Hong Son loop

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Mike had heard about the Hong Son loop from a friend, and decided that he wanted to do it. So we rented a 125 scooter in Chiang Mai and set aside 6 days to explore this northern part of Thailand. Our version of the loop consisted of 6 days, 600 km, 4 towns and 1864 turns in the road.

Chiang Dao

We started the loop, setting off from Chiang Mai, by going a bit out of our way and up to Chiang Dao. This little village is located at the bottom of a beautiful mountain. It felt really nice to get out to the countryside – everything was so quiet, except for a lot of crowing roosters –  and the air felt really fresh after being in the city for so long. We stayed on a little farm/micro brewery.

We got there quite late in the evening and decided to head to the local tourist attraction before it closed. One of the things the town is known for is a network of 12 km of caves underneath a mountain, some of whom contain shrines. We got a local guide to take the two of us around with a gas lamp. It was completely dark, and the caves just go on and on forever. We could have gotten lost so easily, and it would have been impossible to find your way out!

Afterwards we drove into the ‘town centre’. The village of Chiang Dao consists of only two roads. One of the roads was filled up with food stalls for the evening marked. We happily walked up and down, trying a little bit of everything.

The next morning, after being woken up continuously during the night by crowing roosters, we visited a local temple/monastery. There was quite a lot of stairs to walk up to get to the temple on the side of the mountain, and there was lots of mindfulness quotes on signs along the way. It was really peaceful and beautiful, almost no-one else was around. We both agree that Chiang Dao is one of the nicest and most surprising places we have visited so far.

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Contemplating the view

Pai

We got on the road to Pai, stopping once because Mike insisted on visiting a waterfall.

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Mike loves waterfalls

Everything was going really well, the road went over the top of a really high mountain, the view was amazing, and the road full of turns. Then Mike suddenly informed me that we were almost out of petrol. We hadn’t driven past a petrol station in a long time at this point. Luckily we were going downhill by then, or we probably wouldn’t have made it. After 30 min, at the foot of the mountain, we finally found a place that sold petrol.

We made it to Pai just as the sun was setting. Pai is lovely, we stayed for two nights and visited as many of the sights as we could. I especially enjoyed all the really amazing street food! Our first morning we watched the sunrise over the Chinese village.

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Sunrise

It was really really cold, and very very early, but beautiful. Then we visited the white Buddha, the big tree, the memorial bridge and another waterfall.

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White Buddha

We were going to watch the sunset at the canyon with some guys from the hostel, but we got there to late and missed it. We stayed at the canyon for a while anyway and watched the stars instead.

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The canyon

We really enjoyed our time in Pai, and Mike especially wished we had more time so we could have stayed longer.

Mae Hong Son

Next stop was Mae Hong Son. Again we drove over some beautiful mountains with really nice views. Outside town we stopped at the national park to visit the fish cave, Than Pla. The fish, in the carp family, are considered holy. We fed the fish with nuts and cabbage. They are really huge, and there’s loads of them!

Then we watched the sunset at Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu, the most famous pagoda, before we had dinner at the night market.

Mae Chem & Doi Inthanon 

This little village is the last stop before driving over Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain, and back to Chiang Mai. We didn’t realise we were there at first, the village is that small and average. We stayed in a nice homestay, and it was nice to relax a little before the last day of driving.

The next day we got up early and drove up the mountain. We were wearing all the clothes we had with us, and it got colder and colder the higher we got. At the top of the mountain there are two beautiful pagodas built to celebrate the king and queen’s 60th birthdays. The view of the surrounding countryside was nice, but quite a lot of it was covered in clouds. The rest of the drive back was uneventful, and we caught our night train back to Bangkok that night – we thankfully managed to get a proper sleeping berth this time.

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Chiang Mai

After visiting Ko Landa we took the night train from the south back to Bangkok. The train was surprisingly comfortable. The beds had soft mattresses and pillows and thick blankets, which was better than some of the hostels we’ve stayed in! Because of this experience, we decided to book a night train for our journey going north as well, but unfortunately they didn’t have any more beds available for the day we wanted to leave. We got two reclining seats in second class instead. It turned out to be a very uncomfortable night, and we quickly learned that the nights in north Thailand are a lot colder than down south.

Chiang Mai, the main Thai city in the north, is lovely, if very touristy. There’s lots of coffee shops and cafes. You also can’t turn a corner without seeing a temple or pagoda. The city has a pleasant atmosphere, much more relaxed than Bangkok, although it’s still a bigg-ish city.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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The temple complex (not my photo)

This is one of the most famous temples in Chiang Mai, situated on the top of a mountain and view over the city. To get there, we drove for a bit out of town on a scooter, and up the hill. The road is very steep, and our scooter could only barely manage it. When we got there it was another steep walk to the top. The view was amazing and so was the temple, although full of other tourists. But we were happy that we picked it as one of the temples to spend some time in.

The grand canyon

Mike’s friend had told us about this place before we went, it’s an old quarry 30 min outside town which has been turned into a water park. One of the main attractions was a really high jump that Mike was dying try. We got there an hour before closing, and Mike jumped twice from 7.5 metres. The place was really cool and we could have easily spent half a day there.

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The Canyon with the jumping off point
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Canyon

Night bazaar

We love a good night marked, lots of cheap food and opportunities to try new things that we haven’t tried before. Chiang Mai has one of the biggest and most diverse markets we have been too, you could walk around there forever and quite easily get lost. Needless to say we ate a lot.

Ko Lanta

The island Ko Lanta is about an hour away from Railay by boat. The boat was filled with Swedish and Danish people, and we soon realised the same was true for the island. We got a cheap-ish hotel close to the beach and rented scooters. Ko Lanta is quite small and spread out, with hotels mainly on the west side of the island, by the beach. You could easily visit all the sights on the island in two days, and we were planning on visiting the islands in the east after that, but as the weather was still pretty rainy we stayed on at Lanta a bit longer. Despite the scandis the island is pretty quiet, and we found several beautiful beaches with very few other people on them.

Our highlights were:

Old town

The old town is on the south end of the island, and its a lot more chilled than the other town in the north. It’s pretty much just one street by the ocean with lots of old buildings, small shops and restaurants. We had dinner here one evening at a restaurant on a platform that was stood on poles halfway into the ocean.

The lighthouse 

The lighthouse in the national park is said to be one of the main places to visit on the island. The bay across from the lighthouse is very pretty, but when we were there the wind was very strong and we were quickly covered in sand after a few minutes on the beach. However the best part of the park is the monkeys roaming around looking for food. Ben was carrying a bag of snacks, and was quickly outnumbered by a pack of monkeys who got away with all the food. There are rangers in the park specifically to keep the monkeys away, but they couldn’t save him. Unfortunately Mike and I missed the whole thing.

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The lighthouse
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Monkey business
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Very sandy beach in the background

The four island tour and Ko Mook emerald cave

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Longboats

One of the highlights of our time at Ko Lanta was a one day tour in a longboat visiting four different islands and snorkelling spots. On the two first stops we jumped in the water from the boat, and snorkelled around it. There was loads of fish, and the water was very clear. The third stop was the best. We had to put life vests on, and swam together into a cave. At one point it was completely dark, all we could see was the guide’s headlight in the distance. Then the tunnel opened up onto a perfect sandy, secluded beach. The water was very warm, and the sand was beautiful. It was made even better because it was a complete surprise, none of us knew where we were going!

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Emerald cave

Krabi town & Railay beach

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Mike rock climbing over Railay Beach. Conquering his fear of heights at 30 metres.

We were originally going to take the night train down to the south of Thailand, but due to severe flooding in the south the roads and rails were closed. We ended up getting a flight for £25 to Krabi. The day before we were due to fly, I checked our tickets and realised we’d booked them for the wrong month! Luckily we got half the money back and were able to get another set of cheap tickets.

When we got the the airport at Krabi town, we were told that there were no busses into town because the road was flooded. We were stranded at the airport, questioning our decision to go down south. But luckily after a couple of hours the busses started running again.

Krabi highlights:

Tiger cave temple (no tigers but amazing views)

We rented scooters at the hotel and drove 30 min out of town to visit the temple. It’s called the tiger temple because it’s located in a cave where a tiger used to live. The temple was nice and there were lots of monkeys running around, but the main attraction was 1260 steps up to the top of the mountains. It took us quite a while to get up and we were all soaked in sweat, but it was totally worth it. The views are amazing, you can see all of Krabi town and all the way to the coast.

Night market

At night there’s a great night market in Krabi. The place to eat is by the port, where lots of little food stalls set up shop, covering the pier in plastic chairs and tables. The food was great and super cheap.

Railay beach

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The beach

Railay beach is only accessible from Krabi via boat. We missed the last boat for the day, but managed to hire a private one which took us to the beach as the sun was setting. We got there and realised that all the cheap beach huts we planned on staying in were at Tonsai beach right next to Railay. As the tide was in we couldn’t walk there, and had to get yet another boat to ferry us over. When we finally got there Mike and Ben and Stef found us some cheap huts. There was only electricity in the evening and only cold running water, but the huts were quite cool. In the morning we woke up to lots of monkeys in the trees around us. In the evening down in hippie-ville there was always a fire show going on. We stayed there for 3 nights, and the others went rock climbing. It was fun until I got food poisoning, then I kind of wished that we had an indoor bathroom with a light.

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Fireshow
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Our hut

Bangkok

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Bangkok marked the beginning and will also mark the end of our trip to Thailand (as we’re flying from here to Siem Reap on February 2), as it does for many travellers.

After visiting the city twice now, Mike is a big fan of Bangkok. He says one of his favourite things about the city is the many ways you can get get around, from tuk-tuks and scooter taxis to boats, busses, normal taxis and the skytrain. I found Bangkok with all the hustle and bustle a bit more stressful. It is not always easy to get around and to communicate with people, and sometimes even getting a taxi somewhere requires 20 minutes, lots of looking at Google maps, and talking to at least six different taxi drivers. However we did figure out later that getting someone to write down the address we wanted to go to in Thai and in the Thai alphabet made it a lot easier.

We both really enjoyed visiting the famous tourist hotspot Khaosan Road at night, trying out some sticks of meat and other street food, and watching the carnage unfold. All backpacker stereotypes can be found here, as well as scorpions on sticks, cocktails by the bucket-load (literally) and any kind of ping pong show your heart may desire.We also really enjoyed a visit to the rooftop bar Cloud 47, which has a great view of Bangkok in all its big-city glory.

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Mike and a bucket of Mai Tai on Khaosan Road

Our Bangkok highlights:

Wat Arun

The Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun, is one of the most iconic sights in Bangkok, situated along the river. Unfortunately the main part of the temple was covered in scaffolding when we were there, but it still looks amazing. The park next the temple by the riverside is also very nice to visit.

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Part of Wat Arun

Taling Chang floating market 

On our first visit to Bangkok we stayed in an AirBnB a bit outside the town centre, which meant taking a taxi every time we wanted to go somewhere – communicating where we wanted to go was sometimes a bit of a challenge. On the plus side, we lived quite close to a floating market, which turned out to be really cool. There was loads of new and exiting food to try from the stalls and the boats, lots and lots of catfish in the river to feed, and mini turtles to admire. We also went on a little boat trip down the river to a local temple on a longtail boat.

Lumphini park 

Lumphini park is an incredible park in the centre of Bangkok, and its easy to reach with the skytrain. We spent a whole afternoon here, first relaxing by the lake, watching the turtles and spotting lots of 2 meter long giant lizards called water monitors. A lady shared her bread with us, and we fed the turtles and a massive school of catfish from the bridge, a proper feeding frenzy!

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A giant water monitor

As the afternoon went on, the park filled up with people doing their evening exercise. Young and old were running laps around the park and exercising on the outdoor gym. At least 200 ladies and a few men took part in an aerobics class with 3 instructors in front, everyone was doing their thing and there was a great sense of community. At 6 o’clock the King’s anthem played, and the whole park froze, standing respectfully while it was playing.

Experiencing Lumphini park in the evening was without doubt my favourite experience of our visit to Bangkok. The atmosphere was amazing and the park is an incredible place to experience what daily life can be like for the people who live in this great city.

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Feeding frenzy!