A Travellerspoint blog

Thailand

Thailand - Going coastal & catapult chicken in Bangkok

So we left Chiang Mai, with the added excitement of our taxi driver reversing into a bus outside Margaret and Don's hotel. Luckily it didn't delay us, just baffle us, and the days travelling went really smoothly. We flew to Bangkok then was met by a driver with a mini van who then drove us the few hours south to Hua Hin. It was really a great way to travel. Cost effective when there's 4 of you, probably not so much if there's only 2. Would definitely recommend Oriental Escape for anyone who's nervous about travel in Bangkok or who wants a simple and safe way to get from a to b.

Hua Hin

We returned to Hua Hin as we were trying to find a beach resort so Margaret and Don could enjoy that side of Thailand. Most of the other beach resorts that we could reach were either on the seedy side or really awkward to get to. Hua Hin is a couple of hours by car from Bangkok and is a popular resort with the Thais and having been there before, we had more of an idea of what we were getting.

Sony_HuaHin_boats.jpg

It's definitely a pretty place down by the sea with the various piers you can sit on to drink and eat. It's got an old side to part of it which are quite characterful. Though of course it has modern and cheesy parts like anywhere - burger king and girlie bars. But in Hua Hin you can easily avoid that side.
We stayed right in middle of town, whilst Margaret and Don were out at a resort further out of town. We realised that actually being in town was not that ideal as food was more expensive and generally not as good. It's a funny place Hua Hin. Most of the seafront is taken up by hotels and apartments so although it has a beautiful white sandy beach, you can't really use it unless you're staying somewhere with access. The small patches of private beach have so many loungers on it you'd be practically cuddling the person next to you. Seeing as that would likely be a lobster red, half naked, rotund old german guy - not ideal.

Our guest house was german or swiss run, wasn't sure which and was ok but a bit odd. The guy who runs it just sits around all day as does his grumpy Thai wife. There's a large young lady with a moustache who cleans the rooms and who I managed to bond with a little over our time there by giving her big smiles whenever I saw her which she reciprocated enthusiastically. They were all so miserable there and I figured she needed a bit of niceness.
Now our room was big and (must be the german efficiency thing) had everything we needed - lots of plug sockets in convenient places - you have no idea how rare this is! But we didn't have a top sheet and when we asked they gave us a blanket. Ok. Bit odd when it's over 30 degrees C out there. But the thing that was really terrible was that after cleaning the room sweet moustache lady would stand in the doorway and spray air freshener into it for a good 20 seconds. I have witnessed her do this on another room. The result being, when you return to your room you open the door to a chemical bio-hazard. I'd have to sit out on the steps outside the room for 10 minutes while it de-toxified (thank god we could open the windows there).

We were lucky to catch some of the Chinese New Year celebrations which had fire-crackers going off quite terrifyingly and then lots of lights and cheesy singing. Unfortunately we literally did stumble on it on the way home and Margaret and Don had already gone on their shuttle bus home so missed it,

Sony_HuaHin_celebrate1.jpgSony_HuaHin_celebrate2.jpg

Eating or drinking at one of the pier restaurants was always nice as it would be cool and really atmospheric.

Sony_HuaHin_nightpier.jpg

After a couple of nights eating down by the pier, we tried up by the night market, which had a totally different vibe to it and was a great people watching spot. The food was pretty expensive so generally just drooled over the amazing lobsters on offer.

Sony_HuaHin_market3.jpg

Sony_HuaHin_market.jpgSony_HuaHin_market2.jpg

It was Margaret's birthday while we were there so they invited us up to their hotel for dinner which, her birthday being Valentines day, had a special menu and was all dressed up. We went early to enjoy their access to the sea and their swimming pool which was a real treat having spent much of our time holed up in our guesthouse. The sea was lovely as was the pool area. The hotel were very sweet and delivered her a cake. Rained on our parade as we had brought a little incy one with us - it looked like the cake's poor cousin. But we did have everlasting candles which is ALWAYS funny and we did have to laugh as the cake they made said to 'Mr Hatter' on it.

Sony_HuaHin_cake.jpg

We had a fun meal with some good music and even dancing by the sea.

Sony_HuaHin_Bday.jpg

Our absolute saving grace in Hua Hin was a little cafe we discovered called Homestyle Hua Hin which had been opened by a lovely lady who had quit the rat-race of Bangkok to open her cafe by the sea. In a place full of mediocre, overpriced and bad-attituded (I know that's not english) restaurants in Hua Hin, this really was a diamond in the rough. She gave us a few things to try as well and we learned about a great Thai desert to take the edge off after a hot curry. She also does the most amazing wholemeal roti which we had every single time. Her Khau Soi, Mark's favourite Chiang Mai speciality, was incredible. She'd apparently studied (chemistry I think) at Chiang Mai which is why this was part of her repertoire. This, without doubt, was the best one I'd ever tasted.
If you're ever in Hua Hin, find this place, it's a treat.

Sony_HuaHin_restaurant.jpg

Bangkok

Bangkok is great and annoying at the same time. There's so much available there - but it's hot and a bugger to get about.
The traffic is just mental. I don't know how anyone every got anywhere before they built the sky train. I'm a big fan of the skytrain - it doesn't cover a great distance and certainly isn't a proper public transport system for the city but it does get you further afield cheaply, quickly and in amazing air conditioning.

Sony_Bangkok_Cars1.jpgSony_Bangkok_Cars2.jpg

We stayed in the main shopping area of Bangkok, mainly because we'd stayed nearby before and don't really know any other areas. It's pretty full on staying here - it's crazy busy. The main downside I would say is that there isn't a great deal of cheap decent eats about the place and certainly no where to have a quick cheap drink. Now that I've spent a bit of time in Bangkok I definitely know better areas to stay for next time where you're close to things but yet get some peace and quiet.

Lizards in Lumpini
Lumpini park is a short walk away from where we were staying. However in the heat of Bangkok, a short walk like that is very hard going. Luckily it was worth it as not only is it a lovely park in the middle of the craziness, it is cooler there than on the streets and best of all it's full of massive monitor lizards.
We'd gone in search of them and hoped just to spot one so were surprised to find one almost immediately - there are quite a lot there so you can't really miss them. They can be quite camouflaged, I nearly stepped on one that was blended into the lake edge.

Sony_Bangkok_Lizard.jpg

There's always something going on in Bangkok and something to look at. There were amazing decorations and lights setup for chinese new year.

Sony_Bangkok_Lights.jpg

Sony_Bangkok_dragon.jpg

There are also lots of mini shrines setup in the main shopping thoroughfares.

Sony_Bangkok_shrine.jpg

When we left a massive street art festival was going on - we were gutted to not see the finished results - it's the amazing street paintings which create 3d like effects and they had some of the best artists in the world there for it.

Vietnamese
I wanted to find a Vietnamese restaurant in Bangkok as, it being on of our favourite places, I wanted to share just a tiny bit of this with Margaret and Don as we weren't able to take them to the country itself. Siagon Recipe restaurant is really good and a lot of food for good prices too. It's not in the thick of things, you have to make an effort to get to, but it is in a pretty afluent neighbourhood so it's cool walking round there - you can find it off Soi Sukhumvit49. The bun cha was amazing.

Sony_Bangkok_Vietnamese.jpgSony_Bangkok_vietnamese2.jpg


Flying Chicken Restaurant

Now I had to drag everybody a bit further out of central Bangkok for this one and we had a hairy moment when we got off the skytrain to realise there was no where to get a taxi and we were in the middle of nowhere. Luckily we were on a busy dual carriageway so, slightly ropey as it was for him to stop a taxi did come over to get us. We then had to try to explain to him where it was. We had assumed that there would be local taxis and everyone would know about this place but I think this guy was passing through. We kept saying chicken (later realising that Mark knows Thai for chicken but hadn't thought to use it). I'd come prepared with telephone numbers etc so he phoned them up and as he dropped us off outside with the huge statue of a cockerill outside, the taxi driver just laughed and was like "ahh CHICKEN!!!".

So, the Flying Chicken restaurant (Ka-tron) does what it says on the tin and then some. If you order the flying chicken then you will get a whole chicken, but only after it has been lit on fire, fired out of a catapult and caught (if they are successful) on a spike on the head of a unicyclist. Yep, you read that correct. Fantastic eh? It was honestly such a blast, one of most fun things have done in Thailand.

Sony_Bangkok_Chicken1.jpg
Sony_Bangkok_Chicken2.jpg
Sony_Bangkok_Chicken3.jpg
Sony_Bangkok_Chicken4.jpg

Mark had a go at catching a bake potato on his head, with the spiked helmet on, I might add, and without the unicycle. He was rubbish!

They had the perfect setup for a photo - this unicycle is on a pole which they stick into the ground and so you can sit on it perfectly balanced for your photo shoot - genius!

Sony_Bangkok_Chicken5.jpg

The pictures don't really do it justice - check it out on Mark's youtube video which also has other crazy Thai footage from our last weeks.
I particularly like the bit where they're throwing potatoes at Mark's head and I can be heard shouting "I hope it hits him in the face" and "Man-up". Aren't I the BEST girlfriend? ;)

So, as we bade farewell to Margaret and Don, we welcomed our friend Elena from Singapore. She had met us in Phuket in our first week in Thailand so it seems fitting she'd meet us for our last.

She was staying in a serviced apartment about 15 minutes walk from us and from the moment she arrived we basically bummed around her flat having lazy fun. We were knackered from all the running around we'd been doing and she was just back from travelling half way round the world so we were all happy to be sloth like. Well Mark and I were sloth like, it's impossible for Elena to be, or if she was she'd do it in heels!!

We discovered the freezer worked a little bit too well in that when we took a bottle out of the freezer and put it in the icebucket, the ice set on the bottle and didn't defrost for ages. Was quite fascinating.

Sony_Bangkok_Champagne.jpg

We took the opportunity to use the apartment and it's proximity to some good supermarkets to have a couple of great feasts with much non asian contraband involved - mucho meat and cheese.

Sony_Bangkok_Elenas.jpg

There was a great view from the apartment and we spotted that there was a tennis court on one of the buildings roofs.

Sony_Bangkok_tennis.jpg

We did venture out, but not far up the road to the most amazing restaurant that Elena and friends had stumbled upon a while back.
Gaggan's was setup by a chef who used to work at El Bulli so when Elena asked if I'd like to go I confirmed by jumping up and down excitedly. I love travel eating and discovering food that way but I have always loved a good restaurant and have really missed that part of my old life.
So the setting was divine in a colonial style oasis down a side street, all beautifully lit with a lovely atmosphere.
The food is described as 'Indian progressive' - using indian flavours with various fine dining and moleculary techniques. We went for the 10 course taster menu. Who wouldn't?

The first thing that really blew my mind was the lamb burger. Take a look at the picture below. The pink thing which looks like a macaron? That was the lamb burger. The outside melted in your mouth and although your brain was telling you that it should be something sweet, the flavour engulfs you and you can kind of taste seaside type lamb burger - ketchup and mustard. Tastebud-tabulous!

Sony_Bangk.._Lambburger.jpg

Other course included oysters with foam, mussels, a soft souffle in an egg shell, soup, tempura style chillies, a chick and egg combo with an egg somehow poached in a sauce - another mind blower.
We also ordered a coriander tandoori chicken which was an amazing mix of Indian and Thai flavours.

Sony_Bangk.._oysterfoam.jpgSony_Bangkok_Meal_Mussels.jpg

Sony_Bangk.._eggsouffle.jpgSony_Bangkok_Meal_chilli.jpg

Sony_Bangk.._ChickenEgg.jpgSony_Bangkok_Meal_soup.jpg

The main course was a curry with various style naan breads. Never had anything like it. Also, having not had a decent Indian curry since we've been away, it was a most welcome flavour of home. Our dessert was an ice-cream type thing (I think they might have used the old liquid nitrogen for this. It was a little hard so the quite mad and delightful maitre'd broke it up and started to spoon feed us. Sounds odd but was very funny (and we'd have a very few at this point).

Sony_Bangkok_Meal_curry.jpgSony_Bangkok_Mealdessert.jpg

My absolute 'clap hands like a child' moment came with the course which had a glass dome containing smoke, the aroma of which adds to you detectible delights. Always wanted to try one. Comes from watching too much Heston.

Our second best bit of fun, after the meal, was the amazing 'lobby cam'. One of the channels on the TV showed live footage from the reception, I guess so you can see who's coming to visit you etc. In our fragile states and for lack of any other entertainment, we ended up quite addicted to watching this. Most of the time nothing happened. It got exciting when someone came in to look at the cakes. Nothing would happen for ages then suddenly you'd get 3 checkins at once. Oh the excitement. And the guess the nationality game was fun too. Forget Big Brother - Lobby Cam is the way forward.

So after sending Elena on her way and a bit of last minute shopping, so ended our time (almost a year) in South East Asia.

Posted by KtandMark 11:35 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thailand - Elephantastic & Bye Bye Chiang Mai

by Kt

So after spending many, many months in Chiang Mai it was finally time to leave for good. After months of a very quiet life, doing online work and ticking by, our last couple of weeks in Chiang Mai and in fact Thailand were a whirlwind of activity and craziness.

We took advantage of the fact that dental work in Chiang Mai is both cheap but also of a really high standard. Lots of people fly there specifically to have dental work as it can be cheaper than doing it in their own country. The dentist even had a little coffee shop at the front and a fish tank in the shape of a tooth. You can't go wrong with that can you? I was really impressed and for the amount of work we had done (well Mark mainly), can't believe the cost.
Having never had a filling as an adult, I didn't really know what it would involve when I was told that I needed one and I'm still amazed now you can't see a thing. Good job amazing dentist lady.

I was very put out that the most amazing restaurant and bar opened in our last couple of weeks just down the road from us. Bam 7 has korean food, good wine and amazing seating - all mid-century design and comfy as hell. They have cool live music too. Their menu was also a cook book. A really interesting, creative and cool place - was gutted it had not been there the whole time.

Social interaction and that
After over a year seeing no-one from the UK, we saw 2 lots of people in the space of a week. So nice to hit the town, not just the 2 of us.
First up Dawn and Mark had been hopping around Thailand and Chiang Mai was their last stop before heading home. I have been away with Dawn a couple of time and we are good socialising (read drinking) buddies, and after months of abstinence I was very much looking forward to it.
We only had a couple of days, but we managed to go to a few classic Chiang Mai places - Ginger & Kafe and the River Market and put ourselves about a bit. Dawn was hobbling around having sustained an injury at the Thai boxing in Koh Samui. No, it wasn't in a fight, she just fell over on the way out!

I gratefully received a massive pack of Yorkshire tea, as well as some green and black, the dark chocolate one of which I was so looking forward to, but Mark polished off when drunk. Not impressed would be the understatement of the year.

ChiangMai_mob_tea.jpg

One of the nights we went into town to meet up was particularly fun as, in a tuk tuk on the way, the heavens opened and we were completely drenched by the time we arrived at their hotel. We then had to stay in for a while as it was blowing a gale outside. The glass panes of the hotel were shaking. When we eventually went out the streets around us had flooded, but luckily the River Market, which I'd intended to take them to was not too far away and luckily they had enough backup lights and candles to deal with the power cut the storm had caused. So the 4 of us had a romantic evening.

Sony_ChiangMai_Meal.jpg

We also shared a Thailand first with Dawn and Mark, in that in the nearby, slightly seedy, drinking area we got to see a dwarf thai boxing, watched on by ladyboys with dancing chihuahuas (don't ask). We also experienced the worst toilets of the trip in a gay bar near their hotel. Made rural Laos look positively civilised! It was a great couple of days and for some reason, I don't seem to have any photos. Probably a good thing.

Crossing over with Dawn and Mark briefly, we also had Mark's mum, Margaret and her partner Don, over for a longer visit. They were staying slap bang in the middle of the old city which definitely turned out to be a great idea as they got to walk all over exploring all the Wats and wonder inside the city walls. Much to my delight we got to take them to various other Chiang Mai places as well as going back a second time to Ginger & Kafe and the River Market. Had to get my moneys worth before we left! It was great ordering things to share too - getting to try anything that we hadn't gotten around to.

I also got a load of these. Happy days! I had marmite on toast everyday for a week.

ChiangMai_mob_marmite.jpg

It was nice to introduce everybody to our neighbourhood as well - to see where we have lived most of this time and to see the difference in where we live as compared to the touristic old city. And of course to visit the crazy garden haven of iBerry ice-cream shop.

ChiangMai_mob_Iberry.jpgChiangMai_mob_Iberry2.jpg

Margaret and Don timed it well as there was a week of celebrations for the flower festival. There was lots of things going on at the gate and they got to see a parade on one day. There was a show on one night with all the kids performing dances and best of all little comedy sketches. The cutest thing ever!
They were also there long enough to enjoy a sunday night walking street and all the tasty treats that involves. And shopping - boy did they enjoy the shopping.


Elephantastic!

One of the things we knew we wanted to do before we left, and decided to do with Margaret and Don, was an elephant experience.
Now, there are a lot of elephant experiences available in Thailand. There's elephant shows, there's still elephants traipsed around the streets of cities (thankfully at least banned in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, though we have seen a baby elephant on the streets of Phuket). The main thing you get up in the Chiang Mai countryside is the outdoor elephant experience. Most of these places offer elephant riding of one description or another. To be honest, when we first went there I wasn't really aware this was a problem. I suppose you see pictures over the years of mahoots on elephants and of people riding them on safari or royalty even in India. However, I wanted to make sure that I went to the most sound and decent choice and upon looking into this I realised that actually riding on elephants might be a bit of a dream for people but it's certainly no dream for the elephants and some of the elephants are treated very badly - either just by not being fed enough, worked too hard or in even more unpleasant ways. Without doubt the Elephant Nature Park has the seal of approval as a place that puts the elephant first. In fact, it's not really about the tourist at all, it is a rescue centre and I'm sure if they could get by without the tourists they would, but it's a happy bedfellow to get people to come and experience the place and pay towards it's upkeep. In fact, lots of people stay for a week or more as volunteers and pay for the privilege. I think there is one other elephant place in the area which has the thumbs up, the rest are just not ideal and it's more about the money than the animals. So if you visit, please do your research as it really, really does matter.

The woman who runs the place is, as Dawn, who'd visited the week before us, quite rightly says, inspirational. Lek came from a small village, where her grandfather was the local medicine man (for want of a better description). She has an affinity with elephants and made it her life's work to rescue them.

Sony_Chian..hants_Lette.jpg

She has animals from all over at her place - some rescued from Burma (where they still are used for work - this has been banned in the rest of South East Asia) and some from Cambodia where they'd been injured by land mines. If she hears of an animal in trouble, she does what she can to get to it. They even provide healthcare for all the elephants in the area (unfortunately helping the cheap owners who use them to make money from tourists but who won't look after them properly). She also has a massive kennels on the property where they have hundreds (if not near thousands) of dogs, most of whom were rescued from the Bangkok flooding a few years ago.

So what to our 'experience'? Well, it started badly. We decided not to take much with us and so we locked up most of our money and cards in our backpack cage, only to realise we had also locked in BOTH keys. It was at least both our faults which I think prevented murder. In the end we realised we couldn't do anything about it until we got home so we just got on with the day. However, we were not particularly welcoming (and key fiasco or not this would have grated) to the ladies on the mini bus with the ukeles. Luckily we had a video for much of the journey so they stayed pretty quiet, though somebody was trying to play along to the theme tune I believe until Mark gave them a dirty look.
I won't mention this group of woman again, so as not to focus on the negative of what was an amazing day, but ukele lady and her friends were a pain in the backside. Very loud and look at me-ish. They'd get in everyone else's way and their photos of their experience was the priority of the day. And as for the ukele playing and loud singing during break times. Seriously - this wonderful place was peaceful and there were people sat around in various areas contemplating life the universe and everything - only to have this peace ruined by these dappy mares. I think the icing on the cake was on the way back when one of them said we should all put in money to buy a ukele for our guide (who she'd already explained to that her $100 ukelele was entry level back in the USA to). She did this in front of him and there was an awkward silence where at least one of their party suggested that perhaps it was up to the individuals and they should talk about it later. The worst thing about this was the guy was in the van with us and can here all this. Now if there's one thing you should learn about Thais (particularly men) before visiting their country is that they are proud and that losing face is the worst possible thing for them. This guy was clearly not pleased and I don't blame him. My blood was boiling. I mean he wasn't exactly poor or anything anyway - he has a good job that he clearly loves - how patronising to assume he couldn't buy himself such a luxury if he wanted. These weren't young people by the way - it was a group of older ladies who should flipping well know better. It did remind us why we don't go on trips very often!

Anyhow, now that I vented about the bad manners of our other group members, I can assure you that nothing so banal could detract from the amazingness of this place.
The grounds are huge, set between the mountains, jungle and a river, the huge expanse gives the elephants all the space they need.

Sony_Chian..hants_Space.jpgSony_Chian..hants_Room2.jpg

The areas you walk around as a day tourist are actually quite small in the percentage of the size of the land. They have built a large wooden covered area on the edge, from which you can go to viewing platforms and walkways that are up high and in the shade.

The walkways can also be used as big scratching posts too:

Sony_Chian..nts_Scratch.jpg

You can feed the elephants (under supervision) from these main area. You never get elephants walking about without a mahoot/caretaker nearby to keep an eye on things. They also only bring them out towards the public in shifts and for limited periods of time. If you look at photos taken at the park because everyone would have elephants and people in them it would look like you constantly have elephants and people interacting and they are everywhere, but that's so not the case - it's just when everyone takes the photos. The small groups are spread out in time and area and the animals are never swamped with too many people. They pretty much do their own thing. If they don't want to hang around, they won't. Of course, when they are being fed, they are pretty likely to! You get taught how to hand the food to sit in their trunk for them to throw into their mouths.

Sony_ChiangMai_Elephants1.jpg

The stories of the various elephants are heartbreaking. There are many blind and partially blind elephants there, not least because traditionally the working animals are usually controlled by violence and a stick in the eye is pretty effective it seems.
The lady in the photo below, Medo, was mistreated in that the owner tried to mate her with a bull elephant way, way, way too big for her as she was too young. The result? A broken back and hips. You can't fix an elephant with injuries like that, so this is how she lives. Heartbreaking! But she is a lovely lady and is the one I gravitated towards - she totally stole my heart.

Sony_Chian..phants_back.jpg

One of the other highlights is bath time. You literally go into the river with them and a bucket and help give em a good wash. They love it.
Now let me tell you, at 5 foot 1 and a half, throwing up a bucket of water at an elephant isn't going to be all that effective. Didn't manage much higher than mid ear!

Sony_Chian..phants_Wash.jpg

The day ends with a video, a wake up call and a laugh - you'll have to go to find out what I mean.

If you ever want to donate to a good cause or just educate yourself some, then please look at www.elephantnaturepark.org/

large_Sony_Chian..phants_Roam.jpg

Posted by KtandMark 17:03 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thailand - S'no christmas in Chiang Mai

by Kt

So in early December, on Mark's birthday to be exact, we had a bit of a shock when after having forgotten to rebook our rooms (the place had been empty for months so we hadn't really thought it necessary), reception phoned us to remind us to check out. We asked to extend and they told us the room was booked. This was a bit of a concern, not least because we had been living in the room for a few months and so had unpacked almost completely for the first time on the trip and so there was stuff everywhere. Mark went down to speak to reception as I hurriedly threw things into bags and cases. Luckily they managed to find us another room but this could only be booked until early january and we'd planned to stay until february. this in itself was not such a tricky thing, more the fact that we were due to go away for a week the beginning of january and had intended to leave all our stuff in our room as our flights were only for carry on. Coupled with the fact it had taken us so long to find the best place we could find for a reasonable price and length of time and the stress we'd gone through to do such - this was not the best birthday for Mark. After all that, a week or so later they managed to sort it out much to our eternal greatfulness. In some ways it was a real bonus to have moved. The air con worked properly in this room - oh joy. We had a washing machine - oh double joy. Best of all, we don't pay to have the room cleaned so we got a bran spanking new clean (well, as much as they do here) place to move into. It's lacking some comforts of the last place, like a sofa (we take it in turns on the arm chair), but it's pretty good all round.
We found the lack of utensils interesting when we came to do some cooking but learned that the flat cheese grater just does the job of a spatula for cooking eggs.

Christmas in Chiang Mai was obviously weird. Our second christmas away from home but without the euphoria from last year when we'd only left home a few weeks before.
The Thai's love a bit of decoration and New Year is pretty big here so there were some decs about to keep things festive and I received some xmas decs courtesy of friends and family, including a home made card xmas tree, courtesy of a my niece, so our room had a festive feel. But despite the collection of christmas songs i put together and watching as much christmas tv as possible it couldn't help feeling equally flat and equally tortuous as we were so god damn homesick.

chiangmai_mob_xmas.jpg

We'd decided to take both Christmas Day and Boxing Day off from doing any work and to get some food in that would be considered a special treat for us here and we had some skype sessions planned with home.
Christmas Eve turned out to be a delight - I sailed into the almost empty shopping centre and around the supermarket having a very quiet stress free time. I didn't miss the christmas supermarket hideousness of home that is for sure. In fact as communication from people at home became more and more fraught with stress about everything from shopping, to travel and logistics and of course weather, I began to feel a bit better.
We ended up with a bizarre mix of 'treats' - some bread, cheese and cold meats, bit of chocolate, some crisps. It was all a bit random really but as we only wanted stuff for a couple of days and were trying not to blow the budget, we had an interesting mix I think. We spent double our usual £20 supermarket shop which Mark was quite horrified by. My desperate need for some cheese straws didn't work as usual - they were a bit sweet. It is my holy grail of asia :(
This may look like an unimpressive collection of things but it is really expensive stuff over here so things we just don't buy/eat normally.

large_sony_xmasfood.jpg

So the day itself was a bit of a heart twister but pleasant enough. We got some fireworks - not sure if that was for christmas enough but never get sick of that and these were the most impressive I've seen in a long time.

Life was pretty much back to normal on the 27th but we were going away for a week on the 31st and some stuff in the hotel and around was closing for new year. Mark went to the gym on the last day before it shut down and had the real delight of them doing not only a spring clean, spraying all the cleaning sprays around to polish all the machines, but they were spray painting over one of the machines which had gotten worn to. WITH THE WINDOWS ALL TIGHTLY SHUT!?! this was because of the air conditioning of course. He just had to get out of there. They were shutting in a couple of hours for a few days, so why they couldn't wait. Just crazy! It's an ok gym but at home health and safety people would have full on fits. My favourite is the ping pong table. It's not the most fun to have a ping pong ball drop onto your running machine when you're running full pelt I can tell you. Anyhow, I'm not going to be all 'ex-patish' and slag of anything Thai but sometimes things like this, especially when you're feeling a bit homesick anyway, make you shake your head in wonderment. Still, Mark survived the day without keeling over, so all was ok.

Oh, what I hadn't mentioned is that were off the booze. We hadn't had a drop since back in September and we were trying to go for a few months, partly for health (being on one long holiday can certainly take it's toll) and partly for money reasons (being on one long holiday can certainly take it's toll there too).
So we may well have had a more 'merry' christmas if we'd been able to actually partake in the christmas 'spirit' (oh so many puns). Not that drink of course makes life rosy in anyway, but we would have probably been down into the old city, making friends for the night and it would have just felt a bit more celebratory. Not that much of the christmasy booze would really work here. The baileys would curdle, the red wine served cold. Just doesn't work.

We watched endless downloaded bbc programs which just frankly tortured us. Every cooking program going which left us drooling and pining messes.
Mark had never watched Nigella before properly and he banned her pretty early on. I have to watch her at xmas as her stuff is always so good so I just take a deep breath and ignore all her nonsense.

Apart from my family and friends who I missed desperately and painfully, these are some of the things I missed:
- proper christmas dinner obviously
- my mum's sausage rolls
- rachel's cheese straws
- cindy's brie & cranberry parcels
- cold turkey
- the christmassy booze - mulled wine, baileys, southern comfort etc
- quality street/roses - i don't even like choc much the rest of the year but these are just perfect for xmas
- brandy butter (not fussed about the christmas pudding so much) and again - my mum's homemade.
- buying presents
- christmas tv - we could download only bbc and there was the odd, sporadic christmas movie on
- what everything looks like (apart from the rubbish council lights) at christmas in brighton
- the hatter family quiz/price game and ensuing chaos
- escaping from the cold into a warm, fairy light sprinkled pub playing christmas music with loved ones
- the kids excitement in the run up and constantly being able to use being good for father christmas as a threat

I'm getting dreamy and bleary eyed thinking about it so to make me feel better...things I didn't miss so much:

- crazy consumerism chaos - shops and advertising to the point you want to blew your brains out
- buying presents
- spending huge chunks of december and january in the car stuck in traffic whilst visiting various parts of the country
- the kids once they have been overwhelmed by presents, sweets, people and are flying about like they are in a pinball wizard machine
- the weather
- the eternal darkness

Some randoms:

The Topps supermarket xmas catalog was an interesting read sometimes things like this are curiously interesting.
They offered loads of hampers which have lots of lovely names like 'the highest respect', 'genuine respect', 'spirit of trust'. There were about 50 choices which had either 'respect' or 'trust' in the title, along with a little bit of 'love' and 'health'. Who wouldn't want to receive a hamper called something like that?

sony_chiangmai_topps2.jpg

sony_chiangmai_topps3.jpg

Then we had the charity thing which raised funds for bullet-proof jackets for troops down in the troubled areas of the south. Slightly alarming they need to raise charity funds for this to say the least. Different from putting your green waitrose button in the box for a group of donkeys to get an easter fete. Not that I don't adore donkeys or anything and always made sure I used my button, but you get my drift.

sony_chiangmai_topps1.jpg

Japanese xmas elvis:

chiangmai_mob_japanxmas.jpg

Keen enjoy and drink wine - this massive banner was outside a new restaurant and bar that has recently opened down the road.

chiangmai_xmaswine.jpg

A cute tree made up of empty water bottles:

chiangmai_mob_xmastree.jpg

Posted by KtandMark 03:14 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Chiang Mai Loi Krathong/Yi Peng - a lantern up for the books

by Kt

We've just hit our years anniversary of leaving the England and we're definitely not ready to be heading home yet. We will be in South East Asia until February when we will finally, regretfully, move on.
Well we've been static in Chiang Mai from early Sept, bar our brief visit to Laos and we are living a pretty quiet life. We've been trying to get online work to help with our very dwindling funds and take the chance to get a bit healthier.
It's amazing how much it feels like home when you've been somewhere a while - you get your favourite shops, restaurants, even routes to get from A to B. Our neighbourhood, the most modern in Chiang Mai, really is lovely. It's modern, arty and trendy, It's also quiet and spacious and chilled.

Nimmanheimen11.jpgNimmanheimen6.jpg
Nimmanheimen1.jpgNimmanheimen3.jpg
Nimmanheimen4.jpgNimmanheimen5.jpg

The weather has been lovely. We spent so much of our time here in the wet season which is fine, but could get annoying being drenched all the time and in Chiang Mai it meant for lots of grey skies which just reminded me of home. October and November have been dry, blue skied and also, happily, a little cooler. Still hot, just not humid and with a breeze coming in from time to time.

Loi Krathong, Yi Peng

I'd seen pictures of the lantern festivals in Chiang Mai and was chuffed that we had ended up staying long enough for it. It was, however, really confusing to try to work out when and even what it was. There is the nation wide festival, then there is the local festival but in the end it just seemed that they intermingled and this year mixed in a bit with some celebrations for the kings birthday so we had a week full of lanterns and fireworks. Our room being on the 11th floor came in really handy and the sky would have lots of lanterns floating up over the mountains and pockets of fireworks going off (including fireworks being set off from balconies - don't ask!!). In the cow field next to where we stay they had these home made candles with flammable liquid set up along the low fence.

ChiangMai_Fest1.jpgChiangMai_Fest2.jpg

We worked out that there were a couple of 'main days' and we certainly picked the right one to go into the Old City and down by the Ping river. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life. It was just beautiful and magical and a bit crazy.

There were big fireworks going off, there were also some small ones being bought on the street and set off, near the bridges. They were a little alarming as some of the kids with them were pretty young. You just had to not think too hard about it and get ready to duck!! It wasn't a big deal, just one of those differences you notice between here and our health and safety obsessed society. The only time anything was particularly alarming was outside a restaurant/bar on the backstreets, was a western guy, quite clearly drunk, firing fireworks out of a gun. Stupid arse! Luckily it was pretty quiet around there.

ChiangMai_Firework.jpg

The traffic had been shut off from a lot of the Thapae gate area which made for a nice experience - it's usually a bit crazy around there and you could appreciate the place in a different way. There were some amazing paper light sculptures set up by the - iconic buildings from around the world. There were lit up sculptures on the canal ways - always beautifully kitsch.

ChiangMai_Gate1.jpgChiangMai_Gate2.jpg

There was a carnival style parade that went from from the Thapae gate and all the way along to the river. It did remind me of a smaller, Thai version of the west country carnivals. We followed the procession, stopping off in a Wat along the way to light our own lantern. It was lovely in the Wats as the monks were helping people out and really enjoying it. A monk with his mobile out snapping the lanterns is a funny site.

ChiangMai_parade1.jpgChiangMai_parade2.jpg
ChiangMai_parade3.jpgChiangMai_Wat.jpg

large_ChiangMai_LanternMark.jpg

large_ChiangMai_LanternMonk.jpg

Even the banks had paper lantern displays outside.

ChiangMai_bank.jpg

There were so many people setting their candle lit floats into the river. There was a variety of floats, but I loved the bread ones best - shaped into things like turtles.

ChiangMai_Float.jpg

ChiangMai_Floatbread.jpg

The lanterns were the main thing though. You may have seen them at home - they tend to be a bit smaller and I remember Mark and I trying to light some on Brighton Beach and it failing miserably because of the wind. Anyway, the one's here are much bigger, in fact some are simply enormous.
You light the base, hold onto it for a while, while it fills with hot air and then it whips up into the air, with surprising force.

ChiangMai_Lantern1.jpg

ChiangMai_Lantern2.jpg

They were going off everywhere for the whole week, but when we were in the Old City on the Wednesday, it was on a whole other level. The sky was full. I can't even imagine how many. And it was never ending.
My favourites were the ones that had fireworks attached to them. You lit the base and some strands off the side, then when it went up, when it got fairly high, fireworks lit up off the side. Utter gorgeousness!!!!

ChiangMai_Lantern3.jpg

large_ChiangMai_Lantern4.jpg

large_ChiangMai_Lantern6.jpg

large_ChiangMai_Lantern7.jpg

ChiangMai_LanternPretty.jpg

The sky was full for hours. Looking up was just amazing. Photos of the sky didn't really work to show what it looked like but I was just in awe the whole time.

There were obviously lanterns going off course all over the place, stuck in trees, on building - heading back down. But they're pretty robust - they'd just burn out, amazingly never setting fire to anything. But quite frankly, I found the occasional element of danger added to the experience!

ChiangMai_LanternStuck.jpg

Over the week there must have been 100s of thousands of lanterns going up, if not more. I'd love to know the actual figures. The clean up must be a nightmare and for a while the lantern remnants and failed lanterns were all over in odd places but within a week there were no signs anywhere!

Other weird and wonderful:

Political procession

I'd seen it before a few months back but it was a first for Mark - a procession of cars, coachs, vans and bikes of the Red Shirts who were going to making their way down to Bangkok for an anti government rally (weekend of 24th Nov). This is a long journey but politics is quite rightly taken very seriously and passionately here.

Nimmanheimen Design Festival

Nimmanheimen10.jpg

They had a little arty festival down Soi 1 (Lane 1) of Nimmanheimen Road which was really nice - art and crafty but in a more modern, cool style. They had little shows on at the top end on a small stage and we saw a band of pretty talented kids including a tiny little drummer. There was also a 'Turnip' puppet show - unfortunately we only caught the tail end but it did involve a big white turnip puppet!!

Nimmanheimen_drummer.jpg

Kings Birthday

I got quite obsessed with watching the Kings birthday celebrations in Bangkok that were live on the TV. I guess it's like how people abroad like to watch our Queen doing stuff - royal weddings and the like - I got really into it. They had their version of bearskin guards but they didn't just have black hats - blue, green and even pink!! And all the crowds were dressed in yellow, the colour of the royal family and I've never seen so many people - it was quite incredible. The commentary was amazing too - it talked about the kings promise to the nation to look after the wild animals and help out the poor and keep them out of mischief. The general message was that everyone should be lovely, kind and considerate to each other. It was quite lovely and it never fails to amaze me the adoration most of Thailand has for their royal family. I guess it's like the UK was donkey's years ago when people had pics of the queen up in the house. But, yep, most of all I liked the pink hatted guards!!!

KingBday1.jpgKingbday2.jpg

Mark and the Giant Moth

Our balcony overlooks a bit of unused land so there is a bit of nature stuff going on down there and we were on one day visited by the hugest moth we had ever seen. I've never even seen anything this big in wildlife parks/butterfly houses etc - it was truly mammoth. Mark was very fascinated and yet scared. He tried to get very close to take photos and then screamed when it flew about a bit. Not sure what he thought it was going to do to him.

Moth.jpg

Micky Mouse Bathroom

Rather loving the (not so sure official) mickey mouse bathroom stuff available at the shop down the road. I have since seen a rather impressive set of Hello Kitty stuff from there too!

Nimman_mickey1.jpgNimman_mickey2.jpg
Nimman_mickey3.jpg

Sale!!

Loved this rather specific sales percentage sign

Nimmanheimen9.jpg

Need good time?

Loved this that we came across in one of the lanes.

Nimmanheimen7.jpg

Dog Head

I don't know - but why not?

Nimmanheimen2.jpg

Xmas Elephants

Outside one of the shopping malls they'd dressed up their elephant statues in rather natty xmas attire.

ChiangMai_xmas.jpg

Outdoor chandelier

At the opening of a new restaurant/wine bar they'd setup an outdoor venue with the most amazing outdoor chandelier.
It reminds me of Brighton round here - a business shuts and within a few weeks something else new and cool has opened in it's place.

Nimman_newwinebar.jpg

Posted by KtandMark 04:55 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thailand - Chiang Mai - We're back & this time it's personal

by Kt

After getting back to Thailand from Singapore we headed straight up to Chiang Mai with the intention of settling for a bit in an apartment to get stuff sorted, have a break from the intensive travel and get organised.

It was nice to go back to somewhere we knew well - knowing where best to go to eat and shop. But we knew we didn't want to live around the old city area as we'd been before. The prices are often a little higher and just wanted to go somewhere where people live, not just tourists. So after a few days in our old favourite, the Na Inn, we moved to a room hostel in the Nimmanhaemin Road area to help us better with our search. This is an area we really wanted to move to. A modern area, created only in the last 20 years, it's near the university so has lots of young people and quirky cafes and restaurants and has a network of wide, quiet, leafy sois (lanes). There are also a lot of Japanese and Korean expats so lots of my fave food!

Finding an apartment however was not an easy task. Biggest problem is wanting something on a per month basis - that really ruled out the majority of properties. Then there was our must have list - walking distance to Nimmanhaemin Road, a kitchen, a separate bedroom, a swimming pool, a balcony and somewhere for us both to sit to work. You'd be amazed that so many places are just lacking any kind of furniture. Or you get somewhere that has a kitchen but no crockery etc - bit odd for a serviced apartment to be rented monthly!
After days of pounding the streets and going to all corners we ended up, as you do on most property searches, compromising big style and paying way more than we wanted!
Our new temporary 'home' was not a 1 bed apartment but a studio. There was a kitchen but no cooker (this was true of everywhere we looked though), no hob but there was a kitchen sink (you'd not believe how rare!), a microwave, hot water machine and plenty of crockery. The nice thing about the place was that it felt homely. The place rents rooms like a hotel but they are privately owned so each one is different. Some we had seen were sparse on the furniture side and especially for the kitchen. This place had plenty of space to work and even a little sofa area to sit which was a real bonus. Table and chairs on the balcony - I can't tell you how rare this is. In all but 1 places we have stayed in South East Asia that has had a balcony, only 1 had somewhere to sit. This balcony was also massive, was covered by the balcony above so sheltered from rain and really private - making it like another room almost. Oh and it does have a rather amazing mountain view too!

Sony_Hillside.jpg

This place is opposite our building...

coffeemeatballs.jpg

.... nope, we've got no idea either - unusual combo and one I'm not sure I will likely be investigating further.

Much as I was annoyed by Mark's insistence at a pool, which was definitely quite limiting, it is a really nice pool. Nice size, enough loungers (usually you get about 2 in a place where 100 people are staying - go figure!). But it's generally quiet down there in the day and it's def worth having for a cool down seeing as our room's aircon is practically useless.

When we moved in we went to Tesco Lotus to stock up on some bits - including a plug in saucepan type thing to do some cooking. Took some thinking about but eventually go used to what works cooking with it - had to get a bit experimental. I personalised the place an incy bit with things I had bought & stored in Chiang Mai while away. There was also some blue tack so I decorated the huge dressing table mirror with things cut out of magazines (I've only bought about 5 mags in 9 months so I have sadly carried these things about for a long time) plus a postcard of Brighton my lovely Rachel sent me & a painting Aurnia (aged 3) did so that helped my modern art withdrawal! I even put up a world map inside an empty frame (not in a cool / designer way) on the wall behind the bed. This very much clashes with the chintzy decor of the room but I kinda like that. There's some pleasingly kitsch clocks in here too.

The building itself is just plain weird. It was obviously built some time ago as a flash, top end complex, but they haven't quite been as busy as they could be to maintain the luxury. There's a long foyer area down to the reception which is really dark no matter the time of day. There are shop units, many of which are empty while some have huge antiques and chandeliers in but are never open. It's kind of like a Vegas hotel that has seen better days, with the not so great taste of the Trump tower (also a strangely dark place inside I find). We are not unconvinced that it is kept dark to save on electricity. The corridors on the floors themselves are even dark and you rarely see a soul. It can be a little creepy actually. Biggest pain is that we have 2 keys but only one slot key to get in from the elevator to the room area. So we can't really go out separately without some co-ordination. Mark turned into an urban tourist version of Bear Grylls and tried to fashion a slot key out of a plastic store card and a knife. I thought he was being beyond ridiculous but have to say with the tools he (didn't) have he didn't do a bad job - it didn't work, naturally, but bless, eh?

IMG_3569.jpg

Our other issue is the aircon didn't work. They sent some guys in to fix it and Mark and I went quite pale as the guy climbed over the balcony railings and balanced himself - with no ties - on the ledge the air con is on and started tampering - it is the 11th floor!!!!!!!!!!

IMG_3614.jpg

An entertaining interlude of our day is when the black bag goes up and down the side of the building. This seems to be a sliced up black bin bag. It shuffles down the side past our balcony and then back up on a bit of thread. We think it may be on a pulley or fishing rod but we have no idea if this is someone doing it, if it's automated and what the heck it is for!!!

So not having to eat out every night is a real joy but at the same time we have some great little eateries on our doorstep. We discovered a Vietnamese restaurant to my eternal joy which turns out to be super cheap too.

Other places we have enjoyed are the Why Not? Italian which has a nice garden to sit out in and the Smile Milk Bar - Rose Panacota - divine!

Thailand_C..acotta.jpeg

The Librarista cafe's iced cocoa was a revelation!

IMG_3557.jpg

On my birthday we went for a roast at the Pub which is now within walking distance of us. Then we went to iBerry which is an ice-cream cafe in a fabulous garden setting with a huge character sculpture in the gardens and lots of quirky features.

IMG_3580.jpgIMG_3582.jpg
IMG_3583.jpgIMG_3598.jpg
IMG_3600.jpgIMG_3602.jpg

There's loads of cute little cafes with interesting arty decor that you come across while wondering the streets - dinosaurs et al!

IMG_3521.jpgIMG_3566.jpg
IMG_3671.jpgIMG_3676.jpg
IMG_3684.jpgIMG_3685.jpg

IMG_3687.jpg

It's nice being settled and to have a little domesticity. The downside of course is that Mark is a messy bugger and I am reminded that housework sucks, but it is minimal so I really mustn't grumble.
So, we'll be here for a while with a brief trip to Laos in the middle. We'll be leaving most of our stuff back in Chiang Mai so we'd better hope nothing goes wrong with visas etc and we're not allowed back into Thailand where all our stuff will be!

Posted by KtandMark 07:53 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 9) Page [1] 2 » Next