As we have travelled around the world on our Big Adventure we have tried to keep track of random bits of information. Now that our Big Adventure is over we thought we’d share some of these facts.
We landed at Bangkok’s Don Muang airport at 1515 on Monday 2nd December after a short flight from Chiang Mai. We had booked a room at the Holiday Inn Express Siam, right in the middle of the CBD, but our first challenge was to work out how to get there! We would normally have taken a taxi from the airport, but with Bangkok being so big we decided against that idea as it would take a long time and cost a small fortune. Instead we opted for public transport! We had done some research before leaving Chiang Mai about public transport options, but these all looked quite complicated.
We arrived in the ancient city of Ayutthaya on Wednesday 3rd December following a two hour train journey from Bangkok. It was the first train I can remember being on where the train stopped for vehicles at a level crossing! Once out of the station it didn’t take long for a tuktuk driver to pounce on us, offering to take us to our hour l hostel for 100BHT. We were prepared for this, having asked the hostel how much a tuktuk from the station should cost and were informed it should be around 50-60BHT, and turned down the 100BHT offer. We eventually managed to get a price of 80BHT, which we accepted. The drive to the hostel only took five minutes, by which time we were right in the heart of the old city.
We spent 11 nights in Chiang Mai in total, across two visits. This is the longest time we have spent in any one city on our travels, making it a pretty special place! We loved the relaxed atmosphere in the city, the cafe culture, the ability to walk most places and the variety of things to do – there was something for everyone! So how did we fill all these days I hear you ask? Well, here are some of our highlights from Chiang Mai…
On Tuesday 26th November we took a VIP bus for the three hour journey north from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, looking to do a tour to the Golden Triangle (the three-point border between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos).
After arriving in Ho Chi Minh City by bus from Phnom Penh we looked at a map and realised that it was quite a long way from there Hanoi – more then 1500km in fact. Speaking to friends from home, travellers we met and researching online we did not have the highest impression of bus travel in Vietnam. We heard stories of bad roads, ‘interesting’ drivers and poor vehicles and, when combined with the distances between the places we wanted to visit, we weren’t particularly keen to try them out.
Fortunately Vietnam has an excellent railway system that seems fairly well geared up for tourists. Further research showed that all of our stops between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi were along the main line that runs from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.
We had three stays in Hanoi during our time in Vietnam. The first was after getting the overnight train north from Hue and before heading to Sapa, the second was between returning from Sapa and our visit to Halong Bay and our third visit was between returning from Halong Bay and flying to Thailand.
On Saturday 23rd November, we were fortunate enough to be able to spend a day getting to know some pretty amazing animals. We had booked a day with Thai Elephant Home to spend a day with elephants!
When we were doing our research of where to visit in Vietnam one place that everyone agreed that we must visit was Halong Bay. When we looked further into trips in Halong Bay it didn’t take long to start to understand why. Having been there, I would wholeheartedly agree with all the advice we received on this one!
The train arrived almost two hours late at Lao Cai station. In the UK this can happen on a 30 minute journey. It was slightly more acceptable here though as we had been on the train since 2030 the previous night, but it was 0720 before we finally pulled to a stop and the doors were opened. We had taken the overnight train from Hanoi and it was supposed to arrive at 0530 on Thursday 7th November, but the two hour delay meant that we would be able to enjoy the next part of our journey – the 38km, 1 hour bus ride to Sapa – in the daylight and be able to take in the views of the mountains, rice terraces and local villages as we passed.