I know there are still some gaps in our tale of SE Asia Part 2, and we fully intend to update with posts for each step of the way. So far in the blog, we’ve only managed to get to heading into Laos at the end of October, but in reality (off-screen so to speak) we are in Norway celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve (don’t worry, Matt is getting his fill of Christmas morning celebrations).
We just wanted to wish you who might be reading this still a
MERRY CHRISTMAS & GOD JUL and we love you very much.
Big hugs from Matt & Tina
Monday 18 October 2010: Travel to Chiang Mai
We really wanted to take the train up north, but weren’t disappointed by the bus trip. It was surprisingly comfortable, and we still managed to see quite a lot of the scenery. Obviously, the travel companions we met on the way made the trip all the more enjoyable. Lars and Nicole from Germany were to become our Chiang Mai buddies, and we celebrated our chance meeting with some decent sized bottles of Chang on arrival.
The four days we spent there were action packed. There is just so much to see and do in the area! We took a day to orientate ourselves and look around the city, and I’m glad we did because the next couple of days just flew by in activities and entertainment. The city itself is really attractive, and there are some really gorgeous temples too. I think out of all the places we’d been at that point (which is of course just a fraction of the great country that is Thailand), this was the place we’d enjoyed the most. It’s just so hard to see that this is the second largest city in Thailand – walking around it you feel like it’s a small town. It might have something to do with our hostel being in the Old Town, the perfect location to explore.
In the evening we went to the Night Bazaar – wow what a place! The madness! It was fun though. Our first day in Chiang Mai was packed to the brim with exciting-ness.
Wednesday was spent at The Thai Cookery School, learning to cook Thai food. It was such a treat, something we’d been looking forward to since we started planning our trip. The school we chose didn’t disappoint, and we were taken through everything from sticky rice and mango, to curry paste and stir fried chicken with basil. And lots more! It was such a good day, spent with a nice group of people in nice surroundings. And did I mention the delicious food?
Thursday we left the city altogether and headed to the great outdoors. The tour was amazing and included such varied activities as elephant riding, hiking to a waterfall in the forest, visits to Karen and Akha villages, orchid and butterfly farms as well as white water rafting. It was a really busy day, so I’ll just let the photos do the talking. We’ll upload some more photos in the gallery next time we have a longer stay somewhere with stable internet.
Obviously we were knackered at the end of the day, and could only just muster up the energy to head to the market for some curry, banana pancakes and Chang beer. It was sad to say goodbye to Lars and Nicole, but we had to separate as the pair were just travelling in Thailand and only had about five weeks.
Our final morning before heading towards Laos was spent running some errands (sending parcels home amongst other things!), and then we went to meet up with the Stray crew. Bring on the orange bus! We got ready to leave all the important decisions (where to go and how? where to sleep?) to others and sit back and relax for a week.
The accommodation we had were really nice, and a bargain – or so we thought… “four star luxury at two star prices”, as they advertise. The room was massive, and we even had a fridge! No more lukewarm water at night! The English speaking TV channels were a bit of a treat too. But we discovered much later that money (which was hidden away – our emergency USD) had disappeared from our room while we were staying there. So disappointing, and it put a real dent in our finances, not to mention our confidence in Thai hotel workers. I know that we are so much better off than them and understand that our comparative wealth can be tempting for them, but it still doesn’t mean that I’m comfortable with someone going through my stuff and picking what they deem they need more than me. I want to decide when and where to make my donations, thank you very much!
16 October 2010 – To Ayutthaya!
After our quick stint in Kanchanaburi, we went back to Bangkok for one night to get our Stray tour train tickets and head up towards the north of Thailand before heading into Laos (it’s perfectly possible to go straight to Ayutthaya directly, however). We were travelling on our own at this stage because we wanted to spend a few more days in Chiang Mai. It was right at the start-up of Stray’s hop on/off tour, so due to time restraints we headed off before the actual tour left and were meeting up with the group up north.
We met with the Stray girls at their office and they took us to the train station (Hua Lamphong), then insisted they wait with us. However, as delay after delay was announced, they could stay no longer, and had places to be and people to see. We didn’t really mind, and were just really grateful for all the help they had given us, not to mention being up and at work before 7 am on a Saturday morning… We entertained ourselves people-watching while waiting, and were on our way about two hours later.
When we arrived in Ayutthaya, we dropped off our things at our pre-booked hostel (interesting -looking rooms, but friendly and cheap with AC – and they had a pool!) and headed out to see the sights. It was really wet everywhere, and we knew it was rainy season, but weren’t really prepared for the torrential downpour that started while we were touring through one of the temple complexes. We were slipping and sliding around in mud and grass every time we left the concrete path, so we weren’t out for very long that day.
Our second day was much better, and we headed out sightseeing on bikes rented from the guest house. I would highly recommend getting some wheels when exploring the sights, just to get a little bit of perspective of the place as well.
We managed to cover some amazing ground that day and saw lots – the favourite has got to be Wat Ratburana, followed closely by Viharn Phra Mongol Bopit and Wat Mahtat. There were so many different ruins to explore, I think we only scratched the surface. It must have been an amazing place in its heyday.
The temples were awesome and we were in awe of all the unbelievably old remnants of times past which were sitting there right next to modern traffic lights, intersections and cars. The city of Ayutthaya, on the other hand, wasn’t all that impressive. A day trip from Bangkok would probably suffice if you are running low on time. The Stray Tour we were on would have stopped in Sukhotai further north, which we asked to exchanged for Ayutthaya, and that was a mistake I think. All the descriptions I’ve read about Sukhotai have been absolutely raving. Those Stray guys know what they’re doing!
The rain we encountered that weekend was nothing compared to what was to come. Flooding occurred all over the province and other parts of Thailand followed. Our train was cancelled because the tracks got flooded (of course we were very lucky that that’s the biggest problem we had – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/02/thailand-flooding) and we had to swiftly transfer to the bus station, where we boarded a bus going up to Chiang Mai. Up north we go!
After a lengthy absence, we are reporting from Sihanoukville, Cambodia. We are feeling awfully guilty about not updating the blog more often and have been trying to catch up (hence the very belated Kanchanaburi post that was posted a few days ago, out of nowhere, even though it’s been weeks since we were in Kanchanaburi). But it’s been really hard to catch up, so I thought I’d post a little sumthin to let you know where we are and what we’re up to. Then I will try to fill the gaps in the mean time!
Because we had a pretty hectic schedule and a bout of illness in the camp (more on that in a later/earlier post), we were desperate to spend a few days at the beach and fit a bit of relaxing into the busy schedule (life is hard, I know…). It also worked well as a small break from all this holidaying to celebrate that we’ve just hit the half way mark. So we went straight from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, with just a bus change in Phnom Penh (don’t worry, we’ll spend a couple of days there on our way to Vietnam). It’s been nothing but chilled days since then, relaxing on the beach and hanging out with our new friends from Canada: Yvonne and Wade. We have been sharing many good times and the joys of 50 cent beers and $1.50 cocktails. We’ve even got matching sunglasses. I think that pretty much makes us soul mates…
We’ve loved being here, the relaxed atmosphere and proximity to the beach, not to mention the incredible food. It’s been days of indulgence and charging of batteries. Sadly, we’re leaving tomorrow morning on a bus back to Phnom Penh, where we’ll spend our last two days in Cambodia. It was surprisingly easy to get the visa needed from the Vietnamese Consulate here, and we’re heading across the border already on Friday to spend the weekend in Ho Chi Minh City. The last three weeks of the trip will be spent making our way up the coast of Vietnam, going straight to Nha Trang and unfortunately missing Da Lat and other nice things, but hopefully getting to see some great sights nevertheless. We plan to be in Hanoi well in time for our rendez-vous with the Sankoffs – can’t wait!!!
After the island experience, we were headed north and inland. We got to Kanchanaburi around 10 am, after a night on a train from Chumporn to Nakhon Pathom, plus a morning on a local bus from NP to our destination. Just a quick walk around the local chedi and a bit of waiting and there’s the 81 bus to Kanchanaburi!
Our accommodation Ploy guest house, was just amazing and we were so lucky to get the room for 650 Baht. Just look at this place!
Since we had done and overnight stint we weren’t that energetic and as a result had a fairly inefficient day, but we did manage to go for a walk. We walked along a very touristy street along the river, where all the bars and tour companies and tuk-tuks held fort – but it was charming, in a way Khao San Rd isn’t. We also made it to one of the war cemeteries, which was sad and impressive at the same time. It’s in an extremely well-groomed condition, and it’s clear that the graves are still visited and those that rest in them remembered.
The tiresome start of that day had its consequences and we decided to call off the sightseeing and relax at our temporary home…
We thought we should make the most of the little time we had there, and signed up for a tour for the following day. We really like our independence and being able to plan on our own, but we have realised that sometimes there is just no point in stressing around and trying to cover lots of sights in a place you don’t know, when there are people that know it so much better and can give us the whole package with transport and all in much less time. Sure, it’s nice to take your time, but sometimes just just don’t have enough of that. And that’s where a tour operator comes in.
We booked with Good Times Travel (sounds dodgy, I know), but Kanchanaburi has lots of tour operators that offer more or less the same trips. We really enjoyed ours because we had a great guide, we were a tiny group of four (a really nice Swedish couple, Sofia & Per, in addition to us two) and we got to see all the sights we wanted in one day. It was busy, as expected.
Irene, our guide, was really good at keeping us interested, and provided us with a lecture first thing in the morning – like how to greet Thai of various ages with the correct wai, lots of Thai vocabulary and little stories about the Our first stop was Erawan Falls, a seven tiered waterfall which is often in Thai tourist brochures apparently (maybe you’ve seen it?). It was gorgeous! We even got to go for a refreshing swim, with free fish-nibbling treatments to boot.
The scenery was fantastic in this whole area, even just seeing it from the van driving around, so when we arrived at the Hellfire Pass Memorial, there was a definite change in moods. It was a very sobering experience, and it’s hard to believe that such a terrible POW work camp excited in this beautiful landscape.
The memorial was very down-to-earth and matter-of-fact, but also sincere, beautiful and compassionate. There was a strong focus on the camaraderie between the POWs/soldiers, and the way they looked out for each other in such inhumane condition was truly heart breaking.
The day’s grand finale was a ride on the Death Railway, really touristy, but lots of fun for the boys, who got to stand right behind the locomotive and watch as it screeched and screamed on the tracks the whole way. A brief final stop was made at the infamous bridge, and we had our pictures taken dutifully like the good tourists we are.
It was a pretty full on day, but absolutely worth it – we really felt like it was good value for money and time well spent. Kanchanaburi was a great place, and I think we could’ve easily filled another week of activities and lazing by the pool. But we are busy travel bees and had to rush on back to Bangkok with the minibus the same night (when I say rush, I mean it – it was lucky we had a real-life monk travelling with us, I’m convinced he brought us luck) for a quick stopover, then trains northwards the following morning.
UPDATE 22 Oct:
We just realised that our Koh Tao post was very onesided-ly focused on the diving experience, which was perhaps a little boring and superficial in many ways. To be fair, we did spend most of our waking hours while there either on the boat or underwater, or else, reading chapters in our Adventures in Diving Manuals. But we did manage to eat a lot of good food (Looking Glass had awesome pasties! Nid’s kitchen had the bestest Thai food!), laze on the beach a little and look around town. It’s a place we wouldn’t mind seeing outside of rainy season, but fear that the party-party feeling would quadruple. Needless to say, we won’t be showing up at the Koh Phangan new moon parties…
We are just hours away from leaving Koh Tao, the Turtle Island, without seeing a turtle… But not too disappointed, because we are now Advanced Open Water Divers! It means that we can go down as far as 30 metres, which opens up a few more dive sites around the world, and it was the main reason for going down here at all. It really isn’t the best time of the year to be here, and there’s been a bit of rain, especially at night. As a result, we had a bit of murky water and the visibility hasn’t been the best, but some of the dives have been amazing. I have to say, the scariest one was the Deep Adventure Dive, but we made it and we are very proud of ourselves.
Since the last four days have been centred around diving and little else, this will be a short post. We have made pretty definite plans for the rest of October and we plan to be in Cambodia on 31 October. By then we’ll have seen more of central Thailand (Kanchanaburi and Ayutthaya, with a very brief overnight stop back in Bangkok), as well as a daytime train to Chiang Mai. Hopefully we get to see a bit of the countryside on the way. We’re really looking forward to our four days in Chiang Mai. Then, onwards with Stray into Laos, which should take about a week. We have to return to Bangkok (again…) before heading eastwards into Cambodia. But we’ll speak again before that!
PS: As I write this, we are watching the rescue of the miners in Chile. It really puts things into perspective, and it’s really moving to see all the footage of the miners meeting their families and the surface. It’s beautiful to see some positive news for once! What a great operation by the Chilean government!
… no, make that three. Sorry I couldn’t help myself…
We have started our trip and are well on our way. Our first stop: Bangkok.I have to admit it was a bit of a shock arriving at Khao San Road after a very easy arrival and transport from the airport. Touts, tuk-tuk drivers and tailors are everywhere you look. I think it’ll take a bit of getting used to, but we definitely have become a lot more thick-skinned and aloof over the three and a bit days we’ve spent there so far. We have a couple of overnight stays there later on due to ease of travel and connections and the like, and will try to make the most of it. We loved the (many…) temples we’ve seen, particularly the reclining buddha in Wat Pho. The staggering size of the thing is enough to blow you away. (Will add photos later, Matt’s run away with the camera). Wat Arun across the river was also an impressive sight. Some may already have seen this in lots of tourism brochures, where it’s often called Temple of Dawn.
Of course, you can’t go to Bangkok without visiting the Grand Palace and the Wat that contains the Emerald Buddha. There was so much to see, and we were very grateful for the free organised English guide (10 am, 1.30. am, 1.30 pm and 2pm). The guide we got was very funny and entertaining, even though he looked quite stiff and formal on arrival. Highly recommended!
Another big highlight was our hostel. It’s a quaint little place called Shambara Boutique Hostel, and even though it’s down a dirty little side street, it was nicely secluded from the noise and mess just 20 something metres away. We’re definitely staying there again, actually next time is already in just under a week, when we return for one night to catch the first train up north.
Which brings me to this very exciting thing that happened as we were walking back to the hotel on Thursday, tired and sweaty from a long day of templing. We came across a Stray travel agency! Anyone who’s been to NZ will know this company as a backpackers choice with tours as well as their nifty lil’ Spaceships.
Turns out we became their first Asia customers when we decided to book their Bangkok – Northern Laos trip, called Tom Yum. They are running a 2 for 1 special that worked our perfectly for us. The Laos leg of our trip had become a bit of a headache as we had fitted it into an awkward spot in our already jam-packed itinerary, leading to either having to book seriously expensive (for the region) and inconvenient plane tickets or leaving it out altogether. Thank you Stray – now we get to see Laos after all!
As I write this, we have made it to Koh Tao via Lomprayah’s efficient-but-maybe-we’re-too-old-to-travel-all-night-bus and catamaran ride. We are here to relax and take our Advanced Open Water, and have mentally prepared ourselves for both. No doubt there’ll be another long post to come!
We spent our last weekend in Norway / first few days of our trip in Oslo, the city which is most likely to become our permanent address when we settle back home after Christmas. It was a great weekend for many different reasons, the most obvious one being that we got to see Alf-Olaf and Kari for the first time in yonks. Since they had moved south before our unscheduled homecoming in late August, we hadn’t seen them at all since we got back. It was so good to catch up and have time to spend together. We managed to do lots of fun things together and we can’t wait to see them again on our way back in December. They have also kindly offered their couch when we finally make our move down to Oslo. We’ll try not to overstay our welcome.
We also met with my dear friend Trine and her husband Ryan at their gorgeous home on Nesodden, which was so lovely – even the boat trip over in the rain was great. Matt really liked it there – convenient distance from the city and nice peaceful setting. Unfortunately we completely forgot to take any pictures – it was the last thing on my mind, as I was far too busy enjoying their company and the wonderful meal Trine had put together. Another meal we enjoyed was with family in Kolbotn, and we also managed to catch up with cousin Ole Kristian briefly as well as catch a movie with cousin Mads. A coffee with ex-student Johanne was also a massive highlight! No photos of any these meet-ups either unfortunately… We’ll do better next time! Hopefully we’ll see all these lovely people again in December, as well as a few friends that were out of town or busy or we couldn’t see in the three short days we were there.
The best news is that Matt loved Oslo (his second visit) and all the sights and the city lights, and can’t wait to get organised and settled in a flat of our own as soon as possible. Sorry Harstavaeringa – it seems like it’s the south(east) for us, at least for now!
(The title of my post includes a nickname for Oslo, which translates as the Tiger City. What do tigers have to do with Oslo, I hear you ask. Well, it’s from a poem by the venerable Bjoernstjerne Bjoernson, and not a freakish zoological occurance of stray tigers in Northern Europe… http://www.abcnyheter.no/node/33853 if you read Norwegian,also this other blog has nice images and is in English http://www.tjensvoll.com/?p=77)
We are giving this whole travelling-around-SEAsia another go! We are touching wood and crossing fingers and we carry all those luck-bringing totems we’ve been given and hope that THIS time, all will go well. It looks as if we’ll be in luck this time, since we’ve had such a great build-up for it back in Norway.
I guess some are asking what we’ve been up to all this while, especially since we haven’t been particularly chatty here on the blog. Truth be told, we’ve been keeping ourselves quite busy. Here are some highlights in the last approximately five weeks, in no particular order. I plan to post some appropriate photos to illustrate when I get around to it…
- Seeing friends and family and being invited to a number of excellent meals in awesome company
- Norwegian lessons and coffees at De 4 Roser (thanks Ingunn!)
- Trip to Lofoten to check out the “new” Lofast road and let Matt get a taste of this famous Northern Norwegian scenery
- Trip to Malangen to celebrate mamma’s birthday and simply get away for a while, also part of Matt’s School Of Norwegianness
- Going for walks and watching the season change – drastically! It’s been amazing to see the green leaves we saw in August turn yellow and then start to fall off. Having proper seasons is rad!
- Knitting!!! I have managed to knit a pair of socks for mamma, almost finish some mittens for Matt, and cover considerable ground on a knit blanket I hope to use in our future flat. It was really hard for me to leave it behind…
- The everyday stuff – just becoming used to being in Norway again and starting new habits (good and bad…), not to mention coming to grips with the practicalities to cover when migrating (in Matt’s case). He is still not a “person” yet (getting a personal ID number in Norway seems to be linked with work etc.) but has plans and projects he wants to put into life when everything settles down a little. That’s something we’re both looking forward to, even though we are excited to be travelling.
And last, but not least, of course: Planning and booking for the new trip! It’s happening and we’re getting so excited! Watch out, world! Here we come!
Before anyone gets worried: all is well in the Keirostelly camp! We just thought we’d give you an update on how we are healing up, and we are pleased to say that time and pampering at home has worked wonders. Matt is able to take longer and longer walks, demonstrated today with a walk up a very steep hill in the warm delayed summer weather we’ve been having the last few days. Lovely! And yesterday I had my check-up where x-rays were taken and doctors were consulted. Although my collarbone is looking really wonky and weird (oh how I wish I’d asked for a copy of the x-ray image!), it’s healing and that’s the most important thing. Apparently an awkward join is to be expected from this kind of fracture. I was also thrilled that I will be able to use this pesky sling less and less from now on. If it were up to me, I would burn it and laugh over the pyre, but Matt won’t allow me to.
Other that that everything is just hunky dory, box of of birds, going swell – and we are also going slightly nutty from having so much time on our hands. A lovely change of scenery with a weekend trip away to Lofoten will do us good. Photos and a post will follow suit.