Australia route

After a flying visit to Uluru, we drove more than 3000km down the East Coast of Australia in our Hippie Camper, only breaking one awning and one windscreen as we went! We had an amazing time and want to go back to explore more of the country.

 Enjoying some shade from our Hippie Camper in Cairns Enjoying some shade from our Hippie Camper in Cairns

During our time in Australia, we stayed in:

  • Uluru
  • Cairns
  • South Mission Beach
  • Townsville
  • Airlie Beach
  • Rockhampton
  • 1770
  • Hervey Bay
  • Caloundra
  • Brisbane
  • Byron Bay
  • Coffs Harbour
  • Tuncurry
  • Port Stephens
  • Katoomba
  • Camden South
  • Engadine

New Zealand route

We drove more than 5000kms in our Spaceship around New Zealand in our time there, and could easily have visited many more places had time permitted.

Saying goodbye to Button, our beloved SpaceshipSaying goodbye to Button, our beloved Spaceship

During our time in New Zealand, we stayed in:

  • Auckland
  • Hamilton
  • Waitomo
  • Ohakune
  • Paekakeriki
  • Picton
  • Marahau
  • Hokitika
  • Franz Josef
  • Queenstown
  • Te Anau
  • Twizel
  • Mount Cook
  • Akaroa
  • Christchurch
  • Kaikoura
  • Lower Hutt
  • Taupo
  • Rotorua
  • Coromandel
  • Hot Water Beach
  • Paihia

South America route

We travelled more than 8,065km on buses to do this route – it turns out that South America is quite a big place!

Settling in for the 20 hour bus journey from Puerto Iguazu to Buenos AiresSettling in for the 20 hour bus journey from Puerto Iguazu to Buenos Aires

During our time in South America, we stayed in:

  • Peru
    • Lima
    • Cusco
    • Arequipa
    • Puno
  • Bolivia
    • Copacapana
    • La Paz
    • Sucre
    • Tupiza
  • Argentina
    • Salta
    • Puerto Iguazu
    • Buenos Aires
    • Mendoza
  • Chile
    • Santiago

One year on…

A year ago today we set of into the unknown – a seven month trip around the world. We had moved out of our house, taken sabbaticals from work and only had what we could fit into a backpack each.

As it turned out, the trip was nothing less than life changing – we saw and experienced things greater than our wildest imaginations. We have come back with a greater appreciation of everyday things that we had previously taken for granted, are more ethically and environmentally conscious and have a greater desire to give back to communities both locally and abroad.

Artwork on a school in BoliviaArtwork on a school in Bolivia

Looking back now, it is easy to forget some of the amazing things we achieved during our trip as they get eclipsed by memories of the bigger things we did. I was having a bit of a downer on the train to work recently, as I sat there thinking about my days back at work, and came up with the following list. I keep reading it to remind myself how fortunate we are to have been able to do the trip and thought I’d share it with you.

Flying around the world

We have calculated how far we flew during our seven month trip…

Heathrow > Madrid > Lima: 10,760 km
Santiago > Auckland: 9,640 km
Auckland > Sydney > Ayers Rock: 4,320 km
Ayers Rock > Cairns: 1,790 km
Sydney > Melbourne > Bali: 5,085 km
Bali > Singapore > Bangkok: 3,110 km
Bangkok > Siem Reap: 351 km
Hanoi > Bangkok > Chiang Mai: 1,537 km
Chiang Mai > Bangkok: 568 km
Bangkok > Heathrow: 9,540 km

En route to Lima

In total we flew 46,701 km (29,019 miles). Considering that the equatorial circumference of the Earth is just over 40,000km, I think we did quite a direct route!

Facts from our Big Adventure

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.

Having fun on our big adventure

Duration of trip: 217 days

Number of countries visited: 11 (including a day trip to Brazil)

Number of cities stayed in: 67

Number of stops: 77

Number of hostels / hotels stayed in: 38

Number of ‘luxury’ hotels: 4 (Colca Canyon, Aoraki Mount Cook, Bali, Halong Bay)

Number of campsites: 36

Number of beds slept in: 59 (Camper vans and tents count as one bed each)

Most nights in one hostel / hotel: 7 (Bali)

Fewest nights in one hostel / hotel: 1 (Colca Canyon, Potosi, Aoraki Mount Cook, Cairns, Bangkok)

Most nights in one city: 11 (Chiang Mai)

Number of nights spent on transport: 10

Number of flights: 14

Time spent on flights: 70 hours

Number of bus journeys: 16 (3hrs+ only)

Time spent on buses: 167 hours (3hrs+ only)

Number of train journeys: 16

Time spent on trains: 62 hours

Total time on public transport: 299 hours (12 1/2 days)

Number of modes of transport used: 11 (plane, helicopter, train, bus, minibus, car, camper van, tuktuk, boat, bicycle, Segway, foot)

Number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites visited: 22

Highest temperature: 35°C (Ayers Rock)

Lowest temperature: -20°C (Salt Flats)

Most expensive meal: £22 (La Paz – staters, mains, wine for 2 people)

Cheapest meal: £2.50 (Ayutthaya – mains and soft drinks for 2 people)

Longest time spent apart: 3 hours

Total time spent apart: 8 1/2 hours (3hrs in Auckland, 2hrs in Sydney, 2 1/2hrs in Chiang Mai)

Number of books read (Andy): 42

Number of books read (Lindsay): 18

Number of books (journals) written by Lindsay: 4

Number of photos taken: 12,014+

Number of blog posts: 50

Number of Picasa albums: 63


Cities stayed in (by country):

Peru: Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, Puno

Bolivia: Copacabana, La Paz, Sucre, Potosi, Tupiza

Argentina: Salta, Puerto Iguazu, Buenos Aires, Mendoza

Chile: Santiago

New Zealand: Auckland, Hamilton, Auckland, Waitomo, Ohakune, Paikakeriki, Picton, Marahau, Hokitika, Franz Josef, Queenstown, Te Anau, Twizel, Aoraki Mount Cook, Akaroa, Christchurch, Kaikoura, Picton, Wellington, Taupo, Rotorua, Hamilton, Coromandel Town, Hot Water Beach, Auckland, Paihia, Auckland

Australia: Uluru, Cairns, South Mission Beach, Townsville, Airlie Beach, Rockhampton, Town of 1770, Hervey Bay, Caloundra, Brisbane, Byron Bay, Coff’s Harbour, Tuncurry, Port Stephens, Katoomba, Sydney

Bali: Nusa Dua

Cambodia: Siem Reap, Phnom Penh

Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Hué, Hanoi, Sapa, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Han

Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Ayutthuya, Bangkok

Bangkok

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 asked at the information desk at the airport and were told to get the A1 shuttle bus to Mo Chit BTS station, from where we could get a train into the city centre. We caught the bus right outside the terminal and twenty minutes later it dropped us at Mo Chit station, all for a very reasonable 30BHT (60p) each. At Mo Chit we quickly worked out which station we needed to get off at and bought a ticket for 42BHT (84p) each. The BTS is a skytrain – like an underground system except that it runs on tracks above the road instead of of beneath it! The trains are very good and fortunately quiet at this time of day so we didn’t have any issues with our big rucksacks. The journey into the city centre was very pleasant – enjoyable even – as we got to see the city from above. In what seemed like no time at all (in fact about twenty minutes) we reached Siam station, which was our stop. We got off the train, made it to street level and set off for the five minute walk to the hotel. Our legs got a good workout as we went up and down steps in order to cross a busy road, but we were soon at the hotel.

Looking out over Bangkok from a Skytrain station

Checking in was seemless and we were upgraded to a room on the twentieth floor so that we could enjoy views out across the city. We dropped our bags in our room and enjoyed a hot drink whilst taking in the stunning views from our window before deciding that we ought to head out and get some dinner. We stopped at reception on the way out and were advised not to head east out of the hotel towards the shopping centres as there were demonstrators gathering in protest against the government. Instead, it was suggested that we head west towards Tesco Lotus supermarket, around which there were a number of restaurants. We did head that way, but ended up getting food in Tesco Lotus for a picnic back in our hotel room, which we ate whilst enjoying the now nighttime view out across the city skyline.

The view from our 20th floor hotel room

We set the alarm for 0700 on Tuesday morning in order to make the most of out one day in Bangkok, but the comfiness of the bed meant we snoozed for an hour and a half before finally making it up at 0830! By the time we had breakfasted and got ready, we didn’t make it out until gone 1000. Our first job for the morning was to book a train ticket to Ayutthaya for the following day. Feeling pleased with ourselves after our initial foray onto the public transport system the day before we took the BTS skytrain and then the MRT Metro to Hua Lamphong train station, only to be informed that we could only by tickets on the day of travel! Fortunately the journey to the station was cheap (53BHT / £1.06 each), it meant that we knew the way for the following day and it did take us in the general direction of where we wanted to go next, albeit with a backtrack of two stations along the MRT Metro so that we could rejoin the BTS Sky train and continue our journey south to Saphan Taksin, from where we could get a ferry along the river to the Grand Palace. As with the BTS and MRT, the boat to the Grand Palace was cheap (40BHT each) and a pleasurable way to travel, avoiding the gridlock and pollution on the city’s roads.

Passing Wat Arun as we travel along the river

They have quite a strict dress code for the Grand Palace and, despite both of us wearing clothes that have been suitable for every temple we have visited, we were both required to rent additional clothes – baggy trousers for me and a sarong and shirt for Lindsay. Fortunately, they loan these items of clothing for free. The Grand Palace is an impressive sight. It contains a scale model of Angkor Wat, lots of gold-covered buildings and Wat Phra Kaew – the temple containing the original Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha was discovered in Wat Phra Kaew in Chiang Rai in 1434. There is now a replica in its place, which we had seen during our earlier visit there. As we wandered around the Grand Palace we could see the early preparations taking place for celebrations for the king’s birthday on 5th December. This is a national holiday in Thailand and is celebrated across the country.

The Grand Palace

From the Grand Palace we walked to Wat Pho, which houses the famous reclining Buddha. This 46m long, 15m high statue is located in a building not much larger than itself, which makes it seem all the more impressive. Wat Pho is also the oldest and largest temple complex in Bangkok.

The Reclining Buddha

From Wat Pho we returned to the river to get a boat back to Saphan Taksin, from where we could get a BTS skytrain back to our hotel. After a brief pitstop at the hotel we headed to MBK, one of Bangkok’s big shopping malls. This mall was particularly interesting because it didn’t have many of the big brand-name shops you would expect to see in a mall. Instead, it was home to lots of independent shops and stands – a modern version of a local market. It had the kind of products you would normally only find on websites like Amazon. After getting a bite to eat and wandering around for an hour or so, we felt we had done enough walking for one day and retired to our hotel room to enjoy the view across the city.

MBK shopping mall

The alarm was set for 0630 on Wednesday morning, but the snooze function was employed for half an hour. At 0700 we decided we ought to get up, get ready and head to breakfast. After breakfast we finished packing our bags, checked out and started making our way to Hue Lamphong train station. Having tested the route yesterday we felt confident using public transport to get there, despite the big rucksacks we were both now carrying. We took the BTS and then the MRT to the train station, arriving with plenty of time to get our tickets before the express train to Ayutthaya departed at 1050.


We returned from Ayutthaya on Friday morning, using as many different modes of transport as possible! We reached our hostel, the final one of the trip, shortly after 1300, dropped our bags in our room and went out in search of lunch. We failed miserably in the hunt for local food and resorted to eating KFC in a nearby shopping centre. We then returned to the hostel where we spent the afternoon and evening updating our journals and the blog and just reading our books. Until this stage of the trip there has always been more research for us to do – looking up destinations, trips, accommodation and restaurants. With only a couple of days of the trip remaining, we had already worked out what we were going to do with these days and so had nothing to research. This meant we could enjoy reading our books without feeling guilty!

We had set the alarm for 0630 on Saturday morning as we needed an early start in order to get to the nearby weekend market before it got too busy and too hot. We had breakfast in the hostel and made it to the market for 0930. The market is supposed to start at 0900 but there were stallholders still setting up as we wandered around. This is supposed to be the largest weekend market in Bangkok and we had been recommended to pay a visit. We spent an hour and a half exploring only one small part of this huge market, managing to see stalls selling everything from touristy trinkets to flowers to pets, before going back to the hostel for a quick pitstop and then catching the Skytrain into the CBD.

Exploring the weekend market

We had explored the MBK shopping centre during our earlier visit to Bangkok and this time we headed to the Siam Centre, which is located just across the road. Feeling peckish our first stop was the food court. There were lots of different counters offering a variety of different foods, all at reasonable prices. I opted for deep fried chicken with curried yellow rice and Lindsay went for green curry chicken fried rice. After lunch we quickly realised that the branded fashion shops in the Siam Centre were not for us. Instead, we headed across a walkway to the Siam Discovery Centre, which had lots of quirky shops that kept us entertained for a couple of hours! As we both started to feel a bit shopped-out, we took the Skytrain back to the hostel. Once off the train near the hostel we popped to a bakery to get some supplies for later and walked back to the hostel. We spent the next couple of hours sat on the fifth floor sun terrace, making the most of the lovely hot weather as we updated our journals and the blog.

The view from the fifth floor sun terrace

After enjoying our snacks purchased earlier at the bakery, we spent the evening packing our bags ready for the flight back to Heathrow on Sunday morning – the flight that would signal the end of our Big Adventure.

The alarm was set for even earlier on Sunday morning – 0545! We had a taxi to the airport booked for 0730 and we needed to finish packing and get some breakfast before then. The drive to the airport was quicker than we had expected and we were checked in by 0815. We then found out that, due to air traffic control issues in the UK the day before our flight had been delayed by almost an hour, leaving us three hours to explore Suvarnabhumi airport. We wandered around the shops and got a second breakfast before parking ourselves at our gate and reading our books as we waited to board the 13 hour flight back to Heathrow.

Photos from our time in Bangkok can be viewed below or at http://photos.andywicks.com/Bangkok

Response code is 403

Ayutthaya

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 checked in to our room and took the opportunity to map out all of the places on a map that we hoped to visit during our time here. Afterwards we booked onto a boat trip for later in the afternoon that would take in one of the temples we hoped to visit, plus a couple more. Pleased with our progress we then took the opportunity to go out for an early dinner before we had to be back at the hostel to be picked up at 1600 for the boat trip. We were taken by tuktuk to where we would board the boat for our two hour trip. When we got there l there realised that we would be going on a long-tail boat – a famous type of boat in SE Asia – so called because of the long drive shaft protruding from the back of the boat, with a propeller on the end.

Our long-tail boat

In total there were ten tourists (including the two of us) plus the driver. The boat trip was due to last two hours and take in three temples before dropping us back. The first temple we visited was Wat Phanan Choeng and was home to a 19m high statue of Buddha, whose eyes seemed to follow you everywhere you went. The second temple was Wat Phutthai Sawan and it took us all most of the time we had there to locate the actual temple. We wandered around the new buildings surrounding the temple before finally locating the large Prang that forms the centre-point of the temple. The third, and final, temple we visited as part of this boat trip was Wat Chaiwattanaram. We arrived just as the sun was setting and this lit the large temple complex with a beautiful glow. This temple was built in the style of Khmer temples and reminded us a lot of the temples and ruins we had seen during our time around Siem Reap, in Cambodia.

Wat Chaiwattanaram in the late afternoon sun

We enjoyed wandering around as the sun set and could only start to imagine how impressive it must have been in its heyday. It was then time to get back on the boat. We completed a full lap of the island upon which the ancient city of Ayutthaya is built before getting back to the starting point where we met our tuktuk driver. We were dropped back at our hostel and, after a quick pitstop, headed out to explore the night market. We had enjoyed wandering the night markets in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai and were looking forward to finding out how this one compared. It turned out that this was a very different kind of night market. It was very much geared towards the locals rather than the tourists, quite the opposite of the previous night markets we had visited. There were a lot of food stalls and there was such a mixture of smells – some pleasant and some not-so-pleasant! It didn’t take us long to explore the whole market and we were soon back at the hostel, where we spent the remainder of the evening writing our journals and updating the blog.

The Buddha from Wat Phanan Choeng

On Thursday morning we had decided to treat ourselves by not setting an alarm. We still awoke by 0800, however, but enjoyed a lazy start to the day. After breakfast in a nearby cafe, we didn’t make it out until shortly before 1100! Our plan for the day was to visit three more of the many temples that make up the ancient city. The three we had chosen all looked to be quite close together and so we decided that we would walk to each of them, however there were two factors we hadn’t really considered when making this decision. The first first factor was the heat – it was apparantly 35° and it quickly started to take its toll on both of us. The second factor was that the roads shown on the map we had did not really correlate with the roads on the ground, which made navigating our way around quite interesting! The first temple we visited was Wat Phra Si Sanphet, which had taken us 20 minutes to walk to. This used to be in the grounds of the Grand Palace and was used as a Royal Chapel, but was later used as a monastery before eventually becoming a temple – and was the largest temple in the ancient city.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

From here we walked the long way round (did I mention how bad our map was?) to the next temple, Wat Lokayasutharam. Only the foundations of this temple building remain, but the 37 metre long statue of the reclining Buddha that used to be in the temple building is still largely intact. There are a number of statues of the reclining Buddha that can found in Ayutthaya, but this is the largest.

The reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam

After gulping down a much-needed drink we set off to our final temple of the day, which was located opposite our hostel. Having now given up on the map completely, we managed to find a shortcut through a market and then a park to Wat Phra Mahathat. This temple is famous for having a stone Buddha’s head enveloped in a tree trunk, but used to be an important Royal Monastery. Along with most of the other temples in Ayutthaya, this is now in ruins after being destroyed in the war with Burma in 1766-1767.

Stone Buddha head at Wat Phra Mahathat

After wandering around the three temples, we were both now feeling quite exhausted and so returned to our room to rest in the luxury of the air-conditioning. A couple of hours later, and now feeling much better, we headed out for an early dinner in the cafe around the corner from the hostel. We then returned to our room before heading out again to watch the fireworks display in honour of the King’s birthday. The entire nation seems to come out to celebrate this event, and the streets were crowded long before the fireworks were due to commence. The display lasted more than 15 minutes and was amazing to be part of. As soon as the display was over, the crowds rapidly dispersed and we made our way back to our hostel for the night.

Fireworks celebrating the King’s birthday

The alarm went off at 0700 on Friday morning. We had an early start as we were due to return to Bangkok today and we were aiming for the 1028 train. We had breakfast at the cafe on the corner before returning to our room to pack and check out. We were taken by tuktuk to the train station at 1000 in preparation for our adventurous journey to Bangkok. Having deciphered the Bangkok public transport system during the two days we had there before arriving in Ayutthaya, we got the train to Don Muang airport, on the northern side of Bangkok and from there toom a shuttle bus to Mo Chit BTS station, which is the first station on the Bangkok metro system. From Mo Chit we took a BTS Skytrain to Saphan Khwai, the next BTS station. Our final mode of transport to get to our next hostel was our feet, walking the 1.2km to the hostel.

Photos from our time in Ayutthaya can be viewed below or at http://photos.andywicks.com/Ayutthaya

Response code is 403

Chiang Mai

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…

The temples
Chiang Mai has a large number of temples and we enjoyed visiting a small number of these. Our favourite was Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, high up in the hills overlooking Chiang Mai city. Even after getting a songthaew up the hill, there is still over 300 steps to climb to the base of the temple, but it was worth it! We also visited Wat Chedi Luang, which at one point was the tallest temple in the Lanna Kingdom, and Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple within the old city walls. We visited a few more too, all equally beautiful and impressive.

Wat Chedi Luang

The night markets
After the hussle and bussle of previous markets, we loved the relaxed atmosphere of the markets in Chiang Mai. We could actually look and wander round without feeling any pressure to buy. If the final price was too high and you said “no thank you” and walked away, that was it and you were not hassled or asked to buy as you left. We visited the nightly bazaar, as well as both the Saturday and Sunday night markets (both several times!). We loved the weekend night markets, as the street was closed to traffic so you could freely wander and it was much cooler in the night air. There were various street musicians performing, playing beautiful music as thousands of people browsed the market, creating a fantastic vibe to the market. It was a great way to spend an evening!

Sunday night market

The food and drink, a chance to relax and be
Having spent so long in Chiang Mai, we had the opportunity to find some great places to eat. We also enjoyed finding places where you wouldn’t be rushed and we could just watch the world go by. My favourite place to sit and write my journal was The Birds Nest cafe, a small place tucked away in the quiet part of the old town with floor cushions and a hammock, where you were never rushed! Andy’s favourite spot was the Coffee Club on the main road through the old city on a Sunday afternoon, watching people set up for the market that evening.

But we found so many other great places too. We discovered the best fruit smoothies at Dada Kafe, the best value for money breakfast at Cooking Love, the tastiest bacon baguettes at the Baan Bakery and the occasional Mcflurry at Mcdonalds! But our favourite restaurant for dinner was Dash!, we lost count of the times we ate there. Not only was it great value for money and close to our guesthouse, but the food was delicious – with our favourite dishes being the Kao Soi and the Red Coconut Curry! We really enjoyed the Thai food in Chiang Mai and for us eating out was part of experiencing Thailand.

Enjoying dinner at Dash! restaurant

The choice of activities Chiang Mai is a great launching point for many places in northern Thailand and for the abundance of activities at your fingertips in the city. During our stay we had a day out at an elephant centre, visited one of the many museums, did a cooking class and drove Segways around the city!

A day with the elephants

We did the cooking class with Red Chili Cooking School which is run by Aon. He does fantastic small, personable classes located just outside the old city in a professional garden kitchen he has set up. There were only four of us in our class and we had a great day learning to cook delicious Thai food. The class was lots of fun and we even had music playing to accompany us while we worked away!

Red Chili Cooking School

Our decision to take a guided Segway tour had been mulled over since we arrived in Chiang Mai, but it wasn’t until we were coming to the end of our time in the city we decided to go for it! We liked the contrast of using this modern mode of transport to see the sights of the ancient old city of Chiang Mai. We drove round the old city, briefly stopping at some temples – it wasn’t a guided temple tour, just a fun way to get out and about to see more of the city! We had already spent a week in the city, so enjoyed doing this after we had visited the temples and got to know the place! I was quite nervous at the start, but was surprised by how much I enjoyed this, it really made me feel like a kid again and was so much fun!

Segway tour of the old city

The only thing we didn’t like about Chiang Mai was having to leave! We had a fantastic time exploring some of the things this city has to offer and could easily return one day to explore more!

Photos from our time in Chiang Mai can be viewed below or at http://photos.andywicks.com/ChiangMai


Response code is 403

Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle

On Tuesday 26th November we took a VIP bus for the three hour journey north from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. Upon arrival in Chiang Rai, our first priority was to get some lunch. Luckily we had done our research and had found a nice bakery, called Baanchivit Bakery, located right next to the bus station. We had cheese and ham toasties and this was actually the first proper lunch we had had since the French bakery in Hue. After a delicious lunch we walked through town to out hotel, which was located right next to the clocktower in the centre of Chiang Rai. After checking in and dropping our bags in our room, we headed out in search of the PDA Tour office. We were looking to do a tour to the Golden Triangle (the three-point border between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos), but the majority of the tours visited a Karen Long Neck ‘village’. These ‘villages’ are not traditional villages, rather they are set up be businessmen and exploit the Karen villagers. According to numerous reports, all village entrance fees go to the businessmen and the female Karen villagers get paid a wage of 1500THB (£30) per month – the men are paid only 180THB (£3.60) per month. We didn’t want to be part of this exploitation and so set out to find a tour company with similar beliefs, which is when we found out about PDA Tours. They run the Hilltribe museum in Chiang Rai, educating visitors about the different hill tribes found in the region and the difficulties they face. We booked a day tour for the following day and then visited the museum. We learnt more about the Karen Long Neck tribe – they are native to Myanmar but fled into northern Thailand as refugees to escape the war in their home country. In Thailand they do not have any official status and so their options are very limited. This is one reason why their exploitation in the ‘villages’ has been allowed to continue. The museum was very interesting but few tourists visit as the majority head north to the Golden Triangle on day trips from Chiang Mai, which don’t stop in Chiang Rai. After exploring the museum we headed to Destiny Restaurant for dinner. As this was our third meal of the day we weren’t particularly hungry, so shared a small pizza and a portion of chips – a nice change to the rice and noodles we had been eating almost exclusively since arriving in Cambodia six weeks earlier. We then returned to our hotel to get ready for our tour the following day.

Chiang Rai clock tower

The alarm went off at 0630 on Wednesday, but the snooze function was utilised until 0700 we we decided we really ought to get up! After toast and coffee for breakfast in the hotel we were picked up at 0900 for our day tour of the north. It was just the two of us, our guide and a driver in the small minibus and our guide gave us an overview of the day as we made our way out of the city to the Black House, our first stop of the day 30 minutes north of Chiang Rai. This collection of buildings was created by Thawan Duchonee, a national artist, and was only officially opened to the public two years ago. It is a collection of more than 40 dark Teak wood buildings, some containing art and others where the building was the art.

The Black House

After exploring the Black House we climbed back into the minibus and set off for our second destination – Doi Tung factory – where we would be able to see mulberry paper being made by hand and cloth being woven in hand looms. This factory was set up by the Mae Fah Lung foundation to provide training and employment for villagers who live in local villages. As we walked around the factory we could see reference to big European brands who ordered products from this factory. On the way out of the factory we were able to see coffee beans being laid out to dry ready for roasting.

Making Mulberry Paper

From the Doi Tung factory we continued northwards to Mai Sae, the northern-most town in Thailand. From here it is possible to cross a bridge in town across the river into Myanmar (Burma). We walked around a temple and the market before heading to a buffet restaurant for lunch – one which all tour groups visiting here seemed to stop at!

Looking across into Myanmar

After lunch it was only a short drive to the Golden Triangle, the three-point border between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. From the viewpoint we walked to the House of Opium, a museum explaining the history of the Opium trade in the region.

Thailand, Myanmar and Laos

We then climbed back aboard the minibus for the drive to Chiang Saen, an ancient city dating back around 1500 years, where we visited Wat Chedi Leung. This is an impressive Wat in the town that was apparently the birthplace of King Mengrai, the founder of the Lanna Kingdom that once controlled this area. This was our last stop of the day and it was then about a one hour drive back to Chiang Rai.

Wat Chedi Lueng in Chiang Saen

Back in town, we dropped our stuff back in our hotel room and went for dinner at Destiny Restaurant. During our dinner the owner of the restaurant came over for a chat and we learnt about the Destiny Foundation, the foundation the restaurant helps to support. On the walk back to the hotel we stopped off to watch the lights and music at the clock tower. At 7pm, 8pm and 9pm every day there is a 5 minute show where the clocktower is the centre-piece of a fantastic light and music display. The clock tower is on a roundabout in the middle of town and it was odd to see traffic continuing as normal whilst crowds gathered to watch the show!

The light show at the clock tower

After a busy day the day before we both enjoyed a lie in on Thursday morning, not making it out until 1030. Our plan for this morning was to visit the Wat Rong Khun (more commonly known as the White Temple), which required walking back to the bus station to get a tuktuk or songthaew (a pickup converted into a shared taxi). Our first priority, however, was breakfast and for this we paid a visit to Baanchivit Bakery. Feeling ready to take on the world, we crossed the road to the bus station and managed to find a songthaew driver who would take us to the White Temple and back for a reasonable price. The drive to the temple took 15 minutes. Upon arrival you immediately see what is special about this place. It is a very modern temple – building work only started in 1997 – and was designed by an artist called Chalermchai Kositpipat. Construction on the main temple building has largely finished (although there is still some scaffolding present) but construction work on surrounding buildings is ongoing, and the artist still spends most days working at the temple.

The White Temple

It is quite a spectacular sight as it glints and glistens in the sunshine and we really enjoyed our visit here. Our time exploring the temple passed quickly and we were soon in the songthaew heading back to Chiang Rai. We were dropped back at the bus station and walked from there across the city centre to Wat Phrase Singh and then on to Wat Phrase Kaew, where the original Emerald Buddha was discovered, before wandering through the local market back to the hotel. It was 1500 by the time we got back to our room and spent the next couple of hours updating the blog and our journals before heading our for dinner. We returned to Destiny for the third night in a row – we had found somewhere we really liked, so why go elsewhere! Since our visit the previous night they had put up their Christmas decorations – the first decorations we had seen in a restaurant or shop this year! After dinner we headed out to the night market, which was a very different experience to the night markets we had visited in Chiang Mai. This one was quieter, with fewer tourists, and easier to look around. We were back in the hotel for the light show from the clock tower, which we watched from our balcony before going to bed.

The White Temple

The alarm went off early again on Friday morning as we had to get a bus back to Chiang Mai. We had checked out of the hotel by 0745 and walked to Baanchivet Bakery for breakfast before catching the bus at 0915 for the three hour journey.

Photos from our visit to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle can be viewed below or at http://photos.andywicks.com/ChiangRaiAndTheGoldenTriangle

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