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.

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.

Hong Kong from on High

If yesterday was all about the less talked of side of Hong Kong, today was all about seeing it from the heights. Another girl from the hostel and I started the day off by visiting the Sky City Church, 75 floors up at Central Plaza. From there we rushed over to St Joseph’s Cathedral to meet up with a skip the queue tour on the tram up to Victoria Peak. This was definitely a wise decision as people can wait for over two hours in line to get on the tram otherwise, whereas we waited the five it took for the tram to arrive.

Victoria peak offered impressive views over Hong Kong. We took pleasant stroll around the peak, giving us a chance to appreciate a little of the nature that Hong Kong has to offer. After the compulsory photos up on the Sky Terrace we got the tram back down and rushed across the water and Kowloon to hike up to Lions Rock.

Lion Rock was enthusiastically touted by our guide as a better version of Victoria peak looking down on Kowloon. We had hoped to reach it in time for sunset as this is supposed to be particularly spectacular view, however the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley and so it was for us. We watched the light fade from the sky as we doggedly continued upwards.

Eventually we were force to resort to torches but still we climbed, and it was most definitely worth it. The view out over a field of city lights was breath-taking (though this could also be attributed to the final upwards stretch). While we may not have been able to see the Lion Rock itself in the dark, the illumination of the city made this my favourite part of the day.

To finish off we climbed back down and got the MTR back to Nathan Road from where we enjoyed a gentle stroll from the Ladies Market down to Temple Street and the Jade Market. This provided a nice opportunity for us to fill out stomachs with a few skewers of dumplings and meat, although I confess to not being adventurous enough to try the pig’s liver or intestine.

So all in all a marvellous day, the only real drawbacks being the view-impeding smog that seems to sit over Hong Kong like a blanket and my very tired feet.

Off Again

To say the last month has been stressful is an understatement. When I haven’t been studying for a slew of end of semester tests and exams, I have been arranging my Christmas travels in more detail. While some of this planning was no more complicated than logging on to Hostel World and choosing the perfect balance between cost, location and amenities, other sections have proven to be more challenging. Fortunately, the worst of it is over and I can now enjoy my holiday.

I’ve started the Christmas holidays off with a stop in Hong Kong and have certainly enjoyed my first day here, though my feet are glad to be resting. I started the day off by teaming up with another girl from my hostel and going on a walking tour of the central area. Rather than focusing on traditional sights the tour provided an insight into the history of Hong Kong and its politics. The tour guide was wonderfully cheerful and well informed, including telling us where to get the best wanton noodles for lunch after the tour was over.

My favourite piece of history was about a feng shui war between the Bank of China and HSBC headquarters, as well as seeing the two lions, Stephen and Stitt outside the HSBC headquarters.

With full stomachs we rushed back over to Kowloon on MTR and headed up to Mong Kok and Prince Edwards for another tour, this one focusing on some of the social challenges faced by locals. In particular we learnt about the astoundingly high property prices and rents and how the local economy is so dependant on the maintenance of these high costs. For me, I found the existence on coffin houses where people live in cages or bunk boxes stacked upon one another and little bigger than a dog crate particularly shocking. Especially when the rent is between HK$1800 and HK$2500 a month.

After this rather gloomy though important tour a group of us headed off to sample the delights of a dim sum restaurant. I felt the Michelin Star of Tim Ho Wan was well deserved as the food was absolutely delicious and I won’t need to eat for a few years. A lovely pair of Canadian sisters knew all the best things to try and the conversation proved lively and stimulating so it was a shame to part ways.

We concluded the day with a trip on the Star Ferry and watched a somewhat anticlimactic “A Symphony of Lights” over Victoria Harbour.

Angkor Wat

 We visited Angkor Wat three times in total; once when we attempted to watch the sunset but were forced to leave because it was closing; the second time we took the back entrance but were forced to share the temple with hundreds of other tourists, all clamouring for photos; the final time for a somewhat anticlimactic sunrise.  Despite these not fully successful endeavours I was astounded by the shear effort and patience that must have gone into creating such an amazing and beautifully carved triumph of ancient architecture.


This was my first glimpse of the temple.  The long walk certainly gives one plenty of time to mull over its grandeur, I wonder what visitors thought of it 800 years ago.


My version of the classic temple reflection photo after deciding that I didn’t fancy vying with the crowds to use one of the ponds on either side of the walkway.


Unlike most other Khmer temples, Angkor Wat faces west not east.  This is thought to either be because it is dedicated to Vishnu or because it was intended to be the resting place of the Khmer King Suryavarman II who had it built.  This was the best shot of the sunset I managed to take before the whistles of the guards drove us back to our tuk tuk.


At least everyone leaving meant some nice (relatively) tourist free photos.


What’s a trip to the temples of Siem Reap without a few monks?


Seemingly every surface save the floor is engraved in breath-taking detail.  I was particularly impressed with the engraving of the story of how the gods’ and demons’ quest for the elixir of immortality led to the churning of the sea of milk and the creation of the cosmos.


Why take the public steps when you could take the Indiana Jones route?  Or as my German friend liked to shout, “TEMPLE RUN!”


The best photo from our sunrise outing and I have to admit, my camera made it look considerably better than it was.


Since we were at the temple early we planned to try and make it up to the very top of the temple as the queue had been too long the previous day.  However, it was not be as we would have had to wait a further forty minutes for the central stairs to open.  Fortunately, I at least got this rather nice photo before the sun was too bright, causing all my other photos to have blindingly white skies.

The Trials and Tribulations of Planning

Two or three weeks ago I stuck my head out of my textbooks long enough to realise that recess week was fast approaching and I had yet to form a plan of which country I was going to intrepidly explore.  After a few minutes of trying to wrap my head around the fact that my recess week is before most of my cohorts return to studying and that in their first week back I would be taking two of my midterms, I actually started planning.  Like anyone nowadays, my first (and only) port of call was the internet.  The internet is an amazing resource for anyone who so much as dreams of travelling as it offers a near infinite number of locations each with a wealth of reviews and suitably idyllic photos.  It is also the bane of all holiday planners as it offers a near infinite number of locations each with a wealth of reviews and suitably idyllic photos.

You see, it’s all very well and good saying “I’ll go to such and such a place” but then you bring up BBC news and decide that perhaps that particular location can wait a while or you pick a country but are then bombarded with choices as to where in that country you should go.  In the end, I narrowed my list of seven countries down to two by touring TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet and Pinterest.  My methods of elimination also included a quick check of for any travel warnings; Travel Health Pro for vaccination advice; and a slew of websites to try and interpret what visas were need for where.

All in all, there was a moment where I was tempted to can the entire venture and just relax on a beach in some tourist trap for a week.  However, I persevered and chose a location in each of country to spend the week.  I’m not sure they are any less tourist trappy but I like to pretend they are.  After the hard part of making a decision.  I only had to work out how to get there; what I needed for visas; where I was going to stay; and what I was actually going to do.  Fortunately for the modern traveller this is made easy with the help of websites like Skyscanner, HostelWorld and the multitude of travel bloggers who have gone before.

So without further ado, the winners of this semester’s recess week holiday awards are…

…Siem Reap in Cambodia:

Siem Reap

I am particularly looking forward to the temples of Angkor Wat, though the Night Market and Landmine Museum have also caught my eye.


…Hanoi in Vietnam:


As well as seeing the thriving Old Quarter here, I am hoping to cram in a day trip to the famous Halong Bay.

With only seven kilos of luggage, my laptop will be staying here in Singapore so posting may be varied but at the very least I hope to put a few photo heavy posts up.  Fingers crossed and happy travelling.