you feel after days of travelling and sightseeing when you’re on holiday? Yeah that! So having spent the past four days travelling, walking and sightseeing we decided it was time for a ‘nothing’ day, and lucky for us we had a rather nice hotel to do nothing in.

Our day was spent reading, relaxing and eating biscuits by the pool before venturing down the road to a traditional little Thai restaurant called Kangpa Sriyan Restaurant. The owner was such a lovely guy and recommended us a couple of dishes, one (pictured) was Kang Keaw Wan Loak Chin Plagrai (don’t worry, I have no idea how to say it either!) A Thai green curry with fish cake, bitter eggplant and palm hearts. Spicy but delicious. We shared this along with some fried chilli squid and steamed rice- yum!

I thought I’d also share a few photos I’ve taken around our hotel, UMA Residence in Old Bangkok. I love the decor here particularly around the lobby and pool.

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