Trip Start Aug 03, 2004
Trip End Jan 27, 2005

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Sunday, December 5, 2004

We decided to fly to Phuket from KL as it was much quicker than by bus (1 hour rather than two days), so much for the overland adventure! We took Lonely Planet's advice and stayed in Phuket Town instead of the beach resorts. Phuket Town is less touristy and is quieter at night than the resorts. We picked out what sounded like a nice place, which it was until the bed bugs struck at night. Ig got bitten to death and had bites all over his body. It took us a couple of nights to diagnose the culprits and when we did we bought several cans of insecticide and set up the mosquito net to deter the little buggers. It deterred most of them but not the smaller ones.

Our days in Phuket took the same format: Breakfast at the hotel, bus to one of the beaches (Karon, Kata or Patong), bus back to Phuket Town, shower, then food and drinks either in the town or in Patong. We spent a day at Patong beach which was very busy, and two days on Karon which was less busy with not as many sellers of massage, fruit, ice cream etc. For a livelier night we headed for Patong which is neon city at night, lots of bars, restaurants and plenty of tourist shops selling 'designer' goods - all original of course! We took advantage of this and bought t-shirts, a bag and a pashmina.

Whilst in Phuket we decided to take a one day boat trip to the Phi Phi Island group which was used as the location for the film 'The Beach' with Leonardo DiCaprio. The Phi Phi Island group consists of two islands: Phi Phi Leh (uninhabited) and Phi Phi Don. We sailed to Phi Phi Leh and Maya Beach (the beach in 'The Beach') and Ig snorkeled and fed the fishes. Mary tried snorkeling but yet again scared herself to death so just relaxed on the boat. Maya beach was heaving and not at all like the deserted beach in the film, but it was still good to see. We then sailed around the island to Phi Phi Don where lunch and some time was had on the beach. Phi Phi is definitely worth a visit and if we had more time we would have stayed on the island for a few days as the beaches and scenery are excellent. We were shocked to find out it had been decimated by the tsunami just three weeks after we left - a lucky escape for us!

We then had the dilemma of getting from Phuket to Bangkok. We looked into taking the bus, but again discovered it takes a long time so off we went to the Thai airways office and booked a flight to Bangkok.

As it was Mary's birthday (and Ig had been bitten to death) Ig booked a nice hotel with clean bed, bathroom, mini-bar and satellite TV (which just happened to have Premiership football on constantly!) Our hotel was just off the Sukhumvit Road and we quickly realised that Bangkok is not the easiest place to get around and is always very busy. Travelling along the Sukhumvit is easy as there is a Skytrain that runs above the road, but it is more difficult to get to the Mae Nam Chao Phraya River and the Grand Palace areas.

On our first afternoon in the city we took the Skytrain to Lumphini Park to see a number of Thais working out doing outdoor aerobics, this was fun to watch. It was then to Patpong which has a large bazaar selling the usual tourist tat, and also the infamous go-go bars. It was all a bit seedy, but Mary was more concerned about the cat sized rat she saw scurry under a stall than looking around. We didn't stay too long in this area before heading back to the hotel.

Next day, we decided one of the first things we needed to do was book our train ticket to Chiang Mai (in northern Thailand) and also sort out our crossing into Cambodia. We headed for the train station and were intercepted by a helpful lady giving train advice. She told us our train options to Chiang Mai and we decided to go with her to book. As we crossed to the train station we quickly realised she worked for a private company situated in an office alongside the station rather than the railway company. We went into the office although we were a little wary after reading of the various scams in Lonely Planet. One such scam is paying for the ticket and not receiving it, so we waited for the ticket before we paid. As the ticket was sold to us at exactly the same price as it costs at the train station we became less cautious and enquired about a bus ticket and visa for our crossing into Cambodia. The lady told us the details and the price and it seemed reasonable so we went ahead and booked that too, only later did we find that we'd paid about four times too much! With our travel plans sorted we could concentrate on seeing the sights of Bangkok.

Bangkok has many temples so we decided just to visit what we thought would be the highlights Amongst the sights that we saw were:
- Wat Phra Kaew, a complex of stupas and temples in which the revered emerald Buddha is housed;
- The Grand Palace, (in the same grounds as Wat Phra Kaew) the impressive former royal residence;
- Wat Pho, which has an impressive 46m long by 15m high reclining Buddha;
- Wat Tramit, home to a solid gold Buddha;
- Wat Saket, the ancient temple which has good views of Bangkok;
- Wat Ratchatchiwat, aka the golden mound temple.

Before heading up to Chiang Mai, we took a day trip from Bangkok to see the floating market at Damnoen Saduak and the bridge on the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi. The floating market, although it is no longer authentic as most of the traders now deal in tourist paraphanelia rather than fresh produce, was still interesting to see and we managed to get there slightly ahead of the rest of the tour groups.

After the market it was on to Kanchanaburi via the inevitable craft village. Thankfully there was no pressure selling and we got chance to admire superb craftsmanship of the wood carvers. In Kanchanaburi we had lunch and visited a number of sites relating to the infamous 'Death Railway'. The visit culminated with a walk across the bridge on the River Kwai - made famous by the classic war film of the same name. The death railway, as it was nicknamed, was conceived by the occupying Japanese and built by Prisoners of War in just 16 months (it had been estimated by engineers that it would take five years). The completed railway linked Bangkok and Rangoon in Burma and the back-breaking work, torture and terrible conditions claimed approximately 100,000 lives. As well as the bridge itself, we visited the JEATH War Museum with exhibits depicting the suffering of the POWs at the hands of the Japanese, and the allied war cemetery where many of the unfortunate victims were laid to rest.

From Bangkok we took a 10 hour train journey up to Chiang Mai, arriving at 6pm. The train was relatively clean and comfortable, although a numb bum is inevitable after sitting in one place for so long. We knew there was some food provided but were surprised to be fed three times in the first five hours of the journey. The food was OK but no better.

On arriving in Chiang Mai we were met by Ig's cousin Ashley and his wife Tilly who currently live and work in Thailand. They welcomed us with a jasmine garland and after dropping our bags at our hotel (Montri hotel - recommended) took us out for some food. Tilly is from Chaing Mai and we were informed that you can't say you have been to the city until you've visited Doi Suthep (the temple on the hillside above the city) and tasted Khao Soy - northern Thailand's signature dish. It was too dark to see the temple so we headed straight to the restaurant called 'Just Khao Soy' for a meal.

Khao Soy consists of a soft noodle soup with meat or vegetables, topped with crispy noodles. As an accompaniment, you get small dishes of banana, chilli, coconut milk, and lime which you can add to the soup to make it hotter, milder, sweeter or more sour according to your taste. Despite Tilly asking for a mild version for us uninitiated foreigners, the dish was very spicy and left our eyes watering. We both really liked Khao Soy and would certainly have in again.

We spent the next couple of days sightseeing around the city and saw some of the best of the many temples for which Chiang Mai is famous. The best ones were Doi Suthep with it's fantastic views over the city and Wat Phra Singh. We also visited the hill tribe museum to learn about the various ethnic groups who live in the northern hills of Thailand.

Our final day in Chiang Mai was spent with Ashley and Tilly and they took us to see their family business in Ban Tawia where they manufacture and sell furniture and story boxes amongst other things Click here for their website. After this we took a drive into the hills and visited an elephant sanctuary where we fed the elephants and were entertained by a number of amazing feats including dancing, playing football and painting with their trunks. After a nice meal, Ashley and Tilly dropped us at the train station for an overnight sleeper train back to Bangkok.

We spent the following day in Bangkok taking in the sights which we hadn't managed to fit in, doing a bit of shopping and preparing for the next leg of our adventure - into Cambodia.
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