Archives for the month of: May, 2012

It was well worth going up the top of Phousi mountain as the views from there were wonderful. Our hotel location is on the left hand side of the steel bridge. We went up from the east side and down into town on the west side and we needed a coffee by then and lots of water as it was very hot and humid.

We walked back to the hotel and decided to try the low bamboo bridge which I preferred to the large wooden/steel bridge and it was a shorter walk that way and we had a nice breeze across the river.  There were a lot of  beautiful butterflies about today but they are all too quick to photograph.

We are going into town to eat tonight and then leave at 8am on the “VIP” bus which we hope won’t break down via Vian Vieng to Vientiane where we should arrive about 5.30pm tomorrow night.  We fly to China on Saturday afternoon and have a couple of days in Kunming before the long train trip to Hangzhou.

Our last day here in Luang Prabang.  The sun is out so we will walk the 328 steps up Phousi mountain which the locals say is a must if you visit here.

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Luang Prabang is a beautiful town at the confluence of the Kong and the Mekong Rivers.





The town centre is quite small and very easy to walk around and  it lies either side of the Mekong and Kong rivers and spreads out to the east, west and south of the centre. 





Luang Prabang has a lot of the old colonial French buildings a lot of which have been restored and the whole town is very leafy and green with trees, bushes and flowers everywhere. There is a lot of birdlife and a lot of different coloured butterflies found even in the main street.  




This is the museum which used to be the king’s residence prior to the  communist takeover and was worth a visit.  Most of the rooms were very austere apart from the throne room which was painted blood red with beautiful murals done with Japanese glass mosaic.  No photos were allowed.

There are a lot of cicadas which start up in unison at various times of the day and get very loud and then stop as suddently as they start.





 A lot of the street and other signs are usually in the Lao language and English or French which is helpful.

 The beauty of the place is also in the fact that although there are a lot of tourists (mainly backpackers) the local sellers of everything don’t harrass you and there is not so much traffic.  Only the tuk tuk drivers who want a fare ask you as you pass and smile if you say no.  The tuk tuks are raised at the front which makes them look like they have been adapted to seats and motors but they look like they may have been used with horses in years gone by. 

A lot of people ride their motorbikes with one hand and hold an umbrella in the other hand to either keep the sun or rain off themselves.

Luang Prabang is what we imagined some of Hanoi to be like when we went a couple of years ago because the city was advertised as having a very French colonial feel and lots of cafes selling pastries etc but we were disappointed as the city looked very dilapidated and the buildings dirty and poor with lots of smelly motorbikes and it was hard to find any of that kind of architecture or any cafes in the old part of town.





The many red poinsiana trees are beautiful. There are many cafes selling good Laotian coffee and little stalls on the street as well as in the cafes selling fresh delicious baguettes with all sorts of fillings all sorts of croissants and pastries and fresh fruit juices .





 Most of the Laotians we have come accross can speak a bit of English and some have good English and some French and most have ready smiles.

We went to a restaurant called L’elephant owned by a Frenchman and we had the most delicious Lao food in a lovely colonial setting.  The service was excellent. 

The local Lao food is interesting and we have only had delicious food.  All the fruit  the mangoes, pineapples and pappaya are all sweet and delicious and vegetables so fresh.  They have some interesting fruit juices – Job’s Tears juice (an acquired taste) and Jujuba juice which is very nice. 

A small restaurant called the Tamarind.  We had some tasty Lao dips of smoked eggplant,   a lovely corriander, garlic and chilli dip  and fried river weed with sesame seeds (bit like Nori) We also tried the marinated buffalo which was mild and tender.  Their pork or buffalo laap (minced with lots of chilli and herbs) is also really tasty.  The baguettes with very delicious ham, mustard  and salad were some of the best we have had anywhere.  It is just as well we are doing a lot of exercise!

We chose  restaurants which had fans trained on us.  We ate Lao food at on our first night at the hotel, having arrived after dark and we sat outside and had every kind of insect arrive at the table from minute ant like things and white wispy insects to big black bugs, little black and white spiders and hoards of mosquitoes. The setting however is lovely overlooking the river and the old bridge above.





They have also left a large Jackfruit tree in the middle of the restaurant which looks funny with all it’s fruit hanging there.





We also thought we had left the “Toke’s” behind in Bali but no, we have a couple of the skink like things outside under the eaves. They wait until you are asleep and then make their sounds which are loud enough to wake you up. They must be cousins of the ones in Bali because the ones in Bali just make 3 or 4 “tokk….kay” sounds and peter out on the last note but the ones here start off with a sound like a motorbike starting up and then give their 3 or 4 sounds loudly. We have got used to them now but still haven’t seen them.

We had run out of the two bottles of Irish whisky and one bottle of gin which we had brought with us for our pre dinner drinks so we bought a real litre of Gordon’s gin for all of $9. There is obviously no tax on it and tasted like the real thing not like in China where it is in a “real” bottle but tastes nothing like the real thing in anything other than the large hotels and then you pay a lot for a drink. They also have the delicious “rosella” hibiscus drink and it is a lovely drink with ice.

The start of the low season obviously gives the locals the chance to improve their buildings and renovate and we have seen a lot of examples of this. Our hotel is doing the same and our bungalow has just been finished.  Our hotel is across the old bridge on the Kong river set in a beautiful garden over looking the river and above it the old bridge . We are in a traditional looking bungalow and they have just renovated it with beautiful local wood and all the curtains and soft furnishings are made of natural fibres. It has got all the mod cons and a lovely new bathroom with “mercedes” like optional height shower heads and a nice deep bath. Every hotel gives you bottled water and we had a nice fruit basket with delicious rambutans and a mango.

The gym is out in the midlde of the garden which is the first time we have seen anything like that. There are thousands of mangoes around and we watched a man balance precariously on two little tables to try and reach mangoes with a stick.

It is an easy 20minute walk into the centre of town over and old bridge with planks you can see through which takes only motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians. In the centre of town is Phusi (pronounced pussy) mountain and it is recommended to climb the many stairs to view the sunset which we will do while we are here if it isn’t raining. We have had some torrential downpours  but luckily haven’t been caught in it yet.

Apparently the boys don’t have to become monks here for life, just for a couple of years and it is usual for many of them to do this before they grow up and marry. Best of both worlds I guess! Some join so they can have some form of education. Reminds me a bit of military service that some countries still have! You see them walking all over town with umbrellas to shade themselves.

We were very energetic and took bikes (free from the hotel) and rode into town to see the scores of monks collect their food from the locals. Unlike Thailand where they drive on the left hand side of the road, Laos drives on the right hand side of the road so we were careful when we first got on the bikes and it will be good preparation for China who also drive on the right hand side.

Don’t think Maurice will be a danger to the “Green Edge” tour de France team!

We were told the monks walk around the main roads in town between 6-7am so we got there about 6.15 and were told that it was all over and that they always start out at daybreak which was about 5.30am! We’ll try another day.

We then rode to the bus station to see the condition of the buses that travel to Vientiane where we will spend a night before flying to Kunming. We had been told many conflicting stories about the state of the ordinary buses, the VIP buses and the mini buses and that the mini buses broke down a little less than the others. The VIP buses looked the most comfortable to travel on so we booked one of them.

There is a sign in the town which asks for volunteers every day at 1 and 3pm to come to a certain building to help locals improve their English so we thought we might go along and meet some locals other than the sales or hotel people who speak some English.

They have a night market along the main street every night and it runs for about 3 blocks.

 The goods are beautifully displayed and there are lots of good quality souvenirs (cotton and silk woven wall hangings and scarves, clothes, wooden articles etc etc. The poor sellers don’t have much business now as it is the monsoonal low season and I feel bad for them having to set up their stalls with awnings every night and lay out all the goods and then put them all away again a few hours later.

The Laotian language is similar in some ways to Thai – for “hello” the Thai’s say Sawadee ka and the Laotians say Sabai dee. Thank you in Thai is Khawp khun ka and in Lao it is Khawp Jai. I’m trying not to learn too much because as of next week I’ll need all the Mandarin I can remember so have brought my textbook with me and am revising what I’ve learnt.

We took a mini van with eight other people to the Kouang Si Waterfall and park which is about 45minutes away in the mountains. We thought we were going to travel in a Tuk tuk and it was good in one way that we didn’t because it would have taken twice as long but on the downside the French backpacker that was with us had the worst B.O we had every experienced and even after a dip in the water he smelt just as bad on the way back!





The park has an Asiatic and a Sun bear rescue centre. The bears are gorgeous and the staff hide their food so that they don’t lose the ability to forrage. They are very funny to watch trying to find their bananas and other foods with heads hidden and bottoms in the air searching for the food.  These are Asiatic bears with big white V’s on their neck.






The series of waterfalls and pools are beautiful and the water was really refreshing on a hot and humid day.







You can climb to the top to look down on the area but we passed on that and opted instead for a nice ice coffee at a nice cafe complete with coffee machine. We just had to wake one of the two sleeping staff behind the counter to make us one! If they can have a cafe and coffee machine there they can have one anywhere! The quality of the coffee is very good and strong and you just have to remember to say no sugar or they make it very sweet. The same goes for the lime with soda or rosella juice.

We got up early again (this time at 4.30am – I know amazing for me!) to watch the procession of monks getting their food at sunrise – about 5.33 at the moment.




We found our bikes in the dark and rode across the wooden bridge and had an easy ride in the dark into the main street to wait for the sunrise.   As soon as we arrived with our bikes some little ladies scurried across to us with woven baskets full of warm sticky rice, trays of bananas and others of biscuits, all vying for the opportunity to sell us some offerings.  All the monk’s  food is donated and a lot of the establishments donate food to them during the week but they supplement it with the daily ritual of walking down the main street of town in a line and locals and tourists (who pay for the sticky rice, fruit and biscuits) put the food in their bowls.





 I’m glad I’m not a monk as the procedure is to take some sticky rice out of the woven basket with your hand and put it in their bowl. The bananas and biscuits which are wrapped would be alright but I wouldn’t fancy eating the rice which has been handled by so many people along the way! Maurice and I were novices and gave the first 20 odd monks a big handful of rice and ran out pretty quickly so that when the 3rd lot came along we had nothing left so we got up and moved across the road. We then watched how the locals just take about a teaspoonful at a time to give to them.   We understood why  as there must have been about 200 monks by the end of the procession.  They come along in groups of about 20 at a time. I hope they take it in turns to be at the front as the last groups seemed not to get much food at all.

You are supposed to be at a lower level to the monks so the ladies that sell you the offerings put down mats and you sit on these. Just before the monks appeared about a dozen children turned up, climbed over the wall behind us and came back with plastic bags and containers.





They then sat down with us and some of the monks who had already received food (and Maurice and I) put food in their bags. I don’t know if these kids were homeless or just clever but they all did pretty well from us and the monks.






We then cycled on to a lovely little cafe down the road which open for the tourists who come to see the monks.





We had an iced coffee and almond croissant that could have come from Paris which we shared and then cycled back to the hotel across the river.





We will definately come back here if we get the chance.


The two day trip 7hours the first day and 9 hours the second day was worth every minute.  The river is quite fast flowing and relaxing to watch.  Most people were quieter on the second day after talking for most of the first day and/or having a heavy night at the one bar in Pak Beng.  Some of the the other travellers looked much worse for wear.

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On the way up to Chiang Khong there are a lot of traditional Thai houses and some very modern places, most with a lot of columns (reminiscent of Italian houses in Australia!) and painted in very bright orange, hot pink or lime green amongst the market gardens and villages.

Chiang Khong is a sleepy place right on the Mekong. It took us 5 hours in the full mini bus to come from Chiang Mai.

Our bungalow style hotel in Chiang Khong was very new and the staff were lovely.

We were the only guests and they cooked us a wonderful dinner. We did ask if they would prepare us a couple of sandwiches for our trip up the river. We didn’t realize that they didn’t understand this until we sat down for breakfast and they presented us first with what looked like hollandaise sauce, so we thought we would get an egg, but then they brought out the club sandwiches and chips on a plate for breakfast! After a mimed explanation, they took them away and came back with them in a styrofoam box so all was well. They even took us down to the Thai Immigration office in their golf type buggy. We had a nice conversation with a Older Thai lady who was a protestant missionary and she was taking her mother and aunt over to Laos to visit a friend. She spoke good English.

I’m glad I wore my rubber crocs as the little boats to cross the Mekong river just pull up on the sandy riverbank on the Thai side and then we staggered up a steep hill at Houey Xia on the Laos side to fill in the Laos visa forms and pay our 30 US dollars. The visa had to be paid in US dollars but otherwise they are not fussy and accept Lao Kip (about 8000 to the AUD)Thai Baht or US dollars which is handy for tourists.

We negotiated a price with a tuk tuk driver to take us the 15min trip to the long boat. When I went to buy the tickets there are two big signs saying boat fare to be paid in Laotian Kip and there was no sign of any currency exchange. I went to the girl and said that I only had Baht an she said “fine”. I did wonder why they had the sign there in the first place!

Maurice staggered down with both soft bags and was told “papa strong”. The way down was precarious again with steep steps and rocks.

The long boat to Pak Beng was very clean and tidy. It had a frilly fringe with tassles around the top of the boat and the seating was made up of half bolted down car seats and half high backed wooden bench seats with a thin cushion on them. We were very early so chose the car seats with adjustable head rests.

We had read that one should get there early to get a good seat away from the engine which was very loud and the diesel fumes.  

We were there just after 8 o’clock. The boatman told me that we were going to leave at 11.30 so we settled down to wait and slowly the backpackers filtered in. No one appeared for a long time so we thought that we would have lots of room but that wasn’t to be. A little Laotian appeared and said that there would be over 90 people on board and to sit in our allocated seats – there were 70 seats altogether so they passed more seats in from another boat and put them behind the engine.

It was packed by the time we left at 12 o’clock for the 7 hour trip. After the first few hours people started talking to each other and buying the cold drinks which were in an esky on board.

Most of the backpackers got stuck into the “beer Lao” and when we finished our water we decided we needed a cold beer too so we had a few bottles which kept us cool (or we didn’t feel the humidity so much!) and we had some great conversations with Carla and Leyla from Chile, Leanne a nurse from Boston who had spent a year nursingn in Sydney, Eddy and Bjorn from Norway, Scott and his wife Kung from the Northern Territory and a couple of English girls from Plymouth. The Chilean girls were from Conception but Leyla worked in Santiago for a Taiwanese trade commission and was also learning Mandarin.

Scott and his Thai wife sponsor two Thai children who live with their parents in a very poor village and they will pay for them to go to school and look after them financially so that they can remain with their parents.

I thought Maurice could talk but the two nice Norwegian guys could have talked for Norway! About 5 o’clock we got a few drops of rain and then a torrential downpour for about 1/2hour and we only had material curtains which we all tied together but they were soaked through but we just got a little wet.

We arrived at Pak Beng at 7pm. The town was made up of one street and a resort on the other side of the hill. We had to negoatiate our way off the boat onto rocks and then up steep, rough steps.

We managed to find 2 guys to take our bags for us up to the guesthouse up another steep hill which was just as well as it got dark before they got up the hill. The guesthouse which we had rung and booked from Chiang Mai was clean and tidy with towels, soap,a bottle of water and a fan for $8 for the room so we couldn’t complain!

There were a lot of flying insects and large beetles but we managed to have none in our room. We had also read and been told that the power went off at 10pm and we weren’t looking forward to a night without a fan but they must have installed generators since and the fan stayed on all night.

We had a very basic Indian meal – the owner of the place kept appologising because a staff member (we guessed the cook) hadn’t turned up so he was doing his best with a full restaurant with the help of two boys who were about 8 and 10years old.  The guesthouse owned the bakery across the one road so while Maurice went down to the boat about 7am to get good seats away from the engine, I had breakfast, got him some to take down to the boat and had a couple of rolls made up for lunch.

I again managed to find another couple of guys to take the bags back down to the boat. Even the young backpackers were complaining about the way to the boat but they didn’t want to pay the $1 for someone to carry their backpacks.

Our boat the next morning a different one and was even more comfortable with not as many people on board and we had some tables and bench seats so we had more room. We even had separate toilets for men and women and they had a window opening so you could look out even from the toilet.

The scenery along the riverbank was lovely with jungle nearly down to the water and in other places large outcrops of rocks in and around the river. We only passed a few villages near the water’s edge and many pink and black water buffalo, a few goats, cows and a few black pigs. We saw lots of groups of childlren playing in the water who would wave energentically when the boat passed them.

Occasionally the boat rocked a bit as we went through gentle rapids or whirlpools which occurred along the the length of the whole river.

There are a lot of fish nets set on poles from the rocks along the water’s edge and in a particular area where there was a carpet of stones into the river a lot of men were panning for gemstones which are apparently found in that area.

The second day’s trip took 9hours and there were more small villages along the way. The boat also picks up locals and deposits them further along the river.

We stopped at one point and the helper on our boat came back with a couple of large fish in a bucket. When we got near Luang Prabang we stopped again and a man came and got the fish from the boat, obviously dinner.

The hotel we are staying at is right on the river and is a very traditional design but with new bathrooms and all mod cons inside each bungalow.

It is set in a beautiful garden right on the Khan River.

 There is a lot of birdlife and lots of colourful butterflies which fly around after rain.As we got in late we decided to eat at the hotel where the food was simple but delicious. The menu was amusing as usual in this part of the world.

They had Peta cheese salad, french fried, Pan Cakes and beef stiploy.


Chiang Mai, especially the old city area where we are staying has a nice relaxed feel about it.  There are only over a million inhabitants, mainly outside of the old city so it is a welcome change after Bangkok.

Our hotel the “Bodhi Serene” is near one corner of the old city of Chiang Mai.  We had to laugh – the girl who showed us to our room got into the bath and opened the shutters into the room and said that we should have a bath as we could look into the garden from there which was a bit of an exaggeration as we could only see the garden from the balcony! 

The old city is in the form of a large square  and pieces of the old wall  remain and a moat separates it from outer Chiang Mai where most inhabitants live.  The old city which you can easily walk around houses most of the temples, guesthouses and small hotels, spas, restaurants and cafes.  The coffee is really good and very cheap as is the food in most of the small cafes roadside stalls and restaurants.  We had a good Pad Thai and Fried chicken a large beer and a fresh fruit juice for $8.

We have really enjoyed our time here in Chiang Mai. The first day we just wandered about the old city looking at all the temples and town in general and went to the night market where we were assailed by hundreds of thousands of flying white ants with large wings which flew around everyone and all around the stalls that were set up. This lasted for about 1/2 hour and then they disappeared as quickly as they came.

We bought a lot of fruit yesterday to take with us on the 2day boat trip to Pak Beng and then on to Luang Prabang. A kilo of Lychees, one kilo of Mangosteen and one kilo of Mangoes which are in season and just delicious cost us about $2 in total. The cost of living here in Chiang Mai is extremely cheap compared to Bangkok which we already found very cheap and comparable to Bali for food prices. They do a lot of fresh juices and all combinations of fruit. They have large take away cups on display with all the different varieties you can have and then they wizz this up with water and ice.

We ate mainly at a simple little cafe down the road run by three Thai guys and the green chicken curry with eggplant, pad Thai and vegetable dishes were delicious. The mosquitoes here are vicious and most places either give you anti mosquito spray or direct a fan on you to keep them away. I spray myself before I go out and take mosquito wipes with me but have still been bitten occassionally. They are industrial in size and bite through light cotton clothing so I’ve taken to wiping the clothing too.

We saw an interesting day excusion for us online and was initially a bit skeptical as it was run by a swedish guy. It turned out to be one of the best things we have done especially as we are both interested in gardens and knowing what plants are what. Erik Danell is a Swedish botanist married to a lovely Thai lady and they have two small children. He has lived about 1/2 hour away from Chiang Mai for the last 6years. He was an associate professore in Upssala in Sweden and found himself only in meetings and wanted to get back to nature. He has set up the most wonderful Thai garden with all sorts of species of trees/fruit trees/shrubs and orchids as well as having a dedicated area for endangered species of mainly orchid species that have been found in the jungle.

A special area which is fenced with bars and a statue of a crouching lion to denote danger in front of the area which houses an assortment of deadly trees. An American volunteer forgetting instructions not to touch this tree took a yellow leaf from the tree and found that his arm was paralysed for several days. Erik also has a strychnine tree. He showed us a cinammon tree and told us how in commercial crops they take the branches and bash the bark to form the cinammon sticks that you buy. He has a lovely golden retriever dog and a pet baby water buffalo who roam the property as well as a host of chickens who have the run of the place. I asked him is snakes were a problem and he said that he only had one cobra in the house and shooed it out with a broom. The area between the trees is well cleared which we were happy about. 

A Buddha’s hand fruit.  It is said that a Chinese scholar kept one in his office and  he would scratch the surface and it gives off a lovely citrus like scent which helped his thought process.

He has volunteer workers from around the world come and help in the garden which is set in about 20acres and also people in north Thailand who explore the forrest and look for undiscovered species of orchids or endangered other plant species. He first picked us up and took us to the local Chiang Mai market where he identified all sorts of fruit and vegetables for us. He said that even after six years he can find things in the market that he hasn’t seen before. He bought a few of the vegetables and fruit that we had never eaten and we had these with a delicious chicken dish at his property for lunch. We also had a most delicous drink they call Rosella which I recognized from Egypt which they call Karkadea . It is made by soaking hibiscus flowers and adding a bit of sugar. So tasty and refreshing with ice or they boil it up for a hot drink.

We then went out to his property and he walked us around telling us what the trees were and let us taste various fruit off the trees and telling us their culinary or medicinal qualities. It was 38degrees and about 90% humidity so after a couple of hours we stopped for lunch and then continued around the rest of the garden. Erik then drove us to Op Khan national park about 1/2 hour away through a beautiful valley where we went to a local village and walked by the stream where he told us what the trees and plants were and showing us very unusual flowers. These flowers which look like rocks appear from the ground first and then the leaves and plant follow. He spotted a large Lychee tree so we walked there and had some of the delicious juicy fruit right from the tree. He also found a large pomelo on the ground which he gave us.

We were to have more food with a family in the village but as school was starting the next day he took us to a small stall in the bottom of a large shopping mall which served the best Khao Soi a local Lanna specialty which consists of rice noodles in a delicious broth with vegetables and topped with crispy noodles and to that you add chilli and pickled vegetables. This cost 80cents. He picked us up at 8.30am and dropped us off at 5.30pm and it was a great day. We learnt so much and he gave us a lot of tips about what we can plant when we change the garden into a monsoon one.

A friend had told us about the elephant nature foundation that takes in and buys injured and abused animals and cares for them. We went with about 8 others in a mini van to the property about 65kms to the north of Chiang Mai. It was founded by a Thai woman called Lek in 1995 and survives by visitors who pay for a day or two day trip there who can feed, walk with them and bathe the elephants without them having to do tricks or carting tourists around which is bad for their backs as they are not as strong or large as African elephants. She was also given a donation of millions of dollars by an American which allowed her to buy the property for the elephants.  Some of the stories of the rescued animals are very sad with some being blinded by their owners who prod their eyes to make them do what they want. Two others were from Cambodia and had their legs injured by land mines and another couple had broken ankles and hips from logging injuries and another a broken back. Each elephant has his own Mahoot who looks after it. The elephants eat over 100 kilos of fruit and vegetables every day so they are grateful I think for the visitors who feed them twice in the day with pumpkin, pineapple, cucumbers and bananas which they especially like.

They also have over 200 dogs and 45cats who were rescued after the flooding in Bangkok. Most of these are kept in separate areas but there are about 20 dogs and a few cats that have the run of the place and they also get plenty of love from all the visitors and volunteers and guides.

I  got into the river and helped throw buckets of water over the elephants to wash them off. After that they go and throw dirt over themselves and use the many concrete structures to satisfy any itch. They have 34 elephants and two are babies who still have hair. they range in age from 2years to 80 years. One had died the week before and there was almost a hillock where it was buried. Our guide told us that the elephants that were friendly with her stood over her for a couple of hours. Our friend sponsored an elephant called Lilly who died about a year ago and her elephant friend a young female is still missing her and won’t let another elephant become friendly with her.

We were given specific instructions about where to stand when near them (not behind them) and what to do when the elephants move. I wouldn’t like to be trodden on by one or flicked by a stray trunk. They said that most of the elephants were very gentle but we had to keep our eyes on Boy – a young male who was classed as naughty! If he came our way we had to get out of the way.

Some volunteers stay for extended periods and unload trucks of food and prepare meals etc.We were given a wonderful vegetarian buffet lunch and shown a documentary about how Lek finds and pays for elephants that are used to beg on the streets or abused animals that need rescuing.

We spent a morning walking around town again and found a nice little park near the moat. We met an American Eurasian woman and a little boy when we went to feed the fish in the park. The little boy wanted more food to feed the fish so I gave him mine and we got talking to the lady. She has been visiting Baan Vieng Ping orphanage which is out of town with 200 children for the last 3 years. She has known the little boy since he was left at the orphanage when he was 2months old and she takes him out once a week. The orphanage receives no government funding so we gave her a donation. She told us that a lot of the children are given to the orphanage by families because they can’t afford to feed them but that most of them keep their parental rights hoping to come and get them one day but she said this doesn’t happen very often and prevents the children from being adopted and they spend their life there until they reach a certain age and then the boys move on to a boys home and the girls until they finish school.

There are many hundreds of monks in and around Chiang Mai and they survive by peole giving them donations of food. They are allowed to buy something to drink but not to eat and rely on the local people and donations from visitors for clothing etc.

Three monks come to the hotel where we  stayed  every Wednesday. 

We were invited to take part in the tradiitional ritual of giving them food and them giving us a blessing.

Even though we had seen many temples we decided to take a bemo by ourselves up to the Doi Suthep Wat which is on the highest hill (1000mtrs) and gives a good view all over Chiang Mai.

We climbed the 300 odd steps  to the top and the temple was worth seeing. 

It was just as well as there was so much heat haze that we couldn’t see much of Chiang Mai.

We took a mini bus with 8 others (all young backpackers) to Chiang Khong on the border of Thailand. It is a very winding road trip around the hills driving at break neck speed. I’m glad we don’t suffer from motion sickness! We stopped at the white temple (we were nearly all templed out!) but this one was very different from the previous temples. It was very white and covered with small pieces of mirror.

 We stayed the night at a lovely little bunglaow hotel overlooking Laos before crossing into Laos the next day and then getting on the 2day slow boat trip up to Luang Prabang with an overnight stay in Pak Beng where we have been told that the power goes off at 10pm.

We were amazed that of all the young much younger people on the bus with us only one girl knew where she was going and what she was doing.  The others didn’t know that they couldn’t get a boat up the river until the following day and didn’t know that they had to stay the night in Chiang Khong.  One had just finished University.  The group were so different from the uni students that were with me in Hangzhou and Beijing who knew everything there was to know about the cities and what to do and where to go. 

Some more pictures in and around Chiang Mai

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I forgot to put these photos in the blog from Bali.  We just thought that this photo of the old Indonesian chap and his T-shirt was priceless also the novel use of used plastic bottles in a restaurant.

I wondered if the level of English comprehension and spoken language had improved in the 25years since I had been in Bangkok. It hadn’t. I don’t know whether they are not taught much English at school but in the hotel, at restaurants and in the shops and stalls it was very hard to make ourselves understood or understand the little English that people had. This was again very different from Bali where apart from the taxi drivers most people spoke some reasonable English and in lots of cases the basics in many other languages. I find it surprising as Bangkok is very dependant on tourism and has been for so many years but you feel quite isolated not speaking the language and not being able to chat to people.

Someone said it is hard to get your head around the city of Bangkok and we found that to be true. There is no specific “city centre” but there are high rise buildings, enormous shopping malls and markets in many areas of the city on both sides of the river. It is a very clean city despite a lot of the old buildings looking very dirty and decrepit with the mould and concrete decay because of the high humidity and heat all the time.  There are many,many massage parlours with an amazing range of names.

Like a lot of large cities there are very defined areas of slums/middle class areas and the very wealthy areas. There were quite a few people begging on the street and there is a lot of poverty. There is a lot of old corrugated iron and plastic sheeting along the railway line where people live and the very old tumble down shacks along the canals but there are also hundreds of new tract housing being built outside the city as in Malaysia.

In Bali the Hindu temples are made up of mainly concrete castings and are all grey and they only really look colourful when there is a large ceremony and they drape things w ith mainly yellow material and there are a lot of fruit offerings piled high in beautifully decorated baskets.

The Buddhist temples in Thailand are very different. They are pristine and painted stark white with very colourful mainly burnt orange or green glazed tiles on the roof which really glisten in the sunlight. The buildings are heavily decorated and ornate. Some of the Buddhas inside and outside are enormous and in some places people pay for large swathes of bright yellow cloth which are then thrown over the Buddha’s shoulder not unlike the way a monk ties his robe. In China they won’t let you photograph inside the temple but here there was only one of the many we visited that photography wasn’t allowed inside. There is also a tradition to bring good luck of putting gold leaf onto some of the stone buddhas and in some places they sell you a couple of flowers, jos sticks and a small piece of gold leaf to put on a buddha.

We tried a couple of restaurants (an excellent Vietnamese one-see photos)

 that were well written up on trip advisor in various parts of the city and on several occasions we walked up a good appetite looking for the places down dark alleys and having been given conflicting directions by several helpful people who had no idea.

 The pavements in a lot of areas are not the best and in the dark you have to watch where you are walking. Unfortunately for Maurice some of the street signs were at levels for the small Thai people and he went smack into one of them with his head. I managed to grab him before he staggered over the kerb onto the road and although it made for a terrible bang, he only got a small nick in his head. The doctor told him years ago that he had a skull like an aboriginal so that is very fortunate!

We decided to do the day trip to Ayutthaya (the old capital) which is about an 1-2hours north of Bangkok. We caught the metro to the end of the line and then a taxi to the bus terminal and took an airconditioned bus for 50 Thai baht – not even $1 to the town of Ayutthaya. We then took a tuk tuk to visit the several “wats” spread all over the town for 3 hours.

 The ruins and temples were fascinating and there were very few tourists around probably because of the 40degree heat. The city when it was the capital must have been very beautiful and very spread out by the distances that we covered.

There are many signs “no entry – damaged area” and there was apparently a lot of flood damage to many of the ruins. There are piles of fresh bricks lying around and workers repairing the damaged ruins. You can see on some of the signs and walls up to where the water came during the flooding.

We left Bangkok on the train to Chiang Mai at 8.30 in the morning on Friday the 11th May. They advertise it as a 12hour trip but ours was 14hours.

 We only made a few stops and for a short time but there were quite a few times when the train had to slow to a crawl along dodgy tracks mainly in the marshy areas.

It was however a very interesting trip and the landscape changed from the plains to the hills before it got dark about 7pm.

The 2nd class air conditioned train which also has the old style fans on the ceiling was very comfortable apart from the 2hours where the airconditioning didn’t work and it was like a toaster inside the compartment but luckily it came back on again and then we needed jumpers. 

For $25 we got good coffee and half a jam sandwich when we left and then from an airline type cart a very tasty meal in a tray of chicken and eggplants with rice and a mug of iced water, then afternoon tea with 1/2 jam sandwich again and an evening meal of fried rice with egg and vegetables which was also delicious. They came and swept the cabin periodically, collected any rubbish and the service was excellent. One girl and one man did the whole 3 carriages so we made sure we tipped them when we got off. They worked so hard for the whole 14hours.

Maurice did his best to decapitate himself along the way. He being his nosey self was looking between the carriages when a man pushed by him and Maurice’s hat fell off. When he bent down to retrieve it the automatic doors closed on his head and broke his sunglasses. Thank goodness for his hard skull again!

There was no break in the buildings, factories and housing from Bangkok to Ayutthaya which we saw the day before from the bus but in contrast to that the landscape from the train from just outside Bangkok also going north was very rural with lots of rice paddies and shanty type towns.

The rice paddies look like green carpets as they have been sown with a seeder and not by hand.

This is our itinerary for the next part of the trip.














Some more photos of Ayutthaya.


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I read in an aircraft magazine the other day that Maurice and I are known now as “flashpackers” which means we carry a lot of electronic devices when we travel. I must say we are both enjoying our e-readers which saves carting around books to read and the i-pod and computer come in handy on long trips when I can at least type up the blog.

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Chinatown where we are staying is a bustling area of Bangkok and it is interesting to walk down to a pier on the river and get a local ferry up or down the riverj passing an enormous variety of stalls and shops along the way.

The tuk tuks are a good alternative and if there are too many fumes an air conditioned taxi is better.

We visited the local flower market where you can get 50roses for 100 baht – about $3.50. This market operates 24hours a day.

This led into the vegetable market with wonderful aromas of garlic/onions/corriander and ginger.

 The vegetable market was very well organised into the various items which were wrapped in plastic or found in large cane baskets ready to be delivered. Everything  was very fresh.

We then walked a few blocks to the “fabric market” which sells everything to do with fabric as well as the fabric.  It is a real labyrinth of alleys and stalls and we kept in a straight line for about 2kms and then decided to call it a day.  Unfortunately I was looking for some lovely Thai silk but the fabrics there were mainly synthetic and not to a Western taste.

The dogs we have seen here in Bangkok are all robust and well looked after even very spoilt as opposed to those in Bali.  This fellow had the fan trained on him.

We went to Jim Thompson’s house which is in the heart of Sukumvit down an alley and right on a canal. A beautiful house, well restored and many lovely artifacts in the Thai style house.He was an American who brought the silk trade to Bangkok when it was just a cottage industry and he lived here for many years until he disappeared in the Cameroon Highlands, Malaysia whilst on holidays in the 60’s.

The hotel here really are trying hard to please their customers with a free mini bar every day with cans of coke/pepsi/crisps and biscuits. They can’t do enough to make our stay comfortable and assist in getting anything we need.

There is a great contract between day time and night time.  When we go for our power walk in the mornings there is not too much open and a few food stalls selling all sorts of juice and local breakfasts but at night there are a million neon signs and lights and every street corner in Chinatown is transformed into outdoor food stalls. By the morning everything is cleared away and the footpaths are clear again.

We had dinner in a lovely old Thai house right on the river called “Na Aroom” which served vegetarian food and seafood.  It was down an alleyway and the taxi driver didn’t know where it was so just dropped us somewhere in the alley.  After a few enquiries and walking backwards and forwards due to some interesting directions by various people we found the place.   We had delicious mushrooms with green peppercorns and a three eggplant curry which was delicious.

We took an hour long long boat trip down through the suburban “klongs” where some children were swimming in the river – very brown and with lots of flotsam and jetsom floating around. 

The boatman’s wife was mending clothes and had a sleep while we looked around and when her mobile phone rang the boatman slowed down so that she could hear. 

When she finished he would rev the engine up again.

We walked back from the pier and went into “river city” which is located amongst all the upmarket hiltons and sheraton hotels.  It is a pristine shopping centre full of Thai artifacts but very few shoppers.    Interesting but extremely expensive.  From there we walked back to our hotel and happened upon wreckers alley where people were reconditioning every car part imaginable – lots of grease and elbow grease.


We had a good flight from Denpasar to Singapore after paying our fine of $160 for overstaying our visa by 4days in Bali. When we wanted to extend our visa before the 30day one expired we were told that it had to be done at least 1week before. We will know for next time that we can get a 60day visa but they will only issue a 30day visa on arrival not a 60day one.

Everyone we dealt with in Singapore was very pleasant from the two taxi drivers we had to the immigration and customs officers. We stayed at a place called Rider’s lodge located to the north of the island – a bit of a faulty towers type of place with horse stables in the grounds. There was no “Manuel” to carry the bags so the receptionist guy doubled as the porter. We had a cold shower as we weren’t advised that the hot water switch was located outside the room – very odd. There was an advertised “French Bistro” on the grounds and I thought we might be underdressed but it was more of a sports club type of place doing BBQ’s and pizzas at high Singapore prices. It was a shock after the restaurant prices in Bali. There was an huge storm in the middle of the night with a lot of thunder, lightning and torrential rain so with that and all the yahooers coming back at all hours from the bistro we didn’t get much sleep.

We stayed there as it was the closest place I could find to Woodland’s checkpoint where we caught the train to Butterworth and had to leave early in the morning to purchase our tickets. The train left at 8.45am so we left ourselves plenty of time and got there about 6.30am.

Everything in Singapore is run so efficiently and with a friendly attitude. The only omission was the lack of any toilet facilities while waiting for the train. They only open the entry to immigration and customs 1/2 hour before the train departs so it you feel the call of nature you have to ask the immigration officers who take your passport and then escort you down the escalators and then about 500mtrs to a toilet in the secured area. They then wait for you outside the door and then escort you back and hand back your passport.

We found 2nd class on the train very comfortable and in better condition than the first class cabin next to us. The scenery for the first 4-5 hours was palm plantations but we didn’t see anyone working there in any of the plantations. Crossing over from Singapore to Malaysia is a bit like crossing over from Switzerland to Italy. From a very ordered and neat country to one which is not so ordered and neat.

There is a lot of construction of electric railways and large flyovers and bridges and a few large new cheap housing estates but there are still a lot of old wooden houses and shacks along the way and some old poor looking towns. The palm plantations gave way to jungle and hills and a few flatter areas where there were some orchards and market gardens. The scenery after Kuala Lumpur city was similar but not so many palm plantations. The buildings looked more cared for and there were many tract housing developments in many areas.





We had a delightful mother Azira and her one year old daughter Kaishe who kept us amused for the whole day trip. She was the cutest little girl and always had a smile ready.





We left Singapore on the dot of 8.45am but got into Butterworth an hour late at 10.30pm.

We went to pay for our overnight train to Bangkok as the ticketing booth was open and they said that there was a situation which turned out to be bad news for us as there had been a derailment in Thailand and they wouldn’t know until the following day if the train would depart Butterworth.





We decided not to take a taxi accross to Georgetown, Penang but the local ferry accross the river which looked fine but didn’t realize until too late that we had to carry our bags up three flights of stairs as they are doing renovations. We took a taxi to the hotel which was a lovely little renovated heritage hotel with high ceilings and big rooms.

The taxis in Penang all have a large sign on the doors of their vehicles saying that all taxis must be metered and not to take an unmetered taxi but you still have to negotiate a price before you can get into a taxi – strange system. It rained all night but not much during the day. Georgetown looks like it did 25years ago in the old town – old and very few renovated buildings. We had a great Indian brunch however at a little restaurant down from the hotel.

We took a hop on hop off bus and had a general look around and a walk on the esplanade down at the river which was brown and a bit of rubbish floating in it.






One of the few colonial buildings in Georgetown.






Lunch being served in Georgetown.






Our delicious tandoori lunch in Georgetown.






More Georgetown buildings







We found out that the train was not going anywhere so decided instead of staying in Penang we would fly to Bangkok – we managed to get an Air Asia flight that afternoon at 5pm and did it all on the net in an hour- even checked in online. We also managed to book another night at  the hotel in Bangkok so all went smoothly including the flight which was only 90minutes.  Air Asia staff are apparently on a bonus for on time performance and it is very evident in the way they turn around their aircraft.  We saw our aircraft land and come in to it’s location and within 20mins passengers were off and passengers on board and the door shut ready for take off 5minutes early.

We got the airport express in from the airport in Bangkok which was excellent, took 20minutes to the last stop in the city and cost about $1.50 which is incredibly cheap for such a service and much more expensive in most other countries.

Our hotel the “Shanghai Mansion” which is in the Chinatown area has an amazing history and a very old building and very Chinese in it’s decoration but quirky at the same time. It looks nothing from the street but goes back a long way and is renovated and fascinating inside with an enormous fish pond in the centre and large hanging lanters everywhere.

The hotel has a live four piece jazz band every evening and the girl singer has got a fantastic voice. Very easy listening during dinner. The hotel has free shuttles to the Grand Palace, shoppping centres and the railway station and if you sit in their lounge they automatically bring you a drink – non alcoholic of course but very welcome anyway.  They are extremely helpful at the hotel and many larger and more expensive hotels could learn from their service.

The property has been owned by the oldest Chinese migrant families in thailand, the Sarasin Dynasty.  the current owner of the property Pong Sarasin – unfortunate first name! was a memeber of the ministry of Thailand and also operates the Coca-Cola franchise in Thailand.  This building was made famous in 1909 when it was converted to a Chinese Opera house and was frequented by the Royal Family. The owners later leased out the building and it was converted to the stock exchange of Thailand. As the business district gradually moved northwards to what is now known as the CBD area, the building was converted into a textile trading center.

When the lease ended, the owners transformed it into one of the most famous department stores in Thailand, known as the Yaowarat Square, which houses various restaurants and the center for Chinese herbal medicine. The Building was then vacated in 1998 and in 2005, it was transformed into what is now known as the Shanghai Mansion.

We took the hotel’s tuk tuk and went to the Grand Palace which is really Grand!





I had seen pictures of the palace in the past and postcards of it but the intricate detail of the glass mosaic tiles and the gilding on the many, many buildings and temples is incredible – much bling! 





Very impressive especially in the sunshine and given the scale of the whole palace.






We then fought our way on to the local ferry back to the nearest pier to the hotel and walked through streets full of small shops selling everything.

We also went to an enormous shopping mall called MBK which sells everything and more again and then caught the MRT – underground first and the BRT – skytrain back to within walking distance of our hotel.