Tag archive for "Thailand"

Water fight in Thailand: everything you need to know about Songkran

Destinations, Thailand

Water fight in Thailand: everything you need to know about Songkran

2 Comments 09 April 2013

The alley is empty, but the streets are wet, so I let Ric and his brother Jim go first to act as bait.

They walk half way up the street and looks back gesturing that the coast is clear, but I spot her in the corner of my eye.

“Ric look out!” I scream.

“Aghhh!” he screams as people from a shop pop out with water guns and buckets of ice water on him.

I run ahead and join their fight back with the best in water gun technology, a backpack filled with gallons of water and a hose attaching it to our super-soakers.

“Get ‘em!” Jim screams.

A battle breaks out, but they’re too strong. We submit to them grabbing out faces and marking us with talc.

“Happy Songkran!” a girl giggles as she uses her finger to draw on my forehead with white talc. The smouldering sun is finally warming me up after being drenched with ice water and all I can do is smile.

What is Songkran?

Known as the biggest water fight in the world, Songkran marks the beginning of the traditional Thai New Year. The festival means new life and is primarily known around the world by throwing water at people. A Buddhist celebration, people also go to wats to offer food to monks and pray. Thai people return home and meet with their elders

This country-wide celebration takes over every town and city for a few days. No place or person is safe from being drenched by water, but with Thailand hitting its hottest temperatures around this time of year, think 40ºC/110ºF, that’s not such a bad thing.

People pack the back of a ute in Pattaya ready to soak pedestrians. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

When is Songkran?

Now a fixed date, Songkran runs from April 13-16 each year, but you’ll notice people starting and continuing festivities beyond these dates.

Where should I celebrate Songkran?

You can celebrate the holiday absolutely anywhere in the country, but Chiang Mai seems to be the best destination for foreigners getting involved in Songkran. While Bangkok will most likely be the busiest place with the most going on, it’s also one of the most dangerous. More on that later.

How do I celebrate Songkran?

First, always be prepared. Wear clothes you don’t mind getting wet and purchase a water gun from street vendors set up around the city. They should cost no more than $US5. Next, hit the streets of your Thai destination and always be ready to strike back. You’ll walk past loads of bars and shops that will get you with buckets of ice water. Literally everyone is involved in this celebration, even public transportation. Don’t be surprised if your red ute in Chiang Mai starts going a different way than expected, just be prepared to be drenched.

On top of water fights, people celebrate Songkran by marking another’s face with talc. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Take time to celebrate Songkran beyond how tourists know it. On the first day of Songkran, visit a wat and offer food to the monks, pray and learn about the history of the festival.

Are there any dangers to Songkran celebrations?

Known for being a very friendly country, Thailand gets even kinder come Songkran, so the biggest dangers and annoyances tourists need to worry about are not in any way malicious, but are very serious. Songkran can actually be a scary few days in the country with the death toll reaching 253 people in 2012 according to Bangkok Post. Casualties and injuries are primarily due to an increase in drunk driving and accidents on the road.

Known for mass amounts of traffic and people, many would think Bangkok would be the most worrisome spot to celebrate Songkran, and it might be, but Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani, two popular tourist destinations in the south, actually reported the most fatalities in 2012. So no matter where you celebrate, just be more careful when crossing roads, make sure to pick a sober driver and it probably be a good idea just to stay away from motorbikes entirely during festivities.

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Elephant Nature Park 10th Anniversary: My Bucket List

Destinations, Online Goodies, Other, Thailand

Elephant Nature Park 10th Anniversary: My Bucket List

3 Comments 04 April 2013

Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is the sort place that stays with you way beyond your travels to Thailand. I visited the park last year and was amazed by it. The passion and dedication volunteers here have to animal welfare is incredible. Plus, visiting the park and interacting with rescued elephants is like no other animal encounter you’ve ever had before.

So I was very excited to read that the organization is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary. To do so, they’re calling all bloggers to write a post listing their top ten bucket list items.

I’ve never been one for bucket lists. I kind of just decide what I want to do as I go. But if writing one is in celebration of a good cause, then why the hell not! I’ve already done the usual bucket list items like sky dive, bungy jump and play in a river with elephants (thanks ENP), so some of the items on my list might be a bit unusual or unexpected, but they’re all epic travel goals.

Trans-Siberian Railway

I think one of the first memories I have of world travel is of the Trans-Siberian Railway. There are a few different routes people can take. I would go for the train ride from Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia, which is six nights and shows passengers the beauty of an area of the world most never see.

Overland from Laos to Spain

This trip would definitely be more about the journey than any destination, because to be honest I can’t even pronounce most of the places I would take on this route. It would be a struggle and I know I’d have to go through parts of the world where tourism isn’t even a thought, but that’s the fun of it.

Live in South America for one year

When I left the USA to travel over three years ago, I always thought I’d end up in some South American village either for life or at least a few years. Before it was just an assumption, but now I think it’s a dream. I see myself working as a divemaster, walking along the beach to my house for siesta and partying in a hut by night.

Learn a language

I think I’ll have to accomplish this item before the last one. It’s quite a common goal for people and I actually feel like I missed out on a lot of things not knowing another language by now. My biggest problem is picking a language to learn and sticking to it.

Open a cafe in Key West

This bucket list item only came about because I traveled. Prior to hitting the road in 2010, I had very little interest in being a restauranteur or anything in the hospitality industry for that matter. I only started working in the industry in Australia purely because it had the most opportunity for backpackers. Everything happens for a reason. I absolutely fell in love with everything to do with restaurants from waiting tables and meeting people to making coffees and learning about food. Plus, I met my partner working at a restaurant. Our shared love of the industry and experience in it is where this item comes from.

Why Key West? Ummm, because it’s warm and gorgeous.

Attempt to ice climb

I first found out this was an option when I visited Interlaken, Switzerland in 2007. I’m not sure why I became so fascinated with it then, but I spent all my money skydiving there and haven’t had another opportunity to do it. Next time I do, you can bet I’m taking it.

Festival Food Truck in the USA

The problem: my partner and I want to open our own cafe asap, but our feet are too itchy to stop and focus on it. The solution: a cafe on wheels or food truck. We want to open one and travel around the USA for a summer, maybe even a year, hitting the country’s best festivals and concerts.

Shaving my head and traveling India

I’ve been obsessed with visiting India for as long as I can remember. When I go, I want to stay for at least six months, making sure to join the hippy community in Goa, get to a wedding, celebrate Holi and live at an Ashram. The head shaving bit? I dono, I’m weird. I’ve always wanted to shave my head and I heard women receive a lot of unwanted attention in the country. I don’t think I’m going to be one of those people that looks hot with a shaved head (how did Natalie Portman do it?), so maybe it will help with that.

Road trip Western Australia

I don’t know if it’s a regret, because I love the places I visited and how everything turned out during my year in Australia, but I do wish I explored the country’s west coast. It was my original plan actually, so forces must have led me away for a reason. I know what the reason is, so I’m okay with that. It just means I need to visit again and not miss it this time.

Walk across the USA

Call me crazy, but I’m certain that I will accomplish this in my life. Do I need to give reasons why I want to do it? Witness the country’s beauty, challenge my body’s limits, accomplish something only tens of people have done… I could go on and on. This is number one on my life list.

Now it’s your turn! I nominate these ten people to participate in ENP’s blogger carnival. All you have to do is write about your top ten bucket list items and nominate ten more people to participate.

  1. Wonderful Wanderings
  2. Today I’m Bobbi 
  3. The Traveller
  4. Misadventures with Andi 
  5. That Backpacker 
  6. Hayley on Holiday
  7. Christine in Spain
  8. Our Oyster
  9. Bohemian Trails
  10. GlobeTrotterGirls

“My top 10 bucket list post is a part of Save Elephant Foundation’s blog carnival to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Elephant Nature Park.”

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Wish you were here: Chiang Mai

Blog, Destinations, Thailand, Wish you were here

Wish you were here: Chiang Mai

9 Comments 25 October 2012

Dear Readers,

When I last wrote you Ric was off to boys night and I was off to be made over before heading to my own night out with the ladies. I’m happy to report that we both made it back alive…barely.

I’ll share my half of the day/night. Since I started traveling three years ago, I’ve spent my money on little else other than traveling. Once a shopaholic, I’ve bought very few clothes over the last few years, nor have I visited salons or make-up counters. My focus has been on travel and I’ve happily devoted most of my spending towards that, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t yearned to be made over or hit the mall.

So I decided to take advantage of the exchange rate and spend a day splurging on myself while in Bangkok. Most of Friday was spent at Terminal 21where I felt extremely lost, which is weird considering I used to be a mall rat from Jersey. What should have been an exciting and feel-good experience was actually no fun at all.

Busy intersection by Terminal 21. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I have a confession to make. I don’t like shopping in the malls of Bangkok. Part of it is that all the clothes are so small, definitely not made for the majority of Western woman. Beyond that I found the sales people to not really care at all about who steps into their shop. Most owners ignored me and one offended me. Maybe that was because they knew I wouldn’t fit in their clothes.

After hours of wandering and going up and down escalators, I finally found a knockout red dress. Next step, hair. I found a salon to give me a Demi Lovato up-do for THB500, about $US15.

Dressed and ready for the night, Flick and I headed to My Bar at Dusit Thani Hotel for what may be the best ladies’ night in the world. Get this: free drinks for ladies from 7-9 p.m. every Friday. We met up with a group of teachers from her International School in Bangkok, so any questions I had about teaching in Thailand were answered. After ladies’ night we headed to Soi 4, Silom which is filled with male strippers and gay bars.

It was a long and silly evening, but we made it home and didn’t leave home once the following day.

On Sunday it was time to say goodbye to Bangkok and head to Chiang Mai. We came to the city to visit Ric’s friend, so for that, I’m happy we spent as much time here as we did, but from a travel perspective, I found Bangkok actually got a bit boring. I don’t mind that it’s busy or that it’s a bit seedy in certain areas. I just felt like after a few days there wasn’t much more to do other than drink and party. At one point on Friday I thought, ‘I’m in Thailand, what on earth am I doing in a mall right now?’.

But everyone constantly goes on about how cultured and amazing Chiang Mai is, so I thought the next stop would have a bit more of what I expect out of Thailand.

I have to admit, I was a little let down by Chiang Mai at first. Before you call me crazy and stop reading, I’ll tell you I came around and loved it in the end.

Basically, everyone constantly goes on about how cultured the city is. So I was a bit confused to see Starbucks and McDonald’s in a Times Square sort of intersection on the drive in. I’m starting to come to the realization that there are few places in the world where one can escape this.

Busy Times Square-like intersection in Chiang Mai. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

What I found in the end was that Chiang Mai is a fun and laid back city to stay in and a great base for some really cultural experiences in the surrounding areas. The old city and streets around it are filled with beautiful wats, cool backpacker hang outs and an array of Western and Thai shops and restaurants. The city really grew on me and by the end I understood why so many people end up staying there for so long.

We arrived in the city on Monday at about noon. (Tip: always add an extra two hours to train journeys in Thailand. Our journeys to and from Chiang Mai were both two hours longer than scheduled and most people I’ve talked to say the same about their own.) From the train station we took a Red Song Tao to our hotel, which is the cheapest form of transportation in the city.

A single journey on one of these red utes with enclosed seating in the back usually costs THB20-30, but the drivers pick up other people along the way so if you’re in a rush it might be a good idea to splurge on a tuk tuk, which I never found costs anymore than THB80 from one point to another in the city.

We went on a bit of a hotel tour in Chiang Mai, staying at three different places during our time there. The first was B2 Tippanet. This location of the Thai chain received mixed reviews online, but I thought it was more than perfect for the price we paid, which was about THB500. For that price we had our own private room and bathroom in a really modern hotel. The staff was kind and the hotel is less than a ten-minute walk to the old city.

That first day was a bit of a daze. Ric and I didn’t have the best sleep on our train journey in, so our only real objective for the day was to eat and stay awake until 8 p.m. Eat, we did. Thanks to Nancy Chandler’s map of Chiang Mai, we found out about a THB150 buffet at White Elephant restaurant in the Chiang Mai Grandview Hotel on Chiang Mai-Lampang Road.

Honestly, I did not expect to eat so many buffets in Thailand. I think we’re up to about six at this point.

After our feast, we walked through Somphet Market. Around here is where most of the backpacker guesthouses and bars are located. We stumbled upon Moonlight Thai Massage which sells Thai massages for THB150. If the food didn’t knock us out, the massage did. After, we did a bit more wandering then headed straight to bed. We wanted to be well-rested for the next day’s treat.

Asia Rooms welcomed me to review one of their hotels on our trip to Thailand, so on Tuesday they set us up at Yantarasri Resort for two nights. I’ve already gone on and on about just how in love I am with this hotel, so I won’t bore you all with it again. But I’ll just say, a bit of old-world Thailand, an amazing pool and terry cloth robes are what made the stay for me.

The pool at Yantarasri Resort, Chiang Mai. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

When I stay in nice hotels I like to stay in them as long as possible, so we made the most out of our little sanctuary on Tuesday, only leaving at night to visit the Night Bazaar. It’s a great place to buy just about anything, but Ric and I were really just looking to shop around the food stalls. The massive market has carts and restaurants throughout it. We decided to visit it’s food court for Khao Soi, a chicken curry noodle dish common in Northern Thailand. I paid THB30 for the dish then bought some naan bread from an Indian stall also in the food court to dip in my leftover curry.

After that meal, we decided to be serious fat kids and buy two Nutella Waffles and a scoop of Ferrero Rocher gelato to dip them in. Yes, that happened.

The food court at the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The following day we spent more time sunbathing and swimming at our resort. That night I met up with bloggers Diana Eldman of D Travels Round and Lindsay Mc of Travel Dudes at Pizza e Vino for, you guessed it, pizza and wine. Diana has been living in Chiang Mai for a few months working with Elephant Nature Park and Lindsay just arrived in the city but I don’t think she’ll be leaving anytime soon.

Diana knows how to pick a good pizza place. I love Thai food, but I do get sick of it after awhile, so a massive pizza and wine was just what I needed after three weeks in the country. By the way, good or even average wine is hard to find in the country, if you love it as much as me go to Pizza e Vino for a fix. Everything there, including my two glasses of red was delicious.

Wine and pizza turned into just wine at Ciccia’s House on Nantaram, another great hang out recommended by Diana. I loved talking with the girls about blogging and meeting all the locals and expats that came in and out of the restaurant. Diana really has found a wonderful expat community in the city. I had such a great night with those two gals. Give me good company and good wine, and I’m happy.

On Thursday, Ric and I reluctantly checked out of Yantarasri, but we did it in style. The resort rents motorbikes for THB250 for the day, so we left our bags with the front desk, hopped on a light blue vespa and hit the road.

Ric’s favorite thing and one of mine, to do in Thailand is to rent a motorbike and just go exploring. We didn’t really have much of an itinerary, but headed in the direction of Doi Suthep, a wat on top of a hill that offers great views of the city, since so many people recommended it.

Along the way we stopped at Mon Tha Than Falls (THB100 per person and THB20 per bike to enter). We passed Doi Sethup and headed to Bhubing Palace, the Summer home of the royal family which sits further up the mountain than Doi Suthep.

Mon Tha Than Falls. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

On the way up clouds surrounded us and within ten minutes it was pouring. We ate lunch near the palace and waited for about an hour and a half for the rain to clear. Wet season in Thailand is no joke. It costs THB50 to enter the palace grounds and THB15 to rent a piece of clothing. Shoulders and legs must be covered. The palace was being renovated and the gardens we covered for the rainy season, so I don’t think we saw the palace in all its glory.

Finally, we carefully drove back down the mountain to Doi Suthep and walked up 300 steps to the wat. It costs THB30 to enter and is well worth the money and trip. The grounds are beautiful and seeing monks walk around the center with flowers, you get a glimpse into Buddhism. We spent about an hour there then headed back to Chiang Mai to plan another motorbike adventure.

Monks praying at Doi Suthep. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Without fail, every time Ric and I rent a motorbike in SE Asia, we see a monkey. It’s almost always a short sighting in which I don’t have nearly enough time to capture the moment.

This time was different.

On our way down Ric spotted a grey gibbon at a lay-by from about 100 meters away. I screamed, “Pull over!” And he did. I should have known something was wrong by the ten people with their back against the wall refusing to move. As we pulled in, Ric looked for a parking spot and I got out my camera and took a photo. The gibbon started chasing us, so I screamed, “No, Ric! Go! Go! Go!”

As he swung around the gibbon continued to go for us, still on the bike, with a ferocious look in his face and stance. At one point, Ric slowed down and the gibbon started to gain on us. It was then Ric saw a Thai guard step out with a massive knife and sped off. The monkey chased us until we were out of sight.

Just a reminder that wild animals are wild and not to be played with or tested.

We rode away laughing hysterically, but that experience could have gone very wrong.

After making it back to Chiang Mai we attempted to reach Mae Sa Falls, unfortunately it closed just before we arrived at 4:30 p.m. Nature closes? So we headed back to the resort, picked up our bags and hopped on a Red Song Tao to our third and final accommodation in Chiang Mai, Eco Resort.

This was Ric’s pick and he might be in charge of all our accommodation from now on. The resort is located on Bumrungrat Road, on the other side of Mae Ping River from the old city. We booked it ourselves through Asia Rooms to test out the company’s booking process and got a serious bargain. For THB400 we stayed in a private room with shared bathrooms in another old-world Thai sanctuary. That price included entrance to the resorts massive swimming pool, breakfast buffet and unlimited wifi. That night we did a bit of bar-hopping outside the old city, but headed home early as the next day I was visiting Elephant Nature Park.

Front house at Eco Resort, Chiang Mai. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

That Friday spent at the park was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I’m an animal lover and it’s quite hard to see animals being mistreated in a lot of tourist activities in the country. Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for elephants that were once used and abused in the country’s now void logging industry. It was beautiful to see the largest land mammal on earth in a somewhat wild setting. The park’s 32 elephants aren’t forced to ride around tourists all day, nor do tricks for people in city streets. They live free in a middle ground between domestication and the wild.

I’ll write much more on the experience in the future. For now, I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to interact with elephants in a way that benefits them and the animals.

Jokia went blind, because of abuse in the logging industry she once worked. Her story is heartbreaking, but she remains extremely gentle and sweet. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

After my day with the elephants I came home buzzing. Ric and I wanted to explore a new section of the city on our last night so we headed to the river where a few guidebook-recommended restaurants are located. As we both guessed, most of the restaurants along the river were a bit out of our price range.

We looked at about four different menus, visited a few high-end antique shops on Charoenrat, the road along the river, then started to look for a ride into town. Before we could hail one down we stumbled upon a hidden gem of a restaurant and guesthouse along the river, Regina.

Located in an old, teak house, the place looked like a natural Cracker Barrel upon entering, filled with 1950s vintage signs, old photos and dolls. It had a few small circular tables and chairs set up. Plus, I noticed a proper coffee machine behind the counter. Curiosity led us to our own private dining area on the river.

I think it’s the most romantic meal Ric and I have ever had; a wooden terrace with tables lit by candle light beneath, a few picnic tables along the river, lanterns and small ponds filled the space. The place is filled with friendly cats and the prices are perfect for people on a budget, think THB60 meals.

It was the most charming end to what I came around to see is Thailand’s most charming city, Chiang Mai.

Love,
Bobbi xxx

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A taste of old Thailand at Yantarasri Resort, Chiang Mai

Destinations, Thailand

A taste of old Thailand at Yantarasri Resort, Chiang Mai

8 Comments 09 October 2012

I have this vision of the Thailand that is unfortunately a bit harder to find in modern times. It’s an old-world view of the country, one from times when people weren’t searching the country for untouched beaches nor visiting Bangkok for its malls. It’s a vision of tradition and culture.

I saw that exact vision go from my mind to my eyes upon entering Yantarasri Resort in Chiang Mai.

As I follow a path through the gated-entrance into the compound, concrete buildings turned to teak houses and the sounds of traffic seemed to become lost in the resort’s forestry. It feels as if I had not only left this city, but also this century.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Located on Soi 6 off a trendy section of Nimmanhaemin Road not far from Chiang Mai University, Yantarasri Resort has all the nostalgia of a different time, but luxuries of today. The resort is made up of about four different dark teak houses, none higher than three stories. They all surround a pool, which serves as a centerpiece to the resort as well.

Lined with teal tiles and trimmed with black slate, the square pool is decorated with elephant water fountains and overflowing stone vases. Lanterns hang around it by balconies above and about eight-padded lounge chairs sit on top of teak planks. Surrounding the pool is a small forest made up of native trees such as the Mujarin. You might even spot a red squirrell every now and then bouncing about their branches.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Yes, we are still in the city center of Chiang Mai and this is your view from most rooms, others look out to koi ponds and statues. The resort offers a range of private rooms and suites located on the first and second floor. On the first floor, you can find a few rooms that open right up to the pool area and have their own private lounge next to it. Each room on the second floor comes with a large balcony and reclining wicker chair. Basically, there’s not a bad seat in the house.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

We’re given a reserved, but kind welcome upon arrival by two Thai women dressed in long patterned skirts and traditional tops. They welcome us to sit down through the quick check-in process, at the end of which they call a male co-worker out to lead us to our room.

We’re staying in one of the resort’s Superior en-suites. As the door opens I’m instantly pulled to our balcony and that centerpiece I described above. It really is hard to stop looking at. Glass paneled teak sliding doors open out to the balcony next to a large bed covered in pillows, one a massive version of those u-shaped pillows used on planes.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The room comes with air-con, a flat screen TV and like the rest of the resort, unlimited free wifi. White walls and a marble floor, the room is decorated with dark teak furniture and lanterns. Permanently-fogged windows enclose the bathroom, which has a rock garden floor with a teak wood panels to walk on and a rain shower.

Some other extras to our room include bottled water, a well-priced mini bar, complimentary tea and coffee and two terry-cloth robes and pairs of slippers. It’s hard to leave your room at Yantarasri and even harder to leave the resort.

Luckily, you really don’t have to.

The resort has a bar and restaurant as well as a spa. But there are plenty of busy bars and restaurants located right outside of the resort. While this area is about a twenty minute walk from the Old City, it’s a section worth visiting unto itself and an ideal starting off point for renting a motorbike and touring outside the city, which the resort also offers (THB250 for the day).

Inevitably, if you prefer to spend your time out of hotels exploring, then Yantarasiri is a quiet place to come home to after a long day and a cool place to hideaway and swim when you need a break. If you are looking for a bit of old world Thailand to do more than just tour and stare at in handy craft booths, than you might find it hard to leave Yantarasri Resort.

Thanks to Asia Rooms for providing us with accommodation at Yantarasri Resort in Chiang Mai. The hotel booking company offers discounted rates on accommodation all over Asia as well as last-minute deals. As always, all opinions are my own.

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Wish you were here: A week in Bangkok

Blog, Destinations, Thailand, Wish you were here

Wish you were here: A week in Bangkok

2 Comments 02 October 2012

Dear Readers,

So we never made it to that drag show last Friday, but the night definitely took us somewhere. After Ric and I taught Luke and Felicity how to play beer pong at the condo, we headed out to Bar 23 for cocktails.

Bangkok is one of the most surprising cities I’ve ever visited. It literally has everything. It has your dive bars and seedy sections, but it also has mega posh malls and fancy roof bars. I was stunned again by the cities versatility with Bar 23. As I walked into the dimly lit bar, that can be found on a desolate street with zero signage, I felt like I was transported to Brooklyn.

Hipster bartenders, notes in permanent marker written all over the walls and a mix of second-hand retro furniture. It seemed to be a favorite among 20-something Westerners living and working in the city. It’s another side of the very trendy city that I never expected to see. Plus they sell THB200 Long Island Iced Teas, so there’s that.

Needless to say, we did very little during the day on Saturday. But we did make it out to Soi 5 for one of the best kebabs I’ve ever had for only THB 60. Ric and I watched a video about this kebab vendor months ago, so the meal was a long time coming.

That was good food, but nothing could top our food experience on Sunday.

Since we arrived in Bangkok, Luke and Flick, friends we’re staying with, kept secret their plans for Sunday. They gave us little clues throughout the week, but we never would have guessed something this spectacular.

They took us to a buffet at the Grand Millennium Hotel, but this wasn’t just any stuff-your-face free-for-all. For starters, the Grand Millenium is a classy establishment with a few different style dining areas from a wine room to a very modern room with a wall of windows looking out to the city.

The spread at our table by 3 p.m.

Now to the most important thing: the food. Gourmet favorites from all over the world, this buffet wrapped around the restaurant. You could literally eat anything there: sushi, dim sum, tapas, steak, lamb chops, duck, cabanara, three different kinds of caviar, even cotton candy. And it gets better, not only is the food endless for three hours, so are the drinks. This includes wine, beer and cocktails.

The meat section at our buffet. Made to order.

The buffet is available every Sunday from 12-3 p.m. and costs THB1400 per person, but they sometimes offer a deal where for every two people another two eat free. I can’t imagine a better idea for a double date.

From the buffet we headed to the nearest sports bar to watch Liverpool play Manchester United. Ric is a big Liverpool fan and living on New Zealand time for the past year, this was the first game he’s actually been able to watch live since Cambodia in May 2011.

Most of Monday was spent recovering. Good thing we have a rooftop pool! We did manage to get out to visit a Mexican restaurant called Tacos and Salsa on Soi 18 at the end of our street. I was very surprised at how good the place was. It’s really hard to find good Mexican food around the world, but this place did it right.

On Tuesday, Ric and I did some major exploring. We started out in Lumpini Park, then headed to Chinatown. After visiting the area, I read an article about the top ten things to do in Bangkok, getting lost in Chinatown was one of them and we definitely did that. We spent at least 30 minutes walking past metal shops. Eventually we made it to China Gate or Odeon Circle and started walking down Yaowarat.

There are a few Wats and museums, including the Museum of Siam, in this section of Bangkok, but honestly just being there is enough to keep you excited. Wandering down dark alley ways, lined with street food at the bottom and laundry hanging on the balconies of apartments above, walking just a little bit faster as the smell of fish becomes too strong. Experiences like this are why I travel, to get a peak into a way of life completely different to my own and just take it in.

You can find pretty much everything in Chinatown from fabric to stereo equipment. We were on a mission for food and found the best pork buns either or us have ever tried. Ric is a bit of a pork bun connoisseur so that is saying something. I wish I could tell you where exactly the food cart was where we found them and I think the vendor probably moves around anyway. Below you can see a photo of the cart we visited. Yes those are green and purple bun as well: green tea and I believe taro buns.

Best pork buns in Chinatown, Bangkok.

After hours in Chinatown, we were both exhausted. I always I get more tired than usual touring Bangkok, I think it’s a mixture of the heat and how busy the city is. Good thing we headed home too, as it started pouring rain, minutes after we walked in the door. It’s rainy season in Thailand at the moment, so pretty much every day it will down pour for about one to three hours.

Luckily, the rain cleared up long enough for us to meet up with Two Oregonians at Suda on Soi 14. One of the nicest things about being in the travel blog community is that you pretty much have someone to bump into all over the world. We’ve been Tweeting with one another for a year at least, so it’s good to put a face with a name. Maybe we’ll see you guys in Chiang Mai.

We booked our tickets to Chiang Mai on Wednesday, which I am so excited about. That’s the one place I was really sad about missing on my last trip to Thailand. We traveled by bus around the country last time, but thought we would upgrade to trains this time around. Train tickets to Chiang Mai can be purchased at Hualampong Railway Station which is at the end of the MRT line.

For all those who plan ahead, The Man in Seat Sixty-One is a really great resource for transportation in Thailand, but you really don’t need to plan too far in advance. Just visit the station a few days ahead and book then. There is a tourist information desk at the entrance to help foreigners. They pretty much take you over to the counter and buy the tickets with you. We paid THB791 and THB881 for 2nd class sleeper. The difference in price is for top and bottom bunks.

After sorting out some travel plans, we headed to The Jim Thompson House. Originally from Delaware, Thompson was an architect turned secret agent (Office of Strategic Services, precursor for the CIA) after World War II.

He was stationed in Thailand in 1945 and fell in love with the country. He found the Thai Silk Company and to this day his name is still very big in the silk clothing industry.

He started building his home in Bangkok in 1958 and the house remains extremely well-preserved. Walking around the grounds and through his living quarters is like stepping back in time. The teak house was built in traditional Thai style and filled with Asian paintings from the 17th century, porcelain from his private collection and an amazing collection of Buddha statues dating back as far as the 7th century.

The main living quarters in the compound. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

There’s an old-world side to Bangkok that I absolutely love. It’s a bit lost amongst the sky scrapers and malls that cover the city today, so it’s nice to find little gems like this here and there. Entry costs THB100 for adults.

Taking advantage of the sun, Flick and I went for a walk around Benjasiri Park, a very well-maintained sanctuary in the city. That night we headed to Soi 5 for round two of our favorite kebab vendor then over to Soi 11 to visit the touristy, but still cheap and full of character, Cheap Charlie’s for a few drinks, then stopped at one of the many VW bus/bars along the street for a few cocktails. As you can tell by the design of this site, I’m a fan of VW buses, so I especially enjoyed these bars.

It’s not called Cheap Charlie’s for nothing. Think THB70 spirit drinks and THB60 Changs. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Cocktails served from a VW bus on Soi 11. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The next day, Ric was the first victim of Bangkok belly. Eating food so different from your own and as many chillies as he does, it’s bound to happen. But it’s never any fun.

It’s Friday and the skies are just starting to clear up. On the agenda today is a complete makeover and ladies night with Flick, which means the boys are on their own in Bangkok. Uh oh…

Until next time.

Lots of Love,
Bobbi
xxx

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Wish you were here: Auckland to Bangkok

Blog, Destinations, New Zealand, Thailand, Wish you were here

Wish you were here: Auckland to Bangkok

2 Comments 27 September 2012

Dear Readers,

Hello from sunny/rainy Bangkok, Thailand! We made it here…eventually.

In the past week, we’ve touched down in three countries. God it feels good to be on the move again. After a few sad goodbyes to our friends in Mount Maunganui and lots of cider and dancing at Mount Mellick, Ric and I left our New Zealand home of seven months for Auckland.

We’ve lived in New Zealand for the past 14 months and only spent a few days in Auckland here and there, so we thought it best to spend some time touring the country’s biggest city before leaving. Though I must admit we did more eating there than touring.

An Auckland food montage: Ric at a pork bun cart near the Auckland Art Gallery (top left), Food Alley on Albert Street (middle), Teriyaki Noodles from Food Alley (bottom) and No. 1 Pancakes on the corner of Wellesley & Lorne Streets. Photos by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I think we were really ready to get to Asia, because throughout our “last day in New Zealand” all we did was eat Asian food. It started with pork buns in the morning, continued with Korean pancakes as a midday snack and finished with Teriyaki Noodles at Food Alley on Albert Street (Thanks to Henry Lee at Fotoeins Fotopress for the suggestion). Each meal was cheap and delicious.

After catching up with one of Ric’s friends from Port Douglas over $NZ5 Heinekens at Father Ted’s, we headed to bed early to be well-rested for a full day of flying or so we thought…

We arrived at the airport the next day buzzing about the start of our five-month vacation. We checked in, ate breakfast and bought sushi for our meal-less 10-hour Jet Star flight to Singapore. We even boarded the plane. But after about 30 minutes of sitting on it and putting up with an awful screeching noise, the captain announced that the mechanical problem on the plane was a lot worse than they first anticipated and that we would have to get off for about an hour while it was being fixed. Nek Minute: “We’re sorry to announce that Flight JQ217 to Singapore has been canceled.”

I felt my stomach drop, but thought, we’re still on vacation and we’ll just get there tomorrow. Though the delay was gutting, I must say that Jet Star really looked after us. They put everyone on the canceled flight up in a nearby Holiday Inn and provided us with breakfast, lunch and dinner, completely free. Our hotel room had a king-size bed with goose-down pillows and meals were served buffet style. We were happy.

Most amazing bed at the Holiday Inn Auckland. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The next day, it was time to try again. Everything went to plan. Jet Star even gave us complimentary meals on the plane. You usually have to pay for everything on the budget airline. After ten-hours we touched down in Singapore, where our excitement turned to exhaustion. I slept through our two-hour flight to Bangkok and still woke up exhausted.

Luckily Luke, one of Ric’s best friends from home, was waiting at the airport for us. It was great to finally meet him after chatting with him on skype for over two years. He’s been living out here with his girlfriend Felicity for the past year, teaching.

We’ll be staying with them while in the city and their apartment is absolutely amazing. Centrally located, extremely roomy, nice bed, even better views of the city and a rooftop pool. I don’t think life could get any better.

Nothing like a roof top pool in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by Richard John Hackey

As usual, arrival excitement fueled my body through the night, as we dropped off our bags and headed out at about 10 p.m. for some drinks. After a few at a restaurant next door to their apartment, we got right into the nightlife and headed to Soi Cowboy, which is one of Bangkok’s seediest streets. I forgot how much fun it was to just sit in a bar and watch people here. Thai guys on motorbikes, decrepit 70-year-old men with gorgeous 20-something Thai girls, neon lights, food carts. You really never know what to expect at night here.

The view of Soi Cowboy on our first night. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Luke warned us with our fourth Chang beer how bad the hangover is from it, but we kept going anyway. He was right. I think that’ll be the last Chang I’ll ever drink. It’s worth paying a few baht more to not feel as terrible as I did the following day.

Our first official day in Thailand was spent lounging, wandering about MBK, eating as much street food as humanly possible and saying, “We’re here,” every ten minutes. I even fit in a one-hour Thai massage for THB200 (about $US6). It felt like my masseuse was pushing for cracks the entire massage. Finally at the end my back completely released, clicking for about ten seconds as she bent my body back over her knees.

Release.

At night we had a few drinks at home then took our first ride on the sky train to Soi 38, where everybody ordered something different from the 12 stalls on the street. I tried egg noodle wontons with crab meat. Another amazing meal less than THB100 ($US3).

I didn’t want the day to end, but jet lag completely took over my body. It was time for bed.

As I write this, I sit next to a napping Ric and keep looking out at what is by far one of my favorite cities in the world. Still on New Zealand time, we woke up at about 6 a.m. this morning and have already spent three hours just wandering around. I don’t know if it was the condensed milk coffee or the two bottles of water I drank this morning to counter an extremely spicy breakfast, but I feel absolutely amazing.

I didn’t think it was possible, but I love this city even more. It just feels like home. No schedule or plans, I think today we might spend a few hours sunbathing and swimming on the roof, visit a drag show later and just see where the night takes us. Like I wrote before, I don’t think life could possibly get any better.

Lots of Love,

Bobbi xxx

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Travel plans for the rest of 2012 and beyond

Blog, What I'm thinking

Travel plans for the rest of 2012 and beyond

10 Comments 26 September 2012

It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year since we’ve been on a plane.

While Ric and I have both technically still been traveling this past year, living in New Zealand, we haven’t really been on the move too much in 2012. So it makes me extremely happy to announce our plans to travel for the rest of the year and into the next.

After a lot of hard work and self-control, we’ve managed to save up for a five-month holiday that will take us pretty much around the world.

Part 1: Southeast Asia

Ever since we left Southeast Asia in May 2011, we’ve been trying to figure out a way to get back. Originally we wanted to spend six months in the region after New Zealand , spending every cent to our names and figuring out what next later. But we discovered another work visa available to us elsewhere.

So we’ll just have to settle for six weeks in Southeast Asia instead. I’ll take it!

Our first stop is Bangkok, where one of Ric’s friends from home is living. We’ll spend about two weeks in the city with no real plans other than to eat a lot of street food, have a few good nights out and make it to the floating market, finally.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Next stop is Chiang Mai, a place we both missed on our last visit to Thailand. We’ll be spending about a week there. Two places we really want to visit are Tiger Kingdom and Elephant Nature Park, beyond that I think we’ll just soak up the city.

Then it’s back to Bangkok to meet up with my Dad. We’ll all spend a few days in the city and head South to Koh Lanta and Railay.

Since visitors from the USA and UK are only given a 30-day visa to Thailand upon arrival (when arriving by plane) and we have six weeks before our flight out of Bangkok, we have to do a visa run somewhere. Why not Malaysia?

Ric and I have never been there. Two places we’ve talked about visiting are Langkawi and Penang, but we are open to suggestions and recommendations, especially on Malaysian food considering that we know very little about it.

After the visa run, we’ll make our way back to Bangkok with a few stops along the way, then we’re off to the USA.

Part 2: USA

Ric and I both have to return home to sort out visas. It just works out that we’ll be visiting for the holidays.

After being abroad for two holiday seasons, I will finally be in America for my absolute favorite holiday in the world this year, Thanksgiving. It’s the time of year I want to be back most, so I’m extremely happy to not only be there with my family, but also to introduce Ric to his first real Thanksgiving.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Most of the time spent in the USA will involve catching up with family and friends, but we will fit in a few visits around the Northeast, including Niagara Falls, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and New York City. We might try to fit in a trip to Key West, but it depends on time and money.

Part 3: England

We’ll arrive in England just before Christmas. It’ll be Ric’s first time home in three years and my first trip home with him. He’s from a village called Bollington in Cheshire. I can’t wait to meet everyone he’s told me about and spend my first Christmas in England, which so many people have told me is amazing.

Photo courtesy of Bollington Photos.

Like with our trip to the USA, in England our only real intentions are to spend time with family and friends, but we’re going to fit in a few visits around the country. We’ll definitely be spending a few days in London. We also want to see Stonehenge.

Part 4: ?

I don’t like announcing plans that aren’t for certain, but something big is in the works, so stay tuned!

What do you think of our plans? Do you have any suggestions for the regions we’ll be visiting? Please share!

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Hump Day Photo: Big Buddha, Koh Samui

Destinations, Other, Photography, Thailand

Hump Day Photo: Big Buddha, Koh Samui

2 Comments 13 September 2012

This time next week Ric and I will be waking up in one of our favorite countries in the world, Thailand.

Since this weekly photo series is all about giving people a glimpse of some place magical to get them through the work week, we thought it only sensible to look back on photos from our last trip to Thailand to get us through our last week of waiting to get there.

Though we weren’t too impressed with Koh Samui at first (our first stop was Chaweng, which is overcrowded with tourists with the objective of getting pissed), we ended up having a good stay and one really incredible day on the island. Like many of our other favorite days in Thailand, this one involved us renting a motorbike and seeing where the day took us.

While our main goal was to visit the island’s Big Buddha, we visited just about everywhere else before reaching it. Some of our stops included Na Muang Waterfall, Grandfather Rocks and Wat Plai Laem, where we thought we reached the island’s Big Buddha, but realized we were wrong during our cruise home at sunset.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Located on the Northeast end of the island Big Buddha at Wat Phra Yai stands at 12 meters tall, its gold cover shining in the sun. We reached the statue at the last moments of day light. While I couldn’t keep my eyes off the statue on the way to it, I couldn’t keep my eyes off another breathtaking Thai sky driving away from the statue.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

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What I’m thinking Friday 31 August

Blog, What I'm thinking

What I’m thinking Friday 31 August

2 Comments 02 September 2012

Remember last Friday’s post when I said I quit my job at the kiwifruit packhouse and started my holiday a month early. Well I’m back to working again, but don’t worry there are no fury fruits involved.

This past week I’ve been given a few shifts at the cafe Ric works at, which really isn’t work at all for me. For starters, I love working in hospitality, chatting with locals and continuing my coffee education. Further, I always love working with Ric. We actually met working at a restaurant in Australia over two years ago, so we’re pretty good working together.

This week I even got to join Ric in the kitchen where I made some epic mini carrot cakes with white chocolate ganache and cream cheese icing. It was my first time making carrot cake as well as my first time making anything that would be sold to the public, so I was quite proud.

Hungry? Why wait? But my mini carrot cakes!

Between waiting tables and watching loads of Tom Hardy films and shows this week, I did manage to read a few good articles, watch a video that actually led to the purchase of a new toy, do some exploring and even a bit of planning. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about this week.

What I’m reading

International Beatles Week

Did you realize that August 22-28 is international Beatles week? I’m a big fan of the fab four and had no idea. The best place to celebrate is of course Liverpool, where all the band members are from and came together. The Cavern Club, which is where they first performed, hosts a Beatles festival with various shows and acts throughout the week.

But a band as big as the Beatles has left it’s mark in more places than Liverpool. The Telegraph put together a gallery of Beatles attractions all over the planet. Have you visited any of them?

Coolest working holiday jobs

Anyone who follows my website will know the main reason I’ve been able to travel the world for almost three years is because working holiday visas in Australia and New Zealand have allowed me to work legally while traveling.

I’ve taken on some pretty random jobs while on the road these past few years. I think I’m up to about ten different jobs including everything from waitress to telemarketer to kiwifruit grader. While I’ll admit that not all these jobs were glamorous, all were interesting. Lonely Planet did a very accurate round up of the type of jobs working holiday makers usually take on.

Bangkok Treehouse

Travelfish published a review of the Bangkok Tree House this past week. It looks really interesting and relaxing. Though it’s a bit pricey for Thailand, a standard room costs about $US117, it’s still a bargain for such a unique hotel.

What I’m watching

GoPro posted something about their dive housing on Facebook. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but with it I learned GoPro makes dive housing for their cameras and that I had to have it immediately. Long story short, I bought this housing about twenty minutes later.

This video was shot using the product will help explain why I needed it right away.

What I’m Googling

Where do male platypus deliver their venom from?

Answer: A spur on their hind limbs.

What I’m seeing

The weather is amazing in the Mount at the moment. It feels as though we’ve skipped Spring and gone straight into Summer at times. Ric and I are taking full advantage of it. We even found the motivation to walk up the Mount this Friday.

The view from the top of Mauao. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

What I’m planning

Almost all of our time in SE Asia is going to be pretty much left unplanned, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been researching places to visit in the country like crazy. A dive friend of mine recommended visiting Khao Sok National Park. She says people can stay right on the water and dive off their front porch. By on the water I literally mean on the water, not on a shore next to it. Sounds good to me. Who else has been?

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What I’m thinking Friday, 8 June

Blog, What I'm thinking

What I’m thinking Friday, 8 June

2 Comments 08 June 2012

This weekly update is long overdue. Kiwifruit season is coming to an end, so I have been working a lot the past few weeks to the point where I haven’t had enough time to think, let alone write about what I’m thinking.

Thankfully I caught a break this week. With the past two days off, I’ve had time to explore the web and the North Island with a mini road trip. Finally, I’ve also had time to catch up with these weekly updates. So instead of just one week of What I’m Thinking, here’s three.

What I’m reading

So I lied. I have been on the internet over the past few weeks. But not in a productive writing and blogging sense. I’ve been spending a lot of time on Pinterest, which I think is a great tool for bloggers and travelers, but for me is more something that I just really enjoy doing in my free time.

For anyone interested, Heels and Wheels is on Pinterest and my boards rock, so get on it people.

Anyway, spending so much time on Pinterest, I found another travel blogger on there who also creates kick-ass boards. Beth from Beers and Beans is one of many travel bloggers on Pinterest these days.

Funnily enough, only a few days after finding and following her on Pinterest, she wrote about the new social network. In Discovering the World with Pinterest, Beth writes about her addiction to the website, how it’s good for bloggers and photographers and that Beers and Beans will be featuring readers’ travel Pinterest Boards on their site.

Can’t wait to see all those travel pins!

Shifting away from Pinterest, Nomadic Matt wrote a very helpful article on how to (legally) stay in Europe for more than 90 days. In this piece be talks about the Schengen visa, a 90 day tourist visa for countries in the Schengen zone, which includes 26 European countries. He goes on to give ways and mention loopholes to the system that can help visitors stay legally for longer.

To be honest, I never heard of the Schengen zone, nor did I know there was an overall 90 day limit for countries in that zone. So this article was very informative  and could come in use in the future since Ric and I will be trying to spend an extended period of time in Europe.

What I’m watching

Many of you may have read about German Michael Wigge who traveled from Europe to Antarctica without any money, but have you seen the video trailer about his adventure? First of all, what a legend. I would love to try something like this, though I’m not sure I would ever eat food out of garbage bins to stay on the road.

The trailer is made in 90s fishing show style, so you can have a giggle while being in awe of this extreme backpacker.

What I’m googling

It was actually Ric and his work mates googling this, but I saw it on the iPod and thought, “How appropriate?”. If you are the only person in the world who missed it, this past weekend Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her diamond jubilee, a 60 year reign.

Ric wanted to know what exactly a jubilee is.

ju·bi·lee/ˈjo͞obəˌlē/

Noun:

A special anniversary of an event, esp. one celebrating twenty-five or fifty years of a reign or activity.-Google definition

What I’m seeing

For the first time, in a long time, we hit the road for the day. With a full tank and no plans or expectations, we ended up visiting The Red Woods in Whakarewarewa Forest (Rotorua), Huka Falls and Taupo. When I heard there were Red Woods in Rotorua, I had to see them. I still haven’t seen the massive trees in their and my native country of USA. Hopefully some day soon.

What I’m planning

USA at Halloween. That’s my favorite time of the year. America does Halloween best and I’ve missed it. I also want Ric to see what it’s like at home. I was thinking today that maybe we should leave Thailand just a few days earlier to spend Halloween in the States.

Ric asked, “A few days in warm Thailand or Halloween at home, which would you rather?”.

I’m not really sure. Both sound really good. Which one would you choose?

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