Ayutthaya- 23rd-26th October… and the train of doom!

Firstly, sorry for the lack of updates.  To spoil the surprise, we’re now in Melbourne, and have been busy looking for gainful employment! Should speed up now we’re settling!

Ayutthaya was our next stop, a mere 7 hours on the bus down the road! We got there, and our hotel was… limited. We decided that sleep there would be impossible, so elected to move down the road to a nicer (and cheaper) establishment. This took us till midnight, and Ben got chased by a pack of feral dogs. Ben insists these were  tiger sized Rottweilers. Jenny is certain it was a pack of fluffy Shihtzus. The truth may never come out!

Regrettably, Ayutthaya was probably the first disappointment of the journey. Mainly concrete and traffic, with none of the charm of the prior few towns. I think that we both had a spot of temple fatigue after the charm of Chiang Mai, and the Indiana Jones scope and size of Sukhothai. As a result, we were much less snap happy- hence the lack of photos herein!

Due to the length of Thai visas, and that we wanted a change of scenery, we decided that our next stop would be a visa run to Laos. We booked onto the night train to the capital Vientiane, and readied ourselves for the 15 hour journey! As we had checked out of the hotel at midday, we had an 11 hour wait to even go to the station, so spent the day idling and eating- our favourite pastimes!

Waiting for the train at Ayutthaya. Chang beer model’s own.

Our sleeper cabin seemed okay on arrival, and we went to the restaurant car for a snack and a few beers, and met the real life Borat! He was from a small disputed territory of Georgia and Russia called Abkazia (which actually has quite an interesting history if you like that kind of thing). He showed us a picture of his alarmingly young wife, and offered to introduce us to a Triad arms dealer in Bangkok on our return to Thailand. Suitably intrigued, inebriated and terrified, we returned to our room, sadly to find that cockroaches had settled in. We slept as best we could (Ben, being quite tipsy slept very well…) and woke up to find ourselves by the Mekong river, the border of Thailand and Laos.

Our luxury room. And appropriate Hitchcock film…

 

Sukhothai 16th-22nd October

The first thing to hit about Sukhothai New Town after our previous stops is that they don’t expect so many English people there. This is a very Thai town, with very few hawkers trying to sell you suits/taxis/massages/drugs. We arrived around sunset, as their Night Market kicked off in earnest. The market is based round a Buddhist Wat, with a huge statue, and a big portion of the market is run by the monks themselves. A big town festival was starting in a few days, and they had a small (and incredibly rickety) fun fair, and a small area where locals were playing matches of a strange hybrid of football and badminton…

A luvverly bunch of coconuts
They don’t have the hang of ripping people off here. For 20 baht (40p), we won 4 toys.

We also found several lovely restaurants. The first in a shed by the river;

The second had the greatest name ever;

Surprisingly tasty

And the final one, Dream Cafem just had the best food ever, and a selection of alcoholic elixirs claiming to give you energy, good health and virility!

Spring rolls 3 ways
Larb or Laap or I don’t know they keep changing the spelling. Minced meat with mint and basil and chilli. It’s lovely,
Various potions and crazy decor.
Chicken fried in banana leaf.

The main draw of the town is the UNESCO protected historical park in the old town. Tens of temples built by various rulers and kings over decades- proper Indiana Jones type stuff. You have to cycle round to see even half in a day!

Jenny being excitable

In other news… Ben ate insects and we failed to get a good picture of the music festival that we went to!

Grubs are horrible.
Grasshoppers not so bad
ROCK. Or bad pop to be honest…

Chiang Mai 11th to 15th October

Much like Hanoi, Chiang Mai just seemed welcoming from the moment we arrived. We werw staying in the old town, a mile and a half square inside the old city walls. You can’t walk more than 100 yards without passing a temple, and within hours, a local Buddhist had filled us in on the best ones to visit, and the best way to get cheap fares around. It’s that friendly.
The original temple was HUGE, but then an earthquake made it just big
Jenny disapproves

We went to the Night Market by ‘tuk-tuk’ (a motorbike with a couple of seats attached to the back) in the evening. Ben bought vests (shock!) and on ‘Halal Street’, the Muslim section of the market we bought the tastiest and hottest dish made from rice balls, made fresh in front of us.
A picture cannot capture the sheer amount of chilli in this!
We washed it down with much needed Tiger beer, and watched a fan dancer in the middle of the market. The beer was lovely, and the fan dancing odd, but very watchable.
 

 Later in the week, we arranged a trek through our guesthouse, involving an elephant ride, which was a little scary, as our elephant liked running up hills to fetch bamboo, but brilliant;
There are very few pictures where Ben isn’t looking terrified…
This was followed by a trek through the jungle, with our guide Neo. He was a very funny chap, and had loads of info on the local wildlife (and what it tasted like!). We saw a chameleon, which was bigger than expected;
Some creepy spirit houses, where the local villages encourage evil spirits to stay out;
Shudder
A huge waterfall;

Some amazing views;
And rickety bamboo bridges;
We stopped off for a swim in a little lagoon by a waterfall, which was much needed after the walk, and was beautifully secluded. On the way to get some lunch, our tour guide showed us how to blow bubbles using plant sap!

After lunch, we went down the river on bamboo rafts. Ours was piloted by a 10 year old boy who liked hitting rocks!
And then we went and drank a lot of mojitos. There is so much more that’s brilliant about Chiang Mai, but I think this post is now a little long. So I’ll just put some food pictures to sum up the rest!
Mussaman curry in a coconut
Som Tam (papaya salad)

Bangkok 8th to 11th October

 BANGKOK

So to start, Qatar Airways is AMAZING. A 747 with comfy seats, good films and a delicious green curry wrap! This was tempered slightly by Ben messing up at immigration…

Anyway, we got to Bangkok late as a result, and got a cab to our hotel. The cabs here are lurid pink, which is strange. The Khaosan Road is anarchic, but was subdued by an enormous downpour on our first night (we now know what monsoon season means!), so we spent time in our room at Buddy Lodge, an amazing boutique hotel in the middle of everything- the towels are folded into elephants!

Worth every penny for this!
The following morning, the weather had cleared up, and we went for a wander to Sanam Luang, the park leading up to the huge Grand Palace complex, it was surrounded by a million little market stalls selling every manner of trinket, and a fair degree of pirated DVDs and games!

We spent the evening wandering Khaosan and the surrounding alleys- people sell hard here, and the people selling trips to ping pong shows make hideously graphic noises to let you know exactly what that is… Jen had coconut ice cream from a coconut shell- it was delicious. The fruit stands sell bags of fruit for about 40p, and you can get pat thai (glass noodles, chicken, egg and chilli) for about 60p. At the end of the market, some kids were playing strange Thai autoharp type instruments- we saw them play Coldplay and Lady Gaga!

The next day, we explored Bangkok by boat along the river. There are so many temples and amazing buildings you lose track of what they are.

They know wat is wat…

We stopped in Chinatown for vases full of iced coffee, then headed home for dinner at Mai Kaidee, an amazing vegetarian restaurant hidden on a little back street. The spring rolls with peanut sauce were mindblowing!

MINDBLOWING

Next stop- Chiang Mai!

Hanoi 3rd – 8th October

So after a quick stop in Guangzhou, we were on to Vietnam, and Hanoi. Guangzhou was very busy, and the only major point of interest was the Canton Tower:

Nice lights at the Canton Tower

Immediately in Hanoi, the feel of the city seemed more laid back. This in spite of a million motorcycles all desperate to get to their destination at speed, down narrow streets that seem more suited to traveling on foot, but more on that later…

On our first night, we went to the Newday restaurant on Ma May, and had barbecued ribs and lime chicken. The ribs affected Jenny emotionally they were that good! We followed that up with beers in a bar called Half Man Half Noodle, with a balcony that overlooked the busy street below.

We then strolled down to the Hoan Kiem Lake, where we saw a monkey taunting a dog.

Monkey vs. Dog
Twice because why not?

The next day, we explored the Old Town some more- loads of crazy stuff- the whole place seems to be held together by string, but laid back people and amazing food keep the whole place going.

In the evening the weekly Night Market took place on Hang Ba- absolutely packed but they sell some cool stuff- we bought a lovely pop up birthday card to send home. At the top of the market, under the train bridge, there was an amazing restaurant, with hot plates on every table- you are provided with butter, meat, chillies, onions and an amazing sauce and are left to cook your own wraps- so delicious!

Before
After

The next day, we couldn’t resist going back to some places we’d already visited- Ben had more pho (noodle soup, fresh tasting and lovely)and Jenny had crazy Vietnamese muesli, which was cornflakes, yoghurt and bananas! , then a street barbecue lunch and back to Newday in the evening for Lemongrass and chilli chicken, spring rolls and special ribs.

You can also drink Bia Hoi, the local beer, served straight from the barrel, at street temperature- it’s surprisingly delicious, and costs only 15,000 dong (17p!).

Six glasses for a pound. HEAVEN.

On our final day, we finally saw how laid back Hanoi is, as our entire street had a power cut, to which the hotel staff said ‘It won’t be long. Power will be back at 4 o clock.’ At 10am in the morning… We wandered round the town again- many places had generators, so I assume this was a regular occurrence!

There were crazy balloons flying over the river, and we had iced coffee by the lake and watched them.

And finally, to cap off our stay, Jen took the perfect video of the motorbike traffic, and the fun of crossing the road here!!!

Unfortunately, due to the weather in the South, trains were severely limited, so we had to cut short our stay, as we couldn’t travel much further, and so our next stop became Bangkok…

Edit- Fixed the video!

Shanghai Week- 28th September- 2nd October

Saturday 28th September- 2nd October

On the first day, we visited the financial district of Pudong, which is a 10 minute walk from our apartment. The main deal here seems to be the Pearl TV Tower and a huge shopping mall, too big for us to bear really. The architecture around here looks a lot like something out of a Nintendo video game, I’m thinking of Captain Planet, Ben doesn’t remember…

We visited the People’s Square in the heart of the city, which is basically a huge open space surrounding by lots of equally huge buildings.

We find it difficult to order food unless there’s a picture of it, so we snack on these:

We visited the Bund, which is basically a load of buildings that look like Europe, from back when we colonized bits of China in exchange for drugs- the view over to Pudong is amazing.
Pudong, from The Bund

Nanjing Road that leads from the Bund to People’s Square is also pretty manic, and great for crazy neon, and Chinese restaurants that have ridiculous portion sizes. We are giants in this country (people stop and stare), but I think they were overdoing it!

The next day we went to the Old Town- easily one of our favourite bits of Shanghai. There’s a great park, and lots of amazing Chinese architecture.

Even Starbucks looks good

We had tea, with a traditional tea ceremony, in the teahouse in the middle of the lake. They actually put the English to shame with the care and attention that goes into their tea. They pour hot water on the pot to warm it up, brew it, pour the brew over, rebrew it and so on. And you get great snacks with it. The egg, fermented in tea was amazing!

The tea kit- we had ‘Iron Goddess’ tea.
Yes Mom, I am drinking all of the tea in China
Tea egg confusion

It was absolutely brilliant.

Inside the tea house
The tearoom’s view

We then walked back through the insect market, which sadly was closed, as Ben wanted a cricket in a tiny bamboo cage.

Our last full day in Shanghai, we went to the French Concession. We went to Xintiandi, the upmarket bit in the morning, which was okay, but a bit blah, like West London, but about 6000 miles West. We walked from there to Fuxing Park, which was really nice. There were lots of people doing interesting things, including two guys playing weird Chinese violins, and dancing classes in public.

The king of Chinese dancers

Finally, we went to the Tianzifang- sort of a hipster town in China. Loads of cramped little alleyways full of tiny bars and food stands- we drank a lot of beer, and had thick crisps on a stick, and a fresh waffle (the first baked product in China that wasn’t very strange and full of sugar and MSG). The local people hadn’t seen an e cigarette before, and a lot of Chinese people were stopping and staring at me- so I demonstrated how it worked and they were impressed! Ben came back and thought I was showing them a  magic trick, which is fair because one women did shout out ‘magic!’ at one point haha.

Tianzifang
Beer alley
Comrade Ben
Giant potato snack! i thought they were doughnuts :o( but Ben enjoyed it
Drunk sugar fix

Amsterdam->Shanghai- The big journey- 26th and 27th September

Sooo… I haven’t been very good at updating this. To be fair, we spent the first week in China, where blogging, Facebook and searching Tienanmen Square are blocked!

So we flew to Shanghai with an afternoon’s stop in Amsterdam. We were delayed at Schilpol airport for 45 minutes waiting for our backpacks… it turns out that when you’re flying that far they get held over to the next flight. We are proper international bumpkins! Amsterdam center looks lovely, with big old and beautiful buildings, but sadly has very little other than expensive beer and weed cafes in the center. The red light district was amusing though.

Absolutely charming sights…

Then back on a plane for the 5000 mile flight. Having never flown long haul before, we were more than happy with the amount of booze they are willing to give you. The food was surprisingly edible, and we both slept most of the way.

On arrival in Shanghai we got their Metro, which is like our tube, but clean and efficient. Amazing what you can do with the employment communism brings! However, on coming out, the roads are manic, and not signposted at all.

Basically, this is Embankment, but mental and Chinese, with a salubrious bar called Spicy Girl across the road

The hotel itself was very nice and overlooked the river and the Bund, and somehow we checked in in spite of us not speaking a word of Chinese, and they not speaking a word of English (a recurring theme through our time in China!) and they sent a nice almost English speaker down to show us how to use the washing machine. Or to point at it and tell us ‘It goes swoosh‘, which did the job.

As it was pretty late by this time, and Pudong alone is HUGE let alone all of Shanghai, we went to a corner shop and bought some hot tofu snacks in very hot chilli sauce for tea, followed by a ‘Pot Ramen’.

Couldn’t find Chicken and Mushroom Pot Noodles

Hello

Hello anyone who’s reading this.
My dear lady wife and I are traveling the world for 15 months on our honeymoon. Not yet, but starting this Thursday, and I intend to occasionally update family and friends on our adventures here, when I can, and when I can be bothered. Mainly just wiffle and nonsense really, but hopefully it’ll be alright.Anyway, our route will look something like this;

http://www.goprotravelling.com/embed/15d466120afe8560f0e960532ca7db2f
And will take about 15 months, if nothing changes or breaks or whatever.

It still doesn’t seem real yet.

Anyway, cheerio England, don’t do anything silly while we’re away.

Ben and Jenny

 

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