Slow boat cruising – Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang

The end of our month long adventure through Thailand was bittersweet. Bitter because we’d had such a good time we didn’t want to leave, sweet because we were pretty stoked to be heading to the second country of our trip, Laos. We knew before we left home that we definitely wanted to do the two day slow boat into Laos, so we’d planned to round out our Thailand stay in Chiang Rai in the country’s north, making it easy to get to the Thai – Laos border crossing in Houy-Xai, and from here catch the slow boat south to Luang Prabang.

Slow boats at the ready

Slow boats at the ready

Before we left we read loads of blog posts and reviews about the slow boat experience. Some offered dire warnings, many offered conflicting information and the degree between the good and truly awful were vast. We were prepared for the worst but hoping for the best. Honestly though, we couldn’t have had a more chilled trip down the Mekong. The whole process was easy and the experience of cruising the Mekong for two days was so unforgettable I’m going to go ahead and call it a must do.

definitely must see views

definitely must see views

First thing first. You can pay someone to arrange your entire slow boat experience for you. We saw tour operatorators offering slow boat packages out of Chiang Mai, Pai and Chiang Rai. If you want to let someone else do the work you can, it’ll be more expensive but if you’re the kind of person who prefers to have things organised and you’re not too worried about the $, this option will allow you to do nothing much except show up. We decided to go it alone. Our philosophy is that half the fun of travelling is the journey, plus we’re on the road for a while so saving those $ where ever we can helps extend our travels.

The first leg of our trip was to actually get from Chiang Rai to the border town of Chiang Kong/Huay-Xai. After all the horror stories online we decided to do the border crossing the day before catching the slow boat allowing us plenty of time to figure things out and since we’re never overly organised, account for any stuff ups along the way. #eventplannergoesrogueplansnothing

We stayed at a guesthouse run by possibly the most nicest and most helpful guy in Thailand who advised us to take one of the cheaper local buses. The local buses leave every hour and cost just 65BHT, you can pay on the bus and don’t need to book in advance. We took his word for it, packed our backpacks and walked to the old bus station. We arrived at the bus station and saw a bus with a sign to Chiang Khong, paid our 65BHT and we were on our way, easy as that. You do need to set your expectations up front, it’s far from a luxury ride. It’s a dusty old bus with no aircon so the windows and doors are thrown wide open the entire trip. The fresh air and breeze cool you while you get lost in the rolling mountains and small villages along the way. They stop along the way to drop off and pick up locals and might even stop to let someone run into the bushes for a pee #BYOtoiletpaper. The whole trip took 2 hours and made for a colourful, pleasant and authentic experience. If your opting for total comfort though and want to pay around 240BHT you can book an air-conditioned bus.

a rickety old bus, that's the door thrown wide open for our entire 2 hour journey coz #safety

a rickety old bus, that’s the door thrown wide open for our entire 2 hour journey coz #safety

Tip – The bus is scheduled to go to Chiang Kong but you will want to go to the Thai Immigration which is a few kilometres away. The bus operators are well aware of this and will offer you to pay an extra 35BHT to be dropped off at Immigration so the total trip will cost 100BHT.

Going through immigration at a land crossing is generally less painful and more relaxed than at airports around South east Asia. Exiting Thai immigration took about five minutes. It was a pretty slow day at the border, so much so that the guy at the customs booth was having a little nap! After we made a few discrete noises he woke with a big grin, we all had a chuckle, then he took our passport for the exit stamp and just like that we were through Thai Immigration.

Tip- When you get to Laos Immigration you will need to pay the visa in USD, you can pay in Thai Baht but they will charge you more. The Thai Immigration Officer said he was giving us a deal and we exchanged 2400BHT for 60USD which he pulled out of his top pocket. We knew we weren’t getting a good deal but didn’t have any USD and I guess he needs to earn his weekend overtime somehow.

Once through Thai Immigration you’ll need to get a ticket for the shuttle bus to take you across the border to the Laos immigration, the shuttle bus is 25BHT pp and you can also exchange Baht for Kip. Being unorganised we didn’t have any kip so once again took a ‘good’ deal to exchange our left over Baht to Kip. We waited for about 10 mins and then boarded the bus for the 2 min ride over the bridge to Laos Immigration.

a bridge between two nations literally. That's Laos to the right and Thailand on your left

a bridge between two nations literally. That’s Laos to the right and Thailand on your left

We hadn’t organised a visa previously so we went straight to the Visa on arrival office where you simply fill in two forms and hand them over with your passport. After a 10 minute wait we were called over to collect our passports and pay the 30USD visa fee. The fees seemed slightly different for each country but it’s 30USD for Aussies. We also got hit up for a 10,000 Kip weekend overtime fee. We don’t know if this is really legit but after reading horror stories of travellers made to pay exorbitant ádmin’ fees we were cool with paying $1USD extra! The staff were very friendly and were joking around trying to pronounce English names. Ironically they’re ok with Estelle but struggle with Shane, he’s known as Shine in Laos. Passports in hand, we headed through customs for another stamp and that was that. We weren’t asked any questions, our bags weren’t checked and we didn’t walk through any metal detectors. It was very laid back, quick and painless.

doing all the paperwork

doing all the paperwork and looking very happy about it

We were now in Houy-Xai, Laos! Houy-Xai is the border town on the Laos side of the river, it’s about a 15 mins drive from the immigration office so you’ll need to jump in a Songthaw, there’s always one around though and they’ll charge you anywhere from 60 – 100k kip depending on how good your negotiating skills are.

We booked our ticket for the slow boat the day prior. We did this through our guesthouse for 240k Kip which included a tuk tuk to the pier. You can easily walk down to the pier and do it yourself and the price for the boat alone will be 220k Kip. The tickets had a seat number so the earlier you book the closer to the front you’ll be. Ideally you want to be closer to the front than the back. The back is noisy with the motor and busy with people walking back and forth for the toilets and bar. There are a few places at the pier where you board which offer a decent breakfast and lots of shops to buy drinks and snacks. Food and drinks are pricey and limited on the boat so definitely try to bring your own.

allllll the slow boats

allllll the slow boats

Tip- Once everyone is on board a guy will stand up and say something along the lines of ‘there’s so many people and not enough rooms in Pakbeng! If you don’t have a room I will give you a room for special price 120k kip’. Don’t fall for this. Pakbeng is full of guesthouses catering to the slow boat, they will not run out of rooms. When you arrive loads of locals will be waiting at the pier trying to sell rooms in their guesthouse again at inflated prices, but just walk up the hill a bit and you can take a look and find one much cheaper. We found a perfectly decent one for 60k Kip and about 7 other people who hadn’t booked anything also got rooms here, trust us, there are plenty!

All up we cruised on day one for about 5 ½ hours until we reached Pakbeng where we stopped for the night. We were up and on the boat again by 9am for day two and spent about 6 ½ hours floating our way into Luang Prabang. The scenery is equally impressive the entire way and Davis’ only complaint was that there were no fishing rods (I did not mind this at all).

Pakbeng village

Pakbeng village

Tip- On day two we arrived at the pier at 8:45am for a 9am departure. #rookiemistake. We were almost the last to arrive and consequently had to sit at the back of the boat. Your seat number does not carry over to the second day, it’s a free, for all we didn’t mind too much but be aware that it is first in best dressed so don’t sleep in and insist you need a coffee, instead arrive early if you want a good seat. #stellasnotamorningperson

passing villages

passing villages

fisherman

fisherman

Mekong scenes

Mekong scenes

The boat arrives at Luang Prabang at a pier a little out of town and you will have to pay 20k kip for a tuk-tuk which drops you in the centre of town, there’s no point bartering with these drivers, unless you want to walk you just pay the 20k kip, realistically it’s only about $3 AUD. Side note- our driver tried to drop us off god knows where but luckily we had a young couple with us who knew the area and argued with him until he took us somewhere a little more central, we found this was a pretty common occurrence in Laos, so be prepared to stand your ground and ensure the driver takes you to where you want to go.

Overall the slow boat was an amazing way to not only get to Luang Prabang but to see Laos. To see the way that people live on and depend on the river for their livelihood. From washing, bathing and cooking to fishing and transport, we saw that the Mekong really is the lifeline of Laos for so many. I’ll admit that I was a little worried about spending two whole days on a boat, but I loved the lazy trawl of cruising down the Mekong, reading a book, sipping a beer and just taking some time out to really appreciate what’s around you – because I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t do that enough.

Mekong sunsets

Mekong sunsets

Chiang Mai - we didn't love it

Chiang Mai – we didn’t love it

Not every travel experience is amazing.

I know that we are incredibly lucky to be able to travel like we are. Taking a year off from our real lives, stuffing a backpack with the essentials and going where ever the wind takes us is a privilege and a very humbling experience. We know that loads of people back home who read this blog and see our pictures on FB, wish they had the opportunity to do what we’re doing. Knowing all this makes you feel almost guilty when you have a bad day on the road. When you have a runny nose so you lay in bed all day watching Netflix, when you can’t be bothered to try and find yet another ‘great’ place to eat so you go back to the same stall at the markets you’ve been to the last 2 nights or when you visit a new place and you don’t love it.

We didn’t love Chiang Mai. I didn’t even like it very much. I know that will be an unpopular statement since everyone else seems to love it. The city gives a great first impression, after being immersed in the crazy that is Bangkok for a week, Chiang Mai’s clean streets and slower pace were a refreshing and welcome change.

On the surface it was great. An old city hidden behind a crumbling wall, an abundance of quality Thai and western eateries, amazing walking street markets, good internet, and a cooler climate than the south. Still it just wasn’t for us.

Thapae Gate into the old city

Thapae Gate into the old city

Our first day in a new city we always try to get the feel of the place by walking the streets and seeing what we can find. We did this in Chiang Mai and apart from a few temples, which granted were nice the only other note worthy thing we found was a nice park. Everything in Chiang Mai was nice, but nothing was amazing. It felt like a curry without the spice, bland and a little boring.

We kept trying to love it, and I’m not saying that everything in Chiang Mai is awful. There are a lot of things to see and do so we tried a few to see if we just missed that ingredient to discover the universal Chiang Mai lovefest we’d read so much about.

We went out to Doi Suthep which is a temple on the mountain 15km outside Chiang Mai. The Songthaw ride up there was exhilarating if a little terrifying and when we got to the temple it was nice. You walk up some 300 odd steps to the top of the temple and you are rewarded with an incredible view across Chiang Mai.

View from Doi Suthep

View from Doi Suthep

Night markets in Chiang Mai are awesome. The street food is tasty and cheap and the stuff on display is varied unlike other markets we’ve visited where every other stall is selling the same products. If you happen to be there over the weekend there is a Saturday walking street and a Sunday walking street. Sunday is where it’s at, with vibrant stalls, hundreds of vendors and loads of visitors both locals and tourists alike there’s something for everyone.

Chiang Mai is filled with cooking classes, by day 3 we were starting to feel like we’d go crazy from boredom so we decided we may as well book a cooking class, little did we know this would turn out to be one of the best things we did in Thailand. We got picked up by the staff at Basil Cooking school early enough to go to the markets where they explained all of the produce and ingredients we were buying to us, this was really useful as many of them were unfamiliar to our western palettes. We then went back to the school and spent to day with a fabulous teacher and learnt how to make about 7 different dishes all of which were amazing. We were pretty chuffed with our efforts and in our inflated opinions now fancy ourselves Thai cooking experts – Thai party at ours when we eventually make it back to oz!

checking the produce at the markets

checking the produce at the markets

There are a lot of expats in Chiang Mai, so there are a lot of western amenities and services, this is great for convenience, bad because you sort of feel like you’re in this weird hybrid world where you can get a bowl of noodle soup for breakfast or venture to the café next door for smashed avo and poached eggs on gluten free toast. There’s a very evident juxtaposition which is probably great for a lot of people, but to me it just made the city feel unauthentic. The yoga classes are great though!

Chiang Mai is home to some fantastic festivals, the biggest Loi Kratong and Yipeng lantern festivals are held in Chiang Mai and it is definitely worth a visit to the city just to see the moment thousands of lanterns fill the night sky.

Yipeng Lantern Festival

Yipeng Lantern Festival

There are some great things about Chiang Mai and I can understand the appeal. But I realised I need something with a little more edge, the whole time I was there a voice in my head kept screaming it’s Canberra, it’s Canberra! It’s nice, it’s pleasant, it’s easy, but you know what I mean – it’s nice for a weekend but bloody boring otherwise – sorry Canberra friends but I feel like I can say this after my 4 year sentence in our nation’s capital!

Wat Phra Doi Suthep

Wat Phra Doi Suthep

Besides a few temples everything in Chiang Mai was outside the city. There is a beautiful National Park, Doi Inthanon, but it requires a day trip and a 2 hour drive to get there. You can go trekking or visit hill tribe villages but since we were on our way to the mountains we decided to save this for there.

The other thing that was really evident in Chiang Mai? Creepy old white guys with very young Thai girls. Yes, you see this all over Thailand and so long as everyone is a consenting adult live and let live I say. But in Chiang Mai it was uncomfortable, it was everywhere, in every bar with not just old but really old white guys and not just young but really young Thai girls, maybe it’s just me but it made me sad and the feminist in me was really pissed off that these poor girls have to put up with this crap to make a living.

Truth is I’m still a little confused by Chiang Mai. Am I an expert in all things Chiang Mai- absolutely not, is it possible that I just didn’t see the Chiang Mai everyone raves about- sure maybe, but would I go back? Only if I was passing through on my way to Pai!

 

There’s a lot to love about Pai

Seven hundred and sixty two. That’s how many bends there are on the road to Pai. Those of you who’ve been in the car with me coming down Macquarie Pass will know how well I handled that. I may not have been enjoying the twists and turns as I moaned to Davis ‘I feel sick’ whilst turning an unnatural shade of green, but even I couldn’t ignore the stunning vistas passing us as we ascended through the mountains.

It takes 3 hours and costs 150 baht per person in a mini van from Chiang Mai to Pai, they must get a lot of queasy travellers though as just when you think you can’t take another bend they plan a strategic stop at the half way point – something everyone on our bus was very grateful for.

We arrived in Pai with intentions of doing the full Mae Hong Son loop but it quickly became apparent we wouldn’t be leaving Pai in a hurry. Originally we planned to spend just 2 days in Pai but somehow this turned into 6 and plans of trying to fit in the rest of the loop were quickly abandoned.

Pai itself is a chill little village with a hint of a hippie vibe. It has become a haven for backpackers in northern Thailand. Whilst it was once probably an exotic destination off the beaten track offering a unique insight into village life, the Pai of today has definitely been discovered.

This has both positives and negatives, on the negative side Pai is now geared toward tourism and vaguely reminded me of Bangkok’s Khao San Rd. It can get busy and there are often loads of people at the main attractions, and whilst there are plenty of places to eat, as with a anywhere that is geared towards tourists there are plenty of mediocre restaurants.

But for every negative there are ample positives! Yes, Pai is busy, but that just means there’s load of other travellers to meet and since most of the crowd are young backpackers we found that if you got out to the sites early you could still enjoy the feeling of being the only people there, there is amazing food just don’t eat on the main tourist strip and definitely try out the street food at the markets. It’s popularity meant that travel to and around Pai has become ridiculously cheap and easy, but the biggest positive? Pai has some of the most breathtaking scenery in Thailand.

We loved Pai! And no one we’ve chatted with has disliked it with almost everyone saying they ended up staying longer than planned. We probably would have stayed until our visa ran out if not for the call of the Yipeng lantern festival in Chiang Mai beckoning finally us back to the city.

Some of the things we loved most and recommend from our time in Pai-

Stay in a bungalow outside of town

Our first two nights in Pai were spent in town at a guesthouse which was a quick 2 min walk to the night market, brilliant location but otherwise nothing special. When we decided Pai was going to be home for a week we decided to splurge on a Bungalow in the mountains. Our big splurge set us back $35 AUD per night and for that we got a bungalow which overlooked rice fields and offered endless views of the mountains. We even had a pool and on top of the bungalow was a deck which was the perfect place for drinking beers and star gazing. If you’re going to Pai and you’re going to stay for a while- and you should! I definitely recommend renting a bungalow, far enough away to be completely serene and peaceful but close enough to still walk into the markets.

Tham Lod Cave

One of our definite highlights in Pai was Tham Lod Cave. We saw this as part of a tour that combined a couple of other sites and all in all ended up being cheaper than trying to get there on our own. The cave itself is insane! You are guided along the 1.6km caves by local ladies armed with just a lantern, they don’t speak much English so any information they give you about the cave is hilariously limited to pointing out stalactites and stalagmite formations that they’ve nicknamed like ‘UFO’ and ‘popcorn’. They deliver these tidbits with a little giggle making you feel like it’s comedy hour without the two-drink minimum. All up the cave tour takes about 40 minutes you walk through several areas and up loads of rickety, dark staircases which are loaded down with bat crap, I was disgusted for about 1 minute, but as I’d stupidly worn my thongs I quickly embraced those handrails, bat crap and all. Make sure you bring some hand sanitiser with you because I guarantee you’ll be gripping those hand rails too! Once you get to the end of the first cavern you’ll jump on a bamboo raft for a few mins to cross to the end of the cave, you’ll get out here and go up yet more stairs to another cavern before coming back down and beginning the walk back to the park entrance.

the entrance to the caves

the entrance to the caves

Pai Canyon

We stopped by Pai Canyon for sunset…but so did basically every other tourist in Northern Thailand, for a more serene experience try going for sunrise. Regardless of when you go, this one should definitely be on your list, the canyon is about 8km’s outside Pai and offers a lookout over Pai valley. Local’s like to claim it’s Pai’s very own Grand Canyon but that is a pretty big stretch. It does however offer stunning vistas and, if you’re not too freaked out by the impossibly thin and sheer red tinged ridges with 50m drops to the forest floor, there are some nice trail. It’s not for the faint hearted though and the viewing platform is as far as most people go and is easily reached by a set of concrete steps.

Sunset over Pai Canyon - this view makes braving the crowds worth it

Sunset over Pai Canyon – this view makes braving the crowds worth it

Hire a scooter and see what you can find

If you want to go anywhere in Pai the easiest way to get around is to rent a scooter. Whilst the road rules seem a little unobvious your biggest worry should be novice tourists drivers rather than local road rules, we saw many a tourist sporting tell tale white bandages. If you’re a semi decent driver and have minimal common sense though you should be fine and for around 150 baht a day you can rent a scooter. Some of our best times were just cruising around on the scooter and taking in the amazing scenery. Whether you’re going with or without a plan, any road will lead you to some spectacular views and the locals joke that ‘all roads lead to Pai’ so getting lost is hard.

Shane very proud after day 3 of not killing us on the scooter

Shane very proud after day 3 of not killing us on the scooter

The Land Split

The land split itself is kind of cool. Basically a farmer noticed that after an earthquake in 2008 a 2 meter wide and 11 metre deep crack had appeared in the middle of his farm. With his livelihood at stake the farmer decided to turn his farm into a tourist attraction! The owners allow you to visit the land split and taste their organically grown produce all for a donation. The people here are so lovely and continually try to give you more and more food- the rosella juice is amazing!

making rosella jam @ the landsplit

making rosella jam @ the landsplit

The Bamboo Bridge

This one doesn’t seem to be popular in the ‘must see’ lists or included in many tours but we stumbled across a picture and decided to try and find it. A 30 minute scooter ride over some pretty rough and steep roads delivered us to the Pai Bamboo Bridge or Kho Ku Su. There is no entrance fee but a donation box is placed at the entrance and you can also feed the fish for a donation. The walk itself is about 800m and winds across the rice fields that are nestled against the backdrop of the mountains. There are strategically placed huts along the way where you can stop and take in the incredible scenery or even buy a bag of food to feed the fish, proceeds of which are donated to locals in need. We got there early so we had the whole walk to ourselves but for the farmers working in the fields. The bridge ends at the entrance of a temple, which was closed when we were there. I’ve since read that the main purpose of the bridge is to be a time saver for the monks coming from the temple into town.

the bamboo bridge stretches over rice fields

the bamboo bridge stretches over rice fields

Hot Springs

Go directly to the hot springs. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 just go to the hot springs. There are two hot springs in Pai, the Tha Pai Hot Springs while closer are quite hot with stories that you can boil an egg in the 80 degree water! If you venture a little further though you’ll find Sai Ngam hot springs this is where you want to be. Crystal clear water, a lovely sandy creek bed and warm water- soooo relaxing!

Waterfalls

There are a few waterfalls that are easy to get to. Pai Mo Paeng which seems to be a favourite of backpackers keen for a few beers at the top while they find the courage to slide down the rocks into the pool below. Pam Bok, in my opinon is the nicer (and quieter) of the two, this one is secluded and requires an easy walk between high cliffs to reach it.

chasing waterfalls @ Pam Bok

chasing waterfalls

Coffee with a view

Everyone raves about Coffee in Love and while it does have good coffee and great views, it is also the stop for every tour bus that comes through Pai. Not wishing to battle the crowds, we decided to head up the road a little and found The Container. Equally impressive views, great coffee and even better a verandah full of swing chairs! We got caught here during a storm and ended up staying for a few hours, the staff were super chill and even has some decent tunes playing, all in all I can think of worse places to be stuck.

swinging @ Container cafe

swinging @ Container cafe

 

Ancient Ruins of Thailand – Ayutthaya or Sukhothai or both?

Since we live on the beach back home we’d decided that instead of heading south to the resorts Thailand is famous for we’d go a different route and from Bangkok head North to Chiang Mai. It’s a fair way between these two cities and since we’re trying to work with a budget, we decided to go overland and break the trip up with a few stops along the way. Enter Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and some pretty cool ancient ruins.

We started with Ayutthaya, just 1.5 hours north of Bangkok and on the ‘must see’ lists in all the guide books it seemed like a safe bet. Again keen on saving those $ we caught the 3rd class train, a local train from Bangkok and an experience in and of itself – so much so that we wrote a separate blog about it here!

Ayutthaya is the former capital of the Kingdom of Siam which reigned from 1350 until 1767 when it was invaded by the Burmese. These days Ayutthaya is a sprawling, flat town of some 800,000 people and while it’s busy it’s not too chaotic making it pretty easy to get around.

The first thing to know about Ayutthaya is that the ruins are not centrally located. Instead there are numerous sites dotted around the city offering a glimpse of a time long gone that catch you by surprise. This is not really apparent until you get there, we spent ages trying to research where exactly the ruins were so that we could figure out the best part of town to base ourselves in. Turns out it doesn’t really matter. The ruins are pretty spaced out so staying in either the old and new towns has it’s perks.

Everyone told us the best way to see Ayutthaya is to hire a bike. So with that in mind, we hired bikes from our guest house for a whopping 50 baht a day and armed with our map set out on the hunt for some ruins. Ayutthaya is an easy riding city, it’s pretty flat all around the city and even though the traffic in Thailand still doesn’t make much sense to me after 3 weeks here, the locals in Ayutthaya are very used to tourists on bikes so it’s pretty safe, it did take us a little while to get up the courage to cross through a roundabout though – but as they say once you’ve done it once it’s just like riding a bike!

Wat Maha That

Wat Maha That

We managed to cover of the main ruins in one day, if you wanted to see every single one by bike you’d probably need two days. One word of warning- it’s crazy hot! So sunscreen, loads of water and occasionally taking refuge in an air-conditioned coffee shop are definitely recommended!

We hit the main ruins stopping at each one for about 40 mins to an hour. We started with Wat Maha That home to one of the most photographed pieces of the park, the famous Buddha head in the tree trunk

Wat Maha That

Wat Maha That

Wat Ratchaburan founded in 1424 by King Borommarachathirat II who order the site built on the cremation site of his two brothers.

Wat Ratchaburana

Wat Ratchaburana

Wat Phra Si Sanphet, a temple used exclusively for royal ceremonies of the time.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Lokkaya Sutharam impressive due to it’s 42m reclining Buddah

Wat Lokkaya Sutharam

Wat Lokkaya Sutharam

By this stage of the day I’d kind of had enough. Yes the ruins were awesome and I had enjoyed seeing them but it was hot, I was sweaty, my butt was sore from a bike with absolutely no shocks and I’d just crossed a bridge on which I was certain I was going to die…but then we saw Wat Chaiwatthanaram

As soon as I had a glimpse of Wat Chaiwatthanaram I forgot all of that and just stared in open mouthed wonder at one of the most breathtakingly beautiful sites I never even knew I had to see. It’s simply magic, to stand in a place, a holy place non-the less, and gaze in wonder at a monastery that was built some 360 odd years ago. If this place isn’t on your bucket list already do yourself a favour and go and add it. Spectacular isn’t a big enough word to cover what its like to see this place in person.

Wat Chaiwatthanaram

Stunning Wat Chaiwatthanaram

After a massive day biking around the ruins we were pretty keen to head further north where the locals kept telling us it wasn’t as hot (lies!), so we jumped on a bus to see more ruins in the town of Sukhothai.

Biking around Sukhothai Historical Park

Biking around Sukhothai Historical Park

Pretty much everyone who comes to Sukhothai comes for the Historical Park. We’d seen the pictures and after our awesome time in Ayutthaya we were pretty excited to see the ruins. The ruins of Sukhothai date back to the 13th and 14th centuries and the historical park covers some 193 ruins over 70sq km’s-n sounds awesome right? Buuut, if I’m honest, after Ayutthaya I was a little underwhelmed by the ruins at Sukhothai. The historical park itself is lovely, the crowds are certainly smaller, the small town vibe and the people are just gorgeous but the ruins in terms of scale and beauty- sorry Sukhothai but Ayutthaya wins this one hands down.

sukhothai4

Sukhothai ruins

sukhothai3

Sukhothai Ruis

If you’ve got time and you want to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai with a few stops in between, yes definitely stop at both Ayutthaya and Sukhothai but if you’re on a schedule and wondering which ruins to try and fit in my vote would be for Ayutthaya for a truly unforgettable experience.

Bangkok

Fresh from a week seeing the best of Bangkok, here are our top must sees if you’re planning a visit-

What Pho

What Pho

Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun

These are the three main temples at the top of every Bangkok vistors must see list. You can see them all comfortably in one day as they are all conveniently within walking distance of each other. The Grand Palace and Wat Pho are right next to each other but you’ll need to catch the boat across the Chao Prao River to visit Wat Arun. The boat leaves from Pier 8 and costs 7BHT one way. The boat trip only takes about 1-2 mins and arrives right out the front of Wat Arun.

The Grand Palace is the largest of the three and the most expensive to visit at 500 BHT per person, it’s big though so you will spend considerable time here viewing the King’s residence. Unfortunately we were unable to visit the Grand Palace with the King recently passing away, thousands of Thai residents were queuing up everyday to pay their respects with only ten thousand visitors permitted each day. We plan to fly out of Bangkok in a few months time so hope to be able to visit the Grand Palace then.

We did manage to fit in Wat Pho and Wat Arun though which were surprisingly quiet in

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

comparison. The stand out for us was definitely Wat Pho. One of the oldest and largest temple complexs in Bangkok, it boasts the 46m reclining Buddah and the impressive 42m high Chedis which were built to honour the Chakri Kings. Get there early to avoid the crowds and cover up, no short shorts or bare shoulders allowed.

Wat Arun also known as The Temple of the Dawn whilst spectactular and worth a visit was unfortunately under renovation and ¾ covered in scaffolding when we visited. Regardless it is still an impressive site and whilst you can’t get up to the top you can still climb up to the first tier. Wat Arun is best viewed at sunset for those iconic Bangkok pictures.

Depending on where you are staying to get to the temples you can catch a tuk tuk, taxi, boat or walk. We stayed near Khoa San Rd and walked to the temples, which was was only about a 20 min walk.

Chao Prao River

The Chao Prao River is the main artery for transport and travel by boat through Bangkok. The river itself is not pretty but it is definitely worth experiencing a ride up and down the river to see some sights. There are many stops along the river and you can either spend 40BHT per stop or 150BHT for unlimited stops. If you only want to experience a ride along the river then you could get a ticket to the end of the river and hop off and back on to come back. We chose to go with unlimited stops and make a day of it by visiting may sights along the river.

Khao San Rd

Khao San Rd is touted as the backpackers mecca of Bangkok and it is! Everything a traveller could want can be found along Khao San Rd, cheap massages, fish spas, bars, street food and street vendors selling everything from custom made suits to friendship bracelets with inappropriate slogans on them. Khao San is noisy though so if you want to stay in the area I recommend staying on Soi Rambutri which is one street over, still close and lively but much quieter if you’re not 18 and clubbing every night.

Hire a Tuk Tuk driver to see the sites

Tuk Tuks are a Bangkok institution. Make sure you jump in a yellow tuk tuk as the reds ones have a reputation for taking tourists to off the track shops who give them kick backs for delivering naïve tourists! The best thing about tuk tuks is that they are cheap but you need to barter and be prepared to walk away if you think they’re ripping you off. We offered a tuk tuk driver 40BHT to spend a couple of hours driving us around to see the Lucky Buddha, Marble Temple, Golden Mountain and Giant Buddha.

tuk-tuks-are-fun

tuk tuk fun- until they ditch you!

We started at the Lucky Buddha, named such as you go there to pray for good luck, whilst a nice temple after seeing so many other temples this one was nothing special. From here we went to Wat Intharawihan, home to the Giant Buddha which is the tallest buddha in Bangkok standing at 32 m high. Whilst the height of this one is pretty cool, it’s not the nicest buddha statue, he looks a bit flat.

From there we went onto Wat Benchamabophit also known as the Marble Temple. This one is definitely a standout and worth a visit, the grounds and the temple itself were stunning. Once you’re done with the temple see if you can spot the epic catfish in the canals!

The beautiful Marble Temple

The beautiful Marble Temple

After we had finished at the Marble Temple we walked outside to find that our tuk tuk driver had ditched is. Luckily we had not paid any money upfront. We could have easily flagged down another driver but instead we walked to the Golden Mountain and Giant Swing then back to our guesthouse. Golden Mountain is a temple which takes some climbing up 400 stairs but is worth the views when you reach the top. The Giant Swing is nothing spectacular but since it was on our way back we walked past for a quick photo opportunity.

Lumphini Park

Since Bangkok is such a hot and humid place walking around takes it out of you, it’s also not the nicest smelling city which makes Lumphini Park the perfect place to go for some fresh air and tranquillity. We visited this park twice in our stay and I am currently writing this post while Estelle takes some time out in the shade to read a book. The park has a running and bike track and a public gym if you are looking to fit in a quick fitness session. The park also has a few lakes and you can hire a Swan Boat for a paddle which cost 40BHT for 30 mins. Keep an eye out for the enormous monitor lizards. They look threatening but will not harm you although Estelle thought every one of them wanted to eat her.

Lumphini Park

Lumphini Park

Chinatown

We decided to break up our week by staying half the time in Chinatown. I felt like Chinatown Bangkok was not quite as exciting or vibrant as Chinatown’s in other Asian cities I’ve seen, in saying that though it’s still worth a visit. It’s got your typical street food vendors selling a mix of thai and Chinese cuisines and the crazy Sompreng Market that you could easily get lost in for hours. From Chinatown it’s not too far into downtown Bangkok where you can visit some of the biggest and most epic shopping centres I’ve ever seen as well as a number of museums. One

chinatown

Chinatown

particular favourite was the Jim Thompson House, Jim Thompson was an American who came to live in Thailand and was instrumental in revitalising world demand for Thai silk, he built a house in the traditional Thai style and filled it with thai artifacts and artworks, his story is made all the more fascinating by the fact that he disappeared in the Malaysian jungle whilst on holidays thus leaving his house and collection to the Thai government who have turned it into a museum. It’s pretty cool to see what a traditional Thai house looks like and some of the artefacts on display are hundreds of years old, worth a visit if you have time.

Street Food

Eat all the street food! Bangkok is filled with an abundance of street food vendors selling just about everything from traditional tom yam soups to fried scorpions and crickets for the more adventurous (we’re not that adventurous!) Not only is the street food some of the best Thai food I’ve ever tasted it’s also ridiculously cheap, we were able to get a full meal for around 50 BHT each making dinner time very affordable. Don’t be put off by the dodgy looking décor and plastic chairs we learnt pretty quickly that the ‘nicer’ looking places definitely did not equal the tastiest food!

*side note Estelle has a pretty severe peanut allergy she needs to carry an epipen around for, we worried this would be a problem throughout Asia but she got staff at our first guest house to write it on a piece of paper in Thai and has just shown it to the staff everywhere we’ve eaten, I get the feeling allergies are becoming more well known in Asia as a lot of places we have eaten at have tried to reiterate that they really do understand the problem and we’ve had no issues so far with one street vendor even making us Pad Thai no peanuts- legend!

Got a Bangkok favourite we haven’t covered? Let us know in the comments-