Category Archives: Thailand

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Khao San Road – Where is the love?

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Category : Thailand

Travelers, tourists, expats and travel writer types, we need a chat. I am not feeling the Khao San Road love and I don’t understand why. What is so wrong with big, bad Khao San Road?

Look, sure, there’s the taxi driver mafia and touts to navigate, and the occasional drunk snoozing in front of a 7/11. You’re likely to find the reason why your home country has the reputation it does there. You won’t be “seen” on the infamous backpacker party strip. There’s no denying that Khao San Road has a few less-than-desirable features. It’s not off the beaten track, it’s not sleek and it’s “touristy”. I, however, maintain that the gauntlet that is Khao San Road is a Bangkok rite of passage.

Khao San Road by night. 

Everyone has a Khao San Road story. 

We took a group of friends to Khao San Road on their first trip to Bangkok. Within minutes of arriving on the strip, a particularly shouty tout made a beeline for Georgette* with his palm card. “You want one!?!” He screamed at her, thrusting his list of services under her nose. Georgette, in all her sweet Bangkok naievity, stopped for a millisecond to read the explicit details  – and promptly turned an attractive shade of lobster red. On a return lap of the street, the same shouty tout thrust the same seedy list in Georgette’s face. “Damnit dude, do I look like like I need one?!” she had shouted as the rest of us rolled around clutching our sides in laughter. The phrase ‘you want one!’ became the most shouted on that trip, to Georgette’s mild annoyance and our great amusement. 

 My first trip to Thailand was my first as a grown up, and I was terrified and naive. In my overly-anxious state, I convinced myself it was a dangerous place to visit (how wrong I was!). My first trip to Khao San Road came after several cheap Singhas beside the fish pond in Soi Rambuttri, waiting for some friends to finish work. We took up residence on the balcony of the Silk Bar (rest its soul) and as the night progressed, tequila appeared. My travel partner, Dylan*, got sufficiently sozzled, and needed assistance to make it back to hostel. The sight of myself and our two skinny Burmese friends trying to steer him was too much; we dissolved into hysterical giggling. Dylan is yet to live that night down. And while it might read like a drunken escapade, the many hours we spent drinking, eating, laughing and solving the world’s problems are some of my favourite spent in Bangkok. 

Where do your local mates want to go for late night booze?

If your mates are anything like mine, they’ll be keen for post work brews once they knock off work at the suit shops. And where do they always want to meet? “Khao San Road, Cate! Let’s party!” Our group of four grew steadily larger as friends of friends finished work and joined us on the strip. We took up tables on balconies overlooking the street, watching the heaving mass of humanity below in its uninhibited glory, or we sprawled across tiny street bars with half warm beers. You might not finish the night on Khao San Road, but it makes for a great place to start. 

One of my favourite things about Khao San Road – noodles and banana rotis! So delicious! 

Drinking and partying not your thing?

The loud party scene is not everyone’s thing; in fact, it can be an overwhelming wave of noise, lights and scents. Khao San’s quieter neighbour, Soi Rambuttri features plenty of relaxed dining, chilled out bars and beauty salons. Feet aching from pounding the pavement of Bangkok all day? Pull up a spot at a street side massage stall and get those tootsies taken care of for only a couple of bucks. If you can’t sit still that long, browse the shops and street side markets for the ubiquitous tourist trinkets of Singha singlets and Bangkok postcards. You don’t have to partake in the hectic party scene offered by Khao San Road; Rambuttri offers plenty of laid back options!

Not a fan of the party scene? Treat your feet and head for the massage stalls on Soi Rambuttri, Khao San Road’s relaxed neighbour. RC. 

Location! Location! Location!

There can be no denying that the infamous party strip is perfectly located, with many of Bangkok’s historical and religious sites just a short tuk tuk ride away. The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, as well as Wat Pho are about a half hour walk away if you’re looking to up your step count. Take in the Giant Swing, Democracy Monument and Phra Sumen fort. Make use of the proximity to the Chao Phraya by hopping on a boat and crossing to Siriraj Hospital, where you’ll find Wanglang market waiting to dish you the best BBQ pork and stuffed pancakes for lunch. Back on the other side of the river, you can see the Monk’s Bowl Village, Loha Prasat and the Golden Mount before stopping by the legendary Pad Thai Tip Samai for dinner too – all within a short distance of Khao San Road. 

If you’re in the region prior to the end of November 2017, you can catch a glimpse of late king’s crematorium at Sanam Luang. Richard Barrow, a teacher-by-day and blogger-by-night, has written a great piece with all the information you’ll need if you’re planning to visit this site! 

Wat Pho is a beautiful temple not far from Khao San Road. 

So, traveling types, I’m planting my flag. I’m digging my heels in for Khao San Road. I know it’s not hip, and I know its got its unsavoury side (so does Sukhumvit… Nana, anyone?). But truth be told, its that one guilty pleasure that we all have a secret soft spot for. We were all once drunken fools, daring each other to eat deep fried scorpions. We were all once financially challenged “twatpackers” looking for a cheap beer and cheap accommodation. Once, Khao San Road was the place to be. 

* names have been changed to protect their identities. 


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The Beauty of Street Food

Street food is one of my favourite things about travelling. I love different dining cultures and cuisines around the world, and I believe food is one of the greatest ways to learn about a country and its people.

Fresh and flavourful

Street food is delicious! I love the piles of fresh produce on the carts and tables; being able to pick your seafood from a pile of ice for cooking is pretty awesome. Dishes are whipped up continuously with amazing speed. Food is pounded, chopped, stir-fried and grilled, imbibing each dish with a unique flavour. Whether you’re a lover of charcoal grilled meat on sticks, stir-fried noodles or zesty spicey som tam, you will find something delicious to eat.

A lady making som tam bu at Fisherman's Village, Koh Samui.

A lady making som tam bu at Fisherman’s Village, Koh Samui.

No fuss

Street food is the great leveler. Here, no one is above another. Everyone sits on plastic stools of questionable structural integrity, at steel tables stabilised by a folded up beer coaster. Your food will arrive on newspaper, paper plates or communal melamine plates. Linen napkins? Not here, just a roll of tissue or toilet paper perched on the table. Stall holders will greet you with loud shouts of “sawatdee!” or “mingalaba!”. There’s no fluff and pomp, but there is cold beer and everyone is happy.

Plastic plates, stainless steel tables, beer and river prawns. What more could you ask for! 19th Street, Yangon.

Plastic plates, stainless steel tables, beer and river prawns. What more could you ask for! 19th Street, Yangon.

A bit of everything

You can find just about anything your heart desires at street carts and restaurants. Ice cream sandwiches? Yep. Noodles? All over it. Banana roti? You better believe it. All manner of stir-fried meat, tofu and vegetable combinations can be found on the street, and even fried insects are available in some neighbourhoods. Fresh cut fruit is popular – make like the locals and get green mango with sugar and chili flakes for a refreshing kick. Alternatively, grab an oyster omelette, the ultimate in greasy, heavy, salty deliciousness. Counterbalance it with some spicy som tam or grilled corn. There is so much to choose from, so make sure you pick a bit of everything!

Seafood galore at street stall in Ao Nang.

Seafood galore at street stall in Ao Nang.

It’s available at any time of day

If you know where to look. Street food vendors are an enterprising bunch, setting up shop outside hospitals, universities, and office towers. Come breakfast or lunch time, they’re a flurry of noise and colour as they serve up their wares with unbelievable efficiency. As the sun starts to dip, seafood restaurants pop up on the sidewalk as though the carts are spring loaded. Walking home turns into an obstacle as diners spread out on the pavement. After dark, you can find banana rotis and noodle stalls outside nightclubs and bars to feed hungry partiers as they make their way home. Late night/early morning pad see ew beats the pants off late night/early morning kebabs, trust me.

Late banana roti vendor on Khao San Road, Bangkok.

Late banana roti vendor on Khao San Road, Bangkok.

And the atmosphere…

One of the things I love most about street food is the atmosphere that surrounds it. Stall holders gossip noisily as they wait for customers. Some even nap balanced on their motorbikes! Its incredibly relaxed and social. Tables, chairs and plates are all shared, and people get together just to eat, drink and talk – non-stop! To me, there’s nothing better than digging into a pile of fresh cooked pad thai while the streets bustle around you, after a long day walking, sightseeing and shopping. Extra points for ordering in the local language, and assuming the local squat position on the footpath (which is harder than it looks!).

19th Street, Yangon is popular with locals looking to hang out, eat and talk.

19th Street, Yangon is popular with locals looking to hang out, eat and talk.

What’s your favourite thing about street food? Let me know in the comments below!

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Wat Phra Kaew & the Grand Palace

Category : Thailand

At the centre of Bangkok’s medley of tourist sightseeing locations, lies the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew; two of Thailand’s most important cultural and religious sites. Here’s why the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew should be on your Bangkok itinerary.

The stupas of Wat Phra Kaew.

The stupas of Wat Phra Kaew.

Rich in history

I’m a huge history nerd, and I absolutely loved the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew for this reason! So much of Thailand’s dramatic past is tied up in this beautiful place. The Palace and temple were built in 1782, and initially were made of wood. King Rama I took control of the kingdom and moved the capital to the other side of the river, to the area now known as Rattanakosin.

"Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat" - this one of the main buildings of the Grand Palace.

“Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat” – this one of the main buildings of the Grand Palace.

For centuries, the Palace was the centre of Thai culture and home to the monarchy and Buddhist religion in Thailand. Great tales of love, murder, hatred and power have played out in these courtyards. You can see the buildings where the royal family previously resided and where court was held in the immense throne hall. Our tour guide also pointed out, quite casually, the enormous building and courtyard where the concubines and their children once lived.

One of my favourite documentaries about Thailand and the current Thai monarch, King Rama IX can be found on YouTube here. Produced by the BBC in 1979, it is anti-communist propaganda film, but it does give a unique insight into His Majesty’s life at that time. This version does cut off short, and I am yet to find a copy of the full production…

Crowds gather outside the Grand Palace.

Crowds gather outside the Grand Palace.

All that glitters…

Wat Phra Kaew is home to the most revered Buddhist image in Thailand, and it is only appropriate that it resides in a temple that matches its importance with its beauty. This was the first temple I visited in Thailand and I was blown away by the colours. Every surface is lavished with gold, blue, green and red tile mosaics. The nagas, garudas and monkeys make for excellent photos. You absolutely should stop and strike a pose!

The Emerald Buddha itself is trimmed in gold and precious stones, sitting high on a plinth decorated with more gold and glittering stones. I was awestruck, standing in the dark and staring at this comparatively small statue surrounded by mountains of gold, stones, flowers and incense.

Colours and gold abound in the temple.

Colours and gold abound in the temple.

Attention to detail

I love the fine details of Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. In addition to the fine tile mosaics across the temple and halls, there is also a scale model of Angkor Wat. This model was moved to the Palace on the orders of King Mongkut, following tensions with neighbouring kingdoms. It’s an unusual sight within the temple grounds, but gives you a sense of the immense scale of Cambodia’s most sacred temple.

The temple is also surrounded by beautifully painted and intricate murals, which tell the Thai story “Ramakian”. Even the murals feature details in gold leaf, adding to the decadence of the temple. If you hire a guide, they should be able to to explain each section of the mural – the story is quite incredible.

Strike a pose!

Strike a pose!

The Grand Palace is not your standard enormous mansion set in rolling green gardens. Here, East meets West in a clash of architecture. The main throne hall walls are built in western colonial style, but are topped by a sloping roof and tall spires similar to a stupa. If you happen to be visiting at around 10am, you will see the changing of the guard ceremony at the Palace.

Is the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew on your itinerary? Here’s what you’ll need to know…

To enter the temple and Grand Palace grounds you must dress appropriately, so absolutely no bikinis or singlets! Shoulders need to be covered, and you need to cover your legs as well. I throw a sarong and a light shirt in my bag so I can put them on over the top.

One of the things I loved most about Wat Phra Kaew was the number locals find a moment of peace and quiet amongst the bustling crowds. Locals still pray and make offerings at this temple, so be respectful. Don’t interrupt them, and give them space. This is their temple and their beliefs… don’t intrude. Follow the signs so make sure you take your shoes off before entering the Wat Phra Kaew temple. Be aware that no photos or video are allowed inside the temple. If you decide to sit down, don’t point your feet toward anyone or anything. It’s considered highly disrespectful, so tuck them to the side or underneath yourself.

Locals worship smaller figures around the temple too.

Locals worship smaller figures around the temple too.

Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace are unfortunately hot spots for tuk tuk scams. People claiming to be tourist police (complete with fake badges!) are known to approach tourists and convince them the Palace is closed. Before you know it, you’re packed into a tuk-tuk and taken to several ‘hidden’ temples… via a few gem shops. If anyone approaches you and tells you the Palace is closed for cleaning, a special holiday or ‘just for the afternoon’, ignore them. Head straight for the entrance (on Na Phra Lan Rd, follow the crowds!) and don’t get in any tuk tuks.

Getting to the Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace is quite easy. You can take a taxi or the Chao Phraya Express boat which stops at the nearby Tha Chang pier. Boats with orange and green flags, as well as boats with no flags stop here. The pier is a short walk through some markets to Na Phra Lan Rd and up to the entrance.


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Newbies Guide to Chatuchak Market

Category : Thailand

Chatuchak Market is one of the best places to shop in Bangkok. Its variety is some of the best around, but its immense size can be daunting for first time visitors. Here is your guide to Chatuchak Market and getting the best out of it!

Getting to Chatuchak Market

Chatuchak is easy to get to! Catching public transport like the BTS (skytrain) or the MRT (subway) is cheap and convenient. If you catch the BTS, Mo Chit station is a short walk from the market. If you’re traveling on the MRT, get off at Khampaengphet station – its closer than Chatuchak Park station. The BTS website has great, easy to read maps and even shows the MRT line. If you hop on the BTS Sukhumvit line, just ride to Mo Chit station and hop off there. If you’re the BTS Silom line, change for the Sukhumvit line at Siam station. Should you be staying near the Chao Phraya river, catch a boat to Sathorn pier and you can catch the BTS at Saphan Taksin which is only a minute away – just follow the signs overhead.

Almost every taxi and tuk tuk driver in the city will know how to get to Chatuchak market, so hopping a taxi will not be a problem. You can expect to pay upwards of 100 baht, so it is an expensive option. Keep the Bangkok traffic in mind too, but I haven’t found it to be a real problem. After hours of shopping and more purchases than you can carry, sometimes a taxi home is a good option.

Bangkok BTS Skytrain

Early morning sun in Bangkok, waiting for the BTS (skytrain).

How to navigate Chatuchak

To be honest, I have no secrets of my own to navigating Chatuchak Market; I’m more than happy to wander back and forth through the rows of aisles. However, I am definitely a browser. My husband also has a fantastic sense of direction, and manages to find his way through the market by, I suspect, the scent of food or beer in the air. Maps are available from the information centre, near Gate 1 on the western side of the market. They’re colour coded and detail what is available in each section. Blayne from Leaves From The Vine recommends using OffMaps, to navigate. OffMaps doesn’t require internet or wi-fi connection and you can drop pins to remind yourself where certain shops are. You can find Blayne’s post about her Chatuchak journey here. In my opinion, the number one rule of Chatuchak navigation? If you see something you like, buy it then and there. The chances of making it back find it later are slim – you’ll get distracted by everything else on offer here!

One of the sois in Chatuchak Market.

One of the sois in Chatuchak Market.

What to buy at Chatuchak

This is one of the best places to shop in Bangkok, and stock so much more than the usual tourist souvenirs. The market is particularly good for vintage and retro items, as well as local designers. Think less ‘Same Same’ t-shirts and more quirky and funky designs from local up and coming labels. Jeans, skirts and dresses appear in every imagination at Chatuchak. Sizes do run small for women (as with most of Thailand) so don’t get disheartened. Children’s clothing is a great for the little ones in your family – super cute and super bright patterns, baby harem pants and elephant print everything. Jewellery is also popular, and not the gold of questionable authenticity kind. Hand made, braided, beaded and woven pieces are popular, cheap and quite well made. There are also quite a few shop selling stands of beads in every form imaginable, including jade. I always buy some to take home to my mum, for her jewellery label. Chatuchak is also a great place to buy souvenirs or gifts, with plenty of cute embroidered purses, colourful scarves, elephant key rings, stationery and magnets. If you’re looking to design your own clothes, you can buy beautiful material by the metre as well. Looking to adorn more than yourself? you can find an amazing array of homewares at the market, including statues, rugs, furniture and artwork. Fancy decking out your kitchen? There are all the woks, pans and utensils you can think of available for purchase too. And if you’ve bought too much or too big to fit in your suitcase, you can swing by the UPS or TNT office at the market to box your purchases up and mail them home.

One of the many sois of Chatuchak market.

One of the many sois of Chatuchak market.

JJ Mall – air conditioned paradise right next door!

If the heat becomes unbearable, take refuge at JJ Mall, just to the north of Chatuchak market. JJ Mall sells a lot of fare similar to what you’ll find at the markets, but there are also stalls catering to locals including some very expensive and impressive looking paintings and sculptures. You will find wedding supply stores and shops selling incense in every scent and form imaginable. Need a foot massage after traipsing through the markets? JJ Mall has that too. You’ll also find a large, clean food court inside JJ Mall. I can recommend egg noodles with barbeque pork, combination fried rice and wonton soup. Vendors in the food court do not accept cash, instead you put baht on a reusable card at the service desk near the food court. Use this to buy your food and drinks at the food court and any unused baht on the card will be given back to you.

Dried chillies and spices on sale at Chatuchak market.

Dried chillies and spices on sale at Chatuchak market.

What I love most about Chatuchak Market

The people watching at Chatuchak Market is excellent. Thai locals come to shop and socialise at the market, and if you’re visiting around holidays there is often dancing, music and local groups showcasing their talents. Pull up a seat at one of the small bars or coffee shops around the market, take a breather and watch the market bustle around you. Teens shop for the latest fashions, grandmothers haul bags of spices and plastic trays though the skinny aisles, men continually rearrange their shop fonts. Its a riot of colour and sounds and scents, which will overwhelm and delight you.

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Amazing Yunnanese food in Mae Salong, Chiang Rai!

Perched high in the mountains of the northern Chiang Rai province, is a tiny town, where life moves at a slower pace and the air feels a little lighter.

Surrounded by vast sloping fields of tea plantations, Doi Mae Salong is a beauiful town with a rich Yunnan Chinese influence. Red Chinese lanterns hang from the telephone wires that zig-zag across the road, as ladies pick fresh tea leaves in the fields below. The town itself is built all higgledy piggledy – houses of cement and brick with clay tile roofs, built almost on top of each other. Old ladies sat outside shops, smoking and flashing us toothy grins as we drove past. I watched pedestrians making their way along the side of the road; one lady dressed in bright woven clothing was carrying a large bundle on her head and small child in a sling on her back. Our guide explained she had come down from a hill tribe village to sell things at the local market.

The dusk view from our guesthouse.

The dusk view from our guesthouse.

Our guesthouse had amazing views of the town and the mountain range, even in the hot season when the crops were ablaze and the smoke was thick in the air. After a long day driving, we made a beeline to the small bar, and took over the bench which faced out to the valley below. The owner was cheery and very friendly, bringing us his coldest beers and glasses of ice. As the sun disappeared, a gentle bamboo flute tune trickled down the hills, followed a reading of the daily news in Chinese for residents without televisions or radios.

It would have been very easy to sink deep into the old lounges on the balcony at the guesthouse bar and let the cool darkness swallows us, but we had a dinner date at a local Yunnanese restaurant.

Ping Ping Restaurant

Next to the markets near the turn off for Hongfu Boutique Resort, in a neat little building open on two sides, you will find Ping Ping Restaurant. Run by a local family, this little restaurant serves up amazing Yunnan Chinese cuisine in big portions for little dosh. A teenage girl in pink and white Hello Kitty slippers served us beers while our guide ‘A’ ordered a spread of dishes for us to share. The prize dish was a whopping plate of braised pork leg, with a divine, meaty broth that tasted of star anise and salt. There was no wrangling this dish, the meat simply fell off the bone when you tapped it with your spoon. Instead of rice, we sopped up the broth with slightly sweet steamed buns. I could have only eaten the pork leg and been totally satisfied, it was one of my favourite dishes!

Look at that braised pork leg! Delicious!

Look at that braised pork leg! Delicious!

There was also a plate of barbequed duck that was extremely tasty. Cooked to perfection, with crispy skin and delicious juicy meat. If I had’ve ordered, it probably would not have made its way on to our table, as duck is not my favourite barbequed meat. However, it was delicious all the same. A surprising favourite of mine was stir fried mushrooms in soy sauce, garlic and chilies. The mushrooms and the duck together were divine – salty and succulent, chased with icy cold beer.

Another dish arrived at the table – stir fried ostrich with chili, garlic and handfuls of coriander. It looked a bit like pad gra pao, but the meat was different. To me it was like a cross between beef and chicken. The flavour came from the chilies and garlic, and the coriander added a fresh kick. I had to concentrate on not thinking about the long legged bird running in a paddock outside in the dark. I wondered if they kept these ostriches out the back, or if it was lost in translation. Or maybe they were just pulling our collective leg?

Stir fried ostrich mince, with chili, garlic and coriander.

Stir fried ostrich mince, with chili, garlic and coriander.

Once we’d eaten our fill, and watched ‘A’ and Ehk stack more and more roasted chilies onto their steamed buns, we left with our bellies full and smiles on our faces. The bill was unbelievably cheap; we made the girl in slippers double check it as we were sure it wasn’t enough. She returned to the table nodding and grinning, handing the bill over to my husband. In the end, it worked out to be about $15(AUD) a head for the whole feast. We still suspect they missed some beers.

If you’re in Mae Salong and looking for somewhere to eat, make sure you pop into Ping Ping Restaurant. Their menu is huge, and the service is lovely. It’s a proper, family run restaurant and you’d mad to miss it!

Where have you eaten the best food? Tell me below!

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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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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.