A Travellerspoint blog

Chiang Rai

semi-overcast 30 °C

Sawatdee Khrap! We hit the one month mark today, so I thought it would be a good time to share a map of where we’ve been so far. Oooh, a map…

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We originally planned to spend four weeks in China and were considering three in Thailand. As we reached Hong Kong a little sooner than expected, we’ve decided to cut Thailand a little short and instead spend two weeks in Malaysia, specifically in Borneo. We’ve got some diving and trekking plans ahead. Back to now though, we’re just about finished our four night stay in Chiang Rai. What a great place this is! It’s like visiting the Asian version of a small Irish country town. You know the kind, a one kilometre strip of road where all the shops, restaurants etc. are based. And everyone knows everyone. Chiang Rai has only reaffirmed how wonderful the Thai people are. We’ve met some of the friendliest and funniest locals in the past few days.

We spent most of our first afternoon with a second helping of bank issues. We had been living off the Hong Kong cash we converted into Baht on arrival in Chiang Mai and it had finally run out. Permanent TSB (naming and shaming) decided to block us both again, despite telling them twice in advance of the trip where we were going and having conversations/complaints the previous week. Their fraud department prefer not to read notes on a customer’s account it seems and any international activity will trigger an alert. After further complaining we’re up and running again. I’m expecting issues when we arrive in Malaysia but let’s stay positive. Thankfully, when we were on the phone to the bank the weather had the decency to have a massive thunderstorm while we were in our bedroom. Bucketing down!

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That evening we went to the night bazaar where you can get all kinds of yummy Thai food, snacks, desserts etc. for a Euro or two. I’ve also discovered my new favourite fruit, the coconut! Fifty cent = ice cold coconut juice fresh in a coconut and then after they’ll cut it open and you can eat it. I’ve had two already and am craving more.

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On Tuesday we took a full day tour with four other travellers to various sights, the main one being the Golden Triangle, a place where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) all cross-intersect with one another via a river. There were a few really interesting stops on the way.

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This is the White Temple. It was built only 17 years ago and is one of Thailand's best known temples.

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For some reason this guy is everywhere at the temple. We don't know why?

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We visited the 'Long Neck' village. The local tribe follow a custom whereby every woman has to wear very heavy metal rings around their neck. Every three years they add another until they reach forty. Naturally, I thought this was a great idea for Alberto. He loves it!

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At the same village we also randomly saw a snake eat its lunch. Look away now if you're particularly fond of frogs.

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We also visited the 'Monkey Cave' and got a chance to feed some monkeys. I felt like the guy from that film Outbreak.

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There was a steep climb up to the cave where there's a small temple. I'm not sure where Alberto was looking either.

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Finally we reached the Golden Triangle! Sarah Palin has a holiday home nearby so she can see Laos and Myanmar from her backyard.

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Today we managed a 15km jungle trek. We sweat a lot, the picture below was taken only 30 minutes in.

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We got to see a waterfall and some nice views.

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The highlight however was our lunch, noodle soup with pork/veggies and an omelette. Wait, wait. We cooked and ate everything using only bamboo, a knife and fresh water from a natural source. Take that carbon footprint.

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The day was finished with a stop at a tea house followed by a relaxing soak in a hot thermal pool. This travelling thing is a tough gig.

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We both loved Chiang Rai and if we had more time we'd have stayed longer to chill out and relax. Tomorrow we fly to the madness of Bangkok. I'm going to spend this evening rehearsing my Tuk Tuk negotiation skills.

Posted by mattld 10:10 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Chiang Mai

semi-overcast 30 °C

That infamous phrase... 'I need a holiday after the holiday'... that’s how we were feeling by the end of Hong Kong. China couldn’t have been better but with so much to see there hasn't been a lot of time for relaxation. Cue: world's smallest violin. We haven’t exactly been lazing by the pool every day but we’ve taken it down a gear since we arrived in Thailand. Alberto is a Thai virgin but this is my third visit, and second in Chiang Mai. There are so many reasons to visit this country. Great weather, food, people, culture, activities etc. the list goes on. And you can barely spend your money it’s so cheap. A one hour full body massage for five Euro? Oh my Buddha! Here's what we've been up to...

A night Safari… get up close and personal with giraffes, tigers, hippos, rhinos and so on as well as some unusual animals we haven’t seen before. It was difficult to get good photos as no flash is allowed, and rightly so. However, the night time setting makes it more fun, and the animal enclosures are much larger than any zoo.

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There's also a light and water show while you're there and randomly, two camp cabaret acts. It's not officially advertised as drag but the girls were only short of having a wind machine on stage. Answers on a postcard.

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Thai cooking class... we prepared four dishes each. Asian Jamie Oliver eat your heart out.

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Ziplining… we got the chance to be monkeys for an afternoon. Great views up here too.

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An obligatory temple. Rude not to.

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Aside from the above, we’ve been sleeping in, watching movies, indulging in cheap massages, visiting the night markets, playing cards and having a few drinkies. Stick Chiang Mai on your hit list the next time you're in Thailand. Today we take a bus three hours north to the neighbouring town of Chiang Rai.

Posted by mattld 09:16 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Hong Kong & Macau

sunny 31 °C

We were really tired from the fourteen hour trip from Guilin so we took our first day in Hong Kong handy. A quick wander around the town to orientate ourselves and a bite to eat was all we could manage. Impressions… if Shanghai is a mix between Vancouver and Tokyo, I would describe HK as the Asian version of New York. The city is filled with skyscrapers and narrow streets. And plenty of hills for good measure. HK itself is quite small so the only way to expand is to build up. There are bars, restaurants and shops everywhere. The locals are spoilt for choice. The quality of the food is top notch and as we anticipated you'll pay handsomely for it. There are more Western ex-pats floating around than anywhere else we’ve visited but unfortunately the two communities appear to be quite segregated. The humidity in September is something else. We were sweating within minutes of leaving John’s apartment every day. Air con is a must.

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We were very fortunate to be invited by John and a friend of his to a boat trip circling HK Island on Friday evening. There were more than twenty of us. We all brought our own drink and picked up pizza on the way. Unashamedly, the drinks came from Marks and Spencers and the pizza from Pizza Express! Britain’s colonial influence, you have to love it. Afterwards we took a taxi to Lan Kwai Fong (LKF), otherwise known as HK’s answer to Temple Bar. It’s mental and a must visit. It took Alberto two days to recover from his hangover.

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With John as our own personal tour guide we were able to pack in the sightseeing on Saturday. We visited a few public parks, a Buddhist nunnery in Diamond Hill and the bird, fish and flower markets in Mongkok. That evening we watched the Symphony of Lights show down near the harbour. It’s free of charge and on daily. We had dinner up near the peak and were brought off the beaten track to some of the best views of HK.

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The following day we took part in a small hike with John and his friends from Dragon’s Back to Deep Water Bay, followed by a trip to the beach and a night in town for a few drinks.

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On Monday John was back in work again so Alberto and I took a boat to neighbouring Macau for the day. It’s only a one hour boat ride away over the Pearl River Delta. Once a famous Portuguese shipping port it’s now best known as a gambling haven. We spent the early part of the day roaming through some of the old ruins (a temple, church, cemetery, fortress etc.). The most famous ruin is St. Paul’s Cathedral which was built in 1602 but mostly destroyed in a fire, save for the very front part of the church. We’ve never seen so many people taking trout lip selfies in front of a religious attraction before.

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[We take all our sightseeing very seriously]

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[Dried meat, a very popular snack in Macau. We tried some. I think we'll pass next time]

That evening we headed over to some of the hotels. There is certainly a feel of Las Vegas about it, but it lacks the fun factor. There’s no free alcohol when you gamble. Sorry I didn’t understand? And the Chinese take it all very seriously. Still, it would be rude not to play a couple of games. I won just over one hundred and fifty Euro in Black Jack and actually managed to walk away. I spent half the money on a posh seafood buffet. We could barely walk afterwards. A lot of people spend a few nights here. I think a day trip is spot on. You can book a late boat and always come back early by going on standby if you want.

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[The level of decadence is unreal. The above is taken from the MGM]

We weren't overly impressed with Macau. Much of the island is extremely run down while the ‘other side’, the lush hotels/casinos/jewellery stores etc. are as luxurious and pretentious as they come. The money generated by the gambling industry is not being invested back into the local community which is a real shame. The Portuguese influence is impossible to ignore, most of the signs are written in the language as well as Chinese. And you’ll see plenty of old colonial architecture. Alberto had a go at asking a few locals for directions in Portuguese but they looked at him as if he had ten heads. It’s meant to be their 2nd language. We spent a lot of time trying to find a Portuguese restaurant but to not avail. It’s disappointing they haven’t embraced this more as the cultural fusion is really interesting.

Our final day in HK was spent at Ocean Park, China’s answer to Sea World. Don’t judge, it can’t all be historical attractions and temples you know. It offered a nice change in scenery but it was no Alton Towers or Universal Studios.

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We’ve spent three weeks in China and it’s been awesome. The cultural challenges are there (mainly Beijing from our experience) but everywhere we visited had something special to offer. China is such a huge country you can’t see everything in one go, so it’s time for us to move on as we fly west to Thailand. We’re getting away from city life for a while as our next stop takes us to the mountainous region of Chiang Mai.

'To the Chinese, a great bunch of lads!'

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John - if you’re reading thank you for your hospitality over the past week. We owe you one.

Posted by mattld 01:32 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Guilin

28 °C

We originally intended to take the train from Shanghai to Guilin, but we soon found out that it would take twenty seven hours and the price was almost the same as a flight. Naturally we opted to fly. I’ll come back later on how easy (correction: not easy) it is to take the train. Our flight into Guilin on Monday was delayed by three hours. As a result we didn’t get to our hostel until after ten that night. There’s not a lot to do here, but it lies on the west bank of the Li river, which is billed as one of the best nature attractions in China. We booked ourselves on two tours. We spent Tuesday travelling to Yangshuo, initially by bus and then on a ninety minute bamboo raft which include some stunning scenery. It’s very similar to Halong Bay in Vietnam. The pictures below will give you an idea.

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Yangshuo is surrounded by some beautiful countryside, making it an attractive place for tourists to visit. Unfortunately it’s become a victim of its own success. The area is surrounded by western tourists and every Chinese person in the area is out to sell to you. One old lady caught me queuing for the toilet so I had to suffer ten minutes of saying 'no' to the two wooden ducks she wanted me to buy. We had a wander around the shops, ate a nice lunch, took a bike ride and indulged in a fish spa. Alberto found it a little bit tickly.

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On Wednesday we took a trip to the Longji rice fields. It’s a long day. We took one bus to a central station, changed for a second, got off shortly after and walked for thirty minutes and then took a third bus up to the fields. We were also the only western passengers which didn’t make the transfers easier but some of the Chinese tourists spoke English and were really kind to us, helping us order food, find our way etc. You take a gondola up to a look out point. The view is awesome. This tour felt a lot more authentic than the Li River and is one of the highlights of our trip so far.

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Yeah soz about that pic...

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The paps won't leave me alone over here. We also made a new friend.

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Three nights in Guilin was perfect. We stayed in the Ming Palace Hostel. You'd find more craic in a graveyard but it's still a good place to stay and relax after the long tours. I mentioned earlier about booking trains. To cut a long story short, you need to book everything as far in advance as you can. Every train journey seems to sell out fast. As we couldn’t take a train directly to HK we had to book a second that would take us close to the border. This second train was oversold and unfortunately we had to wait four hours for a later one. I was told many times about how you’d have to get to the train station a few hours in advance to pick up tickets etc. due to huge queues. I had heard it so many times I was starting to wonder if getting off the Titanic would be easier.

Well, there were long queues, it felt like fifty degree heat (no air con inside), nobody had a word of English and there was even a dramatic fight going on in the middle of the room. We could only find one Western man and he didn’t know where to go either, despite having what seemed like a Chinese aide to help him. After lots of hand gestures, question mark signals and pointing at our pieces of paper we managed to find our way. Two train rides later we crossed the border in Hong Kong, took two metro rides into HK Central and from there a taxi to my friend John's apartment (living here over a year now). Given how bad I am at following directions I'm actually quite proud of doing all of that! The whole journey took fourteen hours. John has very kindly put us up for the next six nights so we can't wait to explore HK with him.

Lost in Translation:

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Posted by mattld 00:57 Archived in China Comments (2)

Food Glorious Food

We're two weeks into trip at this point and we've had a few friends ask us about the food in China since we arrived. ‘Lost in translation’ aside I haven't referenced it much. Where to start... I would love to tell you it's the best thing since sliced bread, but I would be lying. A very large percentage of the options available to you are deep fried, with some veg thrown in for good measure. The Chinese love their oil. You can get good soup dishes with noodles and a meat of your choice, and thankfully it's cheap, healthy and filling. Unfortunately there isn't a huge amount of variety, unless you look at the western options which are generally average and expensive. We haven't spotted an Italian, Mexican, Japanese or a Thai restaurant. Don't get me wrong, we're up for trying the local cuisine but there are only so many of these dishes you can eat on a daily basis. That doesn't mean it's all been bad.

Cantonese style beef with peppers, onion and garlic. You can easily get this one at home but it somehow tastes better here.

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Dumplings are one of the most popular dishes in China. I'm not a huge fan but they're growing on me. Alberto loves them.

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We tried this one earlier today, sticky rice with bacon/mango and chicken cooked over a fire in bamboo. Best meal so far!

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We knew curry would be hard to find so we thought all our Christmases had come at once when we found a specialist curry house in Shanghai. You couldn't make a dent in the pool of curry that was served up. I won't comment on the 'chicken'. We wouldn't recommend it...

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Posted by mattld 07:56 Archived in China Comments (0)

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