A Travellerspoint blog

Back to Bangkok and Bye-Bye Asia!

OK, so I said the last blog would be the final Asia installment BUT.... we had quite a busy time during our last few days in Bangkok so thought I would give it its own little entry. Don't want y'all to miss out on anything!

So we got a fairly early flight from Phuket to Bangkok with no hassle at all. We even got a taxi at Bangkok airport without the usual taxi-driver bust. Maybe Thailand has mellowed Mum a bit?! Jokes.

We were spending our last two nights in The Sukothai hotel. Which now wins title of Nicest Hotel I've Been To. This place was an absolute gem.

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Mum had booked us into a rather nice suite and when we got there we realised there was an adjoining door so the room could be extended into a two bed suite. Using the 'I'm-leaving-in-two-days-and-you-won't-see-me-til-Xmas' card, I managed to persuade Bizzy that this was worth the investment and so, for the next two nights, I had my own big double bed. AMAZING. Comfiest bed I'd been in since home.

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They even gave us plate loads of complimentary home made chocolates. Little amuses the innocent, I know. But I've been generally going pretty hungry on this holiday so every little helps. (You're a fool if you actually believe there was any window of hunger on a Houston holiday). After lounging around in our manor and congratulating mother on her find - we went down to the Chocolate Buffet which is hosted in the hotel every weekend afternoon.

Chocolate buffet was pretty damn good, not gonna lie. We had sushi, sandwiches and mini quiches etc first but the puddings were definitely the highlight. There were hundreds of chocolate buns, chocolate cakes, hot chocolate puddings, home made ice creams - it was crazy. They even had a little cart where you picked your chocolate of choice and the waitress made you up your own personal hot chocolate. So yeah, it wasn't a bad way to spend a couple of hours!

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The main foyer was surrounded by water and we watched as these little men waded through the water, up to their knees, laying out candles and lotus flowers which they lit when the sun went down - really beautiful. Pretty amazing to see the amount of attention to detail that goes on behind the scenes.

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After eating ourselves to a standstill, we went to the MBK shopping centre which is a bit of an experience in itself. I had been with my GAP'ers before Mum and Dad came out. The place is really good for (fakish) bags etc - so Mum and I were in our element! After trailing around looking at the bags etc, Mum and I went to get our nails done. Now, my nails are crap. Like really bad. I never let them get long so these ladies had very little to work with. But they hand painted little flowers etc - seriously impressed. They had the steadiest hands in the world! It did take over an hour, by which point the shops had shut, but they did a pretty good job...

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By the time we left MBK, we were pretty wrecked. We had a cheeky snack from McDonalds and then headed back to the hotel. The bar at the hotel - Zuk Bar - had a pretty good reputation so we stopped for some cocktails on the way up to the room.

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I was pretty happy to hit the hay that night - especially in my own big room with its own big bed.

We got up bright and early the next morning to have breakfast at the hotel and head out to the Chatachuk market. That place is an absolute maze - I've never seen anything like it. You could walk for days and never seen the same stall twice! It's themed by what the stalls sell and there are stalls for everything! The heat, however, was pretty intense so we didn't last that long. I bought some lovely leather sandals (which I have since managed to lose - sorry Mother). Sad. Some of the handmade clothes were really beautiful but they were made for doll-sized Thai people. I, however, am not the size of any doll I've ever seen and so, it was mostly window shopping for me.

So after a wander about, we took a taxi back into town and sought refuge in the air-conditioned Siam Paragon mall. Stopped for a cool down at Swenssons for more chocolate fondue. And then did some shopping. Mum and I took a little spa break whilst Dad browsed the book shops - that's usually how these shopping trips end up! Had to be done tho - eyebrows were threatening to impede my vision. But highlight must have been - The Outback! We found one for lunch and even got our Bloomin' Onion fix. SCORE. Just as well, because I have now been in America for two weeks and still haven't had one!

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After lunch, Mum and Dad went back to the pool at the hotel and I went for a massage - tough life. Tried to fit in as many as I could during the last few weeks before Western spa prices catch up with me again.

After some final present shopping in MBK, we headed to Durty Nellys - after a hot tip from Mum's cousin. This was a really nice Irish gastropub which has been set up out here by some pretty well respected Irish chefs and the food was really good. So our last meal in Thailand was really good Irish food - irony?! I had curry and chips, Mum and Dad had fish and chips. Probably a bit bad not to go for Thai food but we enjoyed it - isn't that what it's all about?!

The day I flew out of Thailand was always going to be pretty dull! Since the passport fiasco, I had known that Monday would be spent at the Embassy and at the Immigration Office, collecting my new passport and sorting out a visa replacement and reprinting my departure card. All occured pretty easily tho - although I did think the woman at the Visa office was an absolute mo-fo beatch. But I got my passport and the documents to allow me out of the country so mission successful I suppose. Even if it did mean Dad and I spent the morning sailing around in taxis and waiting in queues. So no harm done - it was always going to happen at some stage and it seemed to cause pretty little hassle all said and done.

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After doing some packing and collecting Mum, we went for a final indulgence at the Peninsula where we had afternoon tea. Think the Peninsula still thinks of itself as Bangkok's poshest hotel and it did look pretty snazzy but I still think Four Seasons/Sukothai could have given it a run for its money. They didn't even pour the tea for us... Pah.

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The hotel did, however, give us a boat transfer over to the other side of the river which was pretty nice - suppose the other hotels didn't do that....

After that, it was just a matter of collecting bags, jumping in a taxi and heading to the airport. Mum and Dad were flying out the next day but came with me to the airport for final goodbyes. Yes, she cried. She might try to tell you that I did - don't believe a word of it.

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But all in all, we had a fantastic time - America had a lot to live up to.... xxxxxx

Posted by laurajhous 14:58 Comments (1)

Tales from Phuket - The Three Bears Hit The Coast

Our last long stop in 'Houstons Tour Thailand' was Phuket for a week of sun and sand. I'd heard pretty mixed reports about Phuket. Well, I say 'mixed', I really mean 'seriously bad'. But we were assured that it would be pissing down on the other coast (Koh Samui, Koh Tao) at that time of the year and so we were better to head towards Phuket. So Mum booked a nice hotel in a quiet beach area, about 30 mins from crazy-ass Patong for just over a week - heading back to Bangkok for a couple more nights before we went our seperate ways again... Cue tears.

After a seriously action packed time in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, our time in Phuket was much more chilled out so I will try and keep my chat a little bit briefer. You've heard that before though, haven't you?! You can all take solace in the fact that I am nearly finished blogging - 2/3 more entries and WE'RE DONE!

So we flew from Chiang Mai to Bangkok in the mid afternoon which was easy as pie. Thai security seems to be pretty lax - no one seemed to give a damn that I was passport-less. The flight was only an hour and a half or so and we were on a proper Thai Air 747 - probably better than the plane I was on from Sydney... And definitely better than the one they use for their London-Bangkok route which doesn't even have TVs apparently. WTF?! The meal looked a bit dodge, not gonna lie. Dusty bin gave it a try though - at least the man is consistent hey?!

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After an hour transfer to Kata beach, we checked into the hotel which was an absolute metropolis of a place. You could have lived there all your life and never left the walls of the place for anything - crazy. Not how I like to spend my holiday but I'm pretty sure that's exactly what some people did. But it was in a great position just on the beach front and had nice sunbathing spots so ticked our boxes. The rooms were grand but Mum did ensure a routine room change because the light was in the wrong place. I tell you, the excuses become more inventive by the holiday.

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By the time we got cleaned up and headed out, it was pretty much dinner time. I unpacked properly for the first time since I left the UK which was very exciting. We headed down to a dive club that had been really well reviewed on the hallowed Trip Advisor and I signed up for my Open Water Diver course which would take up a lot of my time for the rest of the holiday. It wasn't the quickest process in the world - the taxi driver had NO clue where he was going despite protestations to the contrary and eventually dumped us outside an internet cafe so we could look up the phone number. Addresses seem to mean nothing in Phuket!

Following their recommendation, we went to 'Two Chefs' restaurant in town and had some good dinner. Not very Thai - we really got a bit shit about food and ate way too much Western but the amount of tourism meant that Western food in Phuket was the best I'd had since arriving in Asia six weeks earlier. Is that a valid excuse?! Not sure what Mum's excuse is mind you....

Came home to find a really nice turndown which redeemed the hotel partially from the slightly mediocre first impression. They even made us towel animals - what more could we ask for?!

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The next day was pretty dam lazy - we lay in deckchairs all day, drank cocktails and allowed the little ladies with their baskets to massage us to their heart's content. They offered foot massage for about 3 quid! Doing them a favour really....! Mum and I got the standard manicures and pedicures and Mum had her 'skean' done which seemed to involve her feet, a cheese grater and a lot of laughter. We dipped in and out of the sea but Mum later spotted the red flags which meant 'don't swim' and therefore banned Dad and I from approaching the water - even though it was FULL of people. We just couldn't be part of that apparently.

That night we headed round the coast to the Karon area, on the search for a really good restaurant Mum had come across. Sods law - we got there and it was shut for one night only. Found another little place beside it though, called the Bamboo Lounge and had a fantastic meal which some pretty good cocktails.

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Mum insisted on a table change, as is her prerogative. Evenings were definitely hotter in Phuket so sitting outside with no A/C or fan wasn't ideal. Even if I didn't admit that at the time and let Mum do all the complaining - she just has a natural talent for these situations though! We rounded off the evening with a foot massage at the spa across the road. Dad included - he was horrified that he had been in Thailand for 10 days and hadn't had a massage yet. We even made BFFs with the masseuses who wanted to come home to NI with us and set up a spa - questionable plan of attack in my opinion.

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The next day was supposed to be spent in a classroom, doing the theory for my PADI but Mum had been in touch with the boat peeps and we decided it was going to be the best day to go out on a speedboat. So after a bit of rearranging, we got picked up and taken down to the harbour where our boat was waiting for us. There were about 15 of us on the boat - Americans, a Norweigan, Aussies. If you shut your eyes, you would have sworm that one of them was Lloyd Grossman. A really nice bunch, which was just as well because there ain't that much space on one of those things.

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The first stop was at a little island where the crew wanted to fit us up with gear and make sure we could all swim before dropping us in the middle of the sea. The place was swarming with Japanese in life jackets - looked like some sort of Japanese shipwreck scenario. And, without indulging in racial stereotypes, those boys really cannnot swim. I've never seen anything like it! They were flapping about in a couple of inches of water - I just felt sorry for the crew!

After reassuring themselves that we weren't gonna drown, we got back on and rode for an hour or so until we got to a sheltered snorkelling spot and out we all piled.

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There were plenty of little fish to spot and Mum got particularly excited by a bright blue one that she swore was swimming around me - turned out to be my fin. Wild goosechase. Next stop was Maya Bay where parts of The Beach were filmed and it's pretty easy to see why - the place was absolutely beautiful. Mum liked it because it didn't require hauling yourself up and down the ladder to get in and out. Bonus.

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There were tsunami signs all over the place, slightly disconcerting. Especially on the little islands because it certainly feels like nowhere would be a safe evacuation point. Suppose they have to do their best in light of what has gone before.

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When we got back on, we rode past the Viking Caves where they preserve birds nests made of saliva for their famous bird nest soup etc. Apparently you used to be able to get inside but due to a Mafia change of control, you now get shot if you try it. Seems they can make a serious amount of money from this saliva! We had lunch on Phi Phi island which was fantastic grub. Mum said it was the best Thai she had - although perhaps there wasn't much competition for that title because she ate Western food at every opportunity!

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After lunch, we did a bit more snorkelling and general lazing about. This was probably our best day's weather during our whole time in Phuket which was fortuitious - would have been a bit miserable in the rain! I peformed some very graceful acrobatics off the boat. Agile as a fish.

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Highlight of the day may have been watching two kayaks full of Japanese tourists managing to tip their canoes and flap about like possessed animals until their boat came to their rescue - pretty hilarious actually. God I sound like a bad person but, you'll have to take my word for it - quality moment of entertainment. All in all, great day out on the boat and the company we went with were fantastic, looked after us really well and in return, we managed now to drown. Because of an unusually low tide, it took us hours to get back into dock so we weren't home until after 7. I was wrecked, just for a change! So we had some (pretty average) dinner in the restaurant across the road and had an early night. Rock and Roll!

The next day was, indeed, The Most Important Day of the Year - Nov 8th - my Birthday! I got a pretty impressive spread of cards and pressies, felt like I wasn't away at all, which was really lovely. Zoe even sent me a box of malteaser buns - what more could a birthday girl want?! Although I should probably admit that Mum had given the game away about a week before so they were long gone by the time my birthday came. Because of our Sunday boat trip, my birthday did end up being spent doing PADI theory. Not exactly riveting. But Alexia, my instructor, was a lovely South African girl, so it was pretty painless. And we had a nice little lunch on the beach. Plus, I got 96% in my theory test - maybe a career in diving is an option to pursue?! And she gave me a lift home on her motorbike - I can definitely see the attraction of those things. Can't see me getting that one past Bizzy.

Mum and Dad had gone out with a driver for the day so thought I'd include some pics of what they got up to. Their amusement of the day seemed to come from a lady selling melon at Tescos who turned out to be a man - gracious me. Dad seemed flabberghasted by the whole experience - I doubt he/she will be getting a transfer to Tescos Coleraine any time soon...

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A bit of manual labour as they rebuilt part of the temple

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Their driving buying a fresh flower offering for his car mirror

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The highlight of the day apparently....

When I got back, the cleaners had obviously had a bit of a cheeky tip-off (no prizes for guessing who from) and had gone to town with the birthday celebrations - cake, flowers, a little note and a particularly special parade of towel animals!

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Our evening well and truly made up for my pretty boring day - we headed out to the nicest restaurant in the area, 'Mom Tri's'. Mum had managed to get us the nicest table in the place and when I got there, there was an amazing bunch of flowers waiting for me. The service in that place was pretty astounding. And the food wasn't too shabby either! We even had wine - massive luxury in Thailand - its even more expensive than at home! The table sat right at the edge of the cliff, looking right down into the sea. After dinner, the lights went out and I thought it was because of the thunderstorm. But no, cue the candles and necessary embarrasing singing. Seems being 23 doesn't provide an exemption from birthday mortification! It must have been almost decades since I spent a birthday just with Mum and Dad but have to admit, we had a really nice evening. Don't tell them that. I'm sure Mum won't be reading this or anything.... In fact, she may be the only person still reading this.

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The next day, I did my confined water sessions which we did in the swimming pool because the wind made the shore too choppy to simulate confined water. It was actually a lot of fun - really enjoyed doing it, even though the only thing to see in a swimming pool was a large large German man swimming past me REPEATEDLY in the smallest speedos known to man. I even jumped in off the side with no drama - family members may know the trauma of the Teddy Bear Three badge which caused many hours of tears when I was younger because I refused to jump in, and therefore was probably the last in the class to receive the accolade.

Came back for another couple of lazy hours by the pool with Mum and Dad and then we headed out to Karon beach and ate at the restaurant that was closed earlier on in the week - The Red Onion. Definitely worth the repeat trip. Except for the table of Russians who were the loudest people I've ever heard. And were also sitting right beside us.

The next day was my first day of open water diving. Alexia usually took students out to the beach and did shore dives for the first day but the waves meant that the visibility was shite so we headed out on the diving boat for the day. This was probably the most exciting day of diving as it was my first time really diving. I know I did a couple of dives on the Great Barrier Reef but it was much more satisfying when you actually had an idea of what you were doing! Plus, there was loads to see - clown fish, cornet fish, trigger fish etc and loads of colourful coral. So not a bad way to spend the day at all! We did a dive in the morning, ate some (pretty rough) lunch and then another dive in the afternoon, each one lasting about 40 mins. I could definitely get hooked on this diving malarky. The gals and I already have an Egypt plan in the offing....

In the evening, I went for a massage at the proper hotel spa and we went to the Festival Centre- the main shopping centre in Phuket. Not a bad combo! Really nice place although I did most of my damage in Zara which was pretty unimaginative! Managed to get two eating opportunities fitted into our visit! I had been to Swenssons ice cream in Bangkok so wanted to show Mum and Dad how good it was. We shared the small fondue platter which was AmmmaaaaZZZZing. Big hit.

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And then shared some pizza after our shopping before we headed home. Deal with the diets after Christmas right?! Well, may as well wait until the New Year.

The next day I spent back on the diving boat finishing off my PADI. The weather took a bit of a turn for the worse, well it pissed down all day actually. Didn't affect the diving once you were in but wasn't a lot of fun when you were getting kitted up. Suppose you shouldn't really complain about getting wet when you're spending most of the day 30m under the sea... Saw lots more stuff and even bought myself a little souvenir when I finished up. Really enjoyed doing my PADI.

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The rain carried on all night so we ordered room service and watched a film - lazy beasts.

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Think we got a bit unlucky with weather in Phuket generally. It only rained on us properly for a day or 2 but we only had one day of really good sunshine. We were spoilt in Bangkok and Chiang Mai though so can't really complain... And I think the week before in Phuket had been horrendous.

On our last full day in Phuket, Mum and I were meant to be going to a cooking class but she claimed she was sick so we gave it a miss. After a week of early starts for diving, I was quite happy to go back to bed anyway! So instead we lay in the gardens at the hotel and I went down for a massage from the little ladies on the beach - 4 quid for over an hour. Even if it was a bit of a hammering! By the time I got back the rain had come in again and Mum and Dad had set up camp at the bar. It seems that rain provides an adequate excuse to drink before lunchtime. Who am I to question my parents?! Dad showed his stubborn streak off to full effect and refused to come in from the rain so when it calmed off a bit, he resumed his position on his sun lounger. Despite the fact it was still pissing down and he was the only person in the whole place basking in the rain. Mum and I were less stupid. Once the rain did eventually stop, we headed back down to join The Stubborn One and I got another massage from one of the basket ladies - just for comparisons sake...

On our last night, we went to the Boathouse - the cheaper sister restaurant to my birthday meal spot. Dad got a cheese plate which seemed to please....

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Then, in a last bid to see proper Phuket, we headed to Patong to see the infamous Bangla Rd. Alas, it was not to be. The rain really really set in and after our drive there (basically in a flat bed trailer), we had to take cover in Starbucks - the only place not heaving with prostitutes. This pair only think they are liberal I tell you.... So poor Dad never got to see the lady boys in full swing. Shame.

So all in all, we had a pretty lazy time of it in Phuket but it was definitely what the doctor ordered after our hectic schedule in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. And it was so good to stay somewhere more than a few nights and actually unpack etc - first time I had done it since the 2nd August. We headed back to Bangkok for another couple of crazy days before we went our seperate ways but thought I would put that in a little blog of its own....

Love to all - can't believe I will be with Zo and Alex this time fortnight. Almost all over which is crazy! Am now half way through my big US trip so I need to play some serious blog catch up!xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Posted by laurajhous 19:40 Comments (0)

The Charge of the Light Brigade - 3 Bears take on Bangkok!

Day One

So I arrived at the Bangkok International Airport approximately two hours too early. I figured that being late would be pretty unacceptable considering the noise I make if one of them isn’t waiting for me at Belfast when I fly in from Stansted on a monthly basis. Plus, I had Prison Break and the airport had decent eateries – so I muddled by! Despite my generous timings, I still managed to miss the buggers. I waited at the wrong gate and Mum had to holler the length of the International Arrivals Terminal before I realised it was them. Should really try and unpack those glasses.

After Mum had her first Thai bust up with at least three separate taxi drivers (none of whom had a boot big enough for their bags, quelle surprise), we hit the road into Bangkok. Little did I know that Mum had organised a ‘best price’ of 700 baht - twice what I had paid for my trip in. It soon became apparent that keeping an eye on this pair was going to be fairly labour intensive. I feel like I’m transitioning from the caree to the carer…. Worrying state of affairs.

Things took on a more relaxed feel when we rocked up at the Four Seasons. After giving us a very generous upgrade, we found ourselves in a beautiful room. Mum didn’t even ring and complain about it – has to be a first! Thought I’d include a few pics of the place, particularly before we wrecked the room….

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With an hour to spare, we hit the pool and had a few sneaky cocktails before we headed out for dinner. Things looked a little less rosy when the bill arrived – I hadn’t paid those prices since I left London! Perhaps just as well that I’m not expected to foot the bill for those rounds.. Thought I should include a group picture whilst we were still in a spirit of love and harmony!

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We met up with TJ and went to ‘Cabbages and Condoms’ – a great restaurant in Bangkok, the proceeds from which are used for a sexual health programme. They’re pretty consistent with their theme – lightshades, model men, santa claus – seems they can be used for anything!

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After a very good dinner, Mum had scoped out a nice bar at the top of the Banyon Tree hotel The Moon Bar is on 59th floor of the hotel and overlooks the whole of the city.

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The rain seemed to have realised that it was now winter time so we had a dry evening which makes all the difference when you’re on a bar on the top of a building with no roof! Had a bit of a play with Mum’s new camera – I’m so artistic you see.

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Dad was pretty wrecked so I said my (very very sad) goodbye to TJ and headed back to the hotel for another little Prison Break fix. Tough life hey?!

Day Two

The next morning, we had a very early start thanks to Mum and her militant schedule! At least the early wake up call was softened by complimentary tea and coffee brought to the room – these guys are posh as. Trip Advisor had pointed her in the direction of a good guide who rocked up (with her bus) and took the three of us round Bangkok for the day.

We headed to the Royal Palace first – which is a pretty impressive spectacle. The Royal Family don’t live there anymore but it is still absolutely revered by the Thai people, who are monarchy mad! They are really strict about dress code etc but we were well warned so we seemed to past muster. Think photos really do the talking for the Palace so thought I’d include a bit of a selection!

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Before we went in...

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A painter touching up a mural.

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The famous Emerald Buddha - photo thanks to a serious zoom because you're not allowed cameras anywhere near this thing!

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Mum blessing herself and anyone who got in her way. Maybe she is considering a Buddhist conversion...

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The changing of the guard.

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The tour took us a couple of hours and was actually really interesting – even though our holidays aren’t usually renowned for their cultural immersion! During the short walk from the Palace to a coffee shop, Mum managed to buy a rather fetching hat and a shite bag from some little ladies – think I realised at that stage how much crap we were likely to accumulate over the course of three weeks!

We then headed out on a little longboat through the residential canals of Bangkok which was very interesting. Highlight may have been watching Mum trying to get in and out of the boats though... The whole community functions by boats – we saw the ice cream boat, post boat, bin lorry boat, grocery boat! The water levels were seriously high, would make you pretty nervous if you lived in one of those pads!

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The postman!

After that, we went to Wat Po, one of the main temples in central Bangkok with a mahooosive reclining gold Buddha.

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I also did some penny dropping – where you buy a small plate with about 50 tiny coins and then go down a line of pots, dropping a card in each pot. You’re supposed to have 50 wishes but who has 50 wishes standing by?! Think I ran out of imagination after about 5!
Also pretty sure the monks ripped me off because I definitely didn't have a penny for every pot!

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Our guide then took us for a very good, and very very cheap lunch. Definitely a good locals spot. Think it cost £7 to feed and water the 4 of us. Afterwards, we headed to a tailor who sat us down and launched straight into trying to order up Dad a full wardrobe. He said he could do a good deal if Dad bought 4 suits, 3 pairs of trousers, a casual jacket and 6 shirts. Bargain apparently?! We managed to avoid such a mass order but Dad still got persuaded into a couple of things and Mum jumped on the bandwagon too... I think, for the first time in my life, I was the only one not buying clothes!

After another little lazy session by the pool, we got dressed up to go on a dinner cruise down the river. The food was pretty good and they gave us a little guide so we knew what we were passing etc. Highlight for me was definitely the little man asking Dad if ‘everything is OK, sir’ as Dad tucked into an appetiser wrapped in banana leafs – banana leafs and all. It’s a bit like laying into a sandwich still covered in cling film. So the poor little waiter was obviously trying to give Dad the heads up – way too subtle for him. Dad just said ‘fine thanks’ and continued eating enthusiastically!

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Day Three

The next day we had to get up at 6am for another one of Mum’s great trips! The same little lady came with her driver to collect us in her bus and off we trundled for another day. First stop was a food market which was quite an eye opener and threatened to put Mum off Thai food for the rest of the trip – mounds of shrimp paste isn’t a particularly appealing sight at 8am! Our tour guide also kept buying local snacks for us to try – VOMATRON. I’m all about cultural immersion but a coconut/spring onion pancake does not sit well at any time of the day let alone from a suspect street vendor at breakfast time. The market was pretty cool though as it was set on the tracks of a busy train line and when they got the signal (every hour), they had to completely lift all their stuff until the train had come through and then relay their stalls. Completely crazy! But it is supposed to be one of the busiest stops so the vendors get a lot of trade from the train peeps.

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Disgusting snacks!

We then headed off to the Floating Market where we sailed through the canals, pulling up at any of the stalls that caught our eye. Mum proceeded to buy more shite – Thai people pencils and the like. She swears its all for WI presents but beware – it may be coming to a stocking near you... The floating market is seriously touristy but definitely one of those ‘must do’ things when in Bangkok so glad we went for the ride.

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In the afternoon, we visited a local craft market which was quite cool – all the proceeds from which were fed back into the slums. Good excuse for some more retail therapy anyway. We also visited an orchid farm and a pottery factory where a team of workers were hand painting made-to-order pottery. These people have such still hands! Can't say I am considering a career change anytime soon...

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Highlight of the day may have been afternoon tea at the Four Seasons – I owned that spread! It was pretty amazing – some of the best grub I had in my whole time in Thailand. Well impressed. Common trend throughout my time in Bangkok was my admiration for the Four Seasons – thinking of setting up a fan club. Think Mum and Dad curse the day they ever booked it because I compare everything to them. They knew our names from the first day even if we hadn’t spoken to them before. They actually RUN to the car to get the door open for you – Dad beat them too it once and they were devastated. So yeah – really awesome. And afternoon tea followed this trend spectacularly well...!

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Afterwards - another tailoring session, where willpower diminished further and more stuff was ordered. Although Mum did draw the line when she was discussing ordered a posh dress and the man basically said he would make her long sleeved black dress and she could just sort out the embellishment by buying a badge or two to stick on. Nice. Step away Lizzy.

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In the evening, we went to the Central Department Store in Bangkok to see the flower display there, to celebrate the 60th wedding anniversary of the King and Queen – as I say, they LOVE their royalty!

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The flowers were seriously impressive but I suppose its a lot easier when a bunch of 100 roses can cost about 2 quid in Bangkok. We would be drowning in flowers all year round at home if Mum could get flowers at that price! We went for dinner (on a very dodgy and expensive Tuk Tuk!) at really good place at another hotel and ate burgers. Think the food market had made us all keen to get some Western food for a change! Then home to bed...... Before 10pm. Mum and Dad will be very keen to tell anyone willing to listen that I was the one spoiling their fun and insisting on going home before 11 most nights. Think it’s called Respite.

Day Four

Despite the early nights, however, it seems that jetlag was playing some role as we first woke at 11.15 the next morning – not really sure what my excuse is! Dad was devastated that he had missed his final Four Seasons breakfast. As you can imagine. To add insult to injury, Mum and I then bundled him into a taxi and made him take a suitcase to storage back out at the International Airport. To fill time, we headed to Siam Paragon – a seriously nice mall in Bangkok. This place would even show Mall at Millenia how to do ‘nice shopping’!

A Krispy Kreme shop had just opened at the mall and it seems the Thai people like their doughnuts – I’ve never seen anything like it! There must have been a 200 people in the queue. Apparently people will queue for up to three hours and then they are limited to a certain number per person. Nuts.

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Mum and I had some lunch, did some shopping and stopped for a foot massage – it was a pretty tough day all in all. After reconvening with Dad, who had clearly had a riveting day, we had dinner and headed off to the train station for our glamorous ride to Chiang Mai....!

Apologies for the dodgy order – at least they’re getting done right?! Slowly but surely. CANNOT believe I am back in the country in three weeks. Excited though.xxxxxxxx

Posted by laurajhous 22:05 Comments (0)

Chiang Mai with Bizzy - Best price, best price!

Now that Mum and Dad have landed back in the UK, I might actually start to think about my blog again. It seems that the numerous near-arguments on the subject only served to increase my obstinance about the bloody thing... But now they are gone, my conscience is getting the better of me! And the realisation that I start my 4 week Contiki tour across the States in a couple of days acts as a further incentive to get writing - if my previous Contiki experiences are anything to go by there will be minimal blogging time! So we spent three nights in Bangkok before we got the (oh-so-glamorous) night train to Chiang Mai for 4 nights. We then headed down the coast to Phuket for a week and finally back to Bangkok for a couple of nights before we went our seperate ways - boo-hoo. Natural progression, therefore, would be start with our time in Bangkok. Alas, all of the Bangkok pics and my feeble start at the blog are all on Mum's laptop so forgive me if I start with Chiang Mai instead.... I'll go back to Bangkok - god forbid there would be any gaps in this thing!

So the night train to Chiang Mai was 'an experience', in Mum's words.... I had my reservations about it after my less than successful trip on it from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. Granted, this time it did take us the whole way. Just as well - can't see Lizzy taking to waiting in a torrential thunderstorm at 3am for a replacement bus, can you?! Even first class, however, was far from glam. I think Mum expected something akin to The Orient Express and instead got good old Translink. It was grand though - we had two adjoining 'cabins' which interconnected and Dad and I had done a good snack stock-up so we able to pass on their very tempting dinner offerings. Our cabin was the last one in the last carriage which made for a dam noisy/bumpy journey but it did mean Dad could hang out the back and take some pictures - he caught these guys relaying the train tracks by hand. Dodge.com.

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Against all odds (and track record) the train pulled in on time and we jumped into our first little red truck (Chiang Mai's taxi equivalent) to the hotel. Mum had searched Trip Advisor and found a lovely little boutique hotel with 19 rooms, called the Ping Nakara. I was well impressed by the infinity pool and the room was pretty swish too - even if Mum did attempt a cheeky room swap. Standard.

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We were lined up like The Three Bears - I thought I was finished with hostels but no, apparently not. And most hostel-goers are tidier than this pair...

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Following another Trip Advisor tip (Official Guru for Houston Holidays), we headed to Ginger for lunch. Thought I should include a picture of one of these red trucks - they're a bit of a sketch. And the sight of Mum piling into the back of it really adds to the spectacle. Cheap as chips though and you can jump in even if there are people already in it.

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Ginger was a massive hit - Dad swears it was the best Thai food he had all holiday. And it was the sort of classy place where you could have a cocktail at 12pm and not feel like an alcho. Score. After a dander round the Old Town, we headed back to the hotel. Dad took particular interest in the slightly alternative Thai scaffolding methods (using only bamboo). NHBC would have a field day with these guys...

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I then pissed off to a spa for the rest of the day - it was so cheap, it would have been a crime not to go. Meanwhile, Mamma and Pappa Bear had a relax at the pool before we reconvened for our first Night Bazaar visit. Things got off to a flying start - Mum buying 8 scarves at the first stall for about £4 total. 'Best price, best price' was heard ringing through the place as Mum and I bartered with representatives from Tiffanys, Links, Mulberry. All legit, right?! IP lawyers would also have a field day in this place. But best to leave work in the workplace I say!

After a very authentic dinner (Pizza Hut), we got a Tuk Tuk home. When the three of us rock up to a Tuk Tuk driver, he is usually pretty quick to point at the battery beside his seat and tell me I can sit on that. Dodgy as. Better than the ones who say 'plenty of space' and expect me to pile in the back. When that happens - the tuk tuk tends to rear up like a stallion every time the driver hits the accelerator. Rear-heavy?! Us?! Mum says its like the three of us taking a ride on a ride-on lawnmower from Coleraine to Portrush. Picture that. These tuk tuks also have a rather unfortunate habit of taking you right to the door of these nice hotels we're staying at - oh so classy.

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The next morning, we were up bright and early as Mum had organized for another driver to pick us up and take us round the city a bit. Breakfast had a rather nice setting by the pool and the blue skies every day really helped.

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Unfortunately the much-acclaimed-on-Trip-Advisor 'Mr Joy' didn't bother his arse to show up. Seems there was a bit of a translation problem when Mum asked if he was 'also' available on Thursday and he took that as meaning we didn't want him on the Tuesday... By the time we had worked out what had happened, Mum had organized for us to go to the elephants on Thursday so, horror of horrors, we never even got to meet Mr Joy. A driver based at the hotel, Noah, came to our rescue and we headed out in his van. Turns out - he was a bit of a knob. But he took us to where we wanted to go (shops) so all good.

We went to a couple of silk factories first where Mum and I both ordered up numerous things. And Dad, come to think of it. No show without Punch hey?! In the first factory, they showed us how silk was made at each stage. I didn't realise the worms had to die in the process! Can't say it upset me too much but still.

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The selection of silks was pretty amazing and you could literally just draw a picture and point to the fabric you wanted it in. Thankfully, the whole Houston ensemble is aware of its limitations so avoided the 'drawing' option.

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Next, we visited a silver factory where we watched all of the workers doing it all by hand - pretty slow work. The factory we went to made Pandora-style beads so we did a little bit of shopping there - got to show your support and all that.

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Next, the umbrella factory. During our visit, Dad referred to the wares as 'shite' on numerous occasions. Marching bravely on, Mum and I didn't let this deter us and continued to purchase this so-called shite with enthusiasm. Outside the umbrella factory, there were a line of artists who would paint whatever you wanted onto an umbrella/fan/clothes. I was accosted by one little man who painted some elephants onto the top I was wearing...

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We then looked round the factory and talked Mum out of trying to ship some huge umbrellas home - no need at all. One of the guys making the umbrellas looked so old that he might die with any breath. Pretty sure he hadn't moved from that spot, making umbrellas, all his life.

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The selection was pretty impressive though, even if Dad didn't quite think so.

Mum and I even bought into the fan-painting nonsense and each had fans painted with Elephants and Chiang Mai 2010 written on them. We will be getting group t shirts and baseball caps made next....

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Our last stop of the day was the woodcarving factory. Some of the carvings and furniture were pretty amazing but this time we managed to dissuade Mum from spending £2500 on a carving of an elephant scene. Pretty sure it would end up being one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time when that thing landed back to 65 Ballymacrea Road...!

That night we went to a rather nice restaurant on the Riverside and then headed over (on a Tuk-tuk) to the other side of the city for an ice cream.

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Turned out that the ice cream place we had picked was slightly out on the sticks and Mum was convinced we would never make it out alive. That, thankfully, turned out not to be the case. Instead, we got a tuk tuk home again. This time the guys played The Eagles as loud as his pretty impressive music system could muster. Mum wondered how he knew Dad so well - that Eagles CD still reigns supreme at home. As we sailed around Chiang Mai, almost on our back wheels, me perched on the battery hanging out the side of the Tuk Tuk and Dad singing The Eagles at the top of his voice - Mum told me I should get the video out and take some footage. This is the woman who gets upset if I'm in the car without my glasses at home and yet, here she is, expecting me to rummage through my bag, turn 180 degrees and take some video of Dad and his Eagles- all whilst my arse hangs out into the middle of Chiang Mai's main road. Needless to say - I declined. When we did make it home, safely, Zoe and I had a skype session. During which she threatened me with a knife - even from the other side of the world. Can't wait to see you and all that Zo....

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The next day started off with a pretty lazy start - breakfast and poolside relaxation... Mum and I then abandoned Dad and headed to the spa again. This time we were collected from the hotel and we each had a foot massage, aromatherapy oil massage and facial and taken home again. The whole thing took over 3 hours and cost 50 quid in total for both of us... Bargainous.

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After collecting Dad, we headed out for afternoon tea (another Trip Advisor hot tip). This very lovely little cafe in a pink house did a pretty mean spread..

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We went for a walk along the flower market and then back to the hotel for a clean up before dinner.

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Before eating we headed out to the Nimmanheimen Rd which guide books raved about for boutique shops etc. Much to Dad's despair, however, we were too late and most of them were closed so Mum and I caused very little damage. One vase was the height of our shopping I think... We went back to Ginger for tea which was equally as good as our lunchtime on the first day. To make up for the disappointing shopping earlier on, I did find a lovely dress in the shop at the restaurant. Nice end to the day!

Our last day in Chiang Mai was spent at the Elephant Nature Park. After getting picked up at 8am, we collected the rest of our group and drove 'an hour' to the park. Note - everything is 'an hour' away in Chiang Mai. I think two hours was probably a closer guess! The group were lovely - with 6 young Londoners, The Three Bears and an older American couple.

Unlike my elephant experience in Laos, this Park doesn't do any riding/shows. The owner showed us a video of how elephants are broken so people can ride them and it would make you think hard about doing any riding. Saying that, I have no doubt that the elephants we rode were extremely well looked after. And it is clear from one elephant who was 'domesticated' by the owner of the Nature Park that it is very hard to tame animals by purely kind and gentle methods. Her success story 'Hope' is the only animal in the park that was not domesticated by traditional methods and he is a bit of a liability to say the least - he has to have two handlers everywhere he goes, wears a bell at all times and gets no guest interaction. All other elephants rescued from begging/trekking/logging had been tamed by harsher, but undoubtedly more effective, methods. It seems that for as long as elephants remain an animal that people want to domesticate - such methods will be necessary.

We arrived and were given a quick tour round - including a look into the kitchen where all the fruit and vegetables are prepared for the 40-odd animals.

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After some coffee we went down for some feeding - which was great. Plenty of elephants to feed so everyone got loads of time with them and a chance for those all important photos!

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After an impressive lunch, we headed down to the river to help wash the elephants. It wasn't quite as interactive as when we were riding them and scrubbing at them in Laos but we were all given buckets to throw water over the elephants which was a lot of fun. Dad got particularly into the swing of things.

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Mum took a mostly dry role. After feebly throwing a couple of buckets, she took on the job of chief photographer. I swear we become more and more like Japanese tourists each day!

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After bath time, we watched the elephants from the raised huts. It was quite an interesting day as they had just received an elephant who had been rescued following a landmine injury. It was her first time interacting with the group, actually her first time with any other elephants in decades apparently. It was interesting to watch as different groups came up to check her out. They took her down to the river with the rest and instead of going in for a splash and coming back out again - she headed straight across the river and out the other side - I suppose she didn't know any better! Her handlers rushed off after her and another smaller elephant even waded in to try and show her the ropes. She worked it out eventually and it was very amusing fr us guests to see how the new recruit got on!

The Park had some younger animals who were seriously cute. One of them had a party trick - big wet slobbering kisses. Not everyone's idea of acceptable behaviour but she took a particular shine to Mum - caught mid kiss...

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The female baby was particularly friendly and stood on her little platform posing away and loving all the attention...

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Apparently she is much better behaved than her brother who isn't allowed time with the Park's guests at all. Boys hey?!
All in all, it was an experience that definitely hit the Top 5 list for the holiday! Bit of a documentary overload as they made us watch two seperate hour-long videos but I suppose raising awareness is one of the main reasons for their existance.

That evening, we went back to the Night Bazaar. Dad had made it his personal mission to find a shirt to fit him, after Mum suggested that such a thing might not be possible. As if to spite us, he then found such a garment and bought in in several colours - being constantly spurred on by the stall owner who kept exclaiming 'sexy shirt, sexy shirt'. God save us all. I bought another 4/5 pairs of trousers after being well chuffed with a pair I had bought two nights before. Whether I really need 5 pairs of them is a question of debate but 'best price, best price'! One particular busy spree at Tiffanys of Chiang Mai...

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After collecting a couple of things we had ordered up before (lamps/paintings), we Tuk-tuk'ed back to our hotel for our last night in Chiang Mai.

Posted by laurajhous 02:16 Comments (0)

Indochina Discovery - Roam Laos - THE FINAL INSTALLMENT!

You would think that now that the key members of the Blog Appreciation Society have reached Thai soil, the pressure would diminish. But no. Not only have they left a support team at home (thanks Taylor) but Mum continues to chirp on and on about the bloody blog on an almost hourly basis. I think Mum is just dying to see her name in print but before I can grant her wish – better do the final instalment of my Indochina Discovery trip – through Laos and back to Bangkok....

It feels like a very long time ago that we hauled our asses out of bed at 6 am, after dam all sleep, and got on board our bus to head across the Vietnamese border and into Laos. If you recall, the night before had been rather large. Too many drinks, too much dancing, too many indecent photos left on my camera and too many people in taxis that were way too small.... All in all, 6 am was way too bloody early. This was perhaps demonstrated by the fact that some people didn’t manage to haul their asses out of bed at all at 6 am and after a bit of wake-up calling (not all to the right room it must be said), we pulled off around 7am. The group was seriously diminished at this stage with 5 veterans and the new ‘baby John’.
The drive to the border and across to the border town took us around 9 hours. 7 – 11 literally did not exist to me. I was completely comatose – we all know how I like to sleep in the car! We got out to take some pics at a pretty spot. This was pretty much the highlight of the day so though I should include some shots!

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We made it to the border in the pissing wet weather to find that there had been a landslide and all the electricity was out. Good one Laos. So after filling in all our formalities by candlelight and waiting ages for our visa, we emerged into pouring wet Laos and boarded another bus to take us to our border town for the night. Things looked up as the electricity jumped into gear just as we arrived at the hotel. Things did not carry on this way as we were allocated rooms on the third floor and, as per, no lift. NO LIFT?! Have these people seen the size of my bag?! It’s like asking a tuk-tuk full of Houstons to climb Everest – it doesn’t happen easily. We went out for dinner in this seriously quiet town and reminisced about the past two weeks. Bit of a depressing night if we’re gonna be honest! 6 people instead of 16 felt like a serious diminution! Particularly after a couple of good nights out in Hanoi.

Vietiane

After another early start and 5 hour drive, we arrived in the capital of Vientiane. The sun had come out and there were other people to be seen so Laos immediately began to improve its rating in my books! After some lunch, we all piled into a new type of van/tuk tuk/flat bed trailer hybrid and did a bit of a tour around some of the big sights. Gonna be honest – don’t remember much about them. Photos, however, seem to indicate that we stopped at a big gold temple...

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And then onto Monument Gate which is supposed to represent L’Arc de Triomphe. Bit of an insult to the French, a mon avis, but hey, all part of our guided tour!

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Afterwards, we headed to the Morning Market (lies), buying some new specs (mine were left in Vietnam) and sorting out a new phone (lost in Vietnam). The little man at the phone stall was giving some little old lady the hard sell on an iphone 4. This particular brand of iphone 4 came apart to reveal a Nokia battery and he advised her that it didn’t work with iTunes. Peculiar. Ah well, my little brick still works two weeks on so can’t really complain. Hope the sucker didn’t buy it though...!

After some rather good grub, we went to the local bowling alley and played a few games for about 2 quid. Laos is a bit more expensive than some of SE Asia but it’s still ridiculously cheap! I lost. Magnificantly. Twice. Ah well, ‘in it to win it’ has never been my motto when it comes to sports. Only time I got a placed sticker at sports day at primary school was when I was streamed into, effectively, the special Olympics race and I still didn’t win the bloody thing.

Vian Vieng

After another three hour drive the next day, we made it to the backpacker capital – Vang Vieng. We arrived at a rather swish hotel, to be told that we had no booking there so grudgingly reloaded the bus and relocated – still pretty nice. AND we had mosquito nets. Perhaps no bad thing considering TJ’s current count of 41bites. And they were rather fetching too..

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We had lunch at a very chilled little spot where we kicked off our shoes and lounged around for a bit, arranging our plan of attack for the next couple of days. Not really a decision to be made though – you go to Vang Vieng for one reason – TUBING! So whilst Pauline valiantly filled us in on canoe trips, rock-climbing excursions and other wholesome activities, we will promptly rounded off lunch and headed off to the tubing station. Ignoring any GAP advice to the contrary!

For the uninitiated, tubing basically involves signing a all-singing, all-dancing disclaimer, renting a big rubber ring, taking a packed tuk-tuk down to the river and spending the rest of the day on a river based pub crawl. NOT TOO SHABBY! The guys at the office write a number on your hand which apparently enables them to dentify you if found floating up the river – how reassuring! The tone of the afternoon was immediately set when a bottle of whoknowswhat was passed around the tuk tuk and we piled out at the river to the sound of blaring music and the sight of people swinging off rope swings into the ring-filled river. Our afternoon followed suit – free shots, rope swings and ungainly manoeuvres involving rubber rings characterized the rest of the day. Some of us took to the whole experience more enthusiastically than others.... Gold star of the day has to go to Laurent who embraced tubing with open arms – along with the free shots, buckets of cocktails, debaucherous mud volleyball and explicit messages spray painted across his chest. What a star. Laurent, I value our friendship and won’t include photographic evidence, but applications on a postcard from any interested parties...!

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In all honesty, we didn’t make much progress on our first tubing outing. Rings had to be returned by 6pm to avoid losing our deposits so we bailed out at 5.45, believing we were at the end of the river. After we watched a couple being tasered for bouncing on one of the rope bridges (!!!), we got back on a tuk tuk and headed back to town. It later transpired that the river takes about 3 hours to float down – we spent approx 3 hours in bars and half an hour floating so it appears we actually only made it to the first corner. EPIC FAIL. Just meant we needed to have another go the next day..

After a sober-up nap and a (much needed) shower, we headed out for dinner. I say ‘we’ but Laurent failed to make it out. Showing up in reception at the allocated time with his choice spray painted messages still across his chest, in a mild panic because he had lost his room mate, it was clear the best place for him was bed!

Dinner and drinks were a calmer affair – good grub and some more buckets.

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When in Rome hey? All in all, a very fun day. We hit the sack before too late – in preparation for a repeat performance the next day.

The next day followed a similar pattern. After a bit of a lie in, I went for a massage – the stress must be getting to me. After lunch, we hit the river again. This time aiming to spend more time on the water – mission successful! We made it to the whole way down the river - resorting to taking our buckets with us rather than spending hours in the bars. Clever. We met a couple of lovely London gals (DLKW massif Janus?!) who we spent a fair bit of the afternoon with. Laurent had chosen to abstain from the second round and Baby John took his place as the day’s drunkard! Seems us gals can drink you under the table boys?!

Thanks to some unnecessary dawdling about as we headed back to town, I managed to lose my deposit. TJ was more successful in her efforts. Must learn to speed up. After another nap/shower combo, we went back to the same spot for dinner. On the way to the bar afterwards, TJ and I took a small detour for a massage. Thought I better include a pic of the outfits we were given – so fetching! Thought I'd let you do the modelling TJ!

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We met up with the others in the bar afterwards and continued on our bucket campaign whilst playing a few games. All very wholesome.

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We met up with Cordelia and Becky, our London ladies, for a drink and sauntered over to the limbo bar where a crowd had assembled to watch a select group of absolute idiots playing limbo under a flaming pole. No one could beat the Laos prostitutes tho – those girls (?) could literally bend in half. I’ve never seen anything like it before and hope to never see anything like it ever again!

LUANG PRABANG

The next day, a very long and very windy road took us to the other main city in Laos – Luang Prabang. It was, however, seriously beautiful – Laos definitely gets the prize for most beautiful country in SE Asia. Stopped to take some pics..

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Not sure all the group had the chance to appreciate this and there were definitely some delicate souls who found the journey a bit of an endurance test!
We arrived in the city late afternoon and headed for a walk around town and down to the riverside to watch sunset with a drink – all rather nice.

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There was a lot of activity around the river in preparation for a race the next day and the festival marking the end of Buddhist lent. Unfortunately we weren’t there long enough to see the celebrations but it looked like it was going to be pretty impressive.

All 6 of us then visited the booking office for our elephant tour which we had all agreed to do for the next day. At 65 quid, it was the most I’ve paid for any single thing since I left Australia I think! Bit of hesitation from some members of the group but as seen below, it was the best money spent on this trip so far...

After some dinner and another (completely unnecessary) massage, we had a dander through the night market which was absolutely beautiful. Definitely my fave market so far. Did some rather panicked shopping – market panic took over. Got some lovely stuff though so seems market panic is an effective tool! When the market shut, we met up with Amy and Rusty from our group who were in Laos which was so good! Did some serious reminiscing about the previous three weeks and drank some beer – I’m definitely learning! Still not a massive fan but at least I can now stomach the stuff!

After a night characterized by excitement-induced insomnia, we had a really nice breakfast with Amy and Rusty at a European cafe in town. Grub was excellent but, as much as I enjoyed it, the breakfast date was not the reason for my insomnia. That credit goes to – the elephants!! The company picked us up at 8.30 and we drove for an hour to the elephant sanctuary. I made a complete fool of myself on the way there by exclaiming that I had spotted some elephants in one of the fields. Turned out to be cows – definitely need to search for those glasses. Prefdictably the whole episode caused much hilarity at my expense – think I asked for that one though. The sanctuary was beautiful and all the elephants were lined up and waiting when we arrived, having a chill out and eating some of their serious quote of food.

After a bit of an intro chat, we climbed the mounting tower and took our seats on the elephants. TJ and I shared an elephant and sitting on our little throne felt very safe! That didn’t last long.... We must have been on the elephant for about 5 mins before the mahout (elephant trainer) turned round and instructed me to swap places with him – ON THE ELEPHANTS HEAD! After a wobbly start, I began to settle in a little. Although it turns out that the ability to ride a horse is NO HELP in this situation. Although perhaps in light of my history with horses that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! We walked through the river and to our alarm, the mahout jumped off at once stage to take some snaps – all a bit hairy! We survived though – it seems TJ and I are pros!

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After that, we came back and did some elephant feeding. Those guys would show even the Houstons how to eat. Good opportunity for some photos tho.

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We then had a session on how to control the elephants. The hardest part of this is getting onto them! As the biggest animal on the planet, it is almost impossible to mount an elephant whilst retaining any level of decorum. They simply bend one of their knees and your supposed to grab their ear and haul yourself up – all very inelegant. I actually surprised myself by my agility and didn’t require the extra ass shove that others needed! Once on, we were taught how to start, stop, go left, go right etc.

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Lunchtime followed which was pretty dam good. Curry and rice, just for a change! But it was really nice and we could eat it in the cabanas on the riverside if we wanted. There was even a resident puppy to play with – the cutest animal I’ve ever seen. And he made Poppy look like an Ethiopian. Literally, the fattest fool of a dog that ever walked this earth. Think the tourists may be to blame for that!

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After lunch was bath time for the elephants. This time, there was no throne to sit on and we had an elephant each. Once we got into the river, my mahout asked if I was able to swim which felt like a rather ominous question as you are supposed to stay on your animal throughout! The next thing, my big lady completely submerged herself and I was up to my shoulders in the river. Pretty amazing experience. We were then given scrubbing brushes but I have to admit that the scrubbing got largely forgotten in the excitement, particularly the hilarity of TJ sliding right off the arse of her elephant – twice. Only two of the elephants submerged themselves in the way mine did so I got pretty lucky on that one – real once in a lifetime moment.

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For the rest of the afternoon, we jumped into a boat down the river and visited the waterfalls where we mucked around for a couple of hours.

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On the boat down

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The weather has been absolutely amazing in Laos which has really helped – sun shone all day with the elephants and at the waterfalls.
We got left back into town and after some more cake at the European bakery, I headed off for another massage. Standard. Pauline has a friend who owns a guest house in Luang Prabang so that evening, she cooked us dinner. Bit of a hidden talent it seems! Had some of the best food I’ve had since arriving in SE Asia. After another bout of market panic, we met up with Cordelia and Becky who had made it to Luang Prabang and had a few more beers with them. All in all, definitely a day for the Top Five list – we had a ball!

CRUISE

After an early start the next morning, some of the group went to watch the giving of alms to the monks. At around 6.30 every morning, the people line the streets to offer free food to the monks from the nearby temples. I didn’t get up – surprise surprise. But I stole a photo from the others...

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We then headed to our boat, which we would spend the next 2 days on, to take us to Thailand – sleeping on the mainland in between. Not going to lie, the boat was pretty dull. Very dull in fact. Both mornings, I got on and slept until 11/12 and then spent the rest of the afternoon reading/watching the new obsession Prison Break etc. We did some mass photo swapping from the elephants etc but time seemed to stand pretty still whilst we were onboard!

At the overnight town, we had dinner and played cards but it was a pretty sleepy little place. And SHOCK HORROR, we had new AIR CONDITIONING! Now TJ and I like our air con – we usually set it to 16 or so. Bloody Baltic to most people! We made it through the night tho, against all odds, and re-joined the boat for our next day down the river. Highlight of the second day was our plasticine models. As I say, dull.

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We eventually got to the border where we checked out of Laos and into Thailand. In between check-out and check-in, we got a little boat to take us across the river and onto Thai soil. That night, TJ and I upgraded our room to air con. One night with only a fan was enough for us! Main point of interest was Pauline fighting with the hotel man. Angry angry Pauline. Interesting how you can tell that someone is very angry even when a conversation is in a different language! We had our first Thai meal (other than Paulines) since leaving Thailand and went for another foot massage. I got ripped off massively. My lady seemed to take a bit of a dislike to me and spent most of the 30 mins bashing at my foot with her ‘reflexology stick’ (battering ram). TJ seemed to get a much better deal – enraged. After some goodbye drinks for the Danish ladies, who were due to leave us in Chiang Mai the next day, we headed to bed. Little did I know that my passport had been left in the bar!

CHIANG MAI

After another early start and more time spent on a bus, we arrived in Thailand’s second biggest city – Chiang Mai. All four of the remaining group headed to Tiger Kingdom where we got to get up close with 6 week, 6 month and 2 year old tigers. Massive photo op so thought I’d include a selection!

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It was at Tiger Kingdom that I realised my passport and I had parted company. Hmmm. Didn’t worry too much until we made it back to our bags and I realised I had really properly completely and utterly lost it. I was pretty sure it had been left at dinner or the bar but when we phoned them, neither seemed to have found it. All very stressful. It quickly became clear how my free time in Bangkok was going to be spent!

After saying goodbye to the Danes, we headed to our last night train back to Bangkok. After some dinner and some more prison break fix, I popped a sleeping pill and passed out. Until 3am. When we were told we had to get off and do the rest by bus because of the floods. So out we got (I was like a zombie) and waited for an hour in a torrential thunderstorm for our bus. Needless to say, we were all in great form by this stage! Got into Bangkok around 8 am so can’t complain really. Still think that hour at the train station may have been the darkest moment of the holiday thus far!

BANGKOK

Day one in Bangkok was spent dealing with The Passport Crisis. After reporting it lost at the police station, we trundled off to the British Embassy to order a new one... I could have got home on Emergency Travel Documents but the flipping US of A won’t let me over their door without a full passport so had to apply for a new one from Hong Kong. Any Academy readers may find the whole fiasco slightly reminiscent of a certain episode in Rome. Except no Mr P to sort it all out for me! The Embassy was full of sleazy old men and little Thai women obviously trying to register weddings etc. VERY ODD! But got the passport application off so job done. After a much awaited and equally enjoyed McDonalds I decided I better go and talk to the US Embassy about my ESTA visa waiver for the US which is currently done using my old passport number. All very dull. To cut a long story short (yes I am occasionally capable of doing such a thing), it took all day! Came back in time for a massage at the hotel (maybe for once justified?!) before we met up with the rest of the group and headed out for dinner on the infamous Koh Sain Road. Rusty and Amy had caught up with us by this stage so we had dinner with them and after a serious rain storm, went for some really good ice cream – good old Pauline!

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After a really good foot massage, we watched some crazy street dancers doing their thing in the middle of the Koh Sain Road and headed home to bed. Except that TJ and I didn’t go to bed – we watched WWF instead. Because that’s the only thing that was in English!

On our last morning, we waved goodbye to Pauline. Bit sad really – she was a fantastic guide and it was odd to be under our own responsibility again!

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The goodbyes were made a bit less sad by Little John who showed up just as Pauline was leaving. John had been the life and soul of the trip for 3 weeks so it was great to see him again. We all headed off to a big shopping centre where the rest of the day was spent - I think the group thought I lost control of myself a little when it came to the retail opportunities. I even managed to buy a pair of trousers, lose them and have to go back and buy them again – just as well they were about 2 quid! After angering a little Indian lady by indirectly stealing her chair at the crepe stall, we headed back to get our glad rags on for a final night out with a semi-reunited crew!

After pissing about in an Irish bar and whipping some ass at the pool table, we got some dinner and the gals went for another massage. Got to make the most of a good one when you find it! After managing to decline all (highly tempting) invitations for a ‘PING PONG PING PONG’, we sat at a bar and watched some of the goings on down the Koh Sian Rd – quite an eye opener!

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The next morning was spent doing a MASSIVE REPACK (cue minor packing panic) and some sad goodbyes with Rusty and Amy before I headed off, with my backpack, to the Four Seasons and then the airport. Three hours early. Couldn’t cope with the digs if I hadn’t been there when they arrived....! But our Thailand tales are for another entry.....

LOVE TO ALL xxxxxxx

Posted by laurajhous 05:01 Comments (0)

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