Week 50 - Bangkok to Chiang Mai

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March 13th 2012
Published: March 19th 2012
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After living out of a bag for almost a year you do get a bit disheartened everytime you have to cram everything back in, mostly using the sit on the bag technique to get it to zip up! But what keeps you happy and going is now that everytime that bag is packed, your next adventure begins…

With another long day of travelling in front of us we decided to make sure our bellies were full rather than relying on dodgy road stops along the way. We headed to a small café called “Little Britain” with a comedy sign featuring Andy & Lou on the outside. We both ordered a full English breakfast and sat and watched numerous episodes of Family Guy which was on in the background. With our bulging bellies we lugged our oversized backpacks through the narrow streets to the pier where we would catch the boat back to mainland Thailand. We set sail waving goodbye to the island of Phi Phi and prepared ourselves for the bumpy boat ride ahead. Arriving in Krabi, we hopped on board a minibus to the town centre where we waited for the next bus to pick us up. This bus then took us north up to Chumphon, where we had a stretch of the legs and a nibble on some noodles before getting back on board the bus whose air conditioning system had now decided to leak on my seat! The bus continued on its path north towards Thailand’s largest city and its capital, Bangkok.

Arriving at the unearthly hour of 4.30am, we then had the pleasure of bartering with the hoards of taxi drivers to try and get to an area called Khaosan Road where we looked to get a hotel. Khaosan Road itself is like the Island of Phi Phi, where by the bars and backpackers are crammed onto one long road. Arriving at nearly 5am the street were still alive with people getting massages on the side of the street and dodgy old men holding hands with their lady boys for the night! We eventually found the hotel we were looking for down a narrow alleyway and checked ourselves in for the next few days. After our long day of travelling we decided to get some rest and slept through to midday! Awaking in time for lunch we ventured out into the hustle and bustle of Khaosan Road to try get a bit more orientated with the area. During orientation we realised that the taxi we’d bartered for in the early hours of the morning had literally driven us a couple of hundred metres, as the bus stop was just round the corner! As previously mentioned the street had plenty of bars to choose from but during the day it was also lined with stalls, so had a bit of a market feel to it. You could get everything from fake t-shirts to fake sunglasses to fake dvds, a knock off Nigel’s heaven! Getting in the spirit of things we prerussed the stalls and wandered down Susie’s Walking Alley, where there were even more shops, stopping to cleanse the pallet with an ice cold beer. One thing Thailand is good for is tailor made bits and pieces, for example suits and dresses. Having plenty of suits already I declined the marauding attempts of the shop owners, Cerri on the other hand thought there was room in the wardrobe for a new dress, thankfully not a wedding dress which numerous staff offered us seeing that we were a couple. After staking out a few shops, we opted to go into one where no one was standing outside trying to tempt you in. The shop in question was owned by an Indian family and the owner Papa Jai greeted us and ran through some designs and prices. A few hours later and Cerri had finally decided on the dress she’d like to have made just for her resembling a D&G dress she had seen in one of the Vogue magazines. We put down a deposit and opted for an early night, with a Singha Beer beforehand as a nightcap.

Armed with our trusty lonely planet and plenty of water, we set off the following morning in true tourist style to explore the sites of Bangkok. The first obstacle we had to overcome was negotiating with a tuktuk driver to take us to the Grand Palace, unfortunately according to the driver the Grand Palace was closed that day due to a public holiday but lucky for us he could take us to some other sites. Although being seasoned travellers by this time we were still a bit naive to the ways of Thailand as we would find out later that day. Our driver negotiated his robin reliant without any doors through the notorious Bangkok traffic, arriving at our first tourist hot spot, the home of the Giant Golden Buddha. A few snaps on the camera and we were back in the tuktuk heading towards the murky waters of the Chao Phraya river that runs through the heart of the city. Here we boarded a long tailed boat which was meant to take us to a floating market, however what we arrived at was actually an old woman in her own small wooden boat trying to sell us a can of beer and some smelly fruit! The boat trip lasted about an hour, we enjoyed seeing the city from a different prespective as it navigated through the back water canals with the rickety wooden make shift houses on stilts and watching the local children playing in the river, it was fascinating to see the traditional and modern Bangkok buildings merging together. Back on dry land we checked the map and realised we weren’t far from the Grand Palace so thought we pay it a visit, having previously been told by our tuktuk driver that it was closed. There was a hustle and bustle outside and we were inundated with taxi drivers and tour guides telling us it was closed and that they could takes us to see some other sites; we told them that we have already been to them all and once they realised they weren't getting anywhere with us they quickly moved on to the next group of vulnerable tourists. We then noticed a few small groups of people walking in through the main gates without anybody stopping them, we followed and decided to try our luck but not before being told by another group of locals that we weren't be allowed in as I wasn't wearing any socks, I was then offered to buy numerous pairs of socks for both myself and Cerri! We told them we didn't want anything, kept our heads down and eventually we were in. Apparently it’s common knowledge and a laugh for the locals to try and scam you, that they tell you the Grand Palace is closed and take you elsewhere, in return they earn a bit of commission and we get socks! Anyway we were in the Grand Palace and grand it was, so grand in fact that we weren’t allow to wear our own clothes, Cerri had to don a rather fetching pink shirt and I had some lovely brown trousers with no socks! (see photos!). The Palace is more of a tourist attraction than a home for the King of Thailand, although it is still used for certain ceremonies. Within the grounds is also one of Thailand’s most photographed statue, the Emerald Buddha or Wat Phra Kaew as its known locally. We spent a good couple of hours wandering through the grounds, looking at the different statues and even watched a procession of the guards before Cerri had a thong blowout! (that’s a flip flop breakage to anyone back home!). Being the gentleman I am, I gave Cerri my flip flops as we decided rather than being ripped off again by a tuktuk driver, to have a stroll back to Khaosan Road. On the stroll we spotted the old war memorial and a monument in the middle of a roundabout for the King. After a wash of our feet and a change of footwear for Cerri, we picked up some amazingly cheap and amazingly tasty pad thai noodles from a street vendor and hopped in another tuktuk, this time heading for Bangkoks notorious hotspot Patpong. For those of you who aren’t aware of Patpong, its essentially the seedy sex show district of the city, and when in Rome as they say!!! Before picking our evenings entertainment we had a stroll around the bustling market that’s situated slap bang in the middle of area, during the stroll we were shown several menu’s for different sex shows with things I won’t name here just incase you’re eating whilst reading this! We finally picked our bar of choice, the “Perfect Bar”, where the girls were far from perfect! In fact the most attractive girl turned out to be a guy! Here we witnessed such acts as the ping pong ball, the dart blowing, the bizarre cracking of eggs and razor blades all coming out of a certain area of the body! We stayed for about half an hour before the locals tried to rip us off again, this time though we came prepared after hearing some horror stories from other travellers and only brought a small amount of money with us so that was all they could take off us and fortunately for you we left our camera back in the hotel, so no pictures!!!

Another bit of site seeing the following morning, as we ventured out to the spots that we’d missed the previous day mainly in the form of the Reclinning Buddha at the Wat Pho temple which turned out to be right behind the Grand Palace. The big attraction (excuse the pun) is the 46 metres long and 15 metre high Buddha statue covered in gold leaf, which is meant to illustrate the passing of Buddha into final nirvana. Having seen all we’d wanted to see in Bangkok we booked ourselves onto an overnight bus for later that evening to take us north up to Chiang Mai. We headed back to the hotel to once again pack the bags, grabbed a quick bite to eat and board the bus that would be our accommodation for the night.

Arriving on the outskirts of Chiang Mai in the early hours of the morning, we had once again been involved in another classic Thai scam, this time the thieving b*****ds had gone through our bags whilst we’d been sleeping on the bus. They’d picked the locks on the padlocks, riffled through our belongings and then tried to cover their tracks by folding our clothes neatly and putting them back in. My festering smelly underwear seemed to put them off and not stealing anything out of my backpack but Cerri was less fortunate, as they stole some jewellery and some of Cerri’s strong pain killers for her ongoing dodgy toe! We got a lift to a nearby hotel where we checked in, went to our room and had a good look through our bags to see what else was taken. We spoke to the hotel about reporting the incident but they said it would do no good as the culprits were long gone by now, apparently they leave a guy down in the baggage holdall who spends the entire journey going through the bags of the passengers above, luckily we didn’t leave our laptop, passports and money in our cases unlike some of our fellow travellers who were left well and truely out of pocket. We calmed down and tried to chill out in the hotel for a bit before deciding to explore what this northern city had to offer. Chiang Mai is a relaxed, laid back city whose streets are alive with monks, motorcycle driving house-wives and where the regions heritage is worn with pride. Its split up into old and new town which is separated by a moat, very medieval! Our hotel was a good half an hour away from the more historic part of the city in old town, so first on the agenda was to look for somewhere else to stay. We stumbled across a rather eastern European looking place, which had clean rooms, good location and a good price, so we booked ourselves in for the next few nights. With the hotel booked the heavens decided to open, so we took refuge in a quirky roadside bar called “Zoe in the Yellow Corner”, where we ordered some food and drinks to pass the time. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas, as the storm meant a power cut! Luckily it didn’t last too long and we were able to fill our bellies before strolling back to our out of town accommodation to retire for the night.

We jumped in a taxi the next morning to take us to our new hotel in the centre of Chiang Mai, there were a few things we wanted to see and do during our stay up here so we set about finding a tour operator to get some information. The first one we stopped at to enquire couldn’t even speak English which I’m guessing must struggle with tourists! The second one on the other hand was a very helpful old lady, who after a bit of haggling we booked onto a day tour, a cultural show, a cooking course and even our bus back down to Bangkok! Now Cerri being the organised one out of the two of us had put together her own mini tour of the charming city. Chiang Mai has an abundance of Temples, so we went to the most famous one first, the WatPhra Singh which was built back in 1345 and showed off the distinctive northern Thailand architecture. With our feet aching from all the walking we’d done recently, next stop on the tour was a foot massage, but not just any foot massage. We made our way to the Chiang Mai Female Prison where we would have our feet caressed by some of the inmates trying to earn a buck or two whilst in the slammer. The massage was probably more painful than relaxing for me but an experience all the same and I did find out that my convict caresser was inside for dealing drugs and Cerri’s for prostitution! Roughly at the centre of the walled city, in the district where the former rulers of Chiang Mai built their palaces, stands the monument the 'Three Kings', so thats where we headed next. The three Men in question were King Mengrai, the founder of Chiang Mai; his contemporary and reportedly good friend King Ramkamhaeng of Sukothai; and King Ngam Muang of Payao. According to legend, the three worked together to lay out the city of Chiang Mai. Since we'd seen the most famous temple in the city, we next headed for the oldest in the form of Wat Chiang Man. We walked around the grounds for a bit before the heavens decided to open again causing us to seek shelter in a bar, it’s a hard life! The rain let off and we made our way back to the hotel for a quick shower and change of clothes, then headed out for the evening’s entertainment at the Chiang Cultural Heritage Centre. We arrived by minibus and were told to take off our shoes before entering the building. We were then led to some cushions on the floor and a Khantoke. The Khantoke is a circular wooden tray set on pedestal that serves as a table which some delicious food was then placed on, including a mildly spicy red chilli, tomato and minced pork dip, the succulent fried chicken and a mouth-watering Burmese pork curry that was so gentle, so soft that we gladly accepted a second and third helping! With the mountains of plates piling up on our small Khantoke table the show began, starting with the Lanna Dances including a finger nail dance, sword dance followed by a silk reeling dance all accompanied by some traditional Thai Folk music. With the dances over, we moved outside to watch more dances, tribe style. This time performed by people wearing their traditional and individual tribes clothing. We saw a total of five different tribes including some young children perform their own dances and songs before the minibus came to take us back to hotel.

Now I like to class myself as a fairly decent cook and Cerri does a bloody good fry up but we felt we needed to add a few more dishes to our repertoire so we’d booked ourselves onto a Thai Cooking course for the next day. We awoke early and were picked up from our hotel along with some other keen cooks, including some French and some Americans by the Thai Cottage Cookery School owner. Arriving at the secluded and tucked away home that was the cookery school, our first task was to decide what we actually wanted to cook. After prerussing the list of Thai meals I opted for a Papaya Salad to start, followed by a Thai Green Curry with some Chicken and Holy Basil finishing with Pumpkin in Coconut milk. Cerri on the other hand choose some Spring Rolls to start followed by Pad Thai Noodles and a Phanaeng Chicken Curry finishing with Sticky Rice and Mangoes. With our meals chosen, we then all headed out for a short stroll to the nearby food market to pick up our ingredients. Our guide / head chef talked us through all the spices, pastes and unusual vegetables that we would be using later that day in our cooking. Our wicker baskets full of ingredients we made our way back to the outdoor kitchen at the cooking school and began to do what we came there to do....Cook! We were surprised how quick and easy the meals were to cook, the only bit that was hard work was grinding the spices down in the pestal and mortar. All the meals we cooked were delightful on the palate if not a little spicy! Stuffed from eating our days efforts in the kitchen the opted to go for a walk around to famous Saturday Market to burn off some calories. The Market was much bigger than we expected, taking up the length of one massive long street and the majority of the side alleys. We had a browse through the various different stalls, managing not to buy anymore needless items that we didn’t have room for in the bag then headed back stopping off at an amazing Little Indian Kabab (its meant to be spelt like that!) House for some amazing Kabab’s, so good infact we ordered a second one each!

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