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Cavelodge Spectator

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Cavelodge spectator

My days at Cavelodge have been spent observing or spectating, whatever you might call it, by that I mean I have had a lovely time watching others having a lovely time.

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Due to my fall on day 2 of arriving at Cavelodge I have spent most days in the communal area watching the world go by, I sit and listen to the cicadas, Geckos, frogs and the bells around the cows necks, as well as the many insect and bird sounds of the jungle.  I watch the many different coloured butterflies flutter around, the peace and tranquility sometimes spoiled only by new arrivals, checking in, or ordering food.

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The hospital where they treated my knee!

Cavelodge is where all travellers stay at some point, they come for a day to try one of the fantastic trips to the caves, waterfalls or simply the magnificent sunrise trip but end up spending much longer, the ambience, the jungle, the general feeling of the place is magical you just have to stay longer.

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The food is cooked freshly from locally grown vegetables and locally reared animals, the fruits are plenty and tantalizingly delicious, the people are warm and friendly and welcoming, you can’t help but want to stay and enjoy the atmosphere.

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Tom Ka soup made with chicken, vegetables and coconut milk with lemon grass and other herbs and spices locally grown.

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img_8009Growing outside my room and found in my soup, known as “rat shit chillies” they blow your head off!!!!!!!!

It is simply built, on stilts in the jungle,  out of teak , bamboo and leaves, the only entertainment is what you make yourselves, I have met some wonderful people from Belgium, Yorkshire, Surrey, USA, Canada, Netherlands and many other places and spent many hours chatting or enjoying music or listening to their tales of their day’s adventures.

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I have heard about the birds that come to the cave every night, swifts in their thousands swooping into the cave entrance for the evening, I can only imagine because I have not seen them but the photos look fab, I have listened to tales of leeches at the waterfalls and enjoyed looking at the photos again, in all it hasn’t been so bad not being able to experience it all for myself, I had the next best thing, excited traveller stories and of course I can plan my next trip back here knowing all the exciting things I will do.

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Everything is just more colourful here, the tribal people’s clothes, the flowers, the buildings and even the insects and fungi are colourful. Thailand is an amazing country which I have had the good fortune to spend some time in, next time it will be longer.

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The tribal people we have met have been so warm and welcoming, the friends I am with have been as good as family to me during this lazy time sitting around, we have played games (discovered a new favourite “Cards Against Humanity”), eaten together, shared wine, shared stories, shared the delicious fruit longan, made tons and tons of way markers for the fantastic Ultra Marathon and generally had fun with craft ideas for the tribal school children.

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Even though my time in Thailand has come to an untimely end, I have thoroughly enjoyed the company of the people and the ambience of Thailand and will definitely be coming back, wiser when it comes to choosing travel insurance, richer when it comes to having a safe buffer and more excited because now I know all there is to offer in just the few places I have been so far, I also know there is so much more to explore.

img_8025A darling little girl, daughter of Non, who works at the Lodge!

While at home I will be sorting my blog properly and doing my TEFL course so that when I come back it will be with better prospects and different expectations, hopefully with the promise of a job I will get paid for, teaching English to Thai children.  I also need to keep learning Thai although it seems the best saying you can learn is Mai Pen rai, meaning its ok, no problem, all will be well, which is how I am resigned to feeling at the moment.

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Chok, one of the sons of the staff, playing on the swing!

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Intrepid Travelers

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Intrepid Travelers

The main reason for me coming to Thailand was to help the lovely Julie and Marcus to run their Ultra Running events; they have a Beauty which is 50k and a beast which is 100k.  See their website, www.thailandultramarathon.com

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I came earlier so that I could spend some time in Bangkok doing my own thing.  Kate one of the girls also helping out at Cavelodge was flying in after me and we had arranged to meet on the 18th October and get the bus together up to Cavelodge which is no mean feat!

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So we met up about 10 am, checked out of our hotels and made our way to the official tourist board office because they give you information on the buses and trains and all transport to various parts of Thailand which is part of the official transport system.

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They have a very organised public transport system which is very cheap to travel on, if you use tourist buses etc. you will always pay more, a lot more.  So we caught the number 3 bus from outside the hotel to the main bus terminal in Bangkok which was the other side of the city and took us over an hour to get there.  We paid 11Baht which is about 20pence, we could have caught the 7 baht bus but this one came first.

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While we were on the bus we got talking to a lovely guy who worked in the airport and spoke pretty good English, although Kate is very good at speaking Thai so there was a bit of both languages being spoken, the man loved to sing and his favourites were Elvis and Cliff Richard which we sang together, him with a prefect American accent, especially when singing the Elvis songs.

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When we got to the terminal we decided to opt for the night bus to Chiang Mai which takes 12 hours and is supposed to be comfortable enough to sleep on, this cost about 500 baht which is about £12, it’s so cheap to travel here, it would only have cost us about £25 to fly there but Kate wanted to go by bus and I was keen to experience the night bus.

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The bus terminal is absolutely huge as you can imagine in a city as big as Bangkok and you can get a bus to anywhere from Chiang Mai in the North to Phuket in the South. We put our backpacks in the baggage lockers and went for some food while we waited for our night bus at 9pm ish.  I opted for the herbal soup with pork balsa and rice noodles, it was delicious then after I had coconut ice cream with lots of different things sprinkled on the top, not sure what they were but they tasted fine.  We spent most of the day chatting and swapping traveling stories, not having met before we had a lot to talk about to each other.  Kate is about 20 years younger than me but we hit it off and made plans for when we arrived in Chiang Mai.

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Kate has lived at Cavelodge for a year previously, she came to help Julie and Marcus in 2014 and John the Australian guy who runs Cavelodge with his wife Nang offered her a job for a year so she went home sorted it out with her parents and came back to spend a year there, which she absolutely loved, she was so excited to be going back to see everyone again.

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We caught our night bus, on which we had booked the front seats upstairs which gave us a lot more legroom.  The hostess came round with snacks and blankets and we set off on our epic journey, I didn’t sleep much, it wasn’t too bad a trip but I just can’t sleep well on buses.

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We arrived in Chiang Mai about 7am, went for breakfast then booked our ticket to Soppong which is the town we needed to get the nearest to Cavelodge.  This we booked on a mini bus and it took about 5 hours on very windy roads, when we got to Soppong mid-afternoon, John who runs Cavelodge came to pick us up to take us the final 10 km to the actual lodge which is in the middle of the jungle in the North of Thailand near all the hill tribe people.

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I loved it immediately on arrival, the structure is very higgledy piggledy having been added to many times over the years, it’s made completely from teak wood on stilts in a sloping part of the jungle leading down to the river, the roof is made from particular leaves which have to be collected when they fall from the tree and used at exactly the right time to prevent them becoming brittle, these leaves are woven into the bamboo roof sticks.

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It reminded me of a treehouse I had seen in an article on alternative living, even though it wasn’t quite a treehouse it looked and felt like one, we had a very warm greeting and Kate introduced me to everyone who runs Cavelodge and then we met Julie and Marcus and got to work on the way markers for the race and enjoyed catching up after last seeing them in June.

 

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Living on stilts at Cavelodge

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Living on stilts at Cavelodge

I am now staying at the most amazing place in the world.  Cavelodge has been in existence for about 30 years, it is a teak lodge built on stilts in the tropical jungle of Northern Thailand in amongst all the hill tribe people. I love it.

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Today I went for a walk in the surrounding jungle and Ban Tham tribal village, Kate the lovely girl who is a new friend and has stayed at Cavelodge for a year, a couple of years ago, took me on a walk around the village and to see one of the caves to be explored from Cavelodge.  There are some amazing caves here along with wonderful waterfalls, a beautiful people and stunning scenery.  There are also bananas growing everywhere along with Papaya, Passion fruit, mangoes, sweetcorn and rice, lots of rice.

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We were only allowed to go to the entrance of the cave today as we hadn’t booked a guide, no one is allowed inside the caves without a guide because of possible danger, so I will be going back tomorrow or the next day with a guide, you can kayak into the caves so I might choose that option.

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As soon as we arrived I fell in love with the place, it is a wonderful relaxing oasis in the middle of the jungle, the main communal area was built over 30 years ago with more and more cottages added over time.  There are hammocks for you to relax, wonderful healthy food, freshly cooked to order with the sounds of the Cicadas and the rushing stream the only noise to spoil the silence or maybe enhance the experience, depending which way you look at it!

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When Kate and I arrived we were greeted by Julie and Marcus who we have come to help with the running of their races and help with the craft days at the local schools.  We had some food and quickly got into the swing of everything by helping out with the way markers while chatting around the large communal tables.

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Later we put the mosquito net up in my room and I had a good night sleep, before going for a our lovely walk today, we went to the cave and fed the fish which swim in the river that runs into the cave, then walked back through the village admiring the views of Big Knob, the large mountain behind the village houses and met local people whom Kate knew from the last time she was here, they were all such interesting people who had led very interesting lives, a couple of the kids let me take a picture of them while another couple came for a walk with us and spoke wonderful English.

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I have been welcomed by these people so warmly that I already feel at home, there are so many things to do at Cavelodge I am worried that I won’t have enough time to do it all.  But I will give it a try, watch this space!!

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Riding the skytrain in Bangkok

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Riding the Sky train in Bangkok

Whenever I go to a new place I find things to do cheaply or free because I am on a budget.  I had read about the Sky train somewhere so decided to give it a go, it seemed to me to be a bit like the DLR in London so I got the 14baht boat from pier N13 down to the Central pier at Saphan Taksin which takes you directly to the train terminal.

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It costs 120 baht for a day ticket on the Sky train and you can get off and on as many times as you like, there were a couple of places on my list to go on the route of the skytrain and I decided to just get off where I felt there was something interesting to see.

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My first stop was at Bang Wa, which was the final station on the Chit Lom line, there wasn’t much of interest to me at this stop so I just jumped back on and went all the way to the other end of Chit Lom stopping at Chong Nonsi for some lunch and to see the Manhanakorn Cube tower because it looked really interesting, very artistic, I love tower blocks especially the more unusual ones.

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The beauty of the skytrain as opposed to the underground is you can see where you want to get off as you travel without planning your journey, because it travels above the road and above the buildings, brilliant idea.

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I had some lunch from a street vendor for about £1, walked around the cube tower taking photos, sat a while watching the world go by then jumped back on the train, on to my next stop which was planned at the Paragon shopping and entertainment complex with Imax, I thought about going to watch an Imax movie but realised after getting off the train that it would probably be in Thai language (how stupid am I lol) so I stopped a while in the lounge at the Imax and charged my phone then on to Erawan Shrine.

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I had read about Erawan shrine which was a welcome oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle right in the middle of an intersection, with roads, train lines and buildings completely surrounding it. It is very much a place for worship even more so now that the King has died, lots of people go there presenting flower garlands to Buddha, there is also a holy water well where people cover themselves in the holy water and one of the main things that drew me here was the Thai dancing, which takes place throughout the day by traditional Thai dancing girls.  I’m glad I found it, it was lovely to just sit in the small garden and enjoy the peace and tranquillity even though the hustle and bustle is still going on all around there is something special about this place and watching the dancing was a wonderful bonus.

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After the shrine I decided to go to another shopping place called Terminal 21 because I had read that there are special photo opportunities there because of the themed shopping experience, I didn’t really knew what was meant by this so decided to investigate.  Terminal 21 is a massive shopping multi floors complex with a different theme on every floor.  The themes are based on capital cities around the world.  The ones I stopped at were London, Tokyo and Paris and on every floor there were special landmarks or giant sculptures associated with that city, I was mainly interested in the London floor, where they had a huge red double decker bus serving a shop, the benches were painted in union jack colours, they had a sculpture of a bobby siting on one of the benches with an underground station train as another shop and an old red phone box.

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While I was in the shopping mall I needed to charge my phone again so I stopped in Starbucks and while I was sitting there having my soya decaf latte I was joined by a wonderful man and his daughter from Pakistan, we got chatting and soon his wife came and joined us, I spent about an hour or more chatting to the lovely Nosch and Imran, exchanging blog details and generally getting to know each other.  One of the main things I love about traveling is meeting different people all over the world and having the time to sit and chat with them. I am in no rush to go anywhere; it was one of those special moments which make it all worthwhile.  I am traveling to experience different lifestyles and cultures and meet new people not just to see the sights.

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It was getting late when I got back on the train but I still wanted to go all the way on the Sukhumvit line, it was dark by this time and the train is designed in such way that it is difficult to see out because everything is a reflection of inside so I spent the next part of my journey pressed up against the window so I could see the city all lit up which always looks fab.

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At the end of the Sukhumvit line I got off because I had stumbled upon another market, Chatuchak weekend market.  It was huge and I just couldn’t believe how far it covered, you could get lost within the complex, rows and rows of tiny shops, some, under a tin roof and others outside under canopies.  It is the largest flea market in the world covering 35 acres with about 15, 000 traders, you have to see it to believe it, and needless to say I didn’t see it all.  You can buy anything at all there, and I mean anything, things you didn’t even know existed are being sold there.  It is estimated that 200,000 to 300, 000 visitors trawl the market every day looking for bargains and you will surely get them here, already cheaper than anywhere else in Bangkok you won’t get the prices down much here but it is always worth a shot.

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I forgot to mention that during my journey I saw lots of temples, I stopped at a couple of them because they were near the stations, all of the temples in Bangkok are very much in use by the locals so you will always see people praying to Buddha inside, you are allowed to go in but you must remove your shoes.  You find these temple in the most unusual places which I suppose means the temple came first and the tower blocks grew up around them.  Bangkok is a very crazy interesting city with cultural contrasts everywhere.

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At the end of my journey I got back to the river at about 10 pm at night, by then the boat taxis had stopped because of the death of the King everything was closing early. So I didn’t think about getting a taxi but when I looked at the map there were plenty of places of interest en route so I decided to walk.  It was a very long way, much longer than I though and it was pretty tiring, but I stopped on the way at the monuments and temples just to take some pics.

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While walking through the city you see how the city really is, the people sleeping on the streets, the people working through the night, the dilapidated houses and rubbish filled waterways, it is not always pretty but no city is.  Bangkok have a lot of people sleeping on the street, they are not begging they just work all day then curl up on a mat on the side of the road and sleep, I saw some families sleeping this way with young children curled up next to their parents.  Some people who own food stalls just sleep behind their stall.  Not many people cook their own food at home here, they eat out because there are so many places to eat and I don’t mean in a fancy restaurant with air conditioning a glass of wine, I mean on a street corner where someone has set up a small cooking pot and provides soup or pad Thai for about 20 baht, equivalent to probably 50p for us Brits but cheaper to the locals, and this food is full of vegetables chicken, rice, noodles etc.

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I was talking to someone about the economy and he told me that since the military junta kicked out the government 20 years ago and ruled themselves, they have kept the economy low by not allowing the people to advance, keeping control of them.  It is not a democratic country; I don’t follow politics and am just repeating what this man told me.

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On the way back I was crossing the memorial bridge which is a big steel structure, I found many of the youngsters of the city just sitting around on the bridge, chatting, eating their food,  playing guitar, just generally hanging out, I really needed to sit by this point so I joined them on the bridge watching the world go by, it is so lovely in this country because of the weather to just do this, it is so warm at night, it was lovely sitting on the bridge watching all the traffic whiz past, watching the kids meet up, listening to the guitar, when it wasn’t drowned out by the traffic noise because I kid you not the traffic never stops, it is hectic nonstop all day and all night, beeping, whistle blowing, motorbikes, noise noise noise!! Crazy crazy city, I love it so much.

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I passed the main flower market by chance, it was on my list of places to go but I didn’t realise it was on my route, until I passed it, this was after midnight and they were working away, busy, busy, busy, making garlands for the King, also preparing all the flowers for sale the following day, every flower you can think of, wrapped in bunches ready for the retailers to come in a few hours.  They let me wander around taking some photos; the smell in there was wonderful.  They have some very exotic flowers in Bangkok that smell amazing.

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I finally got back to my hotel about 2am, I was pretty worn out but it was all still happening on Khao san road, quieter since the king died but still plenty going on.  I went straight to sleep, completely done in.  It turned out I had walked 3 miles back from the station.  What a mega day and I had already been to the National Art Gallery before I went on the boat taxi, Pheww what a wonderful day with wonderful people.

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Mourning in Bangkok

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Mourning in Bangkok

Sadly, while staying in Bangkok the King who has been on the throne for 70 years has died after a long time of ill health.  I have already done one blog post about waiting for the King to go from the hospital to the Grand Palace but I feel I have to write another to remind myself if not anyone else how unifying a moment this is.  The country will probably be in mourning for a whole year, which means they have to display outward signs of mourning by wearing black or white.

The whole of Thailand are descending on Bangkok and especially the Grand Place, many, many people have set up home there, sleeping on the grass, most of them don’t need tents it’s nice enough to sleep outside, but not very comfortable.  I have been told that 80 year old ladies and gents are traveling down to show their respects to the king and also sleeping on the ground outside the palace and this is early days, it’s only day 3 after his death and the area around the palace tonight was absolute bedlam.

There was some kind of ceremony tonight at the Palace and I got to the intersection as the official cars were leaving, the traffic had all been stopped, on a very busy intersection with each road having about 5 or 6 lanes each, all full of trucks, buses, cars, taxis, tuk tuks and loads and loads of motor scooters.  There was a huge military presence organising the traffic, but once all the official cars had passed us, which took a long time because there were about 70 cars and vans, the police had loud speakers and told everyone to cross the road quick before all the traffic starts proper, so it was a mad scramble between pedestrians, scooters, cars and the rest to carry on with their journey.

The mourning has turned into a kind of festival, I don’t mean that disrespectfully but there is quite a jovial atmosphere with everyone coming together for a common purpose, as humans I think we are conditioned to pull together as one when tragedy happens in our lives and the people of Bangkok are certainly coming together for this tragedy, they totally revere their king.  Apparently he has done so much to unify the country during his reign, the people all love him.

There is free food for everyone, free drinks but no alcohol, the sale of alcohol stopped on Friday and nothing has been sold in the shops since, everyone is just sitting around enjoying each other’s company, while three huge screens at Sanam Luang show footage of the King’s life.

While the traffic was on stop and the royal cars were passing we were asked by the military to all sit down in order to be lower than the Royalty which means the Crown Prince must have been in one of the cars.

I stayed around Sanam Luang for a little while mingling with the Thai people and watching everything, the military and police have a huge job trying to control the traffic because everyone wants to be around the palace to give their respects to the King and they bring garlands of flowers, which the flower market are up all night preparing and also food gifts which they offer in respect of his death which is part of the Buddhism faith, so I was told by the girls I met.

The city is working overtime to ensure the time of mourning is comfortable for all, which means everyone is supporting each other and taking part in all the garland making, the preparing of the food, the handing out of water, food, sweets etc.

This could all go on definitely for the next 50 days, possibly longer.  Everyone must wear black or white during this time and will probably carry on beyond that.

I met a lovely man today at the monument for the student uprising, who told me that the military junta kicked out the government 20 years ago and now rule, they keep the economy low by ruling the people and not allowing advancement, they have told the people that during the period of mourning they must not smile either.  He did say he found this a bit ridiculous and he laughed when he said if he sees a military he puts on a sad face till they have passed.

 

Street food in Bangkok

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Street food in Bangkok

I wrote my blog about Khao San road as soon as I had been there because I just loved the vibrancy but I felt I didn’t say enough about exactly what is going on on Khao San Road so I thought I would do another blog post but focus on the food sold on this street and many other similar streets that surround Khao San Road.

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I read a recent blog by someone who has been traveling a while who says he hates the tackiness of Khao San Road but I think he is missing the point; it’s the tackiness that is its attraction.  Everything is cheap, the clothes are cheap, the food is cheap, a massage is cheap and everything except the beer is cheap, probably same price as back home, and that is why they come in their hoards, they are not looking for something posh, they want to wallow in local culture without paying through the nose, well Khao San Road is the place to go.

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I came on Wednesday with the intention of staying only two nights but I am drawn to the road like a magnet, the vibrancy is evident as soon as you look down its length, of course there are people coming at you trying to sell you stuff, this is their living, this is all they have, they want to make a decent living.  Sadly many of them live behind their stand or sleep on the street, it is very sad to see them along the pavements at night after their stalls are closed.

 

I am sure if my life were different I might not go down this road so often enjoying the cheap food, because I am on a budget I have no option but sometimes being skint gets you into all the places you wouldn’t go if you could afford nice places.

Anyway this blog is to talk mainly about the food, you can get a very varied range of things to eat on Khao San Road from the street vendors to the restaurants, it is amazing what you will find each time you visit, I have been three times now and each time I have found something different.

Pad Thai is the main dish being cooked right in front of you by street vendors, perfectly fresh and made to order, it costs 50 Baht which is £1 also you can get chicken and fried rice for the same price and similar.  They also have amazing kebab stands which I am going to try next time.

There are lots of fruit stalls selling pineapple, dragon fruit, melon and mango and separate stands selling durian fruit on its own, which is supposed to smell horrible but taste lush, I tried it and I thought it tasted like it smelt! EEWWWWWW! Texture like custard!!

One of my favourite stands is the coconut ice cream stand, I don’t eat dairy products so don’t eat ice cream but this is made of coconut cream and is delicious, the fresh coconut is cracked open in front of you and the young flesh is scraped on the side then the ice cream is added using the shell as a dish, it is really lovely, there are many vendors up and down the length of the street.

For the more adventurous there is the fried insects, some people walk around with scorpions on a stick trying to tempt you (as if LOL) they look vile, there are also stands selling all kinds of other insects from grubs to cockroaches to large spiders, they look terrible and I’m afraid I just didn’t fancy them, I am on this trip t

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Day in Bahrain

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Day in Bahrain

I just had to write about my day in Bahrain even though I spent it all in the airport it was still very interesting.

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To begin with Gulf Air is fab, it’s the main airline for the Kingdom of Bahrain and the reason I chose to fly with them was because they were cheaper than the other big flyers like British Airways and Virgin and similar in price UAE and China Air, I could have had a stopover at Shanghai or Dubai but seeing as I had been to both those places I decided on Bahrain with the intention of spending the day in Manama, only it didn’t work out that way.

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The plane was half empty so I got two seats to myself which was a lot more comfortable when trying to sleep, we left Heathrow at 10.20pm and arrived in Bahrain at about 6am their time which in my head was 4am, I didn’t sleep much so was pretty exhausted when I got here.

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I met a lovely couple with a new baby who lived in Cardiff, on their way to Oman and I met a guy from Llanelli on his way to work in Dubai for six months.

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As soon as I disembarked I enquired about going into town, number one I had to have a visa and number 2 I had to have a hotel address for them to let me in, so Gulf air do a package with all these and food but it was £75, I didn’t really want to spend that money when I could use it better in Cambodia so I decided to stay in the airport watching the planes coming and going which was fab.

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It was interesting to see all the people who go through the airport most of them middle Eastern which was obvious from their dress, I really love the long white robes the men wear with the red headdress, they look so handsome and another thing you will notice is how spotlessly clean, crisp and white everyone’s robe is, they look like they never sit down in it, no creases????

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The long white robes were not the only common dress for men there were a large group of men in a three quarter dress-like robe which had collar and cuff like a shirt with the same material trousers underneath, in fact I would like to buy the outfit for myself, there were very many colours too, nothing strong, all pale pastel shades but all very smart and very cool looking.

It was hard to watch the sun beat down outside while I sat inside with my scarf and cardigan on because the air conditioning made it so cold.

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I spent most of the day on my phone or my laptop writing blogs and chatting on Facebook, while sleeping for short periods when I just couldn’t keep my eyes open, I think it was good for me to start acclimatising to the time difference which will be another 4 hours ahead when I get to Bangkok.

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I had food vouchers from Gulf Air because of the long stopover so I didn’t need to spend any money.  I went to the money exchange to get Baht instead of my Dinar but they were giving terrible rates so I will wait and change it in Thailand, it can’t possibly be worse.  I feel I was ripped off by Travelx at Heathrow they only gave me 37 Baht to the pound when it should have been at least 45, it might not seem much but the transaction cost me 50 quid more than it should have without taking into consideration the Indonesian and Dinar money.  I read before I left home about the terrible rates at the airport but I had no choice, because of the rush I forgot to pre-order, so just had to pay up! Very annoying.

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The sights and sounds at the airport are well worth sitting in on, at one point a large group of Indian people all sitting behind me started chanting prayers, almost singing, repeating the same thing over and over, it sounded quite nice really but I wasn’t expecting it.  Every now and then prayer chanting/singing would come loud over the loud speaker system which I really got to like by the end of the day, it had a very calming feel to it.  Also at random moments ladies in the full black burkas would start praying right in the middle of the seating area, they would spend about 10 minutes looking up and saying their prayers.

I heard the same announcements in English and whatever language they speak in Bahrain so many times about leaving your bags unattended, there was hardly ever silence, the announcements were all day long.

The toilets were strange in that they had little shower heads and hose on the wall by the side of the toilet which obviously are used often because every time I went to use the loo I had to wait for the cleaner in the loo to clean out all the water that had been sprayed in there, it must be awkward to spray when they have long clothes on, a lot of the women were in black robes covering everything which I expected and some have full burkas on, all black but some had coloured clothes too, same style but different colours and different material.  All in all considering they cover up mostly, there was a very interesting array of different cover ups and most of them were attractive.  I just noticed a guy come out of the loo with very wet feet, like they had been sprayed, that’s probably what the shower thing is also used for lol!

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Being one of very few Westerners in the airport I was looked at quite a lot so I can understand why they are all covered up and I made a point of wearing clothes that covered me completely, long trousers, long sleeve shirt and cardigan, because it was so cold I had my long scarf wrapped round me all day too.

A lot of people wear head dresses too but it looks like they are not compulsory.  A lot of the women are very beautiful and well made up especially the air hostesses, they were all stunning and their uniform was fab too.

All in all I had a good day at Bahrain airport but will be glad to be moving on to Bangkok, scared again now that my adventure is really about to start proper, but also really, really excited!!

 

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Waiting for the King of Thailand

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Waiting for the King

Today was immense; I joined the nation of Thailand in mourning for King Bhumibol Adulyadej who died yesterday.  I was at the Grand Palace yesterday and there were lots of official government vehicles coming into the palace where they had a reception, a lot of people came out crying, I think it must have been when the king died, I tried to find out what was going on and it seemed as if the ladies told me he was very ill, which I knew anyway,  but I thought maybe he was getting worse, it wasn’t until I went back to my hotel and turned on the news to see what was happening that I heard he had died.

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The nation of Thailand absolutely adore their king he is highly thought of, not just because he is royalty but because during his reign he changed the country for the better, he has been on the throne for 70 years and I’m sure if our Queen died we would be the same.

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The outpouring of grief from the Thai people was awesome, they all wore black or white today and I mean all, the only colour visible was from the umbrellas people used to shade themselves from the sun, while they waited for the king to be taken from the hospital where he died to the Grand Palace where he will spend possibly a year while the country mourns.

While I was at the road side waiting for the entourage, which passed by the street my hotel was on, I met three lovely Thai people who could speak good English and they told me a bit about the royal family and the history.  Their name were Varalee, Vivanya and Paveen and they were brother and two sisters, they were off work for the day because it had been declared a national holiday.

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I wanted to go to the museums today and take a boat ride and visit the Grand Palace again but these things were closed due to the death of the king so I thought I might as well join the mourners and be a part of history.

We were told originally that he would be coming between 1pm and 2pm but he didn’t actually come until after 4pm, so we were all waiting in the terrible heat to watch his car pass, en route to the palace, many people fainted and had to be given ammonia to revive them.

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Everyone was dressed in black or white and they turned up in their droves on tuk tuks, coaches, buses, cars, taxis etc., they were all dropped off near my hotel which was on the main route to the Palace, there were thousands lining this particular piece of road which was just across the bridge from the hospital in which he died, one of the main roads in Bangkok.

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The military was out in force and army recruits were lining the route, special bomb squad police also did thorough checks to make sure everyone was safe and I did think that the police presence was not enough but I was shocked at how dignified everybody was, not that I judge the people I just thought that because he was so revered that I would see something akin to when Lady Diana died but it was nothing like that, it was much more reserved.

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Before the procession approached we were all asked politely by the military to make a y (this means put your hands together as if in prayer and bow your head) we were told to sit down to ensure everyone could see and also to ensure everyone was physically below the king and members of the monarchy and to be silent when the king passed, take off sunglasses, put down umbrellas.  I did think that with this many people that would be difficult to achieve but they did it. I have never seen such a respectful dignified mass of people ever.

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The silence when the official cars passed was awesome, the only sounds were the birds tweeting and the amount of people there was tremendous, all roads were full of people, some crying but in a dignified way, I didn’t see any outpourings of grief just silent sniffles.

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I was told by the girls I spoke to that the country would prefer the princess to become Queen but she would never compete against her brother the Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.  The king had four children the Crown Price being the only boy and therefore the King in waiting.

Vivanya and Varalee told me what to look out for in the entourage, they said that a Buddhist monk would lead the procession because the king is Buddhist and this is normal for a Buddhist faith, then the king would follow in the grey van, no doubt it was reinforced and bulletproof, then the Crown prince would be behind in the Royal vehicle.  When the entourage actually came through there were very many cars, I thought they were never ending, with all the officials cars too.

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Once he had passed, everyone made a dignified exit, there was no pushing and shoving, just everyone taking it slow, all the roads around the area were jammed with people, it took a long time for them all to disperse, the mood was just like you had been to a funeral and you were fondly remembering the person who died, so there was laughter and crying and a whole mix of feelings.

img_7180I felt honoured to have taken part in the nations mourning and I was honoured to sit with the lovely Thai people and watch their king go to the Palace where he will rest in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha until his cremation in the Royal fields called Sanam Luang opposite the palace probably in a years’ time, I was also told by Vivanya that the king would be mourned for a year and people would wear black every day for this especially government and civil workers.

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Pad Thai at Khao san Road

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Pad Thai at Khao San Road

Khao San Road is at the heart of Bangkok street life.  The name is derived from the time when the street was a major Bangkok rice market, the word Khao San translates to “Milled Rice”.  It has been transformed over the years into a major Backpacker ghetto where you can get cheap accommodation from “mattress in a box” type hotels to 3 stars.

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I am staying in a hotel not far from here called the New Siam Palace View, not sure how you can see the Palace from there as it is in a highly densely populated area but it’s close to everything so it will do.

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I took a trip to Khao San Road to try and find something cheap to eat on the night I arrived, severely jetlagged I just wanted something to eat then back to the hotel for an early night.  The time difference is 6 hours ahead so in my mind and body it was tea time when I had my Pad Thai which was 10.45 at night here.  It always takes me a couple of days to acclimatise; I didn’t get much sleep on the planes so had a few hours when I arrived then off out to find food and a long sleep tonight.

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The road is exactly as you would imagine, buzzing with life, loud music at every bar, lots of traders in your face vying for your trade, advertising all sorts of exotic experiences, lol from eating fried insects to going to watch a Ping-Pong show (don’t ask lol) ( I googled it and it was what I thought, probably what you are thinking too, ping pong balls and a certain area of a woman’s anatomy) to buckets of whisky with high caffeine mixer and coke, special offer 3 buckets for 400 Baht which is about £8.

There are neon signs lit up for the whole length of the street with lots of people walking up and down, all the restaurants with outdoor seating onto the street, street vendors selling traditional Pad Thai which is a tradional dish made with noodles, chicken and vegetables stir fried in some Thai spices and other Thai food, exotic fruit sellers and I made a wonderful discovery, Coconut Ice-cream, I’m not a lover of ice cream because I don’t eat dairy but I love coconut cream so had to try it, it was delicious, it is served in half a coconut with the young flesh scraped into the ice cream, yum yum, I will be going back for more.

While eating my ice cream I met Colin from Australia who was a fellow traveller, he had just come back from Nepal and is off to Vietnam on Friday, we went to a bar and shared a couple of beers while swapping stories, he seemed like a nice guy and suggested we meet up the following day but I think I will stick with my own company, not get involved with any potential drama situations!!!!!!

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Anyway Colin showed me quite a few more streets around the area which were all pretty similar and warned me not to eat the fried insects but advised I try the Durian fruit so I will give that a go next time I’m in Khao San which will be quite often as I am staying on the door step.  On the way back to the hotel I decided to try the street vendors Pad Thai, the smell as I was walking through the gauntlet of entertainment venues was irresistible, and it was delicious cooked freshly in front of you, it was a bit spicy but I got used to it.

img_6982So far I am enjoying the hubbub of Bangkok life and the Tuk tuks are going to be hard to resist, tonight on my short walk I was stopped about 20 times by offers of cheap trips in the tuk tuk, so that is my next adventure, bargain with the vendor first then take a death defying trip through Bangkok traffic in a precarious three wheeled vehicle, which looks more like a fairground ride!!!

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Ambling at Ashford Castle

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Ashford Castle

On one of my explorer/adventure days I came across the beautiful Ashford Castle whilst ambling around Cong, a very imposing building dominating the area for a few reasons, mainly because of its sheer size but also its grounds which are splendid, with ancient trees, many evergreens with one particular huge example.

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It is a medieval castle that has been expanded over the centuries by different generations and eventually turned into a five star hotel, near Cong on the Mayo Galway border on the shore of Lough Corrib, a beautiful lake with many tiny islands.

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The town of Cong was made famous by the film “The Quiet Man” starring Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne, directed by John ford who had worked with Wayne previously on Westerns.  The film was set on a fictitious little island in Ireland and filmed mostly in and around Cong with Ashford Castle being one of the main locations.

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Ashford Castle was owned by the Guinness family for many years and in 1939 it was gifted to the Irish government, it was later sold and changed hands many times over the years until its current owners, Red Carnation Hotels bought it for a knock down price in 2013.  Extensive renovation work has been done to the hotel with many added features including a golf course, lodges in the grounds and the development of the gardens and grounds.

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Thousands of trees were planted in 1852 when the castle was bought by Sir Benjamen Lee Guinness, the first of the Guinness dynasty to play their part.  While it was in the Guinness family ownership the development of massive woodlands helped increase the estate to 26,000 acres.

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Today the hotel is used by mainly American tourists with some Irish and European guests also.  Among the famous people to have stayed here are King George V and Queen Mary, later John Lennon and George Harrison and Oscar Wilde, President Ronald Reagan, Prince Edward, Senator Ted Kennedy; actors John Wayne, Pierce Brosnan and Brad Pitt as well as Prince Rainier III of Monaco with his consort Princess Grace.  Altogether a very regal attendance, well, apart from the actors and singers.

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The day I was there is was gloriously sunny and strolling around the grounds was very peaceful, the lake which looks like part of a moat around the castle has some swans swimming in the water and the bridge over the lake was occupied by the main footman who would only allow people over the bridge who had a reservation at the hotel or pay 10 euros for the privilege of crossing the bridge and seeing the grounds, you still couldn’t enter the hotel, so I didn’t bother, being a tight bugger anyway, I just enjoyed the stroll and took some time out in the woods to enjoy the ambience.

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I met two lovely American ladies, who had come over for their first visit to Ireland, one of the ladies had Irish ancestors and she was tracing her roots but the other was just enjoying the area and asking me about how or if Wales was like Ireland at all.  I told them Wales was the best country in the world and they needed to see it for themselves.  Every country is beautiful and you can’t compare, they all have their own individuality, but Ireland is definitely one of my all-time favourites.

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