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Planning and Preparation

Too much for two weeks?

snow 2 °C

Ever since I got home from my 8 month trip in South East Asia in 2014 I have been dreaming of returning. It's usually tough to choose to revisit places I've been before over visiting new and unexplored places, but with Thailand it wasn't... It was a country and culture I had fallen in love with previously. I had some incredible experiences and visited what I thought were some of the most beautiful places I've seen. I wanted to share these experiences with Pete, who has never been to Asia.

But then where should I take him?

I spent almost 3 months in Thailand during my previous travelling adventure, Pete and I shall just over 2 weeks for this trip. We are going over Easter, taking advantage of the multiple bank holidays during April to make sure we maximize our time abroad whilst taking only 10 days of work holidays. The coincides with Songkran in Thailand - one of the best experiences I had during my trip. So that's a big tick!

Learning from our past 2 holidays we have at least decided 2 things:
1. Not to book accommodation and to instead go where we feel when we feel once we are there.
2. Not to try and go to too many places in too short a time.

Which I guess means I shouldn't worry about where we go and what we do and just go with the flow! :)

Posted by Libbytes 14:15 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Songkran in Bangkok

...and eating vegan!

sunny 35 °C
View Thailand Trip on Libbytes's travel map.

The flight to Bangkok was fairly uneventful; my Grandad dropped us at the airport and we had a slight delay before boarding our 7.5 hour flight to Abu Dhabi. Pete was very impressed though as I prebooked him a vegan meal for the flight ;) and we also found a vegan coffee (almond milk) shop at the airport. I was off to a good start! Another 6 hours later and we landed in Bangkok! Woo!

As I said in the last post, I have been to Bangkok several times before (read my previous posts on Bangkok here, here, here and here). I loved the city, but I had never been in Bangkok during Songkran; the Thai new year water festival where everyone takes to the streets in a giant water-fight!

I booked 3 nights accomodation at Villa Phra Sumen, which is just on the outskirts of the tourist district of Khaosan Road. Close enough to the action to walk there, but far enough away to be peaceful. To get there we got the airport rail link to Phaya Thai and hoped to get a taxi from the station to the hotel. However it was slim pickings on the taxi front and we ended up settling on a relatively cheap tuk tuk to out hotel... what a great introduction for Pete to Thai driving! The tuk-tuk driver was insane! We were weaving in and out of traffic, reaching speeds of about 50mph on the busy roads and braking far too late for everything. It was a white-knuckle ride, but we did eventually reach our beautiful hotel.

After a small nap and a shower we headed out towards the Songkran area, walking along Phra Sumen and Phra Athit. We stopped for food at a small restaurant along Phra Athit; Pete's first taste of Thailand. I recommended the Pad Thai to start and I got a Penang Curry. I got the best compliment from Pete ever when he was shocked at how they both tasted like my home-cooked thai meals! He now appreciates my cooking even more! :D

From here we walked over to Khaosan and Rambuttri Streets where most of the water fighting was taking place... Oh my god... I had experienced Songkran before in Chiang Mai. I thought it was crazy there, but this was another level! It's hard to explain what it's like but I did manage to capture a quick video with my phone in a plastic bag!

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Jet-lag was still on us, so we headed back sodden for another nap and that evening my HappyCow app directed us to a vegan restaurant not far from our hotel called May Kaidee's which was delicious!

Back in the UK, Pete used to do a lot of Muay Thai, so one big desire for him was to visit a Thai boxing gym for some training, as well as to watch some Muay Thai at a stadium. We had a look at some of the local gyms and Pete decided to visit Sor Vorapin Gym which was close to Khaosan. I went with him as I thought it would be interesting to watch, and I wasn't wrong! It was great watching... and Pete was really very good, I was so impressed! Even the trainer was impressed with him! It was especially impressive because of the intense heat; there was no aircon, just a single fan (which was in the seating area I was sat in!).
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It was hard to take photos as the movements are so fast so I reverted to a video...

The trainer seemed to like Pete and made him work really hard. They also had a few laughs which was nice!

We also got chatting to an American couple, Libby and TJ, who live in the UK. They were both doing the training. Pete got paired with TJ in a few of the sessions.
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After the session, Pete was very hot and very sweaty, so we walked back to the hotel for a quick shower and sit in the A/C. Once cool we headed out to another HappyCow favourite; Mango. The food here was really delicious and the staff were impressed with my (extremely basic) thai when I asked for the bill with a simple "Gep dang"! :)

From Mango we walked through the backstreets of Bangkok over to the Golden Mount, or Wat Saket. Half of the walk was beautiful amongst gardens and in the shade, whilst on the other side it felt like we were baking alive!
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The Royal Pavillion on the way to Golden Mount
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It's good luck to strike the bells and gongs along the way
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The golden chedi on the top
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Views of Bangkok from the top

After a cooling off session with some ice cold water and fruit, we then headed out on the canal boat service that runs through Bangkok. There are waterways everywhere and tourist and commuter boats continually run up and down them. This one was free and we caught it from Phanfa Bridge all the way down to Hua Chang, close to Siam Square.
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I really love looking into peoples back gardens and houses that you can see from the canal, it's so interesting!

Hot again (it really was hot today) we headed towards the A/C paradise of some of Bangkok's best malls, including Siam Discovery and Paragon. We stopped for another vegan meal before Pete started to feel exhausted - it appeared he had pushed himself too hard at the gym in the morning, so we headed back to the hotel for a short nap before heading out in the evening to meet Ben on Phra Athit.
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Tasty meal at Veganerie Soul
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Ready for a night out!
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Drinks on Phra Athit

Unfortunately, Pete felt much worse the following day, I think it was a bit of heat exhaustion, probably cause by the Muay Thai... so I played nurse for a bit until he felt well enough to venture outside. We took a taxi over to Phra Athit Boat station on the Chao Phraya river, but not before stopping at a little roti shack called Roti Mataba which Ben told us about. Roti's were one of my faves during my last trip and these were delish!
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Mmmmm...

So we grabbed the boat from Phra Athit over to Wat Arun, one of the oldest temples in Bangkok where Buddhism is merged with Hinduism. It is a Buddhist temple really, but the Khmer architecture and scary Hindu style figures stand out as different from other Buddhist temples in the region. It's really interesting to look at and is simply beautiful.
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Pete not feeling very well :(
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Wat Arun
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Hindu-style figures
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Buddhist shape temple
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Chinese lion
It really is a mesh of different cultures and religions!

We had then planned to go over to Lumpini Park to chill for a bit, but on the way Pete started to fade again so we looped back around and headed back to the hotel. Although on the way we stopped at one the the BTS stations in the Silom district of Bangkok and witnessed one of the craziest Songkran sites we saw... the street was packed full of people and the noise and atmosphere was immense. Again, it's hard to explain, and even the video I took doesn't do it justice, but still... incredible.

Songkran in Silom

Back at the hotel and Pete wanting to recover for the rest of the holiday, we decided to have an early night ready to get up for an early train to Kanchanaburi the next morning.

Posted by Libbytes 03:38 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok wat_arun songkran wat_saket villa_phra_sumen mango_bangkok mai_kaidee_bangkok roti_mataba veganerie_soul Comments (0)

Playing in Kanchanaburi

semi-overcast 35 °C
View Thailand Trip on Libbytes's travel map.

We woke up at 7am the next day to pack up and get the first train out to Kanchanaburi. However, the train station we needed was across town. Anyone who knows me, knows I'm not the best at being on time and about 5 minutes into our taxi ride to the station I declared to Pete that we were definitely not going to make it in time... fortunately there is also a bus station on that side of town which runs public buses to Kanchanaburi, so we comitted to missing the train and asked our taxi driver to continue on and take us to Sai Tai Mai station. We got there and were able to board the next A/C bus for around £2 each. We only had to wait 10 minutes for the bus to fill up and depart - the bus was faster than the train, had aircon and stopped in the same place we needed to get our next bus! This was the beginning of Pete learning how lucky I am when travelling! To be honest, we should have done this in the first place! :)
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Bus selfie!

We arrived at the bus station in Kanchanaburi and hopped onto the next bus along which was going to Erawan National Park, home to the 7-tiered waterfall I had visited and loved in the past. We got on the bus with a minute to spare. The bus to Erawan was funny, it looked like a disco bus and struggled to get up the smallest of hills, my google tracker thought we cycled some of it, it was that slow! However, the journey is nice as the scenery is beautiful as you drive alongside the river and through small villages in the hills.
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Disco bus
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Along the way
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Beautiful scenery all the way
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Since we had the whole back row, Pete took the opportunity to get more rest!
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Crossing the river to enter the park

As soon as we arrived, we headed down to the park rangers office to try and rent out one of the small bungalows that are inside the national park. Fortunately there was one the A/C available, but check-in was only from 2pm, so we ate and chilled at one of the restaurants nearby.
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Som tam spicy papaya salad and sticky rice... mmmmm
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Our little bungalow!

By this point it was getting late, as the park closes at 4pm, but we headed out anyway to scout it out for the next day!
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With it still being a thai holiday, the park was rammed!
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Viewpoint
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But we did manage to find some peace in the nibbly-fish pond!
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Getting my feet nibbled

It went dark fast that night and since we were in the middle of a national park with not much to do, we got an early night ready to get up early the next day to be first at the park... if only I had remembered to set an alarm... So we got to the park at about 10am in the end (oops), but it was still nice and quiet. We headed straight to tier 5 where the is a deep pool and some slippery rocks you can slide down. It was really fun just playing in the water and trying to avoid the massive fish!
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Much quieter...
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Massive fish!
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Beautifully coloured, crystal clear water... and a pete

Pete diving into the pool - very athletic :)

Sliding in!

From here we walked up to tier 6 for a chill looking out over the valley.
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Big fishies in this one too!

Conscious of the train we had to catch that evening, we then headed back down to tier 3 for a short while before we got a little overwhelmed with mossies. However, on the way out we saw a collection of butterflies which Pete managed to film in slow-mo, it was beautiful. Again, to save some time (and sweat) we grabbed one of the golf buggies that run to and from the rangers lodge and made it to the bus perfectly with about 1 minute to spare! :)
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Tier 3

Butterflies!
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Riding the gold buggy!

Unfortunately, we weren't so lucky on the bus out of Erawan, and it was packed to the max. Pete gave up his seat half way through the journey, but ended up in the aisle getting slept on!
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The initial plan was to get a bus from the park back to Kanchanaburi, then the bus back to Bangkok, then a taxi across Bangkok to the train station to board our overnight train to Surat Thani. However... Songkran hadn't stopped for the people of Kanchanaburi and it took us almost 2 hours to drive at walking pace through the festivities of the town. This ate up our entire 90 minute buffer... we were going to miss the train. The only part of the holiday I had booked before hand.... We were getting stressed out... So I did some research on my phone. Thank god we got a thai sim card, and that we had a small portable charger. After about 5 minutes I found out that the train from Bangkok stops at a station in Nakhon Pathom, a town we were also due to drive though in about 20 minutes - we had the perfect solution! I ran to the front of the bus to ask if we could stop, and 20 minutes later we were dumped in the middle of Nakhon Pathom. A short taxi ride took us to the train station where we double checked the train times and our tickets before heading out to briefly explore the town in the 2 hours we had to wait.

Straight out of the train station you can see the famous chedi of Nakhon Pathom; the tallest stupa in the world apparently and one of the oldest in South East Asia, supposedly built in 193 BC. So we headed along the street to get a closer look. We grabbed a really tasty pad thai from a street food vendor for about 50p each on the way. Probably the nicest pad thai of the whole trip! I was actually really glad we got to stop here and spend a few hours in the town!
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Stepping out of the station
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Tasty pad thai vendor
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Phra Pathom Chedi

We headed back to the station to catch our train at 9pm and was shown to our modest first class cabin! We would arrive in Surat Thani the next morning at 7am!
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Posted by Libbytes 09:09 Archived in Thailand Tagged waterfall stupa chedi kanchanaburi erawan_falls nakhon_pathom Comments (0)

Motorbiking on Koh Phangan

sunny 34 °C
View Thailand Trip on Libbytes's travel map.

After a noisy and bumpy overnight train to Surat Thani, we woke with the sun about 30 minutes from our destination.
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Tired Pete after only a few hours sleep

Surat Thani is the city closest to Don Sak pier where you can get the regular boats and catamarans to and from the island Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. In my last trip, Koh Phangan was one of my favourite places. I was there in the low season and the notorious party island instead had a laid-back community feel to it. I stayed on the island for about 3 weeks, settling in and making many friends who I am still in contact with. I was both excited and nervous to go back. My memories of the island are so fond, I hoped it had not changed too much...

As soon as we disembarked the train, people were on us trying to sell us tickets to the islands and national parks. We signed ourselves up to the Lomprayah bus/cat combo and chilled for the next hour at a little cafe where we had breakfast and coffee. We were eventually herded on to the coach to take us to the pier and then on to Koh Phangan.
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Waiting for the cat to get ready
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The karsts at Don Sak
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Relatively comfortable seats on the boat!

A few hours later we arrived on Koh Phangan. I had not booked any accomodation, but I had been looking online on the boat and found a place which looked nice called Shambhala Bungalow Village, so we found a Songthaew (thai taxi) to take us there.

We arrived and were greeted by a Thai family, of which none spoke English, so with a bit of thai and pointing we were able to order some tasty vegan food (one of the reasons we chose this place!).
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Tofu massaman curry
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View at lunch
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The bungalows were right on the beach
After lunch, one of the owners Asha returned to the Bungalows and she spoke amazing English and was very funny so she helped us settle in and book one of the bungalows as well as a little 150cc Scooter.
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Our bungalow being protected by one of the many dogs!
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Our bungalow
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Bungalow kittens!

Once settled in (and after a mid afternoon siesta to recover from our lack of sleep) we headed out on our motorbike to Echo, the backpacker hostel I had stayed at last time, and where I had made all my friends. We spent the evening here chatting to old friends, playing pool and having a few drinks.

The next morning we were up bright and early explore the beaches of the island. Pete got up even earlier than me and went down to the local outdoor gym for a training session first! We first headed out through the towns and then along the jungle road to the North of the island and out to Koh Ma, a small island off the North West of Koh Phangan, which is connected by a small beach. Just riding the little moped together was enough fun, we both really enjoyed it! The scenery and the views made it even better!
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Our little moped
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Spotting an Elephant camp
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Mae Haad beach
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Koh Ma

The weather had been roasting, clear blue skies and 35 degree heat, but whilst at the beach the storm clouds began to roll in, people packed up and left, but we found it a nice relief from the heat!
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Dark clouds coming in...

After a quick pit stop back at the Bungalow to repair Pete's sunglasses (it seems they couldn't handle the heat) we headed out again, this time over to the North East of the island and Thong Nai Pan Yai beach.
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Stunning views from the road
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Thong Nai Pan Yai Beach
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Biking it up!
We headed back to the South of the island to watch the sunset at Amsterdam bar, but unfortunately, it wasn't so exciting with all the clouds. After which we returned to Echo to catch up with some old friends, Demon and Lin who coincidentally were also back visiting the island! It was a nice surprise and we spend much of the evening playing pool and chatting.
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Pete's head was a little worse for wear in the morning, so I breakfasted by myself and had an amazing thai massage on the beach. Probably the best one I have had.
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The beach at Shambhala

When Pete surfaced we ventured out on the bike again. I asked Pete whether he wanted to visit a waterfall or a beach... his answer was "both", but luckily there is such a place on Koh Phangan where you can see both together! So we visited Haad Than Sadet Waterfall and Beach!
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The biggest tree on Koh Phangan - a tropical rubber tree
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Negotiating a recent landslide-effected road
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Pete going for a swim

We found a quiet secluded spot on the beach with shade and watched the fish and crabs before heading back down to the West of the island this time to try and catch a better sunset.
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On the way back we stopped at a little viewpoint cafe for a drink
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Catching the sunset at secret beach (Haad Son)

That evening we went to a Muay Thai fight which was very interesting. The line-up started with some kids that were training and for a couple of them it was one of the first staged fight. They were brutal and extremely skillful. This lead up to the main fight which was a rematch between to long standing rivals. Again, the fighting was pretty brutal and was one of 3 fights on the night which ended in a KO!

Overall, Koh Phangan was still beautiful, but perhaps because it was a high season with the Easter holidays and songkran, it felt different and was much busier and more developed than I remember. Even Echo had expanded and grown since last time. Pete was surprised that I loved the island so much. Not that he didn't like it, but just because of how commercial and busy it is. I guess I felt that last time I was here, but I embraced it and enjoyed the lifestyle and social life the island provides.

Posted by Libbytes 06:01 Archived in Thailand Tagged koh_phangan Comments (0)

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