My thoughts and experiences cycling, snowboarding and travelling around the world
After previous trips to Thailand I was left with mixed feelings, some spectacular scenery but so much has been destroyed by thoughtless development. So much pollution, rubbish and general degradation. However this time I thought there must be more and vowed to travel on local buses from the south to the north.
This showed Thailand in a new light. The food, culture, genuine friendliness and the lack of hard selling tourist touts made it a much better experience.
We started in the south near Chompon where we travelled to Koh Tao, the amazing diving island. However it is also a great spot to just rent a boat, a guide and go snorkeling away from the crowds.
We headed north to Bangkok and onto the old capital Ayutthaya with its amazing old temples and ruins. We then got back on the bus. I had a interesting chat on this leg with a friendly Buddhist monk, we sat on the back seat together and he told me all about how much he likes Lincoln Cathedral. We then went to Loopburi the town over run with monkeys. They were everywhere.
A next stop was Chang Mai where it was the Buddhist vegetarian festival, each temple had lots of great almost free veggie food. We carried on north to Mae Selong and Chang Saen. All quiet but beautiful towns up in the winding roads of the forested mountains that make the region so rugged and interesting.
I love Laos, it is such a peaceful relaxing country. We did a loop starting on the Mekong in Northern Thailand before heading north in Laos into the so called golden triangle region notorious for opium growing.
The area had no transport so it was either moped or taxi. I voted for moped with no cars on the road it was great fun. The odd dog or pig was the main distraction. One village we entered required a balance along a fallen tree cut flat but above a rather large river, we left the moped behind and ventured on foot for that one!
A long trek to the plain of Jars and to see the system of caves used during the Vietnam war to protect the government against US bombings.
Luang Prabang is a must see town full of interesting temples, markets and great food. The Mekong river provides a great back drop.This is the “Lai Heua Fai” Festival in Luang Prabang, the festival of the fire boat.
The day is celebrated by illuminated boat processions handmade with bamboo and banana trunks, colourfully decorated with candles and money. Each family has to make one, each people has to throw out one illuminated little boat on the Mekong, wishing good luck for the future and paying respect to the spirit of the waters. This was the boat from the local temple and the monks carefully carry it out.
A trek through the jungle with a great local eco tourism company was another cool trip. The stories of Tigers attacking the local village were probably a bit exaggerated but the ‘deadly’ snake caught by the guide seemed pretty real. Whether he saved us or antagonised it was another matter!
Any way these are some of my pictures, as with all of this trip to south east Asia I took a slide film SLR to get some great larger prints but sadly have never transferred onto digital.
Vietnam has changed a lot in the last 8 years. On this trip we arrived from Laos via a remote border crossing, there was no transport, we negotiated a lift with a man transporting a bus full of pumpkins, yes a bus not a truck, they were up to the seats so we had to almost lie down. The bus struggled with the weight which made for some hairy moments on the super sketchy roads that wind down the mountains towards Hanoi. I nearly got out and walked after one incident where we wheel spun in gravel and before we lurched inches from a recent land slide to a the rainforest clad gorge deep below.
Once in Hanoi the first thing I noticed was the number of cars on the narrow streets. There were still lots of mopeds but the increasingly affluent residents are rapidly ditching them for mini cars. The roads were the same rapidly flowing non-stop tide of traffic that one has to cross confidently and avoid the wait for the never arriving gap in the traffic!
A trip to the amazing Ha Long bay again brought differences; the number of boats sadly seems to have detracted from the experience. It is rightly popular, but rather than the feeling of exploration amongst the islands we were more in a steady procession of tourists doing ’the loop’. It might have just been the weather but the water seemed to have been affected by this procession and looked decidedly less inviting that my previous boat jumping exploits.
Anyway on a positive note the city has the same charms of interesting streets with great food at every corner.
We then made our way down the coast stopping off at the usual places for amazing beaches a little surfing and some tailored clothes.
Ho Chi Minh city is the same bustling exciting place.
Sadly time deserted us in Cambodia, we had the chance to visit Ankor Watt somewhere I had previously failed to get to. Despite the crowds at the main spots, I love this places, it is large and sprawling enough to get away and feel like you are exploring the jungle for yourself.
A particular highlight was the pre-dawn cycle ride from Siam Reap to Ankor to see the sun rise on the spectacular temple complex.