Bangkok to Siem Reap

We can blame jet lag or the late night enjoying the sights of Bangkok but either way it was a late start again this morning and we were feeling a little delicate so thought we would head out towards Chatuchak markets. On the way we stopped off to buy our travel guide (late planning) and an adapter.

I only mention this as it displays the dichotomy present here in Bangkok. For the whole area around where we are staying seems to be have been developed into super modern shopping malls which are full of shops almost identical to others around the world. It has to be said that it does seem to be catered more for an Asian market but the prices seem about the same as you would find elsewhere. It was in one of these air conditioned malls that we were easily able to find an English guidebook to South east Asia.  

While others might enjoy the air conditioned modernism we were more excited by the more authentic markets of Chatuchak. The humidity was close to a hundred and the temperature was souring by the time we got there but the first stall we passed was serving delicious Thai spring rolls so our discomfort was abated.

We were a little fearful that the market was going to be full of the usual tat but the variety of stuff for sale was actually quite impressive. Combine this with the fact that there are apparently over 4000 stalls and it probably ranked as one of the best markets we have seen. We didn’t go crazy with our shopping but there were a few things we needed/couldn’t resist. I have to admit though that India has spoilt us for prices and everything seemed a little more expensive and more often than not we found the vendors wouldn’t budge on price!!

The best buy was probably lunch which was a delicious Pad Thai and steamed veggies in a road side stall. 

I dragged Sarah to a bar to watch the football in the evening and the place was packed with not only foreigners but plenty of football crazy Thais too!

We struggled with sleep again during the night and were rudely awoken at 6:30am by our alarm as we had a bus to catch to Siem Reap. Never sure what to expect before we catch our first bus in a country we were a little nervous when we saw our bus. This soon changed to excitement though as the bus was clean, had air conditioning and plenty of space! We felt it was positively luxurious and settled down for our 10 hour trip.

The border crossing was painless if a little hot but the helpfulness of all the police and immigration officers made it all very easy.

One of our conversations whilst traveling has centered around how many countries there are which share land borders with another country which drives on the opposite side of the road and the Thailand-Cambodia border is one!! We were expecting to see plenty of mayhem as busses and cars struggled with the change but alas no, it was all quite uneventful.

The first thing we noticed on crossing the border into Cambodia was how much poorer the country was. The main road was in pretty good condition but whereas in Thailand we had been driving on a marked dual carriage way in Cambodia it was just a wide road with no road markings, at least it was tarmac!

For the first time we can remember our bus arrived at our destination 2 hours ahead of schedule!! So we took advantage of our extra time by sorting out our visit to Angkor Wat the next day and then set off into Siem Reap town center.

The town was definitely set up for tourists and the streets were lined with bars and restaurants all seeming to offer draught beer for 50c!!! There were neon and coloured lights everywhere and music playing out of all the bars. It felt like we had arrived at a holiday destination but the best thing was it was all so cheap!!  

We soaked up the atmosphere whilst sipping on our 50c beers. The pace of the town was very slow, probably due to the fact that the humidity was so high and even after the sun went down it was still stifling hot! It was a bit of a shock for us to see so many other tourists but we settled back into it and watched all the goings on both very excited about our upcoming trip to Angkor Wat tomorrow. T

Ice cream and markets…what more could you want?

Cambodia’s version of the tuk tuk.  A motorbike with a chariot!

I probably should have had a go at this, it still intrigues me.

Beginning again in Bangkok

After a brief stopover in Zurich where we caught up with my sister and her family, we waved goodbye to Europe and embarked on our final leg of the trip which is South East Asia before heading back to Australia. 

Our arrival in Bangkok was early in the morning and after little sleep for either of us we were both feeling a little bleary eyed. Fortunately for us our hotel kindly let us check in early and we caught up on some shut eye.

We ventured out in the afternoon and headed to one of the central market areas for a bit of window shopping. We caught the Skyline which is the train system for Bangkok, it’s easy to use and clean and even had air conditioning which was a god send considering the humidity. It literally sits above everything so you get a decent view of the surrounding city as you go along. There are so many shopping malls spread throughout Bangkok which sell the usual things. It always astounds me how uniformed we are all getting across the world. Shops like H&M, Adidas and Zara are taking over the world. We were heading to MBK mall which is more a covered air conditioned market for local sellers to sell their knock off goods. Nothing really caught our eyes as we had seen it all before. 

By this stage we were ready for our beds again and headed home to hit the hay.

Due to a little bit of jet lag kicking in at 1am we had a sleep in and late morning ventured out to see some sights. Not before we stopped off for some famous Bangkok street food. We picked a stall which had quite a few people in it and were offered the option of either pork or chicken. We had one of each and was it good! So fresh and the depth of flavors amazing.

We then caught the ferry towards the grand palace, which we discovered had shut for the day. We headed to the amulet market which as the name states was full of religious trinkets that weren’t really very interesting. So far Bangkok wasn’t really delivering on its promise of being one of the highlights of Asia. In all fairness we were comparing it to Shanghai which is pretty hefty competition. 

Our next stop just around the corner was Wat Pho which was a massive Buddhist temple. Unfortunately I was wearing a singlet and short skirt so had to go outside and purchase some longer clothing. Not to worry though as it certainly didn’t break the bank and there were plenty of street vendors just for this purpose. Once inside we got to see the biggest reclining Buddha in South East Asia, which was pretty impressive. However the experience was a little clouded by the fact that all the Thai girls who didn’t have the appropriate attire got to borrow long coats for free. Amateur mistake from us.

Also within the complex were amazingly tiled stupors or Chedi which stretched over 40 meters into the air. They are meant to represent the first 4 kings of the Chaka dynasty and were absolutely stunning. We continued to wander throughout the complex and came across halls filled with Buddhas and courtyard gardens with pots of lotus flowers. In the centre of the complex was a temple that was filled with monks chanting prayers. 

We were getting a little peckish again so decided to get in a taxi and head to China town. The king of Bangkok street food. As usual we had to fight with the taxi drivers to turn on their meter instead of trying to charge us ridiculous prices. Luckily there was a policeman on hand who flagged one down for us. The others conveniently disappeared when the police officer arrived. 

Chinatown was exactly what you expect which is exactly as it should be. Neon signs, shops selling weird stuff and food vendors everywhere. We found a seafood restaurant on a busy corner and sat down for some fantastic food, but it was eye wateringly hot! 

We caught the Skyline home and after a quick turnaround headed out to experience the nightlife in Bangkok. We headed to one strip of restaurants and bars which were a little mediocre so decided to head to the real action being the Nana red light district…. The strip clubs are inside the 3 story complex and then bars are situated all on the outside. We didn’t head into the complex but just stayed in the outer bars. Still this was crazy enough with prostitutes walking up and down the street trying to snare a western man. Most were absolutely beautiful and doll like and worryingly sometimes you couldn’t tell if they were a man or a woman. The number of old western men sitting at tables with Thai girls was quite alarming. But that issue is an old one that no amount of me complaining is going to change.

We met a nice Irish man who was living out there teaching and spent an enjoyable few hours drinking beer and watching the goings on around us.

We now realize Bangkok is a favorite for its night time activities and anything you get during the day is just icing on the cake. S 

Temple on the left, lots of people, lots of traffic, Skyline running above the road, throw in a shopping mall and this picture would have summed up Bangkok perfectly.

A patch of older buildings along the river.

The head of the giant recline Buddha, then below the full splendour of the golden statue.

Our first look at Wat Pho as we walked through the gates.

The colours of the tiles were amazing.

The intricate work on all of the steeples was even more impressive close up.

It was breathtaking and very relaxing walking around the temple complex with steeples, gardens and different walled areas all intermingled together.

The monks chanting in front of a brilliant gold Buddha.

Around the outside of the temple were these open air corridors where the monks were sleeping.

The craziness of Chinatown in Bangkok.

Seafood being cooked on the side of the road…trust us it was delicious.

Only in Bangkok would you see this sign.

A Trip to France and a Wedding

The first thing we noticed as we arrived back in Europe was how clean everything was…no rubbish to be seen anywhere and even though we arrived back on the French Riviera during the busy summer period we found it very quiet and peaceful. The relief of not hearing any honking of horns was wonderful.

As we had been traveling around we had plenty of time to reflect on our lives and where we were living and we had both noticed that we enjoyed our times in and around the mountains very much. Whether it was hiking in the warmer months or snowboarding in the colder ones. We also had very much enjoyed the changing of the seasons and had begun to think about making a move to be able to enjoy all of these aspects. We also felt it was going to be very difficult to stop experiencing new things and so with all this is kind we had identified an area near Lyon, France called Aix Les Bains which we felt might, on paper, tick a few boxes.

We spent a couple of weeks exploring the area and both soon fell in love with the place and while the idea of moving to a foreign country was occasionally an incredibly scary idea the thought of not ever giving it a go might create a feeling of regret in the future. It was certainly easy to accept the idea when eating all the fantastic food, hiking in the breathtaking scenery, soaking up the culture or realizing how close we would be to so many exciting and different countries.

So it’s off to French lessons for us.

In amongst all the baguettes, cheese and wine we also made a trip to Belfast to catch up with Gavin and Ben, two of my flat mates from my time at Edinburgh University. It was a fair few years since we had all seen each other and was an absolutely fantastic long weekend catching back up with the guys and meeting Karen too. Gavin and Karen did a wonderful job of hosting and showed us all the main sights of Belfast and the surrounding areas. While it wasn’t the sort of weather we were used to in the summer months the hikes we enjoyed in the bracing wind and the drizzle helped us recover from the Guinness drinking the nights before.

The main reason we were back in Europe was for my sister Kelly’s wedding and what an event it was. It was fantastic to catch up with my family and then meet Ben’s family too. We had various meals and parties every night from the Wednesday to the Sunday and it was an absolutely fabulous occasion. A lot of organisation must have gone into to such a huge event but I think everyone had a great time and I think they will have some excellent memories. T

Lyon, with not one but two rivers flowing through it.  Such a beautiful city and we had a great week walking around discovering new areas.

Buying all the fresh produce from a market was a great experience and there were so many markets dotted around the city too!

Me enjoying a plat du jour at one of the many restaurants lining the streets.

A typical night time scene in Lyon and the food was delicious.

A view of Aix Les Bains and The Lac du Bourget just a stunningly beautiful area.

The view back across the lake from the other side towards the Alps.

We enjoyed some fantastic walks in the mountains around the area.

Chambery town centre…a typical street.

Nearby Annecy was beautiful but unfortunately we couldn’t even find a place to stay there it was so busy.

A return to Alpe d’Huez was very exciting for both of us and the resort still looks as wonderful as it always did.

Beautiful wildflowers and butterflies accompanied us on our walks around th mountains.

The scenery here is just breathtaking.

We even went clay pigeon shooting! Not sure if I wouldn’t be better off just clubbing any would be adversaries with the butt of the gun judging by how inaccurate I was!

A catch up with the crew from Edinburgh Uni days in Belfast!  The weather was apparently typical for a Belfast summer…changeable!

Unique sights up at the Giant’s Causeway just north of Belfast.

The view from the top of one of our hikes was spectacular.

A typical summers day in Northern Ireland, yes we did dip our feet in the water, yes it was cold!

Safari Number 2

We were going on another safari with Sanjay today and after the success of yesterday we were both pretty excited. We enjoyed the beautiful facilities of the hotel in the morning and then safari in the afternoon. This time we were entering through the same gate but driving further into the park into the next section which was going to be more enclosed with less grassy plains. 

Sanjay picked us up in his trusty Suzuki Jeep but with an extra passenger being his son who was about 3. We both looked at each other imagining all the ways this could go wrong considering we don’t know too many 3 year olds if any that could sit very quietly in a car for 4 hours staking out animals. 

But we thought maybe we are going to be dropping him off before we head out. We did stop off on the way but that was to pick up the mother as well. So instead of an extra spotter we got a wife and child. To make matters worse we were half an hour late in arriving at the gate which meant less time in the park. The next hour or so we drove around the park not really spotting much and just stopping at a watering hole or two, none were very fruitful.

Saying that as we were driving along Tim spotted two sloth bears coming out of the hills and we got to watch them for a while crossing the road to a cooler area of the forest. Apparently this was a very rare sighting. They were pretty amazing with there ridiculously long claws and beautiful long snouts.

We saw lots of deer and a few paw prints of tigers, lots of scratches up trees from the sloth bears climbing up but the elusive Tiger or Leopard was not to be. We drove out of our gate and had a spare fifty or so minutes so we stopped off at the waterhole where all the elephants were yesterday. Apparently one of the Tigers has been frequenting the watering hole late afternoon. Towards the end we heard some warning calls but far into the forest. No big cat sightings for us. 

As we drove back to the hotel we were still a little disappointed in the day but being out in the open in the beautiful surrounds still made for a pretty good adventure. S

Monitor lizard enjoying the coolness of a hole dug by sloth bears getting at termites.

One of the watering holes. As you can see the park is desperate for the monsoon to come.

The sloth bears coming out of the hills.

Crossing the road into more lush forest. Check out the size of their claws!

A beautiful spotted stag.

A lone tusker making his way to the watering hole.


Sunset on the plains.

Corbett National Park

We left Haridwar this morning to travel the 200km to Ramnagar in the usual 40 degree heat. Unfortunately there were no air conditioned busses available and we couldn’t use the “fearing for our lives” excuse and hiring a taxi. The thing is once the bus gets going the wind is slightly cooling, the only irritating thing is that we are actually getting used to a 200km long trip taking over 5 hours!

When we arrived at Ramnagar we had a short taxi trip and walked straight into luxury! We paid the same as you would for the cheapest hotel in Brisbane and had arrived at a wonderful resort. It consisted of a group of separate houses set in an amazing garden next to a river. We felt we had transported ourselves to another world.

We couldn’t believe how nice it was and headed straight to the pool for a cooling swim. We spent the rest of the first afternoon lounging by the pool reading our books and watching the Indians trying to swim. Certainly not a national pastime.

The reason we were here was to go on safari and we had managed to navigate the overly complicated and useless booking system and had arranged two trips with a local guide who was highly recommended. We were very excited at the prospect of potentially seeing a tiger but had asked not to race around a park desperately searching for one rather we would prefer to relax and observe everything the park had to offer.

Luckily our requests were heard and we were picked up by Sanjay our driver/guide and another spotter and headed off into the Corbett Tiger Reserve. We hadn’t been in the park long when we came across our first group of elephants. They are a wonderfully majestic animal and we were able to spend some quality time sat in the jeep watching them casually eating their way through the forest. While we were content our guides had more planned for us and took us out of the dense forested area towards the open plains.

Here in the distance we saw a larger herd of elephants with a “Tusker” or male elephant. He was much larger than the females but certainly not part of the family group and we sat once again watching while he wandered off and then returned to the group of females and young. I don’t know how long we sat watching but it was a breathtakingly beautiful scene.  

In the centre of the plain was a raised viewing platform and we drove over to take our turn in viewing the whole area. The group in front was just getting ready to depart in their jeep when one of the men casually dropped his empty water bottle onto the floor. I honestly couldn’t believe my eyes! Simultaneously Sarah and I jumped up and screamed “pick that up!” He was obviously shocked and while the driver of his jeep ran around to pick up the bottle he made such excuses as to the fact he hadn’t been told not to litter. What a complete idiot. Still I can kind of see his point, why indeed have one small part of India not covered in rubbish? He probably felt strange driving about all day without seeing rubbish strewn everywhere. 

Anyway, while they all looked at us in disbelief as to why we cared we scooted up the platform to gaze out over the plains and enjoy watching 3 jackals making their way furtively from one side to the other. I think I could spend some serious time sitting and watching wildlife.

Our guides then took us back into the forest all the time stopping to point out various types of birds or animal and it was pretty clear that with all these spotted deer and various other prey around any tiger we saw was going to be well fed. Alas though we had no luck with the tiger spotting and returned to the plains where we were able to relax and enjoy the sun going down while watching elephants crossing the road in front of us and then grazing in the grasslands.

At one point though our relaxing day got a little bit too exciting when a mother elephant started crossing the road a little too close to the car for her (and our comfort). Her body language changed in an instant and our driver started to try to slam the jeep into reverse. Now the Indians are quite rightly renown for their terrible driving ability and at this point we were both a little concerned when we stalled! Luckily the elephant decided not to charge and retreated back into the forest with her baby.

I feel I have to mention that safari in India is different to safari elsewhere…obviously. I have already mentioned the littering and while it’s not nearly as bad as elsewhere in the country you still see water bottles and crisp packets dotted about the place. Also the noise factor. Indians don’t seem to do anything quietly and while we were content to sit and quietly wait for an animal the Indian vehicles would pull up right next to us with a screech of brakes and shout over asking what we were waiting for/looking at. Nothing anymore.

The concept of waiting patiently for an animal to appear unharmed by one’s presence is also lost. They would drive the vehicles right up next to the animal and you could almost see them wonder as to why the animal had fled back into the forest.

Still we were lucky with our guides and even though a few times we were part of the noisiest tiger stalking operation known to man we also spent most of our time away from the crowds. One of the many highlights for me was when we were sitting in the middle of the forest having just heard a tiger’s roar with my eyes closed listening for more sounds. While we didn’t hear the tiger again we enjoyed all the wonderful sounds of the birds of the jungle. Truly it was a fantastic day and once we got home we were very excited and looking forward to more fun tomorrow! T

Relaxing in our fabulous resort.

The female elephants on the plains minding the young ones.

While the locals weren’t impressed by the monkeys we still found them fascinating to watch.


After waiting for a little while we were rewarded by his family crossing the road right in front of us.

With big daddy bringing up the rear.

Haridwar

After our lovely few days relaxing in the hills we decided to go check out Haridwar which is supposedly one of five holiest cites in India. Situated on the Ganges just 30kms downriver from Rishikesh we had a pretty uneventful bus journey out of the mountains until we hit the outskirts of Hardiwar and came to a complete standstill. As we have come to expect with the Indians, the traffic jam became a complete free for all which of course only made the situation worse. Sigh.After another hour and a half we finally made it to our accommodation. 

We had come to Haridwar to witness the sacred ganga aarti ceremony at the Har-Ki-Pairi Ghat. It is where the god Vishnu is said to have dropped some divine nectar and left behind a footprint. We had been told that the one in Rishikesh was for the tourists but this was the one you had to see. On the bus into the city the sheer number of people we glimpsed bathing in the Ganges made us think tonight was going to be pretty special.

The river has been diverted to create more manageable flows where steps have been built down into the river to accommodate so many people. Even with the diversions the inlets are still fast flowing and I shudder at how many lives must be lost with so many people entering the water and how poor at swimming they are.

In the afternoon we headed out towards the ghat where the ceremony would take place. The town itself was manic! The streets were filled with shops and cars and people. Back to the hectic India for us! Now I don’t know if it was because we had a break from it all in the mountains for a few days or because we were expecting it but although extremely busy we enjoyed the streets far more than Rishikesh. It definitely didn’t have as many western tourists. A guy who was riding a bicycle was too busy goggling at us that he ran into the car in front of him. It was acutely quite funny.

We headed towards the river and walked the last kilometer along the Ganges watching everyone enjoy bathing in the river. The crowds got thicker and thicker as we got closer to the Ghat and the atmosphere certainly felt reverent. There were holy men walking around offering blessings, for a fee of course.

At the Ghats there were several bridges criss crossing the river and on either side hundreds and hundreds of people were swimming. We didn’t quite know where to stand so we just wandered around watching in awe what was going on around us. We found a good vantage point on a bridge and were approached by a lovely family to have our photo taken and were told that we had a good spot to view the ceremony. 

Soon enough the chanting started and on either side people joined in. The crowd had swelled to thousands now and the atmosphere was amazing. Looking around at all the people in and about the water, flower offerings flowing down the river we realised why people told us to come here instead of the far more sedate ceremony in Rishikesh. 

There was a break in the chanting and then small fires and candles were lit all along the river. This just added to the magic of the place. Soon it was all over and then as people dispersed plates of the fire were passed around and people would touch their hands through the fire and then to their head. From what we could garner from our family, these fires were now holy and you were blessing yourself with the fire. 

We waited a little while for the crowd to disperse but were inundated for requests for photos. My mouth was actually sore from all the smiling we had to do. So we got out of there with the crowds and had a lovely walk back along the river to our hotel. Along the way we came across lots people setting up as if to sleep out along the river. I don’t know if they were there permanently or there just for the night because they made their pilgrimage here to bath in the Ganges. I hope it was the later as there were a lot of them. Haridwar was definitely worth the stop. S

The streets of Haridwar.

There were little shops everywhere selling plastic bottles to collect your own sacred Ganges water. Some people were leaving with buckets of it. We couldn’t figure out if they drank it or just put in on the mantle as a keepsake.

On the other side of the river the buildings all went right up to the river and had their own private ghats. Notice the little boy fishing for metal with his magnet.

People were bathing for kilometres all along the river edge and special barriers had been but in place so people could hold on and not get washed away.

Getting closer to the Har-Ki-Pairi Ghat. As you can see the river has been diverted into a smaller and shallower channel.

Waiting for the ceremony to start.

The sheer number of people in attendance was mind blowing. This happens every night, though the crowds are the busiest between May and July.

The fires being lit and people floating their offerings down the river. There didn’t seem to be a specific time you had to do this so all afternoon offerings were floating by.

The holy fires.


The Ganges by night.

Relaxing in Faku

The plan had been to spend most of our last week enjoying yoga, meditating, relaxing and reflecting on our wonderful time in India. Unfortunately our chosen destination of Rishikesh, although advertised as being perfect for this, was not worth staying in for more than five minutes. So backup plans were hastily drawn up and we were on our way to a small hotel in the hills near Rishikesh.

As we ascended into the hills the temperature dropped and we were soon sat outside our room enjoying a wonderful view over the valley below. To be honest we then spent the next two days sat around a table enjoying the peace and quiet. Problems solved and future adventures planned.

The place was great and our host, Anil was incredibly helpful and we enjoyed plenty of great conversations with him. The rest of the staff couldn’t speak much English but taught us how to play Carom which is a game we will definitely be buying when we return.

We were lucky that our first two nights were during the week and the place was very quiet and peaceful. On our last night the families from Delhi arrived. I am sure that they believe they are being quiet but the noise level went through the roof. There was plenty of shouting and then even more ordering around of staff. We sat and watched in amazement while Anil pumped up the music and they all sat around enjoying their version of a quiet visit to the hills!  

Deciding not to book another night we left on a bus to head towards Haridwar and some more authentic Ganges experiences. T

Pretty great spot for a relax.

Our bungalows.

The view down the valley.


Us waiting for our bus at the end.  It must be noted that there can’t be any advertising regulations in India as not one of the claims made on this sign were true (well maybe you could count toast as a different cuisine)