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Trip Planning

So today I have learnt that there is definitely not enough time for everything; to visit everywhere - maybe, but not to experience everywhere. Planning where I will go, an how long I will stay somewhere is a precious balance. I would like to visit many places and see different landscapes and environments, but I would also like to experience cultures, to 'get-to-know' villages, towns, cities, and the people within them. There is a fine line between seeing too much but not enough...

My current travel plan in my head consists of a flight to Bangkok, Thailand. Overland travel through Laos, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos again before heading back into Thailand, southern Thailand, Malaysia and finally Singapore. I then want to visit the Philippines, Palau, South Korea and Japan before the painful journey back to reality... in 6 months... will I really get to experience the different cultures? Or will it all whiz past in a blur whilst riding trains and buses? I guess I won't know until I'm there.

Anyway, this week has been a productive week as I have finally decided on a leaving date and my initial 2 nights' accommodation.

I am hoping to fly with Swiss airlines from Manchester > Bangkok (via Zurich) leaving on Monday 24th March and arriving on Tuesday 25th at about 3pm local time. The decision to go on this date was based purely on price as this flight costs a mere £274! From Bangkok international airport I will then catch the airport skytrain to my first accommodation at Link Corner Hostel which costs only £9 a night for a private room - which I hope to use to catch-up on sleep for jet-lag and to settle myself in before diving into dorm-style accommodation for the rest of my trip!

So there we have it, my first 2 days are sorted.... and it only took me about 3 months! Now on to the other 185 days... eeek!

Posted by Libbytes 17:45 Tagged flights planning swiss_airlines link_corner_hostel Comments (4)

2 weeks to go and I'm packed already!!

So it's two weeks to go (roughly) til I fly to Bangkok! I decided to try to start getting my bag ready, practice packing, make sure I have anything and/or make sure I don't take anything that I don't need. I wanted to make sure everything I want to take fits and that I am actually capable of wearing a fully loaded backpack!

So, what am I taking?

I have a medium sized towel in the bottom of my bag, had a look initially at those microfibre towels, but they're not cheap...at least the towels I already have are free, and in the local weather I doubt I'll have a problem with it drying!

1 pair of full length cotton trousers
1 pair of cropped cotton trousers
1 pair of thin full length combats
2 pairs of short shorts
2 bikinis and some surf shorts
10 tops of various styles, some vests, some t-shirts, some 3/4 sleeves,
7 pairs of knickers, 4 pairs of socks, 2 bras

All my clothes match... yep... they're all browns/neutral/greens/orange etc. So I should be sorted for every occasion! :)

I also packed about 1 litre of sunscreen (perhaps excessive, I don't know, maybe I should only take 2 bottles, but having just completed a PhD on the negative effects of sunlight exposure, perhaps not. And from what I've read about South East Asia, good sunscreen (5 star UVA, reflective based ingredients) are hard to come by/expensive). I got this from ASDA, factor 30, 5* UVA, £1 per 100ml - best value sunscreen by far. The jungle formula was cheapest at Wilko - only £4.50 a can!
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Toiletries, I'm taking soap over liquid body wash (to try to avoid spillages - and smaller/lighter), my face wash, shampoo (again, completely unnecessary, but I love this shampoo and at least I don't have to worry about buying when I'm there), razors, tooth paste and brush. A rechargable epilator for my legs and mini scissors and clippers.
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My first aid kit has plasters, antiseptic cream, anthisan cream, sewing kit, painkillers etc. And hopeful after tomorrow, 180 tablets of doxycycline - anti-malaria tablets.
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Also taking my flip flops, sketchers pumps and trainers. My snorkelling face mask. Plug adapters and chargers and instead of a sleeping bag, I just have a sleeping bag liner - polycotton - for quick drying/no ironing. I got some permethrin fabric treatment for it, my clothes and if I buy a mozzy net over there - hopefully I can avoid the dreaded bed bugs! eek!
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And there it is, all packed in, even enough room for my hair dryer! And that's all without the extension, which means I have an option of buying gifts etc whilst out there!
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As for my day pack, it will have my kindle, purse, phone, travel documents, a travel pillow, a pair of mini binoculars (99p from eBay!) A wind up touch, my make-up bag and face creams, an extendable cable lock and my new sunglasses!
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I love my backpack, in case you haven't noticed, there is a bit of a pink thing going on in everything I have, topped off with my bag locks! (£8 Inc postage! haha)
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My backpack, as you can see from photos, is side opening- like a suitcase, which is a lot more accessible. It has an extendable internal capacity and a few separate compartments. The straps are all adjustable and can easily be covered up. Plus the day bag can be attached to the main bag so you only have one bag to carry but can remove it easily to use as hand luggage or a day bag.
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So, the finished article...
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It. Is. Heavy. Wow.

I tried walking up and down the stairs and after about 5 minutes of wearing I was hot, sweaty and close to out off breath!! Haha! I guess I'll get used to it after a few days, and hopefully I won't have to carry it too far with all the public transport options available.

Looks like I'm almost ready to go...

Bangkok on the 26th, here I come!

EDIT 22-03-14

So I've ditched my shampoo and am only taking 2 bottles of sun cream! Instead I've got a Lush shampoo bar. I don't know what I was thinking when I packed a litre bottle of Tresemme shampoo! lol Essentially, taking these 2 items out lost me close to 1.5kg off the weight. I think that's all I'll be doing over the next few days - taking things out! I also caved in a bought a microfibre towel (don't laugh...) - it's massive! As tall as me and twice as wide and weighs nothing, so perhaps it will be a good investment in the end....

I also added some heavy duty duct tape, a bungee rope (for washing line, hanging mosquito net, locking doors etc) and Maria got me a travel 'Scrubber' for washing clothes!

I have also weighed my bag........ only 14 kgs and 4 kg hand luggage! I'm proud of myself! 4 DAYS! AAAAAHHHHHHH

FOLLOW UP 18-03-2015

Sadly, I returned from my 8 months trip in November last year. I'm currently still trying to catch up with my blog writing from some notes that I took and photos. I have had a lot of people contact me about whether I was correct in what I chose to take with me, and I have also took the time to reflect what I used/threw out/needed to buy. Here are my conclusions....

  • I have a medium sized towel in the bottom of my bag and then I also caved in a bought a microfibre towel (don't laugh...) - it's massive!

Actually possibly the best investment of my trip. I bought my towel from a UK store called decathlon and it was only £12 for the biggest size. I was so light and packed small and due to the fabric it was able to dry almost instantly. Using it every day to dry after a shower with only a weekly wash (or often less...) meant my towel took a hammering, but it did not smell musty or damp like a normal towel would, plus it was always dry when it came to packing my bag up so it didn't transfer water to my clothes/bag contents. The best thing about it was on the beach, since the fabric was smooth not like a normal towel, it did not collect sand, and you could just shake it out, hang it on the outside of my bag when walking back, and it was dry by the time I got home! Plus, I loved the colour the size was big enough to let my friends share it sitting on a beach!

  • 1 pair of full length cotton trousers, 1 pair of cropped cotton trouser, 1 pair of thin full length combats, 2 pairs of short shorts, 2 bikinis and some surf shorts, 10 tops of various styles, some vests, some t-shirts, some 3/4 sleeves, 7 pairs of knickers, 4 pairs of socks, 2 bras

I think I got my clothes about right... apart from I chucked the combats to leave just one pair of full length trousers. The only problem I faced was that I lost quite a bit of weight during my trip and about half-way through a belt just wasn't cutting it. Luckily I was in Vietnam at the time, the home of cheap tailoring, so I threw pretty much 80% of my clothes and had some new ones made cheap (shorts, bikini, dresses). I also jumped up to having 5 dresses in my collection as that was one thing I really loved wearing in the evenings.

  • I packed about 1 litre of sunscreen

This was not excessive by any means... I was a bit of a suncream geek I must admit... I wore it religiously. And I did get it down to 1 bottle of cream in the end, which was the perfect amount for the trip. I was wrong in assuming high quality suncream would be hard to find, but it was also relatively expensive. The weight was ok as it obviously got far less over the duration of my trip. One of my top tips would be to purchase on of the 100ml plunge dispensers to top up with the cream, so you don't have to carry around the massive bottle all the time!

  • The jungle formula was cheapest at Wilko - only £4.50 a can! I took 2 cans

This was pointless as I found it had little to no effect in repelling mosquitoes! Instead I chucked it and started using a local brand which was very cheap, available everywhere, and came in small bottles for easy carrying.
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  • Toiletries, I'm taking soap over liquid body wash (to try to avoid spillages - and smaller/lighter), my face wash, shampoo, razors, tooth paste and brush. A rechargable epilator for my legs and mini scissors and clippers. and then So I've ditched my shampoo...Instead I've got a Lush shampoo bar

Lush shampoo bars seemed like a great idea, but in reality they melted in the heat and only lasted a month or so. Instead I changed to just buying liquid shampoo every few weeks, and the same with the body wash... the soap was a bit of a hassle. It was actually nice too to be able to try out different products for hair/body that are not available in the UK. In the end I fell in love with a Pantene shampoo that they don't sell in the UK, so I'm sad now that I'm back and can't have it! One of the main things I realised when travelling, was actually how easy it was. I thought there would be some places that would be so remote I may not be able to get shampoo.... seems silly to think that now. Maybe if I ventured out of Asia... but here even in the remote places, there was always a tiny corner shop selling a multitude of personal products.

  • My first aid kit has plasters, antiseptic cream, anthisan cream, sewing kit, painkillers etc. And hopeful after tomorrow, 180 tablets of doxycycline - anti-malaria tablets

I don't know what I thought was going to happen to me, but I don't need all this stuff in the UK... so why would I need it there?! I found most things in my 'first-aid kit' to be unnecessary. There are pharmacists everywhere, so whenever I needed something I was able to pick it up really easily. The anthisan got ditched and replaced by the much more effective Tiger Balm, which is available everywhere in Asia.
I also ditched my anti-malarials... I based this decision on weighing up the side-effects, which I heard could be pretty draining, and the fact that there are so many other mosquito-born diseases you can't protect against (dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis etc). So, in reality, if I am going to be covering myself in mosquito-repellent to protect against those... why would I need to take anti-malarials too? Actually, throughout my whole trip, I got very few mosquito bites thanks to the amazing orange-scented mozzy spray available everywhere (see pic above)

  • Also taking my flip flops, sketchers pumps and trainers. My snorkelling face mask. Plug adapters and chargers and instead of a sleeping bag, I just have a sleeping bag liner - polycotton - for quick drying/no ironing. I got some permethrin fabric treatment for it, my clothes and if I buy a mozzy net over there - hopefully I can avoid the dreaded bed bugs! eek!

Flip flops and trainers was all I needed, I never wore my pumps, and the one day I did they gave me huge blisters (I think the heat made my feet swell), so they got ditched straight away. I also ditched my sleeping bag liner. Every hostel I stayed in always provided fresh bed sheets, and I only encountered bed bugs once (I guess reading hostel reviews first helps you to avoid this). I never got round to using the fabric treatment, so that got dropped as well. And again, most hostels which were in heavy-mosquito areas provided nets, so I didn't end up buying one.
Having a good fitting snorkel mask was also fantastic, until I lost it after a boating trip... :(

  • And there it is, all packed in, even enough room for my hair dryer!

And no, I don't regret taking my hairdryer at all! It was my luxury item and I felt so much better for it!

  • As for my day pack...

My only regret was not taking a normal bag with me! I felt like a bit of a saddo wearing my geeky backpack all the time, and it made me stick out like a sore thumb as a tourist. This was almost immediately replaced by a small handbag satchel, and updated regularly since they got so battered by excessive use!

  • My backpack, as you can see from photos, is side opening- like a suitcase, which is a lot more accessible. It has an extendable internal capacity and a few separate compartments. The straps are all adjustable and can easily be covered up. Plus the day bag can be attached to the main bag so you only have one bag to carry but can remove it easily to use as hand luggage or a day bag.

My bag actually wasn't that great. It's main fault was that with all the adjustable parts and metal it was heavy without anything in it! And I eventually found it too big with too much empty space that I couldn't get rid of. I will definitely buy a new backpack before going travelling again. One which is as light as possible and has a smaller capacity, maybe 40-50L. And not once did I attach the smaller bag to the large one, it just made it too back-heavy. I found it much easier to carry the smaller bag on my front as a counter-weight.

I guess one of the things I learned whilst travelling, was that it was nowhere near as difficult or as scary as I had imagined. I didn't need to take all my bag with me. Essentially most things in my bag were a safety net that I just didn't need... At no point in my trip did I worry that I would lose my bag, as long as I had my handbag (passport, money, phone, (and my make-up bag!!)) the whole contents could've been replaced for a fraction of the cost to buy in the UK. And in my opinion, that's all you want. No valuables, and simple contents that is easy and light to carry, which would not be a big deal if you lost. I was fortunate enough in my trip never to have anything stolen or lost, but I had no stress or worries about leaving my bag in storage or on a roof rack out of sight, I could just enjoy my trip to the fullest. And I did! :D

Posted by Libbytes 08:03 Comments (1)

So this is it... I'm finally here!

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View PhD Celebrations! on Libbytes's travel map.

So apparently you need proof of onward travel to enter bangkok... seems obvious, but as I spent the last 3 months planning whether or not to buy a microfibre towel, I neglected to fully research this problem. I was under the impression that all you need to get a travellers visa for Thailand was 6 months left on your passport and proof of sufficient funds for onward travel.... but since my plan is to leave Thailand via slow boat to Laos, I had no proof that I would stick to my 30 day visa. Swiss airlines were quick to point out that I have no proof, leaving me to frantically buy a flight to Ho Chi Minh city out of bangkok for £40! Unfortunately, the stress and anxiety of almost not being allowed to board my initial flight in a 6 month adventure meant I did not fully appreciate the farewells from all my family; whom I miss already.

Anyway, not everything goes as planned, but at least I eventually made it to Bangkok!

Funnily enough, the guy I sat next to on the flight to Bangkok also had the same situation as he left from Paris! And he too was made to purchase a flight leaving Bangkok which he will not use, so at least I wasn't on my own in the oversight!

I made it safely to my first stop, link corner hostel, with Baptiste from the flight in tow (he hadn't reserved a room and so joined me after my recommendation to stay here).

I met Ben soon after I arrived and the 2 of us ate at a street vendor - the food was so hot it blew my socks off! And I'm usually fine with hot food - perhaps it was because it was 35° too!
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We visited the night market and then chilled on Ben's balcony overlooking the centre of town. I tried my first rose apple, which was so juicy and refreshing, like a really juicy cross between an apple and a pear.
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Above is victory monument by night.

My first impressions of bangkok... it was beautiful on the way in on the sky train... It's busy and there's certainly too much to see in one lifetime; I know it will be hard to decide what to do tomorrow!
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Posted by Libbytes 04:02 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok Comments (1)

What Wat?

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So after a dreadful nights' sleep due to jet lag I decided to move to my next hostel - Hi Mid Bangkok - via taxi. I hailed one from outside link corner and it took me right there, only it dropped me off on the wrong side of a very busy road! Instead of running for my life across 6 lanes of traffic with speeding motorbikes, tuk-tuks and cars, I walked to the nearest pedestrian overpass. By the time I arrived at hi mid I was drenched with sweat!! So much for trying to avoid a walk. 2 showers later and Bel and Ben joined me for breakfast. The iced coffee here has been amazing so far; they put condensed milk in and it's so sweet and cold!

Since Ben was visiting Bel's mum that afternoon, I had my first taste of solo travel... I did ok I think! I took a train down town to Chao Phraya river, then a boat back up to visit Wat Pho. The temple complex was amazing. I think I read somewhere it is 8 hectares, and it had many mini shrines and Buddhas, all gold leaf plated. The main attraction here was the HUGE reclining gold Buddha - almost 50ft long I think - with mother of pearl feet. It was spectacular. But I also enjoyed watching some kind of initiation ceremony for young Buddhist boys. They were getting their heads and eyebrows shaved, then applying yellow powder; which looked like turmeric as it stained their heads yellow, before washing themselves with water. Some had nicks and cuts from the shave, I guess that's what the turmeric was for, but they were all smiling and laughing. There was an old man with a hose pipe who seemed to delight in splashing them and the young boys were also playing with the water, splashing each other!

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On the boat to wat pho.
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Pillars
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Reclining Buddha
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I think these were donation pots, people would take a bag of small copper coins and place one in each pot as they walked.
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Bonsai style trees were everywhere.
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Almost everything was gold-leaf plated!
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This but wasn't... bit toothy though!
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Young boys even got their eyebrows shaved off!
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But they got to get sprayed with water afterwards, and it was very hot!

I then got another boat across the river to the opposite side to see Wat Arun. Completely contrasting to Wat pho, everything was stone decorated with ancient Chinese ceramics. The Khmer style tower was about 80ft I think and you could climb it - up some very steep steps! The front steps were busy, but round the back was nobody and the steps there were in the shadow of the tower so much cooler!

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Wat arun, ok maybe some things were gold still!!
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Outer pillar
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Ceramic decorations
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Climbers on the sunny side
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You could just see wat pho over the river from the top.

I got a taxi back to the hostel from here after a stroll through a park nearby.

Not sure what I will do tomorrow, but I know Ben wants to go to the weekend market, and I would like to see the golden mount which I didn't see today (spent to much time watching people in wat pho!)

I will post some pics of the hostel tomorrow as it is beautiful!

Posted by Libbytes 01:51 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok wat_arun wat_po Comments (2)

Exploring Bangkok

sunny
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On Saturday Ben and I decided to visit the weekend market at Chatuchak park, about an hour's bus away. The market was so vast, with most parts inside purpose built buildings. There were a range of shops mostly selling really cool clothes, homeware, accessories as well as food outlets and souvenir type shops. It was a really great market that made me wish I had endless space in my bag!
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The neighbouring parks were beautiful too. A lot of people on bikes or just chilling out in the heat. We were thinking of getting bikes but I think the walk to the bike rental place tired us out to much! Along the way we saw a butterfly pavilion and a lady with a pretty baby squirrel which was so cute!
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After a quick relax by (and in) the pool at Ben's apartment, we ate at a restaurant on Rang Nam rd. The food was incredible, I think my favourites have been chicken with cashew nuts, son tam (papaya) salad and sour pork. The green curry we had was so different to those in the UK, I think the Thai basil has a strong aniseed-like taste.
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There was an alcohol ban across bangkok this night too, but rules are meant to be broken right?! So we headed over to khao San rd (the backpacker district) where we were served drinks in paper cups! Since the usual way to drink in Thailand is to purchase a bottle, our half bottle of sangsom rum didn't look too appetising in a paper cup, but it still went down easily enough!!
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The next day (Sunday) I took quite easy. I got some bad blisters on my feet from walking a lot, and started with a little heat exhaustion. Ben and I visited the mall and I spent the evening with Wilma, a girl I met from my dorm. We had pad Thai and drinks at a sky jazz bar.
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On Monday, Dan flew out to join us on a last minute holiday during his half term. Dan, Ben, Wilma and I took a local boat over to the golden mount, a giant golden stupa up 200 steps. The views from the top were spectacular, and along the route up there were bells and gongs which you were allowed to play!
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Selfie on the boat!
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The stupa wouldn't fit on my camera screen, so I didn't try!
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We spent the rest of the afternoon in Ben's pool, playing and messing around before eating at a local restaurant. The evening ended (like many others with Ben and Dan) in a pool hall! Where we fought for the title of "UMPSC bangkok open"! Ben won.... as usual!
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Tuesday was a lazy day by the pool, and the 3 of us held a private diving competition (most of which is filmed!) and played a lot. We ate at a Japanese restaurant and had some local drinks, but retired early so we could get up at 6am to travel to Kanchanaburi the following day.

Posted by Libbytes 06:06 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok chatuchak golden_mount rang_nam_road Comments (2)

Kanchanaburi and Erawan falls

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After waking at 6am, we got a taxi across town to Bangkok Thonburi train station. There was a huge food market here as well as a few food vendors and after a noodle soup breakfast we boarded a train to Kanchanaburi.
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Once there a minivan and bus took us to Erawan national park, where we planned to go swimming in the waterfalls. We only took small over night bags, so we could go straight there.
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The falls here are in several tiers, the first few tiers tended to be great for children and we saw a small group of young monks playing in the pools.
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The first pool we swam in was tier 4, and had lots of very large nibbley fish in it! As well as large moss covered rocks you could climb up and slide down. We spent a few hours playing here, but the photos are poor as I didn't want to get my camera wet!
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The second tier we went to was tier 6, which was completely deserted... this was so beautiful. Swimming through jungle, with shafts of light coming through the trees, butterflies flying in lines over the surface and Dan doing an impression of Peter Andre in the waterfall - so peaceful and serene!! Lol
We stayed here until the park closed and we were ushered out - long after the last bus left...
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Back at the entrance we asked about any by places to stay inside the national park, but they were all full! Luckily some body saw we were looking and recommended a lady just down the road, she said "if you don't mind what it looks like..." We had no idea what was in store for us!!
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The walk down to who knows where...
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A rickety little bridge...
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The most terrifying walk across a rusty metal gangway!
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The "bathroom"
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The bedroom

....
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The views.... we were the only people in sight.

However, that didn't mean we were alone, as the raft house was home to a dozen spiders, 10 or so geckos, a few (but not too many) mossies, and about a million Mayflies, who fortunately all died at about 8pm.

We huddled around a mossy candle, until we decided it attracted more insects than it repelled, before going to bed fairly early for an early start the following day.

The next day we ate back up at the park entrance and headed back to the fun pool with the slides. We then relaxed in tier 5, a pool with relatively smaller fish, which I found small enough to allow to nibble my feet. Ben and I relaxed to the nibbling, whilst Dan screamed like a girl and wouldn't keep still!! Hee hee!
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At one point I must've had about 20 fish nibbling me, but when Ben went to take a photo they all swam off! We think it was the shadow.
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We reluctantly left to make the bus back into town and the journey back to Bangkok, barely making the bus we had to run to it in 35° heat!!

All of us said, we could've spent a week in the park, playing in the pools, watching nature - there are supposed to be tigers in there! This is definitely somewhere I will visit again, and despite the bugs, I would even be inclined to stay at the same accommodation! What a magical place, really.

Posted by Libbytes 18:29 Archived in Thailand Tagged waterfall kanchanaburi erawan_falls Comments (4)

Thailand's Golden Age History

sunny
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After returning to Bangkok briefly from Kanchanaburi, Dan and I then headed out to Ayutthaya; one of Thailand's ancient cities. We stayed at a place I booked from home, Baan Are Gong guesthouse. A house made purely from teak wood, styled like a boat we think, with cabin style rooms, it was beautiful. Ayutthaya is a small inland island surrounded by a river and the guesthouse was located just next to the river ferry crossing.
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That night we went across the river towards the bars area, where we ate, played lots of pool, and Dan sang with the resident band on stage!
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The following day we went off to see the main attractions of Ayutthaya; the ancient city ruins and wats. We walked across town to Wat Mathat, Wat Bophit and Wat Si Sanphet. There were also elephants you could ride as taxis, but it was expensive and very touristy.
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After a pit stop for boat noodles and roti, we headed back and Dan went out to watch the city match, I surprised him later in the evening by arriving via motorbike (which I rode side saddle (I'm turning Asian!) As I was wearing a dress! It was amazing and I think now I am slightly obsessed with getting a motorbike!)
We met a German girl named Anna at the bar, and once again Dan was asked to sing on stage with the band!

The following day we went to the southern part of town, again getting a motorbike taxi to take us. We crossed over via river ferry again (which usually costs about 5p!!) Here we saw an in use temple, a Thai Wat next door to a Chinese style temple. Locals were setting off fire crackers (so loud!) And feeding the hundreds of cat fish that resided in the river. The temple was packed, mainly with locals making their offerings to Buddha. In the Thai temple locals were buying orange monk robes to throw over the large golden Buddha, which were then collected and piled up in the back... ready to be bought again!
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We got the train back to Bangkok that night so Dan was ready to catch his flight home the next day. We ate with Ben and went to the jazz sky bar again afterwards. It's been amazing having these 2 here! Really helped me settle into travelling and now I know I have the confidence to continue by myself! I love you guys :)
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I chilled in Bangkok for a day before catching a bus to another ancient capital, Sukhothai. The bus was amazing, like an airline, I got a free meal, drinks and snacks, and even got escorted to my seat! I met up with Anna in Sukhothai and we shared a room inside the old town, right next to the ruins.

We rented bikes; the only one that was big enough for my height was a rusty gold coloured traditional Thai-style bike, unique to any of the other bikes for rent and I loved it! Even it's very squeaky brakes!
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We spent the whole day exploring the ancient ruins, and for at least 2 hours we didn't see another tourist, which was a perfect way to see the sights!SAM_0522.jpgSAM_0520.jpg90_2DA573332219AC6817574F4F65BBDF68.jpg
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We went all over the western park of the park, stopping to climb a path. It was hard work in the heat, but worth it once we reached the top!
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The park really was beautiful...
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After a shower and a nap we went back to the park as we had heard there was going to be a light show. It wasn't really much about lights, but there was a festival and some of the ruins had lights pointed at them. We gate crashed the party (as the only westerners (or western women I should say...)) and there was free food and drink (which I took full advantage of!) A talent show on a stage, and at the end everyone got up dancing and I was dragged to the front to be taught traditional Thai dancing (and to be laughed at for my efforts!!). The evening was so much fun, it just topped off a perfect day in Thailand :)
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Up next, songkran in Chiang Mai!!

Posted by Libbytes 06:54 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok ayutthaya sukhothai Comments (1)

Songkran and Chiang Mai

sunny 41 °C
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From Sukhothai I caught a direct bus to chiang mai. Although this wasn't quite as VIP at my one from bangkok, it was still a double decker coach with comfortable seats. On the way there I began to experience what songkran is; the world's biggest water fight to celebrate the Thai (and Lao) New year. The coach was continually soaked with water from locals lining the streets in every town we drove through... especially by the children who you could tell were so excited for the festival to start - it's their Christmas basically!

It was the same once I arrived in Chiang mai too! And I got water-gunned through the window of my taxi on the way to my accommodation!!

The day before songkran I spent wandering around chiang mai old town. It's Thailand's second city but I was able to walk across the inner old town in 25 minutes. The old town lies within an ancient wall and moat. And it must have the highest density and number of temples/wats and chedis in the world! Wherever I looked there was a hidden temple or spire (chedi) behind trees or buildings, and sometimes seemingly in people's back gardens! I snuck into all the ones I could, they were all so beautiful and subtly different.
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During my walk through the town I met an old Thai lady who recommended I eat at a small Chinese restaurant, it was delicious!

That night I went to a bar called Bababobo, which which became my second home! I met several people playing pool that night and spent the next 5 days in Chiang mai hanging out in that bar with them.

So songkran started properly on Saturday 12th, basically every single person who lives near chiang mai, plus the hundreds of people who go there specifically, in the streets with buckets or water guns soaking each other! And trust me the novelty does not wear off! When people are already soaked you just have to resort to ice cold water! So the best places to enjoy songkran were the bars lining the moat. The guys I made friends with quickly became experts in taking empty water butts down to the most, filling them with brown skanky moat water then dragging them back. We took it in turns to buy huge bricks of ice for the bucket and after 5 minutes (to make sure the water was really cold) we filled our crappy plastic buckets (buckets were much more efficient than guns) and drenched people who were already soaked through... it was amazing and probably the most fun place in the world to spend the last 5 days!

As you can imagine, I didn't take any photos, add I was too afraid to damage my camera, but some of the people I met had waterproof cameras and phones.
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Songkran was amazing, but after a week of almost continual partying, I'm definitely ready for a chill and a rest!

My last 2 days in Chiang mai were more peaceful. A lot of the tourists had left and the streets were dry and I found that I really loved the city. There's greenery and ancient ruins everywhere you look, and if you keep of the main roads you get to see some real Thai life. I walked to a tiny park in the south west corner of the old town, where people were hiring woven mats to sit next to a pond. On the way back I walked past some of the most beautiful houses I've ever seen n, and such variety to; next to a Thai style teak house on stilts was a modern glass angular house! Papaya and mango trees lined the streets and everybody I walked past said hello :)
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Chiang mai is definitely somewhere I would return to, as without the tourists, the town has something of everything. I love chiang mai!

Posted by Libbytes 04:49 Archived in Thailand Tagged chiang_mai songkran Comments (1)

The only farang in Chiang Dao

semi-overcast 35 °C
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After an amazing time in Chiang mai, I decided to begin my journey into Laos and China. On my last day in Chiang mai I visited the Chinese embassy with a visa application form I had completed at home. I found the embassy easily and got my ticket for a queue position. Are an hour of waiting to be seen I was told that because I was planning on entering China via bus, my form needed to be typed up not hand written! I had seen other people get hand written visas accepted, so I wasn't sure why it was so different for bus entry. So I don't now have a visa for China... I think I will continue my travel into Laos and look at applying again in the capital, Vientiane.

So, in a slightly foul mood I left Chiang Mai by bus for Chiang Dao, a nearby village I had read about online that was supposed to be great for treks and hill tribe visits. The bus journey was incredible, and for the first time I really felt in an exotic tropical country, in the middle of nowhere. I met a guy from Belfast, Sean, on the bus, however he was going straight to tha ton.

The bus dropped me off at a random bus stop in the centre of Chiang Dao; essentially a short row of shops. There were no taxis anywhere in town as it was still the Thai national holiday so I had no way of getting to my accommodation for the night. I spoke to a shop owner next to the bus stop who spoke proficient English and she asked her boyfriend to drop me off at my accommodation in his pick up truck. We arrived at Hobby Hut Homestay but nobody was home! After calling in on the neighbours, we managed to locate a little old Thai lady who didn't speak a word of English. She cleaned up a hut for me and finally I was settled in Chiang Dao!
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The town was beautiful, set in the foothills of Chiang Dao Doi (mountain). Although I was the only westerner in the whole town! A non touristy place and out of season... every where I went the locals were so excited to see me and you could hear them whispering "farang" (foreigner). I had a few people who wanted their photo with me, based on my height, skin and eye colour. However I was made to feel very welcome wherever I went.

I made sure after tea I was home before dark to get ready for bed, but my plan was foiled by a friendly, but terrifying, visitor:
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A huntsman spider... anyone who knows me knows I have an irrational fear of all spiders. Now, a fear of a huntsman spider is definitely rational, so I must admit, I was quite distressed. But since I was in the middle of nowhere, with nobody within 20 miles who spoke English, I had to face my fear. I found a broom in the toilet area and chased the spider away at arms` (and broom) length. However, by the time the spider was gone it was pitch black... So my trip to the outside toilet before bed was almost as stressful! I was in bed that night by 8 pm, all wrapped up in a cocoon inside my mosquito net, and I soon became very proud of myself for being able to cope with the insects, spiders and darkness.
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The next day in Chiang Dao I hired a bike and rode the 10 km to the mountain where there was an immense cave and temple system. The cave was incredible and for some part of it I needed a guide and a lantern. My guide had a great sense of humour! Especially when I had to crawl through a very low tunnel, she found it hilarious that I was so tall, but she helped me all she could and after crawling through the right space we made it into a huge cavern.
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Outside the cave was a natural spring full of giant fish, some of the biggest koi and catfish I've ever seen!
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I then biked through the town, just exploring, watching fish in the river and people playing in inflated tyre inners.
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After some amazing food I went back to my accommodation to find the owner's daughter who spoke really good English. I arranged for her friend to drive me around Chiang Dao the following day to see some of the attractions, so I had an early night, without any spider dramas!

I met my chauffeur at 8 am and we went straight to Nam Dang national park and Sri Sangwan waterfall, then to a temple right on top of the mountain, as well as a few other stunning temples along the way. It was a lovely day!
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I absolutely loved Chiang Dao, however, the isolation was quite hard, and the town was very sleepy. So since I had kept in touch with Sean in Tha Ton, I caught the local bus there that afternoon.

In some ways I am glad of my isolated experience of this party of Thailand, but unfortunately, because nobody else was there, I was unable to do any treks to hill tribe villages, which was one of my main reasons for visiting!

Posted by Libbytes 06:28 Archived in Thailand Tagged cave chiang_dao hobby_hut_homestay Comments (0)

Hitch hiking in Tha Ton

sunny 37 °C
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The bus from Chiang Dao to Tha Ton was... interesting! The bus was a local one full of Thais, and of brown paper wrapped parcels. The bus was the size of a standard coach, and was definitely going too fast for the winding roads! We would stop every now and again (or at least slow down enough) for the conductor to jump out to deliver the parcels! The kid sat across the isle from me also had a cockeral in a linen bag held right to his chest, which liked to complain with every turn!

I arrived safely in Tha Ton and checked in to Garden Riverview Guesthouse. That afternoon I walked into the town and instantly fell in love with it... the town was based on the river in a steep valley of jungle right on the Thai-Myanmar border. The was much more of an friendly feel and a buzz of activity compared to Chiang Dao, and the west bank of the river was lined with bamboo rafts and people relaxing and socialising. I found my own bamboo raft and chilled out with an ice coffee and ice cream!
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I met up with Sean who I'd met on the bus and his friend Charlie, who lived in Tha Ton, for food and drinks until late.

The next day, slightly hungover, I tried to climb up Tha Ton mountain (more of a hill) which had 9 tiers of temples or holy sites with one large temple at the top.

Tier 1
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Tier 2
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Tier 3
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Tier 4
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Tier 5
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At this point I decided that attempting to walk up a steep hill in 40 degree heat, to a deadline (wanted to walk up and back before 12) was impossible, so I flagged down a pick up truck with a family going to the top temple to pray... they loved that, as I can imagine picking up a funny looking farang was the highlight of their day!
Sneaky photo of the family as I sat with my back against the truck
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I missed a few tiers I think, but saw them in the truck, they looked like monks' living quarters. Once at the top the views out over the valley and the river were spectacular, and the holy sites and temple were interesting, more like art work then places of worship.
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Views
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I was pushed for time so I hitched a lift from a family straight away to take me down to the town, again I think I must've been the most excited thing all week as they kept turning around and waving to me through the window. A little less glamorous this one, as I had to sit in the back with all the bags and shopping!!
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I fell in love with Tha Ton straight away and could've easily stayed for a long time, but I met Sean and a French couple who were planning on leaving Tha Ton by slow boat to go to Chiang Rai that day, and considering the number of tourists in the town I didn't want to risk getting stranded there and overstaying my visa.

So I left at 1 pm on the slow boat to go to Chiang Rai. Only after buying lots of snacks for the journey!
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The boat ride was incredible, just the 4 of us on a narrow boat, with an expert driver who was able to negotiate the tight bends and shallow water. A lot of people were in the water, fishermen and women, children playing and adults chilling!
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The way they use and treat their rivers here is fascinating, life really does revolve around it. They wash in it, work in it, relax in it, play in it... and also throw all their rubbish in it... it's odd!

We arrived in Chiang Rai that day and checked into Baan Bua Homestay. The following day Sean and I hired a motorbike and went to Chiang Rai's white temple. Definitely more a work of art than a temple it had to be the most stunning temple I have seen so far.
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And the most beautiful toilet building ever...
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After a coffee and pineapple, and some crazy Chinese tourists wanting photos with me, we headed off further away from Chiang Rai to a waterfall.
The walk up to the waterfall was such hard work, we were both so exhausted and sweaty, but it was well worth it. I got in up to my knees to cool off!
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At least for me, the journey on the back of the scooter home was relaxing, driving through small villages and past rice paddies.
We got an early night that day ready to catch a 2-day slow boat from Chiang Khong into Laos!

Personally, I didn't really get a good feeling from Chiang Rai, I found it very seedy, with lots of prostitution and massage bars, but I would definitely return to Tha Ton!

NEXT STOP.... LAOS!!!!

Posted by Libbytes 04:20 Archived in Thailand Tagged chiang_rai tha_ton Comments (1)

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