Monday, January 31, 2011

More Chiang Mai Fun

It's now Monday and we have had lots more fun in Chaing Mai. On Saturday, we got the bus to the top of Doi Suthep, the mountain overlooking the city, in order to visit the temple at the top. Getting the bus was a tricky proposition and it took us a while to find the "bus stop". Once on board the truck that was to take us to the top, we realised that we'd have to wait until the driver had filled his vehicle with passengers. After an hour or so, a group of four novice monks joined us for the journey.

The temple was very beautiful and I will try to post some pictures at some point.

On the way out of the temple, we were collared by a lady selling "tapestries", which were rather nice. We ended up being ripped off massively, paying 800 Baht (the equivalent of £16) for a couple of pictures. The worst part came when other vendors of similar pictures noticed that we had just paid over the odds for these pictures and wouldn't leave us alone. Through this process, we discovered that the correct price was 100 Baht, a quarter the price that we had paid. When one lady pursued us into our bus and begged us to buy a picture from her for 100 Baht, we tried to explain we would have loved to have done so but that she was five minutes too late. Eventually, she left, uttering what we were pretty sure were swear words.

On Sunday, we visited the Sunday market in Chiang Mai's main street. This was an excellent opportunity to practise our bartering skills (which are still not that great) and also to sample some excellent Thai food. This we did with relish. My favourite was a kind of sausage-dumpling; a long tube made of rice flour with pork inside. While eating dinner, we were cornered by a guy offering foot massages, who seemed perfectly happy for me to eat my dinner while being massaged.

Today, I had my first proper Thai massage. This was a painful and yet strangely satisfying experience. A bloke spent half and hour massaging my back so hard that it was excruciatingly painful at times. After that, he spent the next half hour twisting my arms, legs and fingers into slightly unnatural positions, standing on me and periodically hitting my muscles. I wouldn't describe it as having been an enjoyable experience at the time but afterwards I was rather chilled out, albeit sore and bruised. Hannah went for the slightly less intense foot massage.

We're now in a cafe, having a quick drink and looking forward to tonight's entertainment: a Muay Thai boxing match. Wish us luck!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Week in Chiang Mai

We arrived in Chiang Mai on a plane from Bangkok on Saturday evening and checked into what was meant to be interim accomodation in SK House, a guesthouse at the north-eastern corner of the old town. Hannah was feeling extremely ill when we arrived so we took it easy for the first few days until she felt a bit better.

On Tuesday, we went on a one-day Thai cooking course, where we learned to cook such delights as tom ka gai (chicken soup with coconut milk - awesome) and green curry (also awesome). I was very pleased with how this went; we each managed to cook five dishes over the course of the day, all of which tasted reasonably authentic and most of which tasted good. I'm going to attempt to cook some Thai dishes when we return to the UK, although I can't see it going as well without constant supervision from an expert teacher.

On Wednesday, we explored the city a little more, visiting Wat Phra Sing, one of the larger temples in Chiang Mai. Thailand's Theravada religion is everywhere, especially in Chiang Mai, where every street seems to have multiple beautiful temples on it and where monks can be seen on the streets in their distinctive orange robes. We witnessed the monks in Wat Phra Singh drawing beautiful works of art, with reference to the artwork on the walls of one of the temple buildings. I'm hoping to visit another temple on Saturday for "Monk Chat" to ask the monks about their religion.

That evening, alas, I came down with a rather bad case of traveller's diarrhoea. This rather cussed our plans for Thursday and Friday. Luckily, I seem to be getting over it now so we hope to take a bus to the top of Doi Suthep tomorrow. This is a large hill overlooking the city, with a famous temple at the top.

I'll try to post some photos at some point. Until then, adios.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sickness in Bangkok

Well, that didn't take long. 24 hours after arriving in Bangkok and I'm being sick. I don't know whether to blame the awesome chicken and coconut soup that I had for dinner or the surprisingly strong Thai beer that I washed it down with. As a result of the above, we haven't managed to do much today. Tomorrow, we hope to figure out Bangkok's public transportation system well enough to get across town to satisfy our dual objectives of meeting Katrina and buying train tickets to Chiang Mai. For now, we are enjoying another warm evening sipping Coke Zero and, in my case, enjoying a lovely red curry.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Arriving in Bangkok

We have now arrived in Bangkok after a month of not blogging much. I have a tonne of blog posts in draft which will probably get published at some point.

We caught a Tiger Airways flight from Singapore to Bangkok yesterday, which was an interesting experience. A large group from China found themselves separated from each other. Those members of the group further back in the queue attempted to join their friends by pushing ahead of other passengers in the queue, causing angry exchanges with both the other passengers and checkin staff. Matters were eventually resolved when the checkin staff threatened to either close the checkin desk or call the cops. After that, the flight was pretty uneventful.

Arriving at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, we made it through immigration after a wait of an hour or two and got in a taxi. Unfortunately, the taxi driver spoke as little English as we spoke Thai but, after a phone call to the hotel, he figured out where we were going and we set off at breakneck pace down the motorway. It was at this point thatwe realised that the taxi driver was a bit of a maniac, swerving between lanes or straddling two, depending on what he felt would be quickest. We made it to our hotel in Banglamphu in one piece and paid our fare, rounded up to the nearest hundred baht, in crisp 100 baht notes. Before I could consult my phrasebook for the Thai for "keep the change, mate", the taxi driver had already sped off. What a mindreader!

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Zealand to Singapore

My previous experience of air travel had been that one went through security before getting on a plane. This seemed a very sensible measure, given the need to ensure the safety of the aircraft. This trip has introduced me to the thrills of going through security after getting off a plane. On the way from London to Melbourne, our plane refuelled in Hong Kong. All the passengers were therefore herded off the plane, through security (who confiscated any dangerous items such as the bottles of water that had just been taken off the plane) and then back onto it.

The same thing happened during our trip from Auckland to Singapore, via Melbourne. Disembarking from the first plane, our trip to the transfer lounge had an element of farce about it. The captain led the passengers down a featureless corridor with a locked door at the end. Hannah likened it to the depiction of pergatory in an episode of South Park. After the captain had an argument with security over the intercom, we were finally allowed through the door, all so that we could go through security before being allowed into the transit area. I was left feeling slightly miffed by this experience because they confiscated my bottle of water.

The transit area at Melbourne Airport doesn't come close to the awesomeness of Singapore Airport's transfer lounge. Nice though it was to be "back" in Melbourne, we couldn't wait to get going again, on the way to Singapore. Luckily, our plane soon arrived:

We boarded the plane, sans water bottle, and were soon underway, heading for Singapore.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Auckland Part 2

On Tuesday, we woke up early and left our very last campsite. The rental company were expecting their Spaceship van back later that day so we sped south, arriving our hostel, The Oaklands Lodge in the Mount Eden district of Auckland, arriving just after 2pm. The reception turned out to be closed so we were unable to check in. Reluctantly, we left the non-valuable parts of our luggage in the hallway and made our last journey in our Spaceship, handing it back in plenty of time and returning to the hostel to check in.

We returned to the hostel and immediately discovered that Hannah's phone had gone missing. A quick call to the phone revealed that it had just been found under the driver's seat in our van, necessitating a trip back to the depot the next day. We combined this with a spot of sightseeing. Auckland is a nice city and, despite being much smaller (and having much worse public transport) than the likes of Sydney and Melbourne, is rather large compared to anywhere else in New Zealand.

While exploring the city, we were rather pleasantly surprised to find the presumed inspiration for New Zealand's most successful soap opera:

One of the main attractions in Auckland is the Sky Tower, the southern hemisphere's tallest building. We considered paying a fortune to go up to the top but decided against it because we were staying right next to Mount Eden, a volcanic cone of similar height from which views of the city can be seen. On Wednesday evening, I left Hannah in the hostel and climbed to the top. It quickly became apparent that this is indeed a volcanic cone, as I found the crater:

I would have loved to have explored the crater but the sign persuaded me not to:

From the top, there were views of the other volcanic domes that are scattered around the city:

The harbour bridge could be seen in the distance: could the tall buildings of the CBD:

Our time in Auckland came to an end rather too quickly. We donated what was left of our food to the free food shelf in the hostel and headed to the airport to catch a plane to Melbourne, the first leg of our journey to Singapore and then Thailand.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Dolphins in the Bay Of Islands

On Saturday, we visited the lovely seaside town of Paihia. Here, we booked a dolphin-watching trip in the bay.

Early on Sunday morning, we joined our hosts on the wharf and set off in a big catermaran, searching for dolphins. After a few false alarms, dolphins were finally sighted. I did my best to take pictures:

As if that ace picture wasn't enough, here is another one:

Here is a picture of a dolphin being much more friendly with another boat than with ours.

As it turned out, those were the last pictures that I took with my camera before it broke; every picture I take now comes out overexposed and rubbish.

I had been hoping for the opportunity to jump into the water and snorkel with the dolphins. As usual, New Zealand's changeable weather cussed these plans; the sea was far too choppy and we were forced to watch from on-board the boat.

The Bay of Islands was nice but we were running out of time and had to leave. We jumped in the van and headed north on what was left of State Highway 1, aiming to reach Cape Reinga by the end of the day.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Auckland Part 1

On Thursday, after leaving Hot Water Beach, we headed for Auckland. We had a shopping list of things to buy for our trip to Thailand. We camped for the night in a place called Manukau near the airport, an experience which was unremarkable except for two things.

Firstly, the campsite placed us in a site next to the recycle bins which seemed to already be occupied by a seemingly abandoned van.

Secondly, when I went to take a shower, I noticed that the shower cubicles had no privacy, being next to open (and uncloseable) windows. At least I was able to keep an eye on the van while taking a shower.

On Friday, we popped into Auckland and visited a few outdoors-ey shops, stocking up on mosquito coils and the like. Then, we returned to the van, payed a small fortune in parking fees and headed north on the motorway, aiming to reach The Bay Of Islands that evening.

Saturday, January 01, 2011


On Friday, we arrived in Taupo and checked into out luxurious and spacious cabin, ready to celebrate the arrival of 2011 in style. We were certainly glad to be out of our increasingly claustrophic van.

We had been planning to go into town, where we were told we would find a free concert. Rather annoyingly, we never made it; falling asleep for a short kip, we were awoken a few hours later by the New Year fireworks. Annoyed at having been woken from my slumber, I rolled over and went back to sleep.

On New Year's day, we decided that we had better make the most of Taupo so we drove to Hot Water Beach, an area of the lakefront where geothermal springs belch out hot water into the lake. I went for a quick swim and discovered a number of things.

Firstly, the lake is actually pretty cold. There were a few patches where the lake bed was slightly warm and one rather hot stream flowing into the lake a little further down which had already been monopolised by a group of kids. Other than that, it was a struggle to stay warm.

Secondly, we were sharing the lake with the local ducks and swans. I found feeding the ducks to be a lot more fun than swimming with them:

The swans round here were black and looked rather fearsome:

Here is a picture of a family of ducks that like to say quack:

After we'd had our fill of lake+ducks fun, we headed into the town for lunch. It was nice enough, in a "heavily touristed" way. We discovered one shop which, I'm pretty certain, was being slightly economical with the truth:

Now, I don't know about you, but I take "World Champtions" to be predicated on winning the world cup, which the All Blacks haven't done for, ooh, 23 years. Surely they meant to say "All Blacks: Champions Of The World (1987)".