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

Ha Long Bay is nice… but Cat Ba Island is awesome

If I had to sum up our time on Cat Ba Island in one word, I’d have to go with ‘magic’.

simply magic...

simply magic…

Every visitor to Vietnam dreams of seeing those famous karst limestone islets rising up from a perfect blue green ocean. The impressive scenery and unrivalled natural beauty mean Ha Long Bay is a must on every travellers wish list.

Unfortunately, this does mean that a trip to this part of the world can quickly become a very crowded and ‘touristy’ affair. Boats jostling for the best sites, tour groups covering the same routes and stopping at the same sites each day. Despite the draw backs, we decided, like so many before us, that our trip just wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t get there.

Visitors to the area are generally sold a 2 day 1 night cruise package from Hanoi either by travel agents back home or on the ground in Hanoi. Initial research indicated this was the way to go since Ha Long town itself wasn’t a terribly interesting location. We started looking up our options but the more we researched, the less excited we got. Bad reviews talked of the obvious pollution, the relentlessly crowded waters and tourists scrambling for the perfect selfie as they kayak and visit caves with a hundred of their newest mates. Nothing about it sounded good, but luckily, just as we were about to pull the pin on the whole idea we stumbled across a little-known place called Cat Ba Island and suddenly, we had a plan.

secluded beaches anyone?

secluded beaches anyone?

When you think of Ha Long bay, you visualise that one picture of the ‘bay’ surrounded by cliffs, but what many people don’t realise is that Ha Long Bay is massive! It stretches across some 1553 sq kms and has up to 2000 islets. Right next to Ha Long bay sits an unassuming neighbour, Lan Ha Bay. Lan Ha offers equally, if not more beautiful scenery and is home to another 300 islets many with the added bonus of alluring and secluded white sand beaches. But best of all? Due to the distance from Ha Long, not many tourist boats venture into Lan Ha meaning you can cast your eyes across these incredible waters and see nothing but the views- bliss!

La Ha Bay, stunning and serene

La Ha Bay, stunning and serene

Getting to Cat Ba was easy. We travelled from Hanoi on a bus-boat-bus combo. Many reviews and blogs we read warned against road travel to the island and recommended the train, but honestly once you’ve been in Asia for a while you realise the roads aren’t that scary, and whilst it is still mildly unnerving when cars overtake around a corner with naught but a honking horn to warn oncoming traffic, the system works and I haven’t felt unsafe at any point on a bus trip in Vietnam.

We went with the Good Morning Cat Ba agency. Total cost was $US 18pp and included all transfers and pick up from your hotel in Hanoi’s old quarter, once the bus has picked everyone up in Hanoi the entire trip only takes about 3 hours. It is possible to do the trip on your own without the help of an agency which may end up slightly cheaper, but at this point in our trip we kind of just wanted to pay the bit extra for someone else to sort it out.

Cat Ba town

Cat Ba town

We left at around 9am and arrived in Cat Ba at about 12pm and once we’d checked into our home for the next few days went for a walk to get our bearings. We wandered about checking out the small town and found two of the three beaches on the island, Cat Co 1 and Cat Co 2, an easy 9 and 12 min walk respectively from town. Cat Co 2 has a resort located right on the beach with some pretty awesome looking bungalows, we wondered out loud on the cost and whether we could try staying a few nights but alas, our backpacking budget didn’t stretch that far #backpackingfeels. But the beach is public and the views are pretty. Cat Co 1 on the other hand is where it’s at. The beach is nestled in a dramatic cove with views of a few small limestone islands. But better yet, the beach is lined with umbrellas and chilled tunes serenade you as a sneaky bar serves up cold beers and cocktails with happy hour from 3-5pm every arvo.

Cat Co 1 and a sneaky bar

Cat Co 1 and a sneaky bar

Still, our main purpose in coming to Cat Ba was to see the bay! We knew that we wanted to do a boat tour and since it was December and the forecast for the next day was sunny we decide to try and organise one straight up. We found the Tourist information centre and figuring this was a good place to start went in for a look. Turns out this was the best move, we were able to book onto a group boat tour the next day for just $US 17 pp, it ticked off pretty much everything we wanted to see and included lunch (we get pretty excited when the meals are included these days – #budgetlife)!

Our boat tour started at 8am when we were picked up by bus and taken to Cat Ba ferry to board our boat for the day. We set off and were immediately blown away by the sheer number, size and immeasurable beauty of the karst limestone islands and formations in front of us. Not 10 minutes into the journey we were going past a quaint and picturesque fishing village of some 300 families, set against the dramatic backdrop of the mountains.

fishing village

fishing village

We cruised through the bay for around 30 mins until we reached Monkey Island. As the name suggests, there are monkey’s there. I’m not terribly fond of monkeys after a somewhat unfortunate and terrifying incident at a temple in Malaysia, but Davis was pretty excited to see them up close for the first time- that is until they started chasing & hissing at some kids – note to all – Monkey’s are not your friend!

Monkey's look cute but they do not want to be your friend!

Monkey’s look cute but they do not want to be your friend!

It’s unclear if the island is called monkey island because it is home to monkeys or if some enterprising person just took a few monkeys over there, built a resort and called it Monkey Island. Either way it’s a nice island, with a lovely beach and beautiful views across the bay. There is a semi challenging walk you can take up to the top of the mountain which offers a beautiful vista across the beach and the bay.

View from the top of Monkey Island

View from the top of Monkey Island

After getting back on the boat we got to cruise through Lan Ha bay for around 1.5 hours. Lan Ha bay is hands down one of the most awe inspiring, breathtaking places I’ve ever seen. This place really does show nature at her best. With stunning view after stunning view, every corner offered a new treat for the eyes and best of all we had the whole place to ourselves sharing the water with only the occasional fisherman.

those views tho!

those views tho!

We then arrived into Ha Long bay and had an hour and a half for some kayaking. This was awesome. We paddled around secluded inlets, through a cave and found ourselves the only ones around – probably a good thing as we had to have a discussion about who was the captain of the kayak (me) and who should follow the captain (Shane), we may have disagreed on the finer points here ;p

Captain is obvs the person in the front right?!

Captain is obvs the person in the front right?!

Regardless of how you visit Ha Long, some form of kayaking will likely be included and we can’t stress enough that you should do it! The islands are impressive from the boat but up close and personal is another story and really puts them into perspective, making you appreciate them that much more. Kayaking done it was time for lunch (yay!) and then onto a spot in Lan Ha Bay for swimming and snorkelling. It was December and while the blue green waters looked inviting, it was cold and only a few brave souls dared to give it a go before quickly getting out shivering. Seeing this, we decided not to swim and just chilled on the boat, taking in the views with a beer. All too soon it was time to head back to Cat Ba, we sailed back through gorgeous Lan Ha Bay passing more secluded beaches, remote resorts and took a slower ride through the fishing village for a closer look at this unique way of life.

one more of the fishing village

one more of the fishing village

All in all there are a number of boat tours you can do and they are very easily organised and booked when you arrive. There were a number we found just by walking around town that we hadn’t found at all during hours of trawling the internet, so if you’re going, just book it when you get there. Many we looked at online were two and even three and four times the price we paid but the one we booked was great, with loads of time just cruising around staring at the landscapes in wonder broken up with activities – all in all perfect!

Day three on Cat Ba and we were amazed that the sun was still shining! We took this as a sign that we were meant to explore the rest of the island and rented a moto to check it out. Cat Ba town itself is not terribly exciting though it does have a few hidden gems if you look for them. We took in some incredibly views across the bay from the top of Cannon Fort and learnt a little about the history of war in Vietnam along the way. We visited the Hospital Cave which was used by Vietnamese soldiers during the war as, you guessed it, a hospital. I wouldn’t call this a must see as a cave, but it’s definitely interesting if you’re a bit of a history or war buff and I was glad we stopped for a look. You’ll be charged an entrance fee of 50 000 dong and a guide will walk you through the rooms within the cave explaining what the various areas were used for during war time.

This incredible view awaits you at the top of Cannon Fort

This incredible view awaits you at the top of Cannon Fort

Cat Ba Island is small so it takes no time at all to get from one side to the other. We’d heard there was a nice view from the north of the island so we decided to go check it out. The ride was only about 20km total but took us a while as we kept stopping to take pictures of the incredible views around us. From mangroves, locals digging for mud crabs, limestone mountains, valleys and villages there was so just so much to see!

so many mountains

mot views from the island

But the best view was waiting for us at the end. We came to the end of the road, quite literally, as you ride onto a pier and are rewarded with this view across the bay – just magic.

and then there was this, the end of the pier

and then there was this, the end of the pier

Of course, now we knew about happy hour down at Cat Co 1 we had to made sure we were back in time to see out the day sipping Bia Hanoi under an umbrella whilst sending our mates snapchats of our current predicament – sometimes you just have to right!? #sorrynotsorry. The perfect end to a perfect visit.

a perfect view to round out a perfect stay

a perfect view to round out a perfect stay

If you have time and want a less touristy experience, go Cat Ba over Ha Long. It’s cheaper, you’ll have the flexibility to design your own itinerary and best of all you’ll get to see Lan Ha Bay, which in my opinion is more impressive, more beautiful and best of all quieter than Ha Long anyway.

luang prabang magic

Luang Prabang makes a great first impression. It has all the ingredients to satisfy visitors– a bustling but not crazy street scene, a lively night market, a variety of restaurants, those magical Mekong sunsets and a romantic fusion of east meets west architecture. The old town is UNESCO heritage listed boasting beautiful street scapes combining a strong French colonial influence mixed with traditional Lanna temples whose secrets are guarded by ornately carved dragons. Add in the mystical sound of banging drums calling the monks to prayer and you have one of Asia most charming towns.

Luang Prabang has a large and lively night market every evening

Luang Prabang has a large and lively night market every evening

After two days on the slow boat from Chiang Rai we finally arrived in Luang Prabang. The slow boat dropped us about 15km out of town and from there you have basically no choice but to take a tuk tuk into town. The only thing I remember about that ride into town was that school was out for the day and it seemed every child in Laos were riding their bicycles, sometimes 3 on one bike, home. These kids must do this every day but we were astonished, this was no quite country lane, this was a very busy, very crazy main road and these kids were sharing the road with trucks, motorbikes and cars – we experienced one of those ‘oh my god, kids would never be allowed to do this in back home’ moments, but that’s Asia for you and no one bats an eye. We arrived in town, thankfully without witnessing any accidents, said our goodbyes to our travel companions and set off to find home for the next few days. 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 drivers take you to where you want to go.

strolling along these streets never gets old

strolling along these streets never gets old

One of the first things we learnt was that Laos is more expensive than neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam. This was something we weren’t expecting, if anything we expected it to be on the cheaper scale. But while we found accommodation to be relatively on par things like food, transport and tours were definitely pricier. There’s also not as much room to haggle, I don’t know if they just don’t have that culture yet but I bought a few things at the markets and came ready to test my haggling skills, skills I’d spent the previous month honing in Thailand, only to find that they didn’t really get it. I still managed to get a slightly cheaper price but it was nothing like the fun, fast paced bargaining I’d encountered in other SE Asian countries. Laos is still cheap though and if you head off the tourist strip away from restaurants that serve western food you’ll be able to find some cheap eats. We should also remember that Laos is a developing country, one that is 20 odd years behind its neighbours in this tourism thing, and while we say more expensive, realistically it’s still ridiculously cheap.

We started and ended our time in Laos in Luang Prabang, this wasn’t really planned it was just the way things worked out. We spent eight days’ total here and honestly, I think it was a few days too many, you could easily round out the highlights in two or three days. We saw a lot of incredible things in and around Luang Prabang and enjoyed our time in the city touted as the ‘most romantic city in Asia. I’m a bit behind on the blog so I honestly can’t remember everything we did while we were there but have pulled together some of our highlights-

Waterfalls

Luang Prabang tuk tuk drivers are relentless. I swear I started dreaming of tuk tuk drivers chasing me asking over and over ‘waterfall?’ ‘waterfall?’ ‘waterfall?’. Regardless, if you do nothing else, at least go to Kuang Si Waterfall and if you have time you should try and squeeze in Tad Sae as well. You may have guessed that waterfalls are big business in Luang Prabang so of course there are numerous ways to get there. You can hire a moto and make your own way, book a private tour, book a minivan transfer or go with a tuk tuk driver. You can do the tuk tuk either privately or if there are a few people you can split the cost so it’s cheaper. After getting the biggest bruise on my butt (I bruise like a peach on a regular day but this was epic) from bouncing around the back of a tuk tuk in Thailand, I suggested we go for a minivan transfer. This was a great decision as roads in Laos are rough, like crazy rough, sometimes you’ll be driving along and then one side of the road is just gone – #cray.

The incredible turquoise pools at the bottom of Kuang Si waterfall

The incredible turquoise pools at the bottom of Kuang Si waterfall

We paid 45,000 kip for the ride there and back. It took about an hour to drive there, an hour to drive back and we had 3 hours at the waterfall itself. When you arrive you’ll have to pay the entrance fee of 20,000 kip pp before starting the short walk up to the waterfall. Along the way you’ll go past the Free the bears project, an organisation that rescues bears from poachers and traffickers. You can view the bears in their enclosures and read about their plight and the fantastic work being done to help them and if you feel so inclined you can support them by buying a t-shirt or simply leaving a small donation in the boxes provided.

Keep walking along the easy, flat path and you’ll come to Kuang Si’s lower pools. You will stop. You will gape in wonder. The view is so indescribably beautiful and the water such an inviting shade of turquoise that you won’t believe it is real. While it’s tempting to stop and get lost in these never ending pools, trust us and keep walking up the path. Keep walking for about 800m, past more cascading pools and you will be rewarding at the end with a stunning waterfall gushing water, creating a hazy mist with the sun just peeking through. If you’re feeling energetic and have brought along appropriate footwear you can climb to the top of the falls, or you can simply head back down to one of the alluring pools for a swim. We opted for the later, or at least Shane did, I got in awkwardly fell over, decided it was too cold and promptly got out. Shane insists it was lovely, though I’m not so sure.

The cascading waterfall at the end of the trail

The cascading waterfall at the end of the trail

The Living Land

nom-nom who knew so many yummy things could be made from rice!

nom-nom who knew so many yummy things could be made from rice!

Anyone who has spent any length of time in South East Asia will no doubt have memories of rice fields stretching far and wide. We realised though we had seen what felt like hundreds of rice fields and eaten more rice than we could remember, we really didn’t know much about how rice farming worked. This seemed like a pretty big oversight for people spending so much time in Asia so we booked ourselves into a day at The Living Land Farm. The tour was slightly pricier than those we’d normally book but the experience was well worth it. We went through all of the stages of rice farming, from ploughing with a reticent water buffalo named Rudolph, to planting, harvesting and milling, right through to husking and grinding the rice to make rice flour. The whole thing was interactive so you could try your hand at each step or not if squishing through the mud freaked you out and best of all they brought out a whole host of yummy rice products for tasting at the end!

Shane and Rudolph, hard at it

Shane and Rudolph, hard at it

Mekong

Luang Prabang is at the confluence of two rivers, the Mekong and the Nam Khan. There are a multitude of tour operators offering boat tours to the caves and whisky village both of which we avoided as it just sounded like too much of a tourist trap. We also felt like after two days on the slow boat, we’d seen enough of the Mekong for now but if you wander down to the river near Wat Xieng Thong you’ll find various boat operators, if you’re keen on a boat trip try to take one at sunset, few things I’ve seen in life compare to those Mekong sunsets.

just wow

just wow

If Boats aren’t you’re thing and you still want to catch a sunset over the Mekong there are loads of restaurants along the water front. All of them are more than happy to let you sit for a few hours sipping a beer Lao and taking in the views. We did this one night and met some of the friendliest locals who invited us to join them for a few drinks, absolutely gorgeous people and one of my fav memories of Luang Prabang.

Mekong and beers- yes please!

Mekong and beers- yes please!

Temples

Apparently there are 34 temples in Luang Prabang. By the time we arrived we felt complete temple exhaustion. We did see a couple and honestly I was a little more intrigued by the Laos temples than the one’s I’d seen in Thailand. Wat Xieng Thong seems to be the must see and I can certainly see why. Considered one of the most import Wat’s it was built in the 1559 and was the site for many import historical events in Laos history including coronations and religious events. The detailed mosaics scenes, gold stencil design and tiered red roof make this temple a standout and one of the most beautiful I’ve seen so far.

The incredible mosaics at Wat Xieng Thong

The incredible mosaics at Wat Xieng Thong

Mt Phousi

At the top of some 300 odd steps sits the temple on top of Mount Phousi. After a hot and crowded walk to the top we joined about a hundred other people who all had the same idea. The temple itself is nothing special, what people pay their 20,000 kip entrance fee for is the view. Come at sunrise or sunset and you’ll be jostling with crowds of tourists, but when the light hits at just the right moment you’ll be glad you came. A panoramic view over Luang Prabang on one side and a stunning view of the Mekong on the other at sunset is hard to beat, so despite the crowds I’d recommend this one.

View from the top, def worth battling the crowds

View from the top, def worth battling the crowds

Royal Palace & Museum

Shane is not that keen on museums so I took myself to this one for a few hours to feed my inner nerd. I love museums and history, I love learning about something I know nothing about and Laos is a country I really didn’t know much about, so naturally I jumped at the chance to visit the museum. What made it all the more interesting is that it wasn’t that long ago that the monarchy was over thrown, with the last King being booted out in just 1975, there’s something I find fascinating about the way these communist governments and monarchies existed until the inevitable overthrow. I wandered through the museum viewing royal life as it was in the 70’s, looking through reception halls, the throne room and royal sleeping chambers. There is a reception room which features murals depicting everyday Laos life and a really intriguing series of works depicting Laos folk stories which were brilliant.

Royal Palace Museum

Royal Palace Museum

Tak Bat- Alms giving ceremony

We got up before the dawn to see the traditional alms giving ceremony on our last day in Luang Prabang. It was somewhere in the 5am’s and Shane kept trying to chat to me, clearly forgetting that I do not function at all before 7am. After a few grumbled responses, he got the hint and led me down to Wat Mai to sit and wait quietly for the monks to arrive. We waited for about 15 minutes and then the barefoot, brilliant saffron robe clad monks began their silent walk with baskets to collect the days’ offerings. This is a religious ceremony that takes place each day at around 6am, it’s a beautiful ceremony to witness as the sun slowly blankets the still sleeping town and was very much worth the early start. Unfortunately, it’s no longer as special as it should be, as Luang Prabang becomes a more popular destination, people are forgetting that it is a very meaningful experience for those involved, not just an opportunity for a photo for your Instagram page. As such they’ve had to develop some guidelines on how people should behave when attending Tak Bat which you can see here – these guidelines are up at every hotel and while most people are respectful there are still quite a few numpty’s around, honestly people there’s a time and place for your selfie stick!

Tak bat

Tak bat

Overall, we had really liked Luang Prabang. It is a gorgeous place to spend a few days, it’s easy, nice, and there is much to entertain but Luang Prabang is not real Laos. Maybe 10 years ago it was but these days? – it’s basically the glossy travel brochure version. Luang Prabang does not offer a true depiction of Laos and the lifestyle of typical Laos people, it basically shows you what happens when tourists come to town so while we definitely recommend going, don’t be surprised by a somewhat less than authentic experience in the tourist centre. Go there, enjoy it for what it is, a shiny version of Laos, but then get out and explore the rest of the country! Real Laos is just as lovely if not quite as shiny.

 

 

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-