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Early arrival in Chiang Rai was welcoming, although we were a bit frazzled from the 5 1/2 hours of crazy driving from Pai via Chiang Mai. Not too happy to be dropped off 8km out of the centre, but after a bit of asking about we find there are frequent shared taxies to the centre for a pittance.

We had looked up a place to stay – Chat Guest House – before we left Pai and had sent an email to enquire about availability – unknowing to whether they got our mail or not, and whether they have a spare room we went directly there. We were in luck and they had reserved a room for us, and when settled in and connecting to their Wi-Fi we got the confirmation e-mail… Chat guesthouse is a lovely little place with friendly staff, and the room was quite nice too. We were quick to book up a couple of trips with them. We booked a day’s trek and a day’s sightseeing. The first afternoon – after we’d settled in and booked our adventures – we did a walkabout to see some temples, but didn’t get as much done as we’d hoped for. The next day we hired a scooter for the day and whizzed around a bit to see the Asean Flower Festival and floating market (although it wasn’t much floating going on… The stalls were on a path between two small bonds). After the market we went to see the Kings Monument and then the Hill Tribe Museum – a nice little museum with a wealth of information about the various tribes and their origins. After a complimentary coffee/tea downstairs in the Cabbages & Condoms Cafe we again got onto our scooter and headed for the Mae Fah Luang Art and Culture Park, which we just missed the opening times of, so had to skip that one and continue to the next stop Chiang Rai Beach. Not so much of a beach really, but it had a row of terraces where you could sit down and order food and drinks – feeling a bit peckish and thirsty we ordered some grilled chicken and sticky rice, with accompanying bottles of Leo Beer of course. The light was vanishing and it was time to get back to freshen up before going out to see the New Year celebrations by the Chiang Rai Clock Tower.

We first headed down to the night market for some food before the New Year celebrations and after that we went to the Teepee Bar, a quirky little bar we’d noticed by chance on walking to our guest house on our arrival – if you ever find yourself in Chiang Rai I can recommend this one. After a few beers there we continued to Cat Bar, a bar recommended by the Lonely Planet – what-a-mistake-to-make (Italian accent intended) – it turns out to be a go-go-bar on quite a seedy road and we’re not impressed by this recommendation, so after a very quick beer – left half of it – we move on towards the Clock Tower and stop by a much nicer Rasta Bar for another beer while awaiting the midnight kick-off. The area around the Clock Tower is absolutely ram-packed and it’s very difficult to move around, but we get into the crowd to count down the last seconds of 2012. After the finale we have a little walk around the centre of Chiang Rai, but are a bit conscious about the fact we have an early start in the morning for our jungle trek, not the ideal situation for a hangover exactly.

So, on the 1st of January we have an early start trekking through many hill-tribe villages and through the jungle. We’re also joined by one more traveller Megan on a break from working at STA. Our guide Chai also picks up a friend and helper Chang, a Lisu tribesman, on the way to the start-point. Large parts of the trek are easy, and then there are parts where we get the heart pumping and lactic acid in the legs – it’s good variation of exercise and when we arrive at a waterfall it’s nice to have a dip to cool down and wash off some sweat. We have a quick stop in Chang’s village and have tea at his mum’s house – which is very nice – and Chai tells us it’s possible to have a home stay here if going for a two-day trek. All along the route Chang goes off the track, and we can hear him chopping things down and collecting things – we don’t really know why, but we can see him crafting objects out of bamboo with his machete. When we sit down for lunch in the jungle we realise what he’s been up to – he’s made us all a little cutlery-set and cups while walking with us (good multi-tasking) and when we arrive at the spot where we break for lunch Chang and Chai together quickly makes up more containers for serving the food, eating bowls, and a container for cooking water and tea from leaves Chang collected earlier – again all out of bamboo of course – we’re starting to realise how versatile the bamboo is. After a very lovely lunch we started to head back down from the mountains and back towards civilisation, and at the end of our trek we stop by a hot-spring where we can soak in the warm mineral waters (it does smell a bit like rotten eggs, but you get used to it) – it’s certainly nice for softening up the muscles.

Next morning we have a full day sightseeing trip with a very nice guide Wisanu, or Mr. M. as he likes to call himself. Wisanu can tell us that he was taught in the business as a guide by Chai, the guide that took us trekking the day before. He tells us how he only two years ago started as a driver without much knowledge of English and had to call Chai whenever he needed to communicate with the people he was driving around. It’s quite astonishing how good his English is – we can’t quite believe he’s only had two years of learning the language. Our first stop of the day is The White Temple, a creation by the artist Chalermchai Kositpipat which we meet and say hello to while walking about in one of the galleries. Although not yet completed (60 more years to go) it’s quite a magnificent temple, all in bright white with mirror inlays it literally shines like a huge jewel in the bright sunlight. We have a good look around inside the temple with its massive mural depicting George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden as reflections in the eyes of the Devil. After The White temple we go to a very contrasting place called The Black House, a collection of houses and artworks of the artist Thawan Duchanee, which we also see while walking about on the grounds – and unlike the creator of The White Temple Chalermchai Kositpipat this is apparently a rare sight as he’s a very private person. For some reason he was in a good mood that day and were to be seen sitting in one of the houses talking to some of his fans. The Black House is a fitting name for these houses and the art within – it’s really dark – it’s a bit like Twin Peaks and Viking style rolled into one.

Next is a stop at The Golden Triangle and on the top of a hill we get a view of the triangle border where it’s split between Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Thailand by the Mekong River. We also visit the Opium Museum – where we learn a lot about the history of the opium trade and the effects it’s had on the people in this area. Our last two stops are located close to each other, the first being Sinakarintra Stit Mahasantikhiri Pagoda on the top of a mountain above the Chinese village Mae Salong Nok our last official stop. This mountain village specialises in tea and coffee, and there are plenty market stalls where you can sample the teas – very nice and aromatic teas, again we wish we could buy some to take home, but no space in our already overstuffed backpacks. Strange enough I can’t see any stalls where you can sample coffee, but there are loads of other spices, sweets and various roasted nuts. Our guide Wisanu recommends the butter-roasted almonds at the stall we have a tea-tasting and they’re dangerously good, so we end up with a bag of these and some very nicely roasted peanuts in their shells from another stall. After the Mae Salong Nok village we start the journey back to Chiang Rai, but as a little extra we have a quick stop at a tea plantation with a good view of the valley below – after this it’s time to go back to the guesthouse for a rest after a full day of sightseeing.

Next day we’re off to Chiang Khong to cross over to Laos. By local bus we take the two hour journey up to Chiang Khong, and eager to get the border-crossing over and done with we head straight up to the ferry-crossing over to Huay Xai. After a bit back-and-forth to organise payment of our visas in Laos Kip rather than US Dollars (they make it difficult for you to pay in the local currency, because they prefer you to pay in USD) but we’re persistent and finally get our visas paid in Kip, which saves us a couple of pounds as well as supporting their economy rather than a foreign economy, and this gives us a bit of a good feeling as well of course. There are no night-busses towards our next main destination, so we settle in a nice guest house called Sabaydee for the night and get our bus to Luang Prabang through them as well. Next day we’re off on a very long bus journey – it’s supposed to be eight hours and we’re supposed to arrive at ten in the evening. We arrive after a 14 hour long journey we arrive like zombies at four in the morning when absolutely everything is closed – not much fun… but we’re glad to finally be there.

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On the arrival to Pai I instantly felt relaxed - what a nice feeling. We had expected the journey to be much longer, but with a new and faster route since the guide was written it only took us about three and a bit hours as opposed to the five hours according to the Lonely Planet. For once we're happy that Lonely Planet got it wrong. We'd been a bit worried that there would be difficult to find accommodation on arrival due to it being high season (Christmas Eve), and our search online for places had only returned with hideously expensive resorts, or told us the guest houses were all fully booked. To our relief we find there are lots of places with spare rooms, which gives us the ability to shop around a little bit. Hannah remembers the location of one of the places she stayed when she were here last in Pai - a tranquil little place with nice bungalows called Mr. Jan's, and we find they have a reasonably priced room available. The room is originally meant for four people, but they charge per person - the good thing about this is that we can enjoy the extra space for spreading all our detritus around - feels less like living out of a backpack this way.

[caption id="attachment_1210" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Live music at the Bebop Bar in Pai. Live music at the Bebop Bar in Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1234" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Beautiful countryside around Pai. Beautiful countryside around Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1235" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Pinapple and chicken fried rice - nice breakfast at Ban Pai Restaurant in Pai. Pinapple and chicken fried rice - nice breakfast at Ban Pai Restaurant in Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1246" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Dinner at a small local restaurant in Pai, which we couldn't see a name for. Dinner at a small local restaurant in Pai, which we couldn't see a name for.[/caption]

Hannah is initially disappointed with Pai as it has changed so drastically since she last was here, but as I have no prior expectations of the place I instantly feel home and enjoy the laid back atmosphere. Although there are many tourists flocking to this place it doesn't have the over-commercialised feeling here yet, and hopefully it will remain in such a way. There are lots of new built resorts all around the town though, where Hannah remembers it being just fields and nature, and the hippy crowd she remembers have moved out - some traces of them can still be seen and we find there are some small hippy communities further out in the countryside.

We go out on the first morning looking to hire a scooter so we can get to some of the waterfalls, temples and other sites outside of Pai. We're a bit late and most places are already out of motorbikes, but as luck would have it - as we're about to inquire in one of the shops about bicycles instead - one customer comes to return his scooter, and we're quick to grab that one. After a hearty breakfast we start our adventure of the day and go to visit some waterfalls – Pembok Waterfall, and then Mhor Phaeng Waterfall. We continue to Wat Phrathat Mae Yen, also known as the Temple On The Hill, and then the Pai Hot Springs for a good soaking in the warm pools. Finally as the sun sets (or a couple of minutes after it's gone behind the mountains) we arrive at the Pai Canyon.

[caption id="attachment_1211" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Pembok Waterfall, Pai. Pembok Waterfall, Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1212" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah at the Pembok Waterfall, Pai. Hannah at the Pembok Waterfall, Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1213" align="aligncenter" width="533"]A bit of a rickety bridge at Pembok Waterfall, Pai. A bit of a rickety bridge at Pembok Waterfall, Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1214" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Beautiful countryside around Pai. Beautiful countryside around Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1215" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah at the Mhor Phaeng Waterfall, Pai. Hannah at the Mhor Phaeng Waterfall, Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1216" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Crazy kids jumping into a pool at Mhor Phaeng Waterfall, Pai. Crazy kids jumping into a pool at Mhor Phaeng Waterfall, Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1217" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Mhor Phaeng Waterfall, Pai. Mhor Phaeng Waterfall, Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1218" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai. Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1219" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai. Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1220" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai. Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1221" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai. Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1222" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai. Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1223" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai. Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1224" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai. Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1225" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai. Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1226" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai. Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1227" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai. Wat Phrathat Mae Yen (Temple On The Hill), Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1228" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Beautiful countryside around Pai. Beautiful countryside around Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1229" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Beautiful countryside around Pai. Beautiful countryside around Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1230" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Beautiful countryside around Pai. Beautiful countryside around Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1231" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Pai Canyon. Pai Canyon.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1232" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Pai Canyon. Pai Canyon.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1233" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Pai Canyon. Pai Canyon.[/caption]

Every evening in Pai there is a Walking Street Market, so the main street in the centre becomes transformed with stalls lining both sides of the road and a very bustling crowd fills the street looking to do a bit of shopping, or to test out the many various food-stalls. It's a dangerous exercise to walk along the road as there are so many tempting treats on display, and even after eating a huge dinner we still can't resist having a taste of some of the many snacks on offer.

We decide to visit another waterfall and plan to do that around mid-day before going to lounge by the pool in the afternoon. The waterfall we want to go to is the Hua Chang Waterfall, and it doesn't look too far out on our little overview map of Pai. It turns out to be a bit of a mission to get there though, and even after a very long drive - along a really badly kept farm-road and crossing the river a few times without the help of bridges (poor scooter) - we still had a long trek through the jungle, again wading across the river countless of times, before we finally get to the waterfall. It's a really peaceful trek up to this waterfall and not many people seem to take the trip up to it. We met two people on the way up, who could assure us that we were on the right track thankfully, and three people as we were going back down. The scooter-ride on the very bumpy, muddy and rough path with the added bonus of dips in the river was an exhilarating experience on its own of course.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/umArNvwJI2Y]

Needless to say this adventure took much longer than we initially calculated, and by the time we came back down to civilisation it was too late for going to the pool. We did get the chance to lounge by the pool on the afternoon of our last day though, so all was not lost.

[caption id="attachment_1236" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Jungle-trekking to Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai. Jungle-trekking to Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1237" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Jungle-trekking to Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai. Jungle-trekking to Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1238" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Jungle-trekking to Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai. Jungle-trekking to Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1239" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai. Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1240" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai. Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1241" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah at the Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai. Hannah at the Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1242" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai. Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1243" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah climbing back up from the Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai. Hannah climbing back up from the Hua Chang Waterfall, Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1244" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Beautiful countryside around Pai. Hannah patiently waiting for me to finish snapping away. Beautiful countryside around Pai. Hannah patiently waiting for me to finish snapping away.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1245" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Beautiful countryside around Pai. Beautiful countryside around Pai.[/caption]

We also really wanted to do some more white-water-rafting and there were many options available for this at the various agencies in Pai, but they were quite pricy, and they only did them on certain days that didn't fit our schedule - we also didn't want a two-day combination with trekking so our options were very limited - in the end we decided for just a day's sightseeing. It was a silly-early start (as per normal) to get almost all the way to Mae Hong Son for sunrise (which we didn't make, despite the driver's desperate formula one performance) and had the first rays of sun over the misty lake at Pang Tong Royal Project. From there we headed to Mok Cham Pae, a little Chinese village in the mountains, for breakfast - we took a little walk around to a little restaurant away from the very busy one the bus dropped us off at and had some lovely soup (although strange looking with black chicken and various herbs) and crispy pork with rice - the restaurant was also a tea-shop, so we had free tasters of various gorgeous teas. The village is idyllically set next to a little lake with tea plantations around it, so we enjoy a nice view as well as good food and drink. Next stop on the tour was Pha Suea waterfall, and then not far from the waterfall the Phu Khlon hot-springs where we could soak our feet into hot mineral pools. After the hot-springs the tour continued to a Karen Long Neck hill-tribe village for a bit of souvenir-shopping (this is more than likely one of many "fake" hill-tribe villages - set up only for the milking of tourists' cash of course). Hannah get's a nice woven top and we get to feed the elephant so we're quite happy. Before breaking for lunch we visit the Temple On The Hill (Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu) in Mae Hong Son - a blindingly bright white set of stupas high up on the hill above Mae Hong Son. We then move on to Thampla Fish Cave where we also sit down for a late lunch of excellent crispy grilled pork and sticky rice. Final stop on our journey is not on our schedule, but due to missing the sunrise in the morning the guide decides to give us a sunset instead and we stop off on a mountain viewpoint about 25 kilometres from Pai and enjoy a frrrrreeeeezzzzzing but beautiful sunset before returning back to Pai.

[caption id="attachment_1247" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Misty Lake at Pang Tong Royal Project. Misty Lake at Pang Tong Royal Project.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1248" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Misty Lake at Pang Tong Royal Project. Misty Lake at Pang Tong Royal Project.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1249" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Pang Tong Royal Project. These people kept jumping and jumping, as the photographer failed to catch the moment - quite amusing. Pang Tong Royal Project. These people kept jumping and jumping, as the photographer failed to catch the moment - quite amusing.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1250" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Pha Suea Waterfall near Mae Hong Son. Pha Suea Waterfall near Mae Hong Son.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1251" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah getting a mud facemask at the Phu Khlon hot-springs near Mae Hong Son. Hannah getting a mud facemask at the Phu Khlon hot-springs near Mae Hong Son.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1252" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe Village near Mae Hong Son. Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe Village near Mae Hong Son.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1253" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe Village near Mae Hong Son. Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe Village near Mae Hong Son.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1254" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe Village near Mae Hong Son. Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe Village near Mae Hong Son.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1255" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe Village near Mae Hong Son. Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe Village near Mae Hong Son.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1256" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah feeding an elephant at a Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe Village near Mae Hong Son. Hannah feeding an elephant at a Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe Village near Mae Hong Son.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1257" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (Temple on the hill) Mae Hong Son. Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (Temple on the hill) Mae Hong Son.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1258" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (Temple on the hill) Mae Hong Son. Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (Temple on the hill) Mae Hong Son.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1259" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (Temple on the hill) Mae Hong Son. Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (Temple on the hill) Mae Hong Son.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1260" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (Temple on the hill) Mae Hong Son. Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (Temple on the hill) Mae Hong Son.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1261" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (Temple on the hill) Mae Hong Son. Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (Temple on the hill) Mae Hong Son.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1262" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Thampla, Mae Hong Son. Thampla, Mae Hong Son.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1263" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Thampla, Mae Hong Son. Thampla, Mae Hong Son.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1264" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Just before sunset on a mountain viewpoint near Pai. Just before sunset on a mountain viewpoint near Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1265" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Sunset on a mountain viewpoint near Pai. Sunset on a mountain viewpoint near Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1266" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Sunset on a mountain viewpoint near Pai. Sunset on a mountain viewpoint near Pai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1267" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Sunset on a mountain viewpoint near Pai. Sunset on a mountain viewpoint near Pai.[/caption]

From Pai we continue to Chiang Rai via minivan - another hang-on-to-your-hat experience... The driver was an absolute nutcase and in every turn in the road (and there are a lot of them on these winding mountain roads) he managed to get the wheels screeching, and at the back we could feel the suspension not keeping up and kept feeling the clunk where it had no more to give. The minivan went via Chiang Mai where we changed to another minivan with an equally crazy driver to take us on the last half of the journey to Chiang Rai. When we got to Chiang Rai we were ahead of schedule (I wonder why?) and we could consider ourselves lucky to still be alive.

The train up to Chiang Mai is fairly comfortable, although it gets a bit nippy during the night. We're prepared though with long trousers, trekking shoes, and most importantly our fleeces. The train leaves Bangkok just after the scheduled time but already before departing they inform us of a two hour delay. We find that a bit odd as we're leaving on time but guessing there might be delays because of work on the rails or something like that. In the end we're about 1h 3O min delayed arriving at Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Hannah trying her luck with darts at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.

With a tuc-tuc we head straight to a guest house called Smile, but they're full and we venture around the backstreets to find Pathara House. Very nice room, and its good value, so we're happy with that. The owner tells us they've just taken over the running of the hotel, so they have not organised themselves enough to get the restaurant running and they can't arrange any treks or tours for us- as they're yet to sort out a licence apparently (not sure anyone else has a licence - they just refer to other agencies and get a little percentage back as commission). This is quite lucky it turns out, as we wander over to the neighbouring guest house the Dixie Pig. The owner Buddy is very welcoming and his beer is nice and cold, and with his help we get two days of activity booked up straight away. First day is a day's adventure-trekking, which includes white water rafting, bamboo rafting, elephant trekking, and trekking up to a waterfall where we can jump in to cool ourselves off. In-between somewhere we also get served a very tasty lunch by the river. Crammed together in the back of the van we get to meet some fellow travellers Natasha, Brian and Reshvin - very pleasant company that makes the long journeys from and to Chiang Mai and the activities much more interesting. We get back to our hotel as the sun is setting and jump off the van and straight into Buddy's restaurant for some refreshing beer and lovely food cooked by his wife Ann.

[caption id="attachment_1123" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Orchid & Butterfly Farm, Chiang Mai. Orchid & Butterfly Farm, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1124" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Hannah at the Orchid & Butterfly Farm, Chiang Mai. Hannah at the Orchid & Butterfly Farm, Chiang Mai.[/caption]

Hannah at the Orchid & Butterfly Farm, Chiang Mai.

[caption id="attachment_1125" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Elephant trekking, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Elephant trekking, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1126" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Elephant trekking, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Elephant trekking, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1127" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Elephant trekking, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Elephant trekking, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1128" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Elephant trekking, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Elephant trekking, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1129" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Elephant trekking, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Elephant trekking, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1130" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Elephant trekking, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Elephant trekking, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1131" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Brian and Natasha in the zip-wire cage, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Brian and Natasha in the zip-wire cage, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1132" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Lunch served in banana leaves, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Lunch served in banana leaves, Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1133" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Trekking up to a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Trekking up to a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1134" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Our guide and reshvin posing with a snake found while trekking up to a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Our guide and Reshvin posing with a snake found while trekking up to a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1135" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Our guide found a snake and felt a bit hungry after trekking up to a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Our guide found a snake and felt a bit hungry after trekking up to a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1136" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Trekking up to a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Trekking up to a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1137" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Trekking up to a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Trekking up to a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1138" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Having a shower in a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Having a shower in a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1139" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Trekking up to a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Trekking up to a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1140" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Trekking up to a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai. Trekking up to a waterfall in Kuet Chang, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1141" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Our guide complementing me on my beer-belly at the Ban Chang (Hilltribe Village), Mae Taeng, Chiang Mai. Our guide complementing me on my beer-belly at the Ban Chang (Hilltribe Village), Mae Taeng, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1142" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Ban Chang (Hilltribe Village), Mae Taeng, Chiang Mai. Ban Chang (Hilltribe Village), Mae Taeng, Chiang Mai.[/caption]

For our second day's activity we're booked in for a day's cooking class at Thai Farm Cooking School. We're warned by Buddy not to have any breakfast in the morning, just a bit of coffee to wake us up - this turned out to be very good advice as we had six courses to prepare and eat during the class. We first went to a food market some 20 minutes drive out of Chiang Mai where our teacher ran us through some of the basic ingredients that make up most Thai dishes. We then drove out to the farm to start our day. Just after arrival and a cup of tea we had a walk through the garden to get familiarised with some of the herbs we were going to be using in our cooking. We then went inside the kitchen to get started with making our own curry-paste and our breakfast. We had a choice of six dishes out of a menu with 18 options and I went for Red Curry Paste, Tom Yam Soup, Red Curry with Prawns, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Phad Thai and Pumpkin in Coconut Milk. Our teacher was really good, and had a cracking sense off humour, which made the day really fun as well as educational. The result of our cooking was also surprisingly good - I couldn't believe I'd cooked it myself when tucking into it - with the result that I over-ate of course, and I think I was one of the few that cleaned my plate completely on all the courses, and didn't need a doggy-bag to take home like most people do. Needless to say, I didn't need to eat any more food that evening...

[caption id="attachment_1144" align="aligncenter" width="545"]At the food-market for fresh ingredients for the Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. At the food-market for fresh ingredients for the Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1145" align="aligncenter" width="545"]At the food-market for fresh ingredients for the Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. At the food-market for fresh ingredients for the Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1146" align="aligncenter" width="533"]At the food-market for fresh ingredients for the Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. At the food-market for fresh ingredients for the Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1147" align="aligncenter" width="545"]At the food-market for fresh ingredients for the Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. At the food-market for fresh ingredients for the Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1148" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Sourcing herbs in the garden, Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. Sourcing herbs in the garden, Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1149" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Sourcing herbs in the garden, Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. Sourcing herbs in the garden, Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1150" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Our tutor instructing us on how to make Sticky Rice. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. Our tutor instructing us on how to make Sticky Rice. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1151" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Ingredients for my Tom Yam Soup with shrimps. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. Ingredients for my Tom Yam Soup with shrimps. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1152" align="aligncenter" width="533"]My finished Tom Yam Soup with shrimps. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. My finished Tom Yam Soup with shrimps. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1153" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah stirring her curry. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. Hannah stirring her curry. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1154" align="aligncenter" width="545"]My finished Red Chicken Curry. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. My finished Red Chicken Curry. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1155" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Introduction in how to fry quick meals in a wok. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. Introduction in how to fry quick meals in a wok. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1156" align="aligncenter" width="533"]My finished Sweet and Sour chicken. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. My finished Sweet and Sour chicken. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1157" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Sweet and Sour Chicken and Red Chicken Curry ready for eating. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. Sweet and Sour Chicken and Red Chicken Curry ready for eating. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1158" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The washing-up drying in the sun at Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. The washing-up drying in the sun at Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1159" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Produce from the garden at the Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. Produce from the garden at the Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1160" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Introduction in the making of Pad Thai. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. Introduction in the making of Pad Thai. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1161" align="aligncenter" width="533"]My finished Pad Thai. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. My finished Pad Thai. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1162" align="aligncenter" width="533"]My Pumkin and Coconut Milk dessert. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai. My Pumkin and Coconut Milk dessert. Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai.[/caption]

On our last day we have a bit of a rest in the morning, so not too early a start. After a lovely breakfast at the Dixie Pig we hire a scooter from one of the neighbouring guest houses and then head up to the Doi Suthep temple high up on the hill next to Chiang Mai. Buddy recommend that we get as new a motorbike as possible, and later on we realise why - it's really steep going up the hill, and even with a brand new bike at some places it's struggling a little. The real benefit we realise when after exploring the temple we head further up the hill to a small village called Doi Pui. Here the roads are virtually vertical and our bike is really struggling now, but it makes it up all the steep winding roads in the end. Doi Pui village has a really lovely market with lot's of handcraft stores, once again we have to restrain ourselves from shopping as we don't have space in our backpacks for souvenirs - we wish we could take some stuff with us home.

[caption id="attachment_1165" align="aligncenter" width="545"]View of Chiang Mai from the road up to Doi Suthep Temple. View of Chiang Mai from the road up to Doi Suthep Temple.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1166" align="aligncenter" width="545"]View of Chiang Mai from the road up to Doi Suthep Temple. View of Chiang Mai from the road up to Doi Suthep Temple.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1167" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1168" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1169" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1170" align="aligncenter" width="348"]Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1171" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1172" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1173" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1174" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1175" align="aligncenter" width="538"]Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1176" align="aligncenter" width="473"]Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1177" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1178" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Emerald Buddha replica at Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai. Emerald Buddha replica at Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1179" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Market in the Hmong village of Doi Pui, Chiang Mai. Market in the Hmong village of Doi Pui, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1180" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Huay Keaw Waterfall, Chiang Mai. Huay Keaw Waterfall, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1181" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Huay Keaw Waterfall, Chiang Mai. Huay Keaw Waterfall, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1182" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Huay Keaw Waterfall, Chiang Mai. Huay Keaw Waterfall, Chiang Mai.[/caption]

Chiang Mai also have a daily Night Bazaar which is a big draw for tourists - we were warned not to buy anything there as it's apparently very over-priced. What the vendors tend to do is to get their stock from another market up the road and tries to flog it for three to four times as much to unsuspecting tourists. We're more interested in getting some dinner and go there for a look-around and a test of the food-stalls. The food is pretty tasty and quite cheap so no complaints. The real treat food-wise - except from the food we cooked ourselves of course - is the food from the stalls at the Sunday Walking Street night market. In the temple courtyards there are a wealth of different food-stalls and they're all the very best at what they do - I've never eaten so much in my life I think, and I just wanted more and more - good thing common sense kicked in or I would have ended up in hospital for sure.

[caption id="attachment_1183" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Sunday Night Walking Street, Chiang Mai. Sunday Night Walking Street, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1184" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Sunday Night Walking Street, Chiang Mai. Sunday Night Walking Street, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1185" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Sunday Night Walking Street, Chiang Mai. Sunday Night Walking Street, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1186" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1163" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Quirky bar in on the corner of Ratchamanka Rd and Ratpakinai Rd, Chiang Mai. Quirky bar in on the corner of Ratchamanka Rd and Ratpakinai Rd, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1164" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Quirky bar in on the corner of Ratchamanka Rd and Ratpakinai Rd, Chiang Mai. Quirky bar in on the corner of Ratchamanka Rd and Ratpakinai Rd, Chiang Mai.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1143" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Merry Christmas from Chiang Mai. Merry Christmas from Chiang Mai.[/caption]

One thing that soon strikes me as we wander around the streets is the obvious sex-trade and tourism - go-go bars with scantily clad women and lady-boys strutting their stuff to passersby (mostly to guys of course), trying to entice them into their establishment. We notice many old westerners with their very young Thai ladies - acting as if all is normal. I had expected to see more of this in Bangkok, and although it is apparent there I was surprised it was not even more in-your-face, as I expected from what people had told me from their experiences. As we were together as a couple they didn't seem to give us much attention as we walked along the so-called Red-light District to get to the Night Bazaar, but when on our first day I needed to go to the ATM on my own I had the whole neighbourhood fighting for my attention - and this was not even in the Red-light District but just around the corner of our guest house... I was getting worried I wouldn't make it back alive...

Although we didn't stay at the Dixie Pig guest house I can warmly recommend it. The company of Buddy and the most excellent food by his wife Ann is a real treat. Many an interesting conversations with buddy, who's a great conversationalist, meant many a problem was solved over some nice cold bottles of Leo beer.

From Chiang Mai the journey continues to Pai by mini-van through some very winding roads over the mountains and I can consider myself very lucky for not easily getting travel-sickness – some people on the bus were clearly showing signs of suffering, and I was expecting someone to explode their breakfast in the back of my head at any moment... It didn't help that the driver was driving like an absolute madman. Thanks to our Formula 1 driver the journey was very quick though.

After what felt like a very long day of travelling we arrive in Bangkok in the early evening, and coming from Kathmandu in Nepal the climate is just a tad different – the wall of hot humid air hits us like a Tyson punch as we walk out of the air-conditioned airport building – although a shock to the system it’s a very nice feeling after living in our thermals for a while in Darjeeling and Kathmandu. We’d planned to go from the airport by bus and started enquiring about the route that was mentioned in the guide (a free shuttle bus to the bus-depot and then bus number 556 direct to Khao San Road). At the tourist office they inform us that the route was terminated about a year ago, but after being in India for about six weeks we’re still wary of people giving misleading information in order to sell you a different ticket of which they will profit from. We decide to go by the guide and the bus, which would save us a small fortune and head towards the bus-depot with the free shuttle service hoping for the best. When we get there we can see all the numbers for the busses at their respective bays, but the one we want is of course missing – the guy at the tourist info was not being misleading… but then again he could have given us the alternative route where we had to do one change of bus to get to Khao San Road. It’s not a quick journey by bus, so after a while we start to regret not taking the Skytrain instead of saving a few more Baht by bus (when I earlier said we saved a small fortune I of course mean a miniscule fortune… but it’s great value as it’s a lot of travelling for your money…). Along the bus journey we meet two fellow confused travellers Ronna and Tibo, and this leads to some fun conversation and exchange of stories and experiences – and it makes the long journey much more tolerable of course. We arrive quite late at Khao San Road but unlike in most of India this is not a problem as this place, it would appear, never sleeps. It’s not far from midnight when we get there and it’s so busy we can hardly get through the crowd with our backpacks – I’m sure I must have knocked some people over as were trying to manoeuvre our way in-between various guest houses trying to find a good deal. We end up in Sawasdee Guest House down a little alleyway off Khao San Road, and although the cheapest rooms are not available we get one with attached bathroom that has a hot shower for half the price of the other guest houses we enquired at. Ronna takes a room here as well and we end up being neighbours. After a quick freshen up it’s time for food and some drinks and we end up people-watching and chatting till about four on the morning before deciding it’s time to get some rest.

We have a relaxed start the next day, as we’re slightly tired after the travel and the late bedtime. We head out to have a look at the magnificent Wat Phra Kaew within the Grand Palace and Wat Pho just down the road. The heat is getting to me a bit as we’re walking about and the sweat is pouring out from every pore in my body – as the Thais put very much emphasis on their clean fresh perfumed appearance I’m starting to feel very self-conscious about my melting-iceberg-look. I try sitting down in the shade for a bit to see if that helps, but to no avail – just have to drink something cold, and hope that no one really notices or cares about my appearances. Thoroughly impressed with Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace – the intricacy of the details and the impeccable condition it’s been kept in is astounding. It’s a crowded place though, so a lot of queuing and patience is needed. Also, they are very strict on the dress code so we both find we need to borrow some garments from the office by the entrance – the really neat thing is that the hire of clothes is free, just a small deposit that you get back when you return them. Also a nice surprise is the free English speaking guided tour they offer – it’s nice to get some of the background history explained, and at one stage the guide even sings a poem to us from an inscription on a pillar – one of several hundred around the grounds, telling stories from the history of the Rama’s, the Thai royal family. The Wat Pho is more relaxed on the dress code and we both pass the guard’s discretion. Although not as intricately decorated as the Grand Palace it’s still a very impressive temple. It also features the largest reclining Buddha statue in Thailand, as well as the biggest collection of Buddha images in the country. Wat Pho is also the oldest, and largest, temple in Bangkok dating from the 16th century.

We head out to get the bus to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market the next day and due to our lovely Lonely Planet guide it takes us close to an eternity to get the right bus out to the Southern Bus Terminus where we can get a bus further to Damnoen Saduak. As a result we get there a bit late in the day which is a shame as it’s very quiet, and many stalls have already closed for the day. We have a nice relaxing trip on the canals though, and our boatman is a really nice – and funny – guy. We get some fruits from one of the market boats at the start and keep munching on those as we glide through the canals past many souvenir stalls. As we’re coming to an end of our voyage we buy some green papaya salad from one of the boats. I’ve never tried this salad before so was in for a treat – really fresh and tasty, and the chillies give it a really nice kick. After our tour the day is more or less spent and we head back to Bangkok for some nice street-food and beers.

In Bangkok we mostly eat at street stalls, some with seating and some where you just have to walk-and-eat. The food is amazing and very cheap, and it’s prepared right there in front of you, so you can’t really get it fresher than that. Because it’s so cheap and amazing we end up eating and eating an eating and eating… it’s dangerous.

Next day we head off by train to Ayutthaya, the old capital of Thailand. We hire some bicycles and wiz around on those between the ruins of the ancient temples. It’s a brilliant way to get about as there is little traffic on the nicely asphalted roads, and it’s a very flat place. It’s another impressive site, although much of these temples are in ruins you get a feel of how grand they once were. After a few hours of light exercise we go back with our bicycles and get the tickets for going back to Bangkok. The train is conveniently delayed which gives us time to have some fried rice and a fruit-shakes before the journey back.

From our room at the Sawasdee guest house we’ve had the entertainment from one of the bars across the road for free every evening (thanks to it being played very loudly, and our guest house having paper-thin walls). There is a guy on his guitar churning out popular tunes at very high volume – some sound OK, some half good, and some should maybe not be attempted at all – and he can’t blame it on lack of practice as he plays the same tunes every evening… We decide to have a look at the bar where the music originates from as it sounds like the atmosphere could be good. If not the best musician in the world, at least he knows how to get the crowd going – the bar is absolutely heaving and it’s difficult to stand still anywhere enjoying a beer due to the place being completely ram-packed – we get pushed and shoved around a lot as people try to get to the bar, or more people trying to cram themselves into the place. After saying – to the audience’s disappointment – “this is the last song” about four times he finishes the show and we head off to the next place… There are so many bars and restaurants to choose from on Khao San Road that I can’t remember any names of the ones we’ve visited – we just pop into them as we meander down the road back and forth from one end to the other.

We go out of town again on our second last day and the journey takes us to Kanchanaburi, famous for the Bridge over River Kwai and the Death Railway that was built by prisoners of war under the Japanese during the 2nd World War. There is a very good little museum next to the Allied War Cemetery called the Death Railway Museum and is a must to visit if ever in Kanchanaburi. It explains the history behind the building of the railway and the suffering of the prisoners of war. It tells many a touching story that will bring tears to your eyes. The railway would link Japanese occupied China with the coast through Burma and Thailand to help with supplies for further conquers of Chinese territory. Altogether about 116000 died building the railway, the majority portion of the people dying were from neighbouring countries and doesn’t seem to be as recognised as the people from the Allied side. Some were in the beginning brought in as normal labourers but found themselves forced to work longer and harder hours, and if they tried to object would be severely punished. We go from the museum further along the river to where a more recent Bridge over River Kwai is situated, about 100 meters down from the wooden bridge featured in the film “The Bridge On The River Kwai”. We of course have to do the mandatory walk across the bridge together with tons of other tourists. With so many tourists up here by the bridge I’m surprised of how few actually visit the Death Railway Museum down the road. We’re also surprised to see a large number of Japanese tourists visiting the bridge, posing for their photographs by the replicas of the Japanese watch-towers and entrenchments. The sun is setting and it’s time to scramble to get back to the bus station in time for the last bus to Bangkok.

Our last day in Bangkok before we head up to Chiang Mai with the night-train in the evening – we store our bags in some massive lockers down by the reception of our guesthouse. The staff is their usual grumpy self, but there seem to be an under-laying smile that tries to break through, and we’re wondering if it’s just for show that they seem so grumpy and miserable – this theory is also strengthened by the fact they were very cheerful sitting drinking the local whiskey when we returned from being out bar-hopping the night before. We go to do some errands before leaving in the evening and the trip takes us to an area called Bangrak for the central post office where Hannah sends back some of the overflow from her backpack. To get there we try out the river-boat service which is a really nice way to travel. There is even a running commentary for tourists in English explaining a little bit about some of the sights we’re passing along the route. It also reminds us very much of the Thames Clipper back home in London. On the way back we decide to have a bit of a walk and disembark the boat half way in Chinatown. From here we make our way to the Wat Saket (Temple of the Golden Mount). This amazingly shiny golden temple on the top of a hill has great views of Bangkok and the stupa on the very top is glowing like a beacon in the evening light. Afterwards we walk towards Khao San Road to collect our bags before the night-train to Chiang Mai. The train is ready for boarding when we get to the station and leave more or less on time, so we’re surprised to hear that we’re two hours delayed already as we head out of the station – maybe they can see into the future at Thai Railways?

It feels very sudden, despite months of preparations, but it's now less than a day before we head off for what will be a very big adventure. Tomorrow the flight will take us to the first stop on our journey, New Delhi. We're braced for a bit of a culture shock but more and more excited for each hour that passes. A quick outline of our trip: India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bali, Singapore, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Mexico. We've been trying to catch up with as many of our friends as possible before heading off. But alas, some we have not had the chance to meet up with. We'll be sure to get around to see everyone on our return in five months time. We're feeling very humbled by all the well wishes from everybody - and we had a most wonderful leaving-party (sorry neighbours). One of the highlights must be the cake by Lauren http://cookingbakingandallthingsfood.blogspot.co.uk Absolutely amazing! We've been repeatedly stabbed by various doctors/nurses and injected with many concoctions to vaccinate us against what felt like every disease known to man... Everything (almost) is now packed and today we're sorting the very last details out. Soon we'll not have any more time for more details and what has not been sorted just won't be - tough luck... This reminds me I have to get started. We're off!!!

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