Last Days in La Paz
13 January 2020
Every day we go out for a walk or more like a trek as we walk anywhere from 3 to 5 miles along the Malecon and through the streets and of course up the 45 degree hill at the end through the gauntlet of barking dogs. I think every dog in Mexico is trained to bark and it doesn’t seem to matter what time of the day or night they do it. One starts and they all follow in unison. We are glad we have a car as it has made it easier to get supplies - hard to hump water and beer up the hill!!! They do have Uber in La Paz which is cheap so we take it if we go out at night. Pat’s knee has held up pretty well and he only took one day off of walking.
Our big adventure of the week was a trip to Todos Santos which is a 1 ¼ hour drive back towards Cabo San Lucas. We visited the Hotel California (which has nothing to do with the song) but I the old hotel in town and Tequilla Sunrise which is famous for their margheritas which of course we had. We had some great fish tacos from a street vendor and then wandered the streets visiting the very expensive local shops. They really gouge the tourists with their high prices so we didn’t buy much.
We visited one of the local hangouts Bob Marlin’s for Friday Night Happy Hour. It was very windy so we were dressed in our winter clothes. We had margheritas and nachos and listened to music but the songs all sounded the same. Not as good as we had expected but we can say we went. We walked down to the Malecon and had a drink at Harker’s and then took an Uber home.
Saturday we went for dinner at a sushi restaurant. Nothing like sushi at home but it was pretty good none the less. We had Chilies Rellenos Japanese style so they were stuffed with cream cheese, rice and crab. The other two dishes were rolls and rather nondescript. Guess that’s what you get going for sushi in Mexico.
Sunday night we went to the local burger joint called Kiki’s after having happy hour with some other Victorian’s we met. It’s a little hole in the wall that serves Burgers, Burritos and Fries. We brought our own wine and beer and enjoyed some great food and lots of laughs. The portions were huge and so glad Pat and I shared.
Tonight we are staying home and BBQing the biggest steaks we have ever seen and enjoying some down time before the next leg of our trip starts.
La Paz has a population of 300,000 of which 7000 are gringos. There is lots of development happening in order to attract more gringos, but as in many Mexican cities it is changing the quaintness. We have seen some of the poorer areas and have heard of some very unsafe neighbourhoods due to drugs, but have also seen the ritzier side of La Paz. There are lots of rentals available here and more being built.
Tomorrow we will drive back to the airport and drop off our car. We will then meet our friends Dave, Char and Doug at the airport and take the shuttle into Cabo San Lucas for a week of fun in the sun.
First Stop - La Paz
07 January 2020
We managed to sneak out of Victoria before the big storm arrived and missed the snow warning in Calgary so had a smooth trip to La Paz, Mexico. Getting through Immigration was quick but when it came time to hit the button at Customs, ugh it turned red. However, the days of having your luggage searched are over and our bags quickly slipped through the scanner with no further grief. We walked through the airport and avoided the taxi drivers and time share sellers (not as bad as in previous trips) and took the shuttle to the car rental company. We had read about many nightmares renting cars in Mexico because of the insurance requirements but we didn’t have any problems or additional charges. Tip - we always use Priceline and get great deals and usually the 3rd party liability insurance is always included.
We drove for 2 ½ hours from Los Cabos up the coast and across the mountains to our friend’s condo in La Paz. The hills are all scrubby but green with large cactus everywhere. The highway was great and we made good time with one quick stop along the way for snacks and drinks – Fanta for Pat, Cerveza for me. The GPS took us to within a few doors of the condo and Hugh was on the street to guide us through the gates. Hugh and Janis had warned us of the great hill you had to climb to get to their place. While it didn’t look like much, as we got closer to the top we realized how steep it really was. We should be in better shape when we leave here!! After a quick tour, we settled in for happy hour and to watch the sun set. We stayed in for dinner and then early to bed as we had been up since 3:00 am.
Awoke to the sound of Pat snoring. Unfortunately he has been sick since Christmas and while he says he is getting better, mornings are rough. Our first adventure was to drive to the end of the Malecon and walk to town taking the dog for his morning stroll. The Malecon is a beautiful 5.5 km walkway along the water and they have spent lots of money adding playgrounds, work out equipment, garbage cans and art work. They even have sweepers who keep the walkways clean. We are impressed with how clean the streets and beaches are here but do notice garbage cans everywhere.
Back to the condo to drop the dog off and then drove down to the other end of town and parked the car. We walked back along the Malecon to where more of the bars, restaurants and tourist shops were. We stopped at a local bar for drinks and nachos. Hugh calls it the skinny bar as the entrance is long and skinny. We then drove to the grocery store and stocked up and home for siestas, happy hour and dinner.
Every morning we go for a walk with the dog. Some mornings we drive down to the beach and others we venture down the big hill. It’s not so bad going down, but coming up is definitely a work out. Not only is it steep, you have to be careful of the loose gravel and potholes as you could quickly slip and be back at the bottom of the hill with a really bad case of road rash. We are feeling more confident in our walking skills and have graduated to flip flops from hiking shoes. I have also make an attempt to swim in the pool but it is f*# cold. Janis tries to tell me it’s heated but no way in my mind.
We are spending our time exploring the local shops and markets and eating out at some of the local restaurants or having drinks at some of the local hangouts. One shopping area has been nicknamed Cook Street Village as you can buy veggies, fish and tortillas from the locals. We have also done a couple of road trips. The first we drove to Balandra Beach which was crazy busy so we drove farther down the road to Pichilingue Beach which was much quieter. We found a table on the beach and enjoyed a cold beer watching the world go by. Our second road trip was to El Centenario which is a small town to the north of La Paz looking for a small table. There is no town centre and the streets are all dirt with no signs. They are known for their flea market style stores selling pretty everything and did manage to find a table for $200 MXN ($14 Can). We had a friend of Hugh and Janis’s with us to show us the way and he knew of a store for bacon so off down the back streets and sure enough we found it. Pat bought 2 kgs of bacon for $240 MXN ($17 Can) and we are enjoying bacon with every meal!!
La Paz is not a big tourist spot but there are lots of gringos who come and stay for the winter months. While many of the locals don’t speak English, lots do and we are having no trouble communicating. Of course having a translator app also helps, but sometimes the translations make no sense. We are also pleasantly surprised as to how cheap most things are here.
15 March 2019
We arrived in Hong Kong and took the Airport Express train into the city. We then took a cab to our hotel in the Central District of Hong Kong Island. Our room has everything you need but the hotel has no amenities – guess that’s why it was cheaper. We rented a wifi buddy from the hotel so we could use our phone (cheaper than getting a SIM card) as getting around the city without google maps could be challenging.
We wanted to go see the local markets so we took the MRT (rapid transit) over to Kowloon which is across Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong Island. We took the wrong train but were able to backtrack and get on the right train pretty easily. We bought Octopus cards which allow you to use all public transport without having to worry about having money in your pocket. You just load it up and away you go. We went to the Ladies Market first which was many blocks of booth after booth of stuff. We had hoped to find some good finds at reasonable prices but no such luck. Most of it was junk souvenirs, cheap t-shirts, fake purses, watches and clothing and they weren’t giving anything away. After several hours of wandering, we stopped for a beer and a snack and then off to the Temple Street Night Market. We got there a bit early so they were just setting up their wares, but it was pretty clear it was just more of the same as at the Ladies Market. We stopped for a beer at a small hole in the wall which was run by a fellow from Nepal. His sisters were there having a beer so we stopped for one too. He made us some Nepalese food but we couldn’t eat it all as it was too spicy with lots of cumin. While we were sitting there, a young woman stood just outside and was staring at us. We asked her if she would like a beer and she said sure. She told us she lives at home and wants to be a Secretary but it was pretty clear that wasn’t going to happen as she came across as having marginal mental capacity. Who knows if her story was true or she was putting on an act but we did buy her a beer. Back to the hotel and to bed as we had done a lot of walking.
After doing lots of research, we decided the only way to see the sites of Hong Kong for a reasonable price was to take the Hop On Hop Off Bus. So, we bought 2 day tickets and headed out as everyone said one day to do it all was not enough. The first loop we took was out to Repulse Bay and Stanley where there is an art market. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t that great so it wasn’t a beach day but it was nice to see the bay even if it was from the top of the bus. We stopped in Stanley and found the market but there were only about 5 booths and nothing much in the way of art to be found. Creative writing on the tourist sites for sure!! We hopped back on the bus and when we got back to the dock, we took the Star Ferry across the harbour and took the next loop around Kowloon. As we had already spent a day in Kowloon we didn’t really need to stop anywhere so just stayed on the bus for the tour. We then took the Ferry back to Hong Kong Island and walked back to our hotel. We are lucky there are lots of restaurants within a couple block range of the hotel so lots to choose from. We ended up at a Vietnam restaurant and had some great Pho.
To get from our hotel to the harbour, you walk down a giant walkway, first on a series of escalators and then overhead walkways. Our walk is about 1.5 miles and we never walked at road level. They have amazing ways of moving lots of people keeping them off of street level. We caught the last loop of the Hop On Hop Off Bus. We stopped at the Peak Tram and got in line to take the Tram to the top of Victoria Peak to see the view. We waited about 20 minutes and then up we went. It is so steep that it actually hurts your neck going up!! We got to the top of the tram and were blown away by the view. There is a 360 view of Hong Kong. There are 8000 skyscrapers in Hong Kong – twice as many as in New York. As there is little land to build on, there only choice is to go up to accommodate the population as it grows. Most people don’t have cars so parking is not an issue. Public transportation is excellent and reasonably cheap. Real estate on Victoria Peak is the most expensive in Hong Kong and we were told it was about $10,000 CAN a m2 to buy. We stopped for lunch at the top at Bubba Gumps and then headed down the hill. When we got to the bottom and saw the lineup, we were glad we went in the morning. We then got back on the bus and continued around the loop until we got to Causeway Bay which is suppose to be shopping haven. We got off the bus but soon realized the shopping was all at high end stores like Gucci, Versace, Coach, Tissot and the likes. So back on the bus and we got off at the escalators for a short walk to our hotel. For dinner we went to the local noodle house, but the food was very bland and Pat was still hungry so we went to another restaurant for some chicken wings. They were so bad we actually couldn’t eat them – the skin was rubbery and not cooked and while we asked them to cook them more, the skin never got crispy. Not a good food day today.
We thought we would try and find some golf sandals for me so researched where the golf stores where. They were all in Kowloon so we walked down the hill and took the Star Ferry across the harbour. We found the stores but they had no sandals and even if they did, they would have been very expensive. A regular pair of Footjoy shoes were $400 - $500 CAN. No wonder they say golf is a rich man’s sport in Asia. We decided to see if we could find somewhere decent for lunch and hoped we would have better luck than the day before. We found a busy spot and had a great lunch – yeah!! We then took the ferry back across the harbour and spent a couple of hours wandering through the Hong Kong Maritime Museum. Some interesting stuff on the big freighters of the world. Back to the hotel for a glass of wine, gummy bears and TimTam’s (Australian chocolate cookies) for dinner.
The next day the weather turned and it’s to be drizzling all day. We had no plans so decided to just go out and explore the Central District around our hotel. We spent a few hours roaming the streets, stopped for lunch at a busy restaurant for lunch which was just okay, and then walked back to the hotel just as it started to rain pretty hard. So, an afternoon watching TV. We walked up the hill to the Soho district for dinner and had a great burger – needed some beef!! We then stopped for a beer at one of the local bars and overpaid for a Red Stripe.
We were lucky to be able to go to the Hong Kong Flower Show as it started on our last day. Bonus it was also free because we were over 60!! We spent 1 ½ wandering through the stalls of plants, the plant displays and flower arrangements. We were in amazement at all the orchids and how cheap they were to buy. Wish we could bring them home. While most of the plants are the same as at home, it was the Asian influence in the displays that made them interesting. We stopped for some pasta for lunch, did some shopping and then ventured back to the hotel. We took a wrong exit out of the subway so spent a half an hour a bit lost. Good thing I had our wifi buddy and google maps to get us back on track. Back to the hotel to pack and out for pizza for dinner.
We have had an amazing adventure and have lots of stories. However, after two months away there is nothing like coming home even with an 11 ½ hour flight.
09 March 2019
Up early the next day and off to take the bus to Phnom Penh. We took the VIP bus which gives you more comfortable seats, wifi, snacks and numerous bathroom breaks. It was a 6 hour ride but quite comfortable except the seats were made for Cambodians so were very narrow. As we drove along we saw pretty much the same thing, dried up rice fields, garbage, houses for the poor, or rather shanty shacks, and some houses for the middle class and the rich. Cambodia has about 16 million people and 1.5 of them live in Phenom Penh. As we drove into town we could see the massive amounts of construction currently underway which is mostly housing or hotels. They are all being built with foreign money mostly from China and out of reach for most of the Cambodians. We managed to grab a tuk tuk at the Bus Depot and it was about a 15 minute ride to our hotel. Can’t tell you how crazy the traffic is with trucks, cars, scooters and tuk tuk’s fighting for their piece of the road. We arrived at the hotel and once we were through the front entrance we were in a very upscale and tranquil space. Apparently the building had been renovated in 2011 from an administrative building to a hotel and they did not skimp on much. We were given a quick tour of the hotel facilities and then taken to our room which while not large, had a big shower and a big bead with mosquito netting – yeah!! We got checked in and headed down to the pool for a drink before taking a walk to find somewhere to eat for dinner. We choose a BBQ place where the locals were eating so thought how bad could it be. Well it turned out to be fantastic. We had crab and squid in pepper sauce and some fried rice with some beers. Total bill $15. We had arranged for a tour guide and taxi to take us to Prison 21 which is now the Genocide Museum as well as the Killing Fields, the National Museum, the Grand Palace and Silver Pagoda. Our taxi turned out to be a Toyota Highlander which in Cambodia is pretty posh, and our tour guide was Mona. While we are glad we visited the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields, there are no words to describe what we saw. Pol Pot and the Khmer Regime or better known as the Organization were monsters and killed approximately 2 million people through starvation, torture and execution. I will leave it at that. We only took one picture - the 10th Anniversary Monument. The monument was built to house the remains retrieved from the mass graves. The lowest level houses clothing, then the next levels house the skulls starting with the youngest and moving up to the oldest. The skulls are marked with sex and the reason for their death. The upper levels house the bones starting with the biggest to the smallest. Pat could not go in and while I did, it was very disturbing and I had to leave. The sites are being maintained in hope this abuse of mankind never happens again, but unfortunately it still is. We then stopped for lunch at the Friends Café. This café is a teaching facility for youth to give them training in the restaurant field. They learn cooking skills as well as front house experience. Pat ventured outside of the box and had a Big Bug Burger. The pictures explain it all – he even ate the bugs!! The food was pretty good and we were glad we could support a good cause. We then went to the National Museum and wandered through some very old stuff. What we have found in all the museums we have visited is all of the artifacts are related to their religion and not about the people themselves. Sad this part of their history is missing. We then went on to the Royal Palace. The King in Cambodia is just a figure head and has no power and lives in the Royal Palace. A lot of the site was off limits as it was being renovated or where the King actually lives. Beautiful site and glad to see it was open to the public. We then went to the Silver Pagoda which houses many of the pagodas of the capital. We did see the life size gold pagoda which is 70 kg of solid gold and covered in gemstones. Sorry we weren’t allowed to take any pictures. The Silver Pagoda is named for its silver floor which is covered in 4 inch silver tiles. There were cases and cases of silver and gold artifacts related to the temple and the palace some dating back a 1000 years. From there we headed back go the hotel to relax by the pool, have a swim and have a passion fruit mojito. For dinner we found another local restaurant and had some curry and spring rolls.
The next day we ventured out with our tuk tuk driver who gave us a ride from the train station. First stop, the Russian Market. This market consists of rows and rows of stalls selling everything from pigs cheeks to tuk tuk wheels. We wandering through the rows of stalls for about an hour before heading off to the Central Market. The Central Market is housed in a large art deco building with stalls spilling out onto the streets around the building. This market is a bit different in that there were lots of jewelry kiosks selling better quality stuff as well as some electronics and housewares. We spent another hour venturing through the rabbit warrens of stalls before we had enough shopping!! We were pretty hot by then so we stopped for a couple of beers before heading over to Mekong Island where they have a silk farm. We had to take a ferry across the river to the island which really was not much more than a glorified barge. We then arrived at the silk farm which is run by a co-op of weavers who live on the island. You can see how the silk worms create the silk, how they clean it and spool it, dye it and use it to weave fabric. We purchased a couple of scarves to support them. We then headed back to town, stopped for lunch at a local Khmer restaurant and back to the hotel for a swim and nap. For dinner we ventured out to David’s Homemade Noodles which was just a 5 minute walk from our hotel. They make their own noodles and dumplings and they were delicious. So much so we had 3 plates of dumplings. Back to the hotel to watch some tv.
The next morning we were up and off back to Siem Reap by plane. It was a quick flight and we were picked up at the airport by our hotel. We were lucky to get into our room early and then we headed to Pub Street for lunch. Pat wanted to get a pedicure so we found a spa about a block from the market. We both got pedicures, Pat got a foot scrub and we both had foot massages – all for $38. Going to miss going to the spa once a week! Pizza for dinner and then final packing.
Now we are off to the airport for our flights to Hong Kong, out last stop on our adventure.
Seam Reap - Cambodia
05 March 2019
After a short flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and then another short flight to Seam Reap, we arrived in Cambodia. We took a taxi to our hotel and were greeted as if we were royalty. We were given a welcome drink of iced tea made with ginger and lemon grass and a sweet rice dessert - you should have seen Pat’s face!! Our room wasn’t ready yet so they gave us a quick tour of the hotel facilities and we had lunch in the rooftop restaurant while we waited. We just finished when they came to get us and take us to our room. Turns out they upgraded us to a larger room with a balcony which we thought was great at the time. However, it turned out the room overlooked the main road which is very busy at all times of the day and night and was very noisy so good thing we had ear plugs. As it was Saturday, it was market night. We were surprised when we realized we were only about a 15 minute walk to the market and Pub Street which while not as crazy as Chiang Mai, was still pretty busy. They closed off the streets so everyone could wander everywhere and we only had to watch out for tuk tuks which are everywhere. We browsed through the stalls, bought a few things and went to get something to eat and drink. Pub Street is one block long and is lined with restaurant after restaurant all competing for your business. They sell Angkor draft beer for $.50 US and some cocktails for $2.00 so needless to say we had a few. We found a restaurant with comfy chairs so stopped for something to eat. Pat discovered Passionfruit Mojito’s which were really good (don’t think there was much booze in them though). We started talking with the group at the table next to us who were Australians. We spent a great couple of hours shooting the shit and then took a tuk tuk back to the hotel for $2.00. They tend to use US dollars to accommodate the tourists.
The next day we took a tour of the Angkor Archaeological Park. The Park is 155 square miles and is a UNESCO site in order to enable it to be protected from thievery and allow for the restoration of the temples. Our tour guide Kha seemed to be very knowledgeable, but his English wasn’t great and he spoke too fast so was hard to understand. We also found he repeated his facts over and over so after a while we stopped listening which is unfortunate as we probably missed a lot of info. Our first stop was the Angkor Wat Temple complex. This complex is about 1500 years old and is 5 square miles in size and surrounded by a moat and a wall. It was originally built as a Hindu temple, but transformed to a Buddhist temple when their new king converted it towards the end of the 12th century. There is a stone in the very middle of the complex which is referred to as the centre of the earth. The site is in various stages of remediation as the complex itself is deteriorating. You can also see evidence of theft as many of the heads on the statues are broken off an we were told have been sold on the black market. The pictures do not do justice to the magnitude and detail of the temples. Our next stop was to Ta Prohm which is the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed. Due to the popularity of Angelina Jolie and the movie, they have renamed the temple the Tomb Raider Temple. This temple is in a complete state of disrepair. There are large trees growing on top of the temple rocks and their roots can be seen finding their way to water through the large stones. Sad the site is disintegrating but very intoxicating at the same time. We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant which obviously has the contract for the tour buses. The place was packed and the food more expensive than on the street, but good none the less. After about an hour we were back on the bus to the Banyon Temple which we were told was built for the queen. This was our favourite due to the more intricate detail in the stone and the faces you can see in the towers. You can see where each new king came into reign as additions were made to add their own touch to the temple. While we wandered through the corridors which were more like rabbit warrens and appreciate all the stone work, we found the grandeur to be in the site itself as you stand back at look at it as a whole. Our final stop of the day was to Phnom Bakheng where the sunset is supposed to be fabulous. They only allow 300 people to the top of the temple as it is also not in great shape so you have to get there early. It was only about 4:00 pm but we hiked up to the top and tried to find some shade to hide from the sun until sunset. Our tour guide told us sunset was at 5:20 pm but when we checked we discovered it wasn’t until 6:15 pm. Group decision was to leave as it was very very hot and head back to town. There was a lineup as we left to climb to the top so glad we left as it probably would take us an hour to get down instead of about 15 minutes with the crowds after sunset. We were dropped off at our hotel, had quick showers and took a tuk tuk to Pub Street. In hind sight we should have booked a private tour as we would have learned more and better used our time. As we arrive at Pub Street we ran into Lennie, our new Australian friend who said he would go check with girls and catch up with us. We stopped for a wood fired pizza (which was really good) and some $.50 beers and Lennie, Kim and Sherry showed up. We moved on to another restaurant, had a few more drinks and then back to the hotel as we were exhausted from the heat. Today was supposedly 36 degrees Celsius but with the humidity probably closer to 39.
The next day we were picked up by Sam in a tuk tuk for a tour of the stilt village on the river and then out onto the lake. It was a dusty and slow ride as the tuk tuk’s in Cambodia are small motorcycles pulling carts that hold 4 people. The dirt here is red, very red and coats everything including you and your clothing. We wash our shoes in the shower every night and unfortunately leave red mud on the towels and the floor. They are probably used to it but we felt bad. We were able to see a lot along the way and Sam gave us lots of great info on the country and the people. His English was excellent and when we asked he said he went to private school where English is taught to everyone. It is currently the start of dry season so the river was very low. This meant we had to start the tour farther down the river as the boats otherwise run aground. We got into an old narrow river boat and began our journey down the muddy river and were put to shore at the stilt village. There are not words to explain what we encountered except poor and living a meager existence. The houses are for the most part built using logs as the stilts and the living space is either grass or wood/tin structures on top. In the rainy season, the river would be 4 meters higher than it currently was so that is why the structures seemed so tall. Glad I wasn’t climbing to the top with laundry and babies. This village only got electricity last year and most are still use ice for refrigeration. They are fisherman and preserve their fish by making fish cheese (the smell is horrendous) or smoking it. The village is only about 500 meters long with a temple right in the middle. There was a celebration going on while we were there but it looked like only about 100 people were there of a village of about 2000. We then got back into our boat and headed out of the river onto Tonle Sap Lake which is the largest lake in Cambodia. The lake is brown with mud so while enormous, has no redeeming quality. We were taken to a crocodile farm which was really nothing more than a floating restaurant with some crocodiles, crocodile products and food. We saw the caged animals and the crocodiles and while we understand why they pen them, it really sucked to see them. They farm crocodiles to sell the skin to China, Italy and France but eat the meat locally. We did try some and it tastes like tough chicken. We then took the hour ride back home, had showers and crashed. We were told the temperature today was 42 degrees Celcius. No wonder we were exhausted – really feeling the effects of the heat. We headed to Pub Street for some drinks and food but were back to the hotel early as Pat wasn’t feeling great. We watched some tv and early to bed.
Up early the next morning and off to Phnom Penh by bus……
28 February 2019
We were up early and off to the train station. We arrived early so sat and people watched - what a mixture of both locals and tourists. Vendors were walking along the tracks selling food and drinks but we declined as you really need to see where your food is coming from. The train finally rolled into the station and we were off. Now the trains in Thailand are not to North American standard. We did have airline type seats which reclined and adequate leg room but that is where it ends. It took us an hour to get out of Bangkok and then we were off through the countryside. The first meal we were served was a taro filled bun and coffee or water. Pat took one bite and almost spit it out. I didn’t think it was that bad. However, it didn’t get any better. Lunch was mackerel in chili sauce and sweet chicken which looked and tasted like it had been cooked a year ago. At least there was rice. As we travelled along, we saw miles and miles of rice fields. The land is very flat so much easier to grow rice than in Bali. We could also see lots of large equipment to help with the harvesting. What we found disappointing was the amount of derelict railway cars, ties and rails along the existing track. Some of the rail cars where at least 20 years old and the old rail ties were rotting in piles. We also saw in Bangkok the railway yard and it looked like they just let the oil drain right on the tracks rather than collect it and dispose of it properly. The damage Thailand is doing to the environment in an hour is more than Canada does in a month. We travelled along the flat lands for about 8 hours before we started climbing into the mountains. We had a quick stop at a small town and were able to get some snacks and drinks as there was no dinner served on the train which is probably a good thing. We finally arrived after 11 hours of travel, found a cab and were dropped off at our hotel. We got checked in and headed to the local market for some dinner.
Greater Chiang Mai has a population of about 1 million people and the city itself has a population of about 160,00 and is one of the oldest cities in Thailand. Our hotel is located within the moat of old town and most people don’t stay here because of the noise but we have found our hotel to be quite quiet. Being in old town makes for easy access to all the markets.
The next morning after breakfast, we went out to explore the old city. We only got a couple of blocks down the road when a local asked us if we needed any help finding where we wanted to go as we were trying to read a map. Pat started talking with him and the next thing we know we are in his car driving to the wholesale arts and crafts district as he said he was going to buy his wife a bauble. We drove for about 20 minutes and arrived at the Gem Factory. We were greeted by a sales person who gave us a tour of the factory and then into the showroom. Again, very overwhelming as it was huge and full of tourists. We asked to see some pendants but found the gold ones too expensive. We did find a silver elephant with my birthstone that was reasonable so Pat bought it for me. Singh (our new tour guide) then took us to a leather factory, a textile factory and a laqueur factory. The only thing we bought was a jeweled pillow cover made from old Thai wedding dresses. We were then on our way back to town when Singh asked us to put some gas in his car. This is the point when we realized he had no intention of buying anything for his wife, if he even had one, and was just wanting some money. It only cost us about $18 and he drove us around for a couple of hours so no hard feelings. He was a very funny guy but swore a lot and made lots of sexual jokes. Good thing I was sitting in the back seat and ignored most of it. He did say he was a boxing and kick boxing champion in the 1970’s and currently teaches martial arts. He dropped us off back where we started and we found a restaurant for some lunch and then back to the hotel for a rest before heading out to the famous Sunday Night Market.
There are no words to describe the magnitude of the Sunday Night Market. Take the Sidney market and multiply it by about 1000 times. They block off the streets and there are three rows of booths along the roads as well as booths hidden in courtyards all along the road. There are street food stalls, clothing stalls, jewellery stalls and pretty much anything else you could want to buy. Only problem is, a lot of the stuff comes from China and is just junk so you really have to watch what you are buying. We did manage to find some bowls made from mango wood and some cute stuff made in Thailand. Hope we don’t have to buy another suitcase to get our stuff home!! After three hours of wandering around and a stop for a beer and some satay skewers, spring rolls and bbq ribs, we headed back to the hotel as Pat’s leg was really bothering him.
We woke up late – 8:00 am which is very late for us. Breakfast is included at the hotel and you order your breakfast the day before. So far the breakfasts have been very good and there is unlimited amounts of juice and coffee. While the coffee is very strong it makes great lattes!! We decided to have a pool day so after breakfast went for a walk in town and did some shopping and then back to the hotel. While the pool is in the sun in the morning, it is in full shade during the afternoon. Only problem is, it isn’t heated. I managed to get in up to my waist a couple of times, but Pat didn’t even try. Had some drinks, watched Netflix, read and just had a nice relaxing day.
The next day we were picked up at our hotel at about 8:30 am by Sammy, our cooking school instructor. We drove to the local market and then to his farm where 17 of us learned how to cook green, red and yellow curry, Tom Yum and Chicken Coconut Soup, Chicken with Cashews, Papaya Salad, Spring Rolls, Phad Thai and Sticky Rice with Mangos. It was a whole day affair in a very tranquil setting. Sammy is very funny and both he and his wife are very accommodating. We made the curry paste from scratch with ingredients from his farm and learned the secret to the sauces used in Thailand. It is not complicated cooking, but all about the flavours of the ingredients. We were so full from eating all day we skipped dinner when we got back but did go for a walk and stopped for a drink.
You can’t visit Thailand without going to see the elephants. We choose a half day tour so were picked up at the hotel around 2:00 pm and we made the 45 minute trip to the Sanctuary. They currently have 4 mature female elephants all between 50 and 60 years old, one mature male elephant who is 56 years old and three smaller female elephants between 5 and 7 years old which they just received. Thai elephants originated from India and are smaller than their African counterparts. All of the elephants have come from working environments and some have injuries as a result. We were given uniforms to wear but they were pretty small so only the pants fit me. We then went out into the field and mingled with the elephants for a while, got some pictures and were able to touch them. We then got to feed them. The female elephants eat about 400 pounds of food a day and are vegetarians. We washed and fed them bananas which they were eager to get. They are very gentle and a little 2 year old in our group could be heard laughing when the elephant took the banana from him. Then it was spa time. First is the mud bath. This is the only way for the elephants to cool off as they do not sweat through their skin. They got into the mud pit and let us scrub them with the mud. Of course the guides made sure we were covered too. After about half an hour of slopping around, we took them to the river to wash them off. There was water flying everywhere and all of us in the river were soaked!! We then got showered and were fed dinner before the 45 minute drive back to the city. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to anyone coming to Chiang Mai.
We were up early the next morning and off to our river rafting and water trekking adventure. It was a 1 ½ hour ride to the river and we had one pit stop along the way. Once there, we were fitted with life jackets and helmets and given a safety briefing. Because the river was low, we were put into inflatable kayaks instead of the larger boats so Pat and I were together with a guide. All I can say is what a blast. At first we thought it was rather boring as there were no rapids but that quickly changed and through the rocks we went. Weren’t sure what to expect at first but once we got the hang of it all we could do was laugh. As you went along you rubbed over and around the rocks sometimes hitting them quite hard. Only got stuck twice where our guide had to get out and push us off. Many times our kayak would fill with water and it was like being in a bathtub. We were on the water for a couple of hours and then back to the camp for lunch. After lunch we started our walk up to the waterfall. We knew it wasn’t going to be very much of a hike and more of a walk but we had hoped to get info on the flora and fauna which didn’t happen. Our guide was very young and didn’t seem to know much about the environment when we asked him questions. We arrived at the waterfall which was rather small compared to what we have at home and what we saw in New Zealand, but I went for a swim anyway. We then walked back down and were dropped off at a swimming hole. This is where they jump off the rocks and swim down the rapids. The only taker in our group was Phil, a 32 year from the UK. His mum and Pat and I just sat on the sidelines and watched them jump from about 8 meters into the pools. Oh to be young and crazy!! Once back at the hotel we had much needed showers, dropped off some laundry and out for a steak dinner. We were in bed early as we were exhausted…..
Today is our last day so we are not doing much. Went for a walk in the morning, had a Thai massage in the afternoon and then hung around the hotel. We are up and out at 5:45 am tomorrow for our next stop – Cambodia.