Crossing the border from Thailand to Laos

We decided to cross the border to Laos ourselves rather than getting a combined transfer ticket from Bangkok. It worked out much cheaper and meant that we then weren’t stuck on a bus the whole journey which would be more comfortable. We arrived at Bangkok’s main train station at 7.30pm and purchased our tickets for the overnight train to Ubon Ratchathani. The train was on time and when we boarded we knew we had made the right decision. The train was immaculately clean and unlike buses quite spacious. The journey was great, someone comes round and makes your bed with fresh, clean sheets and then you can just close your curtain and go to sleep. The ride was much smoother than a bus so we both managed to get a decent amount of sleep.

Once at the station we got a tuk tuk to the main bus stop in Ubon Ratchathani and purchesed our international bus ticket to Pakse and even had time for one last Thai meal. The bus was much less comfortable but not too bad as we both caught up on some more sleep. We arrived at the border and were given no instructions on what we were to do. We went into a building where we were stamped out of Thailand and then had to walk 2 kilometres in what we liked to call ‘no mans land’ before we reached the Laos immigration building. Here we had a little bit of trouble as the guy behind the desk didn’t think our American $100 note was nice enough, he said it was dirty and we couldn’t use it. Frustrated as it was only slightly off coloured we were told to get money out of the ATM and pay in Laos Kip. The ATM wasn’t working and he wasn’t going to accept our money so we walked to the two currency exchanges at the border and luckily the second one took our money. When we arrived back at the desk to pay in Kip the man then gave us the worst exchange rate possible and we are pretty sure he just made it up. We had no choice but to accept it though as we were already stamped out of Thailand and wouldn’t be allowed in Laos without agreeing. We ended up paying an extra $8 each for the visa. Our bus had told us we only had 20 minutes to complete to exit and entry process but luckily they were still waiting for us almost 40 minutes later.

Our bus continued to Pakse at a snails pace and we arrived much later than expected. We had originally planned to head straight to Don Det in the 4000 islands that day but had missed all transport options. We found ourselves a nice room where we could rest and watch some Game of Thrones on the laptop. We booked our bus to Don Det for the next morning and had an early night.

A very long and most of the time pain free journey across the border. Excited for the next 16 days in Laos.

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A not so great day trip to Kanchanaburi

We had a few days in Bangkok and had both wanted to see the bridge over the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi. We originally thought that we would go to Kanchanaburi for 2 nights but when we found out the transfer there was the same price as a day trip we decided we may as well stay and just visit for the day. The lady at the travel shop told us it was a great day out, we would get to see the bridge, the World War 2 museum, Death Railway and a waterfall – what could go wrong?

Firstly we were picked up at 7am and taken around the corner to Khao San Road where we waited on the side of the street for another minibus. After much confusion we were finally on our way but being the last 2 people to be confirmed in that particular minibus we were squashed in the back grown with no leg space for the 2.5 hour drive… Brilliant.

On arrival to Kanchanaburi our guide gave us no information about the bridge or the museum but did tell us we only had 45 minutes to see both of them. We quickly walked to the bridge where we were disappointed in the lack of information about it, we kind of expected there would be at least a sign explaining the history.17212067_10154221713016176_7579590424240143486_oAfter this we went to the JEATH World War 2 museum, paid an entry fee and hoped there would be a bit more information in there. Sadly this wasn’t the case and half of the ‘artifacts’ weren’t even from that era. They also had these really weird ‘life like’ statues of famous people throughout certain historical times but they weren’t very lifelike at all and painted blue?17211922_10154221709231176_4921305040765722522_o17192388_10154221703096176_6016691918378430715_oAfter the museum we headed to Death Railway. We paid to get on the train to ride the Hellfire Pass where thousands of people died during the build of this particular train pass. The train was nice but we really didn’t get to see it as we were on top of it, on the train, which was overcrowded and so you couldn’t really look out the windows. After we passed the famous part of the railway the train became less crowded and we got to enjoy the ride a lot more.17192277_10154224593666176_4658482735755938793_oOur guide told us that we would get off at the final stop and head to lunch, only we never made it to the final stop. The train came to a halt and didn’t move for a while. When we looked out the window to see what was happening we realised that a huge tree had fallen across the tracks and we weren’t going to make it to the last stop. Luckily we weren’t too far from the road so our guide called our minibus to come meet us. We all climbed off the train and made our way through the woods to the road.17157504_10154221725941176_2276173778328572310_oWe arrived at lunch which was on the river, the food was average but the view was really lovely and we thought the second half of our day was surely to improve. WRONG! Our guide came around and told us we would head to the waterfall for an hour of free time, we were pretty excited as we had our bathers on and were ready to cool off in some fresh cold water. Except then our guide continued to tell us that due to dry season the waterfall is completely dry. We couldn’t believe our luck. I asked why we were even going and she told us that we are going because it is on the programme. We were both pretty angry at this stage as we really felt like we had been lied to by the lady in the office who showed us photos of a beautiful tall flowing waterfall. We went and walked around the dry cliff that was the ‘waterfall’ before going to 7/11 for ice creams and sitting in the gutter for 20 minutes.17097989_10154221722251176_7754513302340652716_oLast on the agenda for our super fabulous tour was the War Cemetery. We both find cemeteries quite interesting so we were looking forward to having a walk around and reading the head stones. When we arrived we were told we would only have 20 minutes here which was not enough time to visit all areas. It was really nice there though and they obviously are putting a lot of work into keeping looking so good.17239988_10154224594461176_2112190672783779981_oDisappointed in the organisation of the tour yet again, at this stage in the day we could only laugh about it. We got back in the minibus and settled into our tiny squashed seats for the 2.5 hour journey back to Bangkok.

Spending our days relaxing and snorkeling in Koh Tao

We woke up and got on the bus to the pier ready for our long boat journey to Koh Tao. The bus was late which made the boat leave late and our journey a little longer than planned but it was nice to be on the water looking out at all the islands going past.koh-tao-1We had to change boats at Koh Phangan which was annoying but gave Kev and Su a chance to see a different island, even if it was only the pier, it gave them size comparisons for Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. When we arrived at Koh Tao it was amazing, we were so glad to be back and so excited to show Kev and Su around.

We were staying at Bans diving resort in the jungle house. I remembered Bans being along the main beach front but didn’t realise how big it was and the jungle house was ages away from the main beach. Conveniently though we had our own little golf cart with driver that we could call on to drive us down. We also happily walked back in the evenings as it was much cooler and not too bad a walk. Our first day we walked around the main street and the main beach front before having some sunset beers at A.C.2.koh-tao-4We were pretty comfy there so we ended up staying there for dinner before walking back to the main street.koh-tao-3We had another beer at Simple Life divers and then went for a walk down to lotus bar for the fire show (with a gin bucket in hand). The fire show was really good and Charlie and I never got to see it last time we were here so we stayed and watched that before heading to Simon’s Cabaret Lady Boy show. We had been here last time with Lolly and her parents so we thought Kev and Su should experience it too. It was really fun and Kev enjoyed it so much he even got involved in the show. On the way home Charlie wanted to stop past a tattoo shop where he booked in for a tattoo in a couple of days, whilst we were there Su decided to get her nose pierced which was really funny but it looked so good, almost like she had always had it done!

The next morning we woke up and headed out for some lunch. We took all our snorkelling gear with us and headed past the pier to Sensi Paradise where Sharyn and Marshall had been staying last time as we knew the snorkelling there was good. We all jumped in the water and headed out to the ship wreck where the water was so clear and there was so much fish life it was hard to believe it was so close to the shoreline. koh-tao-9We stayed out there for a while before heading back to our jungle house to get showered and head out for another sunset. We decided to have a drink at Bans and watch locals and tourists play volleyball against each other, we even recognised one of the lady boys from the night before who was playing. After that we headed to Su Chilli for some dinner. I had the best penang curry I think I have ever had. We decided after our big night of drinking the night before that we would just have a quiet one tonight so we headed back to our jungle house.

Another day in paradise and another day of snorkelling planned. We went straight to the wreck again skipping on breakfast and deciding to just have lunch once we were finished. Charlie and Kev stumbled across loads of crabs on a rock while Su and I floated around in the shallows.koh-tao-7We headed for lunch before doing some shopping on our way back to the hotel. We made our way back down to the beach and walked the whole way down the other side of the beach this time, stopping for some happy hour cocktails and beers whilst watching the sunset.koh-tao-10We wanted to go out for a nice seafood dinner and knew that Barracuda 2 was amazing from when Jaimee and Lolly took us there. It was so nice, the food there is amazing and Charlie and Kev shared the seafood platter for 2. It had a whole fish, barracuda steaks, prawns, muscles, calamari and more. I had the muscles and Su had the ribs which were so big that I got some of those too. Su ended up feeding the bones to a cute little stray dog before we headed back to the main beach. We picked up some beers on the way back and sat on our balcony drinking and chatting together.

Our last full day here and it wouldn’t have been the same if we didn’t go for another snorkel at our favourite spot. After a couple hours there we headed to mom moms for lunch although its called something else now which I can’t remember.koh-tao-6We had a big lunch of fruit shakes, pad thai and fried rice before heading back to get showered. Charlie had his tattoo appointment so Kev and Su went for a walk whilst I waited with him. Kev and Su came back and we all sat in the shop watching Charlie’s tattoo get its finishing touches. It looks great and turned out better than he expected so that was good!koh-tao-2We had our last dinner and a few drinks on a beach front restaurant before heading back to pack up and get ready for our ferry the next day.koh-tao-11

Short stays in Surat Thani

We decided the break up the trip to the islands we would spend a night in Surat Thani either side of our boat journey to and from Koh Tao. To make blogging this easier, I’ve combined both of the nights into one blog post.

We arrived the first time by air from Chiang Mai and after checking into our hotels we dropped our bags off and went for a big walk around the area. We found the night market which we would head back to for dinner and continued to walk along the river. surat-thani-1We ended up walking through lots of different little streets and got to see lots of locals homes which was really interesting, they also seemed a bit surprised to see us which made us think tourists didn’t really venture out their way.surat-thani-2We ended up going back to the night market to pick up some food, got some beers on the way home and then had a picnic together in our room which was really nice. We had an early boat ride the next morning so we called it a night, excited to get to Koh Tao!

When we came back to Surat Thani from Koh Tao we pretty much did the same things as the last time, we walked around the town before heading to dinner. We found a little restaurant to eat at in the night market which was really fun because the market is mostly for locals so the stall owners don’t speak much english. After dinner we went out for some ice creamed. Very full up and tired we headed to bed before our flight to Bangkok the next morning.

Surat Thani was really interesting as it really isn’t that touristy at all. We only ever saw a handful of tourists there when we were there and whilst there isn’t much to do there it was really fun just to walk around and see the lives of the locals.

Temples, Elephants and night markets in Chiang Mai

We arrived into Chiang Mai around midday. We checked in and got ourselves ready before heading out for a big walk around the old city. The city was really interesting, filled with temples and some really cool street art.chiang-mai-6We stopped in at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary office to book our Elephant experience before heading to a night market. The night market was really good, it had lots of stalls for shopping and a separate area for food. The food area looked so modern we almost felt it belonged in Melbourne or London.chiang-mai-3We walked around picking foods from different stalls so we got to try lots of different things. The Chiang Mai sausage was a big hit with all of us, it tasted like a Tom Yum soup flavoured sausage. On our way back we came across a classic car meet up where there were loads of cool trucks and cars that locals own parked up for people to see. We all then headed back to the hotel for an early night, ready for another day of exploring.
chiang-mai-2We woke up and had breakfast at our hotel. We decided to visit one of the many temples in Chiang Mai but one that online looked quite interesting as it had a mix of old and new temples within the one area. We arrived at War Chedi Luang and spent a good hour or so in there visiting all the smaller temples as well as walking around the older one inside. There were lots of monks which made Su very happy as she had taken a liking to taking pictures of them and often followed them around.chiang-mai-5We continued walking around and doing a little shopping, Kev has embraced the culture so much he even purchased a bum gun to install in the Spain house. Taking a little rest back at the hotel to hide from the midday sun we were ready for some more exploring a few hours later with the Saturday night walking street market our main target. It was manic, it was spread over multiple streets which ended up so busy you could hardly move. It was quite stressful so we decided to leave and go get some dinner elsewhere. It was here where we all got to have Khao Soi which is a northern Thailand curry noodle soup and its so so so nice! We had a couple beers before heading home as we had an early start the next morning for our Elephant half day trip.

We woke up at 6am and got picked up to head to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an organisation that rescues working elephants and elephants from riding camps. We had done some research as well as heard from others that this was a good place to have an ethical experience with an elephant. The money you spend goes towards the camps as well as buying new elephants off riding camps or an animal circus. After a long and cold ride in the back of a pick up we arrived and had to walk through rice paddies and across bamboo bridges to the camp.chaing-e1 We got given a quick run down of how everything works and what they are doing to help elephants before it was time to meet the elephants. The first interaction we had was feeding. We got to feed the elephants banana and sugar canes and get up close to these amazing animals.chiang-e7Once feeding time was over we were to get changed into our bathers, whilst we were doing this the elephants were left to roam around and some cheeky ones even tried getting up to the changing area.
chiang-e3Next was time for the elephants mud bath, of the 8 elephants at this particular camp only 2 wanted to get in the mud so the others were left to do their own thing which we really liked. The elephants rolled around covering themselves in mud while the rest of us had a little mud fight. After the mud fight it was time for a wash in the river.We got to splash water on them as they rolled around kicking their feet and trunks in the water.chaing-e8We had such a great day and it was an amazing experience. We headed back for a hot shower and to get ready for another night market.

Hoping the Sunday night walking street market wouldn’t be as hectic as the Saturday night one we headed out for a few drinks to ensure we got there a little after it had started. It was manic, possible worse, we tried to entertain it for a little while but again just had to leave. We went for a little walk around before stopping for some dinner at a little local restaurant. We were flying to Surat Thani the next day so we all headed back to pack our bags and get to bed.

On our last day in Chiang Mai we took a tuk tuk to visit the long neck tribe nearby. Whilst this is completely set up for tourism we were told that the members of this tribe fled from Myanmar and are not allowed to get jobs doing anything that a Thai local can do. Hence why they set up a market where tourists can visit and buy their handicrafts. It was really interesting to walk around but we felt it would have been even better if we had of had a guide so we could have asked them more questions as their English was very limited.chaing-village-1chiang-village-2

An exciting reunion in Bangkok

We left Cambodia on the most mosquito infested aeroplane we have ever seen. The hour plane ride was spent listening to the sound of clapping as everyone tried to kill them as they came near. We arrived in Bangkok in the evening and decided to stay out near the airport so we could go meet Kev and Su the next morning once they landed. A good sleep and a minibus trip to the airport we were waiting outside very excited for our reunion. Kev and Su arrived and Charlie jumped out from behind a sign scaring them. We had a long drive to the Khao San Road area before dropping our bags off and going for a beer, some lunch and a walk around. We headed back to the hotel so that Kev and Su could check in, have a quick nap and get showered before we went off to explore Bangkok at night. We went down Khao San Road where Kev and I got to eat a grasshopper of a street stall. Kev liked it so much he went back for a cockroach and Charlie had a frog. The rest of our evening we spent walking around, stopping for beers before heading out for dinner. We had a few too many drinks as to be expected and went to bed.
bangkok-7
The next day we had a little later start than planned but decided to head to chinatown as Charlie and I had never been there either. bangkok-4We had a big walk around the area and through tiny alley way markets where Su got to do some shopping before walking out towards the river.bangkokWe were able to get a boat ride back to the Khao San area so we jumped on the boat and got to see some more sites along the river.bangkok-1It was quite lucky as we were going to visit a temple instead of going to Chinatown but decided against it, when we were on the boat we got to go past it and it was covered head to toe in scaffolding.

Our final night in Bangkok was another wander around, doing some shopping and drinking some beers before heading to dinner. It was so nice to just walk around and discover loads of different things, we even found an old fire truck that Kev got a photo with. After our little explore we headed back to the hotel for an early night, ready for our flight to Chiang Mai the next day.bangkok-2

He says, she says -Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand. 16 August – 7 October 2016

Places visited: Bangkok, Koh Phangan – full moon party, Koh Tao, Koh Samui, Phuket, Phi Phi Island, Ao Nang, Khao Lak, Krabi

Total of 53 days.

Most favourite place:
Charlie: This has to be Tonsai and Railay! The landscape alone is amazing, beaches secluded by impassable mountains and jungle. It’s got a real hippy, laid back vibe I’ve not seen anywhere else in such a genuine way.

Lisa: I also loved Tonsai but I’m going to pick Koh Tao. It’s the one place that although we went there twice (for 5 and 4 days respectively) I would still go back again tomorrow. It was so chilled, easy and beautiful. It also probably helped that we had great accommodation, it is where our favourite little food lady was and there was just a great vibe all round.

Least favourite place:
Charlie: Khao Lak, for no other reason than that the weather was against us. The area has plenty to do, but with bad weather it limits you massively. The area was quiet and peaceful and a one road town which is ideal for slow paced days.

Lisa: It is Phuket for me. Don’t get me wrong, I had such a great time while we were there as we had a lot of fun times with friends. However without the pool days spent chilling out with all our friends and the funny nights out, as a place it really doesn’t do it for me.

Most favourite dish:
Charlie: My go-to dish throughout was the trusty chicken fried rice, swamped in soy sauce and chilli but the tastiest was the chilli and basil fried chicken and rice. The hotter the better!

Lisa: My go-to was either a vegetable pad Thai or a tofu tom yum soup! I had at least one if not both of them each day!

Best experience:
Charlie: Learning to dive in Koh Tao was pretty special, I’m looking forward to comparing it other places too! My single best experience has to be a toss up between this and a day in the sun with friends exploring Railay and Tonsai. Even if we did get stranded on a broken long tail along the way!

Lisa: Being reunited with my family and my bestie! Performing the blessing at my brothers wedding. Diving in Koh Tao! Where do I even start!

Worst experience:
Charlie: Worst experience is a tough one. Nothing we’ve done has been especially horrendous but there’s been times I wish I could fast forward! I’d have to say being sick the day before Jaimee and Lolly’s wedding sucked the most. Having held in the urge to throw up so long, it really stockpiled!

Lisa: It’s got to be when I had a tummy bug for 3-4 days. Luckily we were staying in a villa at the time (thanks Sarah) but during the night when I was having one of the awful cold shiver spells that came with the bug I decided to put one of the bathrobes on. So whilst going to the toilet I sadly hadn’t realised the wrap around ties on the robe were in the toilet… until I was done. It was quite an embarrassing conversation that followed with housekeeping.

Something you will miss:
Charlie: I will miss the ease to travel, everywhere you want to go is a simple visit to an on-street vendor away, within minutes you can organise travel to the opposite side of the country from door to door.

Lisa: The food! I have to say I did get a little bit sick of having noodles or rice for breakfast towards the 5 – 6 week mark but I was still more than happy to eat Thai for lunch and dinner! It’s 100% my favourite cuisine!

Something you won’t miss:
Charlie: Ferries. Ferries. A thousand times, Ferries. This is more of a pet hate than anything, the ferries themselves are great, comfortable and easy to figure out. The thing that bugged me was the way that as soon as large amounts of people enter them, they leave their civility at the door! Along with the constant offers of suits, taxi’s and massages, there’s not a lot else to deal with that’ll be more annoying.

Lisa: The discrepancies between tuk tuks/taxi’s and the prices they charge. In Bangkok we paid off a metre and everything was super cheap. Get to Koh Phangan and the prices were non negotiable and extortionate for short journeys, worse for long journeys and everything in between. There’s no regulation and each island/mainland town runs differently.