January 7th 2016 saw me fly out of China; after all my worry, and I had worried, they didn’t need many of the documents I had been warned they would ask for. Better to be prepared but I could have done with more peaceful days the previous week.
The sun and the heat in Bangkok were most welcome after some wet days of late.
I met my couch surfing host who picked me up from the station and he even paid for my tea. I already had a good feeling about Thailand with everyone I met nice and friendly; everyone smiled and there were so many westerners, not what I had been used to in China.
Having not got my bearings yet I got a tuktuk tour to take me around, once again there were many temples and I saw some amazing floating markets. I tried Pad Thai for the first time, a stir fried noodle dish, flavoured with fish and sometimes chicken as well with bean sprouts, garlic and loads of other things. It was so incredible I went back for more but she was closing up. Walking around the Grand Palace I was approached by another tuktuk driver who offered to take me to view a large golden Buddha, a suit-maker and a night market all for a very good price. The Buddha was impressive and I got some good silhouette photos, then to the suit-makers and it all went downhill from there. I was told I had to stay at the suit-makers for a minimum of 10 minutes to enable the driver to receive his fuel voucher – needless to say another scam; you’d think I would have learned by now! As soon as I entered I was pounced on and despite using every excuse and argument I could think of I ended up paying out for a suit. Yes, I know! You that know me well, won’t believe what I’ve done, I do not buy clothes or shoes unless I am desperate – most of my clothes have been gifts from embarrassed parents at the state of my attire. In my defence I was not an easy customer, they said I’d been their most difficult but managed to convince me it was a good price for a cashmere suit, it could be packed tightly without creasing, it would be made to measure etc. etc. So having parted with my money I hope that when I return to Bangkok in a few months’ time the suit will be ready and I will be pleased. Looking at reports on Trip Advisor it seems that the scam part is getting you to the shop but the suits are actually really nice – hope they are correct. Needless to say the tuktuk driver was over the moon with my purchase , I expect he gets some kind of commission, so he tried to persuade me to visit some other places but no way was I falling for it a second time. I enjoyed the night markets and more Pad Thai. The heat must have warped my brain though as I then decided to buy some leather sandals – to cut a long story short, they fell apart and I paid £1 for a repair they then rubbed my feet, and within 2 days I had binned them. I knew there was reason I don’t do clothes/shoes shopping!
I thought I would have more luck with some food shopping; I bought what I thought were onion rings that turned out to be squid although quite nice then fancied a crepe – due to some language barrier it was topped with ham and chocolate!!! O well, you win some you lose some.
Bangkok was OK but too busy for me and so after a few days I was on the move again…
I travelled on a really nice old bus to the old city and meeting a lovely Londoner called Lucy eased the long, slow bus journey. At the historical site I paid my entrance fee only to realise that 99.99% of everyone else had hired bikes! They however, had to keep parking up and going back to return to them so I didn’t feel too bad and I’d saved money. The temples were fascinating and the moats and pink lilies were breath-taking. Some temples had been taken over by trees and their roots; I found it amazing how nature was trying to reclaim itself. From Sukhothai I made my way to…
I spent the 6 hour bus ride with a great Canadian guy called Jonathon and we spent the whole day together. I am meeting some amazing people on my travels and am truly grateful for the impact these people are having on my life. I love hearing their stories, enjoy in-depth conversations and feel humbled that they want to hear my story – these experiences are shaping me in more ways than I could ever have imagined.
Deciding how best to get around, I did consider hiring a scooter but was quite glad later that I hadn’t. The traffic is crazy and I witnessed a motorcycle with 3 Thai women on collide with a Chinese tourist, catapulting her on the road, her camera was sent flying and she lay there crying holding her ribs. Meanwhile the bike went one way and the girls the other, more bruising, grazing and crying. The whole street stopped to watch or help; some directing traffic and others genuinely trying to help. Realising that I would be of no help I got out of the way as I heard sirens and saw the girl being stretchered off – I hope she was OK.
All the heat and walking around was quite tiring and so when my ankle started to swell I wasn’t unduly concerned. To be on the safe side I sent a photo home asking for a bit of advice – poor mum and dad were so worried! After getting a tuktuk to a few clinics and finding that my condition was too serious for them I ended up at the hospital requiring antibiotics other medicines and complete rest, for an insect bite. The following few days saw me very frustrated but probably better off at having been made to relax. I had been on the go non-stop since my departure in October. Thankfully the antibiotics took effect quickly and within four days I was back on my feet and raring to go again.
I headed back to the markets and found it quite bazaar that some temples were actually incorporated in to the market – seems a bit at odds with all the temple rules of: no smoking, drinking, hugging, kissing and no shoes. You are also not allowed to point your feet towards Buddha whoops – I’d done that by accident – I didn’t get caught for that but in another I got told off for crossing my legs!!! Whilst sitting taking it all in, I was treated to a rendition of the national Anthem over a loud speaker and the whole market stopped for 30 minutes to pay their respect.
One of my highlights from Thailand has to be my first ever massage. The masseurs were women from a Correction Institute – not sure it was because of their history, but the experience was like being beaten up and some linked arm method resulted in some interesting, bone breaking stretches. Despite this it was great and I would do it again. Nursing my aching body I treated myself to a Veggie Khao Soi as recommended by Jonathon the Canadian and Danny Fahey from work!!
My next stop was Chiang Rai and I met a great group of people at the hostel. We hung out together, talking about common aspirations with a shared passion for traveling adventures. I’ve said before that this journey has brought about some real moments of loneliness but I have also been rewarded with some great companions along the way. One of the best was an evening sharing drinks with this group of guys, singing in the style of Johnny Cash and composing a song with their guitar which we entitled: ‘This is my First Love’. It was with one of these guys that I visited Wat Rong Khun, better known as “the White Temple” one of the most recognisable and visited temples in Thailand. This unique temple stands out because of its white colour and the use of pieces of glass in the plaster that sparkle in the sun. The white colour signifies the purity of the Buddha, while the glass symbolizes the Buddha’s wisdom and the Dhamma, the Buddhist teachings. Every detail of the temple carries meaning and encourages the visitor to reflect on the Buddhist teachings that show the way to escape from the worldly temptations, desires and greed and focus on the mind instead. The Ubosot, the main building of the white temple, is reached by crossing a bridge over a small lake. In front of the bridge is a circular area with hundreds of reaching hands that symbolise desire. This area represents human suffering and hell. The bridge towards the Ubosot, called the bridge of “the cycle of rebirth” signifies the crossing over from the cycle of death and rebirth into a state free of suffering. It symbolises the way to happiness by overcoming worldly things as temptations, greed and desire.
The following day a couple of us visited a tea plantation. We were welcomed hospitably with free tea, bananas, and sweet dates. Unfortunately that day they were not processing so we did not see that side of it but a great experience!
After yet another bus ride I was eager to escape in to the wild and so as soon I had got my accommodation fixed I rented a scooter; filled it up for £1.20 and set off on an amazing trip following the river. I passed the Golden Triangle and Opium Hall to the Doi Tung mountain range right next to the Myanmar border which made for a lot of checkpoints, although I was always just waved through! I have no idea what speed I managed, due to the Speedo not working. After many steep winding roads and some precarious motorists going down on my side of the road I got to the top with great views over the Masai town. There were also small hill tribes on top of the mountains with school children shouting hello. It turned out I went the wrong way back and nearly ran out of petrol but I got a great tour through some sort of street festival, with around 30 pick-up trucks lining the streets, with people dancing behind them!!
The following day after returning the scooter I tried to find a bus out and so began the next nightmare journey! I spoke to a man who offered me a lift in his mini bus to Hard Bai where I thought I would be able to pick up a bus. There followed a catalogue of being quoted silly prices, people refusing to barter, as we were in such an isolated spot, and they knew I had few options and very few people being able to speak in English. A driver eventually took me to a boat yard and dropped off some stuff to all these guys in military kit, I was getting nervous and asked about a boat because of his prices and no bus. We then went back to the village where I still refused to pay.
So rucksack on, I walked around considering all my options: sleeping out, hitchhiking, trying to get back etc. After many failed attempts at a solution, a younger lad asked me if I needed help and he pointed me in the direction of a guy going to Chiang Khong, for half the price of the mini-van guy! Realising this was my only option I went for it!! The guy’s English was not good so it made for a rather silent journey but he dropped me off right at the hostel!! I was finally in Chiang Sean.
My last days in Thailand were spent in Chiang Khong were I met Alan Bate; a famous British cyclist from Liverpool who holds the Guinness Book of Record for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe by bicycle – 106 days. What a great down to earth guy.
Decided to rent a moped again – after struggling up a steep stretch and wondering what the scooter owners would think, I abandoned the steep road to take a random dirt track to a wooden shack where I parked my bike. I then ascended the hill and over some brush to sit on a log looking up to heaven. I was a little anxious of an approaching animal but was rewarded with the view of the stars emerging in the night sky – something I’d wanted to experience for a long time.
I then had a nerve racking stumble down the hill, in the pitch black, attempting as best I could to navigate the trees down to the dirt track. I eventually arrived to find my scooter and helmet intact and that I was in somebody’s drive-way. The journey back was no easier as I nearly crashed a few times – dogs do not know about road safety and they don’t glow in the dark!!!
Next stop Laos!