Thai food is grrrr-eat

We didn’t get to do as much as we wanted in Chiang Mai. First Katy was ill and pretty much bed-ridden for two days, then we realised that we had to leave early to sort out our Myanmar visa before the weekend. We didn’t stop to think that the embassy may not be open on a weekend; part-timers. I got to walk pretty much the entire city while Katy was in bed, and there are lots of things to do there.

Team massaman
Team massaman

We did manage to do a Thai cooking class, which we did with Seb and Sophie. This probably wasn’t the best class, and it definitely wasn’t value for money, but we had quite a good laugh. We started by taking a tour of the market, although Katy was quite disappointed when we didn’t actually buy the ingredients ourselves. We then had a tour of their herb garden before the cooking commenced.

We got to choose our three dishes from a set menu, and we got to work. Two years ago we did another Thai cooking course in Koh Lanta and when we got to eat our food I thought that maybe I should change profession, as it was some of the best Thai food I had tasted.

Katy's spring roll
Katy’s spring roll

After this course however, it was a good job I stayed where I was. My spring rolls were wonky and far too thick. I got told off for putting chilli into dishes that shouldn’t have chilli in, and most of all the apron really didn’t do anything for my legs. Katy was very proud of her spring rolls (see right), and my massaman curry was pretty good.

That afternoon we decided to go to Tiger Kingdom just outside of Chiang Mai. It holds about 50 tigers in all, from a couple of weeks old to fully grown.

The good thing about this place, is that you can get into the enclosure and touch them. We paid for 15 minutes in the enclosure with the full size tigers…huge.

Katy playing it cool (for cats)
Katy playing it cool (for cats)

We had heard stories from other people they were all drugged and just lying around comatose, but that definitely wasn’t the case. We saw these tigers running around the enclosure, jumping in the swimming pool and playing with each other. So we were slightly nervous when we were told to get on the floor next to the tiger.

We got to see three different tigers close up, and it was a great experience. We had a few worrying moments when the tiger we were stroking would suddenly turn round and look at us. The keeper did try and settle us down by telling us that there weren’t accidents too often, and it usually only ended with you losing a finger or two.

The next day we got the bus down to Bangkok, which took about 10 hours. It was one of the best bus journeys we have had, with cakes and drinks served on the bus, a free curry lunch, air conditioning, films and a toilet on board. You can tell when you’ve been travelling for a while when you start getting excited about good bus journeys.

Getting the Myanmar visa the next day was fairly easy to do, but we were glad we did a bit of research. Katy found a blog that mentioned a printer shop five minutes from the embassy that helps you with all the forms and photos before the visa section opens. So all you have to do is hand in your forms and passport and then collect later that afternoon. It was chaotic for the people that didn’t have their forms filled out, so it was a good feeling to be in and out of there quickly.

Buddha in China Town
Buddha in China Town

The rest of our time here we’ve just been walking around the city and taking in the sights. We went to China Town to have some dumplings, which we’ve been craving ever since leaving China. We treated ourselves to a nice dinner overlooking the river at River City. Last night we went to Khao San Road in the afternoon before heading to Patpong in the evening.

We were planning on going to see a ping-pong show, but with so many people trying to rip you off, and the prices for beers and entrance, we decided that it was too expensive.

Durian stall
Durian stall

We did manage to try durian, which I have wanted to do for a few years now. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a spiky green fruit and it’s banned from most hotels because it smells of feet. Everyone has always told me that it tastes much better than it smells. Now that I’ve eaten it I’m not too sure I can agree. The only way to describe it is a savoury garlic-like taste.

Tomorrow we are getting a flight to Myanmar (Burma) for just under two weeks. We don’t know a huge amount about Burma other than that fellow travellers have told us. They’ve got very weird customs when it comes to money.

You can only exchange their currency inside the country, and they will only accept US dollars. The dollars have to be in pristine condition. Any folds tears or marks and they won’t be accepted. If the have certain serial numbers they won’t be accepted. Very strange. And apparently the local money they give you back in exchange is filthy, smelly and ripped. There are no ATMs in the entire country, so it means we have to take all of the dollars out in Bangkok and carry them around with us. If we run out of money, there’s not much we can do, so we will have to manage our money well.

There is very little internet there, so we’ll be in touch on our return…if we make it back.

Until the next time…

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Zippy, gorge and jungle

The slow boat to the border was surprisingly good, although it was absolutely freezing, I even had to get my towel out to use as a blanket and I fashioned that great look of socks with flip flops. It took about 9 hours each day which seemed to go quite quickly, probably helped by the stunning scenery and our Kindles which have been a life saver on all these long trips.

Mekong Trip to Pak Beng
Mekong Trip to Pak Beng

Our overnight stop was in a very small town called Pak Beng, but as we arrived so late we didn’t really get to explore anything. Instead we settled for a local restaurant where we had some very tasty food and then an early night.

At the end of the second day, we arrived in Houy Xai which borders Thailand, the only thing separating them is the Mekong River. After another early night, we woke early to start our adventure in the jungle. After a very brief safety video, we were on our way. We were in a group of eight and headed to a small village just outside the National Park where they kitted us out with harnesses; we were then told we had to trek for 2-3 hours (with harnesses on) up to the zip wires. You can imagine my joy when this 2-3 hour trek was all uphill, a real wake up call to how unfit I actually am!

Katy Zip-wiring
Katy Zip-wiring

We finally made it up to the first zip wire which looked very scary and suddenly the nerves kicked in. We were shown how to break if necessary as some of the zips are faster than others. I managed a 180 spin on my first attempt which was not fun and I came off feeling very shaky. After a few more zips the nerves wore off and I actually started to enjoy myself.

The key to a good zip is staying straight and making sure you reach the landing deck. If you stop short you have to pull yourself monkey style along the wire which is really hard work. After lunch we were taken to our tree house which was quite amazing and floating 50m in the air.

The tree-house
The tree-house

We had to zip in and out of the tree house which was a lot of fun. We each had beds, linen, mosquito nets and even a shower. The toilet wasn’t the best unfortunately, mainly due to the fact we were very close to the ‘Bee Tree’ so the toilet bowl was full of bees. I ended up going to the loo in the jungle as I couldn’t face the bees.

After a short break in our tree house, we were off again to explore some more zip lines. This time we were shown a small loop of zips where we were then basically left to our own devices and told to zip the loop as many times as we wanted.

The longest zip we did that day was 700m long and 300m high….quite incredible. Sam got some amazing video footage, some of which we’ve embedded below and well worth a quick look so you can appreciate how high we were.

You can see all of the videos that we took via the following link:

Sunset from our tree-house
Sunset from our tree-house

We made it back to the tree house for the most amazing sunset over the mountains. Dinner was then served which was delicious and consisted of a huge mound of sticky rice, some vegetable dishes and two bottles of Laos wine. As the night grew dark, the noises of the jungle were pretty amazing and there was also a lot of rustling above us…rats. We had been told to expect them so we made sure all the food was locked away before bed and escaped to the safety of our mosquito nets. Sam and I had ear plugs which meant we were able to get a few hours of sleep but some of the others in our group said all they could hear all night were the rats moving around.

We were woken early and told that we were going on a 2 hour trek to find the Gibbons. I had what Sam might describe as a small strop and just couldn’t face it as I was feeling really sore and very tired, so I opted out and stayed behind in the tree house, Sam kept me company. The others returned having not seen any Gibbons and breakfast was then served which included tomato omelette, chips, sticky rice, tomato salsa and fresh green mango which I have to say is delicious.

Sam Zip-wiring
Sam Zip-wiring

So it was time to head back which included a very steep hike down where I fell over and cut my elbow and some more zip lines. This time we managed a zip which was 400m high and 600m long and it was just amazing. On the last zip of the day I think Sam got a bit excited and ended up doing a 360 degree spin and at one point found himself zipping backwards. In his efforts to regain control, he brushed his arm against the wire and now has a nasty burn but he is being very brave about it.

We had an amazing two days. The zip wiring was brilliant and so much fun. We had a great local guide too which made all the difference and he told us stories of his childhood, where his family were opium growers and lived off the jungle. When the government banned the growth of opium, the family had to move to another village and he got involved with the Gibbon experience which has been going for about 10 years now.

The White Temple
The White Temple

We returned to Houy Xai at 14.50 and we were in Thailand by 15.30…pretty amazing but quite stressful. We then got a bus to Chiang Rai where where we spent three nights, mainly recuperating and relaxing. We did go and see a White Temple, which was pretty strange and very different to any other temples we have seen.

Since then we have moved on to Chiangmai where we have met up with Seb and Sophie again. So far we haven’t done too much as I’ve got a throat infection and am having to take antibiotics. Sam is looking after me and has just made me go out to have some soup, so I am hoping it will clear up soon so we can actually see some of Chiangmai.

Until the next time…

Down (river) with the kids

Our journey to Vientiane involved a night sleeper bus which took about 11 hours. The beds were actually supposed to be double beds, but they were actually barely the size of a single bed. I wouldn’t say that we got the best night’s sleep, but it was a fun way to travel. We were still travelling with Seb and Sophie, and after a long night and some much needed breakfast, it was up to the boys to find a room.

Sunset over Thailand from Vientiane
Sunset over Thailand from Vientiane

Although Vientiane is the capital of Laos, there is very little to do. It overlooks Thailand on the other side of the Mekong River, and we found a good spot to see the sunset and relax. The climate here was noticeably colder than Southern Laos, especially in the evening. As there was so little to do, and before we put on two stone from eating too much, we headed North-West to Vang Vieng.

Vang Vieng is a very different place to everywhere else we have been so far on our trip. It is famous for tubing, which involves floating down the Namsong River in an inner-tube, stopping at various bars along the way. Although this may sound fairly tranquil, in reality it is a very different thing.

Tubing
Tubing

There were five of us now as we had met up with Julianne, a Canadian girl we had met in 4000 Islands. Each bar entices you in by throwing ropes to you as you float past, and free shots of whiskey are almost compulsory as you walk in. It’s a really lively crowd of mostly very young people, dressed in either very little or fancy dress. It did make us feel slightly old, but I think we held our own.

Zip-wiring
Zip-wiring

In the entire day we must have floated a maximum of two hundred metres down the river. For the rest of the time we were busy drinking, dancing, zip-wiring into the river, some more drinking, then some more dancing…then we can’t remember too much. The plan to tube the 2km downriver to the drop-off point went out of the window. Katy and Julianne’s dancing alerted me that they may have had one too many whiskey buckets, so we headed back to town. Within ten minutes of getting back, Katy had passed out on the bed, giving me a night off and time to get some food.

The next day was pretty much written off after our previous day’s escapades. As we spent the whole day doing very little, we decided that we would go kayaking the next day. It was an early start, and first we headed about 18km out of the city to see some caves. The first (The Elephant Cave) was a bit of a disappointment to be honest, but when we arrived at the second cave we had a bit of a shock.

Opening to tubing cave
Opening to tubing cave

There was a tiny opening, and it was filled with water. We got in the freezing cold water with our tube, and squeezed into the small opening. The cave was pitch black other than our head torches that had been provided, and it was quite an eerie place. There were only four of us, and it was great not having to do it in a huge group. The cave went on for about 1km underground, and we were able to use ropes for most of the way to pull us along. The guide told us that the cave used to house thousands of bats, but there weren’t many left and most of the locals catch them to eat. Especially good on a BBQ apparently.

Kayaking
Kayaking

After a nice BBQ lunch (which hopefully wasn’t bat), we then headed downstream in our kayaks. After a few minutes of bickering, we quickly got into our stride and took in the stunning views of the surrounding mountains. In total it was about 10km, and the route happened to go through the tubing circuit. We decided that after all of our hard work, we would reward ourselves with a few beers at one of the bars before heading back to our hostel.

We spent a total five nights in Vang Vieng, and we did very little for the remaining days after kayaking. Katy got to do some of his customary shopping and map checking before we departed for our next stop, Luang Prabang. The bus there was a seven hour drive winding through some stunning mountains. Some of the corners were a bit too tight for my liking, but the bus driver didn’t seem too concerned. Apparently brakes are just for stopping.  We’ve been here two nights so far, and it is a really beautiful city. There are loads of places to eat, drink and relax with views over the Mekong. It has a very French feel, with most of the guesthouses and restaurants having colonial designs.

Laos food sampler
Laos food sampler

As we have eaten very little Laos food since we’ve been here, we decided that we needed to make a bit of an effort. We found a restaurant that offered a sampling menu, where we could try all of the local delicacies. There were some quite strange bits in there, but nothing too out there.

Last night we went out to watch the Bolton vs. Man U game (which wasn’t the best), and then went to the only place in town open past 11:30pm…the bowling alley. It’s about 2km out of town, so eight of us piled into a tuk tuk. It was quite a funny night, and I managed to get a score of 137 which is unheard of. I think that’s the first time I’ve got over 100. It must be the Beer Lao.

We’ve decided that rather than get a 14 hour bus to our next stop, Huay Xai, we are going to get a two day slow boat down the Mekong via Pak Beng. That way we will get to see more of the country before we leave for Thailand in a week or so. In Huay Xai we are heading into the jungle to stay in a tree top hut and do some zip-lining. Hopefully we may get to see some gibbons and other wildlife, but we’ll have to see what happens.

Until the next time…