Temples and Markets in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is in northern Thailand and from the moment we touched down after a day in Bangkok, it felt somehow more authentic. The people are much more friendly and, unlike in the islands and in Bangkok where you feel the locals are somehow touristed-out, Thailand’s catchphrase “land of smiles” becomes much more self evident. We checked into “Julie’s Guesthouse,” a beautiful, social – and uber cheap – hostel in the middle of the walled city centre. Everything is cheaper in Northern Thailand too. 15Baht (about 50cents)/hour for internet, 90B (about $3) for a room and 150B (about $5) for a one-hour Thai massage! Can’t get much better than that.

Markets Galore

Now that we are on the last leg of our journey we can finally justify shopping! Walking markets are ubiquitous in Chiang Mai. Saturday markets, Sunday markets, the famous Night Bazaar – we hit them all! We have become master hagglers too, and for handicrafts and textiles, Chiang Mai is noticeably cheaper than Bangkok (or at least the Kao San road as we haven’t made it to the huge weekend market in Bangkok yet).

I think you could find anything you want for cheap-cheap in these markets. I’ve seen Prada fakes, real Mac make-up, pashminas, bags, Tiffany brand jewelry, I-pod Touch, every CD and DVD ever made and photocopied Lonely Planets. Sarah and I met up with Sarah’s friend from home, Charlotte and her travel partner Jenn. We went into a store which was wall-to-wall jewelry – literally every surface was covered in some kind of necklace or bracelet or semi-precious stone. I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to tear the girls away from there! But even I had to admit, it was pretty fabulous.

Mountain Sightseeing

We met up with a couple from our hostel in order to share the price of a song thaew (a red, open-air taxi) up the mountain to Doi Suthep and the Winter Palace: two of Chiang Mai’s most famous attractions. The Winter Palace was first and we spent a while exploring the grounds. Unfortunately, the weather was abysmal. The whole place was shrouded in cloud and so the normal splendor of the gardens and fountains was a bit lost on us. We hoped it would be better at Doi Suthep.

In fact, the weather didn’t improve but it did lend an air of mystery to the temple that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. We couldn’t see the (apparently) fabulous views of Chiang Mai but we did have fun exploring the temple and walking the steps.

Village Walks

The last thing we did in Chiang Mai was visit some of the villages in the surrounding area. It was a very mixed bag kind of tour, which we thought was going to be exclusively about the villages but ended up also including a tour of an elephant dung paper factory, an orchid and butterfly farm and the caves at Chiang Dao. Quite random.

The villages, however, were eye-opening. Or rather, the village was. All the tribes we thought we were going to see were in fact located in one, highly touristy village. In the one complex were members of the long neck Karen tribe, the big ear hill tribe, the lisu tribe, amongst others. Most of the tribe members are refugees from Myanmar. We were allowed to take our photos with them and to buy their goods but most of them didn’t speak much English – or were reluctant too – and we were soon ushered back into the car to the next stop. We did in fact go and visit some other villages, but again it was to be bombarded by children selling friendship bracelets. Cries of “10Baht… 10Baht” became a kind of mantra to the group. I swear I hear it in my dreams now!


Wok with Amy!

For the most part I’ve been blogging in chronological order, but I’m going to have to take a more themed approach for this entry and write about my favourite Thai subject: food!

Most of the streets in Bangkok and Chiang Mai are packed with food stalls. You can walk from one part of the city to the another and pick up some pad thai for breakfast, fried chicken (way better than KFC) for lunch, chicken satay for dinner and some fresh Alphonso mangos for dessert. Can’t really imagine anything better… and for under a dollar each meal!

That’s what inspired me most to go out in Chiang Mai and do a cooking course. Mine was with Pad Thai Cooking course and I would definitely recommend them! We made six dishes each: breakfast, appetizer, soup/salad, curry, stir-fry and a dessert. Each category had six different options to choose from so there was a lot of choice in what you could make. I ended up choosing pad thai, spring rolls, tom yum soup, panang curry, chicken stirfry with cashew nuts and fried bananas.

First of all we did a market tour. We were taught all about the spices used to make curry paste and the different “Thai” versions of fruit and vegetables. We tried different types of fruit including mangosteen and rambutan – both delicious, white-flesh fruits, similar to lychee.

The cooking school itself was about half an hour outside of Chiang Mai in the countryside. The kitchen was open-air, with enough cooking stations for everyone. We jumped straight into making “breakfast” (although by now it was almost 11) and for me, that meant pad thai! This was definitely one I had been looking forward too, having devoured so many delicious pad thais off of street stalls. Everyone had their own tray of fresh ingredients, pre-measured for the perfect single portion size (although the cooking was easy, this is going to be the most difficult step to get right at home – portion sizes, and all the preparation). A little wok technique here, a little pinch of sugar and a douse of crushed peanuts there and voila! The perfect pad thai! And it was delicious, if I do say so myself…

The rest of the day passed in much the same way. The chefs were hilarious and spoke amazing English; they made everyone feel right at home in the kitchen. But the highlight of the day was by far the “cooking with big flame.” This was the ‘stir-fry’ category, and a definite don’t-try-this-at-home moment. Holding a wok on very high heat in one hand and a bowl full of chopped onions and a tablespoon of water in the other I waited for the 3…2…1…. countdown and then threw the onions into the wok — instant giant flame!

By the end of cooking school, we were all stuffed to the brim with thai food, a little sleepy and full of inspiration to try cooking at home. We were each given a recipe book, but I just don’t know if I’ll ever be able to replicate the tastes without access to the fresh ingredients… I’ll just have to try and see!



For backpackers, Koh Phangan is known for one thing: full moons. Not that it is inhabited by a bunch of werewolves (although from stories I’ve heard, you wouldn’t be half wrong) but for the crazy parties that are held once a month when the moon is brightest. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there for one of these full moons, but we did arrive on the day of a half-moon party. After checking into another cute bungalow on the beach and exploring the full moon beach of Haad rin, we headed into the jungle for the party. Immediately we are bombarded by thai men and women armed with glowing body paint. It’s impossible to resist; Sarah gets a butterfly on her shoulder and I get a Canadian-UK flag on my arm (yes, I was feeling particularly patriotic that day!) The music wasn’t entirely mine and Sarah’s thing – heavy trance and house musi. But it was accompanied by some awesome firedancers and generally we had fun partying into the wee hours of the morning (although not as wee as Adam – at least we got some sleep!)  

We recovered the next morning back at Haadrin, where there is more action. Unfortunately there was also a lot of clouds, so we passed the time in a “Friends” bar (non-stop Friends episodes, feels like home!) and then by watching the movie “The Beach.” Having just read the book in NZ, I was keen to see the film. Certainly having been to Th Khao San I can say the portrayal is pretty much accurate, although we are staying in a nicer hostel! And as for the beach itself, it doesn’t exist…

Turtle Island

While Phangan might be famous for parties, Koh Tao is famous for diving. You couldn’t walk three steps without stumbling over yet another dive shop. While wandering the streets we were spotted by Katie (it also seems to work like that: completely random) and so we stayed with her at Crystal Dive Resort. There was no diving for me this time – I wanted to do it in the Similans but it is the wrong season.

It also happened to be Katie’s birthday! We had a chilled out night sitting on the beach at Lotus bar and almost got lost walking home. We walked home because we didn’t want to shell out 70Baht for a taxi… about the equivalent of $2! Needless to say, we are anxious not to get ripped off in Thailand, even though getting ripped off is still about a quarter of the price (or an eigth, if you’re English!) we would pay at home.

Our stay at Koh Tao was short but sweet. Sarah only has a few more days in Thailand and we had to make sure we arrived in Bangkok on time so we didn’t miss our flight. Ironically, after having heard so many stories of late buses and missed connections, our bus ended up arriving in Bangkok 2 and a half hours early! Wandering Th Kao San at 3:30am is an interesting experience… everyone is awake still – chatting in bars, drinking, wandering, shopping, eating – as if it were 3:30pm. We weren’t even charged for the extra night, even though we reached the hotel and crashed on the beds. We weren’t up for joining the much-too-alive Bangkok night scene after the long bus ride. Tonight may be different though!


Singapore to Samui

We finished out our time in Singapore by visiting Kampur Glam, the Malay quarter, and Sentosa – an island off the Southern shore. Sentosa is – as Lonely Planet describes it – “plastic fantastic,” a whole island dedicated to leisure and pleasure. It’s got imported sand beaches, 5* resorts, Disney-esque water features and a giant merlion statue. We went up the Carlsberg skytower for some awesome rotating views of Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

I ate chili crab, a traditional Singapore dish, and we went to see “Songs of the Sea” – a lights, laser and water show. It involved a cast representing a cross-section of Singapore’s diverse cultures lip synching to some truly awful music. The water show was cool and well-synchronized… it was an amusing way to pass an evening but nothing like MGM’s “Fantasmic!”

Koh Samui – The Last Leg Begins

I can hardly believe that our final leg is here already. Thailand is the last destination on our RTW ticket; the end is nigh! Even sooner for Sarah, who is leaving a couple of weeks before I do. It means these next two weeks are going to be jampacked with activity – and they’re going to disappear before we know it.

Koh Samui is an awesome place to begin our Thai adventure. There’s nothing remotely challenging about it – there’s 2 Starbucks and a McD’s! But Chaweng Beach is buzzing with energy and the beach is stunning. We booked into cheap fan bungalows right on the beach and went out to relax…

And there’s no better way to relax than with a Thai massage! Also know as “passive yoga,” a Thai massage involves being walked on by little Thai women who are incredibly strong for their size! Ours was performed right on the beach, with the cool sea breeze lulling us into the ultimate relaxed state for an hour… bliss! It was also on Chaweng Beach that we met up with our friends Adam and Dave. It was quite random as Sarah happened to spot them out of our taxi window as we were driving down the main strip! We all went out and hit up Samui’s biggest club, “Green Mango.” A good night in all.


Singapore Madness

Singapore is shopper’s paradise – and a twisted form of torture for two young travellers who are sick of absolutely every item of clothing in their backpacks. There is a shopping mall on every street corner, and even in the budget backpacker location of our hostel, retail opportunities abound. We’re exercising extreme restraint; any shopping we’re gonna do, we’re saving for Thailand. Still, I do have a pair of sunglasses to replace…

5th Ave? Oxford Street? Bloor Street?

Welcome to all-of-the-above combined, it’s Orchard Street! Our excuse for going shopping instead of being tourists? The rain! We stepped out of our hostel and into a monsoon. With borrowed umbrellas in hand, we ran into the plethora of shopping malls on Orchard, eventually straying from the Louis Vuitton and Gucci circles to the more affordable but still uber trendy shopping centres. It was here that I found a new pair of sunnies. Shopping done for the day, we set off to check out the sights of Singapore.

Chinatown & Colonial District

Now that we’ve left Australaisa and entered Asia proper, I am in culinary heaven. Cheap Asian food stalls are on every corner, and in Chinatown there is a dedicated “Food Street” where hawkers sell dim sum and fried rice and bbq pork for ridiculously cheap prices. Chinatown itself is pretty and clean, with pink paper lanterns strung across the main road and down the side streets. The rain seems to have stripped Chinatown of its normal hustle and bustle (at least according to the Rough Guide we borrowed from the hostel!) but it is still nice to walk around. Again, we have to resist the souvenirs – we can get trinkets for cheap cheap at the Bangkok markets.

We found our way into the Colonial District by happy accident of just walking and talking and ending up where our feet took us. This area epitomizes Singapore: sparkling clean streets and buildings, a jostle of cultures and languages and a mixture of people in business attire and traditional wear. The buildings here are ultra modern; we looked out over the new Arts centre which, with its similarity to the notorious (and smelly) durian fruit, is a paragon of modern architecture. Somehow in a bid to get up the famous Swissotel tower we ended up in yet another shopping mall. We both felt transported back to the UK: Top Shop, River Island and Marks & Spencer, oh my!

The rain finally stopped in the evening. We had dinner in the Little India arcade and strolled around the hundreds of jewelry stores and sari tailors. Little India is the world in technicolour overdrive. Eventually jet lag set in and we headed back to “the Inn Crowd” for some r&r… tomorrow is another day, and another mall awaits, I’m sure.