Ayutthaya, Thailand

The look on the faces of Mama, Dan and Job and the warm welcome we received as we arrived at Apple Guest House were priceless. My old mate Dan Beefcake, an ex Thai Kickboxer, was bit less chatty this time. I had loaned him 1000 Bhat (20 quid) last time I was here which he said he would repay on my return. I can only assume he thought after 3 months he would not be seeing me for a very long time – if ever again. I suppose he won’t be out partying this weekend.

Spending only 2 days in Bangkok, we had some things to organise. Michelle need new sandles and I need a small money belt – not one of those huge bum bag things that tourists wear – a discreet version that doesn’t say to robbers “Hi, I am a western tourist numpty. All my money, credit cards and passport are in this huge bag attached to my waist in full view with just a simple plastic release clip at the back – please help yourself”. We also needed a small daypack backpack so we could travel with minimal weight.

Job swiftly done, and then to acquire a new Chess set, a nice little wooden number for around 350 Bhat. Michelle has been getting thrashed at Chess lately, but the tide will turn, each game is getting closer. We left the monster backpacks at Mama’s in safe storage, and can now move with little daypacks containing 4 T shirts, 4 bumpants, 2 shorts, 1 Bra (Michelle’s), 2 plastic lightweight rainmacs, 1 mini laptop, 2 Ipods, 1 camera, and 2 Books. We took our dirty clothes with us and would have them laundered for a dollar when we arrived in Ayutthaya.

We took the local bus to the train station, arriving at 2.28pm with 2 minutes to spare before the train to Ayutthaya left the station. How lucky. This would be a short 2 hour journey, sitting in a carriage which looked like it had been used in an old John Wayne cowboy movie. There was an elderly American guy in front of us wearing a hat with material that draped down over his shoulders and fastened at the front so that only his eyes could be seen. He was wearing a pair of dark shades however, and in the extreme humid heat, he must have been sweltering. It looked strange and it felt strange. Things began to get even stranger when the train rolled out of the station. The carriages were just like I say, from an old western movie, and when you walk out the carriage doors to the inter connecting carriage, you basically stand on a platform in the fresh air. One slip, and you are off the train and on the tracks. Locals would smoke here and the smoke would drift through the carriage. Weird American guy was going nuts, waving his arms around and shouting obscenities, while continually slamming the door shut. The doors were actually being left open all through the train to afford additional ventilation. All the windows were open. It seemed at bit of an over the top reaction to both me and M. This continued for about an hour or so, and he was also rude to all the traders who were walking up and down the length of the train, cumbersomely carrying huge buckets of refreshments smothered in ice. I cannot stand rude people generally – who does ? and why the need ? Surely it’s all about tolerance and respecting people in the first instance, but then in addition the local culture. This bloke was raising my blood pressure and really getting me quite agitated. It was quite amusing when halfway through the journey, 3 scary looking armed policemen came on the train and stood in front of him and menacingly quizzed him on his behaviour. He was told very authoritatively to calm down and to stop upsetting people. After being spoken to like a small schoolboy, he was very quiet for the rest of the journey. Asshole.

Ayutthaya is a lovely place, basically built on an island at the confluence of three rivers. The old town is built around a beautiful landscaped national park containing various ancient ruined Wats, large monasteries and palaces. The place was built around 1350 and was the 2nd capital of Siam, after Sukhothai. The architecture and construction of the ruins seems identical to those found in Sukhothai.

When we left the train station, we had to jump a small ferry boat to take us over to the island, and then found a nice hotel just off the main backpacker drag which was had about 6 or 7 little bars.

We had a walk up to the night market for some nibbles, which meant sampling the fried fish, herby omelette and roasted chicken cuts before heading back for a couple of beers. We were up early next morning, shared a pot of jasmine tea, and picked up some snacks for a munch throughout the day as we strolled around the park taking in all the ancient ruins. We had little boiled eggs in a spicy batter, chicken skewers and little spicy sausages. This little picnic cost us only 30 Bhat, around 60 pence, and most of the stuff was eaten within an hour as everything was so scrummy.

The highlight for me was actually seeing the large sleeping Buddha. Although the ruins are interesting, it is hard to be blown away when you compare the site to the likes of Angkor in Cambodia or Bagan in Myanmar. Still, it was definitely worth the visit and great to get some peace and quiet away from all hustle and bustle of the city.

One whole day was really enough, so we decided to take the local bus westwards to Kanchanaburi about 3 or 4 hours away.

Kanchanaburi has plenty of natural features, such as giant caves and waterfalls, but it is also the site of the Bridge over the River Kwai and the Death Valley viaduct.

This just feels great, we are back doing what we love. You really just cannot believe how good you feel. Total freedom and constantly on the move, everything now seems so familiar in terms of the people and the culture. Nothing really phases us now, and the local transport is fun, especially when you have locals who go out of their way continually to smile and say hello – you just feel so welcome.

Can I just have my Lotto numbers come up this weekend please ?

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Return to the Land of Smiles

Well we have landed in Bangkok, and the whole place feels so familiar, but we were really a bit flat for the first hour or so. Maybe just the jet lag, maybe just the fact we have had such a good time here in the past and knowing that none of the friends and acquaintances we had met on our journey will not be here this time. Maybe, we are just feeling a wee bit homesick having had such a great time back home with all our friends and family.

The place is a bit more chilled out here this time, and not so busy, but that’s really a good thing – although it’s the wet season, and it is continually blasting down from the heavens. Exceptionally hot, humid and sticky, almost unbearable. I think we need time to plan how to go, as reading the Bangkok Post, there has been extreme flooding up North, and some casualties as a result. No need to put yourself at risk, so time to do some homework. The backpacks are extremely heavy this time, with additional clothes and kit for final destination. But we always travel lite, so the backpacks will be offloaded for a month in storage, and we just need a small pack for Michelle with minimal kit so we can travel easily over the next month or so.

Sorry we missed a lot of folk back home. It’s understandable that people have their own commitments with work and organised weekends etc. We thought we had so much time, but the last few weeks were a bit like ground rush – everything just seemed to go so quickly.

Just as we landed at BKK International, and switched the mobiles on, I had a text from Chic suggesting a few pints in the ‘Maidens to watch the match. My heart sank, and I was desperately wishing to be home for that.

On leaving Dundee, Mary was going back to Dublin and was on the same train as us in the morning for her Edinburgh flight. As usual, she was chatting away and telling little funny stories, and it was really nice to sit with one of our best mates as she lifted the mood while Dundee and the River Tay slowly disappeared and we entered Fife. A view, for as long as I can remember, that we have always loved – but more especially when coming home.

London was great fun meeting up with Lyndon and Lisa. We had a great night out on the Thursday, and Lyndon had such a good time, he decided to postpone his journey back to Glasgow, and spend the Friday with us also. It was a real thrill to have the old team back together again and reminisce about some stories. Lisa was looking really great, and Lyndon looked like … Grizzly Adams with hair all over the place, and huge beardy chin. Cool Fooker 😉

Anne Colvin met up with us on the Saturday afternoon prior to the flight. It was quite emotional for both Michelle and myself. We have known each other for almost 30 years, and nothing really changes. Anne looked exactly how I remember her at School when she used to fancy me 😉 She has even dyed her hair “GINGER!!”. You can’t kid a kidder Annie XX.

The flights were with Air India this time, and a good old curry was on the menu. Hilarious in that all the carpets and seat upholstery were like and Indian restaurant, and all that was missing was the red flock wallpaper. The curry’s were delicious, but we landed in Bangkok, and almost instantly had a bit of Delhi Belly.

Dr Sharma was on the flight with us. Now we had to tell him that we have a friend back home, Rosie Sharma, and I wondered if they might be in some way related. He was Hindustani, and so is Rosie. He looked Indian, and so does Rosie. Hindustani’s don’t drink alcohol, but he liked a beer, and Rosie likes Gin and Tonic. I think he was kinda liking our Hindu punkrocker friend. He was vegetarian, as most Hindu’s are, and specifically do not eat cow, but I mentioned Rosie likes beef tacos and roast beef and gravy … and Dr Sharma was horrified.

Only kidding, but his face was a picture, and it was a nice wee wind up!

On arriving at Mama’s, we dumped the bags, and noticed my sandles were still in the same position as I had left them 3 months ago. We headed out for a couple of beers, hit the sack early, and slept solid – wait for it … for the best part of 18 hours. We were astounded, and still felt tired when we eventually got up.

We are heading North to Ayatthaya tomorrow, founded 1350 and the ancient 2nd capital of Siam.

http://wikitravel.org/en/Ayutthaya

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Back to Asia

We leave on the 11th August, with a few days in London before flying out on the 13th to Bangkok. Time to pick up from where we left off, and it feels like we are going home. North and East Thailand, then into Laos for a month travelling North to South to cross back into Thailand again, or maybe South to North, then over the border to China. The Plan is … there is No plan.

New Sandles – Check !

New T shirts – Check !

New Shorts   – Check !

Wonder if we will bump into some old travelling aquaintences from the past … 1st stop, Mama’s Place, Apple Guest House, Bangkok. I left a pair of sandles there nearly 3 months ago, and bet they are still at the entrance under the stairs. 🙂

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Homeward

We stayed in a more upmarket place on our last night, pushing ourselves to reluctantly part with a whole $20. Yikes! Oh how this hurt, but actually, we were tired and weary and with air conditioning, a hot shower, lovely décor and bedding, and a wide screen telly showing movie after movie – we were really quite happy. We headed out for our last meal, and then grabbed some beer and a Bacardi Breezer or two from the 7/11 with some goodies and headed back to the room for a quiet night in. Our flight was at 9pm the following night, so that would give us more or less a whole day to finish our shopping for some little souvenirs to take back home. We had managed to get a deal on some little carved wooden Buddha’s up in Chaing Mai, (more about this later), so there was no pressure just trying to pick up some more odds and ends.

Arriving at the airport, we were really disappointed to hear that our flight had been delayed by 3 hours. The good news was that we would not miss our connecting flight in Colombo, Sri Lanka, as the plane would wait on us arriving. Whatever way we looked at it, we would have to wait 3 hours in one of these airports, so nothing was lost really. The bad news was that we arrived in Colombo at 1.30am local time, and we were horrified to find out the connecting flight had been delayed until 7.45am. A quick calculation made me realise that we were going to miss our pre-booked train from London to Dundee. Disaster! The tickets were non refundable, and this was going to cost us arranging alternative transport at so short notice. Weary and feeling down, we did not feel like sleeping, so propped the bar waiting patiently for the clock to slowly tick away towards boarding time. Soon enough, the flight was called. The flight was awful with screaming kids and constantly crying babies. I will admit that I really got quite agitated and annoyed. Lack of sleep really, and then I thought about these youngsters, the cabin pressures were probably affecting their ears and causing some pain. I really felt for them, but selfishly I was just wishing they would fall asleep so I could get some peace and quiet. We hardly slept a wink, and were absolutely exhausted on arriving at Heathrow.

Checking the internet in the airport, the trains were double the price now, but regardless we would never make it to Kings Cross in time anyhow. The domestic flights were now costing more than our international flights back home, and the Megabus was fully booked. We were stranded, and after much tired, slow debate, we booked a flight for the following morning, deciding to try to get some sleep in the airport. This was actually no problem, and due to being so exhausted, we managed to cram in a good 6 hours or so of broken sleep.

Arriving in Edinburgh, I immediately felt the cold. We bought tickets for the shuttle bus, and Michelle hopped on, while I took advantage of the 5 minutes we had before departure to grab a quick smoke. I had only just lit the cig, when I heard the roar of the bus engine, and turned around in disbelief as the bus tore away – with Michelle on it!

We had no way to contact each other, and all I could do was watch as the bus disappeared in the distance. My mind started working overtime wondering what to do. Almost a year of travelling together without getting lost or separated once ( well actually that’s a wee lie, thinking about last October arriving on Lombok – right Lyndon ? ).

Fortunately, another bus came along in 10 minutes, with WI-FI!!! I pulled out the laptop, emailed Josy in Glasgow, who tried to contact my old phone which Michelle was carrying, but to no avail. My bus stopped at Waverley with no sign of Michelle. I had 15 minutes to find Michelle in order to catch the next train. Phoning home from a phone box, Pat told me Michelle was actually in the station. I sprinted down the road towards the station, spotting Michelle at the last moment, but the time was now 11.14am, so it was too late, we had missed the train. This would mean another delay of at least 3 hours. We were getting close to home, but it seemed like our luck all of a sudden kept leaving, and someone was playing with us.

I thought there was going to be a bit of a squabbling match between us on meeting up, but actually, we had both seen the funny side of this and could only shrug and laugh. I think we were happy enough to be back in the familiar surroundings of Edinburgh, and it already felt like home anyway just back in Scotland. What a mammoth journey home this was turning out to be. We calculated we had been in transit for 54 hours, with roughly 8-10 hours sleep. We would have to wait another 2 hours for the next train.

The mobile phone rang just at that specific point, it was Mike and Mary, and they were coming to collect us and would not take “NO” for an answer. We were “instructed” to go to the nearest pub, sit down, relax and chill.

As we made moves up Cockburn Street and then walked down the Royal Mile, I did a double take as we walked past a little novelty shop. There in the window, was the exact little Buddha’s we had bought in Thailand. The price was 49 pence each. They were about a quarter of the price we had paid in Asia, and we just looked at each other and smiled. Ever get the feeling you’ve been had?

We wearily dropped our now heavy backpacks in the corner, and propped the bar of the infamous “Worlds End Pub”. Feeling relaxed and happy, I waited patiently for my first pint of Guinness in almost a year, to be poured, and slowly allowed to settle. What a wait. This was like a scene from one of my favourite old time films “Ice Cold in Alex” when they eventually get out of the desert, and head straight to the bar, the scene used for a Calsberg advert years ago. As the pint turned from shades of beige and brown to jet black, and the creamy head formed, I took a few seconds to admire and appreciate this perfectly poured pint. All the memories of Asia were running through my head, and the number of times I had thought of this moment. I took a long swig, savouring the smell and taste of the “Ole’ Back Stuff”, and spotted myself in the bar mirror as I wiped the creamy froth from my top lip.

Asia was a million miles away, and so was I, lost in my own thoughts.

With mixed emotions, we were home, but it felt like we had never actually left. Strange being back, but only 2 months and we will be out there again to finish what we started. It will be great to see everyone over the coming weeks.

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Sukhothai, North Thailand

It was quite easy to leave Pai, as we had arranged to take a local bus which was about a 5 minute walk from our jungle hut. The journey was quite an easy one, and we were dropped off in the old town. After finding accommodation, we freshened up and strolled out for something to eat and have a little wander about to get a feel for the place. The old town is really a one street affair, with the historical park on one side of the road, and just a handful of local restaurants on the other side, and all very reasonably priced.

Without really doing much that night, we were joined a by Nadine, a lone German traveller.

We were all getting along quite well, and decided we would all hire motorbikes next day to get around the park and surrounding countryside. We really were enjoying biking around the area, and we entered the park heading for the first of many ancient monuments, when suddenly I noticed all too late that we were heading straight for a mud bath. It was too late, and before I could apply the breaks, the bike got bogged down quickly and Michelle and I toppled over sideways in slow motion. We landed at 90 degrees and were completely stuck in about 6 inches of stinking thick mud. Nadine did not know whether to look concerned or just laugh. When we eventually got up caked in thick sticky mud, we could do nothing but laugh, especially when a local bunch of kids who had seen the whole thing were giggling and laughing at the sight of us.

We headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up, and within half an hour we were on our way again.

About an hour later we stopped for some extra fuel, when a Buddhist monk gestured to us putting two clasped hands to his cheek, which we assumed was an invitation to see a sleeping Buddha statue. We followed the friendly monk and happened across a large colourful temple.

Locals were all hanging about in a large marquee and looked bemused to see us. I suppose we had managed to get off the beaten track, and were really out in the sticks. We were smiling and waving as the monk led us up to what seemed like large chrome altar. Smiling, the monk gestured us over to look and he opened a side door of the altar. Our faces dropped. What was inside was the body of an old lady, and all we could see were the soles of here feet, and further into the darkness, the bottom of her chin and nose surrounded by a mass of grey hair. We were completely shocked, and now understood his “sleeping” gesture, and really did not know what to do. The monk was smiling and laughing, as were the locals and small children surrounding us, and we were just completely confused.

We made as quick an exit as we possibly could, saying our goodbyes and thanks to everyone, and politely trying to make out we were short of time by pointing to our watches. In Asia, death is celebrated, and sometimes the body can be left like this for months until it is time for the funeral, which is normally a cremation held in full view on the streets. You see, here, death is a good thing, as it means you are on your way to the next life, so this is to be celebrated and not mourned. The monk however insisted on taking us to see the temple before we could depart. 

Luckily for us, it was after 4pm, and so moving on, all the staff from the historical park would be finishing work for the day. This meant free entry to the full site and we could drive around and take in all the sites at our leisure! Okay, more temples, but the place is really tourist free at this time, and it is so tranquil and peaceful.

The scenery is pretty gorgeous surrounding the area too. This would be our last day in rural Asia before heading to Bangkok in the morning. I was silently feeling very down about going home. Yes it will be nice to see everyone, but I just feel so happy here in Asia, miles away from any stress, and especially with the heat, the scenery, the people, and most of all, the freedom from any routine. I really found it hard to be excited about leaving, and there is definately unfinished business here.

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Pai, North Thailand

Pai, pronounced “Bye” has become thoroughly addictive, and everyone we meet has been raving about the place and telling us how they planned to stay a couple of days, but have ended up staying a week. We have been here only 3 days, and have similarly decided to stay another couple of nights before heading down south en-route to Bangkok.

There is one other destination to reach which is a halfway point, so we should get at least a couple of days in Sukhothai, which is another of those UNESCO world heritage historical sites, with ancient ruins built some 800 years or so ago by a kingdom succeeding the Khymers. It will also help break up the long journey back to Bangkok.

But what makes Pai so special?

Well, for a start it is very relaxed, and a very quaint rural village set on the banks of a murky chocolate coloured river. The place is very colourful with vivid green, large leafed tropical plants, palm trees, exotic flowers and all surrounded by high misty topped hills. The accommodation in the main tends to be thatched bamboo huts, in various styles and sizes. Although of basic construction, they are actually quite luxurious inside, with 4 poster beds, flushing toilets and hot showers. The best part though, is they only cost 4 quid a night 🙂 I keep expecting David Bellamy to jump out of the foliage surrounding our porch while I drink another beer Leo.

There are rickety and shoddily constructed bamboo suspension bridges spanning the river and connecting our little jungle resort to the village.

I bet you’ve love to see us trying to get across this at 1am in the morning after a couple of couples !!

One night we were sniggering as we tried to cross this in the dead of night. I told Michelle if I heard a large splash, she should just let the current take her downstream and I would just meet up with her in Bangkok in a few days. We managed to get across, and stumbled on a wee bonfire party just outside our hut, with a local guy playing some “Geetar”. We joined the group and were really enjoying ourselves, until we realised that this “Johnny Cash” couldn’t sing a single note in tune, and with his geetar also being out of tune, we were killing ourselves laughing when he had to stop half way through each song to tell everyone which one he was actually meant to be singing. I then remembered I had seen this guy in the morning, cracking open a bottle of Asian Whiskey around breakfast time. He was also trying to play the mouth organ – it was like watching Les Dawson playing the piano.

The village is virtually transport free apart from the occasional purring motorbike or cycle slowly and casually passing through. Travellers sit in bars chatting, people watching, reading books, or surfing on mini laptops. The bars and restaurants are all painted in bright colours, and look quite rustic, quirky and cool. The little streets are choc full of these haunts, interspaced with little art galleries, craft shops and smoking BBQ stall’s. At night the place is quite ambient with multi coloured atmospheric lights and little bars playing chilled out music or live acoustic performances. In the quieter areas, all you can hear are the sounds of the jungle, with crickets chirping, geckos clicking and calling, and the occasional roar of a lion or tiger. Okay, I maybe took that last bit too far 🙂 But there are elephants here though!

The real pull, apart from the ambience, seems to be that relaxed atmosphere generated by some of the friendliest locals we have encountered for quite some time. There is no hard sell, no touts, and no scamming, just friendly smiles from chilled happy family orientated people.

Motorbike rentals for a whole 24 hours costs only 100 Baht, which is probably the cheapest deal ever, and amounts to about 2 quid. The cheapest we have had in Asia so far had been about $6, but the bike had to be back by 6pm the same day. With a full tank of petrol costing about 2 quid, it really is a great deal, and it is great fun and let’s you take in more of the place and the surrounding countryside.


We have just arrived back having been on the bike all day visiting a waterfall, some natural hot springs, an elephant camp, the Pai Canyon (Canyon? My Arse!), a Chinese village, and the Japanese bridge. We nearly got soaked in a downpour earlier in the day, but anticipating this, and ever prepared just like good boy scouts, had taken our waterproof ponchos with us that we had bought in Hue, Vietnam. We had only just put the bloody things on when the sun was suddenly out again, and within a minute or so we felt like we were practically being steam cooked alive and couldn’t get the things off quick enough.

What was great about this for both of us, is that we know this leg is coming to an end, but being on the bike cruising through the beautiful countryside really brought back some good memories. The first time we had ever done this was on the island of TukTuk on Lake Toba in Sumatra, Indonesia sometime around early September last year. That now feels like a lifetime ago.

My mind started to wander, and I was virtually running through the whole trip again in my head, and trying to remember all the places we had been, the hotels we had stayed in, the journeys getting to each place, and all the people we had met along the way.

I then got really serious and started to think about Bacon Rolls, Black Pudding, Bridies, Steak Peh!, Mince and Tatties with HP sauce, Stovies, the Agacan Turkish restaurant on the Perth Road and ……. and Michelle had to plead with me to stop mentioning all this stuff, we have just under a week to go.

We leave here tomorrow, and it looks like we will have to do an overnight stay in Chiang Mai before heading to Sukhothai next day.

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Chaing Mai, North Thailand

We had taken an overnight bus here. Our bags were raided, but being streetwise, we had nothing in there for these thieving scammers. It’s not like this all the time, Asia has been really good to us, but you meet fellow travellers, and they warn you in advance. It is so disappointing really. I had tied my bagback straps a certain way just to test this. We got off the bus in the morning, and instantly knew they had been rummaging through our kit. Well there was nothing worth taking, but it still disappoints and make you feel … I’m sure violated is too strong a word, but it definately makes you feel slightly compromised. They also dropped us off at a petrol station 8km’s outside the city. Thankfully, there was transport awaiting us. What a well organised scam. Just enough spaces to take every passenger into the city for an extra 40 Bhat (80p). I wish I had taken the lead on this and had a go with the bus driver and the rest of the staff, but everyone was so weary from the journey, we just paid, and be done with it.

We had a great leaving party in Bangkok. Probably with aquantances we will never see in our lives again. There have been some great characters along the way, but some have become very special in our hearts. Apart from Denis, and our Dutch daughters, and also Micheal from Germany, Gabriella turned up. We met this middle aged woman from Turin, Italy some months ago, and she really is a star. Now on her way to do trekking in Nepal, and I wish we were going with her.

Anyways, we are enjoying the 2nd biggest city in Thailand. Although, it really did become all “Same Same”, and I could tell that Michelle and I were becoming slightly bored. We had spent 7 weeks with the kids having a great time, but they are trying to pack as much in as possible into such a small timeframe, that we really cannot keep the pace, and realise we have just lost the enthusiasm all of a sudden for constant travel.

When I say, all of a sudden, I know in reality it has been creeping in for a good few weeks, if not a month or so. I think I lost the motivation after Burma, and to be honest, only Angkor in Cambodia has really set me on fire. After that, it just become day to day, living out of a bag, and doing the same old tired things. You can just get to much of a good thing, and this has been a truly wonderful experience, but maybe this long on the road has just taken it’s toll.

Notwithstanding the Asian way of life, the travelling people we have met have been really inspiring, ranging from young graduates on a year out, to those having a middled aged mid life crisis, to older people, that have done this all before – without mobile phones, lonely planet guides or internet. Possibly the most interesting of this bunch, with a whole life of stories that grip you like a good movie or novel.

It became decision time.

We decided together, rather than keep on going, it would be best to get back home now, see all our family and friends, and get rejuvinated for China, Laos, Thailand (properly) and perhaps the east coast of Malaysia.

It’s a hard life, I know. We know how lucky we are to be in this position. But truth be told, real life is beckoning, and the pressure is rising somewhat. It’s not for everbody, but some demons have been excercised here, and we really have had a ball. In reality, I want to keep going, but we promised we would stick together, and if one of us ever became unhappy, then we have to bite the bullet, and go with the consensus.

Since we have booked the flight back home, I must say that I am now ready, and these last days here have become a bit laborious.

Especially more so now that Stacey and Mark have left a couple of days ago to hit Laos – and hit Laos hard. Laos is always difficult to travel, the buses are old and decaying, frequently breakdown, and makes for slow, ardous progress. The rewards are great however, as we have yet to meet any traveller that has not raved about the place, the people, and the culture. So it will be good to hear how the kids get on, and leave this little gem for the future. We need at least a month in any country, but doing it in less than 3 weeks just seemed too rushed for us.

Staying in Chaing Mai for over a week now, me and M have discovered some great little nooks and crannies. Favoutite haunts, whiling the time away over a game of Chess, or a game of pool, or just simply chilling and watching the world go by. The place has a bit of a seedy side, not out and out seedy, but definately and undercurrent at night.

We have woke up this morning, and decided to go to Pai. It’s about 2 hours away further north, but has had great raves from everyone we have met. So, maybe chill out here for a few days and take in the last bit of Thai culture before heading back to big big smoke, Bangkok.

Then it will be home time, and we just can’t wait to see everyone, and get some of the food we have been craving for months and months.

As I sit and type this, I am now sitting on the porch of a jungle bungalow in Pai, North Thailand. We made the move this morning, it actually took 4 hours in a minibus through long winding roads. One of the worst journeys I have ever encountered. I still feel slightly queezy, but M is in bed having been sick in a plastic bag for most of that journey.

The setting here is rural, with thatched bamboo bungalows, and landscaped gardens overlooking a muddy greenish river. The rain is pouring down, but it really sets off the lush green tropicana. Already, we have bumped into people we have met before, and they are raving about this place. It’s all very friendly, and you can feel the camradery.

I feel like we are travelling properly again, and just for this single moment, I am regretting booking that flight home.

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Bangkok, Thailand …. again!

Bangkok is always great fun. We landed about 1.30am and jumped a taxi straight to Rambruttri, the backpacker ghetto area which includes the famous Th Khao San Road. Not so much a ghetto, more like an adult playground with neon lit bars, restaurants, hawker food stalls, clothe stalls, in fact everything you need to fill your boots with all the life support structures you will need after a month on the road. Time to chill, regroup and consider the next options. And, it is so hot and sticky, that you just cannot really move without feeling fatigued and lethargic. We all love it.

The problem with Bangkok, if there is a problem, is that temptation is always around the corner. This is especially true when you stay at Mama’s place, and other random traveller’s hang around on the benches just outside and in the alley, relaxing over a beer or two away from all the action. You always end up meeting some new acquaintances here, swapping tales and deciding at some stage in the evening, that it is time for a change of scenery, usually meaning a hit on the bright lights of the Ghetto.

When we arrived in the quiet alley and found Mama’s place in complete darkness, you would be forgiven for thinking there was no rooms at the inn at this time of night. However, since we had been before, I knew that Dan, Mama’s 54 year old ex kick boxing champion son, a hulking gentle giant, who you would never want to mess with or meet in an alley on a very dark night … would be snoring his head off in a bed in the main reception area. A simple whisper of his name was all that was required to awaken this lumbering beast from his slumber, and within 5 minutes we had dumped our bags and were on our way out for nightcap or two.

We were all tired but buzzing slightly, you could instantly feel the heat even at this late hour, and a couple of beers would be enough to knock us over, ready to crash and have a very long lie in the following morning.

Next morning, we got reacquainted with Dan, his son Job, and of course Mama, where they would ask what we had been up to the last few months since leaving the place. It felt like we had only left the place a couple of weeks back, as the time had flown by, with Dad meeting us in late January for Cambodia, and then meeting up with Stacey and Mark in Vietnam the following month. The other good news was that Sofie and Carina from Holland would be meeting up with us for a final party before they would have to fly back home and get reacquainted with real life again. What was even better, was that Michael from Frankfurt had turned up, and also Denis from Hamburg. It felt like a family reunion.

For the first week, we have been partying hard and Mark and Stacey love the place, with live music in just about every bar, and any type of food that takes’s your fancy – it is hard not like the place.

But we have been chilling out this past few days. You really do need some time to take stock, and Michelle in particular has been feeling a bit weary and “travelled out”. I don’t really care for being continually on the move either these days, but fortunately, the decision to stay put for a few days was the right one. Songkran is a festival celebrating Thai New Year. The original plan was to go up north to Chaing Mai, as this is seemingly the best place for this. However, all the buses, trains, and flights were almost fully booked, and those seats that were left had serious premium prices attached.

So that was it, stuck in Bangkok until all the celebrations died down. This seemed like a bit of a disaster for us, especially with Mark and Stacey being on a tight schedule to pack as much in. In actual fact, we have never had so much fun for as long as I can remember. I am talking serious fits of the giggles. You see, what happens, is that the stalls and streets suddenly become full of plastic water pistols, rifles and canons. We knew something was going down, but had no idea how crazy this party was going to be. Basically for the last 2 days, and the next 2 days, the whole country has turned into one major water war. Not water fight, water war. Everyone, and I mean everyone in the city is strolling about soaked to the skin, from young kids to granny’s and granddads, and the place is absolutely buzzing. It so addictive, you can only leave the hotel for 5 minutes before becoming a target and getting completely saturated. I had to laugh when we walked through the streets on the first night of the festival, and could here Michelle screaming behind me. She was getting a thorough soaking from some water troops, and looked like a drowned rat.

There is no point going back to get changed, as it will just happen again. Fortunately it is nice and warm here, so you never feel too miserable when soaked to the skin.

There are young teenagers in TukTuks’s firing water from the roads, there are water stations at the side of the road with “water troops” attacking anyone in sight, and this means freezing cold buckets of water and powerful hoses. It is absolutely mental, but seriously good fun – we are having an absolute ball. The good thing is, everyone is up for it, and you are killing yourself laughing from the minute you land on the streets.

It looks like we will probably head up north once this all calms down, and enter Laos from the top and work down, re-entering Thailand at Pakse. I think Mark and Stacey are considering Cambodia, and in particular the Angkor complex. Michelle and I have already done this, but you know what, I don’t think we would really mind doing this again.

Now, time to reload my weapon, and get back to war !

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Hanoi & Halong Bay, Vietnam

Hanoi. Just another big bustling city, and we stayed in the old quarter which was very touristy. There is no love affair with Vietnam for me, it has been one hell of a tour taking in as many towns and cities as we possibly could, and just about every location has had it’s moments.

True to form, Hanoi was no differant. We negotiated a rate with the first hotel, dumped the bags and were on our way to explore the city. On returning later that night, Stacey noticed a damp smell in her room, which was not apparent earlier on as the door had been left opened. Mark asked to move rooms, but the hotel was fully booked. We decided to move on next morning, and on trying to settle the bill, we were advised of the rate in VND with an exchange rate of 22,000 to the $. Here we go again. This turned out to be another minor battle. This time, the young girl working on reception was absolutely obnoxious. Increduously, she was personally and venemously insulting us. I have never experienced anything like this in my life. We settled in $’s, and she was not amused.

The next hotel were very friendly, but next morning, after having negotiated a 2 night deal, we were advised in the morning that the rate was going up by $5 or we would have to change to other rooms. We all got up without showering thinking we were just moving to alternative rooms within the hotel. We seemed to be hanging around reception forever, when a bloke on a motorbike turned up to take us to our new rooms. We were then advised we were being transported to an alternative hotel. I took the ride to the new hotel, which turned out to be a bit of a dump and in the middle of no place, so I insisted on being returned to the hotel. We were left having to sort out accomodation again. Vietnam is a complete pain with all this carry on, they are your best friend trying to get your dollar, then seem to treat you with contempt thereafer.

Halong Bay was pretty outstanding, but the weather let us down. We were on a boat, freezing cold, and completely miserable. It was not how I had envisaged this some 9 or 10 months ago on researching the place. We kept our spirit’s up by talking about the heat in Bangkok. We were flying out of Vietnam at 11pm that night, and we just could not wait to get to the airport. we had a really good laugh with two young German girls’s that seemed to be having a similar experience to us. Stacey cracked open a bottle of $3 Hanoi Vodka, and everyone had a few nips which managed to make us all quite merry, and also seemed to heat us up.

I can’t generalise about the people of Vietnam. It’s really those involved in the tourist industry, and those that trade that appear to have this seriously bad attitude towards tourists. Get out and about and meet the real people, and they are genuinely lovely.

Unfortunately, with so many bad experiences here, with the exception of Saigon and Hoi An, Vietnam has not left a great impression on us.

Back to Mama’s in Bangkok.

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Hanoi, Vietnam

Actually, we are in Halong City having arrived earlier today on a 3 hour bus journey from Hanoi. We spent about 4 or 5 nights in Hanoi.

We have just booked flights to Bangkok in Thailand for tommorrow night, we need to get out of this godforsaken place. Vietnam sucks. It is just a bloody nightmare and it is fucking freezing.

Will post about Hanoi and Halong in a few days when we get to Bangkok, but if you want to read about our trip so far, scroll down to Dalat and work up the way. I should be posting as we go, but we keep getting side tracked, and the posts always go latest first. So it will make more sense if you read from Dalat then upwards if you get me.

We are still happy, missing everyone, but happy. Although, it has dawned on us we have now been travelling for 9 months. Although missing everyone, this has just gone so quickly, and I’m not sure if we want this to end at this stage – there just seems so many things to see. We have to do Laos, Thailand, and China, and we have not even touched the East Coast of Malaysia, and the bits in between there and the Phillipines. We are also discussing Nepal, Tibet and India.

This bug is insane. I saw a Lonely Planet for “South America on a Shoestring” today …. you would be surprised how little money you need to do this. I think my Dad spent more on a 2 week vacation than I need for 4 months – and he doesn’t drink or smoke !!!

We need to get back in the sunshine for now …. the past 2 to 3 weeks have really been challenging.

It could never always be Utopia.

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