The epic conclusion 

Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I’ll begin.

My last adventure in Thailand took place in the beautiful city of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Before I went, all I knew of the city was that it had markets, it had many temples, and it was somewhere I could interact with elephants. Chiang Mai had all those those things and more. I spent a week there by myself and thoroughly enjoyed myself; I could have easily spent much longer in that city. When booking my trip, I’d decided to treat myself and stay in a private room rather than a dorm, since I was going to be there for so long. This was a great decision! I stayed at Diva 2 guesthouse and could not recommend it more!! The rooms were surprisingly  large and clean, they had a rooftop area where I could meet other travellers, the staff genuinely went above and beyond to make sure I was having a good time and helped me with any questions I had, even before I arrived.They had a tour desk which I used to arrange my trip to see elephants and any other activities I wanted to do.

Rather than arrange what I did chronologically, since it was 2 and half months ago now, I’m going to do it thematically. So lets start with the temples. Chiang Mai has a ridiculous amount of temples and their around every corner. When I started exploring on my first evening, I stumbled across  a temple having some form of evening worship with the doors open. It was a really peaceful time and the intimacy of the enclosed place was simply stunning. Walking around the gardens afterwords I met a couple of girls and we had dinner together, having the traditional Northern dish of Khao Soi (a yellow curry). It was perhaps a little too spicy for me but was absolutely delicious. After saying goodbye to my new friends, I walked in the general direction of the hostel and found a great bookshop and a bar that was working out of a VW type van. Since Chiang Mai is surrounded by walls/one huge road, it’s pretty easy to fine your way around if you’re staying in the city. The basic rule is to not cross the walls/huge road!

I spent at least one day and one afternoon wandering around some of the temples in the city. As cultured as I tried to become, they did eventually end up all kind of looking the same! The bigger ones are really nice to walk around, but some were very touristy which was a shame. When visiting the temples in Thailand you have to make sure you’re dressed respectably. This isn’t that enforced in Chiang Mai, but going into temples in short shorts and crop tops is disrespectful. Another thing is when you’re visiting you have to take your shoes off, so make sure you wear sandals or flip flops not proper shoes! In one of them, a monk was tying string around people’s wrists and spraying them with what I presumed was holy water, so obviously I went up and got mine. I spent about an hour in that temple, just observing the worshippers and enjoying being able to take the time to sit down and be by myself and think. It might sound ridiculous but I really enjoyed it. Another one of the temples, just outside the walls was incredibly old, and contained the ashes of a renowned monk. This was a much quieter temple, so I found a shaded corner and read for a while, just soaking up the atmosphere. On the whole the temples were great places to wander around and think, especially for solo travellers.

 

Another day I did a day trip to the outskirts of the city and up a mountain to see another temple: Doi Suthep. Getting there was a right faff but once I managed to get there (via a red taxi and then changing to a minibus on the side of the road) it was amazing. The temple itself was similar to the ones in the city, but the amount of gold was incredible and the decorative colours were beautiful. Because it was such a hot day, it was a great place to enjoy an ice cream and the views from the top were incredible! They had information signs telling you about the legend of the white elephant – something which I had read about at all the other temples so it was nice to see the end of the elephants journey. Compared to the temples in the city this one seemed even more touristy which was a disappointment. They had people who were trying to charge to take a photo of you. Luckily by this point in my solo travels I had mastered the art of portrait selfies using a selfie stick, and another girl was travelling alone so we traded photos. At all the temples you could see monks going about their daily business, and at this one I was lucky enough to see the female equivalents.

Continuing my education I had a day visiting the museums of Chiang Mai. The main 3 were all within a short walk of my hostel, and since you could buy a combined ticket to enter all 3, I set out to learn about the city I was growing to love. By the end of the day I was musuemed out but I had learnt a lot! The museums were all really interesting and offered a look at the history of the old kingdom which used to be separate from Siam until relatively recently. It also helped to put into context the different things I had learnt from the temples, as well as the information from the museum I visited in Bangkok. Happily too, it was next to a cool mango dessert restaurant and within walking distance to an amazing coffee shop which was recommended by Noi and became my regular! All in all it was a good day, and it was nice to spend a bit of time out of the sun. My days in Chiang Mai were actually relatively short. Since I was walking for hours and hours a day, I was sleeping a lot and getting really tired! I think I was up to 4 coffees by the end of my trip. Thankfully the hostel bed was comfortable and the coffee good! I didn’t take any photos in the museum, so enjoy these photos of around Chiang Mai!

Chiang Mai is, rightfully so, famous for its many markets. This reputation was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit, and I had tried my best to save money for them so I could fully enjoy them. The night market is outside of the city walls and was about a 25 minute stroll from my hostel. It was an amazing place to explore and I spent literally 4 hours wandering around, eating street food and stocking up on the type of knick-knacks you can only find at markets. I ended up buying a drawstring back bag to replace my broken backpack from Camden, a passport cover and many other small items. While yes, a lot of the stalls do sell the same things, I really love exploring markets to see what’s on offer. I disappeared between 2 buildings and found a large food area with a live band, haystacks to sit on and lots of beer to buy. There was a drag show in another part of the market, but since you had to pay to get in I decided to save my money.I tried all sorts of street food, including quails eggs and I made sure I had the famous Thai dessert of mango and sticky sweet rice with coconut milk. While I’m glad I did it, I don’t think I’d have it again – it was a little sweet for me. After shopping until my feet were about to fall off I splurged on a tuk tuk home and completely crashed. Because I was in Chiang Mai for a week, I could also explore the Sunday market. Since this took place on the main street of town (happily the same street as the previously mentioned coffee shop), I decided to head there early and watch them set up whilst drinking a coffee. Although I don’t have many photos – I’d used all my battery on snapchat and facebook, this market was amazing. I was so glad I got there early though as after maybe 3 hours it got far too crowded. It was a better market than the night one I think though. They had more variety of things to sell and most of it appeared to be handmade. I got a load of pretty earrings for really cheap, and you could usually see people making what they were selling there and then. When it got too crowded for me, I escaped down a street and walked the long way home to avoid the crowds.

Hang in there, you’ve read more than 1500 words but I’m nearly done I promise! There’s only one more experience from Chiang Mai that I’d like to blog about.

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ELEPHANTS!

On my penultimate day in Chiang Mai, I finally did what I came to Thailand to do…SEE SOME ELEPHANTS! Hopefully noone is surprised that there’s no photo of me riding them – it’s cruel and people shouldn’t do it. I’d booked this tour through my hostel on the first day and was so excited! I was picked up early in the morning in a truck, and headed all around the city picking up more people – the Elephant Crew. After a long and incredibly bumpy ride to the sanctuary, we had a little walk down to the base. We really were in the middle of nowhere and it was amazing. We had to put on these cool patterned shirts so that the elephants would recognise us as friends and not be too scared. A short hike up a hill later and we encountered the first elephants of the day! Actually seeing them up close for the first time without a fence was something I know that I’ll never forget. We fed them and took pictures with them and generally showered them with love. The sanctuary I visited had 6 elephants, included 2 babies! They looked well taken care of and were happy to see us. We saw them all in pairs and the last were a mother and youngster who came bounding over to greet us in the cutest possible way ever! When they made us leave we were so sad but also absolutely starving since we’d spent a good couple of hours being introduced to them.

After refueling it was time to strip off and enjoy a refreshing dip with the elephants and then a mud bath. Being me, I was one of the first in the water and ended up nearly being crushed by the younger elephant when she decided she wanted the lie down – luckily one of the guides pulled me backwards. The river we were in wasn’t exactly clean, and washing the elephants became a mixture of splashing water on them, scrubbing them and dodging their feet when they decided to move! It was hilarious though. Next up was the mud bath which was predictably filthy – especially when the guides decided we were too clean and begun a mud fight! The elephants seemed to really enjoy the mud though, and I spent most of my time covering the trunk of one. After cleaning off as best we could in the river, it was time to head back to the city for a proper shower and a meal with the Elephant Crew.

Seeing the elephants, temples and markets of Chiang Mai was a highlight of Thailand, and I truly never will forget the people I met, elephants I fed and above all the warmth and friendliness of the Thai people.

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Getting lost on purpose

Yes it was on purpose and not just because I got a bit confused! This post returns to my Spring Festival adventures around Thailand, so lets pick up where I left off – being a lone ranger.

Since I knew I was going to spend the second half of my trip on my lonesome, I thought that the easiest way to do it would be to ease myself in and spend another day in Bangkok before flying North to Chiang Mai. It turned out that this was a great decision, as it meant that I could see more of the capital, be by myself but know how to get around and where I was based, and not feel like I was being rushed to see everything when I first got there. As it happens we’d accidentally had a late night watching a movie in the common room, so the ability to sleep in and not bother anyone was pretty luxurious! I went to what had become our usual place for breakfast – i’m sure the staff looked funnily at me for being by myself and not with Charlotte and Elijah – and decided that I’d head in the rough direction of the Siam Museum and see what was around there. It meant travelling on the train and on a ferry, but again because I’d already been in the city I wasn’t worried. I was confused however when a man approached me and started talking to me in French, even after I assured him I was English! So although my boss here and most people agree I have a very ‘English’ face, according to this man I was French looking! He only started speaking English once he heard my very bad French.

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Flower market!

Anyway! A journey later I got off the ferry and immediately started wandering around the markety type place which was around the dock. Once I’d found the road and looked at the map I headed in the direction of the museum. Along the way I got distracted by a flower market and lots of little shops which I promised to return to later – I didn’t want to go into the museum with shopping bags. Finding the actual museum as difficult though. I knew I was on the right street but didn’t realise it was down a side street and ended up walking up and down a good few times. Since it was now around midday it was boiling hot and the nearby school was starting to let its children out it was started to get crowded on the streets, but I eventually saw a sign for the museum and headed in. Like most people I interacted with in Thailand, the staff spoke very good English and I was soon sat down waiting for a video presentation on the history of the people of Thailand.

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On the whole, the museum was very good. I spent a good couple of hours wandering around and learning about Thailand’s history and culture and it genuinely helped me understand the country a little more. The museum wasn’t that busy so it was really peaceful and I really enjoyed myself. At one point I found myself being dressed up in traditional Thai clothing and had a Chinese family gawping at me at the same time which was hilarious. I did love the outfit though and it was really comfortable – I started walking off with the headband on until the staff stopped me! After exploring the museum for a few hours and gaining another wristband to add to my collection, I had a late lunch in the cafe on  site before wandering back towards the shops I’d promised to go in earlier. Heading back to the hostel, via an insanely crowded ferry and very friendly Chinese family, I got off the train a little early and wandered around a fancy mall in search of the a selfie stick to replace the one I’d lost in Kantiang Bay. Sadly the mall was too posh to sell such items so I ended up getting a haircut since the ends were becoming atrocious!! Feeling fancy with my new hair (but wishing I’d wore makeup) I splurged on a sushi dinner and went back to pack before my flight the next day.

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I’m so fancy….

Becoming a Lone Ranger 

After spending time on the beach in Klong Dao we decided it was time for a scenery change and headed for Kantiang Bay towards the south of the island. Home to the wonderful Drunken Sailor restaurant it was another great place to sit, lounge in a hammock and read a book whilst eating actual real bread and drinking coffee. So that’s pretty much all me and Charlotte did for days on end. We were based in a beachfront hut and thoroughly enjoyed whiling the time away laughing at my terrible book and naming the local population of geckos.

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And then things took a dramatic turn… We went for one last swim in the sea before we left the bay and it was rather rocky. After declaring once and for all that there were no rocks I kicked out to swim as you do… And promptly broke my middle toe. After the incident with my big toe just before Shanghai I can conclude that Asia does not like my poor toes!! Luckily Charlotte helped me limp to 7/11 where I could stock up on paracetamol, and Why Not Bar’s cocktails helped to ease the pain!

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Whilst we were in the bay we decided to take a trip to Lanta Old Town. After chatting to the travel agent we’d made friends with he got his mates air conditioned car to drive us there and back and then up to the port where we were staying the night before the ferry in the morning. The Old Town was really nice to wander around for an hour or so and the port was actually a great place to spend another day. We managed to get a really nice kebab from a street food vendor and were very sad to leave Koh Lanta.

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The next day me Charlotte and a German friend we met ventured to Phuket. It took an annoyingly long amount of time to get to the beach but it was a nice change of pace from the chill of the island. That night we managed to find a cool bar with a live band and buckets of cocktails. It sounded like a great combo until the hangover hit and I spent the next day waiting to die whilst the German and Charlotte fed and hydrated me!! Thanks for the toastie by the way!

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We said goodbye to the German at the airport and headed back to Bangkok for our final night before becoming lone Rangers. We tried and failed to get pedicures, had food and watched a movie in the hostel with Sam after we bumped into him. And then as we slept in different rooms it was time to begin the next chapter of my adventure.

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I’ve got plenty of Time for Lime!

Trust me the title is very funny! Our first few days on a Thai island were spent in the lovely Time for Lime bungalows on Klong Dao beach. The bungalows were right next to the beach and it took less than a minute to be walking along the sand. Time for lime had rescue card all over the place which were very friendly, maybe too friendly for me at breakfast time! The staff were all lovely and it was a great place to spend a few days.


One of the things Time for Lime is famous for is its cooking courses. Since we had quickly fallen in love with Thai food we eagerly signed up for one. Our chef was Noi and fabulous! The cooking course took up an entire evening, beginning with lots of information about the various ingredients common in Thai cooking. I learnt that the freshness of the ingredients is key to having good food, and that you should never add lime juice when the food is on the heat. Helpfully we were given a handout with recipes and key information on it (not sure where it is right now but it is somewhere)!



After the snack it was time to start cooking! Unsurprisingly perhaps one of the first things I did was drop the huge knife on the floor, with incredible reflexes I managed to jump out of the way before any toes left my feet! Thai cooking involves a lot of preparation but once that is done it is relatively quick to make the meals. We made our own curry paste and had to use the pestle and mortar ‘like good wives’. The story goes that Thai men would go up to their prospective brides house and listen for the sound of them cooking. If they were using the pestle and mortar correctly he would hear and be happy with his choice. Again, unsuprisingly I am not a good wife!!


  

After cooking we finally ate!! Since we all cooked our own meals, I was able to make it as spicy (or not) as I wanted! And I must say, though I couldn’t get the rice to look all pretty, I made some damn tasty food!


  

At the end of the evening we got to keep our aprons and me and Charlotte managed a photo with Noi who emailed me some tips about Chiang Mai.

All in all Time for Lime was a great place to relax with cats, hammocks and cocktails!

Bangkok – Phuket – Koh Lanta 

After been bitten to death in Bangkok the next day we flew to Phuket to continue our adventures. Getting a taxi to use the meter to the airport was unexpectedly stressful, but eventually our bags and us were on our way! After the flight we got a bus to near our hostel. Not a regular journey but a typical Asian journey, more people than seats, no clear instruction on when we actually had to get off and no approximate journey time. So after an unspecified amount of time we were at the last sto and presumed it was time to depart!

Following the instructions from our hostel we found it pretty easily. Because we got there quite late and were leaving early in the morning for the ferry we’d decided to stay at a hostel near the pier. As a result there wasn’t much around, but after wandering the streets we found a local place that sold the absolute best pad Thai in the world. It was also the only place we went that didn’t speak English much!

Up early for the ferry we got caught up in mayhem at the pier, and worried that we were going to miss the ferry we paid quite a lot more than the way back. Naturally at this point my backpack broke and gave me a nice bruise on my arm to add to the bug bites on my forehead! The ferry itself was fine, they put Mr Bean on for people to watch and after changing ferries at Koh Phi Phi we finally got to our island around midday.


  The rest of the day was spent settling into our Time for Lime bungalow, swimming, sunbathing and relaxing. It was the start of a great week!

The first Thai adventure!

This is the beginning of an epic set of blog posts about my incredible Spring Festival trip to Thailand. The week before I left I was super busy packing and marking exams so I’m behind on my planned posts for what life is like in the Shiz but Thailand is a much more exciting thing to write about!

And so begins my 20 hour journey from Shijiazhuang to Bangkok via Beijing and Ningbo (which I’m still not entirely sure where it is other than somewhere in China). The actual flight time was less than 7 hours, but being a last minute cheapskate I had many hours waiting in airports and getting sleeper trains to Beijing. Thankfully I had an e reader full of books, iPod full of music and plenty of people watching opportunities to entertain me, and once I got to Bangkok and finally found the (amazing) hostel, I was greeted by Elijah and Charlotte and a very nice shower!!


After a quick feast of Mexican food and a lovely long sleep, we set out in the morning to explore the Grand Palace, a top sight in Bangkok and where the King chills. Getting there via sky train and ferry, it was soon midday and roasting hot compared to the cold snap I’d experienced in China (a result of which being that I carted my coat all over Thailand). Thailand is a very Buddhist country, and there are dress codes in place when visiting temples and other important sites. With this in mind I wore a high necked dress that went down to my toes and I brought a scarf to cover my shoulders if it was needed. The Grand Palace helpfully has staff stopping you at the entrance and directing you to a place where you can rent clothing to cover up inappropriate areas. After waiting forever for Elijah to rent long trousers, me and Charlotte got stopped at the actual entrance to the palace because if you lifted up the scarf you could see my shoulders. As a result, Charlotte and I rented fabulous shirts to look presentable!

 Exploring the palace gave me the chance to experiment with my selfie stick for the first time which was fun. Hanging out in the sun meant my forehead became a lovely shade of red, but on the whole it was a great place to spend a few hours, there’s plenty to see and do and it was a great introduction to Thai culture.

            
After a much needed ice cream and pad thai, we wandered down to Khao San road and explored the market stalls around there, sticking up on the essentials for our upcoming trip to Koh Lanta. Swim shorts, flip flops and baggy trousers!

That evening me and Charlotte had a girls night involving good food and massages. Turns out im not a huge fan of massages, especially those focused on the back! It was a lot of fun though!

The next day, after a bit of discussion we decided to venture to one of the floating markets. Most are quite a trek away so we went to the nearest one, and with Charlotte’s insane researching skills we headed for a local bus recommended by a random blog. After waiting for roughly an hour and seeing buses go in the opposite direction we started to suspect that something was amiss. Then a helpful man interceded and informed us that the buses did a loop around the building and we needed to cross the road! Now at the right bus stop, it wasn’t long until we were heading off!!


Taling Chan floating market isn’t the biggest, but it has some amazing food! I tried scallops and pork neck for the first time – I’m a huge fan. It was here that I learnt that Thai salad is very different to Western salads, and Thai salad is very spicy! I didn’t make that mistake again! It was really nice to sit on floating platforms eating food that was fresh as could be and cooked by people right next to us or on little boats. Since it took so long for us to figure out the bus we seemed to have missed the main rush of people, and while it was still busy, it wasn’t uncomfortabley rammed.


  
For our last night in Bangkok we decided to have a few drinks and ended up eating pad Thai on the street and people watching. While it was fun at the time, what was not fun was the amount of bug bites I got, which made my legs look hideous on Koh Lanta!

 

 Very strange cosmopolitan!
The next day we travelled to Phuket to continue our adventure and all felt rather fragile at the airport!