Chiang Mai : Muay Thai experience.

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I had been to Thailand before, but never gotten around to seeing any Muay Thai. It’s a particularly touristy thing to do, especially in the bigger cities but nonetheless I wanted to experience a Thai boxing event.

As expected it was a tourist heavy crowd, the air thick with cigarette smoke and humidity. Promotions girls teetered around selling beer, and Thai men stood ringside in the betting area.

The fighters enter the ring, and begin their pre-fight rituals involving Wai Khru Ram Muay and this fantastically hypnotic music. The fighters will bow and pray in respect to their teachers and Buddha.

It’s quite an experience to see the Wai Khru Ram Muay, when you think how many centuries it’s been performed and is still being performed in modern times. To the untrained eye it looks a bit like showboating and flexing, but after a quick read up it’s an entirely respectful traditional dance.

Muay Thai is brutal, it’s not like boxing where big guys can just smash down their opponents, it’s incredibly technical, involving a range of techniques. Fighters use, elbows, knees, kicks, punches and grapples to land hits on their opponents and they all seem to be incredibly lean, muscular men.

It’s a really enjoyable, if slightly violent spectator sport. It doesn’t have the gaudy fanfare of boxing, The fighters seem very respectful of each other and their sport.

One small, but quite essentially Thai thing to point out is to be aware of ‘toilet massages’. A quick Google search has informed me it’s fairly commonplace in Thai nightclubs and sporting events, but as a westerner it’s a bit strange that one, possibly even two or three teenage Thai boys will start massaging your legs, back and neck whilst you’re relieving yourself. Most peculiar.

Please feel free to share your ‘toilet massage’ based anecdotes!

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Hello Bangkok, goodbye South East Asia.

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We left Cambodia on the bus to Bangkok, it was quite an experience.

We’ve had an amazing time in South East Asia, and are really quite sad to be leaving what is probably our favourite part of the world. We have been lucky to experience some great things in the past weeks, and are looking forward to moving on; but with regret at skimming the surface of Cambodia, and not getting to Indonesia. We’re going to try to travel there as soon as we’ve replenished our funds.

We’ve had such wonderful experiences, indulged in food and culture, and met great people. We’re also excited for the next chapter and new challenges.

We planned to get back to Bangkok a day earlier than our flight, partly in case of any unforeseen problems, and partly to hang out in Bangkok again. We’ve both seen plenty of this city, so we’ decided to spend our day slightly differently and went shopping. I had pretty much worn my trainers out traipsing around Asia, and I left my baseball cap somewhere so I thought best to replace these in Asia, rather than Australia to preserve some funds.

We headed to the MBK centre, a shopping centre the size of a small city. The plan was a quick march around MBK, head home for a nap via Chinatown & then go across town to a food market the local students love. Easy?

We left MBK nine hours later.

MBK has eight floors, around two thousand retail outlets, and probably over one hundred restaurants and food areas. As well as this it has arcades and a cinema. It’s immense.

So after we casually wandered around two floors and around three hundred shops we decided to get something to eat. This is a pretty hard task for indecisive people like us.

We settled on Shabu Shi, a Japanese sushi train style restaurant with individual hot pots on your tables! The conveyor belt has little plates of meat, fish and vegetables which you grab and throw into your hotpot. Jess was particularly skilled at hotpot cooking, as she continually forgot she had squid or prawns in her stock and cooked them to resemble small rubber lumps.

They also had Sushi and Tempura, all for a set price ‘eat-what-you-can-in-ninety-minutes’ agreement. Particularly good for gluttonous eaters like us who skipped breakfast. It was fun to play ‘guess what i’m putting in my hotpot’, although the fish on the bone, wasn’t so enjoyable when it came to eating, and the plastic pork sheets still resembled cling film after they had been cooked.  All part of the fun, I guess…

We wandered around several hundred more shops, bought a few bits and pieces, haggled for the fun of it, and drank iced coffees until we ventured onto the seventh floor, and found the cinema.

We had a very memorable cinema experience in India, at the Raj Mandir and wanted to see what it was like here too.

We saw Skyfall, I know it’s not a Thai film, but I LOVE Bond films, and It came out a week after we left the UK, which was particularly annoying.  We got VIP tickets as it was the only showing that day, which bought us comfy chairs, blankets and a cinema that only sat around fifty. To be honest, it was mostly westerners at the showing, but rather bizarrely we had to stand for the Kings Anthem. The monarchy is a big deal here, and after Googling I’m astounded to find out people get arrested for not standing! (sorry, it’s the Daily Mail website..)

We finally ambled out of MBK and into another large market, there was so much food, but we were just so full of hotpot we couldn’t face eating any of it. We then wandered towards music, where we strangely found a girl singing the longest song possibly ever recorded (we left after fifteen minutes and she was still going..) several girating teenage girls on the stage and a handful of half naked Thai boys dancing in front. I love this country.

It was a good day, we bought loads of stuff we probably don’t need, ate like kings and most importantly I got some fantastic pictures for my freaky mannequins collection. Next stop Sydney.

Border jumping, Thailand to Laos: Chiang Khong to Huay Xai, and the slow boat.

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When I was researching this trip, this was one area I was pretty confused by. I found some articles from Flash Parker, which are very useful, and served me well. Hopefully now I can add some updated information to this subject.

If like us, and a lot of others you are leaving Chiang Mai and looking to get to Laos, you will get a bus from the arcade bus station. We booked onto the 08:30AM green bus service to Chiang Khong. It stops quite a lot, but they have air con, really comfy seats and a TV. We watched a dubbed copy of Spiderman!  Also, you get a receipt for your baggage. I’m not sure this would be any use at all in the event of your stuff being stolen, but hey.  The bus was 241Baht, for about a six hour journey. I’ve read conflicting information about the station, some people say it’s mental busy others fairly quiet. The day we travelled out the bus queues were quite short, however our bus was full so book ahead if you’re on a schedule.

Okay, so now you’re in Chiang Khong! You’re there? Wrong.  Due to some great idea involving getting more money for the local tuk-tuks, the bus stops at one end of the town and the ferry is at the other. You guessed it, you have to pay another 30Baht to get there.

Make sure you have some US Dollars before you leave Chiang Mai, you cannot pay the visa fee with any other currency and I expect the exchange rate at Chiang Khong is terrible. Most prices were around 20USD for Asian countries and 30-35USD for Europe and America. Oddly, Canadians have to pay 43USD. Also, you need one passport photo for your application.

You then wander down to the boats, stopping at the customs post (it looks like the booths attendants sit in at car parks) to get an exit stamp.  The two minute ferry across the Mekong will cost 30Baht and you’re in Laos!

Here, you have to fill in your entry card and pay your fee. I’ve read online about border staff being suggestive about bribes, but in my experience they were polite and efficient, people at Heathrow could learn a thing or two! Oh, and keep hold of your departure card, unlike most places they don’t seem to staple it into your passport.  There is a booth opposite customs for money exchange, but we waited until we were further into Huay Xai as again, we expected the exchange rate to be better. The bank in the town apparently does the best rates. If you have a smart phone, get the XE currency app, it’s brilliant and it’s a ball ache trying to work out prices when everything is interchangeable between Baht, Kip and Dollars.

So you need somewhere to stay! (You can spend the night in Chiang Khong, which is bigger but I’ve read about the bottlenecking at customs, and having to get up earlier to make the ferry. Also, mid- afternoon the border was pretty much dead) We stayed at one of the standard places on the main strip. It was clean and nice enough, it also happens to be opposite a place called Bar How? which is a really nice place to eat very good Lao food considering the transient nature of the town. You can book your ferry tickets via pretty much anyone in the town. We just bought ours from our hotel. We probably paid a bit too much, but it was more efficient and stress free than wandering around the travel agents.  I hate that.

There are three options to get to Luang Prabang, slow boat, fast boat and bus. I’ve read pretty bad things about the bus and any reputable guidebook recommends avoiding the fast boats.

The slow boats vary in size and quality. Some boats have seats taken from buses with cushions, others are benches.  We were lucky our boats both had comfortable seating. Rather than buying a cushion straight away, check your boat out first!

The people in the Huay Xai have all kinds of stories to tell, some people say the boat leaves at 9:30, 10, 10:30…etc. Also, everybody is trying to sell you stuff such as sandwiches and snacks. They will all tell you that you can’t buy anything on the boat. You can buy water, hot drinks, noodle pots, fizzy pop, beer and crisps, but take a sandwich with you. I’ve also read online that people would come onto the boats to sell other stuff, but this didn’t happen on our journeys so don’t count on it.

Also, the boat leaves when it’s ready, time is irrelevant. Depends on the cargo and other things they need to send on the river, we were told 10:30, but left at midday.

Invariably, someone will come onto the boat to tell you about Pak Beng, the stop over point and that it is high season and what not. They will probably try to sell you accommodation; we foolishly took some there and then, just to make it a bit better than dealing with all the touts. Don’t believe the hype. There must be enough accommodation, and frankly it’s cheaper directly in Pak Beng. Lesson learnt.

Pak Beng is nothing more than a stopover. I can’t think of any reason why somebody would stay here longer than the one night. Lots of people tried to sell me drugs here, I can only imagine they have a deal with the police and get a cut of the fine on top of the retail price. Being as you’re in the middle of nowhere without any choice, stuff is expensive here.

The second day is back on the boat, it might not be the same boat, and I’m not sure if you can buy cushions in Pak Beng, so it’s a bit of a gamble if you buy one originally. About eight hours later you arrive in Luang Prabang! Again, if you haven’t got accommodation sorted lots of people are waiting at the dock to welcome you to town, as such.

The journey is long, but it’s very rewarding. Make sure you put a warm layer in your bag because as the sun starts to think about going down, it gets cold. The views are pretty spectacular and you’re in a boat full of people to chat to if you feel like it. It’s a far more leisurely and enjoyable way to get travel than the bus.

Rising of happiness, Sukhothai. Thailand’s first capital.

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We moved up from Bangkok, to Sukhothai, via Philansulok. The old city is the first capital from circa 14th century.

We rented some bicycles, and spent the day cycling around the old city. A lovely, leisurely day.

Bangkok City, Thailand.

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New country! We’re back in Bangkok. We love this country, but I forgot just how humid it is. ‘Strewth.

We spent our one full day visiting Wat Pho & Wat Arun, and also eating stuff. Good day, if you take out the bit where we misplaced each other for an hour and a half and subsequently wandered around looking for each other.

The wat’s are a welcome change from the opulence of Rajasthani palaces and forts. They are painted gold, and details are highlighted using old crockery and mosiac glass.