A Travellerspoint blog

We made it

Me and Kat decided that the last post might have made some people worry about our travels towards Laos, this is just to say we made it safe and sound!

The bus was very comfortable with almost fully reclining seats and a ladyboy hostess bringing us water and whatnot. The driver appeared sober but the roads were hectic. He was taking the racing line most of the way, not nice to wake up and find yourself on the wrong side of the road. 12 hours later we arrived in Udon Thani. We then shared a ride with a German guy we had met on the bus, in the back of a pick up truck for an hour to get into Nong Khai.

Crossing the border tomorrow over the friendship bridge

Posted by HenryKat 22:06 Comments (3)

My turn

sunny 32 °C

I've been told that I now need to start updating this blog (I will use paragraphs) and also teach Kat how to take photos using my camera. I havent got the cable with me to upload the latest photos, but there are now some of me to put up! We are now back in Chiang Mai for another night in our decent guesthouse here which is 7 pounds a night, bug free and has cable tv.

We got back from Pai today, our three options of transport back were minivan, minibus and 40 year old clapped out old bus. We took the minivan to get to Pai in the first place and the driver thought he was in some sort of rally car, and when there are over 700 corners of mountain road, it would be nice to go in something a bit more comfortable and slower for the return journey. The old bus was no option as it looked like it would break down on route and had no A/C, which is a must in this heat. It is half the price though, 1.25gbp vs 3gbp. Anyway we decided on the minibus, it was clean inside and we could book the best seats for lots of legroom. It was a much smoother journey and they gave us a pack of custard creams and some fruit juice for free which instantly persuded Kat that it was the right option.

Pai itself felt like a holiday away from travelling, it made Chiang Mai feel like Bangkok once we got back. After staying at a couple of different hostels whilst we were there, we finally managed to book into Bueng Pai Farm (http://www.paifarm.com). We still had the motorbike and all our luggage, but the owners said they could come and pick up our bags and we follow them back on the bike which solved that issue. Our place wasn't ready by the time we got there so we had a bit of breakfast and sorted out our fishing stuff. It costs us 75p to rent a rod already rigged for the lake and 2 buckets full of bait. We had no idea what sort of fish they had in the lake until we had setup and read the small sign next to where we had decided to fish from. Lots of carp, cat fish and.... Sharks! By 12o clock I had managed to pull out 3 large fish which turned out to be striped cat fish, they took lots of playing to finally get them to come in which made things more exciting. We stopped for a bit of lunch before setting up to fish from our veranda. The food is all organic and very tasty, and cheap unlike organic stuff in England. When you eat over here they never seem to get the timing right, so about 10 minutes after we had finished our main food, they brought out some spring rolls which looked like they would have taken about half an hour to make which might explain the delay. After trying one, and finding out they didn't taste as good as they looked, we were hit with a dilemma of what to do with the 15 left on the plate. We ended up asking to take them back to our bamboo hut so we could buy more time to decide what to do with them. They didn't work as bait, so into the toilet bin they went. Later this turned out to be a bad idea when we came back to a bathroom crawling with 1.5cm long ants. After flushing them all down the shower plughole we went out to finish fishing for the day. Kat managed to pull in another large striped cat fish, complaining that her arms hurt after trying to get it in for 10 minutes and I managed to get in our first Carp. Pictures to follow! Our night in the hut was very peaceful listening to all the animal noises outside and watching all the lizards eat the bugs outside the door.

The previous night to this, I had been persuaded to get a Thai massage as they are so cheap. 4 pounds for an hour long Thai oil massage seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. So went down the road to a comfortable looking place and paid for the massage, at this point they directed us into the curtained off part of the building at the back and asked us to undress. We had overlooked the fact that for them to do an oil massage, we would need to take off our clothes. Anyway.... the massage was really spot on after lugging our bags around for a couple of weeks and almost sent us to sleep.

Now we're back in Chiang Mai, we're trying to find our way to Udon Thani where we can then get a one hour bus to Nong Khai to cross the border into Laos. The hardest part about this is finding a bus company that doesn't employ drunk drivers, methamphetamine addicts or use knackered buses (although they do look like they would be fit for purpose). You get so many conflicting reports and feedback from other people and lots of varied standards, it's a bit of a minefield. Will keep you posted!

Posted by HenryKat 07:59 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

A slice a Pai

sunny 50 °C

On Friday we boarded a mini van to Pai. I was dosed up on Stugeron having been warned about the journey (767 curves to Pai according to the T-shirts). Travel forums warn travellers off this once sleepy village writing that it is another Khao San Road, it has been over-run with tourism and ex-pats. I have to say though that i love it here, but you have to just accept Pai for what it is. The only way I can describe it is like Glastonbury without the music. There's gimicky cafes, and wheatgrass shots and people standing in the street pretending to be statues and themed guesthouses. We went to a cafe the other day and the seats were swings suspended from the ceiling, with wheatgrass growing on the window sills and Eva Cassidy (!) on the stereo. So In one sense Pai could be anywhere in the world and I can understand why some people feel how that means it has lost it's sense of belonging. Once again the only way to get around is by scooter but Henry is pretty much a pro at this by now and I have just about learned how to balance the bike at the back (apparently you lean into the corners not counteract them). There's a lot of beautiful countryside around Pai a couple of waterfalls, with massive skating spiders in them, a canyon with steep drops and winding paths and some stinking hot springs. The roads are surrounded by cows in paddy fields and people in triangular hats working the farms. Everything moves at a slower pace here. On our way to look at a fishing farm we saw some massive piles of poo and we were just discussing whether a horse could do poos that big when Henry had to put the breaks on to avoid an elephant. For such a huge creature they are so docile and apathetic looking. There's lots of elephant camps around the outskirts of the village for tourist to trek on the big old things. They keep them chained up in barns. Their ears are all speckled as if they have a skin condition and they just looked sad. Its difficult not to be fascinated by something so exotic but we have made up our minds no to buy into it - we'll try to get a photo so you can see what we mean but no rides for us, poor nellies. I am making Henry get a massage later as today is officially a lazy day. I bought lots of bits and pieces last night, before returning to our lizard infested psuedo-comfortable guesthouse. It has paper thin walls and plenty of cold-blooded visitors and all we could here was a Thai family shouting and spitting (oddly) all night. I got no sleep. Its a shame because it looked so nice from the outside. Im putting the mozzy net up tonight so if a gecko falls on my face it might bounce off the net first. We have found a beautiful place called Bueng Pai fishing farm and are waiting for them to tell us if we have a room there tomorrow. If not we will check in to somewhere else and just fish their lakes instead. Looking forward to another lazy day! On a health note - thanks to the Drs for sorting out my oesophagus - Im taking my doxy in the morning and I am totally fine now. I'm also drinking lots of chocolate milk - that was my own interpretation of the advice.

Posted by HenryKat 22:51 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Authenticity and Critters

The mountain beasts

sunny 26 °C

Yesterday was spent learning to cook Thai food during the day then learning to eat Thai style at night. The cookery course was well organised, beginning with a trip to the local market to buy the food for the day, a tour around the vegetable and herb garden and individual cooking stations. We made 7 dishes in total, including spring rolls, pad thai, penang curry and deep fried bananas. The only problem was I am struggling at the moment with a reaction to my antimalarials which is making it painful to eat anything! So i couldn't finish all the food - we took it back to our guesthouse. We have a cookbook though so we can bring our knowledge home with us (not that we'll be able to afford any of the ingredients!)
When we got back the girl running the guesthouse - Ann, invited us out with her after her shift so we re-hired the scooter and went to eat from the local market. We've been walking around smelling these street stalls not knowing what half of the things are or if they're any good so it was great to have Ann with us. She grabbed some bowls and we bought a selection of street food and then headed back on the scooters to the river. We had red curry and spicy pork belly and deep fried yam amongst other things. All yummy but verrrrrrrrry spicy. The Thais are getting ready for the festival which starts on the 18th (when I asked Ann which festival she just laughed and said 'river festival!'). By getting ready for the festival i mean being ridiculously dangerous with fireworks. Ann took us to the riverside to eat our food but there were groups of 'youths' (!) swinging fireworks round and then letting them go less than 2 meters from us! Most of these went into the river but some didn't. The majority were just sort of sparkly, whirry ones but there was one group letting off some like I have never heard in my life. I wanted to leave right away but we ate anyway and as we were beating a retreat one went off that actually pushed us backwards a bit - even Henry decided it was time to go. I didn't enjoy that bit of the night, I think we may well be in Laos by the time the festival gets properly going . We met up with some other folks for a drink and then headed back.
Today as we had the scooter anyway we went back up the mountain. Our first stop was the Doi Pui H'mong Village. We'd read online that this village had become very much a tourist destination as it is the closest village to Chiang Mai. This is true. there is a set path going through the village and all the signs are english. They take visa. But if you walk around the back (pay ten baht and take a ticket) you can walk to a little waterfall and some immaculate gardens. I saw a snake on the path - my first critter of the day. This part of the village was worth the ride up in itself.
We decided to conitunue on to Doi Summit but when we got there up the cold, narrow winding roads, we found that the road is sealed off with a barrier. We popped down into the campsite and got some food and asked the park ranger - he said the nature trail walks up to the summit. So off we set. The first thing i spotted was a massive sign saying 'BEWARE LEECHES!!!' we walked in, the second thing was a big jumping bug, we walked on, the third thing was a spider the size of my face. At this point I turned and ran out of the forest down the path we'd just come, squealing and taking off my shirt. As we'd only walked 4 metres in this wasn't too much of a spectacle. So nature trail over we went on to the next H'mong village. This was much further up, less sign posted and much more authentic. There was one shop with a lady making fashion, a school (we'd past the children in uniform hacking away at the road side with picks on the way up) and women carrying big baskets of leaves on their backs. We had to leave whilst Henry was taking some photo's because a few dogs were showing a bit too much interest.
On our way down we stopped at a little sign saying ' fresh coffee' (sometimes this place feels a bit like a lewis carrol novel) and came across a large coffee plantation, which we spent a while walking around, (lots of spiders here too!) We walked down a forested tunnel and out into a pool surrounded by coffee plants with a little purgular in the middle - it was idyllic. Or it would have been had there not been an odd quacking noise coming from somewhere close by - there were no ducks to be seen. After a day of much authenticity and critters we headed back to the city for a Burger King to help us feel more at home. We have booked the bus to take us to Pai tommorrow.

Posted by HenryKat 05:28 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

Northern Soul

Beats Bangkok

As many have said before us Chiang Mai is a welcome change from the bustling and somewhat seedy streets of Bangkok. Our guesthouse is close to perfect. Walai house, has such sweet staff, they sort out anything we need and the room is clean and spacious and it has just the right atmosphere of meeting people / letting us get on with our own stuff. On the first night here we went to the Sunday night market. My haggling has got so much better. I bought a little purse where I keep my small change and a anklet that rings as I walk (sadly this makes all the street dogs bark!) Henry took some stunning photos. The second day we woke up late (Im not sure if this is jet lag or laziness now). We wandered to the mall and later went to Muay thai. This was brutal but somehow still a good night. The Thais are very proud of their national sport and it is obviously a very complex art. I didn't get how to gamble though - someone would come up to us and ask us blue corner or red corner and offer us 100baht. Did we just take his money and walk off? What are the odds? Do we ever see this stranger again? We didn't bet. Today we have had the most fabulous day, its been my favourite so far. After checking with our insurance and making sure we had good fitting helmets we hired a brand new moped from the guesthouse and set off up the mountain (sorry Mums and Dads). Mopeds here have right of way and everything gets out of the way for you and we went very slowly and quite frankly we were safer than in a tuk tuk! So we headed up the mountain road and went past all the tourist attractions - we stopped at the big temple (Doi Suthrep). Then we just kept going and going until the animals noises were deafening and the roaded narrowed and there were wooden signs nailed to each tree in english and thai saying 'beep horn now!' We found a signpost to a campsite and a hilltribe! We got to the campsite and found a nature trail. We had the most amazing pork fried rice in this little hut right at the top of the mountain but it was too late to do the trail so we got a map and decided to make our way to see the H'mong village and do the tail another day. When we got home we showed the map to Ann at the guesthouse and she said ' Wow, I've never even been there!' The other guests had never heard her say that before so we've given ourselves a brownie badge for exploration. We will head up there again later in the week to do the nature trail and hopefully post some pictures of the Hmong village. Cooking class day tomorrow!

Posted by HenryKat 04:37 Comments (2)

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