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.

Week 1 in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Week 1 in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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As soon as we arrived in Chiang Mai we were greeted with a sun so intense it almost scorched both our eyebrows off. Before we had left Koh Samui for Chiang Mai we had been warned by various people there, including our villa’s cleaners and the staff at the Anantara hotel in Samui, that Chiang Mai was cold at this time of year so we were a half expecting to have to purchase coats when we arrived but as it turned out it couldn’t possibly have been hotter.

When we checked the forecast for the coming week all we could see was wall to wall sunshine on the horizon and it was due to be even hotter then the time we spent in Koh Samui and Bali combined! Woo hoo!

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I hadn’t done much research on Chiang Mai before we arrived there so I didn’t really know what to expect. All I knew was that it was a very popular destination for travellers because of it’s temperate climate, had an abundance of things to do, and was even cheaper then Koh Samui. And I also knew that this was the home of Thai Elephants.

Seeing elephants, up close and personal in their natural surroundings, living their lives happy and free, was something that I always wanted to see whilst I was in Thailand. And in Chiang Mai, because it was located in the mountains, there was an abundance of elephants, lots who had been taken into good and into not so good care by sanctuary’s once the law was passed a few years ago that they mustn’t be used for work. But many of the sanctuary’s, indeed the vast majority of them in Asia, used the animals instead as ploys for tourism and allowed these beautiful, intelligent creatures of majesty and awe to be ridden. Not only did not I not want to ride an elephant, I also did not want to even see them being ridden as the thought of an elephant, so graceful a creature, being used in this way for our cheap human titillation made me feel very sad. So Josh and I had decided that the only way that we would want to see an elephant in Thailand is if it were free, and by that we meant no chains, no ropes and NO RIDING.

Our accommodation whilst we were in Chiang Mai was in the heart of the city. This time I knew that we had picked the right location for our travels as our condominium was located just a few minutes walk away from the very glamorous MAYA shopping mall, and just off the hugely popular Nimmanhaemin  Road, considered to be the most upmarket area of Chiang Mai with it’s abundance of boutique shops, bars, spas, restaurants and luxury condo’s and though our condo was not as new as two of the other properties we had stayed at, namely Pumpkin Village in Ubud and Bali and Sense in Canggu, Bali, The Nimmana, where we were going to be staying for the next month, was one of the newest condominiums in this part of Chiang Mai, which meant that we were one of only a handful of people to stay in our apartment which we had booked directly through the owner on Airbnb.

Chiang Mai itself I soon found out was actually a very busy city. It offered access to the mountains, vast national parks and temples but it was still a city with lots of traffic and noise and absolutely no beaches but I was thankful when we pulled up to our new apartment that it was largely shielded from the noise. The Nimmana was a high rise building, with around 350 individual private apartments. With high security posted at the entrance 24 hours a day and key card access to the lift, rooms and floors, it felt very safe indeed. Along with it’s great location on Nimmanhaemin Road, it also had a huge pool, a sauna and a gym, which for Josh and me, meant that we would have to find yet another reason to evade exercise, lol.

Our apartment was on the 4th floor and in stark contrast to our previous villa in Koh Samui, was a bijou 1 bedroom apartment which was ultra modern, extremely clean and had a balcony that overlooked the pool area. The owner was Chinese and perhaps had never even stepped foot in the property judging by how immaculate the place was and the choice of glamorous interiors. Perhaps she had just purchased the apartment as an investment and hadn’t even lived there.

After being what was seriously beginning to feel like being under siege by the steady stream of gecko’s that were waltzing brazenly into our home back in Samui, I breathed a sigh of relief as I knew that now, finally I could get some undisturbed sleep as I realised that somewhere as clean and new as this was extremely unlikely to have any gecko’s at all. And I was right. There were absolutely no gecko’s to be found! And unlike in Bali and Koh Samui, though admittedly Bali was far worse, since arriving in Chiang Mai we had seen absolutely no dogs whatsoever!

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Our apartment at The Nimmana in Chiang Mai 

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The feeling of Chiang Mai, when we dropped our bags in our apartment and went for a walk couldn’t possibly have been anymore different from how it felt to walk in Koh Samui. It was very busy, with people, cars, bikes and taxi’s everywhere and it had a real buzz about it. The climate was dry and intensely warm, like the best summers day in England you could possibly imagine. It was nothing like Bali’s climate, which was very humid, and nothing like Koh Samui, which was generally overcast for our entire stay. Instead here it was sunny, warm and dry – almost spring like. The weather was ideal – I couldn’t for the life of me work out what on earth the people in Koh Samui were talking about – it was by far the best weather we had experienced so far!

Strolling around we could already see why Chiang Mai had such a good reputation and why there were so many people walking around with backpacks (who were clearly travellers like us). It was because it had a distinctive vibe about it, wasn’t overly commercial but it had lots of shopping centres, cafe’s, quirky little shops and restaurants serving everything from Japanese to Iraqi cuisine but it was still very Thai. The highly rated MAYA mall, when we got to it, looked to me like a smaller version of Westfield back in London and it was very glamorous indeed. Infact I was quite shocked to see how much money had clearly been spent on this shopping mall, and the surrounding area. MAYA looked like a huge crystal maze and another glamorous new shopping centre named One Nimman that was due to be officially open looked like Thailand’s version of Covent Garden. It was lovely!

These establishments clearly had some money behind them – they looked far better then any shopping mall I had been to in Koh Samui, infact right now, Chiang Mai was putting Samui to shame!

We checked out the mall which was a multi-storied extravaganza of floors selling a minimal amount of clothes (compared to UK stores) on the 1st floor along with makeup and fragrance, on the second floor there was sports ware, some clothes shops and homewares, the third floor the entire floor was pretty much dedicated to electronics everything from phones to camera’s, the fifth floor had a food hall, where we popped into a Japanese restaurant called Fuji to have some sushi  – so good! And then on the floor above that was an arcade, a social hub/co-working space, a cinema that was also showing 4K movies, a normal gym and a Muay Thai gym where you could sign up and learn Muay Thai in just a month. And the best thing about it was that even if you didn’t want to learn Muay Thai you could just sit there and watch them spar. So cool! And then on the floor above that there was rooftop bars that were only open in the evening.

London had a lot to learn when it came to the variety of shops available in it’s super duper shopping malls as far as I was concerned. In particular, when it came to providing places for people to work, such as this co-working space which almost took up half the 6th floor of the MAYA mall. It was amazing. Lots of break out spaces and private meeting rooms aswell as desks and benches to work from and it was open 24 hours a day allday everyday.

On our way back down the escalator we almost walked smack bang into an Anantara Vacation Club presentation table. When Josh saw it he pointed it out to me and we had a private chuckle amongst ourselves but again, the lure of the free gift vouchers proved to be too strong and by the time we had arrived back at our apartment we had decided that we were going to go again meaning, that we were going to approach Anantara pretending to be yet another couple (for the third time in our travels) in order to try and get some more of these vouchers. We decided that tomorrow would be the day!

We had a clear plan in mind. All we wanted was to get the free Anantara vouchers and for that we knew that we would have to sit through another one of their presentations only this time, we would have never been to the Chiang Mai Anantara before so we didn’t need to worry about being spotted (unless of course the Koh Samui branch had alerted them of our scam), lol.

The way we saw it was we were just claiming what they were offering though of course to claim what they were offering we would still need to pretend to be someone else then who we had been previously, lol so when we approached the Anantara desk in the mall casually as if to enquire about their Vacation Club out of interest, we gave them the names of Vanessa Thomas and Rob Jackson, a mixup of my mums maiden surname and my current surname and his brothers and my sisters first names to allow us to remember them more easily, and a new address etc and then they booked us in for the presentation the following day. Since we didn’t have any transport yet and we were staying in an apartment not a hotel we knew that it would be fine if they picked us up from our apartment this time since the security guards at our apartment didn’t know the names of who was staying in the condo’s. Once again, so far anyway, our audacity had taken us through to the next stage and we were feeling very confident indeed!

Ginger & Kafe

That night we went to a Thai fine dining restaurant in the Old City called Ginger & Kafe, which was in a part of the City that still retained some of the earlier Chiang Mai before it was rebuilt and expanded. The restaurant was very quirky and colourful and the food excellent. It had come highly rated and I could certainly attest to the quality of the food and the thoughtfulness of the interiors. It also had another more casual restaurant attached which looked pretty good also and there was a garden which looked like it might be a nice place to go for afternoon tea in the daytime.

Anantara Part 3

The fact was that we quite enjoyed hearing these presentations. Well I did anyway. Partly, I was interested in luxury travel and that was what they were selling, partly, I really liked the brand, partly I was amused by William and his antics and partly I wanted those generous vouchers again. Since they were picking us up from home and dropping us back, offering us tea and coffee and taking us around the resort to promote the Anantara brand, I thought that it was a pretty good deal for a couple of hours of our time. And at no point in time were me and Josh in the market for signing up to a Vacation Club anyway even if it was one of the more appealing ones. Still, when we arrived I felt the familiar buzz of anticipation, both with the excitement of possibly getting found out, wondering what kind of sales person we might get and what they might say as it seemed to me so far that every presentation was different depending on who you got. The first girl wasn’t very convincing at all, the second guy was better and we were given more information about the vacation club then the girl had provided. We wondered who we’d get this time?

We got an English man. As soon as I saw the guy I started to feel slightly uneasy for if there was going to be anyone to sniff out our identity’s then this guy would be the one to do so. He seemed nice enough though so I told myself to just relax and keep to the story of me being Vanessa and Josh being Rob and we’d be alright.

He began the presentation by trying to find out a little more about us, our travel habits, our holiday plans, our holiday budget. I had previously been warned by Josh to let him doing the talking since this being our third time it was likely to be a little more tricky with the details. I was under the impression that since there was no possible way for this man to convince us to sign up to his scheme it didn’t really matter what I said, but I vowed to listen to Josh. I would keep it zipped. It didn’t take long before I think we both realised that this guy, coupled with the fact that he was a native english speaker from our own country and so naturally had more in common with us then a Malaysian salesperson, he was actually pretty good.

So much so infact that by the time he got halfway through his presentation, despite me hearing this presentation 2 times before just a few weeks ago, despite the offer being pretty much the same, and despite the fact that we were only there for the vouchers and were not in the market for a timeshare at all, I was almost ready to sign up. And so was Josh! But surely he was just telling you what you had already heard? I hear you ask. Well yes and no, he was throwing in a few extra’s but also, more importantly I think, he showed us ways of getting the most out of our “points” and scamming the system that was trying to scam us in a way, he showed us more options then we knew had existed before and also he took us around the hotel grounds and to a show apartment to give us an example of what we would be getting if we signed up and of course I liked it very much.

The show apartment, which highlighted both the spaciousness and the distinctive Asian inspired Anantara style, was great, and getting access to all of the facilities in the hotel was a bonus. Perhaps to the salesman, whose name was Julian, it was starting to look as if he was wearing us down and maybe he was, well me anyway, as when I thought about all of the amazing locations the hotels were located in, many of where I’d never even considered going before such as Abu Dhabi and Mozambique, coupled with the ones I had such as Sri Lanka and Brazil, it was starting to make sense to me.

Did we like this brand? Yes. Could we afford it – technically yes if we were able to pay in installments. And the key question from him to us: Would there be anything that would stop you having a holiday within the next 5 years time? – this is where I had to keep schtoom because I knew in my heart of hearts that there was literally nothing that could keep me from travelling within the next 5 years time but I knew that Josh didn’t want to be backed into a corner by this guy as though he was also feeling the pressure with the deal looking more and more impressive by the minute, he was the logical one and had no intention of signing up to this club. But when Julian went to go to the toilet Josh admitted to me that if we hadn’t fraudulently used different names in order to get the free vouchers then there was a very strong possibility that he would have considered signing up. But now obviously we could not.

When we walked out of the Anantara with our third lot of vouchers in hand, this time we felt a little differently then the times before. It didn’t have the sense of naughtiness and excitement attached to it, perhaps in part because we’d played this game a few times now and maybe had gotten used to winning. But it was also because we felt that an opportunity had been missed that though expensive yes, would have opened up new and exciting possibilities for Josh and I in our travelling life and thus we have decided that when the time is right we will revisit the idea again for the purpose of seriously considering it.  So in that way, maybe they will win afterall!

IMG_1458The Anantara at night: Schmancy even then!

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Night Bazaar

The night bazaar is a huge area spanning 1 kilometre of food stalls, craft sellers, clothes, art and trinkets. You name it – the night bazaar has it. Open every night from 18:00 till around midnight like Fisherman’s Village the stalls can be browsed for literally hours in a continuous succession of shoppers delight. It is infact so big and so spread out with side streets here there and everywhere, coupled with live music, restaurants and spa’s vying for attention, that it almost impossible to deny yourself the lures of the things being sold even despite the fact that many of the same things are being sold just a few tables down. Night markets are a hugely popular part of the Thai culture and the tourists just love it. Strolling around Josh and I almost (almost!) managed to ignore the pull of the stall sellers but then I saw some pink fisherman’s trousers that I liked so I bought myself a pair and Josh got himself some blue ones. These are the kinds of things people buy here in Thailand knowing that they are probably never going to wear them again once they get home but I really like mine and they were only £4. Bargain!

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Tasty, healthy food from The Salad Concept

Soul Singer Kim Jung Un

We arrived at another part of the night market called Ploen Rudee Night Market to find an area filled with food stalls and benches which wouldn’t have looked out of place in England. It was obviously very popular as it was packed to the rafters with people from all over the world and then a band came on who apparently was going to entertain us with Soul Classics. Normally that would suggest something like Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson, which though I had nothing against, I really would like to hear some proper soul music and not the predictable kind. So I was left left surprised and I have to say quite amused when a small, innocent looking Thai guy who looked very much Kim Jung Un, came along with a full band and started belting out the likes of Earth Wind and Fire, Roy Ayers and Rick James! And though he didn’t have an amazing voice and the backers were clearly struggling to do the harmonies that were required, I was very impressed with his attempt at singing such obviously soulful tunes that many people wouldn’t dare trying to sing and he was singing with true conviction – the man was loving every minute of it! I loved Kim Jung Un.

Chiang Mai is a huge city. There doesn’t appear to be a “centre” per say but there does appear to be a lot to discover as we have done just driving through the city. It’s a fascinating place.

Service 1921

Service 1921 was Anantara’s secret spy themed restaurant fashioned after the British consulate which the building actually was at one stage in time. The vouchers they had given us this time around they had cleverly only listed tours on the island and businesses they owned such as their spa and their restaurants but thankfully we wanted to go to their restaurant anyway so we booked a table there. Chiang Mai is a funny place as it seems quite difficult to find “fine dining” restaurants of the abundance and level that we can find elsewhere but thankfully Anantara’s Service 1921 was supposed to be one of the finest. And it was. A combination of Thai, Chinese and Japanese cuisine we had our most amazing meal there by far since arriving in Chiang Mai and the setting was suitably ambient. We used our vouchers so we didn’t pay a penny for our 3 course meal with cocktails but we enjoyed it so much that we will definitely be returning!

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My delicious and impressive “Gold Leaf” Cocktail at Service 1921

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Lip smackingly good!

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Menu’s are given to you in a spy like folder to keep with the secret agent theme 🙂

There are Chinese people everywhere here! Everywhere I tell you! Infact, there are so many Chinese people that I’m beginning to think that there’s more here then Thai people, they seem to be in the majority by far and that I guess would explain the investment in the area. We had a walk through One Nimman, the new shopping area that’s not officially open yet though alot of the shops there are and it looks amazing. It’s very high end and almost all of the shops in it are boutique brands that I’ve never heard of before including a fragrance brand called Pan Puri which I have discovered since arriving here that I’m a little obsessed with (though I refuse to pay their ridiculous prices). I refer of course to the branding itself and not the smell of the products as thus far from what I’ve smelt I haven’t been very impressed with their scents but I appreciate their eco credentials (they only use essential oils in their products) and have utterly captivating names and scent descriptions. I am definitely going to take some inspiration from them in my own business!

 But back onto the Chinese. There’s loads of them. This is clearly their number one travel destination outside of their own country and judging by the number of them in our apartment they are either living here or own properties here. Most of the businesses have signs in Thai and English but also in Chinese too which I don’t think I’ve even seen before and on some occasions there is only Chinese writing, no Thai at all! In our apartment we have a list of all the people who have stayed here and they all appear to be Chinese too like the owner.

The Chinese seem to travel en-mass, like a multi-generational group of people as if none of them have been on holiday before and what makes it more apparent when they travel in such large groups is the fact that there are hardly any pavements here (yes, no pavements), which means that you have to dodge them and their umbrella’s when you are trying to walk down the street.

The Business of Bleach

Is it raining? I hear you ask. No, it is not raining. It is infact the dryest, hottest and most pleasant climate I have experienced in a long while. And though it can get quite chilly in the evenings and early morning during the day it is lovely but these people, mostly Chinese but a few Japanese and Thai’s too I have to say, walk around with umbrella’s because they are afraid to get darker. They have an obsession with protecting their skin from the sun not because of any health reasons of course or else they would just wear sunscreen. No, they are absolutely terrified of getting darker and for a proud brown skinned lady such as I, I not only find this ridiculous for if they don’t want to get a tan then don’t come to a hot country (duh!) but also offensive, as both Josh and I have been trying to cultivate our tans and see it as a sign of good living and being well travelled, not the opposite! Some of these girls look so pale they almost look as if they are deceased. Why are you seeking the look of death? Why do you wish to appear as if your life has come to an abrupt end? WHY?- I honestly do not get it.

Of course this obsession with staying pale we all know is not just restricted to our Asian counterparts because in the black community we are just as bad if not worse, for over here, this kind of white seeking is the social norm, whereas we perhaps have not quite admitted it and overall like to pretend that we are proud of what we are whilst lusting after the opposite and buying under the counter face lightening creams – prevalent in both Nigeria and Jamaica not to mention other blessed brown places in the world.

It is upsetting to me. And utterly pointless. In almost every shop I have been in here from their small local shops to Boots they have skin lightening ingredients listed in almost every one of their products, proudly being displayed on the packaging as a benefit to the product and infact Josh has found it hard to even find a men’s face cream without the dreaded skin lightening ingredient in it. This isn’t being sold under the counter but very much on the counter, on brazen display and even in advertisements on gigantic billboards around Chiang Mai.

But what of I? – am I to also feel ashamed of my skin? Something that is a continuous battle in my own community, in my own country and certainly in the wider society? OH HELL NO. I do not seek the look of death and I would suggest that if you do that you do it in your own time and not try and force this completely un-natural nonsense upon me. For the sun is there to give you energy and colour to bring vibrancy to your skin and to your life. To hide from it is the very definition of self hate not to mention the fact that it’s not healthy to do so (in moderation of course) and I’m not down for it. Bring on the sun!!!

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Bleaching L’Oreal products for men found in Boots would you believe?!

Dash Teak House 

We went to Dash Teak House for dinner and it was great. I did try and make a reservation on the phone first but they wouldn’t take my reservation – they just told me to come down so we jumped in a taxi and went. Located down a dark and dingy, and quite frankly questionable alley with the perves of the foreigner variety, there with their short skirted Thai brides who were there scouting for more perves of the foreigner variety in small and distinctly looking seedy bars, we finally arrived at Dash.

Had we not been following our Google Maps, with the guarantee that Dash, one of the best restaurants on the island was located there, we would almost certainly have turned back as this particular road, with it’s dodgy looking unattractive English, American and French men sniffing around the much younger, and much more attractive Thai women, was not the kind of location for me. I felt dirty just venturing down it to be honest but finally we arrived and we could see that the place was heaving with people with a large Chinese contingency of about 10 people vying to get in, not to mention 6 other people in front of us but the guy at the door told us it would only be 20 minutes to get us a table so we went to the local bar and got some cocktails and less then 5 minutes he was back telling us that our table was ready.

The place was buzzing with live blues being played upstairs. We were seated in the garden so we couldn’t see the band but we could hear them and they sounded pretty good. As we had come to expect in Chiang Mai the food was both delicious and cheap! I was starting to think it was really quite criminal for food to be this cheap. It was certainly starting to become understandable why people made a life here. High quality of living and cheap as chips!

We encountered 2 cafe’s in our search for cafe’s where we could both work, one was open for 24 hours and was called Tom Tom’s fashioning itself off the Costa Coffee brand but it was huge and had actual meeting rooms in it! And then there was Dom’s, a uber cool cafe/dessert place/coffee place serving up some of the tastiest and most unique desserts I had ever seen! Things like Honey Toast with Milk Ice Cream. It is multi-level and has lots of places to sit and work and indeed we saw lots of people there with their laptops out doing just that. Reliable internet, great decor and great food, including their amazing Mulberry Cheesecake and Coconut Cake which are both to die for! What more can you ask for?

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Salmon Teriyaki, Miso Soup and Caramel Macchiato at Dom’s

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Some of my favourite snacks 

Elephant Dreams 

Finally our dreams came true and we made a plan to visit the Elephant Sanctuary. We walked into a local tour office on the high street and enquired about their Elephant Sanctuary’s whereby of course they immediately produced about 5 which allowed you to ride the elephants. I was insulted but soon realised that that is exactly what the vast majority of unthinking tourists wanted to do, and infact it was quite rare to find ones that did not allow any riding of the elephants whatsoever but that is exactly what we wanted. I did not come all the way to Thailand to see the abuse of these amazing sentient beings. Perhaps people don’t know that riding them hurts them. Perhaps they don’t care. But I do.

After finally explaining to her that I wanted a sanctuary that did not allow the riding of their elephants finally she produced some options. And it didn’t take me long to find the one I wanted to give my money to. The Ethical Elephant Sanctuary is a charity committed solely to the preservation of these amazing creatures. A family business passed down from generation to generation and providing employment to the Karen hill tribe, the elephants there have free reign, with their own personal mahout to ensure the happiness and welfare of each elephant. Local, ethical and a place that knows and cares deeply about the animals they look after. That is where I want to go. So we booked to be picked up the following day from our hotel for the almost 3 hour journey into the mountains to visit the elephants. The elephants who were truly free.

For some peculiar reason, they couldn’t give us an official time to collect us from our hotel. All they told us was that we would be collected somewhere between 6:30 am and 7:30 am in the morning for the journey into the mountains. Now that is bloody early and even earlier when you factor in the reality that for more then 3 months I haven’t been getting up any earlier then 10:00 am on average which has been really quite delicious, lol. Anyway we were picked up around 6:45 am by a fluent speaking Thai guide who so it wasn’t too bad and then we made the journey to pick up other passengers before making our way to the hills. Half way we stopped off at a local market, where we were told that we could go to the toilet and buy some food and drink if we wanted to but by the time I had seen the state of the place I decided that there was no way that I could eat there. I could just about make it to the toilet I was so freaked out that a rat or something would appear out of nowhere.

The journey into the mountains was treacherous indeed so I was very thankful to have such a skilled driver in charge of taking us there. And what made matters even worse was the fact that there was cyclists everywhere navigating the almost vertical roads on some adrenalin junkie business that I just did not understand. It was so steep that I could see that there was no way for them to stop for a rest otherwise they would just roll back down the hill, lol.

With a mixture of genuine excitement and anticipation I went to meet the elephants, for though I knew these were gentle giants I didn’t know whether today might be the day where one might decide to buck me with it’s huge head, afterall they are wild animals. But most of all, I was utterly terrified of seeing one being mistreated. I of course had never met an elephant before so wasn’t sure what to look for but in my heart I believed that I would just know and if I felt as though they weren’t being looked after and loved to within an inch of their hugely loving lives, I feared that my heart might burst with sorrow. Humans have done such harm to the world, to ourselves, the planet and to animals and I have kind of seen it all before where we’re concerned but harming an innocent animal is one of the most despicable and evil things that I can think of as they cannot protect themselves.

Thankfully I needn’t have been concerned for after we all changed into a traditional hill tribe shirt (so that they could recognise we were there to visit them so we were told), we were introduced to around 8 elephants of varying sizes and ages with 2 itty bitty babies which were the cutest things I’d ever seen in my life. And they were FREE! There were no chains, no ropes, not even an indication of any of these things and they looked both happy and healthy and very used to visiting humans. Indeed, they were the gentle giants I had imagined and hoped them to be. Thinking, feeling beings. I could sense it and my heart soared with joy. There were around 6 men and the guide there to watch over them and they spoke to them in Thai, which unbelievably the elephants seemed to understand! They were very well looked after, of that there was no doubt.

Soon we were given big buckets filled with banana’s and we were instructed to feed them one by one. A few of them were so big that I was a little afraid for I realised that if one decided to stomp on me he could very well do so without a moments hesitation and I would be done for, but I soon realised that all they wanted was their banana’s, and even though they were huge and could clearly do damage if they wanted to, when you reach out to them to hand them banana’s I could sense both the gentleness and strength in their grabbing of the banana from my hand. I didn’t like the wet, slightly rubbery feeling of their nose grabbing the banana from my hand but what did I expect? These were animals, it wasn’t going to be a clean, sanitised experience, lol. The more banana’s I gave them the more relaxed I was with them and thus they were with me. Of course I was in love. Who could not be?

After the feeding, which was surprisingly civilised considering they can eat up to 10 % of their body weight every day we were allowed to meet and stroke them including the adorable babies who were as cute and naughty as could be. Unfortunately before one of the elephants had been rescued it’s foot had been injured in a landmine incident on the border with Burma but other then that all of the elephants looked very well and relaxed. Their mahouts who stood by to play and interact with them aswell as ensure that nobody got hurt including them, and they seemed to have a wonderful and close relationship with them.

After feeding and meeting the elephants we followed them down to a mud bath where we were instructed to get in the stream with them which was filled with mud and wash them. When I envisioned bathing the elephants I had imagined it perhaps being with clean water but perhaps that was a little naive of me. Elephants loved mud of course. And it was good for the skin so after some reluctance I got changed into my bikini and got in there with them! Realising that I could get crushed between these huge beasts who seemed to be loving every minute of being in the water and having us splash them with it and rub them down with mud, I made sure that I checked my footing. The baby in particular was having an absolute blast! He loved it when we chucked water all over him and submerged himself completely in the muddy water wailing and kicking his legs as he went. He was adorable.

Afterwards we followed them into a river where we continued washing them and I was enjoying myself very much until I saw 5 gigantic lumps of doo doo floating towards me. That was when my foray into nature came to an untimely end. I had just about got with the mud situation – realising that they loved it, it was completely natural and was probably good for my skin but a doo doo bath I simply could not do!

Today I walked with elephants and I was left humbled. Truly this was one of the most memorable if not the most memorable experience of our travels thus far. 

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Baby loves his banana’s! 

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Standing next to Gentle Giants 

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They love the water! 

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Who couldn’t love these amazing animals?

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Josh with the little one 🙂