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    Tuesday, 29 September 2009

    Featured Travel Photo

    Fancy a grub, Phnom Penh, originally uploaded by Homdaum.

    Featured travel Photo from Cambodia.

    Monday, 28 September 2009

    A Few Days on Koh Samui

    Koh Pha Ngan[Enlarge & More]

    Koh Samui is the largest island on the south-east coast of Thailand, and to get there from Koh Tao we got back on a ferry. The first stop was Koh Pha-Ngan, the island made famous for it’s full moon parties. I was reading some literature that said that it was one of the 3 best places in the world to see the full moon. I’m not sure how accurate that is but the closest we got to the island was when the ferry was docked to let people off and on.

    Snorkelling, Thong Ta Kian [Enlarge & More]

    When the ferry arrived on Koh Samui my first impressions were much like Koh Tao but without the immediate paradise feel, maybe because it was a bit more built up. We’d organised for a transfer to the hotel we were staying at and were herded like sheep onto the right mini bus. There was a German couple who got a little confused and I heard a loud FU*K and off the they went to find out which mini bus they needed to be on. For us, it was one of our easiest trips.

    Thong Ta Kian Beach [Enlarge & More]

    The place we’d chosen was a bungalow at the Thong Ta Kian Resort, which was nestled in a secluded cove with not much going on. It was perfect, the waters were warm and calm and the beach was beautiful with soft white sand. Over the few days we spent there we got to see the faces of the odd day tripper who stumbled upon the cove and you could see the sheer delight on their faces. The more time we spent there the more I came to appreciate its beauty.

    Say what you see[Enlarge & More]

    Ko Samui is a big island and we only got to see Lamai beach next door, literally 10 minutes from where we were staying in a taxi. It was much busier, a bit like where we had stayed in Koh Tao but had a seedy feel to it. We’d definitely made the right choice. I got a couple of interesting pictures of one of the most photographed sights on the island while on Lamai beach, I’ll let you make your own minds up on what you see.

    Lamai Beach [Enlarge & More]

    We decided to walk back from Lamai beach and on the way back we ambled along the beach until we had to take the road near the end to get to the cove. On the roadside there was a man using a industrial strimmer to cut the overgrown grass. As we approached he kindly, what I thought stopped, so we could walk past without risk of injury. He did stop and move out of the way, however he started strimming again further in from the road. As we passed bits of brown glass came flying in our direction, nothing hit Jono but I felt a few bits hit my legs. It took me a moment to work out what had happened and then another few moments to work out that all I had were little cuts, nothing serious but just a bit of blood. I was a bit shaken up as the bits of glass that came flying in my direction were pretty big and could have done some major damage. It’s funny out of all the things we’ve done on this trip so far this was the one that shook me up the most. Something that could easily happen at home.

    The rest of the stay on Koh Samui was uneventful, the weather started to turn by the last day as it started to get windy and more overcast. The monsoon must be on its way and perfect timing on our part to head back to the mainland.

    Wednesday, 23 September 2009

    Paradise in Koh Tao

    Hua Hin was an introduction to beaches in Thailand, but the next stops on our itinerary were the islands on the east coast of the Thai peninsula. Our first stop was the small island of Koh Tao, roughly 60km from the coastal town of Chumphon.

    In order to get to Koh Tao, we needed to get a bus from Hua Hin to Chumphon, and then a ferry to the island. We turned up nice and early for our bus, and it did arrive (hooray!). Slightly more battered than the picture on the ticket, but that was ok. The only problem was the other passengers who got on the bus with us. There were two American men in their 50’s, but who acted like they were about 18 – scatty, unprepared and immature, according to their conversation they’d left their Thai wives behind for the week to have a seedy time in Koh Pha-Ngan with other Thai women. So, basically, they were ST’s. There were also a couple of British girls who WERE about 18, and were clearly off to the islands for a good time drinking and partying. It didn’t take long for the two groups to clash – as soon as we got on the bus, the Americans took up a whole seat row each. The British girls wanted one of the seats, and early morning tempers flared as one of the girls called one of the Americans a “fucking asshole” and the American called her a “stupid little bitch” (and a few other things). She kicked his leg, and he got up like he was about to hit her. We were sat two rows up front, mouths wide open – when the whole thing defused and the Americans gave up a row of seats. Phew! By the end of it, the two groups were best friends which was strange, but it just shows you how two different groups of tourists can clash – the Khao San Road bunch and the ST’s!

    Stunning Beach [Enlarge & More]

    Anyway, the rest of the bus trip was pretty uneventful and we didn’t get any deep fried chicken this time. We did get a tuna sandwich in a plastic wrapper though, but it looked gross. The transition from bus to ferry was pretty smooth, and the ferry itself was very nice. For once, my expectations on transportation were FAR exceeded – the boat was a catamaran which carved it’s way through the water at a great speed, in air conditioned comfort and with a bar in it no less! After a couple of hours we got to Koh Tao, and looking out the window, saw beautiful turquoise and deep blue water – Hua Hin was pretty, but this was stunning. We stepped out into the afternoon sun, and a lovely refreshing sea breeze picked up – with the light blue water below, and the perfect white sand at the end of the pier, it was a beautiful scene!

    Simple Life Resort [Enlarge & More]

    We were picked up and driven to our hotel, Simple Life Resort, where we had a room booked for 4 nights for the price of 3. Brilliant value, and an amazing room – possibly the best we’ve had so far. Huge space, bathroom, etc, with a pool outside and WiFi included – it was very comfortable. We quickly decided that we wanted to spend more time on Koh Tao, and ended up staying 7 nights for the price of 5 – it was well worth it for a bit of luxury!

    Sunset on Sairee Beach [Enlarge & More]

    Koh Tao itself was very beautiful, although the beach we stayed on, Sairee, was pretty busy. Still, busy means easy access to amenities, and the beach itself was very pretty. It helped that the weather was pretty good for most of the week – we hardly saw any rain, and the sun just shone and shone. As we were west facing, there were some amazing sunsets too – definitely the best we’ve seen on our trip so far, and I’m not sure we’ll see better to be honest! The beach was good for swimming on, and the water was mostly quite shallow – at low tide you could just sit in the lukewarm sea to cool off. The beach was lined with bars and restaurant, which was great for sitting around and having a drink right on the beachfront. Haad Sairee was a bit of a party beach, so not really for us, but it had a very relaxing side to it too so it all worked out pretty well.

    Crystal Waters [Enlarge & More]

    We didn’t just relax though – we did do stuff! We went snorkelling on one day – this involved being taken around the island on a boat to good snorkelling spots, and then jumping off the boat and swimming around. The water was amazingly clear, and there was quite a lot to see in the coral reefs. There weren’t huge numbers of fish, but you certainly didn’t have to look too hard to see them. Mahmoud saw a reef shark, but I didn’t see anything that interesting – although I did see some shark-like fish which I though were sharks at the time! The snorkelling was a lot of fun, and the water was surprisingly easy to float in – the only downside was that there were a lot of people doing it, so it was a wee bit crowded. But still, un-missable.

    Paradise [Enlarge & More]

    We also got off the beach and did a walk to the highest point on Koh Tao – Twin View, at 320m above sea level. There were some pretty good views from the top, and you could see distant Koh Pha-Ngan from up there. The difficult part was walking back down to town – the track was really eroded, and we were sliding around on the gravel in our flip flops – perhaps not the best choice of footwear! Once or twice we had to sort of climb down the track, but it was good fun. We were roasting at the end of it – we had to go down and have a mango shake on the beach, and Mahmoud went for a swim and made me take photos of him in the sea!!

    Fire Performer [Enlarge & More]

    We didn’t do a lot else, other than sitting next to the pool or on the beach working on our tans. This was a very successful activity, and I no longer have tan lines carving across most of my body – now just my upper legs are pearly white! Unfortunately, our pooltime was ruined when an enormous (both in numbers and size) British family turned up and started drinking beer in the pool all day. But that was ok, we just spent more time on the beach after that. It’s a hard life!

    Tuesday, 22 September 2009

    Featured Travel Photo

    The beauty of Vang Vieng, originally uploaded by Homdaum.

    Featured travel Photo from Laos.

    Saturday, 19 September 2009

    Sea, Sun and Ladyboys in Hua Hin

    Hua Hin Beach[Enlarge & More]

    I’ve really had enough of temples after seeing plenty in the last two months, so I am really pleased we are slowly headed to some of the islands of Thailand. We decide a while ago that we would not do a journey of over 6 hours if we could help it so to break up the journey to the islands we have decided to spend a few days at Hua Hin, a coastal town favoured by the King of Thailand.

    To get to Hua Hin we got a bus from Bangkok. The bus went from the south bus station which was organised like a very efficient airport. It was a very stark contrast from Cambodia and Laos where to the uninitiated it’s a free for all. This time we made sure the bus was stopping in Hua Hin before buying the ticket.

    Horse Rides [Enlarge & More]

    We’d decided to spend our first full day there lounging by the beach. We hired some recliners and settled down for the day. The water was so warm it was like jumping into a warm bath. I’d forgotten how relaxing it was to lie in a warm sea and look up at the sky while being tossed gently by the waves. We didn’t have to move for the day as the world came to us. We could pretty much buy anything we wanted and what caught our eye was ice cream. Well it actually took the lady three passes but we relented in the end as she was full of smiles. As a result of sitting on the beach I’m starting to get an even tan rather than the workman’s one I’ve had for the last 3 months. Arms and head only!

    Dramatic Performance [Enlarge & More]

    With Jono’s fascination with ladyboys we also decided to go to a cabaret show full of them. The show did not disappoint, I’ve added the link to a video of the best performance of the night below. Jono did point to one performer and said “is that a man?”. Well, I said yes but I wasn’t sure either. We both then thought that in fact it was a woman who was there to make up the numbers. But no, later we overheard a conversation with the performer and he was definitely a ladyboy.

    I'm a lady... [Enlarge & More]

    I really enjoyed Hua Hin, mainly because the sea was blue, the sun was out and the beach was clean and inviting. It’s amazing - when I saw this it made me realise how differently I now view the beaches in Goa. It may have been the time of year but they were pretty poor, mainly due to the rubbish. Perhaps in the peak seasons they tidy them up. You could take horse rides on the beach, pretty much the same as in Goa but here you had people combing the beach picking up the horse shit.

    I had some of the best food there too. My particular favourite was a whole seabass barbequed in sea salt. It was just delicious especially accompanied with a chilli salsa. There are an abundance of fish restaurants there and you really are spoilt for choice.

    Hua Hin was a perfect stop before heading off to explore the islands of the south of Thailand. It was good to be somewhere by the coast that had a bit of life to it but still was pretty laid back. In the high season I’m not sure it would be the same.

    A video of the best performance of the night:

    Thursday, 17 September 2009

    Featured Travel Photo

    Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat, originally uploaded by Homdaum.

    Featured travel Photo Cambodia.

    Wednesday, 16 September 2009

    Bangkok by Accident

    Sukhothai [Enlarge & More]

    We had a good few days in Sukhothai. The Old Sukhothai city contained some ancient temple ruins which made for a good day’s cycling and exploration. Once our time in Sukhothai was up, the plan was to head south by bus to Ayuthaya, another city filled with temples – only these could be explored within the city itself. We planned to spend a couple of days there before moving on to Bangkok, just under 100km from Ayuthaya.

    The Bus to...[Enlarge & More]

    We turned up at the bus station and bought a ticket to Ayuthaya – just turning up and buying a ticket seems to be much easier here in Thailand than it has been elsewhere. Upon buying the tickets we were told that the bus would drop us off just out of town, rather than the bus station and we’d have to get a tuk tuk into town. Ok – no problem, at least they’d let us know. We settled down comfortably on the bus for the ride. Free bottled water was given out, and everyone was given a piece of cold deep fried chicken (rather randomly I thought). I like deep fried chicken, but only if it’s fresh, so I left mine alone as it was cold. A few people on the bus tucked right in though, and it smelled really nice!

    We sped down highway one making good time, and eventually we began to see signs for towns near Ayuthaya. About 150km for Bangkok, we began to see signs for Ayuthaya, and we began to prepare ourselves for getting off the bus. We waited a while, but the bus did not stop. And then, we stopped seeing signs for Ayuthaya. After a little while we decided we’d better check with the porter on the bus – after all, the stop must have been coming up soon, and it was just not an obvious place or something. Mahmoud checked, but was given a bit of a blank stare by the porter. We weren’t sure if this meant we’d missed the stop or if he didn’t understand English. When we reached the outskirts of Bangkok, we realised it was the latter, and we’d gone past Ayuthaya! We briefly pondered getting a bus back to Ayuthaya, but eventually decided to stay in Bangkok and check into one of the hotels we’d been recommended. Some friends from back home had recommended a high-flying hostel which was very flash (with LCD TVs and WiFi!), but when we phoned they were full, so we went with the recommendation of our Aussie friends who we met in Laos – and stayed in Lamphu Tree House.

    Not actually a treehouse, the hotel was nevertheless very nice, and contained a pool and very comfortable rooms with balconies. After figuring around Bangkok’s taxis and traffic, we arrived and negotiated a better price than their listed price, and moved in for 6 nights. It was a really nice place, and made our stay very enjoyable. As is often the way, we barely used the pool in the hotel, despite not having stayed somewhere with a pool for about 6 weeks!

    Hawkers, Khao San Road [Enlarge & More]

    Unfortunately, we both suffered a bit of culture shock after arriving in Bangkok. I think this was probably because we were not ready to be there, having been expecting the town of Ayuthaya – probably about 100 times smaller than Bangkok. For me, I felt the effects as soon as we went out to have something to eat the first night. We went straight to Khao San Road, about a ten minute walk from our hotel – for those that don’t know, that’s backpacker central. Full of a real variety of people, it was not really quite what I was looking for that night, and my initial response was to refuse to ever go back there in my life (we did go back a couple of times in the end). It’s an odd place, worth a look. It’s not really Thailand – it’s full of tourists, and Thais pandering to tourists. Oh, and Indians selling suits. There are three types of tourists on Khao San Road (by my reckoning anyway, but there are probably sub-categories too). Normal tourists (like us of course) who just come for a look; late-teen/early twenty year olds who spend all night getting drunk on what is reputed to be cheap beer, but compared to northern Thailand and Laos, isn’t; and lunatics with smelly clothes and armpits and dreadlocks who spend all their time in Bangkok on Khao San Road and never leave because they can get everything they need there (drugs). We went to a bar/restaurant for some food. I had a cheeseburger which was foul, and some fries which tasted like they’d been cooked in old oil. The staff were very surly (and I don’t blame them, having to deal with the likes of the people in there), and the girls prancing around in their very short skirts flirted with male customers and miserably posed for photographs with them. It was just completely NOT down to earth, unlike everything we’d seen so far, and my initial response was to hate it. That was pretty much down to my mood and the culture shock though – it wasn’t really THAT bad (but everything I’ve put is true!).

    Guard, Royal Palace [Enlarge & More]

    The next day, we did a day of sightseeing. We rode down the river on a ferry to the Grand Palace – very impressive indeed. Similar to the Royal Palace we visited in Phnom Penh, but more grand, we spent a couple of hours wandering around in the baking sun and taking it all in. It was well worth seeing – however, what was outside was also interesting. In Bangkok, there are a lot of scams – usually to try and get you to go to various emporiums and buy rubbish gems, etc – but the highest concentration of touts seems to exist around the Grand Palace. Every second step we took there was someone telling us that a sight was closed, or that we had to enter a different gate to get into the palace. We’re fairly used to this sort of thing, but in Bangkok it is particularly bad. This was when Mahmoud went through his period of culture shock/being fed up. After the palace, he was not too happy about the touts who were trying to mislead us, and when we got heckled by a tuk tuk driver for helping some girls who’d been misdirected (purposely, by the tuk tuk driver), to a different gate, it was the last straw – at that point, he was not too happy with Bangkok, put it that way!

    Cheeky Guard, Wat Pho [Enlarge & More]

    After the palace, we went to a nearby wat – Wat Pho. When we arrived at the gate, one tuk tuk driver told me the Wat was closed when there was a big OPEN sign on the gate, and another one told me that Wat Pho was down the road when there was a big sign saying WAT Pho on the gate! Honestly, some people must be stupid enough to believe them or they wouldn’t say it, but it’s just ridiculous. Anyway, the wat was really interesting, and we had a great time looking around. The massive reclining Buddha inside was amazing. However, we were watted out, and went back to the hotel after that. In fact, we’re so watted out that I don’t think we visited another wat during the rest of our stay in Bangkok!

    Lumphini Park [Enlarge & More]

    In the days that followed, we didn’t spend a huge amount of time seeing, but more time being. On one day we went to Lumphini Park in central Bangkok to escape the traffic and the hustle, which was a real pleasure. Walking around the lake in the park, we saw quite a few water monitor lizards swimming and climbing in and out of the lake. Some of them were massive – probably a good 4 or 5 feet long – you wouldn’t want them to bite you. One or two looked like they were stalking pigeons – didn’t see any pigeons get eaten though. Even more interesting were the exercise classes that were set up around the park – instructors doing aerobics were mimicked by large groups of (mainly) women. It seemed like the whole city was out exercising in one way or another – in addition to the aerobics women, there were hundreds of joggers, cyclists, rollerbladers and powerwalkers. It made me feel like I don’t do anywhere near enough exercise!

    Bangkok IMAX [Enlarge & More]

    Speaking of women, there are a lot of them in Bangkok. This is because many women in Bangkok are not actually women, but ladyboys. Some of them are very convincing, and I find myself looking at some women wondering whether they’re actually a ladyboy. Sometimes, I’m convinced that some women are ladyboys only to find out they’re not. It just shows that you should never make assumptions about people from the way they look. Thailand is very tolerant, and transgender people integrate very naturally into Thai society; such a high concentration of them in Bangkok is still very interesting to see. We didn’t visit the Patpong area of Bangkok, but I imagine there must be a lot of ladyboys there..!

    We visited the cinema in Bangkok on two occasions. One time we saw Gamer, and another time we saw Harry Potter. We watched the Harry Potter film in 3D IMAX – a brilliant experience on a massive screen! It was nice to go to the cinema and chomp on a bit of popcorn, although just like at home, cinema food is very expensive. In Bangkok, you can also do cinemas in style – two-person sofa tickets can be bought, albeit at a premium. We opted for the cheaper, normal seats though (we’re on a budget after all!).

    All in all, Bangkok was good – we just weren’t ready for it in the beginning. We both regret not making it to Ayuthaya, but the good thing about the way we’re travelling is that we’re able to change things at a whim. I can’t say it was my favourite place, but it definitely was not my least favourite either. I’m sure I’ll be back one day – and it’ll be a completely different experience all over again!

    Saturday, 12 September 2009

    Everyday life in Sukhothai, Thailand

    I'm going to break with the format of the blog and feature some of the pictures I took in Sukhothai New Town. I met this American who was travelling while building a portfolio of photos to exhibit when he got back home. While talking to him he reminded me that everyday sights make for really interesting pictures. So here are a few I took just wandering around Sukhothai.

    I always ask before taking a picture at close quarters. In most cases after a bit of a chat I get my shot.

    In this case, this lady was more than happy for me to take her picture, She kept posing for me by sticking up two fingers in the peace sign. I had to ask her to go back to doing what she was before I arrived, which was sitting there with her mask on. It was a shame to hide her beaming smile but that would have been a different shot.

    This lady was all smiles until I went to take her picture. I've found most times that when you take a picture of someone they become so serious when you point the camera at them. I was really pleased to capture her smiling, even if she was looking down shyly.

    This was my favourite photo of the day. This lady was so pleased I'd asked to her picture. I was surprised as she was obviuosly in the middle of her beauty regime with cream all over her face and hair in curlers. I loved that she had a matching head thing going with her top! I always let them see the picture and in this case the lady was very happy with the result.

    Friday, 11 September 2009

    "Massage, You Want Thai Massage?"

    Click on the link below.

    Here is an article about my experience on taking a Thai Massage Course in Chiang Mai.

    Thursday, 10 September 2009

    Icecream seller, Mumbai

    Icecream seller, Mumbai, originally uploaded by Homdaum.

    Featured #travel #Photo #lp

    Sunday, 6 September 2009

    Thai Cooking in Chiang Mai

    Relaxed Chiang Mai[Enlarge & More]
    It was my second time in Chiang Mai. The last time I came here was for New Year’s Eve in 2001. This time it did dawn on me as we were taking the bus to Chiang Mai that it may be full of skyscrapers, but thankfully not. It had all the charm and warmth I remember from the last time but it was just a bit more laid back as New Year was not being celebrated.

    Demonstration by Yui [Enlarge & More]
    As I’d already done the bamboo rafting and trekking into the hills to a village on my previous visit, I decided to spend a lot more time in the city. We spent 7 nights here and my week started off with a full day of what I’d call traditional tourist activities. I loved it but it was like being anywhere else in the world. The real pleasure for me was the cooking course I did with Yui at A Lot of Thai the next day, a fantastic recommendation by Gade, our guesthouse owner. I had a fun filled day cooking and eating some of my favourite Thai dishes.

    Tom Yam [Enlarge & More]
    Yui started off with a demonstration of each dish and then we had a go. There were 4 of us in the class and there are only ever a maximum of 8, so you really get the personal touch. In the morning to get to the class I was picked up from our guesthouse, Elliebum, in a blue VW camper van kitted out with sofas. That set the feel for the rest of the day, relaxed, fun and informative. My favourite dish of the day was Tom Yam, just delicious.

    City Pillar [Enlarge & More]

    As Jono was busy doing a Thai massage course, I had the days to myself. I spent them wandering around the city and just enjoying the place and taking photographs. The people are so friendly too that it was just bliss. I’m a real exponent of travelling in the off season now as wherever I was it was tranquil and peaceful. No tour bus loads of tourists descending like ants in one particular place.

    Cooking with Gade [Enlarge & More]

    Staying at Elliebum really made it for me in Chiang Mai and as we were there for over 5 nights we got a free cooking course with Gade. Before we started, Gade had one request - that I cook something too which was traditional to me. I chose to do dahl (yellow lentils) and chapattis as it’s my favourite food and its simple to make. We cooked in the evening so that Jono could join in after his Thai massage course. It was fun and manic at the same time, as Gade’s nieces and nephews were also ‘helping’ while we tried to cook. It was sweaty work but the food was delicious and it made a nice change from eating out.

    I would say that if you get to Chiang Mai, definitely do the trekking, elephants and rafting but if you have the time just wonder the streets and enjoy the place.

    Friday, 4 September 2009

    Snakes and Tigers and Elephants in Chiang Mai, Oh My!

    Boots the Chemist [Enlarge & More]
    After nearly two months in Cambodia and Laos, arriving in Chiang Mai was a bit of a shock to the system. Neither Cambodia nor Laos can really boast being hustle and bustle kind of countries, so getting to Chiang Mai was a reminder that busy-ness really does exist!

    Elephant Bum[Enlarge & More]
    We eventually managed to find our way to our guesthouse – Elliebum (as in Elephant’s bum). Brilliant name for a brilliant place – overall, it’s got to be the best place we’ve stayed. There were only two rooms in the place, but it also doubles up as a cafĂ©. The room we had was a really good size, with a seating area, cable TV, DVD player, Wifi internet and the whole place was spotlessly clean – luxury (for us)! The owner, Gade, and her staff, were what made the place what it was. They were so friendly and helpful, and always went the extra mile to make our stay comfortable and informed. To top it all off, the little extra touches were brilliant – I haven’t seen anything quite as classic as Elliebum labelled soap, with an elephant’s bottom wiggling at me while I’m having a shower.

    Doi Suthep [Enlarge & More]
    We both had plans for the week that we were going to be in Chiang Mai for – I was going to do a massage course (more on that later), and Mahmoud was going to enjoy a bit of Mahmoud-time. In the meantime we had a couple of days to spare, and Gade (owner of Elliebum) suggested a few things we could do. We decided to hire a car and driver, something we had not done since India, and tour some of the outer areas of Chiang Mai – sightseeing!

    First off was the hilltop temple of Doi Suthep, somewhere Mahmoud had “definitely, 100% not been”. We drove up and up in our nice and comfy air-con car, our friendly driver chatting away. Upon arriving, we discovered that Mahmoud had, in fact, definitely 100% been before, he just did not remember until arriving. The temple was very interesting – unfortunately it was very cloudy and we could not see the city below, but it was still good to see it.

    Mae Sa Snake Farm [Enlarge & More]
    The next stop was the Maesa Snake Farm. I was slightly pessimistic about what we would actually see here, not being a great snake fan (more disinterest than dislike). When we arrived, the snake keepers were all sort of sitting around, but they jumped up and showed us around. Before I knew it, a snake was draped over my neck and it sort of hung there, before slowly sliding up my torso. It was horrible and cold and wet feeling, and very heavy. If I’d been a bit more prepared I might have handled it better, but I just sort of froze while Mahmoud took my picture. The snake was then promptly transferred to his neck, where it lazily hung for a few seconds, before being moved on. We walked around various cages containing snakes, including cobras, some of which tried to strike at us through the chicken wire! Fortunately I don’t think any of them were spitters, but they did look pretty menacing. Once a few more tourists arrived, the snake show got underway. This mostly involved a man taunting various breeds of snake and making them strike at him, and scaring the crowd with them. He always seemed to identify the people in the crowd most scared of the snakes, and target them with the scare tactics. It was a really good show, and I really enjoyed it.

    Tiger Kingdom[Enlarge & More]
    Next up, we went to the Tiger Kingdom for lunch. At Tiger Kingdom you can enter the enclosures and stroke the tigers, get your pictures with them, etc etc. We opted not to, so we ate lunch and watched other people doing it. It was a little bit sad to see the huge cats in captivity – the keepers were quite actively playing with them, but at the same time they were waking them up to take photos with tourists, and the whole thing felt a little like exploitation. Still, we ate there so I guess we partook in it anyway!

    Mae Sa Elephant Camp [Enlarge & More]
    After this we visited an elephant show. The elephants were really sweet, and we fed them some bananas and bamboo. There was a really cute little elephant, whose keeper gave it a hat to put on my head. The little elephant put it on my head, and then patted the hat with it’s trunk while Mahmoud took a photo. It then did the same to Mahmoud. It was so cute – such an expressive face. It was my first time up close with elephants, and I have to say I thought they were really sweet – full of personality, even if a lot of what they do is learned through training. We watched the show, in which the elephants played football, painted pictures and adopted sweet poses for the crowd.

    Elephant Ride [Enlarge & More]
    Next, we took an hour long ride on one of the elephants – a big 33 year old female. She plodded along, up and down tracks so steep that you never would have thought anything that size should be able to make it, but elephants seem to be really surefooted, testing the way with their trunks as they go. The ride was very comfortable, and a good experience. She posed for the camera when the elephant driver took our photo – so sweet!

    Umbrella Village [Enlarge & More]
    Lastly, we visited the “umbrella village” east of Chiang Mai. This looked suspiciously like an emporium from the outside, however once we went in we found people working away making the paper umbrellas. It was interesting walking along and watching each stage of the process, and Mahmoud got a few photos (the only real reason for going there!).

    Bosang “Umbrella” Village[Enlarge & More]
    The rest of the week was good for the both of us, although we each did separate things owing to my massage course. One thing we did do was visit the Sunday Night Market – an event sponsored by the government to allow people to set up shop along the main street without having to pay rent. The result is cheap goods and a great night out for all involved. We did a bit of shopping and had a good time – had some excellent local food too! Best of all was at 6pm, when the national anthem blasted out through the speakers along the street. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stood to attention while it played. Mahmoud was buying something and the transaction was paused mid-sale. A whining dog was shushed. The whole world stopped for one minute, and once the anthem was over, the street sprang back to life. It was definitely worth seeing!

    The only bad thing about Chiang Mai is that it’s full of dirty old sex tourists (ST’s as we call them). Shame really, as it kind of puts you off your dinner when you see a leachy old man draped over a young Thai girl (or boy). That’s a bit of an unfair generalisation, but a lot of the time it’s just plain exploitation, and I don’t really like to see it happening.

    More on the week to come, but generally we enjoyed Chiang Mai. It was a nice change of pace after Laos, and a great introduction to Thailand. Mahmoud’s lack of memory of his last visit seems to make it like a first-time destination for him as well!

    Thursday, 3 September 2009

    Desktop Wallpaper

    If you try and use it let me know how you get on. Click the link below for the image.


    Wednesday, 2 September 2009

    Neon Heaven,HK

    Neon Heaven,HK, originally uploaded by Homdaum.

    Featured #travel #Photo. Hong Kong.

    Huay Xai to Chiang Kong Border Crossing - Laos to Thailand

    Thai Flag [Enlarge & More]
    Huay Xai was a sleepy place holding very little charm. I think most people pass through in a day crossing the border to and from Thailand. The border crossing to Thailand was one of the easiest we’ve done. You ‘checkout’ on the Laos side of the border, dump your bag onto a very small boat and get zipped across to the Thai side in a minute or two across the Mekong. The boat itself holds a maximum of 8 people so it’s tiny but several of them go back and forward as soon as they get filled.

    On the Laos side as the passengers disembark, they get a thermometer stuck down their ear to get screened for H1N1. It’s a bit like the thing the doctor sticks down your ear when he wants to have a look. You know at home he puts a shiny clean bit on the end of it before using it, but here the man gives it a quick wipe on his leg before sticking it in the next person.

    As we disembarked on the Thai side, which is actually getting off into slightly muddy soil while trying not to drop your backpack, you get screened for the H1N1 virus. This time it’s a gun type contraption that takes your temperature, thankfully no dirty contraption stuffed down our ears for us!

    Chiang Mai[Enlarge & More]
    You make your way to ‘check-in’ which is a port-a-cabin type contraption up the river bank, where you fill in the required forms, usually in triplicate and then you are in. On a border crossing you get 15 day entry stamp for Thailand, whereas if you fly in you get the month. Apparently this is to stop long-timers hopping over the border to renew their stamps/visa. I guess crossing the border every 15 days it would be a right pain. We’d planned ahead and got our visas in Vientiane as we plan to be here for about a month and we knew there was a promotion where you get a free 60 day Visa.

    From there we had already organised a Mini-Van to take us to Chiang Mai about 250 KM away. As drives go this was one of the dullest we’ve taken, partly due to what felt like the snail pace the driver took. That just may be my perception as in both Cambodia and Laos the drives are a little more erratic, as the buses use all the road to avoid kids, potholes, chickens, dogs, ducks, cows, cyclists, snakes…….. making it much more entertaining.

    We arrived in Chiang Mai eventually and were dumped not at any bus station, but at a guesthouse which the driver must get commission from, which always makes working out where you are a challenge. Our first task was to go and find a cash point as we had no Thai baht, not great planning on our part. Once that was sorted we tried to get a tuk tuk to the guesthouse we had chosen. The tuk tuk driver did not know where it was however he called the guesthouse and got the directions. A reasonable price was quoted, much, much cheaper than tuk tuks in Laos, and he took us to the guesthouse with a smile!

    I’m already loving being back in Thailand!

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