Chasing Street Art in George Town

My first glimpse of George Town street art.
One of the marking George Town sculptures, these were often humorous.

The traditional tourist tactic of heading from A to B with blinkers on is not an acceptable way to visit George Town. It is a town made to been meandered through aimlessly, drinking in the historical architecture and gorging on a delightful fusion of cuisines. With a whipstop a day and a half stay, the amount of food to be indulged in was somewhat limited but my artistic spirit feasted continuously throughout my time in Penang.

A Chinese Temple I stumbled across. I’m not sure which one though.
Some street art outside the Ming Xiang Tai egg tart shop.

The architecture, the street art, the colourful signs, and aesthetic hipster cafes, there was always something to look at and admire. Utilising a map from the tourist information centre I quested out the most well known pieces of street art, keeping my eyes peeled for the amusing wrought iron “Marking George Town” cartoon pieces. This gentle rambling around eventually saw me devouring a plate of one of the local dishes, char koey teow, a kind of flat rice noodle with eggs, bean sprouts and prawns. With limited table space, I ended up sitting with another English traveller and chatting about out experiences of travelling solo.

Children on a swing, just avoid the lady selling souvenirs next to it.
I found this piece at the same time as a tour group and had to wait ten minutes before I could get a photo.

The next day I ventured down to Fort Cornwallis and nosed around for about half an hour. Aside from a decent view of the Straights of Melaka, there was very little to see within the fort. There are a few cannons, the outer wall, and the old gunpowder storeroom but very little in the way of plaques explaining and expanding upon the historyof the site.

The Straights of Melaka as seen from Fort Cornwallis.
This style of street art where a painted picture was coupled with a 3D object was very popular.

With an awkward amount of time before the tourist office’s free walking tour, I tested out one of the hipster coffee shops nearby, sipping a black coffee as I read my book.

This was a cute little tag that kept cropping up.
Another of the amusing marking George Town sculptures. The trick was not getting run over while taking photos of them.

The short walking tour was a little hard to hear at times but what I could hear was very interesting and had I had more time, I would have liked to visit a couple of the place we looked at in more detail such as the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, a house turned museum on Church Street that used to be used by a Chinese secret society, the Ghee Hin.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion
Street art appeared everywhere.

The Englishwoman I had met the previous night was also on the walking tour so we joined forces afterwards to amble through Georgetown, picking roads at random. We eventually found ourselves sampling some blissful eggtarts at Ming Xiang Tai. There was a brief moment of internal panic when I misread the sign as RM20 per tart but upon rereading the signs it was only RM2.20, so a slight difference there.

An old trishaw outside the Ming Xiang Tai egg tart shop.
A particularly big piece.

After that it was more wandering before we eventually called it a day and went our separate ways.

Many five foot ways are less than five feet but this is the narrowist in George Town.
And finally a nice coulourfull one.

The Cameron Highlands

Sunday saw me departing from Kuala Lumpur for the Cameron Highlands. Stepping off the bus in Tanah Rata, it was a delight to not be immediately struck down by the furious heat and humidity that the majority of South East Asia is afflicted with. I fully understand the desire of the colonialists to escape here over a hundred years ago.

The start of trail five.

While agriculture is the biggest industry in Cameron Highlands, with the fruit and veg grown here shipped to much of Malaysia, there is still a tourism industry that cashes in on the colonial nature of the original town. This made it rather an odd experience as one of the main attractions were the strawberry farms where one could go and pick strawberries and many of the buildings in Brinchang were painted to try and emulate the Tudor houses of old.

Walking alongside the golf course.

After booking a tour to the Mossy Forest and BOH Tea Plantation for Tuesday since the plntaion factory was closed on Mondays, I set out to walk from Tanah Rata to Brinchang along trail five. While trail four was the more commonly walked route, it finished about halfway to Brinchang, leaving one to walk along the road the rest of the way. I eventually found trail five but upon seeing how overgrown it was and having already experienced the lack of signage, I decide I didn’t really fancy getting lost in the Malaysian jungle or the chance of meeting a snake. Instead I returned to trail four, I knew that in theory I should be able to branch off to trail six which would take me to Brinchang without having to walk along the road.

The cafe at the Bid Red Strawberry Farm.

This was all well and good, however with a large number of unmarked paths leading off the trail, I reached the road before I discovered the start of trail six. This wasn’t the end of the world and walking beside the golf course was quite pleasant in the cooler climate of the high altitude. The real downside was it gave local drivers the opportunity to catcall at me as they drove pass, an issue that several women I’ve met have all encountered. Arriving finally in Brinchang, I slogged the remainder of the way up the the Big Red Strawberry Farm.

Outside Sam Poh Temple.

For RM25 (about £5) I picked half a kilo of strawberries, taking my time to be pedantic over colour and ensuring only the most perfectly ripe strawberries were deposited in my basket. There was little else to see at the farm but it was amazing to see the number of strawberry themed foods in the cafe and gifts in the gift shop. My favourite was a box of “strawberry white coffee” being sold in the shop.

The death tree of bees.

In Brinchang I also visit the Sam Poh Temple. I was the only visitor and the temple had a wonderfully tranquil atmosphere permeating throughout. Even a potted tree that had some kind of beehive on it seemed less threatening and more fascinating (from a safe distance) within the confines of the temple.

Ye Olde Smokehouse.

Heading back to Tanah Rata, I stopped at the Smokehouse for a Devonshire cream tea. Approaching the somewhat incongruous old Tudor style building and walking past its gardens made me feel like I had walked through a portal to a distorted parallel of England. Enjoying the memories of a cream tea at La Sablonnerie in Sark. I slathered my scones in appropriately large amounts of cream and devoured them. The still warm scones were the perfect combination of fluffy and crumbly and so sublime that I requested the recipe, an action I have never felt moved to do before.

Our guide’s freshly painted land rover, BBT.

The next day dawned bright and early with not too many clouds, presenting the perfect weather for a trip to the Mossy Forest. The guide, Mr Satu, was a third generation local and he put his excellent knowledge to the test, there wasn’t a question asked that he couldn’t answer for us. Instead of visiting the tea plantation first as is standard for a lot of tours, we drove straight up to the Mossy Forest, arriving well ahead of the crowds. Walking along the boardwalk that is in place to help protect the moss and other fauna, Satu explain the uses of a variety plants to us, including showing us the ipoh tree that the local aborigines use for the poison on their blowpipe darts.

The ipoh tree.

Ascending the watch tower, we were rewarded with a stunning view of the highlands stretching out before us. Having taken all our photos, Satu talked about some of the animals to be found in the Cameron highlands and I can only say I was increasingly glad not to have walked trail five the previous day when it came to talking about snakes. A final loop of the boardwalk and we started back to the carpark, just as the crush of tourists began to arrive and crowd the pathway.

Interior of the Mossy Forest.

Driving back down the mountainside we stopped at a viewpoint over the BOH Tea Plantation. It seem to stretch for miles and I cannot imagine how they manage to pick the whole plantation in the twenty one days before they start over at point A. The two person petrol blade that is dragged along the top of each plant probably helps somewhat but even then it seems a momentous task. Walking around the factory was interesting if very quick. Seeing how the mental imgage of a labour intensive manual process has infact been modernised and mechanised was a shift in perspective and an enjoyable knowledge gap to fill.

Part of the BOH Tea Plantation.

With the tea tasted and the tour over, we returned to Tanah Rata and a late lunch. The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the hostel and planning the next stage of my journey.

Exploring Kuala Lumpur

From Melaka, I caught the bus up to Kuala Lumpur for a few days. Arriving on the first day of Ramadan, I was assaulted with the delicious aromas of curries and BBQs from the array of food stalls directly outside my hostel. They were set up and selling food every afternoon for the month of Ramadan. On my way to Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, I indulged myself in wondering through this small market in the process of setting up. Eventually finding my way to the reserve, I bypassed the Kuala Lumpur Tower, deciding that once one’s been to the top of one telecoms tower, one’s seen them all. Besides the visibility is normally much reduced and somewhat disappointing in comparison to the views promised in brochures and I imagine that the low hanging afternoon clouds of Malaysia do little to aid it.

Canopy walk in the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve.

Instead I ventured along the canopy walk, praying the looming storm would hold off long enough for me to finish the walk. Naturally I was halfway along the first bridge when the first roll of thunder peeled out like the battle drums of an approaching army. I picked up my pace and tried not to think about the warning signs not to enter the park during storms. Chased by thunder and darkening clouds, I found myself wondering about the likelihood of being struck by lightning and, if I survived, how cool the lightning scars would look. This was perhaps a tad morbid but standing on a metal bridge in the treetops with a storm rapidly approaching will do these things to you. I made it safely back to the main road just in time, with the rain still holding off.

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View of the National Mosque from the Islamic Arts Museum

Meeting a group who had entered the park just as I exited later that evening, they said how lightning had struck a couple of trees just over ten metres from them and I have now resolved not to be in any forests after about three thirty, the earliest thunderstorms normally start in Malaysia. Making my back to the hostel, I was admiring the lightning as it flickered on the horizon and waiting to cross the road when I felt the first drops of rain begin to fall. By the time I made it to shelter on the opposite side of the road, I was soaked through and a wall of falling water curtained off the outside world. Unwilling to venture out, I settled on a bench in the shopping centre I found myself in and read my book while I waited out the storm.

My first day in Kuala Lumpur finished with scrumptious samosas and a huge chicken and tomato skewer, devoured at the table in the hostel as I talked with other guests.

Model of the Dome on the Rock at the Islamic Arts Museum

Day two dawned bright and early and found me planning where to start my explorations. Setting off for the Islamic Arts Museum, I caught the purple line of the GOKL buses, a free bus system the runs in the Kuala Lumpur city centre. Getting off the bus at Pasir Seni I passed the National Mosque as I walked the remainder of the way to the museum. I was unable to enter the mosque because the time I was passing by coincided with prayers, but just walking around the outside was enough to be impressed by the vast scale and simple but elegant architectural style.

Book about astrolabes in the Islamic Arts Museum

The Museum cost MYR14 and was well worth a visit in my humble opinion. Unlike the art one would expect to find in the Louvre, Islamic art focuses more on making everyday objects into works of art themselves. Upon entering, I perused the models of famous pieces of Islamic architecture, including the Taj Mahal, as the melodic sound of a recitation of the Quran played in the background. The next section showcased breathtaking examples of illuminated Arabic script. In many cases the Quran but also a number of Firmans, edicts of sorts, from the Ottoman empire. Of particular delight to me is this section were a number of astrolabes and navigational tools as well as the intricately detailed ink pots and matching quill boxes.

Sri Mahamariamman Temple

Moving on there was a wide range of artefacts to illustrate the blending of different cultures with Islamic art, in particular, Malaysian, Chinese and Indian. This included everything from textiles and furniture to jewellery and weapons. While paintings and sculptures may be far less common in the world of Islamic art, there is no doubt in my mind that the objects created are just as beautiful as any painting, if not more so for their practicality.

Masjid Jamek at midday prayer

Exiting the museum, I made my way to Masjid Jamek, another mosque, via the Hindu Sri Mahamariamman Temple. The temple was pleasant to look around briefly and the mosque was certainly impressive from what I could see of it, even though I could not enter. Instead, I headed to Merdeka Square where Malaysian independence was declared and which is ringed by and impressive selection of colonial era buildings and headed by a huge flagpole, proudly supporting the Malaysian flag.

Merdeka Square

Continuing on, I backtracked past the National Mosque and made my way to the Butterfly Garden. At MYR25 I felt the cost was a little steep but enjoyed my time wondering around the miniature garden jungle even if there were less butterflies than I had expected to find. Halfway round I again found myself frantically dashing for shelter as it began to rain. Fortunately there were a number of small seating areas within the garden and I was able to read my book even as the rain poured down all around me.

More than just butterflies in the Butterfly Garden

A quick stop to look up at the Petronas Towers and I headed back to the hostel for the evening.

Petronas Towers

My last full day in Kuala Lumpur saw me teaming up with another guest to visit the Batu Caves. We set out around nine thirty in the hopes of seeing the cave while the temperature was still somewhere around sweltering instead of Mordor on a bad day. Sadly our cunning plan was not to be. Being backpackers on something vaguely resembling a budget, we had elected to get the train rather the a Grab car or taxi. We did not however account for the varying train times of Kuala Lumpur. I for one, am used to inner city trains running on a regular and frequent schedule and did not think to check train times. Then again, I am not convinced checking train times would have made a difference.

Statue of Lord Murugan outside Batu Caves

We waited twenty minutes for the monorail to KL Sentral while two went in the opposite direction. At KL Sentral we were redirected to a free bus shuttle that was running to KTM Sentul instead of the train. We sat on the bus (blessedly air conditioned) in the station for another fifteen minutes before being told to switch to a different bus. Upon making it to Sentul we waited a further half hour before the train drew out of the station on the last leg to Batu Caves. We finally arrived a mere one hour and forty five minutes after we had set out compared to the fifteen/twenty minutes it would have taken by car.

Inside Batu Caves

Thus we found ourselves climbing 272 stairs up to the main cave with the sun doing its best to cook us alive. The cave was impressively huge, even with most the manmade structures within it cocooned in scaffolding. However, for me the cave was a little disappointing because aside from the size, the geological features were not amazing and almost everything else was behind tarpaulins. Furthermore, the smell of monkey urine was rather unappealing. Neither of us was particularly inclined to see all the insects and bats that call the Dark Cave home so we skipped over visiting it.

Thean Hou Temple

The journey back was somewhat quicker and we parted ways at KL Sentral, agreeing to meet again later. I had another long journey ahead of me. This time walking to Thean Hou Temple where the nearest public transport spots were all a uniform forty minutes away. Despite this I really enjoyed walking around the temple, perhaps my favourite in a while. It offered excellent views of Kuala Lumpur and had counteracted the fading and peeling of paint that strikes all buildings in this hot and humid climate with a fresh coat of paint. This meant lots of brightly coloured dragons perched on the eaves looking as if they could come alive at any moment.

Trying to pose gracefully at the Heli Lounge

With the long journey times these were the only attractions I visited during the day, venturing out with the same young lady that evening to watch the sunset at the Heli Lounge. Our plans were foiled once more, this time by the weather. A light shower meant we could only go up to the top deck for a brief round of photos before being ushered back down into the bar. With clouds blocking the sunset, it was something of a wasted trip although my gin and tonic was quite pleasant. The day ended with delicious feast of mango and mangosteens from a nearby food market.

A Day in Melaka

View of the Malacca River from the bridge into Dutch Square.

Arriving in Melaka the evening before, I eventually resorted to getting a taxi to my hostel instead of the bus as it seemed the majority of buses had stopped running for the day. Another thing that seemed to close extremely early was the majority of restaurants, which all seemed to be closed by six. Fortunately not everywhere closed and I had some noodles in a little cafe on Jonker’s road. The rest of the evening was spent chatting with other guests and the staff on the rooftop of my hostel, a group of mostly solo travellers making for a sociable crowd.

The Clock Tower in Dutch Square, Melaka
Christ Church in Dutch Square, Melaka

Breakfast devoured, I set out into Melaka. It was something of a false start as about five minutes later I found myself huddling in a five foot way sheltering from a sudden downpour. A chapter of my book later and the rain cleared so I was able to resume my exploring. There is not a huge amount of things to see in Melaka, unless one has a deep and passionate love for all kinds if museums, so I very quickly saw the key sites which were of interest to me.

A fountain to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.
The remains of a fort just off Dutch Square.

Not yet willing to return to the hostel, I went to the Maritime Museum. This was a lot of fun as the first half of the museum in a replica of the Portuguese vessel the Flor de la Mar that sank off the coast of Melaka. It was also fascinating to read about the rise of Melaka from a fishing village to a major port of trade. How the colonisation of Melaka, first by the Portuguese, then the Dutch, and finally the British, combined with their varying religious persecutions, changed the port from one of free trade to a state monopoly of declining significance was well explained. However, the order of reading for the information plaques a little unclear in some cases.

St Paul's Cathedral
The ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral.

A (very) late lunch of scrumptious pork satay later and I spent the rest of the afternoon reading my book before getting ready for the hostel’s cycling trip to Masjid Selat Melaka, the “floating” mosque, for sunset. On our way, we briefly stopped via a group of locals play a cross between volleyball and football with a wicker ball. Kicking the ball back and forth over the volleyball net required an impressive level of flexibility and foot eye coordination. At no point were hands used to hit the ball but there were a few well aimed headers.

The view over Melaka from St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Maritime Museum in Melaka

Watching the sun set as we sat next to the Straits of Melaka as the call to prayer rang out, was a beautiful experience. The lights of the Masjid Selat Melaka gradually strengthened as the light of day slid from the sky which faded from blue to orange to purple and finally black.

The Flor de la Mar replica at the Maritime Museum
Another view of the Malacca River.

Heading back to the hostel with a flat tire rattling my joints out was slightly less fun and mildly terrifying as all road signs were ignored by our guide and most other road users. The solo travellers from the bike tour grouped together for dinner. Electing for an Indian place the hostel owner had recommended, we all satiated the appetites we had worked up cycling with the self serve plate, none of us quite brave enough to pick something unknown off the menu. This was just as well a fish complete with heads and tails was a menu option I saw someone ordering and is a meal I intend to never eat again if at all possible.

Foot volleyball.

The day concluded with a round of beers and Cards Against Humanity on the hostel roof, so while there may not have been much to see in Melaka, there was still a great many people to meet and laughs to be had.

Sunset at the Masjid Selat Melaka

How (not) to Pack at the End of a Year Abroad

Packing is always a palaver, especially when packing a year’s worth of stuff into two bags. Here is how I packed the bag I shipped back the the UK. I used Send My Bag luggage shipping company. They seem pretty decent although I don’t want to speak too soon with my bag still in transit. My only complaint is that it would have been nice to have been told they didn’t ship to Guernsey while I was booking instead of a couple of weeks later.

Now, without further ado, the list:

1. Clean a year’s worth off dust off bag

2. Fill in the bottom of bag with underwear and scarves.

3. Add dryer sheets.

4. Roll up all T-shirts.

5. Tea break to contemplate how many black clothes you own.

6. Skirts next. Then dresses.

7. Unpack and repack as you realise you forgot your sun hat.

8. Pack remaining clothes and squishy objects

9. Realise you also forgot two draws.

10. Stuff bag with all remaining items while panicking about how much room isn’t left.

11.Use far too much cellotape to attach postage labels.

12. Leave bag next to door where it will present a trip hazard until it is collected.

13. Repeat packing process with items that are travelling with self.

14. Improvise with packing tape to squash items down.

15. Throw out everything that doesn’t fit in a bag.

16. You’re done!

Shakespeare in the Park

What’s better than watching Shakespeare? Watching Shakespeare while enjoying a picnic for one thing.

Heading off to Fort Canning to watch Julius Caesar and have a picnic, complete with Dutch cheese and Michelin star hawker chicken harked back to my childhood and watching Oddsocks Productions at Castle Cornet. Food, drink and good company always make for an excellent evening. A wonderful show completes it.

The Singapore Repertory Theatre bought Julius Caesar into a modern day setting. Inspired by the political summits of today, technology and the media were seamlessly inserted while maintaining Shakespeare’s original prose with the occasional pronoun swap. Caesar and Cassius were both played by women adding variety to the cast and allowing Jo Kukathas and Julie Wee to showcase their considerable talent.

Shakespeare captures human nature so exquisitely that his plays are timeless. Languages may evolve and new technologies develop but Shakespeare remains relevant to this day. The substitution of a riot in the place of battling armies was a particularly chilling modern twist; the destructive, angry nature of the riots the grace our newsfeeds on a regular basis was distilled to illustrate this superbly.

The set was also very impressive with a central piece that could be raised and lowered to form a table or water fountain. My favourite part however, was the strip of screens around the top of the stage. These were utilised excellently throughout the play, displaying news reports, the banner of R.O.M.E. and illustrating the treacherous weather that precedes the Ides of March among other things.

Being Beachy in Bali

My Easter trip to Bali mostly consisted of sitting by the pool and on the beach in the north of the island while alternating between studying and revising. I knew even as I was booking that I would have little time for anything else. However, rock fever had taken hold of me and I needed a change of scenery from the cityscape of Singapore that a hike along the Southern Ridges wouldn’t satisfy. Fortunately, on my last whole day I arrived back in Denpasar early enough to make the short trip to Uluwatu beach.

Cave or beach?

This idyllic tourist trap of a beach runs straight onto a reef, creating paddling pools for all in addition to fabulous waves that the surfer in me wishes I was brave enough to surf. Descending into the initial amalgamation of beach and cave, I was a tad sceptical but as I emerged into the sunlight, the reef stretching before me, the view blew away the final cobwebs that the routine of Singapore had weaved in my mind.

A small part of me is very jealous of the surfers who had enough experience to hire a board and surf here, even if I know I would have barely lasted five seconds before being spat back onto the reef.
I eventually made it away from the majority of tourists.

Keen to stretch my legs and get away from the biggest throng of tourists, I meandered along the reef to the end of the beach, enjoying the sun and waves. I normally find the waters of South East Asia leave a slight residue of grime and pollution on my hair and skin, at fact that means the beaches here hold little appeal for me. Uluwatu beach was a rare exception to this, although I did not go out any further than the tidal pools. With sunset still a little way away, I headed back up the cliffs to a café perched precariously above the rocks below and devoured some delicious fried rice, looking out over the ocean and, eventually, the sunset.

Perhaps I should have studied geology, then I could explain how this rock formed. Instead I can only admire it.
Precariously balanced. I’m not sure this would pass health and safety muster back home but can’t quite bring myself to be concerned.

Uluwatu beach and Bali in general was a wonderful balm to my soul. The only downside was the taxi service of Uluwatu who possess a monopoly of the area, not allowing other companies, including Uber and Grab, to operate out of the area and so charging a premium which was twice what I paid to reach the beach. The only exception to this being the hotel cars who naturally match the taxis in price. The taxi service wouldn’t allow me to ride with a lovely couple who suggested I share the cost of their private driver from Denpasar with them, after I found out just how much they wanted to charge. With the driver unable leave with me in the car, I was forced to get out and walk until I was able to arrange a covert pick up further down the road with the asistance of an extremely kind chap at a cafe.

The end of a beautiful day.

Operation Extract Tourist went off without a hitch. A short motorbike ride further up the road to a darkened layby. A black car pulling in smoothly (after a slightly awkward U-turn). The door being opened for me. Tinted windows concealing me from prying eyes and we were off. Total time: three minutes and twenty two seconds. Next stop: the airport for a night on the floor. The kindness of the people who had helped me overshadowing the blatant extortion and monopoly of the taxi drivers.

Chiang Mai and Koh Yao Yai

The sunset caught the all gold at Wat Chedi Luang beautifully.
The Reclining Buddha at Wat Chedi Luang.

Chiang Mai is well known as the city to visit in Thailand if one is looking for traditional crafts and the more ethical elephant sanctuaries. Like everywhere that has a large tourist industry, it has undoubtedly changed over the years to better accommodate the demands of travellers, it is impossible to go for a walk without spotting a hostel. Despite this, the city appears to maintain a precarious balance between the tourist and the local, selling local crafts to customers wanting that authentic piece of Thailand to take home with them. There is room for everyone to profit selling the genuine to the less genuine that looks just as good for half the price.

The complex at Wat Chedi Luang was beautiful. Something that created some confusion researching temples in Chiang Mai was that every source spells the names differently.
The sunset catching Wat Chedi Luang.

Night markets are saturated with goods demanding the attention of tourists and I can’t help but wonder how anyone makes a profit selling the same scarves and clothes as every other stall. By day the temples charge tourists for entry while worshipers can enter for free, an excellent scheme that helps to maintain the temples. The only issue being that “tourist” is often based on skin colour, an understandable method but it did raise a few eyebrows as bus loads of Chinese tourists walked in for free.

After arriving Chiang Mai, we headed straight out to the Saturday night market. The Chiang Mai night markets are the biggest I’ve ever visited and definitely have the most variety.
The Three Kings took us a while to find so we took a break until we realised we were sitting opposite them with only a tree shielding our view.

In addition to temples and night markets my mother and I visited San Kamphaeng Road. This road is the location of many local craft shops and at several miles long we carefully picked a few destinations within walking distanace to visit in advance. These were Baan Celadon pottery shop where we looked around the factory where celadon pottery was being made, the intricacy of the patterns painstakingly painted and carved was astounding; the Thai Silk Village which I talked about in a separate post; two silver factories, one more questionable than the other; and a lacquerware factory that was fascinating.

The front of the temple at Wat Phra Singh.
Scaffolding – the bane of every tourist. This is the Phrathatluang Chedi at Wat Phra Singh.

Something that we found a little disconcerting was how in many of the shops and factories, we were closely followed by a member of staff, ready to help at any moment. While I presume it is normal practice in Thailand, for us, who are not used to it, it came across as somewhat stifling and just made us want to leave instead of taking the time to properly enjoy looking around. The only place we were followed and it didn’t feel suffocating was the lacquerware factory, Lai Thong. We were greeted at the door to the factory and given an excellent demonstration of the lacquer making and decorating techniques before being shown into the store. Once there, while attended, we were given enough space to look at items and the members of staff were helpful but managed not to make it feel too much like we had to buy anything.

This is the interior of Warorot Market, full of dried spices and fruit. We also got some lovely fabric at a nearby shop.
We ended up in Wat Phan Tao by mistake while looking for Wat Chedi Luang. I’m glad we did as it was a nice break from all the gold.

We finished up our stay in Thailand at a resort on Koh Yao Yai island near Phuket. This was a nice break and I spent most the time revising and doing assignments but at least I had a good view while doing it and the breakfast allowed me to indulge in my pancake obsession and ongoing pancake photo war with my father.

This set of pancakes were devoured in Chiang Mai and I have no regrets.
Revising hard on Koh Yao Yai
At least revising is easier when this is the view.

Chiang Mai’s Thai Silk Village

For me, the best part of visiting Chiang Mai was the opportunity to look around the Thai Silk Village. This tourist stop teaches about how Thai silk is made, with a large selection of working looms. Fortunately for my dignity, I just about manage to stop myself from bouncing up and down in pure joy as the amateur seamstress in me first heard the rhythmic clicking and thunking of the looms. Sadly this self restraint did not last for the entire visit and I found myself grinning like a fool and vibrating with happiness when I left clutching a five meter bundle of the most gorgeous green silk to my chest.

The silk worms are fed on mulberry leaves and will shed their skin four times before forming their cocoon.
An example of the cocoons being formed. There were both yellow and white cocoons, presumably spun by different species.

Before we made it the gift shop of many colours however, we first looked around the factory section. Along one wall was a series of baskets, displaying the life cycle of the silk worms and moths. It was a little hard to tell for certain, but from what I could see, two different species of silk worm were on display. TexereSilk provides a reasonably good explanation of the full silkworm lifecycle and initial thread making. Next to this display a woman carefully unravelled the cocoons, spinning several filaments into the initial threads. Further on, these threads were dyed and spun into their final strands before being transferred to the looms.

Unravelling the cocoon and forming the first threads of silk.
An partially completed bolt of silk.

The looms are passed down through generations of weavers and possess a look that suggests they are just waiting to give one a splinter. However, despite their less glamorous appearances, these Thai silk looms have be instrumental in producing what is argueably some of the finest silk in the world, remaining constant as they pass from mother to daughter. I can only imagine the years of practice it mast take for the weavers to perfectly time the raising and lowering of the warp thread with the foot pedal while pulling on a rope to transport the shuttle as it carries the weft back and forth.

One of the looms in use.

Entering the gift shop, we were assaulted with a rainbow of colours as we perused first bolts of silk and, deeper in, everything one could conceivably make from fabric. My interest was in the bolts and I spent a huge amount of time humming and hawing over the the breathtaking fabric on offer, before finally settling on a two tone green and black silk which I look forward to transforming in to a cocktail dress when I am reunited with my sewing machine at the end of my exchange.

Walking with Elephants

After deciding that we’d go to Thailand, my mother and I realised that spending a few days in Chiang Mai so that we could spend time visiting elephants was an absolute must. In recent years there has been a growing awareness of the injuries riding elephants causes as well as the mistreatment of the elephant and their mahouts in the logging and riding industries. After some research we settled on spending a day with the elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.

My mother with an elephant.

The day dawned bright an early and we were picked up from our hostel and driven to Camp 8 after picking up the rest of the group. After changing into the provided tops we were given the standard safety briefing as well as more information about the work of the sanctuary and how it helps rescue elephants and the mahouts from other industies. Collecting handfuls of bananas, we greated the elephants as they approach from the neaby jungle. They definitely appeared to love their sweet treats if the speed at which the bananas disappeared is anything to go by. Continuous laughter filled the air as searching trunks stole bananas from unsuspecting hands.

My mother and me with my favourite of the elephants we met.
Almost there. Apparently this isn’t an uncommon occurrence with him.
Here is a clearer view of his “GPS Locator”.

y favourite of the five elephants we met initially was a youngster who had a wooden bell tied around his neck. GPS locator the guide informs us. He later tried, and succeeded, to climb over the wooden fence that separated lthe seating area from the main yard. The moment when he was halway over the fence was most amusing as he awkwardly figured out how to lift his back legs over.

We next helped in the making of medicine balls to feed the elephants. These consisted of rice, tamarind and salt among other things to help provide the elephants with some roughage and ensure they are getting a suitable selection of vitamins and minerals. These sticky balls were snapped up as quickly as the bananas before them and provided another round of giggles and photos.

Scrub a dub dub

Here is me trying desperately not to lose my glasses. Should have thought it through a little more.

Our next stop was to give the elephant a mud bath, standing in a silty pond and gooping mud over their backs as well as each other before continuing down to the river so everyone, elephants included, could rinse off the mud. Us humans then had a go at sliding down a natural flume before drying off and tucking into an mouthwateringly delicious lunch of curry and watermelon.

Lunch concluded and bellies full we ventured in to the jungle, following the elephants on a small loop and just enjoying being in the presence of such beautiful and intelligent creatures. Our group as a little smaller by this point as some people had only been visiting for a day but at a few points on the trail I will admit to feeling frustrated with only being able to see the backs of people heads and the distant ridge of an elephant’s back.

Three elephant behinds in size order.

Fortunately this didn’t detract from the overall experience and we finished the day by visiting one of the Elephant Jungle Santuary’s larger camps to meet a bigger group of elephants, including an adorable baby.

Who couldn’t love this adorable five month old?

After this amazing experience, I would definitely say that it was worth it and would recommend everyone to give it a go and strongly advise against riding elephants. However, I think it is also important to remember that while this is way better than riding elephants, it is still a tourism industry and it is important to properly research where one intends to visit. Also bare in mind that it is not sustainable tourism. Even if it massively improves the lives of the elephants, they are still no truly free and must interact with humans far more than they would in the wild.

This is a post by Wanderlust Movement which explains why they decided not to visit an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai. I feel it provided a good explanation about elephant tourism and it has given me some thinking points about some of the bullet points on my bucket list and how I might change them.