I flew into Bangkok at 6am, and then got a taxi to the hotel. About a 30 minute ride, and the meter only came to 350 baht or about $12. Got to the hotel at 7:45am, and luckily they let me check early so crashed on the bed for a bit.
Had a shower at 10am and went for a walk around the streets. The hotel was close to Khao Sanh Road, so plenty of stuff to see and breathe in my first dose of Bangkok.
I bought a small bag of fried pork and chilli sauce for about 35 baht, or about $1.20 at a street stall. Quite a few Europeans (or 'farangs' as the locals call us) about, much more so than Vietnam or Cambodia. After a bit more walking, stopped at a restaurant for lunch. Green curry beef and rice plus some water for 100 baht or $3, have missed all the cheap tasty food since last visiting this part of the world. After some more walking, went back to the hotel and then met up for an afternoon tour I had pre booked at 3. Just the tour guide, Pam, a Thai lady, and Kelly, a Kiwi from Wellington.
We then went for a walk down some alleyway shops I totally missed on my walkabout, and then to the river. The riverboats pier was out of action for some reason, so we caught a taxi down to Chinatown. Had a look at some Buddha temples, covered in gold leaf and looking very ornate.
Then went through the Chinatown alleys and markets. Went to an alley where they sold gifts people buy to 'give' to people at their funeral/cremation. Lots of symbolic stuff like play money, paper shoes, even fake credit cards and paper iPhones.
It was also a great opportunity to take some portraits of the friendly locals.
Cigarette and Chrysanthemum.
Fresh Mango Vendor.
Catch of the Day.
Then went to an old style cafe with lots of old men drinking tea and coffee, and had a black iced coffee. We were the only 'farangs' or foreigners there, but they didn't seem to mind us crashing their party, and a few didn't mind when I asked to take their photo too.
Then went for a walk through the night markets, and again a lot of sights, smells and more people to hassle to take their photo.
In the Lights.
Waiting for Dinner.
Meat & Veg.
We then went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. Pam, the tour guide ordered for us, and the waiter duly arrived with 15 containers of dim sum for the three of us. Really tasty, and we managed to eat most of it. Kelly was quite an interesting girl, works as a HR consultant, has been to Mexico for 6 weeks as part of her travels ad her boyfriend is half Mexican, and one of her hobbies is burlesque dancing.
We then caught a rickety old bus back to hotel, and then I just crashed at the hotel after a busy first day in Bangkok.
Got up a lazy 8:30am on Saturday morning and went for a run. Traffic here is pretty hectic, even on the pavement, so headed to a big park near the hotel and did a few laps. After breakfast at the hotel, went for a walk to the Grand palace and Wat Phra Keow.
Supposed to be Bangkok's biggest tourist attraction, and was literally heaving with tourists. Saw the emerald Bhudda, which is the star attraction. Only about 60cm tall, and is actually made out of greenstone. It has golden robe, which is changed three times a year, or once each season (summer, winter and rainy) by the Thai crown prince.
Then I went to Wat Pho, another temple close by. The Lonely planet book recommended this as the pick of the temples to see, and they were pretty much spot on. Half as many tourists, a bit more interesting to walk around and only a quarter of the price. The main temple housed a big reclining Bhudda, about 40 meters long and 15 meters high.
After a quick feed of fresh pineapple from a street stall, caught a ferry across the Chao Phraya river for the princely of 3 baht or about 10 cents. Then climbed up super stairs of another temple, Wat run, and a had a good view across the river and Bangkok.
Then caught the river boat down the Chao Phraya river. Only 15 baht or 50 cents, and got off at one of the stops and got some late lunch at some street stalls, and then got a taxi back to the hotel.
Went for a walk at about 7pm to Khao Sanh Road, a popular street with tourists with lots of street stalls and places to eat, with everything available from fried scorpions to McD's.
Stopped off at a restaurant filled with English people watching a Chelsea match, and had fried noodles and pork while watching the blue team win.
Got up at 7am on Sunday and went for a run in the park again. After breakfast, caught a tuk-tuk to the Chatuchak weekend markets. Hundreds and hundreds of stalls selling anything and everything, and bought a coconut ice cream and just had a wander about.
Then caught the metro to Sukhumvit.
Then caught the Skytrain to Siam Square, the main shopping place in Bangkok. Had a lunch from the street stalls with fried pork, tofu, a spring roll and some chilli potato balls for 40 baht, or about $1.50.
I then caught a canal boat to the last stop, and then walked a kilometre back to the hotel.
Had the trip intrepid group meeting at 6pm, with our leader, Chumpou, a thai lady. Good mix of people, with 4 Brits, an Aussie, a person from Belgium, a Swiss, and a couple of Canadians and one American. Went out for a group dinner afterwards to get to know each other. Had some ostrich and rice, quite tasty, a bit like beef.
Managed to get up at 6:30am on Monday, although was a bit bleary eyed. After a run and breakfast, packed the gear and met the rest of the group in the lobby at 8:30am and headed to the pier on the river. Out tour guide had organised a long tail boat, which is a long boat powered by a diesel truck engine perched at the back with a long drive shaft connected to the propellor.
Then headed through some of the canals, checking out the sights. Stopped by a temple and picked up some bread and then fed some catfish in the canal.
They were pretty energetic and everyone got a good splash of water as they fought over the bread. After going through a lock, we stopped and did a tour of another couple of temples and then caught the riverboat back to near hotel.
After lunch we headed off in a convoy of 5 taxi's to the main bus station. After a bit of spirited driving in the crazy Bangkok traffic we arrived ready to catch a public bus for the 2 hour ride to Kanchanaburi.
Got to Kanchanaburi at about 5:30, and hopped on a cyclo-rickshaw. Felt a bit guilty as I had an old guy cycling, and he was struggling a bit to cycle with me and my 2 bags. One of the younger guys even kept pushing him to get him going abit faster.
We stopped at the war cemetery where they buried the POW's who died in WW2 building the Burma to Thailand railway.
We then set off again, and had a driver change to give the old guy someone lighter. The new guy said the old guy was 74, but he was a bit younger at 53.
Then stopped off at the famous bridge as featured in the movie 'Bridge over the river Kwai', and crossed over it and took a few photo's.
Then headed to our guest house, where we are staying for 2 nights. Quite flash and modern, just like a hotel except no TV or fridge etc. All you need anyway.
After a quick shower we went to the restaurant across the road from the guest house. Chumpou, our tour guide then gave us a run down of tomorrows plan, before dinner. Had pork and chilli fried balls for entree, and curry with blue rice for the main. Apparently they cook the rice with some blue flowers, which acts as a natural colouring.
Got up at 6:30am for a run in the country side. The guesthouse we are staying at is on the edge of town, so was good to run past rice paddies and cornfields after the smoggy air in Bangkok. Did a loop back into town, and ran back over the Kwai river bridge.
Had breakfast back at the guesthouse. The restaurant is right on the edge of the Kwai, so quite a picturesque place to chomp down on some muesli and banana.
We then headed off at 8:30am in the back of a songthaew. Just two bench seats on either side for the 12 of us, and a bit of a roof. Good natural aircon though.
After about 90 minutes we arrived at the death railway, which had some original remnants from the Burma-Thailand railway from WW2.
Walked along the tracks for a bit until a bit of a cave where the Japanese officers used to camp, and had now been turned into a Buddhist shrine.
Back on the songthaew again and after another 60 minute drive got to Hell's pass. Basically a big cutting in the side of the hill in the middle of the jungle which was excavated by the POW's during WW2 for the railway.
There was a good museum there too which the Aussie govt help set up. About 30,000 British and Aussie POW's were put to work to build the railway, and just under a half of then died due to the shoddy treatment from the Japanese. They had some post cards the Japanese allowed them to send back home, but they were only multi-choice (the one on display had 'doing paid work' ticked).
Got back on the songthaew again and after another 90 minute drive got to Erawan national park at about 2:30pm. Had a quick lunch of green curry and then went for a walk down to the waterfall and went for a swim, The waterfall had 8 steps, and we walked up to the third one which had about a 10 meter drop. Temperature was just right and got to swim right under the waterfall. Had some fish too about 20cm long who would come along and nibble at your feet. Very ticklish too.
Got back to Kachanaburi at 6pm, and after a quick shower and rest, headed into town to the night markets for dinners. Had lots of different stalls selling lots of different kinds of food. Settled on pork and noodle, and a couple of chicken skewers from another stall, all for about 55 baht, or about $2. Afterwards, Champou, our tour guide, took us down to the insect stall for dessert. Had a couple of worms which looked like mini-huhu grubs, and a crunchy cooked cricket. All covered in spices and cooked, needed a bit of water afterwards to wash away the after-taste though.
After a bit of a sleep in on Wednesday morning, we headed off at 10am in a mini-van for a short trip down to the Death railway museum. Had an old bamboo hutt which the POW's were squeezed into when building the railway. Their clothes quickly rotted in the humid jungle, so the Japanese just have them a piece of cloth to put around their waste.
We then walked down to house boat for the river cruise. Basically two big pontoon type things, about 12 x 10 meters each, one for sleeping and one for dining. Just a roof on top to keep out the rain and open sides. A small tug boat then tugged us down the river for an hour of so, until we got to temple on the hill.
A big stair case of about 400 steps to get to the top, but had a good view at the top.
Had lunch back on the boat afterwards, prepared by the crew, and cruised further down the river and then stopped at another town and went for a walk through the streets and up the hill to another Bhuddist temple. Only 200 steps this time.
Then turned around and cruised back up river.
The rain, which had been a steady drizzle, turned started to really bucket down. We pulled over to the bank at about 6pm, and had dinner prepared by the crew. A bit of everything from beef curry, chicken drumsticks and fried vege's. Then whiled away the night, playing charades, cards and domino's. Had to stick to Hollywood movie's for charades to make sure both teams had a fair chance since we had quite a few different nationalities.
The generator went off at 10pm, and then we slept under mosquito nets on the house boat.
Got up at 7 on Thursday and had breakfast on the boat before driving back to Kachanaburi, where we had a quick shower and then set off for a 3 hour in the back of the truck again to Ayutthaya. Then got some day rooms at a guesthouse, and then had some lunch.
Visited a few temples in Ayutthaya in the afternoon, and got some holy water splashed on us by a monk, and got to rub some gold leaf on a Bhudda statue at another.
Our songthaew driver.
We also go to see the famous buddha in the tree roots at Wat Mahathat.
Came back at 3pm to relax at the pool at the guesthouse, and then off tonight at 6:30pm to catch the sleeper train to Chang mai. 11 hour trip so will get there tomorrow morning.
Got to the train station at Ayutthaya at about 7pm on Thursday night.
Had abit of time so took the camera for a bit of exploring.
After waiting outside in the humid evening air, everyone jumped on the train when it rolled in from Bangkok when it arrived on time at 8pm.
Apparently the normal sleeper carriages were out for service but the one we had was still pretty good. Instead of separate cabins, was similar to a normal carriage but the seats converted into bunks. The toilets were pretty clean, and gave a good direct view of the track below too.
Climbed into bed after the porters made up the bed with pillow, sheets and a blanket and actually managed to have a relatively good sleep, much better than economy on an aeroplane anyway.
When we got to the jungle, the train slowed down to about 50k's to wind through the hills and tree's. We reached Chiangmai at 10am, so about 14 hours all up. Jumped into some mini-vans at the train station which dropped us off at the hotel, and had a breakfast before Champou took us to the markets. Went to one of food stalls to get some honey rice cakes to feed to the elephants.
After a walk through the markets, we jumped in the mini-vans again and drove about an hour out of town to the elephant sanctuary.
Walked down to the river, and arrived just in time to see 15 elephants walking down the hill with their mahuts, and walk into the river for a bath, quite a spectacle.
After they had a good wash, we followed them back to the show area, and watched them show how they used log tree's in the jungle. They then setup some painting easels, and giving them a brush and some paint got to see them do some painting. I thought it would be done random brush strokes, but they were actually pretty good.
I bought a self-portrait, painted by a 3 year old baby elephant. Actually much better than a 3 year old human baby could paint. We then got to feed the elephants the snacks we bought at the market.
We then jumped in the mini-vans again and drove down the road to the elephant hospital. Where they treat elephants who have stepped on land mines, or have been rescued from illegal loggers, and need detox from being fed methamphetamines to make them work long hours in the jungle.
They had a poor baby elephant who lost a good chunk of her leg after stepping on a land mine. Apparently she runs around like crazy when they put her prosthetic leg on and quickly wears it out.
Headed back into Chiang mai and back to the hotel for a quick shower and then headed off to a Thai dinner and dance show. Was really good, only about $15 and they brought lots of different kinds of thai dishes and then got to watch all types of traditional dancing and music, and set in a Thai-style outdoor venue.
Afterwards just outside the restaurant we lit a few of the paper lantern balloon things, which flew off into the night sky, very beautiful.
Got back to the hotel at about 9pm, and then Champou took us to some more traditional thai dancing, a ladyboy cabaret.
In the Spotlight.
Black, White & Sequins.
Blowout. Managed to catch the strobe and get the cool blown backlight.
Even had a ladyboy Tina Turner strutting his/her stuff!
Did a cycle tour around Chiangmai this morning, was a good way to see Chiang mai and the surrounding countryside (me on far right).
Went to a temple where our guide used to live (he used to be a monk), visited an old leper colony and went and saw some rice plantations out in the country.
Rural milk delivery.
We then went for a drive up to the top of a mountain to go to a temple over looking Chiangmai in the afternoon, and then went for a walk around the old city area of Chiangmai and took a few more portraits:
After grabbing a red bean bun and an apple roll from the 7/11 for breakfast, we left Chiang mai for the drive to Mae Salong in a couple of mini-vans.
After about an hour and a half, we stopped off at the Chiang Dao caves. A cave used by the Burmese soldiers many years ago when they invaded. The cave was 'au naturel', i.e. no steps, pathways or handrails added etc. not even any lights. Some local volunteer guides took us through, with each holding a paraffin lantern to light the way. Had to go on hands on knees in a few places, and had some pretty big caverns as well. Although it was tricky seeing, the lack of permanent lighting was good as we got to see about 100 or so bats hanging from the ceiling, keeping a close eye on us.
Hit the road at 12 and headed north again and got to Mae Salong at 3pm. It is near the northern most part of Thailand, and in the golden triangle region, where the borders of Thailand, Burma and Laos meet at one point. A bit cooler here at about 20C, and quite hilly. Our mini-van driver had to turn off the air-con so he had enough power to creep up the tight turns and steep roads.
Headed off to a local restaurant for a late lunch. A lot of the people here are Chinese, who fled after the civil war in 1949.
After noodles and a banana smoothie, we headed to a local tea shop. They grow tea here on the hills, and got to sample a few of the different types they had.
Then went for a walk through town. The people were very friendly and managed to get some good portrait shots of a lot of them.
Youth & Beauty.
Short back and sides.
Father & son.
Got up for a run in Mae Salong on Monday morning. Up in the hills so lots of running up and down steep roads and not much else. Got back to the guest house and after a quick shower and walked down to the local markets. Took some more photo's of the locals and bought a few trinkets, as well as a couple of things for breakfast.
At 8:30am we piled into a couple of songthaew's and headed to a where they were growing tea on the hills and got to sample and taste different tea's again.
Mae Salong Tea Field.
After another hour in the songthaew's we stopped at a temple which had rhesus monkeys wandering around free. Bought some banana's to feed to them, but they wouldn't eat them! Swapped them for some peanuts and they couldn't get enough of them. They were pretty fast at shelling and gobbling them up and then putting their hand out for another.
Burt & Ernie.
Back in the songthaew's, and arrived at a town called Mae Dai right at the Thai-Burma border. Got our passports out and after paying 500 baht and getting our photo taken at the Burmese immigration, got our passports stamped and crossed over into the Burmese town of Tachiliek. Champou our guide took us to the local markets in town. Immediately got hassled to buy some fake Marlboro cigarette's and Viagra pills. Spent an hour or so wandering and managed to get quite a few good photo's, although some of the locals were too shy. Bought a small carved elephant 150 baht and some fried chicken for 25 baht.
Some portraits from Tachiliek:
BBQ Chicken Vendor.
After queuing back at the Thai immigration to get my passport stamped again, we headed back in the songthaew's to the golden triangle area where the borders of Thailand, Burma and Laos meet.
Stopped for lunch at 2pm at a restaurant on the Mekong river, overlooking Laos and Burma. Then caught a speed boat down the river over to Laos.
No passport this time, but just had a wander around the stalls.
Saw a poor sun bear stuck in a cage, before heading back over the river again back to Thailand.
We then went up to a lookout, looking over where the countries of Burma, Thailand & Laos meet and got a cool group photo.
Then went to the Opium museum, and then headed to a small village where we stopped at our homestay.
Before dinner, an old Thai man performed a buddhist ceremony where we all held held a long piece of string while he blessed it, and then made a bracelet for each of us, before sprinkling us with holy water.
The hosts then prepared a big dinner for us with 6 different dishes ranging from spicy pork mince, chicken curry and stir fried beans, very tasty. We then had some girls and guys playing some Thai music.
We also got to launch another lantern into the night sky.
Get up on Tuesday morning and packed some gear for our 2 day hill trek and set off for Chiang Rai at 9am. After making a last stop at 7/11 for water and snacks, the songthaew's took us out into countryside to start our trek.
After being issued with a bamboo walking stick each, we ventured into the Jungle. The trail was pretty basic, just a foot-wide goat track, and our guide had to pull out the machete to clear the path a few times. No steps going up hill either, so the bamboo sticks provided some much needed traction when things got a bit slippery.
Stopped for lunch at 1pm and had our packed lunches from the homestay, fried egg and noodles wrapped in a couple of banana leaves. Tasted not bad, and was good to be able to just chuck the packaging away afterwards.
After 3 hours of trekking we got to the village at 2pm. Our accommodation was a simple bamboo hut on poles just big enough to fit the 12 of us sleeping on the floor.
Had a walk around the village, most houses were made of basic bamboo and wood. Apparently they have to rebuild them every 2-3 years as bamboo only lasts that long in sun and rain. They had power but only used it sparingly, and water was provided by a simple PVC pipe from the stream.
In the afternoon the village kids came to visit. Was fun watching them playing games and amusing themselves with only a ball or some balloons we brought.
Smile. The people in the village belong to one of the indigenous hill tribe's, the Akha
The Akha live in small villages in Northern Thailand and neighbouring countries.
In Grandma's arms. Although 95% of the people of Thailand are Buddhists, but many people in the village were Christian.
Watching the footy game.
Mum's pride and joy.
Fun and games.
Our porters prepared dinner for us at 6pm over a wood stove. Springrolls, chicken green curry, beans, pumpkin and egg. Plenty of leftovers too which the village kids quickly lapped up.
We played 'chase the ace', a simple card game after dinner, and although the kids couldn't speak English, they soon picked it up.
Got at 7am on Wednesday morning and after toast and eggs for breakfast, headed off into the hills again. Started to rain a bit which made the track slippery and the mossies were pretty mental which added to the fun.
Kept trekking up and down a few hills, and then descended into a valley where they were growing tea and coffee.
Kept walking again along the valley until we headed up the hill again. Stopped at a large waterfall, had quick lunch of noodles (in banana leaves again), and then went for a dip. Nice and cool after all the hill climbing.
Set off again for the village and arrived. Staying at a bamboo hut again, but on the side of the hill, so wasn't too reassuring when it creaks and shakes when you go inside.
Not many kids at the village, so not as hectic but got a chance in the afternoon to rest and chill-out.
There was a platform over a small pond to sit down and we started bringing out the dishes of food cooked by the porters. All the food was out and everyone was sitting down to eat dinner when there was a large crack, one side of the platform collapsed sending 8 people and all the food sliding into the pond!
Luckily no one got hurt, except for a few scrapes and bruises. Happened pretty quickly and everyone was in a mixture of shock and laughter.
Our hosts cooked up some more food and after everyone who went for a dip had a shower, managed to have dinner at the second attempt. Spent the rest of the evening telling jokes and playing cards before heading off to sleep in the bamboo hut perched on the side of the hill.
Got up at 7:30am on Thursday morning with the bamboo hut luckily still intact. After packing up, had pancakes and honey for breakfast and then headed off with the bamboo poles again. After a bit more bush bashing started to descend into a picturesque valley where they were growing rice and tea. Walked through a few more villages and then down to the road along the river. After a bit more walking we arrived at some natural hot springs and went for a swim. Was great to wash off 2 days of sweat and grime after all the walking in the hot and humid jungle, great for the muscles too.
Went to a little restaurant by the road for lunch and had some chicken pad Thai, and then back on the songthaew's again back to civilisation to Chiang Rai and checked into a guesthouse. Was good to have the first hot shower and shave after 3 days.
Just had spare time in the afternoon, and walk through a walk through town and to the fruit and vege markets and took some portrait shots:
Taking it easy.
Meet up at 6 with the rest of the guys and walked down to the night markets. Went to quite a nice big restaurant in the centre of the markets. A few of us had western meals, but I opted for fried chicken curry and steamed. Got a bottle of water and fresh dragon fruit juice for the first time, very tasty. We then wandered around the night markets and picked up a few last minute souvenirs.
Got up at 6am for a run. All the hill walking must have done something to my legs because running on the straight level roads seemed to be so much easier than when I last went for a run before the trekking.
Meet up at 7:30am and then caught the 2 songthaew's for the last time to the bus station to catch the public bus to Chiang Mai.
After waiting with our bags for the bus to arrive, at exactly 8am, the Thai national anthem started playing on the loudspeakers and literally everyone stood up to attention. We of course did what everyone else did. A couple of stray dogs started howling too, and was quite surreal. Apparently it happens every day at 8am.
Caught the bus at 8:30am to Chiang Mai, quite nice and clean, had aircon and even got a bottle of water and some biscuits. Watched the movie 'Battleship' that was playing on the TV. All in Thai dubbing, but was just a typical Hollywood action flick with little plot so didn't matter.
Got to Chiang Mai at about 11:45am, and me and an Aussie girl jumped in a mini van to go to the tiger park, while the others headed to the guesthouse. Only 2 of us as some of the others had already been when we came to Chiang Mai last Saturday (instead of the cycle tour).
At the tiger park you literally get to pet the tigers. These parks in Thailand get a bit of a rap, but this one was supposed to be ‘ok’.
There were three options, baby tigers (2-3 months), slightly bigger cubs (5-7 months) and fully grown tigers. In between were the 'teenage' tigers who were a bit too 'playful' to let the tourists get close too. The sign also said 'insurance premium included', which I guess means you won't have to pay extra for the trip to the hospital in case something goes awry.
I signed up for the big tigers (although the baby tigers cost 50% more for some reason) and awaited my turn.
After getting our ticket and awaiting our turn, we headed into the enclosure. Wasn't that nervous, although the keeper seemed to be on constant alert, which is probably a good thing.
We then got the pet a couple of the tigers, quite a surreal experience! We weren't allowed to take bags in, so I had to hold my spare camera lens. Put it on the ground while I took a few snaps. One of the tigers spotted it and strolled over to check it out. Luckily one of the keepers picked it up though before he managed to have a chew.
Got back to the guesthouse at 2pm, and went for a walk downtown and wimped out and had my first burger in 2 weeks. Bought a few t-shirts at the markets too.
Got to the train station in the afternoon to catch the 15 hour train back to Bangkok. The trip is unfortunately almost over!
Some monks who were also Bangkok bound:
Arrived back in Bangkok on the sleeper train about 9am yesterday. Dumped the bags at the hotel and went for a walk and went to the National Museum, and then went to an amulet market by the Grand Palace where they were selling all these buddhist amulets.
Then caught the river boat down the main river to Chinatown, and just walked through all the shops and street stalls. The weekend so was very hectic! The street vendors took up most of the pavement with their stalls so often have to walk on the road and brave the crazy traffic to get anywhere.
At 6:30pm we met up for the final dinner. Half the group are travelling south to the beaches, while the rest of us are back to work this week.
We then headed to Obayoke hotel, the tallest building in Thailand, and went up to the rotating viewing platform on the 83rd floor, and got to see Bangkok at night from above.
Only 400 baht, or about $NZ15 and included a cocktail at the bar on the 82nd floor. I'm not much of a cocktail person, so got one of the few I recognised, a Blue Hawaii.
Off to the airport and back Dubai today, and back to work tomorrow morning. Was a great a holiday, many cool experiences and happy memories!