News.

It’s all news to you. My blog that is. Not really to me, of course, I’m the one living it. I’ve been thinking about my blog over the last few days though. About why I’m doing it, what I’m writing, who I’m writing for and what it means.

I seem to have fallen into a little bit of a trap of just writing about where I’ve been and what I’ve done in a very matter of fact way, and I really don’t want my posts to be like that. Since I started this blog at the beginning of the year, it’s been a place to write about my thoughts and what’s in my head (my thought bubbles), or about what I’ve been up to or how I’m thinking or dealing with stuff that I need or have to do, or just how I go about daily life. But not in a stilted, informational way. When I started my blog I wasn’t writing for anyone else but me, although I know a few people read it. Since I’ve been travelling it’s obviously a great way for people to keep up to date with what I’m up to and where I am, so I guess subconsciously that’s how I’ve been writing it. But I feel like I’m losing the way I like to write. So, I’m going to try to get back to writing how I want, and about the stuff I like to write about. But, don’t worry, I’ll still write about the places I’m visiting.

I think some of the problem is that I sometimes don’t have a huge amount of time to write. Now you’re probably thinking “Really? You don’t have a job and are pretty much on a permanent holiday and have all day every day, so what’s the problem?”. But that’s not really the case. I can be out and about most of the day, then maybe out again at night, or have stuff to do (admin days), and then some of the time I just don’t fancy writing. If I’m not in the right mood I find it quite hard to find the right words and put them down on paper (or computer, you know what I mean). Especially getting into the matter-of-fact way of writing – it’s not a style I like and I find it a bit boring. It’s less writing about what is in my head and more trying to recall what I’ve been up to over preceding days/weeks (which, when you’re quite busy doing new stuff all the time can be hard work; all the days merge into one and I forget what I did, and where, and when).

Blogging is a funny thing though. There are so many different types. I’ve thought about it, and I write this one definitely for me. If it entertains others and they enjoy reading it then that’s good as well. I know it’s a great way to keep my friends and family updated, but it can feel a bit like a window. A window that behind which is my life, my travels. A window that everyone else is looking through. Observing. But, never knocking at the door, or never wanting to open the window to speak to me. To say hello. To let me know what’s going on behind their windows. It’s a strange feeling. I like interacting. I like chatting and speaking to people. I want to look in other people’s windows, but I want to open the windows, to lean in and ask them questions or to just have a chat.  And in turn, I’ll answer questions, or have a chat.

So I’d love it if you want to leave a comment. Or ask me a question. Or just say hello.

Keep in touch. It’s good to talk.

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Goodbye Thailand.

Chiang Mai was the last place we stayed in Thailand. It’s not the last place we visited, that was Chiang Khong, but as we were only there 1/2 hour before we crossed the river and the border to Laos it’s not really worth mentioning.

We were in Chiang Mai for about 5 days. It’s Thailand’s second biggest city and a popular place on the tourist trail, with umpteen million things to do, although most of these are extremely expensive for what they are, and compared to the price of other things in Thailand/Asia. First things first, the day we got there we had a wander around. This is customary for me and Nick now. Find somewhere to stay, dump the bags then go for a walk to figure out where we are and where the nearest facilities* are. We did this in style in Chiang Mai. We found a little guesthouse which was basic but clean and functional and in a great location for the cheapest price yet (around £2 per person per night). Just round the corner in a quiet soi was a bar with prime seats outside and 7/11 priced beer where we sat in the late afternoon sun people watching, putting the world to rights and chilling out with a beer or four. Or five. After a few we thought we’d best go get some food, and decided to be Westerners for the night and headed to Mike’s Burger Bar, a roadside burger joint with pricey burgers, good music, weird posters and smiley staff. Now, it might have been the beers, or the fact I’ve not had a burger in months but it was the BEST BURGER AND CHIPS IN THE WORLD. Fact. What we should have done then is stop drinking. But we didn’t, we went back and had more beers. Not before I had (apparently, I can’t quite remember the night from this bit onwards) stopped at a street stall, picked up a fedora hat and pretended to be Michael Jackson. And also told Nick that I didn’t need ANY help from ANY man to cross the road. And talked rubbish to some people from Ireland. Oooops. It was a tremaze night though, much fun and worth the fuzzy feeling the next day.

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Inside the city walls, Chiang Mai is very traveller orientated, with lots of little quiet soi’s full of guesthouses, restaurants, bars and massage places. Very much traveller-town, however it doesn’t feel anything like Khao San Road. It’s very villagey, with no loud music or partying, just a very laid back relaxed atmosphere. We both liked it straight away, and enjoyed a few days of wandering around, finding street places to eat and having a few drinks in the late afternoon sun at our newly found local bar. We spent one day walking the perimeter of the city walls (it’s about 4 miles in total, 1 mile each side), another day having a picnic in the park and another hiring bikes to have a bit of an explore out of town (we ended up in the University area, getting down with all the trendy youths. Chiang Mai is also a surprisingly dirty city – I ended up caked in grime and grit after a day riding round through the traffic. Nice.).

One night we had a traditional Thai massage, which wasn’t anything like any massage I’d had before. Nothing like my sports massages, or oil-based relaxing massages. Nope, this one involved being pulled, stretched, punched, kicked, squeezed as well as knelt and walked on by a Thai lady, with my clothes on. It was relaxing, in a strange way, and afterwards I felt very chilled out. We didn’t do much afterwards, apart from loll around.

On the Sunday night there was a HUGE market where one of the main roads in the old city turned into a walking street where every handicraft under the sun was for sale, as well as all the Wat courtyards being turned into food courts. That night was Snack Night, a night to try lots of different little snacks rather than a full meal. Like omlettes cooked in a banana leaf, or a spicy sausage on a stick, or a little pile of noodles in a leaf, or BBQ chicken wings. Or a bag of insects. That one was Nicks. Although I did try a worm. After freaking out a bit that I thought one was still alive in the bag, and then picking up a worm, squishing it in my fingers and squeaking and dropping it. You know when, before I left to come away, I smugly said “When I go to Asia and see insects on sticks I’ll definitely try one, oh yes I will.”. Yeah. Now I’ve seen them, it’s not going to happen. Can’t do it. The worm was bad enough. Although, it was surprisingly tasty. But. I couldn’t get over the fact it was a worm.

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There was one odd thing that happened while we were walking down the street. Ever been offered a turtle/tortoise for sale by a random man that walks past you in the street? I have. No idea why he was carrying it, whether it was alive or dead, or why he thought I might want it. It’s about as random as the time me and The Marine had gone to Ilkley for the weekend and this eccentric old lady practically spat the words “Stop!..<pause>..Being so..<pause>..intelligent. And..<pause>..Fit!” at us. Weird.

I think I might have decided on my next tattoo. Well, it’s actually going to be an extension of the one I already have on my right wrist. But, I’m keeping the idea until the end of my travels, as I’m sure I’ll get more ideas over the next few months too. It did take a bit of restraint not to go and get one done in Chiang Mai. I need to be 100% sure. And I think what I end up having will actually be a few things, some of which I don’t know yet. So I’ve got to be patient.

Chiang Mai was lovely, but as the days went on it was apparent there was less and less to do, unless you had loads of money to spend. A lot of the activities on offer didn’t really appeal to me, and I think we both felt we were probably there about a day too long. Having said that, it was a nice place to spend a few days chilling out, we ate some good food and did a fair bit of walking and biking. We got a bit of culture by visiting a few temples, and we got out of Traveller Town by walking into the outside areas on the last day. This included Seedy Street where there were many bars, full of young pretty Thai girls, to go to, including one called ‘Foxy Ladys a-go-go’. I’m sure you can work out what type of bar that was. And the tuk tuk drivers ask the men if they want to be taken to have a Good Time.

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The alarm was set for 5 am to catch a 6 hour Green Bus to Chiang Kong (the Thailand/Laos border). Heading out of the guesthouse at 5:35am the heavens decided to open. It hadn’t rained for about 4 days, it had been bright hot sunshine. Hmm. It wasn’t looking good, especially as we’d been told the tuk tuks didn’t start until 6am, so our default option was to be to head down the road towards the bus station, looking out for tuk tuks as we went. However, Travellers Serendipitous Luck occurred. Don’t know what this is? It’s when you’re in the right place and the right time. Speak to any traveller and you’ll find it’s probably happened at least once. This time, I had just stepped out of the guesthouse onto the street and what should be coming up the soi but a tuk tuk, it’s lights shining in the rainy darkness like rays from heaven! If there had been sound effects, it would have been a heavenly ‘aaaaaahhhhh’ sung by angels. Price bartered down (of course: standard practice), we got in and escaped getting a good soaking. This is Important when a) you have a 6 hour bus journey on a cold air conditioned bus b) when you don’t have many clothes and you have to dry them and c) you don’t want wet clothes in your backpack. They make everything else wet and smell like wet dog.

Looking forlornly out of the window at our last glimpses of Thailand, we waved a reluctant good bye and crossed the river in Chiang Khong to Houxay to start our adventure in Laos.

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Goodbye Thailand, you were home for a month and a half and I could have stayed longer. I loved your food, it was truly some of the best, cheapest and tastiest around. I tried new things, and enjoyed all of it. Your people are some of the most friendliest, happiest, smiliest and most helpful people I have met. I never heard a raised voice or an argument. No road rage or beeping horns. Everyone I smiled at smiled back. Everyone I said hello to smiled and said hello back. People would go out of their way to help, even when they weren’t asked. I never once felt pressured to buy something, or to have a tuk tuk ride. I never felt like people were only talking to me to get my money. Your landscape and scenery was beautiful and interesting, and all so different. You’ve got a history I enjoyed finding out about. I thought you were a place that I wasn’t fussed about visiting.

You changed my mind. I’ll see you again someday.

*bars with cheap beers

By the border.

Mae Sot is a border town; it’s not really a tourist/traveller destination. It’s not visited that much, it’s a bit out of the way and doesn’t really have many attractions as such. So, that was kind of the attraction for us. Let’s check out what others don’t.

It had a very different feel to the other places in Thailand that I’ve been to. Being a border town, and there being a Burmese refugee camp nearby, there was a large mix of different cultures and people, and it felt a bit like a town with no purpose and no character. A bit soulless I guess, and the people didn’t seem to be as friendly or welcoming as other places we’d been.

I was in a bit of a travel funk in Mae Sot I think. A bit tired from all the travelling, the guesthouse we stayed in was really hot and the fan didn’t really do much apart from just circulate hot air, and I wonder whether I was just a bit fed up for no particular reason, so I’m not sure whether this affected how I viewed the place. I’m pleased we went to visit, I’m pleased we saw it and I did have a good time and enjoyed all the stuff we did. But, I wasn’t too fussed to leave and I wouldn’t go back.

It had a huge and bustling market, where you could buy pretty much any fish, meat or vegetable you wanted. I even saw Angry Birds on sticks. No idea what they were made out of, and I probably don’t want to know. We’ve visited loads of markets now, and they’re all the same but different. All the smells, the sights and the stuff they’re selling. The market community, the food and the hustle and bustle. No matter how many we’ve been round, it never gets boring or the same. We love it.

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We hired bikes to get out into the countryside, to do a bit of exploring. This was an awesome day. The sun was out, the countryside was pretty, a lot of the people we saw we friendly and smiley and there were a few hills for a bit of cardio exercise, which is something I’m still not doing as much as I’d like. Oh, and these bikes had a much softer seat than the ones in Kanchanaburi. I felt about 10 years old again, free wheeling down the hills with my legs stuck out and then remembering that the brakes were a bit shit. Luckily there wasn’t any traffic, bar the odd farmer or old man on a motorbike, who, incidentally, appeared to find the simple fact we were cycling down the road highly amusing.

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The couple of days was topped off by some smokin’ Japanese food out of the back of a pick up van and the fact that there was a beer shop next door to the guesthouse that sold cheap beer. Although, the fact that I was in a travel funk meant I didn’t join Nick in any beers. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention that we ate the cheapest meal we have had there. And cheap price did not mean bad food. Cheap price=very good food. 25 baht for a plateful. That’s 50p. 50p for a plateful of curry/vegetable/meat and rice. Ba-rg-ain.

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Like I said, I’m pleased we went, I’m pleased we experienced it, and I did have a good time. But, there was just something about the place that didn’t gel with me. But I can’t expect that everywhere will. I guess it’s just the first place that hasn’t really, and it surprised me.  

On the buses.

This is a story of a 14 hour bus adventure over two days through central Thailand.

While in Kanchanaburi we thought it would be a bit of fun to take local transport overland to Mae Sot, rather than head back to Bangkok and get the touristy main road ‘Big Bus’. Mae Sot is on the border with Burma (Myanmar) and a bit off the beaten track so taking local buses meant that we’d be having to change quite a few times. We didn’t quite know how we’d get on or how long it would take but, that’s all part of the fun, innit?

We left Kanchanaburi at about 9am in the morning and arrived in Mae Sot at around 8:30am the following morning. Admittedly this was a teeny bit longer than we were expecting.

The first bus was a local bus to Suphanburi. The local buses are well cool. Full of character, rattles, colour, people, fans and animals (no chickens yet though – just a cat). For a couple of hours we rode along the Thai countryside with the wind in our hair, the sun on our skin and smiles on our faces. People get on and off, the conductor up and down with his little ticket/money box helping people out and chatting. Sometimes the bus stops for a while in certain places so people can get on and off to get snacks, drinks or go to the toilet. The helpful conductor was helping people buy snacks through the windows so they wouldn’t have to get out. They also seem to have to stop somewhere along the way to ‘clock in’. On this journey it was a machine attached to a wall of a small shack in the middle of the countryside. I have no idea why they do this though.

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Note the high tech air conditioning on these buses; open windows and doors and fans on the ceiling.

At Suphanburi bus terminal we got off our bus and pretty much straight onto another of the same type, this time heading for a place called Nakon Sawan. This journey was about 4 hours, so we’re getting into late afternoon now. We know we’ve got another two buses after this one so at this point we’re thinking it’s probably going to be a late one. But, it doesn’t matter when you have plenty of time and no alarm to get up for. This journey was probably my favourite. The scenery was just delightful, passing through central Thailand there were mountains in the background, small villages and towns, people on bicycles, animals, children playing, street stalls selling everything you can imagine. Everything was so green; all the plants and trees so colourful and tropical, and bright flowers and colours dotted amongst them all like iced gems.

Arriving at Nakon Sawan we had a bit more choice of bus now. It was 5pm and after quite a bit of conversation with many different people telling us lots of different things, some food and a sit down away from the touts, we discovered we could either go with a company on one of the ‘Big Buses’ (air conditioned coach) or the government bus (similar kind of thing – it seemed there wasn’t a local bus to do the same journey, perhaps because it’s a bit of a longer route). After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing and a skilled bit of haggling from me, we got the ticket price down for one of the Big Buses to get into Tak at about 10pm. This journey was a bit uneventful, it was dark so there wasn’t much to see, apart from the odd town we passed through all lit up, or the odd remote places all lit up with fairy lights. We stopped after about an hour at a kind of Thailand-style service station where we got a fab hot meal (included free with the bus ticket). These service stations are a bit bizarre – they have a strange feel about them but are pretty much the same concept as back at home – somewhere to go to the toilet, buy some snacks or hot food. However, they’re not at supidly inflated prices here, you can’t buy tat and the food was some of the best I’ve had. No microwave-reheated plastic food at these places. And to get a free meal in with the already stupidly cheap bus ticket is a Billy Bargain.

We arrived at Tak at just gone 10pm. One more journey left – Tak to Mae Sot. We were a bit dismayed to find out that the next bus to Mae Sot was at 3am that night (well, the next morning). Hmm. Not quite ideal. We didn’t really relish the thought of getting to Mae Sot at about 5 in the morning and trying to find somewhere to stay.  We knew there were government minibuses that ran between 6am and 7pm from Tak, so we decided to find a bench and settle down for the night. After all, 6am wasn’t that far away. You might wonder why we didn’t try to find somewhere to stay in Tak? Well, we didn’t know the place, there was nothing in my guidebook and no taxis or tuk tuks about at the time of night. It was just easier to be hobos for the night. It’s the first time I’ve spent a night like that, so that’s another thing to tick off the travelling list. Using my rucksack top pocket as a pillow (I am sure its designed that way) I managed to get a few hours kip on the hardest wooden bench, much to my surprise, in between the barking stray dogs, the toilet attendant’s untuned guitar playing (yep, he worked all night, no free pee’s for me) and the arrival of buses throughout the night.

Nick didn’t get so much sleep, but had just managed to drift off at about 5:30am when a woman came and woke him up because she wanted to sit on the end of his bench. There was a perfectly good seat nearby, but no, she wanted to sit on that bench. She was the attendant for the minibuses for Mae Sot so after giving her a few glares we bought a couple of tickets and waited on a cramped minibus until it was full. You see, over here, buses don’t always go on time, they go when they are full. So, after about a 45 minute wait, the minibus was crammed full of people and luggage and we set off for a most uncomfortable 90 minute journey to Mae Sot. I struggled to keep my eyes open but was awake to see yet more stunning scenery, and also be aware of a girl next to me hide beneath my legs and under my rucksack and plead with me not to say anything when we stopped at a control point. I’m not quite sure what these points are but it seems to be the police checking ID cards, so I’m guessing it is perhaps for illegal immigrants given that we were so close to the Thailand-Burmese border. Clearly this girl didn’t have any ID, I’m not sure what was going on but the chap didn’t spot her and we moved on again.

We arrived at about 8:30am in Mae Sot tired, stiff and uncomfortable, but having had an awesome little adventure on the buses. It’s what travel is all about. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

The Bridge over the River Kwai.

I’ve never seen the film, I didn’t really know what it was about but knew it was an old film, something to do with the war and so not my kind of thing. Apart from now I want to watch it. Because now I know what it’s about. Now I know what it’s based on.

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Kanchanaburi was the place we headed to after Krabi. Two buses and about 15 hours after leaving Krabi we arrived at the bus station before 8am where some unenthusiastic tuk tuk drivers were having a snooze. Usually, when you get off a bus you’re surrounded by them, all asking “Where you go?” or “Taxi?”, unable to move or even have chance to breathe. This time, not so much. We managed to get one chap to take us to the main street but it was a bit of an effort.

We’d not got anywhere to stay booked so we jumped off the songthaew, had a quick look around and headed to the nearest guest house. A quick check of the room saw it was clean, cheap (the cheapest one yet – about £2.50 a night) and set back from the main street so, after dumping the bags and a quick shower, we were on the search for some breakfast. We were STARVING.

We were worried that as a popular, touristy place there wouldn’t be much choice, or street food, but rather would just have loads of Western restaurants serving burgers, pizza and chips but we were wrong! A hop, skip and a jump down the road we headed into the first Thai street-food type place after asking if they did Pad-Ka-Prow. You remember, my favourite dish of minced pork with holy basil, chilli, garlic, rice and a fried egg on top? Their eyes lit up when we mentioned it, we asked for it “phet phet” (very hot) and they were clearly delighted to be serving us a traditional Thai dish. And oh, it didn’t disappoint. 9am in the morning, we ate the hottest, fieriest, chilli-laden Pad-Ka-Prow yet. And it was just delicious (aroi-ma). Set us right up for the day it did.

Our bellies full of fiery chillis, we headed to the bridge. Apparently the bridge in the film [Bridge over the River Kwai] doesn’t look anything like it does in real life (the film was shot in Sri Lanka) but I’ve never seen the film so I couldn’t really compare. And besides, we didn’t come to Kanchanaburi to see a film set, we were visiting to see and learn first hand about the awful history behind the bridge. Which we did, by going to the excellent Thailand-Burma Railway Centre as well as the bridge and the war cemetery. We got to see the bullet holes and bomb blast markings on the bridge which you wouldn’t have normally spotted thanks to a lovely Thai violin player who we chatted to a bit in Thai after he started to play Lady Gaga.

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Now, I’m not normally much of a museum person but the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre was extremely well done. I actually found it incredibly moving and struggled not to cry in some parts. Such awful conditions and treatment for so many brave men. We decided to have a few beers afterwards to toast to all those that died because of that railway, and I can pretty much guarantee than neither Nick or I will ever forget that day.

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We hired bikes the day after to go exploring the outlying countryside. Bikes from the smiling Yanee who no doubt was always smiling because she knew how HARD the bike seats were. I swear I’ve sat on softer floors. Despite this, we clocked up around 25 miles (yep, my arse hurt like hell at the end of it) trying [and failing] to find a waterfall. We did however, get to bike through some stunning countryside, past some (what we think were) Chinese graves and amuse staff in a remote 7/11 who didn’t really get Westerners there that much. Traffic and driving is different to the UK here. Thai people are so friendly and such tolerant drivers. They stop, and let you out. They have patience. They never use their horn (unless it’s a songthaew). You never see road rage. I’m probably safer here on an old rickety, rattly bike with no helmet, wearing flip flops and shorts through manic traffic than I would be in Lincoln. And I certainly won’t get cut up, swore at or overtaken aggressively.

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The final day was spent taking a journey on the so-called ‘Death Railway’. A slow, rickety journey through the Thai countryside, over rivers and through the jungle. Because of the history of the track, it was a thoughtful train ride, only slightly marred by the fact that it was a bit packed with tour groups. It was a bit hard to try and sit and reflect when I had a German lady’s wide angle lens in my face (literally, and it’s not a euphemism) trying to get photos out of the window. We ended up at a small station in the middle of nowhere, so we walked towards [another] waterfall which we never found. We did find however, the bus stop, so hopped on a local bus to make the shorter journey back. The local buses are great; the conductors are really helpful and friendly and it costs peanuts. Around £1 for a 2 hour bus journey. A steal! You wouldn’t get that in England.

Kanchanaburi is a strange place. Despite the awful history, it’s an upbeat place. In fact, it’s a bit of a party place, which surprised us. We stayed at a guesthouse on a road called Thanon Manem Kwae which we renamed ‘Bar Street’. Every other building was a bar. Not normally our first choice but our room was set well back from the street. Handy to get a beer, and during the day the street was busy with street vendors, traffic and people walking. At night though, it took on a slightly seedy feel. Which is not what we expected. The bars were full of older Western gentlemen being entertained by young Thai girls. Or older Western gentlemen waiting to be entertained by young Thai girls. You had young Thai girls so drunk they were falling over one another. Thai girls dancing around poles trying to lure us in to their bars. Bars where shots were only 10 baht (about 20p). Like a Thai Ibiza or Aiya Napa. Shudder.

We had one night where we had a few beers, some games of pool and chatted to other travellers but stayed in some of the safer bars. Mainly for Nick’s sake, I think some of those ladies would have not let him get out alive!

Despite that, I’m so glad we made the stop here though; it was an incredible few days, for all kinds of reasons and I won’t forget it.

Runs around the world #12

Kanchanaburi, Thailand

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Home to the Bridge over the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi is in the central plains of Thailand, about 80 miles west of Bangkok. It’s unfortunately made famous due to the Thailand-Burma railway and the thousands of prisoners of war that died in awful, harsh conditions building it (and the subsequent film The Bridge over the River Kwai). Go a little further afield, however, and you are greeted by some stunning scenery, countryside and rivers. The weather has been a bit changeable over the last couple of weeks so after a day spent on a train and a bus and not much exercise, and a break in the rain, I decided to chuck the runners on and head out for a much needed blast.

After a short run dodging the traffic down ‘Bar Street’ (one of the main streets that is full of bars, guest houses, shops, people and traffic) I ran across the River Kwai (although not over that bridge) and out of town, away from the people, the noise and the tuk-tuks, cars and scooters.

A peaceful silence filled the air, and the humid air filled my lungs. It was hot, again, and very humid but I think I’m getting used to running in it. I wouldn’t say I enjoy it but I don’t think about it half as much, and just enjoy running while I’m out there.

I ran along the road and out into the countryside where palm trees lined the edge of the road and ponds were filled to the brim with water lillies. With mountains in the distance and the tropical sights, sounds and plants, there’s no escaping I’m a long way from England. But yet strangely, I feel so at home here. I didn’t feel out of place, or like a tourist attraction, or that I had two heads. Because one of the best things about Thailand is the people (the other is the food). They are lovely. Really, really lovely. Friendly, and welcoming and full of smiles. They looked at me bemusingly, but not overly curious. It felt like I was doing something that perhaps happened every day and wasn’t out of the ordinary, which was a wonderful feeling, and not one I’ve had in many other places I’ve ran in. I was greeted with waves, smiles and shouts of “Hello!” from all the Thai people in their homes when I ran past, which I returned with “Sa-wat-dee Ka” (hello in Thai). I was also joined by a couple of loud, shouty barking dogs who decided to chase run alongside me. I shouted a grateful “Kob Khun Ka” (thank you) when their owners stopped them, the Thai lady clearly delighted that I was speaking in Thai. They do love it here when you try to speak a bit of their language, I’ve had so much fun, especially in food places, learning new words and having a bit of banter. In fact, I got more odd looks from other Westerners when I ran the last part down Bar Street.

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I ran 4 miles in total. Not a great deal, but enough for this run. My legs were feeling it, as the day before I’d cycled about 25 miles and a couple of days before that I’d pulled one of my quads climbing up a cliff face on Railay beach. So, 4 miles wasn’t too shabby, kept my legs moving and gave me that lovely running high.

One of my favourite runs so far I reckon. Not quite enough to make the top spot (that’s still Hong Kong) but it’s up there. One that made me smile both during my run and for a good while afterwards. Good times.

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Krabi. The town of discovery.

Krabi is the main place to head to if you want to get to some of the Thai islands such as Phuket or Phi Phi, so many people bypass it, choosing to get straight to their destination instead of using it as a stopover. We decided to stay here for a couple of nights though, to check it out rather than heading back to stay on another beach for a few days. We’d done the beach thing, we were so over it. And also wanted to check out Krabi’s street food scene.

Our first impression of Krabi a week ago was at 6am in the morning on the main street when we arrived to go to Koh Jum and were hanging around on a street corner for a songthaew. Empty, no one around and quiet. This, we found, was just because 6am is ridiculously early. So, a normal day in Krabi Town is full of people, markets, stalls, scooters, cars, boats and songthaews.

Not surprisingly, like the other places in Thailand so far, I loved Krabi. It was fairly small and compact, so we’d walked around most of at least the central area after a day and a half. We’d found the morning market, and the afternoon and evening markets. We’d found a muslim food stand which served the most amazing food, with happy, smiley people. No pork, so none of my beloved Pad-ka-prow, but the hot, spicy chicken dish they served more than made up for it. Nick found a green curry to top the one in Khao San Road. I’d found the fruit carts to get my fix of watermelon, and bought some replacement flip flops.

I’m also a target for mosquitos and other flying bitey insects (as I have been all my life, sigh.) and I’d pretty much run out of insect bite stuff so I decided to buy some Tiger Balm. I’d heard of this before, but never tried it, never really knew what it was for. A girl in the hostel in Bangkok had recommended it for insect bites so I figured I’d give it a go. There’s a few different types so the girl in the pharmacy recommended the red ointment. Not sure what the difference is but it smells like cinnamon. Whatever it is, IT WORKS. It works lots. I’d go so far as to say it’s a miracle. It stops the itching really quickly. It makes bites go down and disappear like magic. I think it also helps a little bit to keep insects away. I’m in awe, and now not sure what I’d do without it. I may have to stock up. Just to make sure I have plenty you see. Or panic buying. Either way, I’m not sure I can be without it now. Just like Vaseline, it will become a handbag staple. When I eventually use a handbag again.

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Krabi’s surrounded by mangroves so we went on a walk through one of them. I didn’t really know what a mangrove was until a few weeks ago, so new experience #537262. It was a bit eerie, there was no one else around and seeing the tree roots out of the water made it all a bit like a horror movie. If only it was a bit darker and there was a bit of mist I would have probably crapped myself.

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I think I should write something about the wildlife. All along this trip there’s been loads of wildlife. Everywhere. New animals, insects, birds etc. Most of it while I’ve been out and about and lovely to see, some of it where it shouldn’t have been and not so nice to see. Like wildlife where I wouldn’t have liked it to be. Such as my room, or the bathroom, or in my clothes. It’s not been too bad, most things (including spiders now) really don’t bother me. Out here, in tropical countries, you really haven’t got a choice other to just get on with it. I think my trip to the Amazon last year in Peru also helped with the insect thing (bullet ant, tarantuala or killer caterpillar anyone?). And living alone. When you live by yourself no one else will get rid of the spider for you. Ever had a fish swim up through your plughole while you’re having a shower? No? Me neither, but Nick did, in our little Krabi guesthouse. I don’t think he’ll forget that one in a while.

We also saw mudskippers, amphibious fish with little arms that hop and skip around in and out of the water, as well as some weird one-clawed crab type things, which disappeared down little holes with any little movement. So imagine, one swipe of your arm and they all disappear in milliseconds. Yep, I decided to play at being a wizard for a bit. Little things amuse.

Not wanting to completely leave the beach thing, we caught a longtail boat to Railay beach for the day. Railay, a small peninsular only reached by boat, is very, very pretty. In fact it’s stunning. But very busy, and loads of other tourists. I’d hate to imagine what it’s like in high season. Glad we just went for the day and didn’t stay. Oh, and there’s no street food, only western restaurants and cafes. It wasn’t great weather, but we decided to climb a rocky cliff to a viewpoint at the top. It wasn’t raining at the time. We got half way up. It started to piss down. Torrential rain. So, there we were, barefoot, hanging onto rocks and a rope, halfway up a cliff face. What other choice but to carry on. It’s all an adventure, right? Of course! RIGHT up my street. Much, much fun and we made it up (and down) with no injuries. Got soaking wet of course. And it took bloody ages to dry out, especially without any sun and having to run away from monkeys trying to steal my grapes.

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Longtail boats are pretty ace, although they bob about A LOT and you get wet a bit. Still, they’re not half as bad at that speedboat ride and I didn’t drop my phone or camera in the sea. And they’re pretty. Good times.

Oh, and something definitely worth a mention: I had the best pancake so far in Krabi. Thailand like their pancake street stalls. You can have them plain, or with egg, or banana (or both). My favourite is plain. Plain is actually with condensed milk and sugar. It’s bloody amazing for someone with a sweet tooth. This one was crispy and sugary and covered in gooey melted condensed milk. Mmmmm. We sat eating them out of polystyrene trays on the edge of the pavement. It felt like we were eating chips and cheese after a night out on the lash. But, this was 8pm and we were sober. Funny how different things can appear so similar.

Back on the [usual lairy, erratically driven] night bus to Bangkok, in the middle of the countryside we passed a few buildings covered in fairy lights. Ah, has Christmas come early I thought? Because here, there is no mention of Christmas. Anywhere. Which is great, as I’m pretty sure the UK is full of it by now. I mean, it’s October so of course it will be (which is WRONG). No, this wasn’t Christmas. It was advertising girls. Not sure what exactly what but I can probably hazard a guess. Oh, and that also reminds me of the film they played on the bus. Class A weird. Weird, weird, weird. I know it was in Thai but normally you can kind of follow or guess at a plotline. Nope, not this one. I really couldn’t. It had something to do with men dressing as women, a group of people being held hostage in a hospital, then the same group possibly robbing a house. It seemed to be some kind of dark comedy because it had comedy sound effects and slightly outrageous shootings and stabbings but sinister undertones. I gave up in the end as they also played it at a million decibels so stuck in my ear plugs and daydreamed.

Yep, I liked Krabi. If I had to sum it up? Small, compact, authentic, lively and pretty.

Koh Jum-jumbalaya.

Island life part 2 was spent on Koh Jum, a little island on the Andaman Coast. It was recommended to Nick by some friends as somewhere small, quiet and pretty, away from the tourist crowd. Sounded right up our street so we thought we’d check it out. It’s still low season here in Thailand so a lot of places are closed on the smaller islands so we knew it was going to be pretty quiet, but that’s pretty much what we wanted so we got all packed and ready to leave Bangkok to head south.

I was sad to leave Bangkok again, it’s an awesome place and I was suprised how much I ended up loving it. But, new days, new adventures. I can pack my bag in about 5 minutes now; everything has a place and I know just what goes where. I could probably do it in the dark or with my eyes closed by now too. My packing has changed quite a bit since those first few days. I remember repacking a few bits in my mum and dad’s hotel room in London before I left to go to Heathrow and thinking how I had it sussed. Oh how it has changed. Some stuff I’ve ditched, loads of stuff has moved round and I have a few new bits. It’s weird how normal it is now for me to have my entire life in one bag that isn’t even full. Took a bit of getting used to but now it’s totally normal. As is wearing the same clothes all the time and constantly looking for ways to make my bag lighter. As I said to my family last night when we had a catch up, it’s going to be like Christmas when I get back having all my clothes and shoes to wear. I’ve forgotten what things I actually have. Although Dad, that doesn’t mean you can throw them out and I won’t notice. I WILL. Trust me.

So, we hopped on an overnight bus from Bangkok, and arrived in Krabi at 5am after a bumpy and [fairly] restful 11 hour ride. We had to wait an hour for the sun to come up and the Songthaews (shared taxis, like a pick up with two benches in the back – great little inventions) to start running. One songthaew later, we had another hour wait in Krabi town to get another one to drop us off in Nuea Khlong where we had a two hour wait. One last songthaew and we were ready to get the longtail boat in a place called Laem Kruat. Which we just missed by minutes. So, a one and a half hour wait before the next boat which took 45 minutes to get to Koh Jum, where we then had to get a motorbike taxi. Suffice to say, by the time we got to Woodland Lodge, we were pretty shattered and a bit fed up of travelling. A plate of fried rice, a nice cold beer and a swim in the Andaman Sea later and oh yep, we were feeling much better.

Koh Jum reminded me a lot of Koh Mak, in that it was an island, in low season but there was quite a different feel about the place. There are no cars, and the island only got electricity about 4 years ago. It’s a predominately muslim island, so there were lots of women in the most prettiest headdresses I’ve ever seen, and it felt less like a resort island and more a place where people lived and worked amongst the tourists. And speaking of tourists: there weren’t any. Well, apart from me and Nick, and a couple called Jo and Robbie who were permanent long term travellers and regulars on Kho Jum, this time staying for 6 weeks. So, for nearly a week, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. No one else on the beach, in the sea or on the roads. We were the only ones staying with Ray and Sao at Woodland Lodge so it felt like staying with friends. Sao was the most amazing cook and we never ordered off the menu; we just told her what we liked and she’d cook up a storm for us. Mainly street-style food, including my favourite; Pad-ka-prow. Minced pork cooked with holy basil, garlic, chilli served with rice and a fried egg. I now know this is what I had after my second run in Bangkok. It’s amazingly delicious and I could probably eat it every day. Well, I did on Koh Jum. At least once a day. It’s so hot and spicy and tasty and….yum yum yum. Oh, and there was no wifi. Which was great. Just great to switch off for a bit.

The first day we had a few beers at night, which turned into a few more beers. Laura, my best friend, got married this day back in the UK so we had a few beers to celebrate. Ended up more than a little tipsy and so, what better thing to do than to go onto the beach to look at the stars. I decided this was a perfect place to play Twizzles. This is what me and my friends at primary school used to call spinning round in a circle, arms outstretched looking up at the sky then trying to walk straight. Can you guess what happened next? Yep, I fell over into the sea. So of course, the ONLY thing to do was to go for a swim. Fully clothed. In the bit of the sea with all the rocks. I only shredded my leg a little bit. It’s healing nicely now. It was HUGE amounts of fun, and something else I’ve never done. Until now. New experience? Check.

I’m very sad I missed Laura’s wedding. But, I made sure she had some messages and bits from me on her special day, and I rang her in the morning for a quick chat. We’ll have another celebration together when I see her next year so all will be good. Cheers dude!SONY DSC Koh Jum was also the place where my beloved Merrell flip flops met their demise. The comfiest, most brilliant flip flops I have ever owned. Now, ok, they were on their way out, granted, but, I wanted to be the one to decide when to throw them out. Instead, a wild dog decided to take matters into it’s own hands (jaw) and chewed one of them to bits. Just one. It left the other one perfectly intact on the front step of our hut. Like some kind of Godfather-style reminder perhaps. Maybe I looked at it wrong the day before or something. It was a sad day when I had to put them in the bin. SONY DSC Koh Jum village was quaint, small and pretty. After negotiating mosquito alley (a track through the jungle where we literally got covered in thousands of mosquitoes), we had fun chatting to the locals with the small amount of Thai we’d learnt so far, and also found some kind of peanut-sugar-brittle type thing which was basically a small package of peanuty-sugar-goodness. All for about 20p. SONY DSC

But one of the best things about these few days was the sea and the beach. Now, I’m not a big beach person. I’m not a sunbather and struggle with not doing a lot. I’m not hugely fond of the sea per se (Jaws has a lot to answer for) but I do like a bit of swimming. And even better if there’s someone to help tell me what’s on the bottom and to keep an eye on me as I can’t really see much without my glasses. So, we swam every day. In some of the biggest waves I have swum in (it was a stormy, windy day), in torrential rain (amazing feeling and sounds) and bright sunshine, the sea was always warm and getting the right bit of beach meant no rocks or sharks. Always a bonus. These will be really special memories for me. And of course, the sea comes with a beach and a beach is always pretty. To look at, to walk along and to watch the sun go down. And we weren’t disappointed by the sunset one night. The whole sky lit up with oranges, reds and yellows behind big fluffy clouds, sending sunshine rays in all directions, all reflected off the ocean. I do love a good sunset. I think the African sunset is still my favourite, but this was pretty impressive, and a pretty stunning picture to sum up island life.

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City surprise.

Bangkok surprised me. I spent two weeks there in total, which is nearly two weeks more than planned. Lots of people said it’s awful, noisy, busy and advised to just get out as quick as possible. But I found I loved it. It’s not really anything like you’d imagine. Ok, maybe there are seedy parts, dirty bits. Yes, it’s noisy but it’s a city. It’s certainly better than some cities I’ve been to (Delhi?). Maybe it was the area I stayed in; a Thai residential area. But I found it energising, friendly, cosmopolitan, bustling and vibrant. It’s easy to get around and is filled with lovely happy smiley people.

My second stay was when Nick came to join me to be my travel buddy for a couple of months in SE Asia. Nick’s first time in Thailand, we spent a few days walking miles and miles (literally; I think we covered around 40 miles in 3 days) around the city, eating lots of street food, trying to interact with the locals and take pictures. I met up with Rebecca again before Nick arrived for more food and drinks and a wander round a very wet and soggy Asiatique, a waterfront full of shops, restaurants and bars.

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It was strange having someone to travel with, especially someone I know from back home, after a few months of travelling by myself. It’s different, but in a good way. Someone to share stuff with. Like the experiences and sights that are being seen, but also the responsibility and organisation. Like remembering to take a room key, or figuring out which bus to get or doing a beer run. It’s making a nice change for a small part of my adventure. To share my adventure. We did a lot that week in Bangkok, here’s just a few examples:

  •  Had a few beers. Of course, it had to be done. And of course then I had to introduce Nick to the wonders of the 7/11 post-beer munchie food. Incidentally, there are 6500 7/11’s in Thailand. They are everywhere. Literally.
  • Stayed at the wonderful U-baan hostel in the Thonburi district ran by the lovely Joy (helped by her sister Jan). It’s a great place to stay at; we felt right at home and met some, erm, interesting people. Especially three Australian lads who were on a two-month rampage through SE Asia. The things they had already got up to in the few short weeks they had been travelling can’t really be written down here. And that’s just the things they told us about. The Dark Arts, as they called them, were not allowed to be shared publicly. I dread to think. But they were very sweet and very bloody entertaining. They left after a couple of days to head to a posh hotel nearer the centre of the action…god knows what they got up to.
  • Visiting Khao San Road. The backpackers mecca, we had an idea of what it would be like but we wanted to see it for sure. And it was exactly what we thought. Full of tourists, backpackers, english and irish bars, hawkers, cheap tat and fast food places. Pretty dire, and we were quick to make an exit. Not my kind of place, not my kind of travelling.

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  • Got interviewed by some Thai school children. I was in a shopping mall and I noticed a bunch of boys, probably about 11 or 12, giggling and nudging each other while looking in my direction. Eventually they came up and asked if they could ask me a few questions. I guess they were doing some kind of school project; they asked my what my favourite Thai food was, why and had a picture taken with me. It was all a bit odd but after a few months of being in Asia having your picture taken with people is kind of normal.
  • Discovered condensed milk on toast. Well yes, I know this sounds horrific, but, if you have a sweet tooth you may just be in heaven with this new taste sensation. Thick toast, butter then drizzled condensed milk. Oh. Em. Gee. I love Bangkok food courts. Where else would have a toast stall?
  • And staying on the condensed milk theme, Nick and I found a street pancake stall. A man with a little trolly making pancakes. This is quite popular in Thailand; a pancake with banana or egg (or both), drizzled with condensed milk and sugar. My advice? Try it without banana or egg. Just a pancake, on it’s own, with condensed milk and sugar. I may have died and gone to sweet food heaven.
  • And staying on the food theme, we ate and ate and ate the most amazing food. We didn’t go into a restaurant once; we stuck to street food. There were so many options, and the food was just so bloody good. Amazing flavours, so hot and fiery cooked and served right in front of you by happy smiley people. Street food all the way.
  • Talked to a lot of local people. We talked to loads of people. Well, talked/sign languaged as much as we could. Thai people are so friendly and so happy and so smiley. It was wonderful. I watched Nick make a paper aeroplane for a small Thai lad, we joked with people cooking our food and chatted with the people at the market.
  • Browsed the local markets. These are great places to go. All the foods, the smells, the sounds, the people. Makes all your senses come alive. Living, not existing.

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  • Took a sky train tour. One day we bought an all-day sky train ticket and just rode the train. When we got to a stop that looked interesting we just got out and walked around. I’d say with this and the walking we’d already done in the non-sky train areas we pretty much covered the whole of Bangkok. All the different places have a different feel; which we could really tell walking through them all.
  • Got grossed out at the Museum of Forensic Medicine. This was pretty gruesome but fascinating. Lots of exhibits and pictures of things showing what happens to the body after car accidents, murders, birth defects etc. A bit macabre but in an educational way. Apart from that all the writing is in Thai so we just had to guess sometimes.
  • Climbed a temple. We had to go to at least one temple so I chose Wat Arun. It’s a beautiful temple, you can climb to the top up really steep steps to get a great view over the river and Bangkok city. It looks like it’s made out of grey stone but it’s not until you get close up that you realise it’s covered in Bangkok grime and actually the stones are white and coloured.

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It’s amazing how we felt at home in Bangkok. It’s not because it’s a big city, because it’s not particularly westernised, although there are some areas where it obviously has parallels and home comforts. We tried to decide why, but couldn’t. I think there are too many reasons. Nick absolutely loved it, and will be coming back at the end of his trip. How long for, he’s not sure yet. But I suspect it has stolen a little bit of his heart.

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