(More than) One night in Bangkok

Day 305, Mon 9th Dec

P1500015

Royal Palace

We had a highly efficient day ourselves; picked up the new passport (15 mins), got the Thai visit transferred from the old passport (took hours!), left the passports at the Vietnamese embassy to get the visas & I got measured up for 3 new suits… lovely jubbly.

We even wasted a couple of hours in the evening trying to find a non-existent train station to get to the bridge over the River Kwai on the morrow.

Hooray, my passport is back! Nipped to collect it and then spent 3.5 hours starving in Thai immigration waiting for them to transfer my visa – not impressed by THAT ridiculous bureaucracy, the woman was actually trying to ring Chiang Mai immigration to find out which individual had signed my visa extension; FFS. It is not like the border official is going to mind! Fortunately the Vietnamese embassy trip was far more efficient, albeit rather expensive…

We celebrated with some extremely late lunch, then showered and went out for G&T :-)

Ayutthaya - Wat Maha That (1)

Tracey’s new friend – Wat Maha That

Day 306, Tue 10th Dec

A very cheap (60p!) and old-fashioned train ride to Ayutthaya today, where we met and then promptly failed to meet for dinner a nice Scottish/English couple, we felt bad, but believe me, not going back to the hotel to drop the bikes off before complete darkness was not a favourable option… me riding a bicycle in full daylight is hazardous enough; for everyone!

 

The ruins were beautiful; recommended. Our guesthouse – The Old Palace Resort  – is also surprisingly wonderful, and they have a cute puppy too. :-)

 

Day 307, Wed 11th Dec

Ayutthaya (267)Back midday to Bangkok after visiting the final wat on our itinery.  Picked up the passports from the Vietnamese embassy – only Burma (Mynamar) to go now!

A last cycle in Ayuttahaya, fortunately incident free, then back to Bangkok on the less interesting and slightly pricier bus.

 Ayutthaya, Thailand – Dec ’13

 

 

 

Day 308, Thu 12th Dec

Around Wat Arun (2)A bit of sight-seeing (reclining buddhas & towering Stupas) then back to pick up the passports with the Burmese visas- sorted… Laos, etc, here we come.

An evening spent at another night market – T was in 7th heaven again – & a quick scurry around to find some Xmas pressies for T. Not sure I’d want to see her face if she didn’t have something to open on Xmas morning… perish the thought!

 

P1490863Queued for an hour to hand in our passports at the Myanmar embassy – so busy in comparison to Vietnamese one – then off on the ferry to see Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn – beautiful), the giant golden Buddha and Royal Palace.

 

 

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

We didn’t quite make the latter, sadly, after a 15 minute queue to borrow additional clothing – my shawl was insufficient to cover my shoulders, it seems – then walked to the entrance to find we didn’t have enough money, oops! Didn’t realise this one was 10 times the price of all the other sites… Just made it back to pick up our Burmese visa before embassy closing time.

 

Bangkok Night Market

Bangkok Night Market

 

 

We decided (well, I did), that it would be fun to take the ferry to the Night Market for the evening – I have to buy Keir a Christmas present somewhere – it was really pretty with hundreds of cool arty stalls, I wanted to browse some more, if only one of the girls was here, Keir has a very low tolerance for markets… Great food options too, I had been craving an Indian for about a week!

 

Day 309, Fri 13th Dec

The suits are ready & look good. We packaged them up with some of our winter clothes & diving books & sent them back to the UK by the slow boat. Then an afternoon visiting the Golden Mount with views across the city – farewell Bangkok. We are now Laos bound on the overnight train to the Border by Vientiane. Fairly impressed with the sleeper – seats that convert to beds; just like the train on 28 hr train ride I did with Elaine through India.

2nd class sleeper Bangkok to Vientiane

2nd class sleeper Bangkok to Vientiane

Very bad tempered today as Keir made me wait until after 2pm for breakfast, and then we didn’t have time to go back to the Royal Palace :-(, I cheered up eventually, of course (Food + Tracey = Happines!).

Our second class sleeper train was great, better than the Chinese trains, especially the toilet – believe me, you never want to use the toilet on a Chinese train unless you are 100% desperate – we even had the option to order breakfast!

Bangkok, Thailand – Dec ’13

Sleeping with the Fishes…

Day 298, Mon 2nd Dec

P1490471Finally, a lie in… then a day walking up & down Phrae- Ae & Klong Dao beaches. Probably a 10k hike, but plenty of stops for lunch drinks & the obligatory cocktails… now this is what we should have been doing for the last 10 months!

A nice sunny day today, and we had grand plans to hire a scooter and drive around the island, but discovered we were actually knackered and would rather just wander instead; may as well make the most of it, the weather forecast is not looking so great.

We were almost stranded by the incoming tide after our beachside dinner; luckily only shallow water to wade across! it made it more of an adventure anyway :-)

DCIM100GOPRODay 299, Tue 3rd Dec

First day on the Advanced diving course – Navigation & Peak performance buoyancy.  Both went well, but then, if I’d have failed the underwater navigation that would’ve been slightly embarrassing as a former Naval officer & submariner to boot!

Water visibility wasn’t great & the fish life was just ok – the daily downpour arrived late afternoon; by then we were back on the boat. Don’t think that I’m ever going to be in love with this sport, but T seems to really like it… it’s better than sitting in the office. :-)

DCIM100GOPRO

 

Did surprisingly ok on my Navigation course with Blue Planet diving today; our diving instructor, Kev, managed to explain how the compass worked – I know it should be easy, but for some reason my spatial dyslexia usually throws my brain into confusion and prevents absorption of any directional information. Peak Performance Buoyancy was not quite so successful, despite my being able to comfortably hover in a cross-legged position whenever I did not need to demonstrate a skill, I seemed unable to optimise my position when Kev was actually watching…

DCIM100GOPRODay 300, Wed 4th Dec

Second day of diving today, a Deep Dive and a multi-level computer dive for our PADI Advanced, and then a fun dive with a rented Go Pro; I quite liked diving with gadgets. It was slightly alarming how similar it felt to be at 12m or 30m though, especially when 30m is considered the limit of a ‘safer’ deep dive. I thought I would panic, but actually it was good.

DCIM100GOPROIt is a shame about the visibility, although better than our last dive in Colombia, this is a place where it can get up to 40 meters; we were lucky to get 10… The camera was kind of interesting, but I hadn’t realised there would be no viewfinder, this made the experience a rather hit and miss affair… especially as I didn’t figure out what the button was doing until half way thought the first dive – lots of random videos and strange consecutive photos!

DCIM100GOPROI was looking forward to the deep dive as this feels like something far more advanced; in reality, it was a breeze & I liked using the dive computers (more gadgets!). I think we’ll have to get hold of a manual dive computer to get more proficient on it; not sure I want to just rely on a glorified watch (call me old fashioned!).

Photos did seem a bit hit & miss – Looks like we have about 1 in 20 that were any good!

Visibility hasn’t been fantastic, but enough to not miss out on anything. Had a nice fish meal (Keir eating fish! And not just fish fingers :-))in the local town Saladan; T got to choose her fish (fortunately already dead, not sure I am quite ready to give the death sentence to a live one) so was very happy.

DCIM100GOPRODay 301, Thurs 5th Dec

Final day & the one I’ve been looking forward to – the wreck dive (on the sunken car ferry – King Cruiser).

The dive was good, although, apart from some old toilets & a urinal there wasn’t a great amount to see.  The second dive on Anemone reef was good – lots of colours & things to see.  There was a fairly strong current so it was particularly educational in dealing with that… for T the navigational part was also fairly educational, if not successful!

The current on the wreck dive was a little scary, as was my inability to know where I was without a compass – luckily Kev lent me one, and my buddy has a sense of direction :-).

My plan to explore (and potentially do some light shopping) in town was scuppered by the rain, boo (Hurrah!).

Day 302, Fri 6th Dec

P1490530

Tracey & Candice

No sight of T’s passport at the British embassy in Bangkok… T’s starting to worry…

Had a chilled day, massage & then met our friends from Chiang Mai (Candice & Will) for dinner on the beach – absolutely lovely. :-)

Finally a massage! It was pretty good too. Dinner with our new American friends was also great, Candice and I decided to make up new cocktails using the fresh fruit shakes on offer :-)

Day 303, Sat 7th Dec

P1490518

View from our restaurant

Another chilled day in Koh Lanta; weather was much nicer – it’s such a beautiful bay.

I am persevering in my attempt to be able to swim, managed a whole 6 lengths of breaststroke today – given it is the largest pool we have had on our travels, it was pretty good for me. We even managed to go into town for some (failed – Huzzah!) shopping and dinner, made all the better by the mango sticky rice I found on offer; yum.

P1490539

Our bay – Klong Dao

Day 304, Sun 8th Dec

Early ferry back to Krabi, and met a lovely French couple, Charles & Charlotte on the transport to town before our flight back to Bangkok. 

Up early and off to the boat across to the mainland. Our flight is after 3pm, so we spent a couple of hours having a much needed breakfast with our Gallic companions AND I even managed to find some 85% Lindt chocolate in the airport – it may have been £4 a bar, and probably enough to buy several meals, but it was worth it :-)

Koh Lanta, Thailand – Dec ’13

Day 291, Mon 25th Nov

The day was meant to start with the first day of our massage course but they cocked up the booking… so a day of admin & trying to sort out our visa extension. Oh, & Tracey took us shopping… bought a T shirt to replace the 2 that Tracey ruined in the washing – my Brazil T shirt & new T shirt are now tie dyed!

(Or in fact Thai-dyed since the dye seems to run on all new clothing…)

Chiang Mai - Hot Chilli (4)

Met a lovely American couple (Will & Candice) in the Funky Dog café who told us of a cute restaurant with swings… T duly had us off searching for it & reserved a swing seat for later.  We arrived to find a large queue; which we bypassed to take up our

reservation on the highly sought after swing seats.  A lot of jealous looks later from the queue, T was ensconced in her red swing seat wearing a new red dress & her red shoes… she didn’t stop smiling all night! :)

The restaurant is Hot Chilli if you want to try it – expensive by Chiang Mai standards, but worth it for the swing and the beautifully presented (extremely tasty) Mango Sticky Rice. I was obviously in my element :D

Day 292, Tue 26th Nov

So, eventually started a 2 day massage course – it’s really good; worked on the legs & arms… T’s very happy.  Finished mid-afternoon & took in some temples.

The massage course was good, but surprisingly tiring, and there is a lot to learn (much practice needed!). Keir seemed to get a slightly worrying sadistic pleasure out of pressing excessively hard on my muscles too…

I don’t remember any temples today, maybe his mind is going ;)

Day 293, Wed 27th Nov

Final day of the massage course – head, neck & back… I think T will be expecting a massage every day now, & I have no excuse… damn, how short-sighted of me!

Then Temples, temples & more temples….

Said goodbye to our massage teacher, Miss Wanna, and promised to practise – let’s hope we do! Then off to visit a few temples – definitely NOT time to go and see the tigers today – decided we will stay in Chiang Mai a couple of extra days anyway – the prospect of rushing off to Sukhothai and back just seems too exhausting after all these activities!

Chiang Mai - Siam Rice Cookery Course (40)Day 294, Thu 28th Nov

Thai cookery course day…. Wish I read the references on the website that said miss breakfast!  There were 7 courses to cook & eat; I felt stuffed after the 1st course.

Who knew that I was such a great cook? The Penang curry and Hot & Creamy soup were fabulous – obviously I couldn’t taste Keir’s food as he put chicken in everything, grrr  – and Mango Sticky Rice for dessert – my new favourite.

 

Tracey & Rob

Tracey & Rob

 

Unfortunately Rob picked tonight to have dinner with us – it was a struggle to eat any more – but we had to try the tea salad at the Burmese restaurant (The Swan), very tasty. Bit knackered after all that eating, but we managed a few post-prandial drinks before Keir started nodding off in the bar

 

:)

 

 

 

Day 295, Fri 29th Nov

Chiang Mai - Tiger Kingdom (132)At last, a lie in.  Then we sorted out our visa extensions & headed off to Tiger Kingdom, where you get to get in & up close to anything from baby to fully grown Tigers… when I say get close, I mean get close – i.e. cuddle, stroke & lie down next to.  Supposedly they aren’t drugged in anyway, just been hand reared next to humans.  Had to keep telling T that, “No, they are giant teddy bears or pussy cats & that we can’t have one…!”

Was a bit awe inspiring when you see the majesty of these beasts, also it was very difficult to be at ease when you know how quickly cats can just turn on you & put their teeth/ claws in… they were just like giant ‘cats’ in everything they did.

Left the place though feeling sad for them; they are out with humans all day in medium sized enclosures then locked up in cages at night…. Not even a giant enclosure for them to run around in.

Whilst being in two minds about visiting the tigers, we decided to see for ourselves. There are obviously lots of reviews on Trip Advisor, some of which suggest drugging, some of which refute it…I am no expert, but the baby tigers certainly seemed playful enough and wouldn’t stay still for long. The big cats were moving around, going for the occasional swim – to the surprise and sudden soaking of the hapless visitors standing next to them at the time :) – and the guardians are very alert (one accompanies every group), so you definitely feel a sense of your own mortality. The urging of the keeper to put my head on the tigers stomach was not something I felt inclined to do! But it is true that they do not have much space to wander in, and even if they have been hand reared and well-fed, it is obviously not a natural environment for a wild animal to live in…

Last night in Chiang Mai, so Keir got me mortally drunk in the Roots Rock Reggae bar on slushy cocktails – I had hoped that the high water content would save me; a foolish assumption :(

Chiang Mai - Wat Pra Singh Voramahavihara (38)Day 296, Sat 30th Nov

Went off to see a final few temples – they really are lovely; but starting to feel a little templed out now – & then the afternoon at the Sat market… how happy was Tracey!

Night bus to Bangkok; going to miss Chiang Mai. It has a really relaxed air about it. Far more to do than we’ve even scratched the surface on & it’s a fun place to be.  I really feel on holiday now… beach & diving next!

Damn, I have a hangover :-(

After a very late breakfast, we made it to Wat Suan Dok temple – really beautiful, but undergoing some restoration – and the rest of the day just seemed to disappear before we got on the Nakonchai Air bus to Bangkok. No first class left unfortunately, so we are slumming it on Gold…

Day 297, Sun 1st Dec

Got off the night bus to find the Gooners won 3-0 at Cardiff – A Ramsey double with Ozil pulling the strings. What a great start to the day! :-)

Arrived in Ko Lanta, picked up our dive books & ensconced ourselves in an excellent hotel chosen by hers truly… basic double cabin, but beautiful view from the hotel across the bay & an infinity pool in front of the restaurant… result; all for £11 a day – I love Thailand!

Slept really badly for some reason, I guess I have become unused to overnight bus travel in the last couple of months, and arrived in Bangkok about 6am. Our flight is in 7 hours, but we figured with the protests in the city centre and possible traffic issues, that it might be best to just head to the airport early.

We managed to kill several hours in a nice café, with a waitress taking photos of us and our food; it was almost like being back in China! Unfortunately I think she may have been doing the same in the kitchen, that is the only explanation for the stone-cold, but perfectly presented poached eggs presented to me :)

Chang Mai, Thailand – Nov ’13

Does my bum look big in this….?!

BEE'S Elephant Sanctuary - Mae Kam & Mae Jumpee (2)BEE'S Elephant Sanctuary - Mae Kam (4)

Day 277, Mon 11th Nov

Emily and Burm came to pick us up around 9am to take us to their elephant sanctuary, BEES. After a hasty trip to the post office to apply for a new passport – the space issue has become pressing – they took us to see a couple of beautiful waterfalls and the highest mountain in Thailand before arriving at the sanctuary to see the elephants and 8 or 9 cats and dogs!

The elephant Mae Kam and Mae Jum Pee are very cool, we fed them guavas and then accompanied the mahouts to the stream to bathe them. Then a nice Thai supper and some cuddles with the little dog Kip and one of the cute grey cats. What an amazing first day :-)

Had a lovely journey up with Burms & Emily; visited lots of waterfalls on the way home – v spectacular.  Then we fed ELEPHANTS – VERY COOL!!!!

Their farm as a couple of authentic Thai buildings around a beautiful fish pond with 10 dogs (Mimi, Toto, Gong, Toby, Mollie, Kip, Pailin, Panda, Sun, Dow) & 8 cats (Gizmo, Tigger, Lucky, Suki, Dani, Milo, Mee Suuk, Cocoa), 3 tortoises, a terrapin, oh, not forgetting the two rather large elephants. :-)

Day 278, Tues 12th NovBEE'S Elephant Sanctuary - Welcoming Ceremony (3)

Up earlyish and then a walk with the elephants and more guava feeding – Mae Kam in particular seems to be an eating machine! (she’s amazingly, she’s like a conveyor belt; in one end & out the other ) Then back to base to help with tidying up in the elephants sleeping area – much elephant poo to shovel – cleaning out the tortoise and terrapin pool and feeding the fish. It is almost like a mini open zoo here. Oh, and we helped to make an elephant pool for bath time later.

Loved damming the river & digging out an elephant bath… Mae Jum Pee was particularly funny when we used it; we threw buckets of water over her to bathe her & she hosed water everywhere with her trunk!

Most of the elderly people from Maecham came down for an opening ceremony this evening, we were welcomed, blessed, and given two string bracelets from each person; it was really lovely and all of the old folks seemed very happy.

It was a lovely ceremony; I’m sure they also loved the chance to get together for a quick gossip as well. What’s particularly nice is that the elephant sanctuary may be run by Burm & Emily, but it involves the whole village.

Day 279, Wed 13th Nov

A slightly later start today (hard work on the new hut starts tomorrow) and off to cut some elephant grass and sweetcorn stems for Mae Kam and Mae Jumpee to eat later, before another of Burm’s delicious lunches and a little jaunt to see the two old ladies that could not make it to the ceremony yesterday – more bracelets for us and a small gift of soy milk (they love it apparently) and some baht for them, we both love the way that the sanctuary helps the village as well as the animals.

Pretty easy day today, but hot! We are both a bit dozy…

A day of prep for me on building site – clearing it of weeds – & then of to cut some elephant food; those callouses are building on my hands… & not for the usual reasons!!! :-)

Day 280, Thurs 14th Nov

BEE'S Elephant Sanctuary - Work on the new hutThe day of building starts – man’s work of course, so the girlies have to go off & do their nails or something…?!

Fascinating how they seem to be able to make anything with a bit of wood, a hammer & a hatchet.  By the end of the day we had 9 concrete footings in & the posts up as well – all starting to take shape. :-)

A relatively easy day for me, until we discover that the water, and then the power are off, and I have to spend 2 hours washing by hand – I have a very sore back!

Day 281, Fri 15th Nov

Day two in the house…. No Charlene, Chardonay or Big Brother ‘Geordie’ voiceover in sight.  We have the full structure up & rafters on… these boys go long on the discussing but also don’t mess about in the construction… probably the lack of tea breaks…

A bucket shower this morning – the water did not come back in time, unfortunately – then off to harvest rice in the fields with Emily and Mae La (Burm’s mum), I think we may have been as much of a hindrance than a help though, poor Mae La had to chop down the length of our rice stacks as they were too long, or not all the same length; whilst also managing to cut about 3 times more rice than either of us… then back to the house to rest while poor Mae La made lunch – the woman is a workaholic!

I learnt to make sweet sticky rice in a bamboo tube too, and taste it later :-)

Day 282, Sat 16th Nov

Up early to cut lots of corn for the elephants – and they eat A LOT – then back for lunch and elephant bathing (+ water fight). Emily and I ended up wetter than the elephants, I am sure this had something to do with Burm and Keir…BEE'S Elephant Sanctuary - Mae Kam, Mae Jumpee, Emily, Keir & Tracey (2)

It’s not my fault if T is on the other side of the elephant to where I am… a few drops of water overshot, the next thing I know & T & Emily are dousing me in water… Mae Jum Pi looked on in amusement as I was soaked… the injustice of it all!

Then a shower and off to Loi Krathong, the first day of the festival, in Maechaem. We had fun playing a couple of games (Keir sucks at darts, but seems to be a crackshot!), trying interesting looking street food and alcoholic slushies whiles watching the lanterns light up the sky.

I’d like to point out that:

  1. The darts were lighter than the actual balloons themselves…you had to hurl them to even reach the balloons!
  2. I hadn’t had any alcohol at this point… 

2 cans of Chang beer later…

  1. I shot the bullseye out of the target on the pistol range (it was just like watching Hank in Vegas, but sadly without the magnum!).
  2. I threw the tiny hoop over the beer bottle from 10 feet away… & walked away with a litre bottle of Chang beer (which I promptly gave to Shin).

 

Thank god for beer! :-) Meachaem - Loi Krathong festival (4)

Lighting the paper lanterns & watching them head skywards took me back to my last visit in Thailand for Elaine’s birthday & our 2010 new year’s eve in Cornwall. These lanterns are even more fun – they have fireworks attached so bangers, roman candles, etc keep going off as they head into the night sky… cool :-)

There were also lots of shopping stalls… how happy was T!  She suddenly found that she really needed the flip flops that she didn’t buy in Chang Mai… they were only 50 Baht (£1) so I gave in… more shoes to carry.

 

 

 

Day 283, Sun 17th Nov

Burm, Emily, Shin, Shin's friend & Tracey with KrathongsThe boys are still hut building, so we began making our Loi Krathong offerings – much to the amusement of Burm and Emily’s helper and English student- Shin. Apparently we have made them too large, or something…

Time to start getting the roof on & adding the posts for the porch… it’s really coming together now.

That evening we are back at the festival to release the Loi Krathong offering into the river – they’re like floating flower arrangements. T’s done a great job of our offering & we make a joint wish as we release it… Arsenal for the Premiership… don’t tell Tracey!

Watching local Thai boxing was interesting – some real mis-matches there – particularly some of the kids getting battered senseless!

Whilst Burm, Shin & were doing this Emily & T went shopping… be afraid, be very afraid!

Day 284, Mon 18th Nov

More work on the roof – almost there. Good timing as we get torrential rain later in the afternoon – fortunately it’s proven to be waterproof. :-)

A side trip to the internet café (still no wifi L) for some travel research and to check our emails – just found out that Martin is going to be a dad!! Then back home to clean up the old hut and go through yet more photos – I wish I didn’t take so many…

Day 285, Tue 19th Nov

Finished the roof & then back into the saw-mill to cut more logs to put the floor in…

There still seems to be a big gap in the roof to me – I hope that is not Keir’s idea of being a completer finisher…?

Ha, Ha, ran out of tiles 2 short of a full roof… But a heavy downpour half an hour later proved beyond a doubt that it was waterproof :-)

Went for a half-day elephant walk this morning – though it took almost half a day to find them – you would think it would be easy to spot two 3,000 odd kilo animals, but apparently not! Then came back for lunch (some more cooking lessons) and some sewing with Emily; I have just made my first pillow case :-) .

Day 286, Wed 20th Nov

Burm’s dad came round today to help us put all the floor beams & braces in… we now have a floor…. Hard part is done.

Not much for me to do today, it seems that a woman’s place is most certainly NOT on the building site… so I made an envelope cushion on Emily’s sewing machine instead :-)

Day 287, Thu 21st Nov

Mae Hong Son - Sunflowers (22)Up exceptionally early, 0300… T was obviously happy!, to head to Mae Hang Son to see the sun flowers. The best bit was lying in the back of the pick-up with T wrapped in a duvet watching the night sky turn to dawn. 

The getting up was a bit traumatic, but it seems that one can sleep surprisingly well in the back of a pick up as long as covers and pillows are to hand! Poor Shin, Emily and Burm had to sit inside the truck.

The sunflowers – not the same as our ones – were amazing, there were literally thousands of them (and a similar number of photos to cull, unfortunately – we spent a couple of hours messing around and posing with them before driving back via Hot Coffee (fab café & orphanage – though only one child to be seen in the former) and the temple in which Burm served as a novice.

Day 288, Fri 22nd Nov

P1480600Burm & Emily made sure we spent the whole day with the elephants today – followed the stream into the jungle until we caught up with them for lunch then took them down the to the river to bathe… they were like two little children playing around in the river – blowing bubbles with their trunks, squirting water then splashing each other… magical.

The elephants bathing in the river were a real highlight of our stay with Burm and Emily; very cool and very funny to watch these two old ladies messing about in the water. Shin’s sweet bamboo sticky rice cooked over a fire alongside the river came a close second today; I may be addicted…

 

Day 289, Sat 23rd Nov

We were lucky enough to be invited for the day to a local wedding between friends of Burm & Emily’s (Gunn – Thai & Laura – Dutch); great fun, & we met a load of other nationalities who taught at the international school in Chiang Mai.  A few of them even came back with us to see the elephant – lovely to see other people’s reaction to feeding the elephants.

Up and out for the very early – they start at breakfast here – wedding of Burm’s friend Gunn. We had a great time meeting Laura, Gunn and their friends, joining in the dance procession, drinking rum (well, I did, 2 weeks of temperance were beginning to take their toll) etc. Then bringing Max, Nok, Karen and Tara back to see the elephants. Karen, a lovely Scottish girl recovering form a bad, but very lucky escape from a scooter accident was particularly enamoured, it was really lovely to watch.

Day 290, Sun 24th Nov

A beautiful start to the day as we had breakfast with the elephants… felt positively frugal as Mae Kam wolfed down half a ton of fruit for my 2 bits of toast & sausage!

Then the sad trip back to Chiang Mai & the end of our elephant adventure… we’ve had a fantastic time & I’ve learnt a lot about building with wood… roll on the castle! :-)

Caught up with Tracey’s friend Rob for a few G&T’s at a couple of bars with cool music… definitely ‘Led Zepp’ Rob…!

2nd bar had some type of fusion swing on… very retro but nice, drinking G&T’s with the night sky above us… I’m actually starting to feel like I’m on holiday for once :-)

BEES - Working on the new hut (1)A surprise last breakfast down by the mahouts hut nearly went gloriously wrong when Mae Kam smelt the guavas in the back and started moving at quite a pace in pursuit of the pick up. She also seemed quite keen on our breakfast before Aneit and Pong (the mahouts) distracted her with some more suitable fare – I am sure a couple of sausages, scrambled eggs and papaya would have done little to slake her formidable appetite, but she would have enjoyed them nonetheless.

Then sad goodbyes to the boys, Mae’s Kam and Jumpee, the dogs and Lucky the wondercat, sadly couldn’t find my little favourite Gizmo, he was probably off destroying Burm’s mum’s crops or up to some similar mischief.

Emily and Burm took us to see a few more sights and have some lunch and then we were back in Chiang Mai. We will miss them and their household!

Met Rob (Barty – he is really Sara’s friend, but we have now adopted him) for a turn about some nice little bars and then fell into a much-needed slumber. Getting up at 6am every day takes its toll, despite the early nights :-) 

BEES, Maechaem, Thailand – Nov ’13

 

Slow boat through China – Chengdu to Chang Mai

River Li trip (12)Day 268, Sat 2nd Nov

A trip on the River Li today, where we met a lovely Spanish couple, Ibone & John, before being told we were not allowed on the boat with them as we had different destinations… so, we ‘bamboo’ rafted down the Li with some nice Chinese girls, Joy and Freya instead. Disappointingly, the boat was actually fibreglass… the modern world does have a habit of creeping in to ruin my ideals; never mind.

Lovely day boating down the Li… I’d like to say floating in the quietness & majesty of the scenery (it really was that majestic) but the bloody great engine strapped on the back of the raft with the long propeller made a hell of a racket…

Freya and Joy very kindly gave me a flower crown to match theirs and some Pomelo (a fruit) – I am converted. Then we headed off to Xingping – cute town, not much to do, but some nice views – and then Yangshuo – touristy, but lots of nice restaurants and bars – before taking our leave of the girls and heading back to Guilin for dinner.

Xingping had a lots of little alley ways & non touristy shops… not quite real China but not far, where-as Yangshuo was built for the tourists… I think a place maybe to base yourself from & head out into the countryside.

Day 269, Sun 3rd Nov

Another organised trip today (I don’t really like them, but it is impossible to do in a day otherwise and since I met Swedish Jenny in Guatemala who told me that the rice terraces in Guilin were her favourite place in China, we HAD to go).Guilin - Long Ji Rice Terraces (17)

So, the downside was that we were tied to the tour schedule, roped into doing some stuff we didn’t really want to do, and then only had a 20 minute walk up to view the recently harvested rice terraces. I had thought we were walking in the terraces for a couple of hours from the tour description, but no. Also the terraces had been harvested on October 1st so were not as stunning as they would have been (we were prepared for this). It was still nice, and we met more nice people, but it was not really worth the price of the trip. We will have to try rice terraces elsewhere, I suspect.

We knew the rice terraces weren’t at their best – neither wet & shimmering nor golden & ready to harvest – however, glad we went to see them (if only for the exercise in climbing yup to view them & back down).

Guilin, River Li & Dragon bone rice terraces, China – Nov ’13

Day 270, Mon 4th Nov

Had a manic run around frantically trying to find the supermarket to buy supplies for our 3 Gorges cruise; apparently we won’t like the Chinese food – possibly more bits of animal that no Westerner normally eats for Keir, and a choice of meat for me!

The sunny day morphed into quite a rainy one, and my dreams of disembarking at the first port of call for a G&T with a nice view were scuppered once again :(

A day of travelling to catch up with the boat & cruise down the Yangtze.

Arrived on board & they tried to put us in a 6 berth cabin when we paid for a 4 berth (a bit of economising). Fortunately, they didn’t realise who they were dealing with… T soon put them right on that one & we were given a 4 berth cabin… on our own – result!

It became even more of a result when we realised that we were the only Guilos on board… the Chinese treated us like celebrities!

The boat was late in leaving & we ignored the first stop that night.

Day 271, Tues 5th Nov

P1470343Decided to give the first trip of the day a miss as it did not sound that exciting, and ventured out.

A few gangplanks and hulking old ships later, we found our breakfast; not wanting to be accused of non-adventurousness, I decided it was time to trust to my Mandarin phrases for what I did and did not eat and trust to the chance of a Chinese breakfast. I THINK it was congee, though it just seemed like undrained rice with some yellow stuff, and a couple of (I hope) tea boiled eggs. Keir went for full-on beef dumpling noodles – at 8:30am?!?

Didn’t want to ask what it was… but it tasted delicious :)

Back on the boat and we passed through the first gorge, Qutang, pretty, but the weather is so misty that we are definitely not seeing it at its best. The 3 lesser gorges were beautiful, but again the weather slightly impaired the experience; still, at least it was not raining.

Fortunately I happened to meet the only guest on the boat who spoke English, who conveniently translated that we needed to disembark boat number 1 for a smaller boat - god only knows where we would have ended up otherwise – where we were treated to singing boatmen and music from the houses built into the sides of the gorge, nice.

3 Little Gorges trip was great fun – T even had a go at the ‘dodgy outfit’ photo – & beautiful at the same time. V impressive.P1470305

Emboldened by my non-disastrous breakfast this morning, we even risked the Chinese food on the boat, it was pretty good, though the boat restaurant seemed to subscribe to the same insane need for fresh air that I have been constantly subjected to in China – it doesn’t seem to matter that it is about 9 degrees outside!

Day 272, Wed 6th Nov

Attempted to get up for the optional excursion this morning, but they seem to have made it earlier than suggested in our itinerary, and as we cannot understand a word of the announcements, we missed it. Still, the sun has come out today and it is glorious!

More fibre glass ‘dragon’ boats – wasn’t too bothered about missing this one.

After an hour up on deck admiring the scenery, and having our photo taken by, and with, 90% of our fellow passengers (it is good luck to photograph a guilo, apparently). We headed to Yichang for our overnight train back to Chongqing. Hard sleeper tonight – obviously we had to try all classes of train travel :)

I was disappointed with the 3 Gorges cruise – bit of an adventure but the gorges weren’t that impressive & there were a lot if industrial works along the banks. If anyone asked me I’d say give it a miss.

Day 273, Thurs 7th NovP1470362

Arrived back in Chongqing with about 5 hours to kill – the hard sleeper was not too bad with ear plugs, though the beds did seem strangely narrow and I had to insist on some clean bedding – clearly my face said what my mouth could not – and after a protracted breakfast we decided we had little time for anything other than photos, admin and a quick electric submarine ride (with guns that caused some of the targets to squirt water!) before the flight to Lijiang that afternoon.

We made the airport early for a change, sod’s law dictated that our flight was therefore 2 hours late…

Killing time catching up with mail, photos & T organising the next leg of the trip.

Yangtze River cruise, China – Nov ’13

Arrived in Lijiang & it took us 3 attempts to find a taxi to take us anywhere near our hostel…  even then we had to rely on my Nokia drive app (again) to find our bed for the night as the taxis aren’t allowed in the old town.

Day 274, Fri 8th Nov

P1470403Up early for our transport to Tiger Leaping gorge. It is a beautiful day and we have a 5 hour walk, with 28 bends on the ascent apparently :?, these were tough, but we were pleased to see, that lack of fitness notwithstanding, we still seemed to be able to walk faster than our younger fellow hikers, and this is with my frequent photo-stops, of course. The gorge is just stunning, a lovely walk.

The gorge was fantastic & we blitzed it without even really trying.  Got to say that the 28 bends went on forever though…

Arrived at our destination point for dinner (the Halfway Guest House – ingeniously named as, you guessed it, it’s half way along the trek) to be met by the most disinterested staff ever. The only plus point was that the view from the khazi was as beautiful as the Lonely Planet & Michael Palin described it to be!

So we had a quick drink & headed 5 mins up the road to our, quote, unquote, ‘family run, friendly guesthouse’… Obviously a triumph of marketing over substance.  Any family presence had long since disappeared & a couple of young boys now managed the place… very badly – nothing clean & nothing on the menu (apart from Pumpkin!).

Tracey, not surprisingly, refused to take the first room we were shown (dead bugs in the bedding) but, as we were the only ones there we had the choice of rooms.

The bullock having his tea in the courtyard was quite an authentic touch though…

So, a quick shower & back to the disinterested hostel for dinner.

Day 275, Sat 9th Nov

P1470583Final day in Tiger Leaping gorge – having woken up late (dawn surprisingly late here as China only uses one time zone throughout) we quickly re-thought our idea of going all the way to Walnut Garden then down to the gorge, before our 15:30 pick up. Just as well as the gorge ascent nearly killed us, note that Keir insisted on using the path rather than the ladder down – scaredy cat :)

Cool, final touristy day in China; amazed to find our place had hot water in the morning & had a breakfast whilst various wildlife (including a ‘kid’ – of the baby goat variety!) gambolled around in the courtyard.

The hike down to Tina’s Guesthouse (where we we’re picking up our transport) was a bit of a killer, but the vertical climb down to the gorge & back up was worse.  Vertical steps cut into the cliff face. T obviously had a show off & use the rickety ladder partially down the cliff face. Discretion being the better part of valour, I decided to take the steps! The young French couple we’d met at the top had said that it was very dangerous & took an hour to get down, 1.5hrs to get back up…  took us 1 hr 20 mins inc. sightseeing… there’s still life in the old dogs yet! (oops, hope T doesn’t read this; I may be in trouble for that metaphor!).

Loved the gorge; really dramatic, wonderful scenery & waterfalls… lots of dangerous drops & scarily narrow paths… Health & Safety be damned!!

Tiger Leaping Gorge, China – Nov ’13

Day 276, Sun 10th Nov

Arrived Kunming at 7am, not 100% sure what time our flight is – it has moved 3 times – decided we may as well head to the airport on the shuttle bus and find out :-), hmm 12 hours to go, so back into town then…

Found a lovely hostel, I think it was called Secret Garden or similar – aptly named as it was hard to find – in which to while away the afternoon eating, drinking and booking a last minute flight out of Thailand so that we could get the visa on arrival… before hasty meal and another late dash to the airport – thankfully they even close the international flights 40 minutes before departure, I was sure we would come unstuck this time.

Kunming, China – Nov ’13

Arrived Thailand to (fortunately) discover that we did not need to pay anything or provide photos for a Visa on Arrival – just get our passport stamped (horrid man still used one of my 4 remaining blank pages despite my asking him not to :(). It is about 7:30pm and lovely and warm. Got to hotel and then checked out the night market – very cool, I bought a dress, long sleeved shirt for the elephant sanctuary work and a new pair of shoes, all for about £12 and little haggling – undoubtedly I paid too much, but when someone’s opening price is £4.00, it is difficult to argue…

Left our bags at the airport in the morning for an evening flight & still nearly missed it… idiots! Still, afternoon was v chilled & we got a lot done. T was the happiest I’d seen her for a while in the night market – we actually had something to buy & she could shop for Britain… & she did! She was actually looking for a new pair of flip flops but when I saw some bright red, rubber sandals…. She HAD to have them!

Hostel was v nice – we had a little chalet around the central pond, but the other residents were a bit rowdy late into the night until T gave them a piece of her mind!