As I go through the diaries I wrote whilst in Thailand it is hard to believe that Day 1 was only 2 weeks ago. We managed to pack in so much over those 14 days that it feels like we’ve been away for months. The end of a holiday is always a sad time, but even more so when it has been such a great one. Of course, the fact that we got engaged whilst away was always going to make it extra special, however, even had that not happened it would have still been one of our best holidays.
Thailand definitely delivered and way exceeded my expectations. With it being such a popular tourist destination I was expecting in a way to be disappointed and definitely did not expect the culture shock we received (in good way). I’m glad we did more than just the islands as I feel we got a much better insight into the Thai culture that way.
The below account is part of the diary I kept whilst away. Hopefully it won’t be too tedious a read for those who brave it; however it should give you a good insight into the various destinations we visited. And for those that don’t like reading, well, you can simply scroll through the pretty pictures!
Day 1 – London to Bangkok
Day 1 survived. Jet lag beaten but completely shattered and ready for bed! Thailand has so far been very different to what I imagined. Having been to China where I did not receive much of cultural shock I didn’t expect one here, yet I have. There is a lot of poverty and this isn’t hidden from tourists as it perhaps was in China. There are massive posh hotels glimmering with gold standing next to shacks that are falling down housing large families in tiny spaces.
On our way from our hotel to our food tour this evening we took the river bus alongside the locals and saw a house on stilts that was completely dilapidated; a ruin. Yet as we passed it, we noticed there were people living inside, in a house, that would either collapse into the river at any time, or whose roof was unlikely to remain on for much longer. 🙁
The only activity of today (other than a splash in the pool) was an evening street food tour of Yaowarat Road in the Chinatown district. Delicious, informative and great fun! It was a great fusion of Chinese and Thai food, taking the best of both. There was a really good bunch of us there, including a couple from Australia living in Mali; an older (mid thirties) lady from New York who had put her career on hold to travel the world, a Japanese tourist and a couple of lawyers on their honeymoon.
I’m always intrigued as to how people describe their jobs. Mine is always sounds pretty boring: sales. No matter how I phrase it everyone always yawns. Doug’s normally gets the best reaction: “High Tech Crime Forensics, like CSI but without the blood”. However, I think the chap from Australia topped him this time: People Trafficking (I mean prevention off!).
Anyway, I digress from our tour! Street food is massive part of Thai culture, however, it can be pretty daunting, not just because you haven’t got a clue as to what you are ordering, but also because there are questionable doubts as to the hygiene of the food. On top of that you get to munch on the food either standing up or sat on the pavement. Let me tell you one thing: it is great; it is tasty; it is cheap! Definitely do it! The only tip I can offer: make sure it is well cooked and that it is a busy stand, that way you can guarantee yourself fresh produce.
|Pancake Food Stand|
Our first dish was Tom Yum Soup, a hot and sour fish soup with a pink colour to it given by the tomatoes (which are pink here!). Apart from the off bits of chewy fish/seafood/grey matter, it was really tasty with a particularly sweet taste to it.
|Tom Yum Soup|
Our second dish was dim sum wrapped in green noodles. One of the parcels was filled with pork and the other with shrimp. We would have happily eaten double again (and treble)!
|Dim Sum in Green Noodles|
Our third stop was a tea vender. On offer a sweet tea and a bitter tea. I don’t like tea but the bitter one was beyond disgusting! I don’t think a single person in our group was able to finish it. However, it is a delicacy with locals who down a half a pint of it on their way to dinner on a daily basis! Maybe it has great cleansing properties!
It started to rain for our fourth stop so we ate inside a seafood restaurant. We had oyster salad (spicy and yummy), shrimp Thai yellow curry (my favourite) and a watercress salad (also spicy but too much green for our liking!).
|Watercress salad, oyster salad and crab yellow curry|
Our fifth stop was for some Crispy Pork soup. We had the choice of adding tongue, intestines, liver, kidney and heart in as well. We stuck to just crispy beef, however some of the more adventures people within the group went for the real deal. None of them seemed to particularly enjoy it, especially not the intestines! This was served with rice noodles in a soup like dish with a lot of pepper. I’m not a great fan of watery soup or pepper so this was not my favourite dish!
|Crispy Pork Food Stand|
To finish we had two puddings. First a pancake filled with a number of things including coconut (this was good) and then dumplings with sesame seeds in them that tasted like peanut butter (but not quite). I didn’t like this one (but Doug did).
|Sesame Seed Dumplings|
And last but not least we tried the fruit that everyone had been talking about: durian. That’s the really smelly foul tasting fruit that isn’t allowed in public transport, hotels or restaurants. It actually wasn’t too bad. I wouldn’t be able to have more than a couple of mouthfuls on it’s own but I can imagine it would be nice with sticky rice.
£1 taxi ride back to the hotel and bed!
Day 2 – Bangkok
Today we cooked with Poo! At this point it’s worth mentioning that Poo is cook’s name and part of the Helping Hands Charity encouraging and helping families lead better lives and enabling them to leave the slums.
We made our first rookie error: take a taxi with no meter and not negotiate the price down. It cost us £10 for a 30 min ride, which for London or New York might be great, however, it should have only cost us £5 tops (probably even less). So feeling a little ripped off, luckily not a large sum and lesson learnt.
They picked us up from outside one of the poshest shopping malls I have ever seen. Gold lifts, waterfalls and greenery inside, golden statues dotted around. Gucci, Prada, Rolex, Longines… You get the picture. So you can imagine the contrast from this to our first stop: Khlong Toey food market within the slum area. The smell was vomit inducing: a mix of excrement, animal, sewer, rotting fruit, hot raw ingredients, fish…. The market was set over a central canal that was essentially the sewer of the slums and on top of that 35 degrees Celsius!
|Khlong Toey Wet Market|
The market opens at 2 am and trades through until 6 pm, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. According to our guide only 30% of people living in the slums are able to have a day off every now and then, the rest work their entire life with no hope for retirement.
The first corridor we went down was probably the most shocking as it was here that all the animals were kept, alive; slaughtered as and when they are bought. As we were walking past one of the vendors was ringing several chickens’ necks for his customer. I suppose the freshness can’t be queried!
The fish were kept in nothing but a sprinkle of water, and live frogs had their legs tied together or a net cast over them so that they couldn’t hop away. I know this happens, but it was still quite disturbing to see. Luckily it was only the one corridor that was like this, the rest was all fruit. And let me tell you, their fruit is weird! Spiky strawberries (rambutans or lychee’s, still not sure), pink tomatoes (they are actually pink!), apples that didn’t look like apples that had a porcelain shine to them! Then other fruits that looked like apples but weren’t!
|Fresh produce in Khlong Toey Market|
So after an hours walk through the market and laden with the ingredients we would be using, we made our way to the cooking school which is within the slums. At first the slums don’t look too bad, just poor: concrete frontages, a lack of windows and small spaces. It’s what’s behind these frontages that is a lot more shocking. Tin houses, wooden houses and tents; no bigger than garden sheds, piled next to and on top of each other housing entire families inside each one. A lot of them built on top of the sewer with just some wooden planks or craters stopping them from getting messy; their roofs covered in plastic to try and waterproof their homes.
|Ranbutan? Or are they Lychee’s?|
We didn’t go that far in, and in reality were in the “posh” slums. I’d hate to think what we would have seen had we kept going.
The cooking school was actually quite a modern building within the slum. Their original building burnt down last year so they made the most of the opportunity to make sure they had proper windows and a comfortable home above the classroom.
The proceeds from the class goes to feeding the community. Poo cooks for 200 people each day and on special occasions up to 700. Her school also employs 60 individuals and businesses so hopefully us going there will help improve the lives of some people.
|Poo and her rubbish chef’s|
Today was a first in a lot of ways: we both ate salad and enjoyed it! Now, if all salad were like this I think I could be a size 10! The salad was a Yum Ta Krai (lemongrass salad). The main ingredient: chicken. Minced chicken boiled and then quickly stir fried with lemon grass, chillie, peanuts, sugar, fish sauce and onion. Delicious!!
Our second dish was Shrimp Pad Thai with tofu and rice noodles.
Third dish Massaman curry with chicken served with steamed rice. That was probably both our favourite. Hot and tasty, sweet and sour, all done in a matter of minutes. The hardest bit being grounding the spices! And for pudding mango sticky rice and pancakes as well as a selection of the weird fruit. We were both too full so skipped it but have bought her book so that we can try the recipes at home.
The amazing thing about Thai food is just how easy and quick it is to make. Each dish took a matter of minutes, the chopping taking longer than the actual cooking! This has inspired me to be less lazy when we get back. There is no excude to eat ready made meals when fresh food can be cooked in under 10 minutes which is not only tastier but also healthier!
We managed to make our way back to the hotel without getting ripped off this time. We took the sky train (70p each) half way and then a taxi for the last half. It took us three attempts to find someone who would use a meter so we paid him double the fare as a tip. He was over the moon and it was only £1 out of our pocket!
Our afternoon and evening plans all changed thanks to a massive thunderstorm so we retired to our room for a siesta and scraped the idea of going to the various temples and instead tried to get a taxi to take us to the other side of town to go to a restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms. It comes highly recommend and again it is run by a charity, this time for to promote family planning.
As easy as this might sound, and despite our hotel being littered with taxis, none would take us on the metre because of traffic and instead wanted to haggle a price. Having been stung once before we decided to try going down the river on the ferry and then trying to catch a taxi from there, however, the last ferry had been and gone for the day so instead we decided to walk to Koh San Road, famous for its markets and street food. A must when in Thailand!! (apparently).
Nope, Not worth it. It was backpacker alley and reminded me of Benidorm. British bars, football bars, Western Food, cheap and nasty tat.
|Koh San Road|
Day 3 – Bangkok – Ayutthaya
This morning we were a bit short for time so we cut our Tuk Tuk and long tail boat tour short. The Tuk Tuk was just the means to get us to the wet market (a much more tourist friendly one). Having visited the biggest one in Bangkok yesterday we just skipped through this one. Needless to say there were no shocking sites here.
We did however learn that Thai people rarely eat large animals because they don’t have the resources to raise them and also because killing them is too cruel (as their only means would be to cut their throat). We also learnt that a lot of the eels, frogs, turtles etc they sell are actually for Buddhist to give to Buddha when they go to pray. I’m not sure what happens to them then. I should have asked.
Lastly, before we got on our Longtail boat we fed the fish (hundreds of them in the river) and spotted some Monitor Lizards.
I won’t lie. I was scared for my life on the boat. It didn’t corner particularly well and constantly felt like it was going to overturn. And we all know I have a bad record for managing to stay on board (jet skis)! I imagine I felt like Doug does when he rides the Teacup ride at Alton Towers 😉
We blasted down the main river and then turned off onto the canals. I didn’t realise it but Bangkok is like a mini Venice, with life revolving around the waterways with a rather large network of small and large canals. As with everything we have seen so far there is a large disparity between houses with some of the richest buildings we have seen stood next to some of the poorest; most on stilts, many without access to land without getting on a boat first. Some of the ones on stilts look precariously balanced, and in some cases the floorboards were so bowed it can only be a matter of time before one snapped.
|House on the canal|
I was a little disappointed as I thought we were going to the water market, however, it turns out it stops trading by 9. Essentially, all the market stalls are on boats, including floating banks, floating food vendors, coffee, fresh food and veg… Instead we just saw the tourist trade: a.k.a fake Gucci bags!
Even though we didn’t get to see the markets it was still really interesting to see a different way of life, and apart from the fear of falling in and drowning, a rather refreshing way to spend a very hot morning!
The next activity was most likely Doug’s lowlight of the holiday: a train journey. There are two classes of train in Thailand (in standard trains). Second class, which has aircon, and third class which has open windows. The plan was to travel second class but unfortunately there was no option so I had to endure Doug’s moaning as we sweated our way to Ayutthaya.
|The dreaded train|
After the tour, we jumped on a Tuk Tuk to the station where we got on our very sweaty train to Ayutthaya. The trains normally offer second and third class options. Second class has air con whilst the third class relies on open windows!
After a nice relaxing afternoon by the pool we headed out on our Tuk Tuk tour of the old temples.
Ayutthaya became the second capital of Thailand and quickly became the largest city in the world and trading capital of Asia, however sometime in the 1700’s the Burmese invaded and burnt the city to the ground. The only remains from that era are the temples and palaces as these were made of stone.
The tour was OK although I should have bought some kind of guide book to help me understand what I was looking at. Because of this the ruins themselves were not as impressive as we hoped. The weather didn’t help. The entire time thunder was rumbling in the background and the sky was simply grey and miserable which was not conducive to good photos. Had we had a beautiful sunset then maybe we would have been telling you a different story.
For dinner our driver dropped us off at a local Thai restaurant where Doug went for a Thai Green Curry and I went for a stir fried pork red curry: both delicious. And all for £3!
And to make our way home the same Tuk Tuk driver we had had earlier was waiting for us, so together with a Swiss couple we set off in our disco… Fast forward 10 minutes later and together with the Swiss couple and driver we were pushing the Tuk Tuk off the road! The accelerator cable had snapped so we had to wait for another Tuk Tuk (which was also a disco)!
|Tuk tuk’s aren’t built for tall people!|
It’s quite good fun riding a Tuk Tuk, other than when they go too fast or go up the slip road to a dual carriage way the wrong way!! The driving so far seems a lot better than China. It is more like London: busy and aggressive as opposed to plain dangerous!
There’s one thing I haven’t touched on yet. And that is the toilets, I feel these need a mention. The sewer system can’t cope with paper here so instead they just use water. We have so far been lucky and had an access to a hose to use (as well as normal toilets) however I think we need to start expecting squat toilets and buckets to wash with :-S
|Our toilet paper for the last 14 days|
Day 4 – Ayutthaya – Pak Chong
After a good night’s sleep we headed down for breakfast this morning. Cooked breakfast takes a whole new meaning on in Thailand. On offer we had spag bowl, egg fried rice, steamed rice, soup, noodles, sweet and sour chicken, chicken in oyster sauce, spring rolls, etc. I’m still not sure what their normal breakfast is, whether it is in fact a normal meal or whether this is done for tourists. Either way, I enjoyed some lovely egg fried rice whilst Doug stuck with a (more or less) traditional English option.
|The hotel in Ayutthaya|
In the blistering heat we set off towards the train station. I must say, the officials are extremely helpful and made sure we got on the right train and cart without needing to be asked (the same yesterday, the ticket man came back to our carriage to make sure we aware that we were nearing our stop).
You’ll be glad to hear that this train had air con and fans. Unfortunately, the air con broke down halfway into our journey but they soon got an engineer on board who worked on it whilst we continued with our journey and before Doug was able to break into a sweat it was back working again!
The scenery rapidly changed from nothingness to large vegetation covered hills. After 2 hours we arrived at Pak Chong where we were picked up in a pick up truck (we sat in the back in the open air) and taken to our accommodation within the national park.
The nice thing about Pak Chong is that there doesn’t seem to be as much poverty and everything seems a lot more relaxed. I don’t meant it is a rich area, the opposite, but at least everyone seems to have a house with doors and windows and there are no (that we saw) lavish houses right next to slums. I suppose life in the countryside is established and people inherit their family homes. They may not make much money but at least they have a solid roof over their head. It’s when they go to the big cities looking to make their millions that they end up in slum like conditions.
The ride in the open top pick up truck was far from comfortable. Great for the lower speeds once we were in the park, but rather windy and cold (yes, I just used the word cold!!) at dual carriageway speeds! It’s also rather sandy so it was somewhat painful! And it messed up Doug’s hair!
Shortly after our arrival we headed back out on the open roof pick up truck for a 50 minute ride to a cave that happens to have lots of bats. At first we walked into the cave and had a look around in the dark; not very impressive to be honest. Our guide kept saying: “take photo!” but there wasn’t really anything to take a photo of. We then walked back out and again she insisted we take photos so we walked around pretending to take photos. I must say, I was getting the feeling that this was going to be a massive waste of time! Particularly after then jumping back in the car to drive 100 yards to then wait together with the locals for the bats to come out.
“When do they come out?” I ask. “Depends, sometimes at 6, sometimes at 6:30 sometimes too late to see”. So as it got nearer to 6:30 (when it gets dark) and nothing had happened I was starting to get a little worried. However, just as it was about to get too dark they emerged. I don’t think I’m going to be able to put into words quite how amazing it was! Thousands upon thousands of bats all coming out at once creating what looked like a black smoke cloud that went on for miles! And the noise! It sounded like it was pouring with rain. A real spectacle and one worth seeing! The photos unfortunately don’t do it justice.
|The mass emergence of the bats|
Day 5 – Jungle Trekking in Kao Yai National Park
Today has been a LONG day. We have sweated A LOT! I’m sure you can guess which one of us dealt with it well and which one didn’t!
We set off at 8 and got back at 8! Although we only walked 3 miles (the rest we did by car) it was knackering! It was hot and humid and because of the leeches we had to wear long trousers and long sleeves. The only long garments we had were our rain jackets which although lightweight were’t particularly breathable so just simply stuck to us!
Once at the park we slowly set up the steep road that divided the jungle in two, stopping whenever we heard an animal. Although we didn’t see any big game, like elephants or bears, we did see quite a lot of other stuff including: White handed Gibbons (both black and white), Macaque Monkeys (lots of these including babies), Barking Deer and Summer Deer, a giant scorpion (deadly if stung), giant squirrels (looked more like a tree skunk), white squirrels and a few more for which I can’t remember the names.
The gibbons were the funniest. We were following them as they swung from tree to tree. One of them fell and all the others laughed! (Or that is what it sounded like at least!) We also saw a very venomous snake: a Bandit Crate! There were also endless amounts of birds of which I can only remember the name of the Great Hornbill. It sounded like it had an engine!
|Macaque Monkey roaming the roads|
And of course lots and lots of insects and reptiles, including I’m sure hundreds that we didn’t see! There were some very funky looking spiders, lots of individuals that were easy to miss as they looked like leafs and sticks or because they blended in perfectly into their surroundings. Lots of lizards and ants (some humongous ones!) but the ones most worth mentioning (which are neither insect or reptile I realise) are the leeches. Doug’s favourite!
For some reason they took a particular liking to Doug and he got swarmed by them! Luckily he was wearing protective leech socks over his long trousers as well as long sleeves, however, when we got back to the truck he had to take his shoes off and between all 4 of us (guide, driver, Doug and me) help him get rid of them. As soon as we flicked them off though the persistent little buggers made their way straight back again, but only ever to Doug!
So as part of the excursion we got off the beaten track and made our way through the jungle on foot. The one thing I have to say that really surprised me was how noisy it is. I didn’t expect it to be quiet, nowhere near quiet, but I definitely did not expect it be deafening! It sounded like 100 people with chainsaws right next to us. And that was just the insects, then add to that monkeys calling and birds singing!
The morning jungle trek was a bit tedious and boring. The guide was walking really slowly and we didn’t see anything. It was sweltering and pointless. The afternoon one however was much more fun. We truly did leave the trails this time; literally stopped at the side of the road and made our way down a very steep bank to the river where we were on the lookout for crocodiles. I’m not going to lie, I was a little worried walking right on the water’s edge. We might not have see any crocodiles but what if it could see us?
We followed the footpaths of the elephants all the way up until the waterfall from The Beach movie. As it’s the dry season at the moment (despite the amount of rain we are having!) it wasn’t very full but still impressive. I wanted to stand on the edge but I wasn’t allowed 🙁 It would have made a good photo though!
|The Waterfall from The Beach|
After that, one last destination (and the best!). We drove all the way to the highest point of the jungle and stood over a cliff looking down at the extensive canopy below us. Truly breath taking! The only problem was that we got less than 1 minute to enjoy it as a thunderstorm quickly and aggressively made its way toward us. By the time we got back to the truck we were soaked! And so was the open topped truck!
|On top of the world|
Day 6 – Pak Chong – Chiang Mai
Today was a travel day. We set off from our hotel in the National Park at 9 this morning and got dropped off at the bus station in Pak Chong. When they said bus station I imagined a bus hub. It was more of a bus stop, with a desk, by a smelly drain with some plastic seating.
Once in Bangkok we grabbed a taxi to the Sky Train (like the tube but in the air) and then the train to the city centre where we asked one of the hotels to look after our bags so we could go exploring.
|Maybe there is a need for knowledgeable electricians in Thailand!|
Doug decided he needed some western food so we ate at a restaurant called the Hungry Nerd (part of the uniform is to wear nerdy glasses) where we had the Thai’s take on hamburgers: no bun but a slice of fried bread. It was surprisingly nice!
The plan had been to go and see the temples but we didn’t really have enough time to go across town so instead we went to the snake farm. Despite being relatively close it proved quite difficult to get a taxi that understood what we were on about. I handed the map to the first taxi we saw to show him where we wanted to go. I knew we were in trouble when he was trying to read the map upside down!
The snake farm is in the middle of the city and run by the Red Cross. They have 190 different species of snakes in Thailand, many of which are venomous. The antivenoms that can be imported from other countries aren’t necessarily of any use (or not 100 per cent efficient) so the primary function of the farm, and the reason why it was set up, was to cultivate the venom so that they could produce antidotes. They then decided to open the doors to the public so that they could educate people on which snakes are dangerous and which aren’t (and make money).
I can’t say I was expecting much but was thoroughly impressed. We arrived half way through their demonstration. They were pulling each snake out one by one and talking about its particular characteristics and whether care needs to be taken or not.
The Copperhead Rat Snake for example is extremely aggressive but not poisonous (and no teeth). They demonstrated it by putting in on the floor. Yep, it was scary! I would definitely have run if I’d seen it! When the handler when to pick up the snake it clung on to its arm (luckily no teeth).
|And I got to hold a Burmese Python|
The other nice thing about the Snake Farm was the size of the enclosures. Much bigger than the ones you generally see at zoos and they also feed them live animals (horrible for the live animal but nice for the snake that it isn’t just a frozen piece of chicken). We had the pleasure of watching feeding time. I didn’t enjoy watching the constrictors; the death is too slow for the poor little mice.
From there, a Tuk Tuk ride back to the hotel (although due to traffic we had to get out half way and walk back) and then the sky train to the airport ready for our flight to Chiang Mai with Bangkok Airways. Really impressed with the service they offer. They have a lounge with free food and drink (and wifi) for all passengers and despite the flight only being 1 hour they served us our choice of drink together with a 2 course meal. You wouldn’t get that with Ryan Air!
After a rather turbulent flight we have arrived in Chiang Mai where we had to help our taxi driver push several other taxis out of the way (who had blocked him in) in order to get going. As we aren’t here for long we decided to get acquainted with the area by going for a stroll which delivered our first sightings of Ladyboy’s since arriving! It turns out the hotel is in the party central (a.k.a sex trade central) of Chiang Mai. There are definitely plenty of happy ending massages on offer here!
It made for quite good people watching. Doug was walking ahead of me, so the girls would see him and their eyes would light up, call him, smile at him, hope he might become their husband and way out, and then they’d see me and their smiles would fade.
We settled by the Mai Thai boxing ring and watched a couple of matches. Well, Doug did, I watched all the women work their charm, giving fat tourists an ego boost by flirting outrageously with them and laughing at their terrible jokes. Needless to say the tourists were all too happy for the attention and no doubt will be having a good night tonight.
Day 7 – Chiang Mai
Today we went to Baan Chang Elephant Park, also known as a sanctuary or mahout training ground.
|Jingli enjoying a bath|
It is a non profit organisation that has been running for 10 years. They started off with 3 elephants and now have 46. They are all rescued domestic elephants that were either used for begging, for performing or for illegal logging. Because they all come from different backgrounds there are certain difficulties associated with their care which is what the morning was about.
|Such adorable animals|
The elephants are all chained during the day. I obviously would have preferred to see them lose but they explained that it was for everyone’s safety. Because elephants are heard and family animals it is difficult to mix them when they are older so they can’t chuck them all out together. Also, because they have tourists there during the day they wouldn’t want the elephants that were lose to start running as like horses they are flight animals so it could create panic within those being used with the tourists and therefore accidents could happen. They do however get taken down to bathe (their favourite activity) at least three times a day.
|Like all animals: it’s all about the food!|
The other thing they still use are the hooks. We didn’t see them use them and again they explained it was for everyone’s safety. They were waving them about when explaining stuff and the elephants didn’t seem to mind so I get the impression they are rarely used. As with a horse, it is important the elephant knows who’s boss, which does sometimes mean a smack is necessary, but with anything, one sharp (quick) telling of will mean no more are needed in the future.
They have also managed to buy more land which they are fencing off so that they have more turn out away from the tourist attraction so that only those being used need to be chained during the day.
I can see why some people would have a problem with it, however, I liken it to horses, they are ridden and get told what to do, they get tied up to the side of the lorry or stuck in a stable, if they don’t do what is asked of them they get told off, but on the majority of cases they are very well cared for. I feel that this was the case at the Elephant Sanctuary. The mahouts (handlers) were very fond of their elephants and you could see a real bond between them.
So after learning about this we started off by breaking the ice: feeding them! We were giving them bananas and sugar canes. The elephants would stretch out their trunks and curl it round the item you were giving them before putting it in their mouth. They are not stupid, if they saw you had two bananas and you only have them one they would keep their trunk outstretched until you had given them both! You could also put the bananas directly into their mouth, they’d simply open their mouth and keep it open until you had deposited the food.
After feeding the many different elephants we then went to see a mother and her 14 month baby. The baby liked its bananas peeled. In the majority of cases we were peeling them for him but if we didn’t it would chuck it on the floor, squeeze it so that the banana popped out and then pick it back up peeled!
Our next lesson was how to get on and off and give different commands such as walk, turn and stop.
|Patting our Nellie’s to say well done|
To get on, the elephant lies down, you jump on, hold onto the top of its ears and then it gets up. They said it was like riding a horse. I’m yet to ride a horse that feels like that! Once on (sat on its neck) you use your legs as you would with a horse as well as give the spoken commands. And then to get off, they lie down and you dismount.
|Enjoying a scroll through the park|
After that we had Pad Thai for lunch and then we went on our trek. First of all me sat on the neck giving the commands whilst Doug sat on its shoulders (both bare back, no seats) and then we reversed roles. I found both of them comfy, however, it seems sitting on the shoulders of the elephants isn’t in any way comfortable for men!
|Doug’s lack of steering|
After our trek it was our turn to reward the elephant. How? By giving it a scrub down in the water. The elephants lay down on the water whilst we scrubbed their heads and backs with a hard brush and chucked water over them. Some of the elephants were squirting water back. Ours was quite happy falling asleep whilst receiving the massage!
|Thong Yuang enjoying a scrub|
It was great. A really nice facility with elephants looked after by caring staff. Yes, I’d like to see them free but at the same time I understand the restrictions they have.
Worth mentioning that Doug managed to fall off! He was getting off when the elephant got up prematurely making him jump. He lost his balance and fell on his backside. Luckily he was ok. He then also got sprayed by a Stink Bug which has literally burnt his skin and given him blisters (because he didn’t listen to my advice of cleaning it up straight away!!).
After a dip in the pool I went for a Thai massage… Not the relaxing experience I envisioned. Firstly I got laughed up when I put the trousers on back to front. Instead of cords to the front you put cords to the back! The girl ended up having to dress me as I was tying the knot incorrectly too! (Slightly embarrassing!).
So it seems a Thai massage is all about putting you in positions that I never thought my body could achieve! She was rather concerned by how tense and tight some of my muscles were but the lack of communication made it hard to explain so I let her put my leg behind my head, rock me back and forth, pull me left and right and kneel all over me.
After my massage, we decided to explore a diffident part of Chiang Mai, this time avoiding the ladyboys! We went to the night market which was a never ending maze of stall after stall of cheap merchandise. It was so cheap that it felt rude to haggle!
Day 8 – Chiang Mai – Koh Samui
I’m afraid it’s been my turn to moan today, my Thai Massage yesterday appears to have done something to my dodgy knee so I’m now lame!
Today we said goodbye to Chiang Mai and flew to Koh Samui, one of the many tropical islands. It is probably the smallest airport I have ever seen and essentially an amalgamation of beach huts and Palm trees.
A 20 minute taxi ride (with the most aggressive driver we have seen so far), saw us at our hotel which is simply like stepping into paradise. It is a little village of bungalows right on the sea with large tropical gardens between them. Our bathroom is outside (enclosed for privacy obviously). It was lovely having a shower in the sunshine!
|That sums it up for me|
As soon as we got there we headed straight for the beach. The beach is small serving just the two hotels that back on to it which is nice as it means it isn’t busy. The sand is white and the sea is as transparent as it gets (and very warm!). As we were walking into the deeper waters there were no end of colourful fish swimming out of our way. I’m really looking forward to snorkelling in these waters.
We are now sat having the most expensive meal of our trip so far. Not because it is particularly expensive but because we have been piggies and had a starter (chicken satay, BBQ pork ribs, calamari and spring rolls), followed by a green curry for Doug and a Massaman curry for me; both very tasty but yet again no spice. I’m going to be brave and ask for my next dish to be spicy tomorrow! And for pudding two chocolates sundaes: £20.
After dinner we headed back to our hotel where we sat at the bar for a drink before heading onto the deserted beach for a stroll…. And where Doug popped the question!
|The boy did well|
Day 9 – Koh Samui
Today I made a friend. I woke up to find a tick had been helping itself to my belly. Unfortunately it wasn’t a liposuction tick.
I think it is safe to say that today has been the best day of the holiday so far for Doug (He will tell you it was last night, but that would be a lie). Why so good? Quad Biking!
|Our vehicle for the day|
We got picked up from the hotel and taken to the tallest point of Koh Samui: a rather hairy ride. The road was steep! So much so that they had to put their 4×4 into Low gear and drive up in first gear, and to stop from overheating turn the aircon off. Here is the sign for those coming down the road:
|No driving tests in Thailand means no real understanding!|
Apparently there are always accidents on this stretch of road as people sit on the brakes and they then end up with none. A rather nasty one happened a couple of years ago where a safari truck (with people sat on the roof) lost its brakes and ended up rolling off the road.
Because there was a big group of us (14 Malaysian and us) there wasn’t enough quad bikes for us all so we took the Polaris RZR (a two seater buggy type thing). Doug’s disappointment disappeared pretty quickly as soon as he realised how much fun this powerful machine was going to be. If like me you have no idea what a Polaris RZR is here is a picture:
The Malaysian lot were useless. They couldn’t even keep their quads in a straight line (fair enough most of them had never driven before) and therefore after 5 minutes of the guides trying to get them up a hill they decided to take Doug and me out on our own which mean a private tour of the island!
This is where the fun began. We weren’t going flat out but the guide wasn’t hanging about either and Doug was sweating from concentrating on keeping the buggy under control. The terrain at first wasn’t too bad, just steep and bumpy with a few ruts, but we then started properly going off road and the bike started losing traction and going sideways. The grin on Doug’s face said it all.
We stopped a few times to take in the view which were simply spectacular. Even from so high up you could see the clarity of the water. Koh Samui is part of a 42 Island archipelago and from our high view point we could see a lot of these islands. Although it was clear enough to see it was still quite hazy so the photos don’t do it justice (plus we didn’t take the proper camera, just our phones).
|A little spider found on our travel (the body was the size of my hand!)|
After lunch they took us to a waterfall for us to cool down. Very nice. Not much water there but enough to sit under the cascade.
We got dropped back off at the hotel at about 5 and we spent the rest of the evening, including the sunset, in the 25 degree sea. We bought a snorkel yesterday so we took it in turns to go exploring the reefs. I’m excited about our snorkelling trip in a couple of days. There is nothing particularly special about this beach yet there was so much to see. Loads and loads of fish of all sizes and colours including a leopard print one. Doug also saw a small ray. The corals were really colourful too. If we managed to see this much in such an underrated area what are we going to see in the snorkelling heaven that we are going to?
As well as excited I am also a bit worried. Because my swimming isn’t so good I get a little panicky if I feel out of my depth. Doug went off right into the depths of the sea (I thought he’d had second thoughts and was running away). Although I could do that, my nerves don’t allow me. I swam further out than I normally would (with Doug nearby just in case), but after going so far, and even though I wasn’t tired, I started to get all worried so had to turn round and swim back as quickly as possible (may it be noted that that is still very slow!).
|Chilling outside our room before dinner|
For dinner we went to the number 1 restaurant in Lamai beach and in the top 10 for Koh Samui. As there were no taxis about we grabbed a songthew (like an open backed mini bus that picks up as many people as it can that are going in roughly the same direction). This meant we got dropped off in the area but not at the restaurant so we had to walk down a very dark road for about half a mile before we reached the restaurant
Kob Thai did not disappoint. Each table is sat in its own individual garden hut giving you loads of privacy (not that we needed it whilst sat in silence on our phones). It is also the first restaurant that has insect repellent sat with the salt and pepper!
The food however was amazing! The best food so far and no more expensive than anywhere else at £2-4 a dish). For starters Doug had (surprise surprise) chicken satay and I had a spicy prawn soup: a little too much lemongrass to eat loads and loads of it but perfect as a starter. And then for mains Doug has Massaman curry (really good) and I chose a random one without knowing what to expect: Paengnam Curry which must have been made with some kind of peanut paste. It was delicious!! And, for the first time since being here, our dishes actually had some heat to them!
And to cool us down: coconut ice cream! I also forgot to mention earlier that we found another type of salad we rather like: deep fried salad! We had it for lunch. Very nice dipped in sweet chilli sauce. Not quite sure it counted as one of our five a day though!
Day 10 – Koh Samui – Koh Tao
Today we said goodbye to the paradise that was Koh Samui and jumped on the ferry (a catamaran) to Koh Tao, one of the best diving spots in the world (apparently).
I wasn’t sure what to expect of Koh Tao, but what we arrived to certainly wasn’t it! The dock was flooded with taxi drivers, at least 30 of them trying to get the passengers attention plus the same number again of resort drivers holding out people’s name. Rather chaotic. The island is very Thai. Seems a weird statement but Koh Samui for example could have been anywhere in the Mediterranean.
There is only one road on the island, a narrow lane over spilling with bars, restaurants and shops and in even more abundance: diving schools! This is certainly a party island (although one where the parties finish early ready for the next day’s dive). Despite the Thai feel to it, there aren’t many Thai people here, instead it is back packer paradise. Young, beautiful and care free… And then us.
Hot and sweaty our first stop this afternoon was the beach; not at all what we expected. The beech is very long but not very deep at all. No white sand, instead tiny sharp shells and the water murky and full of boats; lots and lots of boats, predominantly Longtail taxi boas but also some bigger commercial ones too.
A bit put off we went for a swim and a snorkel. Unfortunately the visibility wasn’t great but we still saw plenty of colourful fish and some much larger ones than yesterday, however the reefs were nowhere near as colourful as in Koh Samui. Still, we managed to stay in the warm water until sunset (which was beautiful).
|For me Koh Tao was all about the sunsets|
As we were heading back to the hotel we bumped until the same German couple that we had had a brief conversation with in Kao Yai National Park so I suggested we went for dinner together.
Good shout. Really nice couple and very easy to speak to so dinner was spent chatting as opposed to on our phones for a change. We ate on the beach sat under a lit up Palm tree. I wasn’t expecting much as it was pretty western however it was delicious. As a started we had tempura squid and then for main Doug had another Massaman curry and I went for a red curry. Both delicious and surprisingly cheap (the island is known for being expensive).
As soon as we sat down two thunderstorms started, one to the North and one to the East of the island. We couldn’t hear the thunder but the lightening was pretty aggressive. There was no shelter at this particular restaurant so I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen when it did pour down, however, the thunderstorms (which went on for a good hour or two) never came as far as us and neither did the rain.
After dinner we walked down the beach and settled on a bean bag on the beach to watch a fire show. Some very fit men swinging fire balls on chains and sticks in the air. The music was great and they were pretty awesome. They were lighting people’s cigarettes with these balls (whilst swinging them in the people’s faces!). I don’t think I’m doing a very good job of describing it so here is a photo:
Day 11 – Koh Tao
Today we got very very burnt. Why didn’t you apply sunscreen you idiots I hear you say. We did. Lots. It turns out Factor 30 is completely and utterly useless in Thailand. There isn’t an inch of us that wasn’t covered by bathing suits that isn’t burnt. In predicting moaning tomorrow!
So today was our snorkelling tour. We got picked up from our hotel this morning and taken to an already very busy boat. Our only seating options were in the sun. To make matters worse, we were blocked in in the harbour for 30 minutes before we could get on our way. It may have only been 10 am but the temperature was already in the mid thirties and it only climbed throughout the day.
|Koh Nang Yuan|
Eventually under way (and probably unaware that we were already burnt at this stage) we headed to our first stop: the tiny island of Koh Nang Yuan just off the coast of Koh Tao.
What looks like beautiful white sand is in fact dead coral which is incredibly painful to walk on barefoot. However, as we were dripping with sweat (and I mean dripping, no artistic license being used here!) we made a beeline for the water and our first snorkelling opportunity.
|Koh Nang Yuan from the view point|
The water was extremely shallow which makes it rather difficult as you constantly feel like you are going to get beached and everything just seems to close for comfort. However, it was pretty incredible (especially after I realised the reason I couldn’t see had nothing to do with the murkiness of the water and all to do with the steam that had built up in my mask!). It’s incredible; you can hear the fish eating! I also bumped into an octopus that appeared to be having a confrontation with two fish.
After we had finished snorkelling we decided to climb to the view point (from where the above photo would have been taken). In the midday heat this was tough. It was no more than 100 steps but the sweat was once again dripping off us. Disappointingly, when we’re got to the top it was absolutely inundated with tourists so getting a nice photo was impossible and more importantly everyone was being so impatient that they were crowding onto the rock (that acted as the viewpoint with no railings). We got off it pretty quickly to avoid being inadvertently pushed off with a selfie stick.
The heat and lack of water on Koh Nang Yuan really got to me so I was unable to snorkel properly at the second spot, however, by the third dive I was feeling well again and was able to make the most of it. The boat was tethered quite far away from the snorkel site so I had to swim further (in very deep water) than I have ever done before however, I somehow feel much safer with the snorkelling gear as I can float if my head is in the water and can obviously breath!
This was probably the best spot. The coral was really bright and there were hundreds of colourful fishes. At one point I was floating over 200 sleeping fishes (decent size) until someone else splashed and they all scattered. It’s amazing to watch them travel. At another point I interrupted the flow of a thousand tiny little fish that were travelling g neatly packed as if on a motorway.
|Koh Nang Yuan|
From there we moved to a similar spot. Whilst crossing the rope that keeps boats out Doug made a friend. A crab (that must have been on the role) decided to crawl over Doug instead! This was again another beautiful spot with some even bigger fish and also spotted a pretty decent Ray here too. As soon as it noticed the commotion it hid under the sand.
And last we stopped at Shark Bay where we went on the hunt for small black finned shark and turtles. Unfortunately we didn’t see either. We were both pretty tired by this point and starting to feel the sun so we were glad when the day was over and we could retreat back to the aircon of our room (and examine the damage done).
|Another great sunset|
Day 12 – Koh Tao
When we got up this morning we decided to take a day trip to the island of Koh Phanang, known for its full moon parties. The rest of the time it’s meant to just be a beautiful island. As we were both still too burnt to sunbathe or do any water/ beach activities we thought this would be a good alternative, even if just to have a wonder around.
We checked online and saw the last ferry left at 10 am so at 9:30 headed down to reception to ask for a taxi only to be shown the timetable stating the last ferry was at 9. Gutted we went back to the room and relaxed until 12 when we finally decided to go for a stroll (there are no alternate activities in Koh Tao other than beach, snorkel or dive).
Whilst strolling we passed a travel agency and saw, to our annoyance, that there was indeed a ferry at 10 so we could have gone and visited the other island after all!
|Trying our hand at sea kayaking|
I think it is worth mentioning at this point that Koh Tao is known as the Mafia island. It is run by 5 families and the police (the latter as corrupt as the families). The particular beach we are on is run by three of these families and there is strong competition between them and jealously is apparently at the heart of many crimes on the island.
The was a notorious murder last year, although Burmese migrants were blamed it is believed that one of these families were at the heart of it. There have also been many accounts of jealous bar owners that are quiet going to neighbouring busy bars with fire arms and stopping the party. There was also the case of the taxi driver that stabbed another taxi driver to death in broad daylight because he had stolen his customer! Sounds quite sinister but reports suggest the island is a lot safer thanks to the families as the “troublemakers” simply disappear. Anyway, I’ve gathered all this from several online sources so the accuracy could be quite dubious.
However, this would explain why the receptionist never told us that the 10 o’clock ferry could in fact exist with another ferry company (as was the case). It also explains why on our arrival she said when we get to the beach we should turn right as opposed to left (which would have lead us to the nicer part of the beach). Likelihood is that one of the families owns all the hotels, restaurants, and activities to the left our hotel.
Today we wandered to the left when we got to the beach and regretted not having done this before. The beach was a lot nicer (cleaner) and a lot sandier, the water was a lot clearer and there was a no boat zone which would have been perfect for snorkelling.
Aware of our burns we chose to leave the snorkelling for today and instead rented a kayak each. Luckily there are no waves here so it was pretty easy to paddle in the sea. Needless to say I was still terrified, particularly when we were in the shallow part as falling onto the reefs would have hurt! The water was amazingly clear! Even when we got deeper you could still see all the corals. Absolutely gutted we didn’t find this sooner!
|Sunset from a kayak|
And for dinner we treated ourselves to an art gallery. It belongs to a dive company that specialises in photography so the restaurant is in their gallery. There were a couple of photos we really liked that we might purchase (after we have taken measurements back home).
The food was really good. As a starter we had shrimp, mushroom and carrot parcels with a chilli sauce, for mains Doug had a cashew nut sweet and sour curry and I had giant prawn red curry. The prawns are served with their shell on, which makes it quite messy, but still delicious. And for pudding Doug has fried banana with honey and ice cream whilst I just had ice cream: probably one of the best meals of the holiday!
And finally, to say goodbye to the island, we went back to the Lotus Bar to watch the men playing with fire whilst we had a cocktail each. This is certainly the place to be, it was heaving! And as a consequence the men were putting on an even better show!
|Our last sunset|
Day 13 – Koh Tao – Bangkok
Our last day was not an exciting one. We left our hotel in Koh Tao at 8:30, songthew to the port, ferry to Koh Samui, bus to the airport, plane to Bangkok, taxi to the hotel. A quick freshen up and taxi to the sky train, sky train to Bangkok, metro to Sukhumvit road and a 10 minute walk to dinner. That is a lot of travelling!
Two things worth mentioning:
Koh Samui airport. I know when we landed we said it was just a couple of cabana huts. Well, it is actually an entirely outdoor airport. Once “inside” there is a long wide pedestrian street with shops and restaurants. It reminded me a bit of Universal Studios in the way it was laid out. Probably the best airport we have been to.
Also worth mentioning was our dinner destination: Cabbages and Condoms. It’s a Thai restaurant and charity. It was founded to help raise awareness of family planning in Thailand as the population was growing at an alarming rate (average 7 children per family). We’d heard really good reviews and although the restaurant was in a beautiful set up the food didn’t quite live up to expectations.
|A different take on table decorations|
We had dim sum as a starter (ok) and then Doug had Paegnan Curry and I went for crab yellow curry. Doug’s was very hot but with no flavour. It actually had quite a chemical taste to it. Mine had no spice whatsoever. I had a lot of crab meat which was nice, but I have eaten much better elsewhere (and cheaper). All in all disappointed.
The plan was to then go to one of the sky bars, however, we were both very tired so decided on a quick stroll up and down the local night market in search for some last minute souvenirs before heading back to the hotel (metro, sky train, taxi).
It wasn’t quite the sort of night market we had in mind. As matter of fact we ended up in Soi Cowboy, the red light district. The only thing on sale there were groups of bikini clad girls, Viagra and sex toys. Needless to say we left without any souvenirs.
If you have made it this far, I’m impressed! As you can tell Thailand was a mixed bag. Looking back on it, it was fantastic; however, day to day it was far from perfect. I read somewhere that things don’t always go to plan in Thailand and to take a relaxed attitude towards it. That could not be truer! Yes, things may have not gone to plan all the time, we may have waited longer than we wanted for certain services, their arcon may not have always worked and the food may not have always been perfect, however, I’ve already forgotten about those things and instead what I remember is the friendliness of the people, the beauty of the landscape and the clarity of the water. It is definitely a country I would go back to so thank you Rickshaw Travel for helping us get to grips with it this time round.
If you want to see all the photos please click here
All photos courtesy of Doug.