Author Archives: Cate Lindsay

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10 things to do in Ao Nang, Thailand

In the south of Thailand, where the sun blazes a little brighter and the air smells of salt and incense, there is a tiny beach side town the backpackers now blow through on their way to Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi. Ao Nang is peaceful town, dotted with resorts and filled with great restaurants and happy smiling locals. It’s a popular family destination with sun soaked stretches of sand, and while a lot of travelers only stay a day or two before catching a boat to the islands, Ao Nang has plenty to offer those looking to stay longer. Here is my list of 10 things to do in Ao Nang!

10. Rock Climbing
Ao Nang is surrounded by enormous limestone cliffs, some even jutting out into the water. If scaling and hanging off these stunning formations sounds like your thing, there are a number of companies in Ao Nang that offer rock climbing and trekking tours. While I haven’t (yet) taken part in any rock climbing in Ao Nang, it would be a tremendous adrenaline rush! Some companies even offer climbing tours where you climb an overhanging rock formation, without ropes or harnesses, and once you feel you’re high enough, you jump off into the perfect azure deep water below!

Pai Plong Bay

9. Scuba diving and snorkelling
The region’s pristine warm water makes for spectacular snorkelling, especially around reefs and the Phi Phi Marine Park. There are also plenty of great dive sites to take advantage of as well. You will find an abundance of companies in Ao Nang offering snorkelling and scuba diving tours. While I haven’t yet taken part in snorkelling or diving yet, I can tell you the water is divine and you should make the most of it!

8. Visit the Wat Tham Suea – the Tiger Cave Temple
I have now been to Ao Nang twice, with the grandest of plans to climb the 1, 237 steps to the top, and still have not done so. I know, dreadful. I get so wrapped up in swimming and wriggling my toes in the sand. Plus, you know, it’s hot. I still plan to return to Ao Nang and fully intend to climb those stairs. Some recommend a dawn ascent to see the sun rise, while others recommend an afternoon climb to see sunset. The views are vast and impressive, a reward for the hard climb. Or, do what I will, and simply marvel at your own resilience and determination. Over a thousand steps to the top? Calls for a Rocky Balboa impersonation, methinks.

7. Shop for souvenirs and trinkets
There is no shortage of tourist trinket shopping in Ao Nang. Bags, magnets, t-shirts and postcards are all easily found. At night, Nopparat Thara Beach Road and Ao Nang Beach Road come alive as stores open for the crowd emerging from their resort pools or returning from day long tours to Railay Beach. There is an interesting mix of mass produced tourist goodies, like t-shirts, stubbie coolers and singlets, as well as unique homewares, hand painted girls tops and handmade jewellery. On our first trip to Ao Nang there was an abundance of original artworks for sale on the main road, about 80 meters toward the beach from McDonalds in the main street. On our second trip, art was a little harder to find. We did find one shop on the road that links Nopparat Thara Beach Road and Ao Nang Beach Road. Be sure to haggle. Some places will ask extortionate prices to begin with.

6. Night tuk tuk tour
This was more my husband’s pick than mine, but turned out to be good fun – and would be especially great for kids. Ao Nang tuk tuks do not sport three wheels and are nothing like the Bangkok version. They are tiny Izuzu utes, with bench seats in the tray and a roof. At night, these tuk tuk’s morph into mobile techno parties, complete with strobe lights, neons and pounding music. Locals take great pride in their tuk tuks, fitting them out with as many gizmos as they can, including DVD players and TVs. Think ‘Pimp My Ride’, but small and, well… funny. You can charter one of these party tuk tuks to ferry you around – my husband somehow managed to get us a round trip of Ao Nang with our own doof-doof-doof and neons. The breeze was cool, the music was good and the lights were bright! They certainly turn heads, and its great competing against fellow tuk tuks while waiting for traffic to move.

5. Monkey trail
If you’re feeling the need to stretch your legs and strolling on the pristine sand isn’t cutting it, venture to Pai Plong Bay via the Monkey Trail. Starting at the far eastern end of Ao Nang Beach, the Monkey Trail is a steep stair climb and walk through the scrub to Pai Plong Bay – home of the plush Centara Grand Resort. The path is well worn, but the stairs are steep so watch where you are going. We didn’t see any monkeys on the walk, however we did see a lot of birds and what I think was a squirrel! The views of bay from the crest are quite pretty and the walk is worth the view from Pai Plong Bay.

Pai Plong Bay

4. Wednesday Market
While Ao Nang might not have the street food scene of Bangkok, it’s Wednesday Market is still pretty rocking. The market is on Khlong Haeng Road, just past the boxing stadium. Stalls begin setting up around lunch time, so aim to arrive late afternoon or early evening. A tuk tuk should only cost you about 500 baht return – your drive will wait around for you at a predetermined spot (usually where he dropped you off). There was four of us and one toddler, so it wasn’t a bad split really. The market is predominantly local, but you will find some clothes (new and pre-loved), children’s shoes and toys. There is plenty of food available, including moo ping (grilled pork skewers), gai yang (grilled chicken), gai satay (chicken satay) and khao gaeng (rice and curry). There’s also mussel pancakes and barbequed ‘everything’ stalls, as well as fresh fruit shakes and juices. Everything is quite cheap – think 20 baht for fruit shakes and 5 baht per stick of gai satay.

Khao Gaeng stall

3. Eat seafood (of course!)
I love food. I spend a lot time thinking about it, cooking it and photographing it. Ao Nang has some of the best seafood around. From very casual, home cooked meals at the no-frills affair ‘Family’, to beachside dining at Wang Sai Seafood and Chaba Thai Kitchen. My favourites include whole fried fish with garlic and pepper, barbequed prawns and lobster with fried garlic. There are plenty of seafood restaurants in Ao Nang, but my absolute favourite was Family. Tucked back off Soi Ao Nang 6, in a large open air restaurant over looking a carpark, Family Seafood and Thaifood offers a dizzying array of Thai dishes and seafood. It is run by a local family, with the grandfather out the front grilling fish, prawns, lobster and corn cobs over coals. Everyone else is lending a hand in  the kitchen or serving tables. The beers are exceptionally cold, and true to Thai style, your dishes will arrive one by one in no particular order. Just roll with it and enjoy it.

2. Day trip to Rai Leh and/or Koh Phi Phi
Looking to get out of Ao Nang for a day? Jump on a long tail boat for a day trip to Rai Leh Beach, or hop a day tour to Koh Phi Phi. A long tail boat to Rai Leh will cost you about 150 baht for a spot on a long tail shared with 8 people (if you want a boat to yourself, you can expect to pay 1500 baht). We took our own lunch over, but there are some restaurants and cafes there. Wander through the small village of resorts and bars, do a little shopping and lounge on the beach in the sun. The was plenty of shade on the beach, and it was beautiful scenery. While I haven’t been to Koh Phi Phi, my husband also highly recommends it. Spend the day snorkelling and diving through the beautiful Phi Phi islands, go kayaking and cliff jumping, then once you’ve had your fill of sunshine, relax with a pina colada at one of Koh Phi Phi’s many bars. The ferry to Koh Phi Phi Don leaves the Nopparat Thara Pier at Ao Nang at 9.30am.

Rai Ley Beach.

1. Spend a day on the beach
Nopparat Thara Beach is a long, sun soaked stretch of sand fringed by stunning turquoise water. You’d mad not to spend at least one day on the beach in Ao Nang. The calm waters are great for swimming, and there’s plenty of shade high on the sand. The eastern end of Nopparat Thara Beach can be a little busy with long tail boat traffic, however there is plenty of beach to take advantage of. Ao Nang Beach is a little busier, as there is more boat traffic and beach isn’t as nice. Directly across from Nopparat Thara Beach you’ll find stalls selling all the hats, sarongs and kids beach toys you could possibly need. There’s also street food stalls and restaurants facing the water if you fancy lunch. The sunsets in this area of the world are some of the best, and are best enjoyed with a sundowner at one of beachside bars.

Nopparat Thara Beach

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Air Bagan or Air Mandalay? – Choosing a domestic airline in Myanmar

“Are you sure?”
“If you don’t book it now, I’ll change my mind!”
– Patrick checking for the umpteenth time that I was still keen on going to Myanmar.

That’s it, we were going. With one swift click, we sealed the deal on the second leg of our trip. Our confirmation and e-tickets promptly arrived in Patrick’s inbox. We would soon realise how much we took that for granted.

Having decided on our Myanmar itinerary – Yangon for three days, Bagan for two days and Mandalay for two days – our next debate was how we would travel between the three. Information on trains and buses seemed contradictory and given it was our very first visit to Myanmar and we have absolutely no idea what we’re in for, we decided to fly. Quicker, convenient and safer – we hoped.

Flying within Myanmar presented us with a choice of two airlines – Air Bagan or Mandalay. Patrick has a bit of a fear of flying, so his research into each airline was intense and thorough. Both airlines seemed to be privately owned, with very small fleets. Air Bagan has a fleet of five aircraft including one Fokker 100, two ATR 72 and two ATR 42; whilst Air Mandalay owns and operates three aircraft including two ATR 72 and one ATR 42.

Patrick quickly discovered that Air Bagan had links to the military junta and the U.S prohibits its citizens from dealing with the airline due to sanctions imposed by the U.S against the junta. Whilst safety records aren’t published freely, he spied an alarming amount of news reports about Air Bagan plane crashes.

Air Mandalay on the other hand read much better. We couldn’t find any mention of sanctions or links to the junta. There were less reports of Air Mandalay aircraft being involved in crashes (in fact, at April 2011, Air Mandalay had been operating for 16 years without incident – the only Myanmar airline to do so). Also worth noting for those trying to decide on an airline is Air Mandalay’s company profile in which the proudly and openly disclose the European standards their aircraft are maintained to, and that the fleet and maintenance hanger are inspected once a year by the Direction General de l’Aviation Civile (DGAC) of France. For us, the choice seemed obvious – Air Mandalay.

Booking with them was a whole other experience. Where we in the West can book and pay for an entire holidays in a few mouse clicks, it was rare to find a Myanmar company that has the ability to do this.

To book with Air Mandalay, we selected our desired flights (much the same as you would booking with Air Asia) and the dates we wanted to fly. Instead of being taken to the usual credit card details page, we were taken to a “Travel Booking Request Form”. Patrick filled out all of our details and clicked send. We were still unsure of what was happening. The page told us our request had been sent to Air Mandalay’s booking office and we would receive an email shortly. Sure enough, about an hour later Patrick received an email informing us our tickets had been reserved and instructing us that we would need to pay for and collect our tickets from Air Mandalay’s head office in Yangon.

What? No tickets in my inbox? Help! Whilst experiences like this are all part of the adventure, I would have felt a lot more comfortable if we had our tickets right away. Perhaps it is a symptom of my generation, or perhaps its my lack of travel-before-credit-cards-and-internet experience? All I know is e-tickets and the internet are the greatest invention known to mankind and I will never take them for granted again! I was tad terrified that they would lose our reservation, but was also slightly comforted by the knowledge that we are were the very first tourists to Myanmar and if it were too hard, nobody would bother.

On our arrival in Yangon, we asked our taxi driver to take us to Air Mandalay’s head office on the way to our hotel, so we could collect the tickets. We arrived at what could have been mistaken for an enormous white rendered house, and Patrick went in to pay and collect. After what seemed an extraordinary amount of time, John and I went to investigate (we had stayed with the taxi, basking in the heat and admiring this country we had come to be in). We found Patrick waiting patiently while the Air Mandalay staff hand wrote each of our air tickets. Hand written air tickets!

While Lonely Planet notes it is perfectly fine to book the tickets once you are on the ground in Yangon, I would argue that it is better to plan ahead and book/reserve your tickets online. Both airlines only run limited flights in the morning, as the hot air is too thin for the planes to take off later in the day. With the current tourist boom in the country, flights fill up quickly. If you are planning to fly on domestic airlines in Myanmar, save yourself a headache and book ahead. While we were picking up our tickets in Yangon, there were two backpackers trying to get on a flight the next day – already full, much to their dismay!

Side note – On 25 December 2012, Air Bagan’s Fokker 100, flying from Yangon to Heho, crashed on a road after mistaking the road for the Heho Airport runway in heavy fog and striking powerlines on decent. Two people were killed, including one on the ground, and 11 people were injured, including two Australians, two Britons, two Americans and a Korean. That pretty much sold it for us – Air Mandalay!

Who did you fly with in Myanmar? Have the online booking facilities been updated since our venture into Myanmar in 2013? Drop me a comment below and let me know.

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Football in Bangkok – Muang Thong United v Bangkok Glass (or that time we got into a totally sold out stadium!)

“Yes, sir! Miss! Please!”
I clutched my camera as the crowd heaved and I was shoved toward the voice calling out to me. A ticket stub was pushed into my husband’s hands and we were ushered through the gate.

It was match day in Nonthaburi, Muang Thong United against Bangkok Glass, and SCG Stadium was sold out. As avid football fans ourselves, my husband and I thought we’d try to squeeze in a match on a trip to Bangkok. Patrick had found some details about the match on Twitter the week before, but we were not expecting it to be so popular or such chaos! We caught the BTS to Mo Chit station and, having failed to locate one of the stadium shuttle buses we had read about on Twitter, hailed a cab to take us the rest of the way. The driver did not speak a lot of English, but enthusiastically gave us the thumbs up when we mentioned Manchester United. Once we crawled our way through the traffic, we jumped out at SCG Stadium and were instantly blown away. It. Was. Packed.

Muangthong United supporters.

First thing was to find tickets. Patrick battled his way through the crowd to a small ticket booth near the main road. I was busy watching the locals. Singing, dancing, drumming. There were people selling match programs, scarves and jerseys. Singha and Chang beers were passed around and soft drinks were handed out. It all seemed like a huge, out of control party, with everyone wearing black and red jerseys. Patrick was not having much luck, as the girls at the ticket booth kept shaking their heads.
“Sold out!” they said.

Bitterly disappointed, we stood and watched the crowds swell while trying to work out what we should do. One of the girls from the ticket booth appeared and asked us to follow her friend, gesturing to a grinning man in a Muang Thong United jersey.
“Yes! You will go to the football! Follow me!” he shouted. Righto, Football Fairy Godmother.

I still don’t know where the ticket stubs came from, but I think they had already been checked by the gate staff – who waved us through happily as our Football Fairy Godmother lead us through the crowd. Inside the stadium the noise grew, as the supporters chanted and waved flags madly. Almost all the seats were filled with giggling, excited Thais.

Muangthong United players on the pitch.

“Here, you sit here! My friends will look after you!”
The Football Fairy Godmother pointed to the steps in the aisle at the northern end of the east stand and gestured to some Thais around us. Other Thais were sitting on the steps further up the stand and waved to us happily. This was obviously the “done thing”, so we followed suit and pulled up a spot on the steps. Every few minutes, more Thais elegantly picked their way between us and filled the steps behind. After about 15 minutes, the entire stand was packed; some Thais were squeezed three across in the narrow aisles! More people filed in and sat across the walk way at the bottom of the stand. The entire southern stand was occupied by “Ultra Muang Thong”, a very coordinated and loud group of supporters. The northern stand was occupied by “N Zone”, a rhythmically quick and noisy group lead by a few shirtless Thai men with Muang Thong scarves tied around their neck. Not to be outdone, the Bangkok Glass supporters took over part of the western stand, clad in green and waving enormous flags with carrots on them (no, I am not kidding – Bangkok Glass’ emblem features a white rabbit).

The match itself was equally dramatic. The crowd rose as one as Muang Thong players ran at goal, and howled with disappointment at each missed opportunity. The was much arm waving, and hand gesturing, as the locals questioned the referee’s decisions (or his parentage, my Thai swear words are not that good). The drumming, singing and flags did not stop for the whole match. The crowd booed as the opposition coach kicked water bottles onto the pitch as a decision went against his team, and his bench argued with the fourth official. Eventually, Bangkok Glass broke the deadlock and the ball swished into the back of the net. The crowd wailed collectively, as the away supporters celebrated wildly. Muang Thong United returned fire not long after, slotting home a penalty at the southern end. The stadium exploded with noise, as Thais and farangs alike celebrated.

Muangthong United supporters.

After 90 minutes, Muang Thong United had slipped to their first defeat in an extraordinary number of matches – we appeared to be a bad luck curse. The singing and chanting continued well after the final whistle, as N Zone and the Bangkok Glass supporters chanted back and forth to each other. Ultra Muang Thong held their scarves aloft and gave rendition that sounded like a Thai version ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (in all seriousness, I don’t know what the song was, but if you do, please drop me a comment below and clue me in!). As locals clambered down the stands and headed for the exits, they chattered excitedly –
“Miss, did you enjoy the game? It was very good! Sorry we did not win, today we tried very hard!”
I had thoroughly enjoyed the game – it was very good to watch, and the atmosphere was fantastic as neutral spectator. My husband declared himself a Muang Thong United supporter, and received many high fives and hand shakes.

Bangkok Glass supporters

Outside the stadium, we met our next challenge – getting back to Bangkok. We followed the crowd to the main road – aptly named “Popular Road” – and tried in vain to hail a cab. Traffic was at a crawl, and every available cab and mototaxi was occupied. Also mysteriously missing were the shuttles back to Mo Chit BTS station. After a while, and no more luck, we walked back toward the Novotel Bangkok Impact Hotel, about 10 minutes away. Here we thought we would be out of the traffic, and would have a better chance at flagging a cab to take us back to Rambuttri. It took another 10 minutes of trying to wave down an empty cab before we found a driver willing to pull over for us. There must be an easier way to get back to Bangkok, or at least Mo Chit BTS, from SCG Stadium – I am still convinced we were looking in the wrong spot. However, standing outside the Novotel did make it slightly easier to hail a cab.

Muangthong United supporters.

Football at SGC Stadium in Nonthaburi is a crazy, squeezy and noisy experience. I can guarantee you will have a great time – just go with the flow and let yourself get swept up in the hype. Book ahead though, you can buy tickets online from Thai Ticket Major. Tickets cost between 120 and 200 baht, depending what ticket level you purchase or where you want to sit in the stadium. Beer and street food is available around the outside of the stadium, and consumed by locals with reckless abandon.

(excuse the shaky camera word, it was tricky to film and wriggle out the way of people trying to climb down the steps!)

The details:

  • Muang Thong United plays out of SCG Stadium, in Nonthaburi. The stadium is about 30kms from Sukhumvit, Bangkok. Take the MRT to Chatuchak Park, or BTS to Mo Chit station. Then take a cab from there to SCG Stadium – on the meter, this should be about 150 baht.
  • Buy your tickets from Thai Ticket Major, or risk it being sold out once you arrive!
  • Beer here isn’t the cheapest, but you can buy it in huge quantities… bucket of Singha, anyone? There is also small food carts, soft drinks and water outside the stadium.
  • Getting home – try to jag a cab close to the stadium (you might even split a fare with some locals). If you are on your own, there are plenty of motorcycle taxis around. If you struggle, walk back toward to the Novotel so you are a bit further from the traffic and main rush of people. A taxi on the meter back to Sukhumvit is about 300 baht (it is a 30km trip after all!).

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Newbie’s Guide to Songkran in Chiang Mai

Thailand’s Songkran festival is a mad, three day long, country wide water fight that celebrates the ringing in of the Thai New Year. What started as scented water gently poured over Buddha statues and sprinkled over the heads of family member has morphed into a full-blown water war.

P1010960 Thais ride in the back of utes during Songkran.

The traditional aspect still occurs, in family homes and early morning at the temples, but for the rest of the day, it’s on for young and old. Songkran in Chiang Mai is a wonderful experience, where locals and tourists share smiles, hoses and food while wishing each other a happy new year. Held in April, Thai families pile into the back of utes (pick up trucks) and tuk tuks without their canopies and cruise around the old part of the city, following the moat. Some Thai youths and tourists dress up in costumes, donning masks and helmets, turning the streets around the city into a kind of strange Halloween parade. Locals will dump a bucket of cold water over your head, screech “Sawadee Pii Mai!” and apologise in the same breath. Taking part in the festival is some of the best fun you can have while travel, so here’s what you can expect at your first Songkran in Chiang Mai.

  • Stalls and shops throughout the city sell all sorts of water pistols and soakers, as well as small waterproof pouches that can be worn around the neck. I bought one and stashed some baht in it each day. It’s also a good idea to invest in a good waterproof camera (or waterproof case) and leave the phones and tablets in your room.

P1010982 We found these to be the best weapons!

  • You will amass a small arsenal of water pistols, buckets and super soakers throughout the festival. Some will last the distance, others won’t last until your second refill. The best “weapons” we found were made of straight PVC pipe, sucked water up by dragging the handle backward and unloaded very quickly by pushing the handle forward again. They were handy for reaching the kids on the other side of the street.
  • Shops and stalls will plonk big buckets of water out the front and refill them through the day. You should purchase a water gun or bucket if you want to use this water. Their families and children will be playing here as well, which makes for some lovely fun and photos with them. Add to the hilarity by purchasing one of the enormous blocks of ice from one of the vendors who ride around the city. Dump it in the buckets and hear the shrieking increase twofold. You will see kids swimming in the old city moat too, having a wonderful time.
  • In addition to water, you might find yourself splattered with a white chalky paste or even coloured water. Thus it goes without saying – don’t wear clothes that you don’t want to toss at the end of the festival. They could end up stained, torn or endlessly smelly despite the six washes. The footpaths are slippery too, so non-slip shoes are a great idea. Amongst all the fun and water, it is easy to forget hats and sunscreen, and we saw a lot of people paying the price for spending all day in the sun. Use good, waterproof sunscreen like Nivea or Banana Boat to avoid looking like a cooked lobster by the end of the day.
  • You can choose to stay in one spot and wait for people and cars to parade past you, or join the parade and see what else happening. A lot of Thai companies put up temporary stages, bring in DJs and promo girls, and contribute to the party. Bangkok Airways and Air Asia had stages near the Tha Phae Gate in 2013, with water guns and foam machines swamping the party-goers below. Thai celebrities also make an appearance… and end up just as wet as everyone else.

P1020124 One of the great kids we met during Songkran festivities.

  • When taking aim at tuk tuks and scooters zooming past, be sure not to throw water in the driver’s face. Play safe. Smaller children may also throw their hands up in surrender and ask you not to throw water on them – try flicking a little bit of water at them instead. Let’s face it, no-one really likes an earful of water.
  • Street food is everywhere during Songkran! Sure, the cart owners might be busy spraying the kids when you arrive, but will quickly whip up some som tam and khao neow for you in no time. Fruit carts, itim khanom pang (ice cream sandwhich) carts and fair floss vendors make their way around the city as well, if you’re looking for something sweet. Some restaurants will be open too, with staff taking turns between serving patrons and squirting passers-by. We found a small pop-up stall outside the Top North Hotel, called Toast. They served us local and western snacks, beer, water and coffee until our hearts were content. The owner’s brother was on holidays from Brisbane (our home town!) and was happy to spend many hours chatting with us about life in Thailand.

P1010863 The best ice cream sandwich!

  • Something else that is everywhere during Songkran – booze! The Thais really let their hair down during this festival, and the booze flows freely. Every 7/11 and almost every street vendor will have icy cold beers for purchase. Some locals may even offer to share theirs with you, but watch out for the locally brewed rum… you could wind up with a splitting headache the next day.
  • During Songkran in Chiang Mai, once the sun goes down, the water bombing stops. Water weary warriors can head out for dinner and drinks, and dry out a little. The night markets were busy with locals and tourists enjoying street food and some shopping. Some people unfortunately continued throwing water in the dark, which made it dangerous for drivers and pedestrians, but they were few and far between. This was very different to Bangkok, where the water fights seemed to run for 24 hours.

P1020128 Thais love to dress up for Songkran too!

Other countries in South East Asia have similar festivals at this time of year too – next on the list is Thingyan in Myanmar, celebrating Burmese New Year! Different areas of Thailand have different customs when it comes to Songkran. Some areas focus more on the white chalk mixture, and while we were on our tour in the Chiang Rai region before Songkran, some kids started early and threw water at our tour car as we went past. Songkran is such great fun, and I will definitely be going back!

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Bangkok bike tour: from Chinatown to the plantations

I ask you, what idjit would do a half day bike and boat tour of Bangkok in the hot season? That idjit would be me (and my husband). On a sweltering 38°C afternoon, we took to the back alleys of Bangkok on some rather funky little bicycles as part of our tour with Co Van Kessel.

The tour was the first time I had ridden a bike in about ten years, but its true what they say… you never forget (but you still get the speed wobbles). After setting off from Co Van Kessels offices, our first stop was a beautiful and intricately decorated Chinese temple off a tiny, weaving soi in Chinatown. The temple was built using only interlocking slabs of wood and decorated with brightly-coloured murals. Incense hung heavy in the air as our guides quickly showed the prayer ritual. Some quick drinks before we hit the pavement again to catch the cross river ferry and more pedal to pavement. The ride from the Din Daeng cross river ferry terminal to Wat Kalayanamitr was probably the hottest slog of our ride, as we were facing right into the blazing sun, but our guides bought plenty of cool water for us.

IMG_6360 Figures inside a Chinese temple, downtown Bangkok.

Wat Kalayanamitr is home to one of the largest seated gold Buddhas in the country. It was a beautiful temple, and since we were visiting close to a Buddhist holiday there were lots of Thais lighting incense and making offerings outside. The gold Buddha is enormously tall, dwarfing all his worshipers below as he looked down on them with a perfect serene face. It was an interesting temple to visit, it somehow seemed more real than other that are swarming with noisy, excited tourists.

Once we’d caught our breath in the shade, we rode through Bangkok Yai and head for the long boat pier for our trip the Bangkok Yai khlong. Our group split in two, half going in the first boat with Mr Paksoi and our half going with Amy. The long boast were fast and it was wonderfully cool after our hard slog in the sun. I couldn’t tell you exactly where we ended up – the journey took so many twists and turns, and I was too busy to take notice, admiring the beautiful (and beautifully dilapidated) wooden homes on stilts right on the edge of the khlong. We passed monks standing at the fence of their temple, and people feeding catfish and lizards from the balcony of their stilted home. Amy pointed out local ladies in tiny wooden boats, selling green vegetables, lunch dishes and plastic baskets. I unashamedly waved at everyone, and they all waved back, calling out ‘Sawadee Kha!’.

IMG_6402 Riding up the Bangkok Yai khlong.

Somewhere in outer Bangkok, we left the long boats behind and hit the pavement again, riding past small school children who chattered excitedly and giggled as we went. Some more weaving past small houses and tiny local stores and we came to the plantations and rice fields. It was much cooler out here, and the greenery made for a wonderful change of scenery. The pathway was raised, with no railings and quite thin – maybe two meters wide. At first I had to concentrate hard on staying in the middle of the path and not stacking it, but after a few minutes I had the hang of it. Paksoi and Amy pointed out different plants along the way and waited patiently while we stopped half a dozen times to take photos.

IMG_3927 In rice fields of Bangkok! Lush and tranquil.

We stopped for lunch at a tiny local restaurant perched on the side of a khlong. Spread across a long table were so many dishes there was hardly room for our water bottles. There was massaman curry, pad ka prao gai, clear soup with vegetables and tofu, Thai omlettes and sweet and sour chicken, all made from scratch in the small kitchen behind us. The owner was so lovely and friendly, with a huge grin as she brought us Cokes and water from the seemingly bottomless ice chest on the floor. My favourites were the omelettes and the soup.

After lunch, we set off again weaving through the small streets heading back toward Bangkok. Some of the paths we followed ran along side a khlong and were very thin – thank goodness these ones has railings or I might have ended up swimming with my bike! By this time, the sun had gone down and the temperature had dropped off nicely, and it wasn’t too long before we had arrived at the pier to get the long boat back down the khlong and out to the Chao Phraya.

IMG_6436 Locals on the khlong. Sawadee kah!

The half day tour was fantastic and we were so ‘on the go’ the whole time, it seemed to fly! Paksoi and Amy were fantastic, patient and extremely helpful. We did have a group member who was feeling unwell after riding in the sun, however Paksoi and Amy arranged for her to take a long boat back to the office early, and she was well looked after. She was almost back to her normal self by the time we had cycled all the way back to the offices. The tour gave us a great insight into local life behind the big streets and skyscrapers of Bangkok, and we got to see so many great places. The food was brilliant, and we were supplied with more than enough cold water along the way. The bikes were in very good condition – when we returned from our tour, we dropped them at the maintenance shed so they could be checked over and service before they went back out again. If you’re looking for something different to do in Bangkok, a bike and boat tour is a great option! I highly recommend it. It’s hot work, but so rewarding – I had a great sense of accomplishment by the time I got back!

The details:

Co Van Kessel
Co Combo – 5 hour bike/boat tour (1650 baht each)
Mountain or standard city bikes available, helmets available on request.

Meal, water, bike hire and boat fares included.

Head to Co Van Kessel for more information.


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Shwedagon Pagoda.

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Category : Myanmar

When we decided to visit Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda was at the top of my list. All the photos I poured over looked breathtaking, and I must admit I was not disappointed when I finally got to visit it in the flesh.

IMG_2838 The glorious Shwedagon Pagoda.

Our guide, Mr Oong, had a smooth dark skinned face and a beautiful wide grin. He greeted us in the Burmese way – traditional yet excited, with sentences like rapid fire – “Mingalaba! Thank you for visiting my country! What do you think? Today we will see the most important temple in Burma!”. As we walked from the visitor entry to the complex, he waved his arms and gestured to Patrick and John’s longyis.

“Longyis, yes! Very comfortable!”

Upon entering the pagoda itself, I was instantly overwhelmed. The stupa rose up before us, a mountain of dazzling gold, with maroon-clad monks and nun in light pink padding barefoot across the marble. People swarmed around the pagoda, edging past us effortlessly, making offering at different planetary posts (your planetary post is based on what day you were born on, thus also determining your animal, colour and planet), lighting incense and praying. Some applied gold leaf to Buddha images or twirled prayer beads through their hands. Men and women in longyis sat gracefully on the floor, praying, eating or talking to each other. The air was thick with incense smoke, and the sound of temple bells echoed gently around the stupa. It was so quiet, and yet so overwhelming at the same time.

IMG_2783 Locals pray at the pagoda.

The Shwedagon Pagoda is one the most beautiful places I have been. Everywhere you look, there is a Buddha figure or something glinting in the light. The stupa itself is crowned with a golden hti, an umbrella shaped crown, embellished with over 7000 gem stones, including rubies and diamonds. Oong explained that the hti is topped by an enormous diamond, around 70 carats. “You need binoculars to see it, but it is there! It was put there to catch the best light at sunset!” he grinned, making ‘binoculars’ from his hands.

This is a place which commands respect, which means you must follow all rules set by authorities. Men and women must wear longyis and shirts with sleeves. If you don’t have either, you will handed some when you arrive at the entrance hall. As with all temples in SE Asia, you must remove your shoes and leave them in the racks at the entrance. Socks are also forbidden – you must be barefoot. For this reason, it is best to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda in the early morning or late afternoon; the marble floor will become too hot underfoot in the sun otherwise. Entry will cost you $USD5 each, and is valid for multiple entries the entire day, including at night time when the pagoda is illuminated and seems to sparkle more than in the day time, if that were even possible.

IMG_2853 One of my favourite shots from the Pagoda tour. Our guide, Mr Oong is to the left.

Getting a guide is highly recommended, as they will be able to translate signs for you and explain the significance of each piece of the complex. They will also do their best to answer any questions you might have about the complex, Buddhist religion or Burmese culture. Our guide cost us 5000 kyat each and was well worth it.

Taxi drivers will know exactly where to take you if you ask them to take you to the Shwedagon Pagoda. Alternatively, you could take the number 43 or number 204 bus (learn Burmese numbers however, not much is in English!). Information and prices were current as at April, 2013.


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Visas are done, Thunderbirds are go! [flashback]

Category : Myanmar

Before we jet off to Thailand, here’s a post from my old blog about getting our visas when we went to Myanmar in 2013. Thankfully, Myanmar now has an e-visa option – highly recommend!

Our passports are back from the Myanmar Embassy in Canberra, all visas are complete. That’s it. There’s no turning back now!

This is the first time I’ve had to apply for a visa and if you follow me on social media, it’s no secret that sending my passport off to Canberra in the post is one of my least favourite things. Registered post is all well and good, but Australia Post managed to lose a university assignment I sent by registered post between my house and the campus – a distance of about 200 kilometers. Imagine what they could do with my passport between Brisbane and Canberra!

Visa requirements (for Australians) can be found on the Myanmar Embassy website, which in itself is tricky to find. It doesn’t come up in Google searches, but luckily we found a contact phone number for the embassy and got the proper address. We submitted everything, booking confirmations for all our accommodation and all domestic flights while in Myanmar. It was quite possibly overkill, but having read about Allan and Fanfan’s visa issues, I was more than happy to provide extra information. “Better to be looking at it, than looking for it” as my Dad would say.

Mugshot and Myanmar visa!

Mugshot and Myanmar visa!

After a couple of stressful weeks and a handful of phone calls to the embassy to check on the progress of our visas (the lady on the other end of the phone was so patient, thank you so much!), our passports arrived home last Friday. I admit I squealed and did a little jig when I opened it.

I did a lot of reading of blogs the last few weeks, and had only just days before our visas return read about Adventurous Kate’s Vietnamese visa being issued with an error on it. Once I’d finished my jig, I picked over our visas with a fine toothed comb. No mistakes, whew!

It’s all happening now. Only 25 days left… I’m about to start being really annoying to my friends and co-workers. Apologies!


This post was from 2013, before we left for our first trip to Myanmar. Myanmar now has an e-visa option making the visa process much easier!