A Travellerspoint blog

Bangkok and Sukhothai

20/02/2016 - Our flight into Bangkok was quick and uneventful. We even got given a light breakfast of a ham and cheese sandwich, coconut cake and a fruit salad on board which was a nice surprise. Once in Bangkok we got a taxi to our hotel. We had a bit of a relax after our early start and then walked to collect our train tickets, passing a local market and the train station on the way. It was so hot and humid and the walk took longer than we thought (possibly got a little lost along the way). Luckily the ticket office was air conditioned and had free water which revived us a bit. We then had a quick lunch before heading to Siam Square where we went to the cinema.

It was a very cute old fashioned cinema where the ushers, who showed us to our seats, were dressed in yellow and black uniforms that included bow ties. We had decided to gamble and got tickets to see Joy, which we'd not yet heard about but we were pleasantly surprised. Jennifer Lawrence was as usual amazing. Before the film began, just after the trailers we were instructed onscreen to pay respects to the King. At this moment everyone stood up while a short photo montage of the King came up on the screen. It was a really surreal experience and emphasised how well loved and revered he is in Thailand.

After the film we wandered around some of the shops in the Siam Centre before heading upstairs to get some food. We had a little feast sharing roast duck noodle soup, schezuan fish and steamed pork buns all washed down with a fresh coconut. For dessert we went a little less authentic and had ice cream. Later that evening we pampered ourselves with facemaskes that we'd bought weeks ago and had an early night in anticipation of our visitors the next day.

21/02/2016 - We woke up early as we were expecting Mum and Hannah to arrive in the morning. We got ready and headed down to breakfast only to be surprised by Mum who was already waiting for us. Her taxi driver hadn't been able to find the hostel we were moving to later that morning and had dropped her off at ours instead. It was a really lovely surprise. The only thing more surprising was the bright blue water we were given at breakfast to drink. After breakfast we attempted to walk to our new hostel but mum's suitcase and the uneven streets were proving problematic so we ended up getting a tuk tuk. Once at the hostel we got to catch up properly, relax and eat the delicious lemon drizzle cake mum had made and smuggled into the country, while we waited for Hannah to arrive.

Once Hannah arrived and freshened up we went to Wat Traimit but there was something going on. Crowds had gathered and were waiting along the sides of the pavements while official looking people guarded the gates. Mum asked someone but all we could make out was that in half an hour it should be over. So we decided to head over to China town in the meanwhile.

It was busy and with the heat and humidity it made for an interesting experience. On many of the menus of the restaurant we saw birds nest soup and sadly shark fin soup being advertised. We had a bit of an explore and pcked up possibly the largest pack of dried mango available. Once we were done we decided to give Wat Traimit another go.

It was still busy but this time we tried another entrance. We managed to squeeze our way to the gates through hoards of people only to find the temple was shut. We then had to squeeze our way back through possibly the same hoards. Part of what was going on involved the temple giving out free food and despite the tourism and the development of parts of Thailand the country still has issues with poverty so there were plenty of people trying to take advantage of a free meal. We had managed to get ourselves mixed up with the people queuing.

Once we finally got out of the temple we headed back to Siam Square for some food. We also walked through the MBK centre, one of Bangkok's less glamorous shopping centres before heading back to our hostel to relax for a bit. Before we got the chance to relax we had to drag all our bags and mum's (who had conveniently fallen asleep by this point) up three flights of stairs, which was harder than it sounds. In the evening we got taken to the wrong night market by our taxi driver, we ended up in pat pong market. A typical touristy market. Before we tried to tackle it we went and got some pad thai from a street kitchen, me and mum also shared some fresh papaya for dessert. We then spent an hour wandering around the market before we all ran out of steam, mum and Hannah still recovering from the flight over, and had to go back and to bed.

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22/02/2016 - We got up and out of our room early. We had breakfast at the hostel which had the nice addition of some fresh watermelon. After breakfast we began our journey to Sukhothai, it began with a taxi to the train station. Once at the train station we had a little bit of a wait. Which is when we discovered that monks have their own waiting area. Who knew?! Once we finally got on the train we were given lunch. We got a curry, a stir fry and rice which was surprisingly tasty. The train journey was around six hours long and later in the journey we were also given coffee and cookies.

We went through some really pretty scenery which was a lot flatter than we were used to. When the train finally arrived at Pitsanulok we changed over to a bus via a tuk tuk. The next leg of our journey took another hour. From there we got a tuk tuk van hybrid to our hostel. Feeling slightly tired and like we had utilised all the forms of transport available we managed to check in. We had a bit of a freshen up before going to a local night market to find some food. After dinner we went back to our hostel to be told about a festival in local temple that was on for only one night so we went back to check it out. There was lots of food stalls, some entertainment that looked to include a talent/ pagent show. a fair ground and even some outside dancing space.

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23/02/2016 - In the morning we got a tuk tuk to the Sukhothai Historical Park to see the ruins. We spent into early afternoon looking around and taking pictures. It was a really stunning and peaceful place. It was a super hot day again and shade was minimal which made it a struggle at times though. Once we were done we got a tuk tuk bus hybrid back to the town. We stopped at a local bakery to pick up bits for lunch, none of which we were entirely sure what they were. We split the mystery baked goods between us back at the hotel in their cute shaded garden. Mum went back to the room to recover from the heat while Fleur, Hannah and I hung out with a couple of beers (and some cheese straws that Hannah had brought us) and did some trip research. Later in the evening we went to dinner at a restaurant that had rabbits running around its grounds outside. They were very cute but sadly were too fast and jumpy to pet. Dinner was good but the stand out dish for originality alone had to be the banana samosa. It was a starter and we were all expecting it to have a savoury element but it was just a sweet banana samosa...perfect as a dessert but more than a little odd as a starter.

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24/2/16 - We left the hostel in the morning and made the journey to Chiang Mai. Again we utilised most of Thailand's transport options, we took a tuk tuk, bus another tuk tuk and then train. The journey was another long one and again we got lunch. This time it was much more of a fishy menu with two types of mackerel dishes served up with the rice. The coffee and cookies slightly later in the journey helped make up for the slight mackerel overdose a little. We also broke into a green tea kit kat that had melted and reset so looked particularly appealing. It tasted quite good though. About an hour and a half from the end of our journey a storm began, there was thunder, lightening and some heavy rain. At the same time the train tried to climb a hill...it became clear very soon that it was struggling but no one on board was expecting what was to come. We ended up reversing back quite a distance in order to try and gain some more momentum to ascend the slippery hill, this happened at least three times! The last time the train was reversed all the way back to the last station that we passed, what seemed like miles earlier. We ended up waiting in the station about an hour. We couldn't quite make out what was going on bit whatever was happening meant that thankfully the next attempt saw us climb the hill and finally carry on on our way to Chiang Mai, only a couple of hours behind schedule!

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Posted by AnitaBhogal 18:13 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Vientiane - the quiet capital

15/2/16
After another long bus ride we arrived in Vientiane - we couldn't get over how quiet and laid back it was for a capital city, but very fitting for Laos. After recharging a bit in our hotel (a cosy room as I’d accidentally booked us in as single occupancy!) we headed out for dinner. We had some delicious Laos specialities, but may have possibly over-ordered on rice...
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16/2/16
After breakfast we grabbed a tuk tuk and headed up the hill to Pha That Luang - the iconic Laos monument. It is a giant stupa covered in gold leaf, containing fragment of Buddha’s collarbone, brought over from India. Pretty spectacular to look at. There are some impressive temples surrounding it, as well as their cultural hall. We took some time to explore them and stumbled across a photoshoot (we never did work out if they were a couple or models). We then became the subject of a photo ourselves when a Chinese man asked us to pose with his daughter - we assumed westerners were a bit of a rarity for him.
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We then headed down the hill to check out Patuxai - the Laos victory monument (aka their Arc de Triomphe). It seemed to have a bit of a reputation for being ugly, but we didn't think it looked too bad. The ceiling especially was very pretty. It had gained the nickname of ‘the concrete runway’ as it was built by Laos using money that was given by the US which was intended for a new airport, so a slightly less practical alternative!
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We kept it local for our lunch stop and opted for the cafe next to our hotel, in fairness it had been going a long time and had a very good reputation. Their specialty was Pho, in a ‘do it yourself’ kind of way.
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Wanting to expand our Laos history knowledge we headed to their National Museum in the afternoon where we were educated on their ancient history, tribal history and colonial history and the secret war (which ran alongside the Vietnam war). It was informative, if a little one sided, and we definitely could have had a job there improving their English translations.

In the evening we went to a bar with amazing views across the river to Thailand. We also enjoyed browsing their night market and watching the sunset, with the crazy exercise class that was going on in the background.
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17/2/16
As our hostel didn’t provide breakfast we were able to sample what the city had to offer, which on Wednesday included some amazing egg white and oat toast with jam (something we might have to recreate when we’re home).
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After breakfast we headed off to Cope - a centre which supports and raises awareness of amputees, who may have lost limbs from unexploded ordinance or illness. They manufacture prosthetic limbs and have trained up a whole team of medics and therapists who do incredible work all across Laos.
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They had an amazing free exhibition, with some heartbreaking stories of loss, but also some uplifting stories too. We were so shocked to learn how devastatingly the country was bombed during the secret war, more than 270 million bombs were dropped with 80 million remaining unexploded after the war. More than 50,000 people have been killed or injured by these devices, 20,000 of those occurred after the war had ended and 40% of those were children. Cope have also invested in education programmes to educate the country on the dangers of these unexploded bombs and have set up support centres across the country for those who previously previously had no access to medical help
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In the afternoon we visited Wat Sisaket which is the oldest surviving temple in the city and was commissioned by Vientiane’s last king. It held a pretty big Buddha collection and some more impressive stupas (and we made friends with a couple of cats).
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18/2/16
Thursday brought another great breakfast discovery - the House of Fruit Shakes. Despite its name we didn't actually have shakes there, but instead opted for their amazing fruit platter with eggs and bread thrown in. All for only £2!
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We then caught the bus to the Buddha Park - which was exactly how it sounds, a park full of Buddha statues. We had fun taking in all the different designs and there was a great view across the river to Thailand. I even climbed up the precarious pumpkin structure, where health and safety rules didn't factor.
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After that we caught a bus part way back to city and visited the Lao Disabled Women's Development Centre. An amazing charity that offers courses to disabled women (and now men), teaching them a skill that they can then use to make money and support themselves. While we were there we went on a tour and saw classes of sewing, newspaper paper art, weaving by hand and clay stoves construction. The centre also has on site accommodation for its students. Since 2002 they helped over 400 women which is incredible given their size.
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In the afternoon we headed to another temple and then back to our favourite spot on the river to watch the sun set (again) next to the exercise class.
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We had an amazing dinner with some Laos appetisers and a tamarind marinated fish.
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19/2/16
On Friday morning we visited another temple (there are a fair few in Vientiane!) which was beautifully decorated, although we’re not sure why, and then indulged in a bit of pampering with a pedicure.
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The afternoon was spent window shopping and visiting another temple. Then for our dinner, as is now the tradition for our last night in a country, we went for pizza.
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20/2/16
The next day we had an early 4am start to catch our flight to Thailand. We realised we might have been a little over-cautious when we saw the reaction of our sleepy looking hotel receptionist who was surprised we were only going to Bangkok. Our suspicions were confirmed when we got to the airport (only 10 mins down the road) and we were two of only a handful of passengers. Our early start did mean that we got to see the monks going to give almes (finally!) on the journey.
After waiting in a mosquito-packed departure lounge for a little while we finally boarded our flight to Bangkok just after 7am.
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Posted by Floglet 19:54 Comments (0)

Luang Prabang (again) and Vang Vieng

10/02/2016 - Once we arrived back in Luang Prabang we checked into our third guesthouse in the town, we felt like we were doing a good job at exploring the various accommodation options that Luang Prabang had to offer by this point. After a quick freshen up we went and had an interesting flavour combination in one of our crepes for lunch. The savoury one was chicken, tomato and egg. On reflection it doesn't sound the worst but i can assure you it was odd. Luckily the strawberry and chocolate one made up for it (and yes, for all those that know me to well I'm well aware this goes against my fruit and chocolate rule!). As did the fresh papaya that we also had. We then spent a leisurely afternoon in the town and even managed to top it off with a happy hour gin and tonic in a local bar. Later that evening I was feeling a bit down but Fleur came to the rescue with pizza and a bar of Dairy Milk , which in Luang Prabang is no easy feat, and saved the day.

11/02/2016 - We woke up early and were ready and waiting for our pick up at 9 to go to Kuang Si Waterfalls. The drive there took about 50 minutes and in the back of the tuk tuk it was freezing. It started off as a really grey and dreary day but began brightening up the closer we got to the falls. As we had booked a private tuk tuk we had a blissful couple of hours to explore the falls without the hoards of tourists who would eventually arrive later with their scheduled tours. The waterfalls were stunningly beautiful, the water was bright turquoise and the pools that ran off it were all filled with this magical coloured water. We walked all around, possibly taking far too many pictures. We went to the main waterfall and climbed up the side of it to get an amazing view. On the way down from the Waterfalls there was a bear sanctuary and we got to see some very cute rescued bears. We felt a little smug as we left as the crowds were definitely now entering the park. Once back in Luang Prabang we struck up conversation with a really lovely pair of Scottish couples in their 50s who were on a ten week travelling adventure. The highlight of the whole conversation had to be when they thought we were fresh out of university...make up free and slightly bedraggled I thought we'll take that, thank you very much! In the evening we went out for dinner to Khaipaen, where they train and support deprived local young people. We had some delicious tapas style Laos dishes, our favourite being the spicy aubergine dip. From dinner we went to the night market, which it was becoming obvious that it was our shopping weakness. We both bought some more souvenirs and gifts before heading back for the night.

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12/02/2016 - We woke up really early in order to see the local people giving alms to the monks. It happens in all Buddhist areas but as Luang Prabang has such a high density of temples in such a small place it was meant to be more of a sight to see. We got into a good spot by our nearest temple and waited and waited and waited. Nothing happened, looking back on it we were definitely too late but at the time we were just far too sleepy and confused to fully understand what was going on. We headed back to get ready for our 7 hour journey to Vang Vieng. We had bought tickets for the VIP bus but soon realised that in Laos VIP didn't mean the same thing as it does in England. The bus was just grotty and run down, everything looked like it needed a bit of a clean. On the plus side we got a free bottle of water and lunch at the three o clock stop. The last hour or so of our journey passed through some beautiful scenery of limestone rock formations and mountains and lush green countryside. Once into Vang Vieng we had an early dinner and then had a wander around the town to try and get our bearings.

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13/02/2016 - After a lie in, we had a nice big breakfast with a view across the river. Then we went and saw the old airstrip, which was a bit of a no man's land and an old communal well before heading back to the centre. We crossed the river and walked to Pha Poae and then to Luisi caves. The walk was really lovely, through the countryside with the cliffs providing a dramatic backdrop but it felt like it took forever in the blistering heat. On the way back a small red snake crossed our path, Fleur was a little freaked out and I got to be the brave one reassuring her that it was only tiny and hopefully harmless. Once we made it back to the river we sat at on of the riverside huts and had coconuts whilst dipping our feet in the river which was needed after the long walk. For dinner that evening we went to a Laos Austrian fusion restaurant and had some amazingly fresh, delicious and quirky food.

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14/02/2016 - We had a very relaxed day on Sunday. After breakfast, where Fleur had porridge that tasted amazing but like it could have been dessert we went back to the huts on the river and sunbathed and watched the world go by. Some adorable but mischievous local boys, probably around 4 years old, played in the river by us. Splashing us with water accidentally every now and then. They also managed to catch some type of shellfish and brought it round to all the people sat in the huts in an old crisp packet, proudly showing it off. We had a quick lunch in one of the remaining TV bar/restaurants...a remnant from the time when Vang Vieng was the place for hedonistic travellers seeking, alcohol, drugs and tubing. Since a spaite of tubing related deaths in 2012 when the death toll reached over 20 the town has tried to remarket itself and shed it's former seedy image. There are still people who come to Vang Vieng for the crazy partying but you feel that they are a few years too late.

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We then went back to the hostel and freshened up before going to our tour agents for our hot air balloon ride! We arrived at the agents a little early and were given seats and beer to pass the time, a pleasant surprise. Our pick up arrived soon after and took us to the field that we'd be leaving from. When we arrived there was a small group of us and three hot air balloons, it all seemed fine until a larger group of tourist arrived and we were informed that we'd all have to get into the three balloons. We watched two balloons go up before 8 of us squeezed into ours. Once up in the sky the experience was amazing , the sky was a tiny bit hazy but on the whole the views of Vang Vieng were spectacular. We were up in the air for just over 30 minutes, we began to see the sunset and it was magical. After dinner we both Skyped our families who got to meet a little lizard that had found its way into our bathroom.

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15/02/2016 - After breakfast we checked out of our hostel and waited for our bus to Vientianne. When it finally arrived we realised it was a minibus when we had been expecting a coach. The seats were pretty uncomfortable and the driver seemed too young to be driving but he drove well and smoothly which was a relief after some of our previous minibus journeys.

Posted by AnitaBhogal 19:54 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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