List of Do’s and Don’t’s Travelling Thailand

Yeah I’m still a virgin traveller, but from just one month stay in Thailand, there’s a lot of lessons I’ve learned and either regretted, or enjoyed being proven wrong about my assumptions. For other people looking to travel Thailand, some of this may come as a surprise to you.

So here’s a list of things for my final blog entry you may not think about travelling the first time. Not finite by any means, but stuff I’ve picked up on my way through Thailand.

Transport in Thailand

Bikes
I hired a bike in 3 places, Krabi, Hua Hin and Chiang Mai. Easily the most practical way of getting about, and likely the cheapest in the long run. It’s not, however, the place to learn to ride a motorbike. In the more sedate areas then you should have no problem, but in the built up areas driving can be a perilous affair. I learned how to ride in Thailand, though I’ve ridden a BMX through hectic London streets. Make sure you know what’s around you.. mirrors should be positioned correctly on left and right to see what’s behind you, look around often but pay attention to the road in front and behind.

When hiring a bike, you may be asked for your passport, ALWAYS refuse. If you’re afraid of offending then tell them if you get caught by the police without your passport you can be arrested – this is the truth, always carry ID with you for this reason. The alternative then, unless you get a friendly bike rental place, is to hand over a copy of your passport and a deposit (usually 2,000 Baht to 6,000 Baht depending on the type of bike).

Take photos of the bike from all angles, mostly those which could potentially be scratched, if you return your bike scratched you could lose some, or all of your deposit. The first bike I hired I handed over my passport, the second only a copy (though this was because my friend who lives in Thailand and can speak the language, and knows them), the third a copy and 3,000 Baht deposit.

You will get your bike without much fuel, you will not get a refund for excess fuel on return, nor are you expected to refuel the bike when returning it. Wear a helmet! If they don’t offer you a helmet with the bike then refuse the hire, helmets are mandatory, though you will see a lot of Thai’s not wearing theirs. A helmet can save your life in an accident.

Most of all remember that Thailand will usually be more dangerous than your own country, there’s a lot of drivers, no MOT system, a non-mandatory insurance system, and drink drivers. A lot of foreign tourists are involved in fatal accidents each year in Thailand, so don’t be blasé about it, take this seriously and you should find riding a motorbike in Thailand a pleasure and offering a lot of freedom.

Rental bike prices vary by type and how modern they are, from around 150 Baht to 450 per day, if you book a chunk of time you’ll find you can barter down the price. To fill up a bike with petrol also varies by petrol station, but more often than not I paid 110 Baht to fill up an empty tank, 120 was the most I paid. This tank will last around 90-100km

Trains
I took 4 long journey trains in Thailand, from Bangkok to Surat Thani and return, from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and return. The trains operate a sleeper system, if you book far in advance (and I suggest you don’t turn up expecting a train not to be full) you can secure a sleeping ticket. On my travels I didn’t book in advance, so I only managed to secure a sleeper ticket once, 2nd class. The other times were in 2nd class seating and 3rd class seating.

On public transport I’m a very bad sleeper in a seat, on the sleeper bed I slept very well, I have no objection to sitting on a train for 13-17 hours, but the first train in 3rd class seating was dark the entire journey, so I couldn’t photograph until sunrise around 7. Had it been light I would have had a whale of a time. For this reason I’ll book in advance next time, if there’s no sleeping then I’ll take a seat on a morning train and photograph the journey.

The trains are noisy, when the windows are open you get some air pollution in certain areas. If you’re a light sleeper I’d recommend tablets, eye pads and ear plugs if you need. I would also recommend bringing a blanket or wearing layers if you’re in a seat, the wind can get quite cold if you’re in the wrong place, and even shutting the windows and blinds may not reduce the wind in your direction.

Prices can vary depending on the seat and the journey, there’s a really good website that I refer to before travelling, Seat61.com which has extensive pricing and timetables for throughout Thailand. I paid: 250 Baht from Bangkok to Surat Thani 3rd class seat, 598 Baht from Surat Thani to Bangkok 2nd class sleeper, 431 Baht from Bangkok to Chiang Mai 2nd class seat 270 baht from Chiang Mai to Bangkok 3rd class seat.

In the seated accommodation you’ll get food and drink hawkers, beer and cigarettes most of the journey, in the sleeping carriage you’ll see fewer. For me, as a smoker, travelling 13 or 17 hours on a train without smoking is a bit of a challenge, but on the trains in Bangkok you can smoke in the vestibules with the doors open (a really nice experience, health and safety would do their nut).

The toilets are of the squat variety, and the trains move around a lot, so if you’re a guy – lucky (unless it’s #2) and if you’re a girl then make sure you wear good grips on your shoes.

I did spot a thief picking through a bag using a radio reciever presumably to test for mobile signals. So make sure you keep all your valuables in the sleeping bay with you, and keep your wits about you. All your clothes and non-valuable items can be placed in a backpack in the luggage holder by each bay.

Taxis/Tuk Tuks and Motorbike Taxis
As a farang, or foreigner, you will immediately be charged a higher price than a local, but this is not necessarily the final price you will pay. Don’t get ripped off, there’s plenty around and if one won’t accept your price move on to the next, more often than not the driver will cave for a lower price..

The classic piece of advice is DO take a tuk tuk, but only the once, it’s an experience rather than a necessity. The other piece of advice is DON’T take a motorbike taxi, as these drivers have very little regard for your safety. Taxi’s should tell you a rough price before you depart, and turn on the meter if they have one, if they don’t turn it on, request they do, if they still refuse then you should get out and avoid being ripped off, move on to the next and be happy.

They are everywhere though, so if you need to get somewhere in a hurry then either a tuk tuk or a taxi will take you where you need to go. Be prepared to be turned away when you mention your destination, some drivers refused once I mentioned where I wanted to go.

Never pay more than 100 Baht for a tuk tuk, fair enough if you’re travelling a long distance, in any way a tuk tuk wouldn’t be the safest or fastest form of travel.

Buses
Long journey buses are usually quicker than the trains in Thailand, but more expensive, I found sleep easier on a bus than in a seat on a train, the seats tend to recline a bit lower and are of a better quality, you also don’t get much noise from the outside. For destinations such as Bangkok to Krabi Town which doesn’t have a train station, you should buy a joint ticket from the train station, that way it will save you time and energy at the staging points.

Skytrain Bangkok (BTS)
Easily the best, safest and fastest way of travelling in Bangkok, and I’d recommend booking your accommodation close to a station, as this will save on taxi or tuk tuk fares. At most you will pay 65 Baht to cross the city, at least 15 Baht to go one or two stops. It has air conditioning throughout and the ticket purchasing is simple, you will need 10 or 5 Baht coins though so you need to go to the change stations situated near the barriers after working out – using the handy priced maps near the ticket machines – how much you will need.

If you plan on staying in Bangkok for a longer time then it may be worth looking into a pass that you can top up.

Accommodation

Hotels
If you can afford to stay in hotels during your travelling, then by all means do so, hotels tend to offer better service, more amenities, more facilities and good locations. The problem is the price, if you’re on a budget then I would recommend staying in hostels or guest houses.

Most places will have a hotel though I would recommend booking in advance as they will fill up and you may not get a room if you turn up on the day. Prices don’t have to be super expensive either, my first two days I stayed in Imm Fusion Sukhumvit, a private double room for 798 Baht per night booked online. En-suite shower and toilet, refrigerator  free water, TV and nice, clean sheets, in a quiet and good location and most importantly near to a BTS line.

If you’re travelling on a two week holiday, and have a hefty budget, then you can find luxury hotels more expensive than Western prices. I used TripAdvisor throughout, combined with HostelBookers and HostelWorld to book my accommodation  as well as turning up on the day.

Hostels
Tend to be large places with many different types of room available. Dorms from 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and even 12 beds, private rooms too. These places tend to attract backpackers, young and old and can be quite social, I met some really nice people staying in hostels throughout Thailand.

You could be charged a key and towel deposit, perhaps even rental price for the towel. Hostels can have laundry, TV rooms, male/female only dorms, bars, restaurants, lobby/sitting areas. Nearly all places have WiFi now, so you can connect with your friends and family on the move.

There will also likely be a baggage storage area and a locker for you to keep your valuable items in. Shared toilets and showers, unless you’re in a private room, either air conditioning or fan, also dependant on room type. I would recommend a fan room, as air conditioning can give you a cold when you’re in and out of hot and cold areas.

Prices vary by area, size, how modern they are, and the time of year, I paid 300 Baht per night and that was the most I paid. I also paid 270, and 220.

Guest Houses
Usually smaller than hostels, but a similar principle, offering various types of room and usually cheaper than the other options. I would recommend checking the reviews for any places your about to stay before deciding on booking, to give you an idea of what to expect.

Guest houses are a really common type of accommodation due to their size. Most will offer tour help and advice, as they usually make deals with the tour companies.

Don’t expect frills from guest houses, though it depends on the owner’s desire to make your stay nicer. Some have no towels, no western toilets and no toilet paper, they can be dirty at the low end prices, and noisy, or have insects. If you’re travelling on a budget, and aren’t squeamish if you see a cockroach, then go for a guest house because of the price.

Not usually as social due to the less people that can stay in one, though this also varies place by place. Will usually have WiFi  usually have less amenities than hostels.

Prices also vary, I’ve paid as little as 120 Baht in Chiang Mai, and as much as 400 in Bangkok.

Booking
You should try to book in advance, just on the off chance that you arrive and try to secure a room and are turned away late at night. I came with no plans to my journey, and so I couldn’t effectively (nor did I want to) plan the whole trip. I was only turned away a few times, and this was the on-season, so it’s still possible to not book ahead.

Food

Street Vendors
Late at night Thailand tends to open up – it’s less hot at night and so you’ll generally find night markets crop up every day in the towns and cities. You can get anything you want if you’re prepared to walk around. From meat to fruit, to vegetarian and vegan. Prices are lower than if you buy in a restaurant (and some things aren’t sold in restaurants. Some places may not seem appealing, it’s best to follow your instinct on these, try and get good clean food cooked in front of you, lots of fruit is sold already peeled, which could cause stomach upset depending on age.

Restaurants
Usually open all day, and you can – in the more touristy areas – find Thai and Western food alike. In certain areas like Hua Hin, there’s a lot of Westerners that have moved there and opened their own restaurant, offering authentic (note, authentic is used very often, sometimes by non-authentic chefs) Western cuisine. All of the places in the tourist areas apart from a few have English menus, but search around because you can usually find the same food quality for a lower price if you wander. Prices vary by location of course, and the class of the establishment. If you’re in a tourist areas expect prices to be double at least, from those in less tourist based areas.

Thai food is very nice, they take care in cooking – of course – and use a lot of spices for some meals. If you’re averse to spicy/strong foods then you could stick to the Western cuisine, but you will pay more. And be adventurous – within reason – something you may not eat in the UK is usually cooked with more care in Thailand, and they certainly know how to wow with their food.

Most all dietary requirements are catered for, vegetarian, vegan, halal.. throughout Thailand.

Food is everywhere, a cornerstone of Thai culture, you may come across items that you’d never think of eating in the West, and you may come across things that you regularly eat in the West but aren’t cooked the same in Thailand.

Drink

Alcohol
One of the more expensive parts of a travel is encountered if you drink alcohol, it may seem cheap in comparison to your usual prices, but it’s expensive when you consider that you may drink more often, or more frequently thinking that it’s cheap.

Wine is UK prices here (450 Baht a bottle), as a wine drinker I have had maybe one or two glasses – beer is the preferred drink of most that travel to Thailand, and – although prices vary, you can usually get a small bottle for 35 – 50 Baht. Spirits are available by the UK brands but also close to UK prices, unless you drink the Thai Sam Song ‘whisky’ or the equally lethal Hong Thong.

Of course you can get anything anywhere and so cocktails, spirits, beer, wine, mixers, alco-pops, just don’t expect to pay pence for them. Most of the places you stay will allow BYOB which is of course cheaper, though unless you’re near to a 7/11 (which, btw – while open 24 hours – only serves alcohol until midnight) then you may end up choosing to opt for the more expensive guest house/hostel-own price than walking the distance to the nearest off-license.

You shouldn’t drink alcohol in the streets, and most places will not sell alcohol between 2pm and 5pm each day.

Non-Alcohol
You can get just about any fruit in the land of smiles, and the best drinks I’ve had have been non-alcoholic fresh fruit shakes. Everywhere sells Pepsi, Coke and Sprite, and in the 7/11’s that are everywhere you can buy cold drinks from iced teas to juice to water. Hot drinks are a-plenty too, both coffee, tea and hot chocolate. A huge variety of teas are on offer in most places.

Don’t drink the water from the tap though, you can get various nasty things from it, not just Typhoid.. Be wary of drinks with ice in as that can come from tap water, but don’t be paranoid – you can generally tell from the place if the drinks they’re serving are ‘clean’ or not.

Photography

I’m very torn with travelling with a DSLR camera. Though I can say it’s been an adventure taking it, being able to change settings that I may not be able to on a compact. Given that I also had to take a laptop (shooting in RAW does have a downside), all chargers, accessories, etc.. the total weight came in around 18 kilos. Also because I was very wary of damaging and losing any of it I tended to carry it with me all the time. If you’re a photographer wanting to travel, if you don’t mind the weight, take all your gear – if you’re a photographer who wants to carry less I’d advise a mirror-less camera.

If you don’t take a computer, you’ll have a hard time with uploading photos. Once of the alternatives is to carry a memory card reader. Not all computers you come across in the places you visit will have an SD card slot (and good luck with a CF) so using a card reader will let you get the photos to a cloud or online source. Of course you can also just pack multiple memory cards.

Internet

Nearly everywhere has WiFi available for if you have your own device, some that give you the WiFi key, and some – usually hostels/guest houses – that offer an unsecured log in and give you a username and password for the account login screen.

It’s really anywhere if you want it. Except if you plan to go on long trips through rural areas and aren’t prepared to pay the huge data roaming charges, then I’d advise getting an international sim, everywhere sells them in Thailand.

Internet speed depends on where you go, I went in some very low-grade places and had amazing internet, compared to some high end places that had a very slow connection.

Toilets

There are three types of toilets I came across, the urinal for guys – everyone knows how to use this right? Then there is the standard toilet with seat and lid, and then there is the squat toilet. With the standard and squat toilets you will see a hose with a nozzle at the end near to the toilet. This is for cleaning yourself after going to the toilet.

Don’t expect everywhere to have toilet roll, this is something that has been introduced to Thailand over the years, the ‘bum gun’ is the equivalent, like a portable bidet if you will. Toilet roll can also cause issues if flushed, so please be sparing with what you use, and try to use the gun where possible.

The squat toilet is as it sounds, you have to take down your trousers and sit on the scored areas either side of the toilet to do your business. Once done, you will see a bucket/vat/some water receptacle with a bowl or other item to scoop up water and use as a manual flush. For this reason squat toilets usually have water on the floor, making the experience a challenge, and also slippery.

What to Bring

I can’t advise girls what to bring for various reasons, but some items are universal.

Towels
I didn’t take a towel with me, I wanted space for other things, did I make a mistake? Given the same chance again I’d take a towel, a small one at least. Most places have towels as part of the room charge, some you leave a refundable deposit, some you leave a deposit and pay, some you pay. But, if you don’t take a towel you can’t go in the sea at whim, to a pool, or any other water activity.. This let me down so I would take a small towel with me again. But it wasn’t such a pain to ruin it for me by not taking one.

Shower and Hair
Depending on where you stay there’s sometimes products available in the showers. But don’t rely on it. I’d suggest taking a body wash of some sort, soap even, or shower more often using just water.. Shampoo if you need it but shower gel will do the job. It gets hot and so two or three showers a day is commonplace.

Sun Cream
Thailand is sunny and hot for most of the year, you will need sun cream. It’s expensive there, so buy it in the UK (or wherever you’re from) it was around 400 Baht when I was looking. I used SPF 40, but some anti-malarials (Doxycycline) can make you photosensitive which will make you burn more easily, so get a higher SPF if you burn easily and are taking Doxcycyline.

Insect Repellent
The same, mozzies are all year round, you will need repellent  It’s expensive there, buy in the UK. Mosquitoes are everywhere, mostly at dusk and dawn.

Medication/First Aid
Well done if you don’t take tablets when something is wrong, and there are pharmacies most places in Thailand, but I preferred to come pre-prepared. Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, anti-diarrhoea, bandages, plasters, anti-bacterial gel, salt replacement powder, sleeping tablets, tape, anti-malarials, indigestion remedies, laxatives.. I used all but plasters of those in one month. If you’re going for longer then maybe stock more, but you could end up taking the whole pharmacy if you’re worried.

Insurance
Anything could go wrong, don’t skimp on insurance, get good cover which you may not use, as opposed to bad insurance which won’t cover you for lots of things. Cash loss, personal items cover, passport loss, theft, injury (even death) could happen whilst you’re away and you don’t want to be left in the lurch. Choose the insurance that matches your requirements and don’t be blasé about it.

Money

Credit cards
I’d take a credit card with no balance on it for emergencies. All ATMs will charge you 150 Baht per transaction, if you also add your type of card’s natural overseas charge, then each transaction could end up costing you £3+ each time you withdraw. There are some cards that factor this in, so check around before you go. Also remember that some places (though most do) may not have an ATM nearby.

Cash
Don’t take it all with you. If possible allow for an ATM transaction or two along the way. There’s nothing worse than losing your wallet, except for if all your cash was in it. Carry your wallet in your front pocket, or somewhere less easy for pickpockets (which for me, wasn’t an issue, but if you’re going to the seedier areas you may want to take this advice). On a heavy night out you shouldn’t really pay more than 1500- 2500 Baht, so only ever carry what you need, hide the rest in your sock if need be, but as the old adage goes.. ‘don’t keep all your eggs in one basket’

Backup
When you run out of cash, and your credit card is maxed, what then? Make sure that you have a means to support your travels or get home.

Packing

Valuables
A very broad topic, I’d advise against wearing any jewellery that could make you a target for people. Jewellery is – in my opinion – unnecessary for cosmetic means. Keep it safe at home. Passport, wallet and mobile should be with you at all times where possible, regardless.

Generally though, keep them with you at all times.. I kept my laptop and camera with me at all times, if you’re travelling on a sleeper transport and you fall asleep, then you’re not keeping an eye on anything that’s not near you. Be wary of your environment and be sensible. Don’t flash your valuables around.

Clothes
Thailand is hot.. very hot.. all year round. Except in the North, it can get down to 3/4/5 at night in places like Pai, you may need another blanket and thick clothing to wear yet in the South it’s super-hot in the day and still warm at night.

I was uninformed before I came so I packed way more excessively than I should.. light fabric, non-branded, everyday clothes are inexpensive in Thailand, you could probably come with no clothes in your bag and stock up for all-weather types for less than UK prices. I threw away socks and pants I didn’t need on day 1, I went commando throughout, and once you get a pair of flip flops then socks are out of the window too.

Is That It?

As I said, this list is not finite, though the above are some key things to consider before travelling. I travelled alone, so I can’t comment on group travelling/safety/packing, I did find from travelling alone that I enjoyed myself more as I wasn’t tied to anyone else.

You will meet a lot of people in the same boat as you, doing the same things. Embrace each chance you have to share stories – some great advice came from fellow travellers about where to go and what to do/not to do. Most of all have fun, be safe, love everyone and trust no-one, be respectful of Thai culture, take in the sights, sounds and smells, and make the most of what you have.

Thanks for reading, until next time..

Matt

My Last Days in Thailand Before Flying Home

I sat in my guest house, the Green Oasis, on my last day talking to Tony and Jlo the male and female owners. My train was at 17:30 so I had a while to wait. At some point his friends turned up, six or seven of them, and at 11:00 they cracked open the Jonny Walker Red Label, coke, ice and water.. (and they called me having beer at 4pm ‘breakfast’.. jokers!)

I’d met a few people in my last few days that were staying there, a couple of Korean girls, a Canadian and a guy from Seattle. More exchanges of life stories went by and the time soon got to 15:30. One of Tony’s friends was heading to the train station too, for the 4pm train, so we shared a tuk tuk and got to the train station in 15 minutes.

They sauntered off as their train was sooner, so I went to buy a ticket. There were 1st and 2nd class sleeping tickets, and 2nd and 3rd class seated. Partly due to reduced funds, and partly because I knew I wouldn’t sleep anyway I sadistically opted for the 3rd class seat – mirroring my first choice from Bangkok to Surat Thani – and sat outside in the glorious sun smoking what cigarettes I had left, alongside other 17:30 train waiters.

The train was called and I boarded. Grabbed my seat which was rickety, but luckily in my booth there were no other seats taken, this could prove useful in trying to get the ever elusive sleep during the dark hours. I knew I’d have around an hour of daylight to get some photos, but I chose to sit and take in the surroundings instead. Although empty in my booth, across and to the right from me an elderly Thai lady kept her eyes on me a lot of the time, and a group of 4 young Thai girls and a boy were also checking me out, it was kind of disconcerting but I got used to it.

As it got dark, and the two beers I’d bought had ran dry, knowing what previous journeys have been like I put on some warm clothes, bunched up some spare clothes for a pillow, swallowed a sleeping tablet and tried very hard to grab some sleep before sunrise… 11 hours to go.

The trains lie by the way… supposedly 17:30 depart 06:30 arrival.. liars, we arrived at 10:30! Anyway.. before we arrived, and after a short and troubled sleep, lots of very random dreams, dreams where I’d be half awake still in the dream and talking to someone who isn’t there! The sun rose and I managed to see a better sunrise than on my trip up to Chiang Mai a few days before. After the lack of sleep, seeing such a peaceful and beautiful sight made my day.

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

After the sun had risen, all you could see for miles was farm areas – usually rice paddies – nothing really descript but still eye candy for a foreigner in a strange land. Not far from Bangkok luckily with my camera still in hand, I randomly saw from the corner of my eye a couple of men in the distance, the idea of capturing people in a candid way, doing what they’re doing, going about their own business always appeals to me. So I fired off a shot, I didn’t know if the exposure or levels were right in any way, let alone the focus, yet I was so pleasantly surprised by the turnout of the photo.. I’d captured a moment that was seemingly unnoticed, unprepared and… well… I’m very pleased with the outcome, and it’s up there, if not the favourite photo of the journey.

Two rural fishermen on the outskirts of Bangkok

Two rural fishermen on the outskirts of Bangkok

And from there, really, not much to be honest… I headed over to the Saphai Pae hostel (who had put their prices up since last time I stayed 7 days ago!) grabbed a shower using someone else’s towel, and chilled in reception trying as hard as I could to avoid spending money. I actually went up to bed around 7pm, still quite tired from the sleepless train journey, and watched Game of Thrones before falling asleep.

I woke up around 8am thanks to the others in the dorm, but still I sat watching Game of Thrones again from the previous night, preciously using as much time as possible doing nothing because the alternative was to go and spend stupid money on a drink or a meal downstairs.. I somehow managed to while a few hours away.. just enough to get me to my usual ‘safe’ time to arrive at the airport without freaking out that I’d be late for a flight. Airport prices for everything were tripled so I grabbed a water and a Minute Maid orange, held out until I was called for boarding, got on the plane and we were off.

We landed in Hanoi for the flight transfer, 4 hours wait and I mostly spent it wandering around, in the smoking room or near the smoking room because the nearby business lounge WiFi was in range. Time pretty much flew by.. coffcoffbullshitcoffcoff.. but I was called for my flight and had to leave Hanoi

Heavy hearted for leaving beautiful Thailand behind, heading to a beautiful cold country, the in-flight entertainment wasn’t working throughout the flight so I slept as much as possible, enjoyed the refreshments as much as possible, and did anything I could to pass the time, before we landed ahead of time. The captain spieled his usual ‘welcome to London’ speech, followed by “it’s -6 out there, clear skies, and the local time is 06:30”.. -6!!!! a whole 40 degrees less than 15 hours ago when I left for the airport, drastically underclothed for the climate, I went straight for Costas upon getting my baggage and ordered the largest caramel soya latté they had whilst waiting and planning my next moves..

At this time of day no-one was up, I’d arranged to go and see Rob and Karina, but of course by the time I would arrive at theirs they’d be away at work, so I resigned to heading to Kingston near them and spending the day until they arrived in coffee shops and wandering around K-Town.

I grabbed the shuttle to the South Terminal, by that time light, and blanketed with snow!

Snow at Gatwick's Shuttle TrainSnow at Gatwick's Shuttle Train

Snow at Gatwick’s Shuttle Train

I spent as much time in the airport as possible, before venturing into the known, but unknown wilderness that is London.

Wat I Did in Chiang Mai

After checking in at Mojito Gardens I headed back to Villa Duang Champa again for a small beer and to catch up on blogging and photo editing. Here I was treated to an amazing traditional Thai dance by two dancers, first with just hands, then an umbrella, then fire and then back to just hands again. The dress they wore was extremely well crafted.

Thai girl doing a traditional Thai dance in Villa Duang Champa, Chiang Mai

Thai girl doing a traditional Thai dance in Villa Duang Champa, Chiang Mai

Thai girl doing a traditional Thai dance in Villa Duang Champa, Chiang Mai

Thai girl doing a traditional Thai dance in Villa Duang Champa, Chiang Mai

Thai girl doing a traditional Thai dance in Villa Duang Champa, Chiang Mai

Thai girl doing a traditional Thai dance in Villa Duang Champa, Chiang Mai

Thai girl doing a traditional Thai dance in Villa Duang Champa, Chiang Mai

Thai girl doing a traditional Thai dance in Villa Duang Champa, Chiang Mai

Typo in the title you say? Nah, wat means “Temple” in Thai.. just before you go accusing me.

I’d spent a couple of days in Chiang Mai, and done relatively little, ate, drank, slept, most of my days were on the bike as well driving out of Chiang Mai on one of my many jaunts.

Well, as my last day on the bike came to a close, I used the day to see the local wats, Chiang Mai has over 200 of them, in and around the city, rivalling Bangkok on sheer volume.

I was still stuck in HDR mode too.. so they’re all in HDR. Absolutely amazing places, and no wonder that backpackers and tourists alike want to meander round them.

HDR Chiang Mai wat

HDR Chiang Mai wat

HDR Chiang Mai wat

HDR Chiang Mai wat

HDR Chiang Mai wat

HDR Chiang Mai wat

HDR Chiang Mai wat

HDR Chiang Mai wat

HDR Chiang Mai wat

HDR Chiang Mai wat

HDR Chiang Mai wat

HDR Chiang Mai wat

HDR Chiang Mai wat

HDR Chiang Mai wat

HDR of a wat in Chiang Mai's grounds

HDR of a wat in Chiang Mai’s grounds

After taking my fill of the beautiful structures I knew I had to go and take my bike back – hoping to get the full, and needed deposit back – before 6pm. Luckily, through gabbing to the guy who rented it to me, I got away without an inspection, maybe because I went to the care of photographing it before I left, and also being friendly to the guy on return. 3000 Baht back in my possession and my last few days in Thailand sorted. I’d asked about staying the night again at Mojito Gardens but they were full, so I also went back to the Green Oasis to book a room for the night, dumped my bag and went back to Mojito Gardens

After showering and refreshing I heard three British accents, Northerners in the dais/gazebo in the centre of the garden. Always loving to hear the accent whilst abroad I asked if I could join them. This is where I met Karl, from Stoke, and Ian and Nick from Leeds.

Of course having lived in Leeds I was able to talk with them about their local areas and all three of them were easy to talk to anyway. The beers came and went, conversation flowed, then before long Jade came to join us – also a Brit, who I chatted to earlier in the day about photography.

Nick playing Jenga outside Mojito Gardens

Nick playing Jenga outside Mojito Gardens

Karl from Stoke, outside at Mojito Gardens

Karl from Stoke, outside at Mojito Gardens

Ian outside Mojito Gardens in Chiang Mai

Ian outside Mojito Gardens in Chiang Mai

Things got a bit messy from here and we stayed up quite late, getting “shh”‘s from the locals and the owners before moving into Nick and Ian’s room for a few final drinks.

Everyone was a bit rough the following day, Jade didn’t surface until late in the afternoon. I woke up and went and sat in the gazebo area, Nick, Ian and Karl joined in brief succession. Karl had found a good place to get breakfast and then decided to go and get a prison massage (if not the best, certainly the most popular in Chiang Mai – me, Nick and Ian sat and had a couple of hairs of the dog, Ian was behaving as they’d booked on an elephant tour the next day.

I’d seen a couple of girls playing Yahtzee nearby, so I went over and tried my hand. Ronja and Lajla from Germany, and it’s called ‘Super’ not Yahtzee in Germany. After working out what the German scoring types were, I lost the subsequent three hands, and suggested they come and join us on the gazebo.

Jade had arisen, and Vicky, her friend from Surrey also joined, and by this time Karl had come back too, so we had a nice little gathering before deciding to head out to Zoe’s a local gathering place with music and drinks.

Jade and Vicky at Zoe's in Chiang Mai

Jade and Vicky at Zoe’s in Chiang Mai

Nick and Me at Zoe's in Chiang Mai

Nick and Me at Zoe’s in Chiang Mai

Ronja and Lajla at Zoe's in Chiang Mai

Ronja and Lajla at Zoe’s in Chiang Mai

We didn’t have a very late night, as most had booked on tours the next day, and were getting bothered by one hawker who I bought a bracelet from earlier in the evening.

One of the jewellery sellers at Zoes in Chiang Mai

One of the jewellery sellers at Zoes in Chiang Mai

So we all headed to a few bars playing live music (quite well I might add, the Thai rendition of ‘Killing in the Name of‘ certainly had me up and moshing) but ended up in the end meandering our respective ways home. Considering my new guest house was only a 6 minute walk… to spend 1 and a half hours trying to find it was a bit curious.. I ended up in the open air guest house lobby, on a chair, with my bags, four foot from the bed I’d booked, and slept like a baby until morning (apparently ignoring the owners shaking trying to wake me up and the mosquitoes feasting on me all night). Not the best start to my last day in Chiang Mai before heading back to Bangkok.

Living the Life of Pai

My longest planned journey by bike yet, I woke up Saturday morning and left my big backpack with the guest house I was staying at. Loaded up on supplies and drove off.

In the wrong direction! This is me, of course, I kind of did a semi-circle around from North to East, driving for an hour before I decided that the road signs I was seeing weren’t right. I stopped at a coffee shop with wifi and located myself – abused myself mentally and then double backed, back towards Chiang Mai.

It did give me a chance to stop at a viewing point and have a Korean guy take my photo.

Me sitting on a barrier at one of the viewpoints overlooking Chiang Mai

Me sitting on a barrier at one of the viewpoints overlooking Chiang Mai

The two outer roads in Chiang Mai are one way, with few U-Turn possibilities. I ended up on the right road thanks to a friendly American who spotted me with a map, and I was off! Because of the wrong way fiasco I had to refuel. It’s just two roads to Pai, one is a motorway heading North out of Chiang Mai, then a left turn onto the road of death (RoD), the 1095 from Chiang Mai to Pai! Before the RoD I refuelled to the top, not knowing if I’d get another chance along the way.

The turn off to the 1095 road towards Pai

The turn off to the 1095 road towards Pai

The first stretch of the road is easy going, you can get up to 80 for prolonged periods of time. It’s scattered with small towns and villages either side, and the usual beautiful Thailand scenery. There comes a point however when the roads start getting a bit narrower, and then the curves, bends and twists hit.. Literally every 100 metres, give or take, you will see a warning sign to slow down, that there’s an incline or a decline (is that what the opposite is?) a sharp left, sharp right, hairpin, sharp left then right, or sharp right then left, slow down to 30, etc..

The first stretch of the 1095 road from Chiang Mai to Pai

The first stretch of the 1095 road from Chiang Mai to Pai

This goes on for approximately 70km. I was told it was a two and a half hour ride total, it took me 5 – yeah okay I was being the overly conscious driver that I am, wasn’t doing the 50km/h that I’d heard was possible, even 40 at some of the less tight corners and I was veering into the opposite lane. What beautiful scenery though, wow! The main reason it took me so long was that I was stopping so frequently to photograph the amazing views.

The video above doesn’t really show the curves until around 1 minute in.

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

At one point a convoy of porsches drove past, around 30 – 40 of them, “Drive of the Year 2013” must be some kind of tour/paid event.

The Drive of the Year 2013 Porsches heading to Pai

The Drive of the Year 2013 Porsches heading to Pai

Then when I stopped for a coffee at a really beautifully designed coffee shop an almighty roar of bike engines went past, slowed, turned around and came to the coffee shop, around 20 bikers on racing bikes pulled up so I got the chance to photograph them too.

The beautiful coffee shop on the 1095 road to Pai

The beautiful coffee shop on the 1095 road to Pai

Just some of the sports bikers who stopped at the cafe on the road to Pai

Just some of the sports bikers who stopped at the cafe on the road to Pai

It does get very cold in places though, something I’d yet to experience in the oven-hot temperatures elsewhere in the country.. My hands were numb, I only had (I thought) a jumper with me to go over my measly thin shirt, and my bottoms which are also thin.. So I was stopping and pausing in the few brief glints of sunlight through the mountains just to get my hands back to normal temperature. At most it must have been about 10 degrees, but when you couple in the wind factor from driving, it may have been around 5 in all.

Luckily it was one road though so I didn’t have to pay attention to a lot of signs, except the warning ones. Around 4pm the road got extremely dodgy, hairpin bends downhill one after another. I nearly wiped out on one of them by undercutting the road and ending up on the verge. The verge itself was a couple of inches of tarmac and then a dip, so, very luckily, I was able to right myself and get back onto the road – I stopped and gasped for a second.. got my head right and carried on. Maybe 15 – 20 hairpins later the road evened out, the weather got warmer and I was able to increase my speed.

Even more beautiful scenery came into view, terraced farming communities to the left, not far after hitting the ‘welcome to Pai’ sign, 33km to go. The petrol gauge that was worrying me throughout – as it seemed to go from full to empty super fast, and there’s no stations on the road – seemed to have stuck at half full for about 40km, so I wasn’t panicking so much. The road got even straighter and I was back to doing 80 again for a short while.

Terraced farming just outside Pai

Terraced farming just outside Pai

Terraced farming just outside Pai

Terraced farming just outside Pai

Terraced farming just outside Pai

Terraced farming just outside Pai

The memorial bridge was signposted as being 8km away, and I knew that to be close to the centre of Pai. I stopped there as the sun was dropping and saw people washing themselves in the river and catching fish.

Man fishing and bathing in the river below the memorial bridge in Pai

Man fishing and bathing in the river below the memorial bridge in Pai

Man fishing and bathing in the river below the memorial bridge in Pai

Man fishing and bathing in the river below the memorial bridge in Pai

Man fishing and bathing in the river below the memorial bridge in Pai

Man fishing and bathing in the river below the memorial bridge in Pai

Then, before I knew it I was in Pai! What a stunning little place this is.. I felt my blood pressure drop hard as I took in the clean air and golden sunlight vistas. I had to find a place with wifi so I could locate my guest house, and once again it turned out I was very close. I drank my coffee and headed there. Just over a small bridge and a lefft turn I arrived at Darling Viewpoint Bungalows – this place is so perfect, all wood and hammocks, cushioned living, easy going. I was greeted by Sophie the owner’s niece who asked me by my name which was a nice touch. I checked in and was shown around, I was upstairs in the main bungalow in a 4-bed dorm, but as I went up the steps, the balcony overlooking Pai blew me away.

Darling Viewpoint Bungalow upper deck

Darling Viewpoint Bungalow upper deck

Beautiful lights over the pool at Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

Beautiful lights over the pool at Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

I showered and sat on the balcony camera in hand waiting for the sun to go down over the distant mountains.

Sunset view from the Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

Sunset view from the Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

It was getting dark so I quickly headed into town for supplies and came back to meet the other guests. A huge campfire was lit, and we went and sat on the benches surrounding it, beers in hand, and talked long into the night. It was around 3am before I dragged myself to bed, knowing I’d had to do the long journey back the next day, I was told though that there are 2 waterfalls in the vicinity that are free to go and see, which would also take some time – I’d have to leave for Chiang Mai no later than 12:00 otherwise it would get too cold and potentially dark on the way back.

The campfire at Darling Viewpoint Bungalows

The campfire at Darling Viewpoint Bungalows

The campfire at Darling Viewpoint Bungalows

The campfire at Darling Viewpoint Bungalows

I woke up around 8, feeling a bit worse for wear, so had a stodgy breakfast and coffee, and then sat gathering my thoughts. Chatted to the guesthouse owner, Darling, and Peter the husband and Sophie his niece, before checking out, thanking them for the experience and heading to the Mor Paeng waterfall. These were the worst roads I’ve come across yet, potholes the size of two pillows stacked on top of each other, and camoflaged in the shadow of trees, so it was slow going. Passed by one lady who made a ‘cigarette to mouth’ gesture. I was smoking so I presumed she wanted one, I asked and she said “no, ganja?”.. Uhm, no thanks, and on my way.. Another lady up the road gestured the same but I declined, and then before long the waterfall was close.

I arrived to the parking area and a guy, Italian, or French maybe took a dirt track to the left.. Thinking this was the way to the waterfall I went up there, steep as hell, rocky, came close to the guy and asked where the waterfall is, he told me it was back the way I came so I tried to turn the bike around.. what a disaster, the bike toppled left, so I only had control of the accelerator handle, revving the enging all to hell gashing my leg on the way down and worst of all scratching the front fender and left wing mirror slightly (there goes the deposit, or some of it). Cursing myself and in sight of the guy, feeling foolish, leg bleeding and hurting, I picked up the bike and dusted myself off before getting to the parking area.

From the parking area it was a short, but slippery walk to the waterfall, there was a family there and I wasn’t so impressed by the fall itself, but I sat there quietly contemplating life and listening to the water flowing and taking pictures. One of the family’s children was naked so I couldn’t shoot the whole scene, luckily they weren’t in key positions to ruin the photos I took.

Mor Paeng Waterfall in Pai

Mor Paeng Waterfall in Pai

Mor Paeng Waterfall in Pai

Mor Paeng Waterfall in Pai

It was around 12, so I scrambled back up to the bike, and rode back slowly over the treacherous roads to Pai. I drove around Pai trying to work out which direction Chiang Mai was, eventually found a signpost and followed it, stopping to fully refuel along the way.

HDR

One of the things I really wanted to do whilst in Thailand was experiment with my photography, I’ve done HDR before but I gave up for a long while, with such beautiful scenery around, and having shot most of it on the way up here, I thought on the way back I’d shoot some HDR photos. Cautious that I’d set off for Chiang Mai later than the previous day setting off for Pai, I knew I’d have to hurry up and stop less. Stupidly I’d found the last night that I’d actually packed an extra shirt and pair of trousers, and knowing what it was like on the way up, I wore everything I had for the way back down.

HDR shot of the view from Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

HDR shot of the view from Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

HDR shot of the view from Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

HDR shot of the view from Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

HDR shot of the scenery en route from Pai to Chiang Mai

HDR shot of the scenery en route from Pai to Chiang Mai

HDR shot of the scenery en route from Pai to Chiang Mai

HDR shot of the scenery en route from Pai to Chiang Mai

HDR shot of the scenery en route from Pai to Chiang Mai

HDR shot of the scenery en route from Pai to Chiang Mai

I also saw the porsches on the return leg of their journey!

One of the Drive of the Year 2013 Porsches heading back to Chiang Mai

One of the Drive of the Year 2013 Porsches heading back to Chiang Mai

I had another near death experience, some idiot was overtaking on a hairpin, despite the no overtaking signs, I had undercut the curve on the opposite side and couldn’t see what was coming, luckily though I evened out and missed the minivan, both of us going around 30, by a few inches. That was it, no more cutting on to the wrong side to save some time.

My route, wrong at first, from Chiang Mai to Pai and back

My route, wrong at first, from Chiang Mai to Pai and back

Slightly warmer than the last time, though I’m not sure if it was because it was a different level of sunlight at a different time of day, I made it back to Chiang Mai in less than it took me to get to Pai, around 4 and a half hours total.. I went to grab my backpack which luckily still had my laptop and everything in, moved onto my next place, the Mojito Gardens 2, checked in, showered, and relaxed..

Bed Shaking Waking Me in Chiang Mai

Arrived in Chiang Mai by train around 3pm – bleary eyed, lack of sleep, I’d sat for the last 5 hours in 3rd class to take photos of the sunrise and scenery. I’m pretty glad I didn’t sleep, and likely in future I’ll take a long train journey during the light hours so I can photograph, because it seems that I can’t sleep on any public transport.

I went to meet Julia and Nina in the next carriage when we landed, and we grabbed our bags and moved off. They’d met two German guys Chris and Simon the day before and we all met up off the train. I was a bit stressy from the lack of sleep so I meandered off outside the station to the café nearby and ordered a mixed fruit shake, shoo-ing off tuk tuk and taxi drivers wanting my fare!

The four of them joined me and ordered food, I chatted to the two German guys and found out that they’d booked a guest house in Chiang Mai, close to the outer wall, North West and so I approached a taxi driver to see if he could take us there, and to haggle a good price (from 50 baht each to 35) I told him to wait 5 minutes until they finished their food and when they’d finished we set off to SpicyThai guest house.

Because the German guys had a reservation they were let in, and the owner asked if we had one, to which we were then told that only 1 night for each of us as they’re full. Fair enough, and not willing to go to another place, we checked in, payed the 220 baht + 200 baht key deposit and 30 baht towel deposit.

This was around 29 hours since my last shower, so the first thing I did was that.. cold, aye, stinging, aye, comfortable this was not, but I was clean, and that was shower marked off the food, shower, sleep list. I wanted to chill for a bit so we sat, met the other residents, and a few of us wanted to go and get food “FOOD CRAWL” was shouted, and a couple of others joined.. We wandered around 500 metres to a recommended local good Thai food place, and en route I chatted to Emily from the US, she was planning to head up to Pai on Saturday by bike – 149km – I said that I’d join her, up for the challenge and Pai sounded like a nice place to visit.

After dinner I headed back to relax, preparing to mark the last thing off my list. I hooked up online, half watched a couple of films and wrote a couple of blogs so that I was up to date, sorted my accomodation in Pai, and also for the next night in Chiang Mai. I knew that I’d have to get up early to hire the bike so I had a not late, but not early night.

Shake Awake!

Woke up quite frequently in the night, but around 7am to the guy in the bunk below “rhythmically” shaking the bed.. thinking that he was on his own, I made aware that I was awake thanks to him and tried to go back to sleep. I couldn’t though as the bed started shaking again, so I got up.. on the way out I noticed two pairs of feet sticking out of the bed.

I grabbed a shower and headed back up, they were still at it! So I took all my gear and checked out, then sat in the lobby saying hi to everyone from the previous night. I left my luggage and went out to hire a bike. Each place wanted my passport (no!) or a 3000 Baht deposit, so I wandered to an ATM – ended up wandering quite far and somehow did a round circle back to the guest house… I watched the latest Total Recall and chatted some more to the other guests.

The guest house owner had heard rumours of the libertine guy in the bunk below me, and asked me for more details, then went upstairs to sort it out – he also said that after hiring a Thai girl, he had a Western girl in his bed after! Nina and Julia came downstairs, but really only had time to chat quickly before I picked up my stuff to go to the next guest house.

My first, and only tuk tuk in Thailand - Chiang Mai

My first, and only tuk tuk in Thailand – Chiang Mai

A typical Chiang Mai street

A typical Chiang Mai street

I did my usual zig-zagging through the city to find it, stopping at the rather awesome Villa Duang Champa for a refreshing small beer.. It also gave me the chance to find out where I was in relation to the guest house, quite close, so I relaxed a little before heading there. Near the guest house was a laundry and a seamstress.. my bag had broken on day 6 leaving me carrying it with one strap, a bit of a pain in the arse so I enquired how much it would cost to fix – 50 baht and done in 15 minutes (a far cry from the ‘all-day £14’ the lady in Kingston charged me) – I said I was going to go to the room and unload the contents and bring it back. I checked into the Green Oasis and unloaded, took my laundry over to the place across the street and paid a little extra (50 baht instead of 40) to get a two hour service instead of next day.. Then I took the bag to the seamstress and headed back to the room for a sit in the reception area.

The Villa Duang Champa, a really nice place to sit and while away the hours

The Villa Duang Champa, a really nice place to sit and while away the hours

After picking up my bag again and loading up, I hit the town.. I tend to breadcrumb wherever I go, mentally, left, left, right, right, that way I know right, right, left, left on the way back. I turned one street and saw a hostel I’d seen listed on TripAdvisor, but hadn’t looked for the reviews, I sat there and had some food, talked to a French guy who does a lot of travelling around, made a note of the place as it looked like it was okay, friendly staff and people and the price was the same as what I was paying at my current place. I paid a deposit for my return from Pai and meandered back left, right left, right, left, right to get my laundry.

Chiang Mai is a bit cooler than Bangkok, by around 6 degrees, so it’s really nice – not too hot, not too cold, and no need to take #2 of my usual 3 daily showers (travel days an exception) Though I did wash my feet, the Macbeth’s I’ve been wearing are near toxic, so it’s unfair to force that on anyone but me. After getting my laundry I hit the town again.. As I liked Villa Duang Champa so much I thought I’d head there to see about some food, and sat down – on my own.. I ate and drank and paid.. not long before leaving, the musician who had been sitting behind me the whole time presented me with a drawing!!

Tom, the musician at the Villa Duang Champa drew this of me whilst I ate

Tom, the musician at the Villa Duang Champa drew this of me whilst I ate

Love it, it hit a certain note with me, something about the loneliness yet serene mood I was in (lonely is not a negative in this meaning) I thanked him profusely before offering a tip for the drawing of 50 Baht. Smiling all the way back to the guest house I took a few pics

One of the many wats, or temples, in Chiang Mai, Thailand

One of the many wats, or temples, in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chatted with some of the guys and the owner in there before realising I needed to head to Pai quite early as well as hire a bike the next day and then turned in.

My First Visible Sunrise in Thailand

There’s not much wording to this blog, I’ll grant you, but then how do you describe a 20 hour door to door journey with no sleep? Well, here goes anyway:

Left the hostel at 18:30 aiming for a taxi to get us to Hua Lamphong train station.. we waited half an hour, getting refused once for some reason and refusing a tuk tuk driver.. The third attempt picked us up and for 100 baht took us to the train station in time for the 19:35.

Wrong!

No mention of the 19:35 once we got there and the ticket guy said 2nd class seated tickets only available, knowing we had to either choose that option or go back to Saphae Pai for another night, we all chose the former and waited until 10pm for the next train.

On the train, once again picked the wrong seat and was ousted on the next stop by the owner, so went to my original seat and there was a French girl sitting with her friend.. She told me I could have hers, which was a window seat so I wasn’t very pushy about it and accepted.

Some guy sat next to me, which proved to be a bind with cigarette breaks and climbing over him. After a million years I got to sleep for like 6 seconds, and after 8 hours of nothingness and a sore arse I moved into third class as the light started coming up, determined that ‘sod it, I’ll sleep when I get there’.

And here’s where the following photos happened, from 6:30 to around 13:00 – there’s not much explaining to them, but I sat wide-eyed for that long taking photos.

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sunrise en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Scenery en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Scenery en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Scenery en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Scenery en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Scenery en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Scenery en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Scenery en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Scenery en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Scenery en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Scenery en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

 

We arrived at around 3pm to Chiang Mai, and followed two guys that they’d met on the train to their guest house, hoping for a spare room for us three.. Luckily, for one night there was room, so we showered, went to find food, and I’m sat here blogging and image editing.. At least I’ve secured my plans for the next two days, hire a bike first thing, get my stuff over to the hostel, then drive up to Pai on Saturday. Until then, ciao!

Rooftop Bar View – Stunning

A really short minivan ride back to Bangkok, 2 and a half hours long, 120km speeds, this guy was more maniacal than the one down, but thankfully arrived back to Victory Monument in one piece!

A short BTS ride to Surasak and from there it was a short 5 minute walk to the really clean, centrally located, and modern Saphai Pae Hostel. After dumping my stuff and showering, I headed down for a shake in the outside bar.. The really great thing about backpacking/travelling, is that you say hello to someone, they say hello back, and that friendship could last for a day, a minute, or a lifetime. A couple of Aussies turned up – I happen to like Aussies that aren’t too up themselves – so we got to chatting. Nick and Chris had just come back from what sounds like a hedonistic and amazing Cambodia-by-Motorbike trip. There was also a girl who was chatting called Manon, from the Netherlands, and she was wearing short shorts – remember that because it’s important later on!

Manon, from The Netherlands

Manon, from The Netherlands

Chris from Australia

Chris from Australia

Nick from Australia

Nick from Australia

I’d already contacted STA travel to organise the trip back, aware that each day that passed my money was running out, and making it difficult to sustain myself. I took to Twitter at one point to complain about the level of service and within a short amount of time the customer service advisor got back to me, and had pointed out to the team who would sort this out to get back in touch with me sharpish.. I’d ranted and they reacted, in a professional way, so thanks STA travel, you’ve redeemed yourselves, and now I have a fixed date of the 21st to return and sort home life out.

Anyway, back to Nick and Chris, cause this is quite funny, their only horror story of 3 weeks of motorbike travel was running out of petrol in the middle of nowhere, having to get a pick up to… well… pick them up, and drop them off for a small fee and refuel. Anyway, they were both leaving the next day around 5pm flight, and this was getting late, they’d ad a few already and some others had turned up.. They were waiting for their friend who they met in Cambodia to turn up and head out to some club. Already tired I declined the opportunity to join them.

So this guy turns up, clearly drunk already at midnight, but we sat until 1 chatting and laughing. This guy’s flight was at 10am – now you have to factor in getting up, checking out (fair enough it’s 24 hours) and getting to the airport for rush hour. But, they all went out and I was left to my own devices.. i.e. sleeping.

Crazy Brummie Guy, already drunk at 11pm

Crazy Brummie Guy, already drunk at 11pm

Woke up quite early (for me) and had a shake and some breakfast, did my laundry and sat on the internet to work out what I was going to do. This guy turns up, already late for his flight by one hour.. He looks red eyed, slurry, and explains his story:

They went out to a club, around 3pm changed to another.. ANYWAY.. turns out this guy wanded off around 5pm, woke up in a park, no passport, wallet, or phone.. he’d come back to the hostel where Nick and Chris had his bag at 9:55 – 5 minutes to his flight. Harrassed reception to wake them up, and he completely missed his flight. So, word of warning there folks – I’ve seen this happen twice now. I saw him wandering around the hostel and visiting the cop shop which is pretty close by, to report and arrange a replacement passport at the embassy. And this is me saying this now, so remember it.. Don’t get stupid the night before a big event, because chances are you’ll cock up.

I was still in the midst of the STA travel debacle so I spent the whole day online trying to sort it out. Meanwhile Manon had come down and had – at first count – 53 bites on one leg alone.. not including any other – equally bitten – parts of her body.. Imagine falling into stinging nettles naked, then rolling around!

Manon's bitten leg

Manon’s bitten leg

Nick and Chris came down bleary eyed too, but with a more sensibly timed flight to catch – exchanged goodbyes and they left to go home. Me and Manon sat chatting and a friend she’s met, Joe, came and joined – he’s teaching TEFL at a Bangkok school and having a great time, he’s also coincidentally from Mum’s side of town, Newcastle, and – rarely – a thoroughly nice English chap! Coincidentally Joe (Burton) if you’re reading this he had an accent like yours! Trés strange..

They both wandered off and I took to browsing ThaiVisa.com this is a forum for ex-pats and travellers alike, sharing advice, asking questions, and offering up tales of woe from the guys thinking they’d scored a beautiful, often younger Thai girl, and they fleece them for all their worth before – sometimes – offing them via a hired hit man and claiming insurance.

I shared a few drinks with some guys, Nina from Germany, Julia from Spain, Ugo from Rio and David from Hong Kong, we played Jenga until the early hours. STA travel eventually confirmed the return flight FoC on the 21st, so I could finally relax, and carry on the Jenga.

David playing Jenga in the Saphae Pai Hostel

David playing Jenga in the Saphae Pai Hostel

I’d planned to leave that day, but because of the STA travel stuff and the train to Chiang Mai taking me overnight and at prime UK internet hours, I decided I’d go up the next day.. This coincided with Julia and Nina also heading up there so we said we’d go together. They’re a pretty nice bunch of folks, each with their own story of course.

Nina, Ugo, Julia and Anja at Saphai Pae Hostel

Nina, Ugo, Julia and Anja at Saphai Pae Hostel

We decided to head up to the Roof Bar at Lebua at State Tower – wow, what a view, 360 panoramic of the whole of Bangkok, but very busy.. very busy, I heard the best time to go up was sunset, but we were leaving the next day before having the chance to see it twice.

View from the rooftop bar at Lebua at State Tower

View from the rooftop bar at Lebua at State Tower

View from the rooftop bar at Lebua at State Tower

View from the rooftop bar at Lebua at State Tower

View from the rooftop bar at Lebua at State Tower

View from the rooftop bar at Lebua at State Tower

Once was enough.. Even though Ugo didn’t get let in on dress code, me, Anja, Julia and Nina went up to take in Bangkok.. Julia went off with three rather tall German guys to go clubbing, so after a huge amount of photos I went down with Anja and Nina back to the hostel.. halfway back Ugo shouted our names and he was outside an Irish pub.. so cutting our losses we joined him and took a massive 500ml of Hooegarden before nearly staggering home!

500ml of Hooegarden in the Irish pub

500ml of Hooegarden in the Irish pub – iPhone used as frame of reference

Woke up with a cold thanks to the air-con.. con alright! Keeps you cool in hot temperatures and gives you sniffles, a cough and a cold! Fans from now on! Spent nigh on all day editing the photos from the rooftop bar and drank my own bodyweight in shakes, before we three set off for the 7:35 to Chiang Mai!

Last Days in Hua Hin, Visiting the Beach and Saying Goodbye

This has been a bit long in the making, I’ve had a few personal issues which led to me sort of shutting down and panicking for a brief moment.. Now I’m back on form, thought I’d write about my trip on a bike down to Sam Roi Yot beach.

The day after arriving to Peter and Dtor’s and realising that it’s quite far out from the centre of Hua Hin, decided to hire a bike for the next two days. Peter recommended a good rental place, and once again I was free to go where I pleased.

The first day all I really did was get to know the surroundings – especially my way back and forth from Peter and Dtor’s, and catching up on blogging at ‘The Shed‘ guest house with a plethora of shakes. For those following my Facebook, this was the first time I also got stopped by the traffic cops for my non-Thai appearance and asked for my licence:

Loud whistling
“License”
“Oh, I didn’t think I needed a licence to drive this”
“License at home?”
“No license”
“Over there please” “What happen to nose?”
“Oh this? It was sunburn”

Two more traffic cops sat behind a desk, both of whom didn’t speak English asked for my passport via the English speaking traffic cop.

“Where you go”
Told them Peter’s village name
“When you leave?”
“A few days I think”
“You from England?”
“Yes, London”
“Ah Chelsea!”
“Yes but I’m an Arsenal fan”
“Not the same since Robin Van Persie left”
“Ha!” “So you support Chelsea?”
“No, Man Utd”

Whereupon I was issued a 200 Baht fine, they were remarkably pleasant I must add, given a slip of paper, and asked politely to go on my way.

“But I still don’t have a license, can I drive the bike?”
“Yes, 24 hours with ticket”
“Thank you, I’m so very sorry I really didn’t know you need a license”
“It okay, okay, you like Thai girls?”
“Yeah but that’s not why I’m here”
“Oh you like men?”
“Ha, no”
Laughter from all the cops
“Okay, good luck, happy new year, bye”

Straight to ‘The Shed’ again to Google license necessity for Thailand! Turns out they were right, so I guess I was just unlucky to get stopped, you do need a license but no-one ever asks for it when you hire a bike – oh, and as a side note, you should never hand your passport out – take a photocopy and give it to the rental place – if they don’t accept it then go to another.. If you’re stopped and you don’t have a passport then you could get in big trouble.

And, as Dtor said when I told her, it’s cheaper than a taxi fare! Ha, so true.. I guess at the end of the day it’s gonna happen, and worse will befall you if you get angry about it or with them, so smile, say sorry, go about your day.

After finishing up the blogs it was around time to head home before it got dark. Driving around is dodgy enough in the day, I’m a bit like my mum when it comes to driving in the dark, forget it! If you add my virgin driving skills together with insane drivers on Thai roads, and the only protection a styrofoam helmet, I’d rather not risk it.

Peter suggested that we go back into town, that he was going to drive us in, he’d switch the car for the bike, and drive home on it, then I could see the night market and check out Boots the chemist! Ha, 5,400 miles away from home and there’s a bloody Boots here! Then I could head over to the shop for about 10 to 10 and get a lift back with Dtor after she closed the shop. Peter also suggested that I could stay another night, which I gladly accepted, and we headed into Hua Hin.

I didn’t go to the night market, I was set on doing the last blog I’d photographed for, all about the Family Tree and its beautiful products. So, after visiting Boots, getting some Tylenol, Ibruprofen and some back ache pads – headed back to ‘The Shed’ and sat and blogged (and got bitten by mozzies all to hell).

Finally finished it at 9:30, so sat and enjoyed life passing by, and a very generous glass of Merlot from the Mancunian owner, then headed back to the shop just 5 minutes away.

When I got there, supposed to be closing at 10, a pair of Chinese girls were racking up the total by buying lots of the beautiful soaps and lotions from the Bangkok women’s group. However, they were after a huge discount – and getting quite stressy when they weren’t offered it – fair enough haggling is bound to happen, but these girls were asking for more than it was profitable for the shop to let them go at.. You have to make more than you buy the item for and I saw for a moment, just how calm and balanced Dtor is! I’d have straight kicked them out of the shop.. and I dare them to try that to an Arabian merchant haha! They’d get laughed out of the shop.

But, then a really nice pair of ladies walked in, one from Sweden, one from Denmark, they’d become very good friends in the last day just by being neighbours in their hotel.. Such warmth and smiles in direct comparison to the two Chinese girls previous. After they’d bought some beautiful jewellery and been given a small gift FoC from Dtor, they left beaming and we could shut the shop up.

After telling Dtor how amazing I thought she handled the rude Chinese girls, we had a great chat about Buddhism and the principles.. now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a religious man, neither am I some hippy, but Buddhism and it’s way of life suddenly seemed really appealing.. For one it’s nothing like Christianity, Catholicism, or any of the main organised religions.. You study and learn, and – at after a certain point you can choose to become a buddhist if you wish, or not, or whatever you like.. Instead of having to become a Christian/etc.. and then learning more about it – I find buddhism fascinating, positive, rewarding and maybe I’ll read some more about it.

We said goodnight, and I slept, as usual, to Blackadder playing on my laptop!

Beach day!

The previous day Peter had mentioned Sam Roi Yot beach as a long, but well worth it ride.. we were both up around 8:00, and after coffee and a cigarette he suggested leaving early to make the most of it, and it’s around an hour and a half’s drive away.

Hopped on the scooter, and drove – I still can’t get over what an amazing experience this is! Within 20 minutes I was outside Hua Hin and the roads were less busy.. Peter had given me some awesome directions which I saved as a pic to my iPhone, as I knew I may not be within wifi range out in the sticks. It took slightly longer than 2 hours, mostly because I went one turning too far and drove for 10 minutes before realising my mistake, asking a local for the Tesco Lotus which is a key landmark for the route, and heading on my way.

Water mirages on one of the many long stretches of road en route from Hua Hin to Sam Roi Yot

Water mirages on one of the many long stretches of road en route from Hua Hin to Sam Roi Yot

Stunning scenery.. peaceful, quiet, no cars on the road, to the left and right were mountains, farms and – okay, at one point – some nasty swamp that I’d hate to be living near to!

One of the swamps en route from Hua Hin to Sam Roi Yot beach

One of the swamps en route from Hua Hin to Sam Roi Yot beach

Stunning roadside scenery en route from Hua Hin to Sam Roi Yot

Stunning roadside scenery en route from Hua Hin to Sam Roi Yot

One of the many cattle farms en route from Hua Hin to Sam Roi Yot, a cow pictured

One of the many cattle farms en route from Hua Hin to Sam Roi Yot, a cow pictured

Is this a Heron...? I'm not sure, but there's loads of them in Thailand

Is this a Heron…? I’m not sure, but there’s loads of them in Thailand

The real beauty was, after turning off at Tesco Lotus it was nigh on a straight road all the way there! I eventually arrived to Sam Roi Yot beach, running low on fuel so I needed to refill – found a road side local shop with a petrol pump and decided the 50 Baht per litre was a bit expensive, and only got one litre, then sat in a beachside bar having a well deserved mango and passion fruit shake! (The best shake I’ve had so far). Possibly the only down side was that it’s a place for high end tourists, and people that can afford a beach-side condo.. At the bar I had eyes on me for my tattoos, and travelly appearance. Mostly by a German family who clearly had money.. I had my ‘dude it’s a free country’ hat on, and ignored, enjoying the sun and shake.

This beach is damn long.. like at least two miles, I drove up and down it once before heading to the far end, parking up the bike, changing into shorts and t-shirt, taking off the flip flops and walked a mile up the beach half in and half out of the water.

This gave me a lot of time to think, and photograph of course!

The beach at Sam Roi Yot

The beach at Sam Roi Yot

The beach at Sam Roi Yot

The beach at Sam Roi Yot

The beach at Sam Roi Yot

The beach at Sam Roi Yot

The beach at Sam Roi Yot

The beach at Sam Roi Yot

The beach at Sam Roi Yot

The beach at Sam Roi Yot

The beach at Sam Roi Yot

The beach at Sam Roi Yot

Wise from the last motorcycle outing, I’d covered my arms and neck with sun cream… but, stupidly not my legs (the last 4 days have been very painful, and would be more so if it wasn’t for the Aloe Vera from Dtor – thank you so much!!) I’d walked as far as I could so I turned back, stopped halfway for a shake and a meal, the owner of the place had a real nice bike, a Honda Steed:

Honda Steed belonging to the owner of the Monkey Beach Bar, Sam Roi Yot Beach, Thailand

Honda Steed belonging to the owner of the Monkey Beach Bar, Sam Roi Yot Beach, Thailand

One thing I’ve noticed in Thailand, heat haze! Jeez, makes it near impossible for a photographer to get some good shots of anything more than 500 metres away.. There were islands just offshore, but thanks to the haze they haven’t come out well in the photos.

The beach at Sam Roi Yot

The beach at Sam Roi Yot

I finally reached my bike, thankful it was still there, after about 2 hours walking (and burning my legs).. so I changed back to long sleeve and bottoms, and set off back home. I could have felt sad for leaving such a beautiful vista behind, except put me on a motorbike and watch me smile!

I arrived back in Hua Hin in just under the time it took me to get to Sam Roi Yot – near the San Paulo hospital though were traffic cops, they eyed me – waved their implements in their hands and whistled whilst pointing me to park up.. bar-stewards!! Knowing I had the ticket from yesterday, and although it was out of time (by around 2 hours) the traffic cop pulled me over.

“License”
“Ah, no I don’t have a license”
“400 Baht”
“400? Oh, but I have this from yesterday” and pulled out the slip
“Ah, 200 Baht”
“Really? But..” oh stuff it, act nice, say sorry, hand over the cash

Then, the guy looks around and pockets the 200 Baht.. sneakily.. little sneaky so and so!

“Do I get a ticket? Like this??”
“No, now go, bye”

Well, cheaper than a taxi fare, and 200 Baht cheaper than he originally wanted. But sensed this was going to be a regular occurence in Hua Hin, so I was glad my bike was going back in the morning.. maybe if you’re going to rent a bike, try and think of it costing 350 Baht per day, rather than the hire of 150.. that way if you get lucky you’re saving money if you don’t get stopped by the traffic cops!

Back to Dtor and Peter’s place to help with the online marketing of The Family Tree, before going to sleep..

The next day I was heading back to Bangkok, never outstay your welcome of course! And before heading to the minivan, Peter and Dtor offered to buy me breakfast and I went with them whilst they went to the local school that Louie would like to go to in May, I stayed in the car whilst they made their best effort to come across as nice people (not very hard) and to try and beat the insane competition to secure a place for Louie. Now I know what dogs feel like when they’re locked in a car! Wow.. sweat dripping off me, I eventually fell asleep – feeling lucky that I’d brought some water with me.

They came back and we headed to nearr the shop, me and Dtor went for a shake in the awesome place next door to the shop, but I soon finished and waved goodbye to Dtor and Peter, the kids and the awesome and unique place that’s Hua Hin, destined for bustly Bangkok!

 

The Family Tree, the Most Unique, Interesting, and Beautiful Shop in the Whole of Thailand

The Family Tree in Hua Hin, Thailand

The Family Tree in Hua Hin, Thailand

The Family Tree is a family owned and run business backing onto the beach in Hua Hin, Thailand. This place is beyond words.. Really.. The second you step in you’re greeted by a super-warm smile from Dtor the owner, “sawasdee ka” (hello) and as you wander around looking at all of the amazing, handcrafted and unique products, you’re given a detailed story about the history of the item, information on the groups that have crafted it, and any questions you may have are answered in near perfect English.

You should also watch this video that explains a lot about the shop and its principles, and the story behind the products beautifully made by professional documentary maker, Laco Gaspar, based in Bangkok:

As Hua Hin is generally a place that well-to-do families or people come to have a two week break, the shop is situated perfectly to cater for those looking for a one-of-a-kind item, or present for their friends and family.

I really can’t sing the praises of this beautiful, serene, calm island in a storm enough.. If you visit Thailand, make one of your stops Hua Hin, okay not only for this shop it’s a nice place to visit with beautiful beaches and a good, broad selection of restaurants, hotels and resorts run by local Thais and long-term expats… If you need your creature comforts then this is a fine place to land and gather your senses.

Here’s just some of the amazing pieces on sale, followed by the story behind them..

First of all the silk, the mainstay of the shop, this is naturally dyed using traditional techniques. This silk and colouring has been given multiple awards by the Queen of Thailand. The colours are all natural and found in bark, leaves and berries. The master craftsman responsible for the colouring is Ajarn (teacher) Kor from Surin and he learned this skill from his mother in law. Some of the scarves are all hand dyed and woven by a women’s group – 30 ethnic Soay women from the Prangkeu district in Sri Sakat, North East Thailand – which provides extra income during the quiet times after rice planting and harvesting.

Silks dyed by Ajarn Kor and crafted by ethnic women from Prangkeu district in Sri Sakat

Silks crafted by ethnic women from Prangkeu district in Sri Sakat

Silks dyed by Ajarn Kor and crafted by ethnic women from Prangkeu district in Sri Sakat

Silks crafted by ethnic women from Prangkeu district in Sri Sakat

Silks dyed by Ajarn Kor and crafted by ethnic women from Prangkeu district in Sri Sakat

Silks crafted by ethnic women from Prangkeu district in Sri Sakat

The bags and scarves are made by ethnic Kuy people only once per year. Ebony dyed silk is so special and rare because of the timing and weather during each season. Ebony fruits only flower in the rainy season, if there’s no rain then there’s no fruit to dye the silk.

It’s made by pounding the fruit using a pestle and mortar, and then massaging the dye into the silk, which is then hung out to dry in the sun.

The silk only turns black in the brightest of sunlight so the villagers are dependant on a mix of a perfect sunny season, preceded by a wet and rainy season. The bags are then cut and stitched by another women’s group in Surin. The Tae Moh Hai group (in Dtor’s village) make some of this cloth, and other cloth is sourced from nearby community groups in the area.

Silk scarves and bags dyed ebony by ethnic Kuy people and stitched and cut by women in Surin

Silk scarves and bags dyed ebony by ethnic Kuy people and stitched and cut by women in Surin

There are some stunning examples of fine silverwork that I know girls would love! Again, these are one-of-a-kind items that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Made in Ban Kwao in Surin province. The people are of Khmer descent (Surin is next to Cambodia) and are traditional silversmiths. We buy from a local family in the village, who are keeping the silversmithing traditions alive.

Beautiful silver from Ban Kwao in Surin province

Beautiful silver from Ban Kwao in Surin province

Beautiful silver from Ban Kwao in Surin province

Beautiful silver from Ban Kwao in Surin province

Beautiful silver from Ban Kwao in Surin province

Beautiful silver from Ban Kwao in Surin province

And on to the hats and bags made from Sisal, which grows around 2 metres tall. Each leaf contains around a thousand fibres which can be woven into twine and made into natural products that are beautiful and hard wearing.

Sisal is grown chemical-free at Hup Kapong Royal Project Learning Centre which is just outside Hua Hin in Petchburi. Again the products are made by over 30 housewives in a group and they separate the fibres by hand! before weaving, dying and cutting the Sisal into a variety of unique and eye-catching products. The project itself is initiated by the King of Thailand, and is a good example of best practice in Thai community development. I didn’t get any photos sadly, but when you go you should check them out.

Instead I photographed these bags which are made by a community crafts group in Buriram.

Bags made by a community crafts group in Buriram

Bags made by a community crafts group in Buriram

Bags made by a community crafts group in Buriram

Bags made by a community crafts group in Buriram

The stuff I think my mum, and Aunt Pam would love is the pottery.. Koy and Oh’s pottery is crafted piece by piece from local earth. They explore the synergy between earth, people, nature and art and the pottery shares the transience and uniqueness of each moment. And especially the wonder of rediscovering ordinary objects which are laying around us all the time, going unnoticed!

Koy and Oh both sculpt in the fields, rivers, forests and mountains in the Chiang Mai province. They carefully observe fallen leaves, twigs and stones which are then etched into a single piece: a single moment in art and nature. To protect the environment their work is on a very small scale.

Koy and Oh's beautiful handcrafted pottery from near Chiang Mai

Koy and Oh’s beautiful handcrafted pottery from near Chiang Mai

Koy and Oh's beautiful handcrafted pottery from near Chiang Mai

Koy and Oh’s beautiful handcrafted pottery from near Chiang Mai

Koy and Oh's beautiful handcrafted pottery from near Chiang Mai

Koy and Oh’s beautiful handcrafted pottery from near Chiang Mai

Koy and Oh's beautiful handcrafted pottery from near Chiang Mai

Koy and Oh’s beautiful handcrafted pottery from near Chiang Mai

Recycled products are also a massive part of The Family Tree’s stock, necklaces and jewellery that’s essentially waste paper which gives income to unemployed women in Bangkok. In 1997 after the Asian economic meltdown, training programmes took place in Bangkok to teach alternative occupations to those now looking for work.

Unemployed women from low-income city communities were taught to create products from waste paper and then evolved their teaching to include many different types of discarded paper.

The sales provide fairly-paid home employment to women, many of whom are single parents that work just isn’t possible for.

Jewellery made from recycled paper by Bangkok women's groups

Jewellery made from recycled paper by Bangkok women’s groups

Jewellery made from recycled paper by Bangkok women's groups

Jewellery made from recycled paper by Bangkok women’s groups

There’s also necklaces and purses which are made from recycled food packaging by caretakers in marginalised communities. The purses and necklaces enable vulnerable caretakers and children to become skilled, functional and independent members of their communities.

Necklaces and purses made from recycled plastic waste

Necklaces and purses made from recycled plastic waste

Necklaces and purses made from recycled plastic waste

Necklaces and purses made from recycled plastic waste

The product that hit me the most and made me empathise completely are the recycled coconut jewellery items. The Christian Leprosy foundation was established in 1963, and until 2007 its rehabilitation department built and enhanced the skills of Thais suffering from leprosy, HIV and AIDS and disabilities to help them develop skills, earn extra income and become self sufficient.

Sadly, in 2007 the department closed, but 17 men and women decided to establish the ‘Manorom Group’ to continue the good work. By working together these craftsmen and women support each other to stay positive and earn a wage.

Jewellery made from recycled coconut shells by HIV/AIDS/Leprosy and disability sufferers

Jewellery made from recycled coconut shells by HIV/AIDS/Leprosy and disability sufferers

Jewellery made from recycled coconut shells by HIV/AIDS/Leprosy and disability sufferers

Jewellery made from recycled coconut shells by HIV/AIDS/Leprosy and disability sufferers

Here’s something that London women would go mental for.. Natural hand-made and inspiring soaps created by a women’s cooperative.

After fire destroyed their community in 2004, the Yon Jai Spa women’s cooperative in a slum area of Bangkok, after 4 years waiting to be re-housed, were determinded to embrace a new vision, and took to creating these beautiful cosmetics and soaps to help improve their lives, it provided a vital income.

The women manage the production of their inspiring soaps which are all hand-milled and cut using only fresh and natural ingredients.

Natural hand-made soaps and lotions by a Bangkok women's community after fire devastated their homes

Natural hand-made soaps and lotions by a Bangkok women’s community after fire devastated their homes

Natural hand-made soaps and lotions by a Bangkok women's community after fire devastated their homes

Natural hand-made soaps and lotions by a Bangkok women’s community after fire devastated their homes

Natural hand-made soaps and lotions by a Bangkok women's community after fire devastated their homes

Natural hand-made soaps and lotions by a Bangkok women’s community after fire devastated their homes

Natural hand-made soaps and lotions by a Bangkok women's community after fire devastated their homes

Natural hand-made soaps and lotions by a Bangkok women’s community after fire devastated their homes

Natural hand-made soaps and lotions by a Bangkok women's community after fire devastated their homes

Natural hand-made soaps and lotions by a Bangkok women’s community after fire devastated their homes

This stuff has to be seen and heard to be believed, I urge you next time you visit Thailand to take the short 2.5 hours, 180 Baht trip by minivan to Hua Hin from Bangkok, stay there, absorb, and definitely visit The Family Tree.

Farang or not, I’m still kick ass at pinball!

Finally arrived back in Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong train station, then got the Metro, changing at Mo Chit, to get on the Sukhumvit line train to Punnawithi station. This was where the room I’d booked the day before was supposed to be.

I got off and walked up the road, heavy bags in tow, got around half a kilometre before giving in and realising it wasn’t that way at all – stopped and asked in one of the ever-present 7/11‘s for ‘Merlin’s Lodge‘, they were none the wiser. So I walked back to the BTS station and found the nearest café with WiFi to hole up in and take stock.

It was then – when my emails started working – that I got an email from Merlin’s Lodge saying HostelBookers.com had cocked up the booking and the price I was quoted online was based on two people sharing, so twice the price, and would I like to cancel the reservation. I agreed and started looking for the next place instead via TripAdvisor.co.uk.

A highly rated, inexpensive guest house called Soi 1 Guest House was recommended as a place without tourists and for those seeking the true nature of backpacking – result! I finished my coffee and hopped onto the BTS for 8 or so stops to Phloen Chit.

When I arrived, still not very clear where in relation to the station my guest house was, I asked the nearest security guard. He pointed me in the wrong direction, I realised when I crossed the road. So I crossed back over and avoided asking him again and took the road my map appeared to show as the right one.

Wrong!

Half way down it closed off to a private residence, so I asked the lady peeling fruit outside her house where to find the right Soi (side street), she motioned over the road and one more road up. So I walked, and walked, and walked and walked and walked – about 1 kilometre in total. Realising once again I had the wrong road I holed up in a quaint little restaurant for a shake and to gather my bearings. The lady was right, it was one street up, but not the other side of the road.

TAXI!!

I was buggered if I was going to walk down that long ass road again, so I hailed the nearest taxi and tried to show him on the map. He didn’t speak a word of English so he passed his mobile to me to speak to the controller who gathered where I was going and told the driver.

After 20 minutes or so I was outside the rather unassuming Soi 1 Guest House. The fare was 55 Baht but I had 53 in coins, or a 1000 Baht note.. he balked at the note so he caved to the 53 Baht.

I walked in and up to the 2nd floor reception, met a beautiful Thai girl behind the counter called Jenny and asked pleadingly if there was a room. Result! 8 man dorm and one bed left, so I took it for 400 Baht per night, stuff trying to find cheaper, I was knackered and needed a shower.

She showed me to my room and I met the residents, all Aussies and Americans, so guaranteed good chat and a laugh. One Aussie, Sebastian, was looking for a local arcade to play some games, I asked if they had pinball and it turns out they did. So after showering, chatting and introducing, and then hearing an almighty bang outside that turned out to be the power transforming giving out to the heat and needing repait.. 5 of us headed to the MBK mall in National Stadium, a ride to Siam, change, and one more stop.

The power company in Thailand that came to fix the broken transformer

With an almighty bomb-like explosion, the transformer gave out in the heat

On arrival, it’s huge! 7 floors, 1 clothes, 2 iPhones/tablets/gadgets, 2 food, 1 camera porn level and 1 entertainment. After checking out the food floor and grabbing a photobooth moment with the crew, we headed up to the top floor to play arcade games and most importantly – pinball!

The gang from Soi 1 Guest House in Bangkok

The December 30th Soi 1 Guest House Crew

30 Baht, and 5 games later I secured my nickname in potentially Bangkok’s only Pirates of the Carribbean pinball machine, scoring the Davy Jones high score! Farang or not I’m still kick-ass at pinball!

Pirates of the Carribbean pinball machine in MBK mall, with my high score and TUT initials

Famous in Thailand! Davy Jones high score for TUT!

Some of the crew had headed down to eat, and when I’d finished, me and Sebastian also headed down for some Thai food before heading back to the guest house around 5 to chill out before a night out on the town.

I’d had enough though, worn out from my journey up, and knowing if I went out I’d come back at 9am, I grabbed an insanely expensive beer from the guest house reception (80 Baht, double and more than I’ve been paying before) and sat in the common room catching up on Facebook and chilling out. By the time the others had woken up I’d moved onto Black Label and coke for 100 Baht, reasoning it was less expensive in the long run (wrong!) and we all sat and gathered talking about stereotypical Brits, Aussies and Americans.

Sebastian the Australian from the Soi 1 Guest House crew

Sebastian the Australian from the Soi 1 Guest House crew

Jenny (left) the Soi 1 Guest House receptionist

Jenny (left) the Soi 1 Guest House receptionist, and dude, sorry, you said your name but I’ve forgotten, get in touch!

Amy from Australia from the Soi 1 Guest House crew

Amy from Australia from the Soi 1 Guest House crew

David, the Soi 1 Guest House owner

David, the Soi 1 Guest House owner, full of awesome advice and tips

Most went out around 10/11, leaving a few of usleft to chat more in depth about the respective cultures. David, the guest house owner, and officially Thailand’s first guest house ex-pat owner, had turned up to chat and give advice. This guy – apart from trying to push us all on his pub crawl for NYE the next day – was stuffed full of amazing advice, not just for Thailand, he’s been everywhere. He also strangely has a Dutch twang to his accent!

After whiling away the hours, and drinking David out of Jonny Walker, I crashed for the night around 2-ish. Woke up around 10am to pack up, grab the minivan to Hua Hin from Victory Monument roundabout and join Peter and his family for a few days.

In the minibus en-route from Bangkok to Hua Hin

In the minibus en-route from Bangkok to Hua Hin

Despite the driver’s 120km/h driving, he was actually quite good and managed to get me to Hua Hin central around 2:30pm. I holed up in ‘The Shed’ guest house for a long deserved pineapple shake and texted Peter’s phone to tell him I had arrived.