Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Woodys Elephant Camp, Chiang Mai

The day after Doi Suthep, Joe and I decided to splash out on a day of Mahout training!! *

We went to Woodys Elephant Camp, and the day included some basic mahout training, elephant riding, feeding, washing, and ended with a swim (with the elephant's).

I know a trip like this can be a contentious issue; it was actually an inability to adequately talk about this very experience that contributed to the fact that I stopped blogging.**

Thankfully I am pleased to be able to say that for the most part we had a very positive experience at Woodys, and felt that the elephant's were treated with care and respect by their trainers. We were very anxious that we would see unhappy, exploited animals, but thankfully we did not find this to be the case at Woodys.

The day started with a lesson on the history of elephant-human relations in the area; the elephants were originally engaged in the logging industry, but when that became more mechanised the elephants found themselves forced to fend for themselves. There were also, the Mahout said, conflicts between the elephants and locals, as the elephants roamed free across the lands, destroying everything in their path; homes, crops, livelihoods.

The Mahout explained the tools used to control the elephants. To this day I sill haven't worked out how I feel about them. On the one hand, quite obviously, they look cruel, and unnecessary. On the other hand, an elephant is a huge, thick skinned animal, with a mind of its own, and having been on the other side of a cow that didn't want to go in the direction we wanted it too, I can appreciate that you might want to be armed with something a little more than a stick.

And of course, who am I to come over and force my western ideals on them, life is different out there, and they live by a different set of rules than we do..

I think my upbringing on the farm has given me a different perspective on the world to many of my contemporaries.. (I'm not saying this is necessarily a good thing, I'm jus sayin. That's pretty much all this post is. A recap of our day, sandwiched in among some conclusionless moral wanderings...)

We were then taught the basic vocabulary needed to train(?) an elephant -HOW = stop, BYEE = forward, BOW = slow-  and were introduced to our newest friends.


We began slow, feeling the elephants bananas/generally trying to avoid being slobbered on (for those of you who have experience of cows, I can safely say that elephants are much much much more slobbery! Hence the suuuper sexy elephant clothes!). We then practiced getting on and off the elephant - no mean feat when you're as vertically challenged as I am! Finally we headed off into the mountains, the elephants stopping to graze at every opportunity!

 elephant watching 

The day ended with a quick wash - of  the elephants, not us! At which point our elephant decided he much preferred Joe to me, and abandoned me standing alone, waist deep in a pool of mucky water, whilst everyone else was carried out of the pond by their elephants!

We just had time for a swim with the elephants, before a very basic shower, and the mini bus back to the city.

It was a strange, conflicting, surreal day, but whatever I might read or think about the elephant tourism in Asia, nothing will ever take away the feel of meeting and getting to know -however briefly- a real life, huge, grey elephant. If I would have told my seven year old self that one day I would do that, I would think I was totally mad.

Much Love,

*elephant trainer training 

** That and that fact that blogging on a tablet is a total faff!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

Having left the ruins at Sukhothai, we headed north, to the ever popular town of Chiang Mai.

Admittedly our first few days in the city were spent relaxing, and getting over the hangover I sustained on our first night (boy was I hit hard!), but after a while we got off our arses and went out in search of some culture!

High in the hills above Chiang Mai, Wat Phra That is probably one of my favourite temples so far, which is fortunate because it is a little challenging to get to!

We had read that we could take a public songthaew  (a bit like a bus) to the temple for 50bhat, but the internet seemed a little unsure as to where we should get the songthaew from..

For anyone reading this because they actually want to go there, leave the old city by the Chuang Puak gate, cross the road at the Zebra crossing to your left, and there should be a row of Songthaews infront of you - outside the 7eleven. 

You will have to wait untill there are 10 people so its not the fastest way to travel, (and our driver got bored, so said he would take the seven of us that were waiting for 100bhat each, meaning we probably didn't even save that much money, but it was worth a try..)

Once we had managed to find our Songthaew, we then actually had to make the journey!! A half and hour ride on some of the windiest roads I have ever had the misfortune to experience!! And then, once you finally reach the drop off point, you have 304 stairs to contend with before you can enter the temple complex.

Thankfully this place was very much worth it!

Constructed in 1383, on the whims of a wandering elephant*, this temple could not be further from the red bricked ruins of central Thailand.

Everywhere you look there is colour and vibrant stencil work, and gold. I've never seen so much gold. And all of it framed against the bluest sky we'd seen since we got to Thailand.

I know I use the word awesome way way too much, but this place really really was. It took my breath away.

The complex was smaller than some that we saw in Bangkok, but it was filled nonetheless with a huge numbers of shrines, chedis, viharns (prayer halls), bells, and Buddha statues. And flowers; eveywhere you turned there were flowers blossoming in an array of colours.

This temple does also provide excellent views over the city. But sadly on the day of our visit, the city was shrouded in smog, so we were a little underwhelmed . I have heard though that its a pretty spectacular place to watch the sun set. :)

The view 😞

Somg asside, Wat Phra That was spectacular, and I would highly reccomend it to anyone who is spending any time in Chiang Mai.

Much Love,

*In 1368, a piece of the Buddha's shoulderbone, which had been discovered by a monk from Sukhothai, and promised to King Nu Naone, of the Lanna Kingdom (northern thailamd) arived in Chiang Mai.

In Sukhothai the bone had displayed no magical properties, so the people didn't really want it, but on its arrival in the North, it supposedly split into two parts, perfectly replicating itself. The King then commanded one bone to be preserved at Suandok, and the other was placed onto the back of an white elephant, who was freed to rome the mountains as he pleased.

Local legend states that he climbed to the top of Doi Sutep, trumpteded three times, and died. Which the local people took to be a sign of relegious importance, and so Wat Phra That was began, with a huge golden chedi at its center to hold the bone of the Buddha.

Since then, the complex has been expanded and rebuilt many times to create the temple we recognise today, and eventually in the 1930's the various local villages came together to construct a road. Each village was expected to lay their own 1,300 foot section of road, which perhaps explains the poorly planned, wiggly journey..

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Our Time in Sukhothai

Whilst in Sukhothai, we stayed in the New Town, as we found that the selection of hotels and restaurants better than at the Historical Park.

Plotting the days adventures

We stayed at the TR Guesthouse, which was clean, and cheap, but not really anything to write home about (we never did find those bungalows they are named after..).

We weren't especially adventurous whilst in the town, as sadly Joe had come down with a cold, but we enjoyed several breakfasts and some dinner at Pai restaurant, and we loved loved loved the atmosphere at Chopper Bar for drinks.


Well deserved post adventure cocktails 

In terms of getting around the city, the bus station is a little out of town, but it is easy to take a tuk tuk into the center, and there is a Songthaew stop (their equivalent of a public bus) just beyond the 7eleven (if you're walking from the direction of the guesthouse), which charges 30 bhat per person to get to the historical park.

Scenes from the Songthaew 

Much Love,

Monday, 10 November 2014

Sukhothai Historical Park

Sooo, its been a while..

I don't  know weather it's because my family is in France at the moment, or because we're in ex-French colonial Laos, where Boulangaries and crumbling French houses are everywhere, but I've had France on the brain  lately, and as such have spent the spare time I would previously have spent blogging, playing Duolingo.. I've gotten a bit obsessed..

Anyways, back to to Sukhothai.

Sukhothai was the base from which the kindgom of Siam was formed, way back in the thirteenth century, and it remained the capital of the kingdom until the mid 14th century, (when its place was taken by the city of Ayutthaya).

 Unlike Ayutthaya however, Sukhothai had been largely abandoned by the 1400's, so was spared much of the trauma of the 1767 sacking which destroyed its replacement.

On our first day in the Historical Park, we explored some of the temples closest to the songthaew drop off point  (30 bhat Songthaew fare and 150 bhat park entry, plus a little more if you want to bring in a bike -we forwent the bikes on our first day, a decision that was probably a mistake, since walking was almost unbearable in the mid day heat!)

(another) Wat Mahathat

Founded  somewhere  between the late 1200's, and the mid 1300's, this temple became the main place of devotion for the people of Siam, and remains the largest complex in all of Sukhothai.

One of the best preserved sites in the city, the complex consists of the remains of an assembly hall, and a principle Chedi, inside which are beleived to be preserved several relics of the Buddha (some hair, and fragments of neck bone for those of you that are curious). Beyond this, are eight other significant Chedis, and the remains of two hundred smaller Chedis, which serve as grave markers for various monks and lay peoples.

Wat Si Sawai

Constructed before the creation of the kingdom of Siam this temple was originally a Hindu shrine to Vishnu, which was later adapted by the Thai people.

Whilst certainly beautiful in its own right, this temple gets more interesting (to me at least..) when you know a little of it's history.

The site was originally constructed in the Khmer style (like Angkor Wat), and there is still evidence of this in the lower portion of the prangs. The tops however, have been renovated in the Thai style; much of the sculptural stucco work is still visible today. Probably this is just me being a history nerd, but I love the way you can read the history of the area in the building. A place which previously held connotations of life under the Khmer rule, had been adapted to become a symbol of Thai independence.

Three prangs | Modern Devotions 

Wat Tra Phang Ngoen

Overlooking a lake this temple is not nearly as well preserved as its contemporaries  (it was built around the time of Wat Mahathat).

Consisting of a Chedi, a walking Buddha*, and and the footprint of an ordination hall (set on an island on a lake), we didn't feel that there was all that much too see here. That said, it is a really beautiful place to just stop, and take in everything that you've seen; Joe and I spent a good 45 minutes, just sitting in the shade, on the island, surrounded by a lake filled with lilies, just people wathing, and thinking about how lucky we are to be where we were. .

Wat Sa Si

Another lake based temple, this site contaied a central Chedi, a large seated Buddha looking out over the lake, and the remains of an ordination hall.

Whilst mostly unremarkable (bear in mind that we had seen a lot of temples by this point), this complex was undeniably beautiful.

On our second day, we rented bikes (30 bhat, from a shop just outside the main complex), and having breifly revisited several of the temples from the day before, we headed out past the old city walls, in search of Wat Phra Luang.

The route was easy, and took us ten minutes or so out of the city, a really lovely cycle past several ruins, and lots of cows (at one point we even got chased down by a Thai style tractor, a very surreal experience. .)

Wat Phra Luang

Similar in its construction to Wat Si Sawai, though not as well preserved, this temple had previously been recognised as the most important temple in the city, (it was ultimately superseded by Wat Mahathat).

Year of the Horse | Decorative Stucco work 

Like Wat Si Sawai, this complex is also serves as a visual representation of the transition from the Khmer empire to the kingdom of Siam, but sadly by this point, Joe and I were just too hot (me), too ill (him), and too tired (both) to be too interested, so we slowly cycled back, returned the bikes, and headed home for a nap.

We didn't think it was possible, but it seems there really is such a thing as too many ruins..

Wow, that was a wordy one.. Thank you so much if you stuck with me throuh all that history nerd stuff. If ya didn't here's a cheeky summary; we saw old stuff, it looked cool. :)

Much Love,

*The walking Buddha is a Sukhothai invention intended to emphasise the earthly nature of the Buddha; based on images depicting his return to earth from heaven -where he had been sharing his teachings with the reincarnation of his mother- the graceful statue is beleived to represent the Buddha walking with the people, spreading his teachings throughout the lay comunity.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Our Time in Ayutthaya

We absolutely loved our time at Ayutthaya; where most people just visit for the day, we ended up extending our trip, and staying four days.

We took the train out of Bangkok- we decided to travel second class rather than third, because a) we're still new to this travelling thing, and b) we wanted guaranteed seats. The whole journey cost us 358 bhat, and took about two and a half hours (an hour longer than expected, but as far as we can tell, this is fairly standard for Thailand).

Once  we had arrived,  we took a tuk tuk over to our hotel, The Tamarind. At the time of writing,  this remains the best place we have stayed so far. The decor was impeccable, the rooms clean, the beds comfortable, and the staff were so so lovely. They were so helpful, both when we managed to lock ourselves out of our room (totally my fault), and when we deided we wanted to stay an extra night.

The hotel even had a little balcony space, where we spent several  lovely evenings, with beers, and our books. Very happy campers.

The Tamarind

On the advice of the guesthouse, we enjoyed several meals at both Coffee Old City, and Malakor, both of which are very conveniently located for The Tamarind, and provide fab views over the ruins (ya know, in case you get to the end of your day, and feel like you haven't seen enough of them..).

The balcony at Malakor

In terms of drinking, and night life, we found a few bars that were nice enough,  but nothing to write home about..
To be honest,  we found the evenings in Ayutthaya a little quiet -which is saying something, coming from me- there just never seemed to be any people about.. perhaps this is a result of the coup, or perhaps it is simply that the dogs own the streets, or maybe we were just looking in the wrong places.. whatever it is, if you're heading to Ayutthaya for the nightlife, I wouldn't bother, you'd be better off just coming for the day.

If however,  you've found Bangkok to be just a little bit to much, and you're looking for a place to chill, and see some history,  then this is definitely the place for you, and I can only hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Much Love, 

The Ruins at Ayutthaya, final day

On our last day in the city, we decided to head out beyond the river, to Wat Chaiwatthanram.

The journey is doable on a bike, though for a road novice like myself,  it was pretty terrifying, as we had to cycle along one of Ayutthaya's bussiest roads.. so it is probably easier to take a tuk tuk.*

The terrifying journey asside, it became clear to us on arrival at the temple, that this Wat was something different again; the complext here was bigger that many we had seen at Ayutthaya,  and better preserved too.

Wat Chaiwatthanram

Constructed in 1630, in the Khmer style (the same as is used in Cambodia at Angkor Wat), the complex consisted of a 35 meter high central Prang,  surrounded by various Chedis, and Chappels, and 120 sitting Buddha statues (mostly headless after the sacking).

Headless Buddha's

As is the case in many of the temples at Ayutthaya,  this place was dotted with evidence of modern devotion; small Buddha's, and miniature horses (2014 is the year of the horse) were scattered about throughout the complex.

An elephant.. I don't know the relevance of elephant's..

Wat Chaiwatthanram is a little off the main tourist route, so is quieter than places like Wat Mahathat, and definitely worth a trip if you can make the time (most people do just the one day in Ayutthaya, but we ended up staying three).

Typically, Joe wanted to climb the central Prang, so up up we climbed.. all good fun till I realised I had to climb back down again..

The Central Prang | Tiny Buddha's at the top

Having survived that ordeal, we headed off again, back to the bikes, and the dreaded duel carriage way.. eek!!

Much Love, 

*I also read somewhere that you can get to the temple by boat, which sounds very scenic, but since we didn't use that option, I can offer too much advice on that front..

The Ruins at Ayutthaya, part 2

On our second day in the Ayutthaya, we had seen enough of the city to realise we would need bikes if we wanted to see more of it in one day.

Thankfully,  bikes are available to rent pretty much everywhere (and don't worry mum, I don't mean motorbikes, I mean good old fashioned single speed, sit-up-and-beg push bikes). The bike was probably older than me, and rattled worryingly as I cycled about,  but Ayutthaya is so flat, and I'm so bad at cycling this really didn't impact my performance at all.

Having rented bikes from our guesthouse for 50 bhat for the day, we headed off into the morning in search of some more of those ruins.

Wat Ratchaburana

Situated next too Wat Mahathat, Ratchaburana is smaller than its contemporary,  but probably just as interesting,  if you know where to look.

We spent a few minutes wandering round the grounds of the complex (and enjoyed our picnic breakfast in the shade of a tree growing up between the ruined walls), before Joe came over all Indianna Jones,  and wanted to climb up the central Prang.

The Central Prang | A palm Tree


The Prang itself used to contain relics of the brothers of King Borommaracha II (since stollen), and now contains probably one of the most exciting things we saw at Ayutthaya.

Once we had reached the top of the Prang, we took a moment to enjoy the views over the city, before turning to discover a dark chamber full of bats and murals (pretty creepy), and a deep dark hole in the ground, through the mouth of which,  we could see about 3 stairs, before everything went black (very creepy).

Joe (Indianna Jones) boldly took out his torch, and plunged straight in. Five or so minutes later (pretty sure it felt like forever to me..) he returns triumphant, and after much persuasion, draggs me down with him.

It was very hot, very very dark, and very very steep, and at the bottom you have to contort yourself to fit into the reliquary but the worst was saw was one very big cokroach,  and inside the chamber was the most beautifully preserved fresco. *

If you can bear to squeeze yourself down the stairs into the unknown, it is very worth it!

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Having emerged alive from the depths of Wat Ratchaburana, we headed off in search of something different again.

Constructed in 1448 to hold the ashes of Kimg Boromatrailokanat and his two sons, this complex is one of the best preserved in the city.

Three chedis, containing the three kings 

Another large complex, Phra Si Sanphet is sandwiched between the heavily restored Viharn Phra Mongkol Bophit, and what remains of the royal palace (only the foundations survived the Burmese sacking). Its surroundings really gave me a feel for the city, and how it came to exsist in the form it takes today; the old next to the new, the well preserved next to a crumbling ruin, it really was fascinating to see.

Much Love,

*Credit for that photo goes to Diana Bradshaw,
unfortunately the only photos we took of the space were on Joes camera, and we have no access to them untill we get home

The Ruins at Ayutthaya, part 1

On our first day out of the big city we found ourselves in Ayutthaya.

Just a couple of hours outside of Bangkok,  Ayutthaya really couldn't feel any different from the capital.  Where Bangkok was huge, and loud and intimidating,  Ayutthaya was quiet, and calm, and filled with history. *

Founded in 1350, by King U Thong, Ayutthaya was the second capital of Siam (Thailand before it became the country we recognise today). Its geographical location made it an important trade hub both within Asia, and also the wider world. Indeed, by the 1700's it is beleived to have been the largest city in the world.

Sadly, the city was sacked in 1767 by the Burmese, leaving nothing but the ruins the city is so famous for today.

On our first day in the city we headed out on foot to explore those ruins closest to the new city.

Wat Phra Mahathat

Built in 1374, Wat Mahathat was right on the edge of the ruined town,  so is one of the easiest to visit. The complex was probably one of the largest we visited, and it contained the largest amount of surviving architecture.

The biggest draw for most tourists is the Buddha head, which has been absorbed into the root system of a huge Bodhi tree (the same species under which the Buddha is beleived to have achieved enlightenment).

Besides that, the complex contains a central Prang surrounded by 4 secondary Prangs, and a number of smaller Chedis,  all constructed in the traditional Khmer style.

The complex also provides good acess into the Phra Ram Park,  inside which are the remains of further temples, too ruined to be worth charging to see, but still worth a gander if you have the time.

Through the park we discovered serveral things that excited us.. Firstly,  elephant's!! And also, more ruins, yay! (At this point in the trip, we were pretty new to the ruins, and this being only the second we'd seen, it was pretty exciting stuff..)

Wat Phra Ram

Whilst the construction date, and reason for construction of this temple appear to be unclear, it is undeniable that it must once have been a fairly spectacular sight. Consisting of a central Prang, and several Chedis,  it is still worth a quick visit, especially if you're still new to the sight of a crumbling red brick tower, framed perfectly against a bright blue sky.

Much Love,

*and dogs. It was also full of dogs. Everywhere.  Especially at night. A lot of people have offered advice on ways to stay safe in the city, but to be honest,  so long as we stuck to the main streets, we never felt too threatened (we noticed that they did tend to gather in packs down the side streets,  and guarded those spaces more fiercely than the main streets).

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Our time in Bangkok

Kinda a filler post today, I promise to write up our adventures in Ayutthaya soon!! :)

Whilst in Bangkok, we were based in Sukhumvit, an eastern district, with good access to the rest of the city via the Sky Train.

We stayed at the SUK 11 hotel, and found it too be pretty much as expected - reasonably clean,  with a good restaurant attached,  a very quirky interior,  and kinda disinterested staff.

We also found that the hotel was a little quiet,  being out of season for most backpackers, and away from Khao San Road. As a couple this was no trouble,  but perhaps a single traveller might feel more comfortable closer to the bustle of the main backpacker strip?

Within the district, we enjoyed good food at Charley Browns (a mexican restaurant.  I know,  I know,  we'd only been there 10 minutes,  and already we were eating at a western restaurant,  but it our defence,  the place was directly below our room, and we had to eat there to find out the wifi code..)

We also ate at SUK 11, which served a good range of Thai dishes, and seemed popular amongst the local community (Joe's Paenang Curry was especially good).

On the last night we ventured along the bustle main street, in search of a place on Soi 33 (we were staying on soi 11 - it was quite a treck), and got side tracked by Terminal 21, Sukhumvits answer to the mega malls at Siam. Bassed on an airport,  every floor at Terminal 21 is themed around a different country (London,  Paris, Rome). It was totally bizarre! An interesting insight into modern Thai culture.

Terminal 21, Tokyo,  and London

Side note - wilst visiting Wat Pho, we got caught in a storm, and decided to take shelter in the malls at Siam. Whilst at the Paragon, we discovered not only their food courts (cheap fresh food), but also Bangkok's aquarium - an excellent place to shelter from the rain, with a vast variety of marine life, and some interesting interactive displays (I personally was too chicken to touch a star fish,  but if I had wanted too, this is the place to do it..)

Big fish

For drinks we were well served at SUK 11, with a number of bars right on our doorstep. We particular enjoyed Cheap Charlie's (a favourite of the many expats who now live in Sukhumvit), and The Alchemist,  a cocktail bar that wouldn't have felt out of place in a city like London.

The Alchemist

All in all, we really enjoyed our stay in Sukhumvit,  and I would recommend it to anyone looking to experience Bangkok away from Khao San Road.

Much Love,

Friday, 10 October 2014

Wat Arun, Bangkok

Day 3

Day three was a weird one.  Just when we thought we were getting our heads around this crazy city, it threw us a curve ball, and we were back to square one, as confused as ever.

Weird curve balls aside, on our third day in the city we found ourselves at Wat Arun, one of the temples I had spotted on our first morning.

Easily accessed from the river (take the express boat to Tha Tien, and change onto the ferry - 3Bhat - to reach the west side), the temple is perhaps a little more run down than its east bank counterparts (it was in the process of being restored whilst we were there), but this is not to say it wasn't worth a visit.

Where The Grand Palace and Wat Pho were predominantly introverted, and interesting because of the beauty within the complex,  Wat Arun (whilst still beautiful inside) was notable in that it  allowed for amazing views over the city.

You climb up about a million stairs (which in the mid day heat is no mean feat! ), but when you arrive at the top, you are so rewarded!!

As a day trip by itself,  there is probably not enough to see here, but it would make an excellent addition to a visit to Wat Pho, and is definitely worth a visit if you ever find yourself in the area!

Much Love,