Weeks 3 & 4 in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Weeks 3 & 4 in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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We came, we saw, and for 4 wonderful months, we lived.

To say that the 4 months we have spent travelling through Southeast Asia has gone fast would be a lie. To say that we have spent it in the way that most travellers do would also be a lie. We haven’t. We have spent our time travelling in exactly the way that we like to travel, at the pace we like to travel at, no more and no less. So ultimately for us it hasn’t gone quickly – it’s gone just as quick as we expected in the time that we have had, but we have had lots of amazing experiences (and challenges) along the way and many a fond memory of specific places and situations both good and bad that will keep us smiling for a long time to come!

It was never our intention to be backpackers. The backpacker lifestyle (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with it) is not the lifestyle for us, but it seems that from some  people’s perspectives, if your not “roughing it” then you haven’t had the full travel experience. Well I disagree.

Travel doesn’t have to be done on the cheap or spent at the lowliest of places. Travel can and should be luxurious! Afterall, travelling isn’t about how many places you can cram into your time, or about collating meaningless bucketlist locations to brag about on Instagram, it’s about experiencing different places, fully immersing yourself in the country, culture and customs you visit and seeing the world anew. And what better way to do that then by spending an extended amount of time in each destination?

In our 4 chosen locations (Ubud in Bali, Canggu in Bali, Koh Samui in Thailand and Chiang Mai in Thailand), we got to live alongside the locals whilst not foregoing the luxury’s that are important to us such as staying in a decent standard of accomodation, and going to nice restaurants and spa’s. We also did not want to have to keep packing and repacking all the time and as I do not travel light it was out of the question to move anymore frequently then we did.

All in all, when you factor in the 2 shambolic places we stayed at in Bali (Uncle Tom’s Rotten Cabin and the Akmani) where we left both promptly, we stayed in 6 different locations overall in our travels. Travelling to 6 places in 4 months meant packing and unpacking 12 times! 12 times! There is no way that I would want to pack and unpack anymore times then that.

 I think that what was most refreshing about our time spent away was that we were operating from our own clock. There was no alarms to be set or anywhere in particular to be. We arose each day to decide what we wanted to do and where we wanted to be  and found that mostly, even though we had the luxury of spending every waking hour on the beach topping up our tans, we didn’t necessarily want to. We found that even though we could have spent our time experiencing every possible thing that Indonesia and Thailand had to offer, we did not want to. The touristy things that we did do we considered carefully before doing them, weighing up whether these experiences were unique to that country or not.

So overall we have had a pretty varied experience in each place – we spent some days lazing about on the beach, some days at home, some days travelling, some days in cafe’s, some days shopping, some days getting pampered. Spending so much time in each location afforded us the luxury of doing things at our own pace and it was a very delicious indulgence indeed.

Songthaew Life

Getting a Songthaew here is easy. And since we live very centrally it’s even easier – you just wave them down as you would a black taxi on the street. Granted, you do sometimes have to negotiate the price with the driver as occasionally (especially late at night), they try to charge you more then 80 p a ride, and even though you know that what they’re charging is bloody cheap you still don’t want to pay more when you know that 80 p is the standard rate. But these Songthaews are surprisingly endearing as each one is unique. The drivers “pimp them up” to reflect their individual style so sometimes you will get ones that are decorated with Thai ribbons hanging from the roof, sometimes you will get decorative patterned seats to sit on, some have an interesting interior colour scheme and some even have flashing disco lights installed in them to get the party started!

But the Songthaews have competition on the road, as there are also Tuk Tuks, which are basically converted scooters that have the added capacity to take passengers in the back. I call the Tuk Tuks the “Pimp Mobiles”. They each only take two passengers so you never have to share your ride. All of them are decorated so that they are noticed wherever they go, whether that’s with a kick ass sound system, flashing lights, bells and whistles, blankets and furr interiors – you name it, they have it. And with their flamboyance they have the driver to match.

Unlike the Songthaews, which are mostly driven by the older generation, the Tuk Tuks are mostly driven by younger guys, who have better English, know more of the up and coming hangouts and are far more cheeky. The Tuk Tuks also go faster then the Songthaews so if you’re going somewhere in a hurry then they are perfect, but both of the sides are open and the temperature in Chiang Mai drops at night so it can get quite chilly when you’re driving through the city at pimp mobile speed. Also, they are more expensive then the Songthaews so most people try to avoid using them. This makes the drivers of the Tuk Tuks naturally a little more aggressive as they have to fight to get people to pay the measly 40 p more to ride with them!

There are hardly any pavements here and no traffic signals for pedestrians whatsoever. It is becoming a bit of a challenge trying to cross a 6 way junction with no green man for pedestrians and tbh I’m very surprised that I haven’t witnessed a fatal accident in the time that we have been here. It is bloody dangerous and also extremely polluted in Chiang Mai. Never mind Indonesia and volcanic ash, these people are suffering from petrol fumes! I’m sure that my lungs have noticed the difference since arriving here.

Home Alone 

Josh’s friend is also in Chiang Mai at a Kung Fu Training Retreat in the mountains. If it sounds ideal then perhaps you need know that as part of his training which incorporates not just the practical side of Kung Fu but also the philosophical side too, he wakes up at 4:00 am each day to begin his training. There is of course no drinking or smoking allowed (and he does both with regularity when he’s back home), instead, he is required to meditate daily. The Kung Fu Master is originally from England but has been living in Thailand for over 30 years and has won various Kung Fu Awards and was chosen by the previous master for his skills so clearly this is no joke business. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard that Josh’s friend had planned to attend the retreat for a month as I knew that he partied pretty hard. He contacted Josh and said that he was going to be staying in Nimman for a night before he went onto Phuket to meet his girlfriend who was flying out from the Isle of Man (where they both live) to join him, and then he was going onwards alone to Japan and China (now THAT I was envious of!).

Josh organised to meet him one night for dinner and I didn’t particularly fancy being a third wheel so the plan was for me to eat early and then stay at home for the rest of the evening whilst he met up with his mate. Staying home was my preference as we usually went out for dinner each night so I figured it would be a welcome change, but it was also a necessity as we only had one key fob to get into our apartment and indeed our whole building as for some strange reason, the woman who rented us the apartment didn’t think it necessary to give us 2 key fobs despite her knowing that there was two of us staying there. And she didn’t even live in the country! Ridiculous.

The security in our apartment block was intense as it was one of the nicest developments in one of the nicest areas: Nimmanhaemin. This meant that we needed the one key fob we had between us to access the lifts, to get up to the floors and to get into our apartment. In reverse, this meant that you couldn’t enter or even leave the apartment without it, therefore I was essentially “banged up abroad” whilst Josh was out socialising.

Before Josh went out to meet his friend I went to a local pizzeria which I had never tried before to pick up a pizza to take home with me. The pizzeria we had been to before in Chiang Mai, which had come so highly rated, turned out to be average and after having such exceptional pizza in both Bali (Spaccanopoli) and Koh Samui (Coco Tam’s) respectively, I did not wish to eat an average pizza. So I thought I’d try this other place out. The pizza, as with everything else in Chiang Mai, was cheap beyond belief. £3 for a pizza! Just unbelievable. And even though it wasn’t as good as the others I’d had – it was at least better then the other pizza I had had in Chiang Mai and for £3 I really could not complain. I didn’t really understand how these people (the owner was Italian) could be operating a business – a bricks and mortar retail store selling their pizza’s at just £3 a piece but this was the reality living in a place such as this!  

After Josh left to go and meet his friend (and I told him to film his friend doing his newly learned Kung Fu moves!), I chilled at home watching Netflix. Yes, Netflix and Chilling, lol, but alone. About an hour later my phone started ringing – it was Josh saying that he had just got to the hotel where his friend was staying but that when he text his friend to tell him that he was waiting downstairs in reception he text him back saying that he had the wrong day. They were supposed to be meeting up tomorrow! Well he couldn’t believe it and neither could I. How could he have got the day wrong for goodness sake?

Anyway there was nothing that could be done about it now. But it dawned on me that him getting the wrong day also meant that I would have to do the home alone thing again the following night because I didn’t have a key fob to get in or out!

What kind of foolishness is this??

The next day came and I went back to the same pizzeria (because I really couldn’t be arsed to find anywhere else) and the Italian man there was very happy to see me (likely because he assumed that I must like the pizza so much to be back the following day!) so I had to lie to him and tell him that the pizza was really good. He had no idea that I went there out of necessity because I knew that I was soon going to be “banged up abroad!”

When Josh left I done the same thing that I done the night before – Netflix and Chilled and thankfully he didn’t call me an hour later telling me that he had the wrong day. But it did occur to me as I was sitting there in the comfort of my cosy little home that due to this ridiculous policy of needing a key fob to get in and out of the building and not seeing any fire escape on our floor (though I’m sure there must have been one), had there been an actual fire in the block, I would have been burnt to a frazzle because I couldn’t actually get out!!

Not a Chiang Mai Grenfell

I didn’t want to perish in our glamorous but bijou apartment in Chiang Mai. And I most certainly could not read any of the fire documents which were all written in Chinese. I hadn’t seen any fire escape notifications and was completely unaware of what to do in the event of a fire or indeed how to exit the building at all. I was essentially a sitting duck.

When I had heard about the Grenfell fire in London a few months before I had been utterly horrified and angry. I seriously could not believe that something as horrendous as this could have happened and I was furious to think of it possibly being premeditated by anyone, let alone a government conspiracy. Do I think anyone would do such a thing? you ask. The answer is yes, though please do not ask me who done it or why because I’m not a detective but where there is motive, there is a criminal and what better one then one who can make money out of tragedy? Afterall, most of the poor people who lost their lives in that fire were not valued members of society. They were just poor people. Tis sad but true. 

Anyway, I do not wish to dwell on such painful things, it’s just that it did occur to me, whilst I was “banged up abroad” looking out to the mountains ahead and the mist filled sky, that if the building were to go up in flames then perhaps I would too, because there was nothing in this small apartment to throw out of it in order to break my fall if I jumped from the balcony, nothing apart from our mattress that was, and we all know about my mattress don’t we..

Hard as a Rock

I have never in all my days slept on a mattress so hard. It takes my breath away, both literally and figuratively to believe that such a hard mattress exists. Because this thing is so hard that we wake up every morning winded from almost having our ribcages crushed under the magnetic weight of it. Aching from the pain of how hard it is and with a backache because it is so very uncomfortable. So when I think about throwing out the mattress in the event of a Grenfell fire in Chiang Mai not only am I sceptical that I will even have the strength to lift this 50 tonne mattress out of the apartment onto the ground but I also very much doubt that I would survive the jump as mattresses are supposed to be firm but soft but this one was firm and hard. VERY HARD. I think that if I jumped onto this mattress it would literally break my legs. A terrible thought indeed.

Birkenstock Awe

I’m so glad that Josh managed to convince me to buy a pair of Birkenstocks. They have been absolute lifesavers during my travels. I never thought that I would wear a pair of shoes so frequently but he was right when he said that once I got into them, I would never want to come out of them! They are unbelievably comfortable and have got even more comfortable as time has gone on. German Engineering has allowed me to walk the streets of Bali and Thailand without my feet aching at any point in time which I think is incredible. Unfortunately for me, the luxury of wearing such comfortable shoes does not extend to England as it’s far too cold to wear them there but if it wasn’t, or they had a closed toe version that actually looked good (they don’t), then believe me I would be wearing them there too. Highly recommended if you go travelling and want your feet intact!

The Miserable Pork Balls seller

They are crazy for Pork Balls over here. Pork Balls are round bits of Pork (like sausage meat), on a stick that they fry for you on the roadside by the boat load. I don’t know what it is about Asians and pork but they absolutely love it. I guess the same could be said for Caribbeans and chicken and Africans and fish but Pork is the number 1 seller here and Pork Balls are King. You can get them for 30 baht (around 70 p) from the street sellers and they seem to do very good business (especially with the Chinese). We saw this Pork Balls seller outside Dom’s, getting prepared for his Pork Balls debut that evening, and he looked bloody miserable. I couldn’t work out what had happened to this guy for him to be so miserable looking but as people walked by glancing occasionally over at his balls he seemed to get angrier and angrier and by the time I dared to look over at him he was positively furious. I was unsure as to who would DARE to buy a Pork Ball from him when he was glaring at everyone in his line of vision. The man looked so vex it was as if he wanted to chop everyone in their neck back. He was bloody terrifying.

Thankfully for us, we weren’t in the market for Pork Balls, whether they were being sold on the roadside or elsewhere, so we didn’t have to go anywhere near him.

Favola

We went to Favola for dinner which is an Italian restaurant inside the Le Meridian hotel in the centre of the Old Town. I was desperate to find somewhere, an actual restaurant, where we could have a nice meal. I was fed up of this casual eating thing. I was seeking some glamour!

Unlike Bali and Koh Samui, which had glamour in abundance, Chiang Mai seems decidedly lacking where fine dining restaurants were concerned. People seem to like crowding the streets, sitting outside decidedly average looking restaurants or eating from sellers dishing out sticks of meat from food vans on the extremely polluted roadside. But that was not my thing at all. All I wanted was to find a restaurant, with nice decor, good service and tasty food in Chiang Mai. Favola looked to me to fit the bill, though from the pictures I’d seen of it online, it still didn’t look as nice as some of the other places we’d been to. But the food was rated highly which was promising.

When we arrived at Le Meredian I immediately saw a cockroach scurrying past the entrance and I hoped and prayed that this wasn’t a sign of things to come.  

The cockroach turned out to be just an unfortunate reality of living in a hot country. It thankfully wasn’t a reflection of the shoddiness that lied within because Le Meredian was actually rather glamorous inside. A typical large chain hotel, but a nice one nonetheless, the smell that was wafting out of the vents and into my nose was a delight. The staff, who were very friendly, escorted us personally up to the restaurant, which we had made a reservation for, but when we arrived we could clearly see that we needn’t have bothered, for it was almost completely empty, aside from a couple sitting in the corner and a big table of Chinese people who as time went on, and they got drunker,  became increasingly louder.

Clearly, street food is all the rage here and all the fancy restaurants stay empty! But the restaurant itself was lovely. The decor was suitably glam, with neutral tones, an open kitchen where you could watch the chefs preparing your food, beautiful lighting, tasteful furniture and a huge wine cabinet behind the Chinese contingency who were getting so loud I could scarcely hear our waiter repeat back our orders.

The food however turned out to be a success. We both ordered a risotto to share as our starter which was delicious, and then I had an artichoke ravioli dish in a tomato sauce and Josh had seabass, both of which were richly flavoured and well cooked.  

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“Marble” chocolates at Favola 

I was determined to get gifts for people to commemorate this once in a lifetime experience travelling around southeast Asia and we were best placed to get some after dinner as the Old Town Night Market was on every evening from around 16:00 until 23:00 and they sold everything under the sun. After traipsing around for a couple of hours we returned home knackered but had managed to buy a gift for almost everyone in our families plus a few extra treats for ourselves. Josh really liked the look of the “Karen Hilltribe” trousers, and judging by the amount of sellers who were selling them it look like it was a very popular choice. Even more popular then those though, were the baggy elephant pants and almost every tourist in Northern Thailand had picked up a pair of those alas even though we liked elephants we did not like the trousers with them on them. They looked like pajama’s. 

But I got myself a few pairs of these roomy, culotte looking trousers and Josh got about 3 pairs of the Hilltribe versions which really suited him. They are too odd looking and too summery to wear in England but if we have a good summer then perhaps they will make an apperance afterall!

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Josh and I wearing our Hilltribe trousers

We went back to Fern Forest for one last time before we left Chiang Mai to attend their Sunday Jazz event. Every Sunday, they have a live jazz band playing in the gardens and since Fern Forest had become our favourite place in Chiang Mai we decided that we just had to check it out. When we got there we were immediately greeted by our favourite waitress, who always remembered us and made sure she reserved us the best seats and was always very sweet and kind to us. Since alot of the time we went there to work she always asked us if the wifi was okay and if it was a little iffy then she would disappear to go and fix it for us. She was very attentive to us. When we arrived as we suspected it was packed but we managed to find some good seats, close to the area where the band would be playing. The only problem was that it was very very hot that day and eventually, once I could feel the energy draining from my body, and recalling the time when I fainted in a restaurant in Kingston from heat stroke, we decided to ask our waitress if we could move upstairs instead.

By then the band had already started playing, and they were pretty good but not even they could keep me there any longer. We went upstairs to a large, bright and airy dining room with french doors that overlooked the garden and the jazz band below. Utterly stunning in typical colonial style, the dining room was decorated in white and had marble tables, huge windows letting the light stream through from all angles, a big flower centrepiece, huge chandelier and floor length curtains. It was both glamorous and tranquil, and the beauty was that similarly to Clear Cafe in Bali, they didn’t allow anyone to wear shoes in that part of the restaurant so it felt very much like you were in someone’s elegant home. From there we could both see and hear the band very well but we had protection from the intense sun. It was a glorious day.

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Fern Forest Cafe 

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A day with the Monks

We visited some buddhist temples and it was great. Temples can be found all around the city so even if you haven’t been into one it’s quite easy to appreciate their glamour and opulence without having to actually venture into one. But when we came across this collection of temples in the middle of Chiang Mai city we couldn’t resist. Turns out that like in Bali, they do not take kindly to women being in their temples whilst menstruating (like as if that’s a carnal sin!), but rather then them asking women to refrain from entering the temple whilst their in their time of the month they don’t allow women to enter at all! Like, ever.

I must say, I would have expected better from the Buddhists. Alas, it would seem that sexism is alive and well even in the humblest of places. The temples and statues were amazing to see up close and we even got to watch a ceremony performed by the monks in the temple, which was impressive in both size and sight.

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Me outside a buddhist temple in Chiang Mai

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One Nimman

The new boutique shopping centre complex near our apartment, One Nimman, is still not fully open but as the Chinese New Year is approaching it is looking more and more ready to receive visitors and it really is an impressive sight. Comparible to the most elegant of shopping centres in London, Paris or New York, One Nimman is punching well above it’s weight. With it’s huge courtyard with twinkling fairy lights suspended between the buildings, beautiful stone used to build the clocktower centrepiece and all of the shops surrounding it, lots of stunning boutique shops, none of which I’d ever heard of before (and a Pan Puri fragrance shop opening up soon), it is enviably gorgeous. We walked through there and found a brand new coffee shop called Graph, selling really fancy coffee’s, a perfume shop which I was too afraid to go into as it looked so lovely and I knew if I ventured in there I would have had no choice but to buy some, a huge canteen area selling lots of different types of food, a creperie, and a brand new restaurant called Ginger Farm Kitchen.

This Ginger Farm Kitchen must have only been open a couple of days as we had never noticed it before. Decorated with a theme of an abundant summer garden (a theme I like very much), the place definitely had the wow factor. Plants and flowers were everywhere. Sitting on shelves, hanging from the ceiling, on the walls, tables and even in our food! Colourful and thoughtfully done, the Ginger Kitchen had clearly been put together from someone with a very good eye and an attention to detail.

Painted a pea green with enormous windows looking out onto the courtyard and the busy Nimmanaheim Road, the restaurant was light filled and sunny, with colourful cushions on the chairs and a colourful menu featuring mainly vegetables and flowers. They had some meat dishes too, but this was not the main feature here – beauty and colour was.

Both the drinks and the food was a winner. They are going to do really well I think and should we return we will definitely go back.

As we were leaving to go home and pack (boo hoo), we past another new business at One Nimman, it had no name and looked as if it wasn’t even properly open yet but the place looked amazing. It was perhaps a cafe of some kind as we could see a coffee machine on the counter as we walked by, but it also featured a huge variety of stone busts on tables, shelves and on the floor, along with comfy sofas and chairs amongst lively green plants. The place was like a living, breathing art studio/cafe. I was dying to go in there, I KNOW that it would have been right up my street alas it is not open yet and we are leaving Chiang Mai tomorrow. 

It is Valentines Day today and as I write this we are on our way to Singapore where we will be spending the day before going onwards home.

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The stunning garden like interiors at Ginger Farm Kitchen

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Deeelicious!

Singapore, the city of modern architecture

 When we arrived at Singapore Airport we found out that we could do a free tour around the city. We were on our way home but we had an 8 hour stopover in Singapore so we thought that it would be fun to do the tour in a city whose airport had been voted the best in the world for 5 years in a row and was STILL expanding. This airport was a monster! – with a cinema, swimming pool, spa, free massage chairs, sleeping cabins, shops and restaurants galore, flower gardens and even a butterfly museum.

We joined the tour group and after taking an age to get through customs we finally arrived on the streets of Singapore where we were bustled onto an awaiting bus. My first impression of Singapore was that it was clean. Like, spotlessly clean. When we started driving through the city, and listening to the guide tell us the history of the city, I was reminded again of how empty the place was – there were quite a few cars on the road but hardly anyone was on foot. It was another sprawling city, but unlike cities like New York and Bangkok, it was green, clean and almost devoid of people. And the architecture was impressive.

Undoubtedly, when it comes to modern architecture, Singapore is king. Almost all buildings there have been designed to reflect the forward thinking, ambitious modernity of the city. And rather then it just be all concrete tower blocks, they have invested heavily in landscaping so that all around the city there are an abundance of trees, plants and flowers. They even have parks dedicated to flowers that are free for tourists and residents to visit, such as the famous Flower Dome and Gardens by the Bay.

When we got closer to the Flower Dome where in a few days time they were going to be holding a celebration for Chinese New Year, the city suddenly got busier. I was surprised when the bus stopped and we were allowed to walk around the marina as technically we were just on a tour and didn’t have a permit to enter the country, but I was eager to see what it was all about. We strolled around the marina, which showcased the legendary “boat hotel” which was a hotel that looked like a skyscraper with a boat shaped top and was absolutely packed with tourists and residents alike, and then we were taken to the gardens, a stunning feat of architecture, botany and artistry with some truly amazing sculptures made from flowers.

We were in awe of the originality of some of these centrepieces, which were clearly designed to wow, but what we were not in awe of in Singapore was the distinct lack of vibe. It appeared to us that this city was a manufactured one, lacking in soul or energy which comes from the people who live within in. It was clear to me judging by the fancy hotels and restaurants I could see, that money had clearly been spent here and people were living well here (materially anyway), but that even that wasn’t enough to provide the sense of life and vibrancy that a good world city needs. In the end, I was happy to have seen it, to see what money buys you, how good it can make your city look. But ultimately, a place without vibe is no place at all.

So we have come to the end of our travels, and naturally the feeling is bitter sweet. We did not wish to leave, well not to go home anyway as we could have easily have gone on for another 2 months, alas it is what it is. We take home our memories, our stories and our pictures of which we took a few, but of course not nearly enough.

But what it has done for us, is to cement what we’ve always known: That we love to travel and we will making plans to do it again!

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Josh in Singapore

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The famous “Boat Hotel” in Singapore 

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The Good, the Bad, The Ugly, and the Busted

The Good

Particularly in Chiang Mai, things are so cheap that it is hard to believe that people are actually making a living out of selling things at this price. When you pay your 80 p to be taken to the other side of town, it makes you think of London and what an absolute scam it is to live here. And when you think about what is going on with the rise of Uber, and the determination of the black taxi drivers to drive them out of town because they are more competitively priced then them it makes you even more angry. Because Uber drivers aren’t even cheap, they are just cheaper then the alternative. But I can tell you this: I have never, ever paid a mere 80 p to be taken on any journey in London. Whether that’s by cab, train or bus. I think it costs something like £2 at the moment to go just one stop. AND you are sharing that journey with hundreds of other people with their germs and questionable habits. So the affordability of living in Chiang Mai is definitely a plus.

That goes for transportation, food, clothing, accommodation and entertainment, alot of which is free. The food in Thailand is unbeatable, and though it did get occasionally boring, as anything does if you have it too often, it was still fresh and tasty with bags of flavour though it was far more challenging finding vegetarian or vegan meals here and they haven’t even heard of gluten free!

The Night Markets in Thailand are great. Nightmarkets are such a distinctively Thai tradition and are so much fun to see even if you’re not buying anything (which I don’t think anyone could possibly do as they have a little something for everyone).

The weather, particularly in Chiang Mai was incredible. The best weather we have ever had anywhere. It never went much below 25 degrees but it was slightly chilly night which gave us a respite from the heat. There were no mosquitoes in Chiang Mai but plenty in Koh Samui so it’s pretty much even where that’s concerned, and again with the gecko’s and the tookay’s, which were terrorising us whilst we were in Koh Samui, but who we hardly ever saw in Chiang Mai.

The beaches in Koh Samui are some of the best of the world, and I found my favourite beach of all in Haad Thong Reng on the island of Koh Phangan, which was just magical.

Our day spent with elephants was something that I doubt either of us will ever forget in a hurry. Thailand remains a number 1 travel destination because it really does offer something for everyone and the Thai culture is so rich and colourful.

The Bad

The gecko situation in Koh Samui was unbearable and unacceptable. In the month that we were living there I was literally EXHAUSTED from trying to think up ways to get rid of these beasts and I couldn’t sleep at night for the noise of them. Bloody awful.

The perves – unfortunately I have come to realise that these Western perves are probably all over Thailand. After visiting Koh Samui again I found that they had increased in number but they are also in Chiang Mai too so I think it’s safe to say that these reject Westerners are all over Asia and in Thailand in particular.

The Chinese – I’m sorry but I have to say the presence of them in Thailand, and in Chiang Mai in particular was overwhelming. Partly it’s because of the sheer number of them as they seem to travel in groups of 10 or more. Partly it’s because their vanity and obsession with technology knows no bounds (the women take pictures of themselves incessantly and the boys do the same but also play computer games incessantly too). Partly it’s because they don’t seem to have any spacial awareness (they take up half the road when you are trying to walk down it as they seem to like congregating in one big cluster with no acknowledgement of others trying to go about their business). Partly, I don’t like this umbrella business because I know that if they were carrying them because they didn’t like the heat then they could just choose to go to a colder country and not come to one of the hottest, and I do not believe it’s simply because of the strength of the sun. I believe that they are desperately trying in earnest not to get darker. I know this because of the products they buy to lighten their skin that are sold on the open market and which they feel no shame about buying. 

And partly, it’s because they are far too loud. I don’t know whether it’s because they are deaf or whether their volume increases when they have had a drink but they are bloody loud and if you are in a restaurant trust me you are going to know about it!

The Ugly and the Busted

I don’t think there is a busted part of Thailand (apart from Bangkok perhaps, lol). Overall Thailand is a place with a rich culture, beautiful landscapes, good food, friendly people, amazing beaches and an abundance of things to do. The only part I really don’t like is the sex tourism which is tacky beyond belief and not particularly pleasant to encounter and the stray dog situation but other then that I think that Thailand is a wonderful destination for anyone to visit.

But I guess the ultimate decider is whether I could live here? Whether WE could live here?

Well we’ve been to Thailand twice now and I know that there are still many other islands to discover but from what I’ve seen so far, no, I wouldn’t want to live here. Koh Samui is too touristy, and Chiang Mai is even more so and I wouldn’t live there because it’s too busy, too noisy and too polluted. It’s a city, a unique city undoubtedly but I’m just not interested in living in a city longterm.

But Bali however, and Canggu in particular..Yes. We could live there happily (if our families weren’t so far away).

We have had many amazing experiences in our travels, and these are just a few!

#walkedwithelephants #playedwithmonkeys #swaminthesea #dancedlikeabalinesedancer #sunbathedonthebeach #hikedupawaterfall #modelledinbali #dinedinatreehouse #massagedonthebeach #dancedinthesea #visitedamidnightspa #fireworksonthebeach #sailedwithdolphins #bathedinaflowerbath #survivedanearthquake #dodgedavolcano #dinedinthesky #spentchristmasonthebeach #shoppedatthenightmarket #dinedlikeaqueen #spaintherainforest #visitedabuddhisttemple #watchedamuaythaifight #dancedatabeachclub #watchedmonkspraying #sawfiredancersonthebeach #drunkkombucha #visitedmyauntinbali #ateveganinbali #partiedonthebeach #visitedsometemples #livedamongstricepaddies #sunsetonthebeach #massageinthejungle #daytriptokohphangan #dinneronthebeach #sawmysisterinthailand #scammedabillionaire #rodeinasongthaew #spentvalentinesdayinsingapore

Places of Note:

Zazen – a magical place. Hidden away from prying eyes, once you meander through the maze like Japanese gardens your heart stops a beat you and find that you have fallen head over heels in love. Like I did. Twice.

Saffron – What better way is there to experience Thailand then from the stunning views overlooking a private beach cove? And transportation by golf buggy will be an experience I will always remember.

Service 1921 – Despite the owner being a questionable individual who seems to take pleasure from siphoning off as much as possible from the local communities his opulent hotels are located within, his restaurant Service 1921, fashioned from a colonial style secret service was top knotch.

The Jungle Club – Incredible views from one of the highest points in Samui which overlooks the whole island and offers one of the most zen like atmospheres to be discovered there.

Coco Tam’s aka Coco Piss – For the nightly fire shows that can be seen from your seat at their restaurant which offers the tastiest pizza in town!

Beach Republic – A firm favourite. Beautiful beach, great food, chilled out vibes and serious tunes. A winner.

Haad Thong Reng Beach, Koh Phangan – The sheer beauty and tranquility of this beach was astounding. It moves into first place as being my favourite beach in the world so far.

Dom Cafe – Everything in Dom’s is tasty and uniquely presented. We went to Dom’s almost everyday for a whole month and I never tired of their Steamed Chicken Bun or Coconut Rolls!

Fern Forest – We were surprised at how busy and touristy Chiang Mai was when we first arrived but what better place to escape the craziness then Fern Forest, a tranquil cafe that looks like it’s within an actual rainforest.

The Ethical Elephant Sanctuary – The best place to see elephants who have been saved from a life of servitude. Elephants who are well looked after, not ridden by humans and who live simple but happy lives in the northern Thai mountains.

Peace Tropical Spa – I had the best Thai massage ever here. Despite the paradise like beauty of Karsa Spa in Ubud, or the tropical abundance of the Anantara Spa in Bophut both which I loved, when I arrived at the Peace Tropical Spa in torrential rain I wasn’t convinced that I was even in the mood for a spa treatment but the massage I had ended up being so wonderful that I was almost floating when I emerged from my thoroughly relaxed, zombie-like state.

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Week 2 in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Week 2 in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Now that we’ve settled into life in Chiang Mai a little more, I can see why it would be very easy to live here. For one thing the weather has continued to be glorious. The sun has been shining everyday but it is not humid at all – it’s dry and rather spring like. There are lots of restaurants, bars and cafes etc.

 Now that we have seen the elephants and we are approaching the end of our travels, there has been a natural anti-climax. Infact spending the day with those amazing animals seems quite a long time ago now but thankfully I have some pictures and videos to remind me of what an amazing and surreal day it was.

Despite the fact that Chinese New Year is in mid February – the Chinese have swarmed this city like a plague so I can only imagine what it’s going to be like when Chinese New Year arrives. Being in a city – walking on concrete pavements, with no beach or nature in sight as such is a little wearing, and despite the ease of living here, I don’t find Chiang Mai much different from living in any other city. We loved Bali in particular for the fact that it was so natural but also had a uniquely Balinese atmosphere.

We have exhausted the shopping mall and the night market and have no real interest in going shopping anyway. We have almost exhausted the fine dining restaurants here because there aren’t many to choose from to start with (most people seem to eat in casual restaurants or from the street food sellers who have their food carts posted on almost every roadside). Many of the tourist attractions include the mistreatment of animals in some way – whether that’s riding elephants, making monkeys do tricks, putting on a show with drugged up tigers or teasing crocodiles. None of which I am interested in experiencing.

I have no interest in seeing anything that is cruel to animals so we have made a concerted effort to avoid doing any touristy things here that exploits them in any way. That leaves extreme sports, such as white water rafting, bungy jumping and zip lining still available but apart from zip lining, and perhaps quad biking, none of those things really appeal to me either, partly because they can be done in most places in the world. And I have seen enough temples to last a lifetime. So basically, what I’m saying is, we have kind of run out of things to do! The highlight of our trip thus far has definitely been seeing the elephants at the elephant sanctuary and I’m not really expecting to be able to top that but I would have at least expected to find some interesting things to do here other than visiting imprisoned animals and going shopping.

We haven’t tried out any of the spa’s yet here so that’s something we are going to do very soon, and then there’s the national parks, of which they have plenty of and which look amazing, but other than that, there’s only so much pounding of concrete I can do and afterall, I’m from London, we have plenty of concrete to pound.

We went to the cinema today – the one that is in the shopping mall. Surprisingly, the cinema was almost empty, despite it being their discount cinema ticket day and despite them hyping up this film that I didn’t know the name of or what it was supposed to be  about. It was an American film with Thai subtitles so needless to say, it was another ultra commercial American blockbusters with special effects up the hoo har type of film. Not my kind of thing. But they were advertising the new Black Panther film which is coming out on the 15th February which was cool. Before the film started, before the related promotional films came on suddenly everyone in the auditorium stood up and on screen a picture appeared of their since deceased King (who died last October I believe and who they are partly still in mourning for), and unbelievably, everyone there (including us_ was required to stand and listen to the kings song which was played with an accompanying film of him standing very solemnly whilst people bowed and bestowed blessings upon him for about 7 minutes. It was very odd I have to say.

Food here has been a bit of a challenge. We are walking distance from lots of restaurants in theory but most of them are Thai restaurants and I have been having Thai food almost everyday for 2 months so I’m getting kind of sick of it. This means that we have had to go to the shopping mall for food which has it’s own food hall but most of the restaurants are Japanese (which is fine if you want sushi everyday but we’ve had it twice already since being here). The other restaurants in the mall are just peculiar – the menu’s are either not in English, but in Thai or even Chinese sometimes, or they don’t have a list of the ingredients in the foods they are offering. Instead of knowing what is in the food, you have to look at the pictures provided and guess what might be in it. That does not appeal to me and of course, being in Asia, they do eat a lot of questionable things such as Duck Lips for instance (trust me that IS a thing).

My eyebrows need doing and I can’t find a salon that does eyebrow threading. Thankfully my beauty regime is minimal at the best of times and even more so here as even though my skin is probably the worst it’s ever been in the 4 months been here (due to the fact that we’re in the city which is full of pollution and despite the glorious weather are spending more time indoors due to the fact that it’s both busy and noisy outside), I have been able to keep it in check with my trusty Liz Earle skin regime, but the eyebrow thing is beginning to annoy as I can only seem to find salons here that do eyebrow waxing but not threading.

I walked into the only salon I could find the other day that advertised that they did eyebrow waxing and finally after much towing and frowing as the lady couldn’t speak a word of English and had a mouth mask on (very popular here in Asia due to the pollution), I finally understood that she wanted me to follow her to another salon. I didn’t really understand why as the sign outside said that they done eyebrow waxing there but I was so desperate to have it done that I decided to follow her. About 4 minutes walk and we arrived at another salon (which looked new as it didn’t even have any signage up) and I followed her inside. I wasn’t sure whether she was dropping me off so that another person could do my eyebrows or whether she would be doing it herself but after asking me to follow her into a private room I understood that she would be doing it.

Since I hadn’t planned to go to the salon that day I was still wearing my eyebrow pencil but I assumed she would just wipe it off as all technicians do but she didn’t. This woman was by far the most gentle I have ever experienced doing this technique, which by rights should hurt as it’s removing hair from it’s roots in one yank. But everytime she pulled the waxy strip off my skin she apologised and patted the sore area as if to ease the throbbing. I couldn’t work out how she could possibly do a decent job when she hadn’t even removed the eyebrow pencil that was still on my eyebrows – how could she see what needed waxing even?

But I was left assured that she was infact fully committed to doing a good job when I felt a cooling gel being gently applied to my eyelids to ease the soreness and rose water being dabbed on my forehead and above my brows, the sweetness of which filled my nostrils and magically seemed to numb the pain. She was so gentle that I couldn’t even feel the tweezers plucking the stray hairs or the scissors trimming the unruly ones but by the time she had finished I was delighted and surprised to find that she had done a good job – a great job infact, better then many I’ve had in England – my eyebrows were neat, she hadn’t touched the eyebrow pencil at all – it was still in one piece and I now smelt like of a bed of roses. Happy days.

Whilst I was having my eyebrows done Josh was at the local barbers having his hair cut but rather then coming out looking like a well groomed Josh, his hairstyle came out more closely resembling Kim Jong Un’s, lol.

When I get back to the UK, which is in a mere 2 weeks would you believe, I am looking forward to seeing my cats of course, getting my house back in order (as I have had 2 strangers living there for the past 4 months and have no idea how they have left it), seeing my family  – of course a big highlight, and then believe it or not I am going to need to prepare myself for work as I will be back to work on the Monday and I also have my perfume workshops to prepare for as despite me not doing any advertising whatsoever whilst I have been away I have sold out almost 3 of my workshops.

Chinese Picture Taking

There are a couple of things I have noticed since being in Asia for a substantial amount of time and that is the clone like way of the Chinese who seem intent on looking exactly the same and doing exactly the same things. Tis annoying enough having to dodge their umbrella’s for fear of them getting darker but there is another thing I find annoying too, and that is of course their constant picture taking. It is something that I noticed first when I was in Santorini, Greece when literally swarms of them turned up with camera’s, tripods, selfie sticks and phones and took pictures from dusk til dawn, allday everyday of themselves mainly, but occasionally of the staggeringly beautiful surroundings. I found it odd then and I find it odd now that they seemingly are unable to function without either of these devices especially when it’s pointed at themselves. They are on their phones taking pictures of themselves incessantly, and it doesn’t matter whether they are alone or in a group, infact they scarcely talk to one another if they are in a group asides from to show, take or share pictures. It is both predictable and a little sad I have to say. For if everyone you know is doing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time always, how do you become an individual? If you all share exactly the same interests with exactly the same tastes, how can you be different? I would say it’s fascinating but I don’t find it to be so really. I find it more than a little peculiar and a little bit sad.

 

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Monks lose their way too 🙂

Songthaew Commuting 

Songthaews are the main local mode of transportation in Thailand. Unlike in Bali, when we got around using our motorbike, and in Koh Samui, when we hired a car, we have been commuting via this very popular and regular mode of transport in Chiang Mai. These vehicles are like converted lorrys/buses with the windows more like slightly wider slits that you can barely see out of, the back where you enter has no door and rather then having individual seats facing forwards they have two long seats adjacent to each other where about 7 or 8 people can get in either side. There are lots of them around the city and you just hail them like you would a black taxi. The difference of course between them and the black taxi’s are that the ride isn’t as comfortable and you share it with others who the driver picks up along the way BUT the price is UNBELIEVABLY CHEAP. CRIMINALLY CHEAP. INSANELY CHEAP. For a mere 80 p you can basically be taken anywhere in the city you want to go and most of the time because there are so many Songthaews in the city, you don’t have to share yours with anyone. It just makes you realise how expensive things are in the UK and ultimately, how much we are all being ripped off!

Asides from being a reliable and cheap way to get around we have also got into conversations with a couple of tourists in the Songthaew too. For some reason, despite the fact that it’s so cheap, the locals do not seem to use the Songthaew. I guess most of them have a scooter but for all of the other tourists in Chiang Mai is seems ridiculous not to take advantage of something this reasonable and thus we have met and got talking to people all the way from Canada, to Sweden to Bangkok. And they all have the same story: They’re here to escape the winter!

Since being here I am pleased to say that I still haven’t seen ANY stray dogs whatsoever. I’ve seen a few gecko’s but none in or around our apartment and despite me not wearing any insect repellent at any point in time whilst arriving here I have literally only been bitten once on my ankle. Other then that I have been mosquito and therefore Skeeter Syndrome free! Usually I am terrorised by mosquitoes so this really is something special as it’s very hot here and I haven’t been wearing any protection. Unbelievable. It must have something to do with the climate, which as I’ve described is very hot but also very dry and quite chilly in the early morning and evenings which is when they usually come out to munch on people.

Fern Forest

Despite my love of Dom’s Cafe, with it’s tasty steamed chicken buns and coconut rolls, I was determined to find another cafe that we could go to so when I came across one called Fern Forest Cafe, near the Old Town, which had a rainforest theme, surrounded by trees and plants in a pretty and quaint courtyard, I was sold. When we arrived to see the dappled streams of sunlight coming through the trees with the feeling of being in an English country garden in spring I was very happy. I had been searching for a place like this in Chiang Mai. Somewhere that was in the city but didn’t look or feel like it was in the city and here it was. Off a busy road, hidden from view, we arrived to find a natural, leafy sanctuary, surrounded by fern trees within it’s own walled garden. Within it there was a waterfall and steam being gently pumped from a multitude of hidden mechanisms which created the look and feel of you being within an actual rainforest. The sound of birds relax you and the service is friendly but calm. It is a magical and tranquil place. Fern Forest is definitely our favourite place in Chiang Mai thus far and they have live jazz on Sundays too which we look forward to checking out!

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Fern Forest Cafe – a rainforest in the city!

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A Fern Forest special -pancakes with fruit and cream

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Dom’s Cafes legendary Coconut Roll Cake

Reject Westeners

I thought I’d left the perves behind me in Koh Samui but it appears they are here too, in Chiang Mai. The amount of Western men who are here with their Thai brides or seeking Thai brides is staggering, and I’d like to think that this is mostly a perfectly normal union but alas I fear it is not. Most of the Western men I have seen here are with Thai women who are far younger, and far more attractive then them, understandably can hardly speak a word of English (and vice versa it’s fair to say), and similarly to what Trump (who is a big fool) said of the Mexicans “They’re not bringing their best”. Well I can certainly confirm that the men here, waltzing around with their Thai women are most definitely NOT the best of the West. Infact I could say that in most cases from what I’ve seen, they are the worst.

The worst how you ask? Well put it this way, the men I have seen here, are not the most attractive, not the most intelligent, not the most interesting, and not the most well to do – so they are indeed some of the dregs. They are the ones that that the Western women do not want and therefore they come here to be welcomed with open arms by the Asian women who either do not know any better or who have been brainwashed into believing (as have most of the world), that any white man equals a prize to shout about. It does not. Sorry. Some of these men are bloody awful! I have seen them, I have heard them and all I can do is shake my head. A terrible, terrible state of affairs.

The Bed of Rock

The bed in our apartment is bloody uncomfortable. It is so hard that it actually gives us aches and pains when we wake up in the morning! I couldn’t tell you the last time that I’d actually had a restful sleep – it was probably back in Bali at Sense, Canggu where the bed was huge and luxurious, not to mention creature free. In our villa in Koh Samui I slept badly too as I was constantly awoken by the sound of gecko’s and tookay’s running rampant and now our bed is so hard it hurts. Not great!

Saturday Night Market

I thought I was all nightmarketed out but we heard about yet another nightmarket, called the Saturday night market which was supposed to be one of the better ones so we decided to check it out. We arrived late but still we could see that it was far better then the ones we had been to previously because we could actually walk as the streets the stalls were posted on seemed a little less narrow, the sellers were selling some original things lots of which we’d never seen before, and of course it was huge. We didn’t get to see all of it but we did get the general scale of its so we concluded that it would definitely be worth going to earlier and checking it out properly. Whilst we were there we went to a cafe for dinner where our meal cost £6 (TOTAL not each) including alcohol. These kinds of obscenely low prices is why Chiang Mai is so popular! The food was delicious too.

On our way home we came across two stall sellers, a couple, and they had 2 adorable dogs with them, one of which was a Pomeranian (the breed of dog I’ve always wanted) and one of which was white, smaller and fluffier breed that I didn’t recognise. They were utterly adorable, and just sat on their designated areas – a box for the fluffy white dog, and a chair for the caramel coloured Pomeranian who was wearing a fitted checked shirt. These dogs were clearly pampered pooches but unlike the pampered pooches that I usually see around town, these two were very well behaved! They didn’t bark, they didn’t mind people oohing and ahhing over them as you couldn’t help but do, they didn’t mind being stroked and they sat obediently on their respective posts. They were so cute it was painful! Especially the boy in the tailored shirt, who had been groomed to have a big fluffy head and a short haired body. He looked like a mini fox. A cute mini fox I hasten to add!

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The fluffy one 

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The adorable Pomeranian

The Pong that Ponged

Whilst we’ve been in Thailand we have had a few massage treatments, though not in Chiang Mai yet, one of which was a herbal compress treatment which incorporates the use of a bunch of herbs, specially chosen for their health benefits, bound tightly in a woven fabric which is then emersed in water and heated then applied to the skin and massaged with. It is said to relieve tightness and relax the muscles and I had tried it myself in Koh Samui and thought it was great but I wasn’t a big fan of the smell, afterall it was herbs and not necessarily supposed to be olfactorily pleasing. So when we came across a seller selling these herbal balls in various sizes at the market I wasn’t inclined to buy any but Josh has been suffering from a bad back for the past couple of weeks and said he wanted to buy one to see whether it worked to ease his pain and afterall, it was only a pound! A pound I tell you! I said I would be interested in trying it too since my Mum suffers from a constantly aching arm so perhaps she might benefit from it so we got one.

The following day I used the herbal ball on Josh and I got the shock of my life. The thing was POTENT. We had to sprinkle some water on it first and then put it in the microwave to heat it up but when I opened the microwave door a pong such as I never believed could be produced from such a harmless looking thing rushed up my nose and almost knocked me out. This thing smelt like weed and Cerasee, a vile tasting bush plant that’s grown in Jamaica and is drunk to cure ailments, and suddenly our whole apartment stunk of the stuff. I gave Josh a massage with the thing but the smell was so intense and getting steadily stronger as the herbs were released with each kneading stroke it that I had to cease breathing through my nose and switch to breathing through my mouth and Josh, the patient himself, was also getting a whiff of the stuff and said that the fumes were making him high, lol.

As I had done the massage on our bed I was dismayed to later find the smell of the herbs had permeated the bed all the way down to the mattress and I was convinced that had anyone walked past our apartment at that very moment, they would have thought that we were growing weed up in there! I’m not sure that I can transport this thing back to the UK!

Calm Massage

A massage at this perfectly sweet place called Calm Massage is as cheap as £11.00 for an hour so needless to say Josh and I were only too happy to pay that to get 60 glorious minutes of  authentic thai relaxation. And I did feel very calm afterwards. Positively lightheaded infact!