A Travellerspoint blog

‘A million varieties’ and ‘something quite random’

Pun Pun, Thailand

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During our trip we wanted to get under the skin of the countries we were travelling to and to understand how some of the macro issues translated into micro issues facing the poor and vulnerable. From a documentary on TV we heard about a project called ‘Pun Pun’ and so we set out to meet a community that claimed to live as a model of sustainability on a large plot of land near a village in the Chiang Mai province. We made contact with the folks there and arranged to spend some time with them, working and living as part of the commune in exchange for accommodation and ‘three hot meals a day’.

So we set out early one morning in Chiang Mai city on the hunt for a pick-up truck bound for the Pun Pun farm and to Pajee village. We were told that the unmarked pick-up returns from Chiang Mai to the village packed full of people and goods at mid-day, every day, we just had to find it and get a lift.

Our instructions were to find ‘JD Cosmetics’ and to walk down an alley near to it where we would find the truck. Little did we know that JD Cosmetics had closed some time ago and the locals had since forgotten about its existence. We unknowingly walked straight past the alley straight into a wholesale market selling mostly flowers. A couple of km later we started to get quite hot, tired and a little frustrated, lugging our backpacks around in the mid-day heat, we were also worried we would miss the once-a-day chance to get to the village. Eventually by a stroke of luck, Sully remembered that he saw some cotton buds being sold in a shop and made a tenuous connection with cosmetics. So we trawled back and spoke to the shop owners who didn’t have a clue what we were talking about. We could not believe that we were given specific instructions on this shop and could not find it! We took a chance and walked down the alley next to this shop and sure enough the pick-up was there, full with people in the back, goods under their legs and goods packed on top and ready to drive off. We had made it, but at first there did not seem to be any space inside for us or on top for our backpacks. Little did we know that the 6 passengers in the back would double before we reached our final destination!

The truck to Pun Pun

The truck to Pun Pun


Our bags on top of the veg truck

Our bags on top of the veg truck

On our journey we were joined by some other English guys, one was an artist and the other a ‘free spirit’. We trundled through the city traffic and out onto the bumpy and dusty countryside roads. Along the way we picked up more passengers and more goods. Just when we thought we could get no more in, some old wrinkly-faced ladies hopped on and us ‘youngsters’ were soon relegated to hanging off the back of the truck on the ladders that take you up to the roof. We never knew how much fun this would be (or how dangerous, we are sure the DVLA would tell us). Soph managed to intertwine her limbs onto the ladder so she could hang on and free up her arms whilst snapping away on her camera. Sully carried on shouting ‘Helllooo’, ‘Swadeeekaa’ and ‘What are you up to today?’ to unsuspecting Thai country folk.

Sully on the truck to Mai Tang - it was packed full of people and goods

Sully on the truck to Mai Tang - it was packed full of people and goods


Ladies on truck to Mai Tang

Ladies on truck to Mai Tang


Mai Tang villager

Mai Tang villager


Us riding on the back of veg truck to Mai Tang

Us riding on the back of veg truck to Mai Tang

What would normally have been an hour’s journey, turned into a 4 hour extravaganza, picking people up, dropping tomatoes off, picking up a lamb in a sack, dropping off an old lady who wouldn’t stop waving until we disappeared over the horizon and then finally we were thrown off at the end of a dirt path in front of some rice fields with hills and endless fields lining the horizon in front of us. The other English guys were dropped off at a different farming project called ‘The Panya Project’. As we walked up the path and into the field we bumped into a couple of people from Pun Pun waiting for the pick up on its return leg to Chang Mai. One man was going to visit his pregnant wife in hospital and we think the other lady took the opportunity to head in to the city as the other folks did every now and then to stock up on worldly supplies and grab a cheeseburger – we think?! They pointed us in the right direction for Pun Pun farm where we would meet the rest of the community. With our backpacks on, and in scorching heat, we walked through the rice fields we crossed a small stream over a plank of wood and further along another until we finally saw some buildings made from earth bricks and wood. We had reached Pun Pun!

Countryside around Chiang Mai - on way to Pun Pun

Countryside around Chiang Mai - on way to Pun Pun


Village lady, Thailand

Village lady, Thailand

We were shown to our humble accommodation, made from bamboo sheets. Inside was a simple homemade bed made from bamboo with a thin sponge mattress on top and topped by a mosquito net. There was a notice advising us not to bring any food into the room so as to avoid unwanted visits from animals and insects, we quickly realised that we were about to become ‘at one with nature’. We could see through the gaps in the wooden structure and the sun was shining in on us. “’It’s like camping” we assured each other. We don’t do camping.

Our room at Pun Pun

Our room at Pun Pun


Our room at Pun Pun

Our room at Pun Pun

Our hut was away from the rest of the farm; 100m down a track through lots of trees and foliage. Beyond this were palm trees, shrubs and other greenery over the rolling hills. Toilet facilities were, naturally, outside of the hut around 50yards away. They were the composting hole in the ground style toilets. To go in the night, a head torch was required – luckily Tim and Charlotte had got us some good ones before we left the UK! Showers were also an eco-warrior’s dream, a row of outdoor cubicles complete with solar panels, which did a great job, albeit briefly, when everyone rushed for the shower at the end of the working day. The aim was to shower before sunset when everything becomes pitch black. Even our soap was home-made and actually was very nice and minty as Sully kept praising throughout our stay.

Toilet cubicles at Pun Pun farm

Toilet cubicles at Pun Pun farm

Once settled, we started to explore the rest of the area and we found the farm pretty much deserted. We soon realised that it must be siesta time as the sun was high in the sky and so we carried on exploring this intriguing place, keen to learn more about the simple structures and tools we saw around which formed part of everyday objects for these guys to get by with. A couple of caucasians came down the hill and we were pleased to know that we were still amongst civilisation and, as Sully insightfully remarked, that we were not on the menu for Pun Pun folk that evening. The German dude was cycling around SE Asia educating others on - and exploring the benefits of -solar energy. The other was an American from Colorado, a PhD student spreading the love of homemade coal and water purification! They were both spending some time at Pun Pun to explore these sustainable living processes.

Making coal for water filtration at Pun Pun

Making coal for water filtration at Pun Pun

Slowly the Pun Pun massive crawled out from their slumber like worker ants and congregated in the communal building. We introduced ourselves and were quickly put to work in the fields separating seeds from a dried up lemon basil plant. We talked to ‘Ta’ a mixed race Thai-Laotian guy who became our mentor and good friend while we were there. Ta explained to us the history of the Pun Pun farm and its community and some of their principle objectives.

One man and his family own the Pun Pun land and they live and work on the land. Over the years, various other people have come along and spent some time there too. Those that stay longer are invited to build themselves a house on the land and are welcomed to stay and join the community. They stay for free but are expected to work and contribute in sustaining the farm. There were Thai people there but also western people who had moved there for the lifestyle. There are families of adults and children too. The children, born there, speak Thai and English (with strong American accents) and are home educated.

The pun pun chickens

The pun pun chickens

The people spend their time here working on the fields, growing crops, doing daily chores, maintenance, building more homes etc. There is a loose routine for the day based around the sun - wake up when the sun is up, a gong sounds to let everyone know that breakfast is ready in the communal food area, after breakfast everyone starts working, around midday the lunch gong goes off, there is a break to avoid the hottest part of the day, more work in the afternoon, quick shower just before the sun sets, dinner gong and socialising in communal area whilst eating, off to bed.
There is nobody ‘incharge’ at Pun Pun, everyone knows what needs doing and they just work hard every day to get things done. They have occasional meetings to discuss issues and priorities but they have a very relaxed atmosphere, despite all the hard work they do. This took us a while to get used to as there is so much land and so much work that needs doing every single day, it was difficult for our ‘corporate’ minds to comprehend. We kept wondering ‘what happens if someone doesn’t do any work but just lives for free and eats the food etc.’, ‘if nobody is co-ordinating the work, won’t things get missed?’, ‘how do you know who is doing what’, ‘who decides what needs doing or what to plant where’. Somehow it all works really well and everyone seems to know what’s going on, but we’re not sure how they manage it! Perhaps we have a few too many meetings at home; do we really need them?!

The Pun Pun resident artist making dyes for fabric

The Pun Pun resident artist making dyes for fabric

So, our first job was ‘seed saving’. This is one of the main objectives at Pun Pun. They aim to save seeds of plants to avoid them becoming lost for future generations. We learned that this is important for various reasons. For those interested to know more it is explained much better than we could on Pun Pun’s website: LINK. Aside from the science, our job was to sit in the sun on a patch of mud and rub the seeds from a huge bush into a tray so that they can be frozen for future use and also distributed to other farmers in Thailand. The task took four of us a whole afternoon, and it was just one plant. Still, the work was not physically challenging and we could relax and talk whilst working, learning about why it was so important to do this. We asked what Pun Pun actually means in the Thai language and were told that it is not something that is very easy to translate but it was described as meaning ‘a million varieties’ and ‘something quite random’. The name refers to the seed saving process and the aim to keep alive (by seed saving) many plants which would otherwise become ‘extinct’. Apparently we have already lost so many different types of vegetables and fruits and, importantly in Asia, various different types of rice have also been lost. The problem is not just losing variety of food to eat, but that different types of rice can grow in different climatic conditions. The aim is to avoid being dependant one only a few types as this is not a sustainable food source, which is becoming a global issue.

'Seed saving' at Pun Pun - lemon basil

'Seed saving' at Pun Pun - lemon basil

At the evening gong for dinner, we were the first to arrive at the communal room for food. No surprises there! We had arrived too late for lunch that day and there’s no snacking outside of set meal times, so we were really hungry! One of the guys was sitting outside playing guitar and singing. The food was cooked in the large kitchen and served up in huge dishes. Everyone arrives out of the darkness from their mud houses and queues up with a plate to take their serving of food. There’s always more than enough to go around and the food is absolutely delicious. Everything was fresh and healthy and much of it picked from the Pun Pun land. As well as growing crops, the community also has a large chicken coop, they exchange milk with a nearby farm and often buy fish and other stocks from a nearby market that takes place once a week. Every meal we had at Pun Pun was delicious! One evening we asked to help in the kitchen with the preparation of the food so that we could learn a new dish. We really enjoyed cooking and were so pleased to sound the gong and call everyone for dinner that night.

Pun Pun communal building

Pun Pun communal building


Evening guitar session at Pun Pun

Evening guitar session at Pun Pun


Pun Pun chef

Pun Pun chef


Sully serving food to the Pun Pun community after helping to cook

Sully serving food to the Pun Pun community after helping to cook


Evening game of Dixit at Pun Pun

Evening game of Dixit at Pun Pun

You’ll all be pleased to know that the other work we did whilst at Pun Pun was more physically challenging. We spent a whole morning clearing grass from soil to make a growing patch. We then had to dig over the tough soil, break it up and build it up into beds before watering it. It was really hard work. They do not use the spades and forks we are used to in England, instead they hack at the ground with a curved spade by swinging it high up above their head and smashing it down into the turf below. Sully managed much better that Sophia, who had nasty blisters after the first 30 minutes. We both had aching backs and were amazed at how easy the young, petite, Thai men were making it look. They gave us sympathetic smiles and offered us plenty of breaks. Ha!

Working on a small piece of land to prepare for planting at Pun Pun

Working on a small piece of land to prepare for planting at Pun Pun


Sully resting after a hard morning's work at Pun Pun

Sully resting after a hard morning's work at Pun Pun

Another task we had was helping to made bricks so that more buildings could be put up. We were told that they need 2000 bricks to make one small house. It took 8 of us a whole day to make 80 bricks. With our society’s mind set it seemed like so much effort for such slow progress but despite the slow processes involved, we were impressed that they build their own houses from materials that are free on their land; it takes lots and lots of time but doesn’t cost any money. In spite of the hard work, they are peacefully free from the constraints of capitalist society; it was quite refreshing to see. It’s not a lifestyle for us ‘softies’ though!

Preparing the mud to make bricks at Pun Pun

Preparing the mud to make bricks at Pun Pun


Mud brick house at Pun Pun

Mud brick house at Pun Pun

The mud bricks that we helped to make at Pun Pun

The mud bricks that we helped to make at Pun Pun

Mud brick building at Pun Pun

Mud brick building at Pun Pun

To make the bricks, it takes a couple of hours to dig up enough mud and break it until it is soft. Luckily this hand-blistering work was done by the time we arrived. Next, we helped to fill large metal cans of water from a central tank, carry them two-at-a-time over to the mud and pour it over. Once it was soaked through, we rolled up our trousers and walked in the mud to mix it smoothly into the water. It was good fun once we got used to having the mud squelching through our toes! After this was done, rice husk was added to the mixture and this was ‘walked in’. The mud became quite thick and smooth in texture. When declared ready (at the point a footprint stays in place and it makes a certain noise), we spent two hours filling and carrying the mud in buckets over to a flat piece of land on a hill where it was scooped into a wooden frame to form brick shapes, four bricks at a time. Now both our hands and feet were covered in mud! After all this work, the bricks must be left for over a week to bake in the sun and become set hard. We didn’t dare ask what happens if it rains!

Making bricks at Pun Pun

Making bricks at Pun Pun


Sully working at Pun Pun

Sully working at Pun Pun

During a break one afternoon we wandered through some fields in search for civilisation. We were told that there was a reservoir nearby and after a long walk in the heat we found a huge reservoir backed by hills where the water was completely still and shimmering in the sun. It was very peaceful. Although we were keen to explore, we had a secret agenda – we wanted tea! At Pun Pun they only seem to drink water. We found some supplies in a small village and headed back. On the way we passed a temple where we saw a monk relaxing in the courtyard. There was also a monkey tied to a tree. Soph got too close for a photo and he pounced onto her camera and bit her hand with his sharp teeth! Ouch! If you don’t hear from Sophia again, she may have rabies!! (Only joking, she managed to punch the monkey off before it pierced her skin…!) We made it back to Pun Pun and sneakily made a big mug of tea each. For some reason we felt really guilty but not sure why!!

Local lady in Mai Tang village

Local lady in Mai Tang village


Temple monkey, Mai Tang

Temple monkey, Mai Tang

Each evening after dinner we walked back to our hut, staring up at the black sky. The view of the stars was crystal clear, we had never seen anything like it in our lives, it was amazingly beautiful and we stood there staring until our necks hurt! What a reward after a hard day’s work!
We spent a few days at Pun Pun, we were warmly welcomed, we worked hard and we ate well. We were impressed by the lifestyle that the community have chosen and the good endeavours that they pursue and were in awe of their freedom from material requirements. The people here work very hard but they are fit and healthy and seem very happy together. We were waved off before sunrise as we walked across the rice fields towards the small road to flag down a lift back to Chiang Mai city.

Sunrise over rice paddies in Mai Tang

Sunrise over rice paddies in Mai Tang


Monks collecting alms in a small village

Monks collecting alms in a small village


Sully on veg truck back to Chiang Mai - he slept the whole way

Sully on veg truck back to Chiang Mai - he slept the whole way

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 06:51 Archived in Thailand

Victory to the blue corner

Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Chiang Mai in the North West of Thailand is the country’s second city, but it’s no Birmingham!

We arrived at 5pm on a Sunday evening, after a 6 hour journey from Sukhothai. We were lucky enough to experience the ‘walking street’ which takes place on weekends only. It’s basically a giant night market that stretches through the old town, especially pedestrianized for the event.
The market was amazing, it wasn’t the usual night market full of fake Rolexes and adidas trainers with Reebok soles; it was a giant shopping paradise! Every stall had wonderful hand-made clothes, bags, jewellery, crafts, shoes, lanterns, trinkets, candles, scents, food, souvenirs… Sophia wanted to buy EVERYTHING! We walked the whole evening exploring the stalls and buying the things we just couldn’t resist. Each stall owner would call out as we approached them – a high pitched SAWADEEKAAAAAA. There were lots of other tourists around doing their Christmas shopping and it felt quite festive with the special lights and giant Christmas tree in the main square. Luckily for Sully and his hurting feet (a common problem when Soph starts shopping), there were cheap foot massage stalls set up at the street corners.

Handbags in Chiang Mai's night market

Handbags in Chiang Mai's night market


Parasols for sale in Chiang Mai night market

Parasols for sale in Chiang Mai night market


Pampered pooch Chiang Mai

Pampered pooch Chiang Mai


Roti makers in Chiang Mai night market

Roti makers in Chiang Mai night market

Apart from shopping, we visited plenty of Buddhist temples whilst in Chiang Mai. (A common theme of our travels to date and we’re sure this won’t be the last of them – but we’re not bored yet!) The temples of Chiang Mai were particularly interesting with impressive architecture and they were very actively used. Some of the temples here are from the 12th and 13th centuries. It was fascinating to sit and watch the devotees. It felt like there was another temple on each new street we walked along. The streets within Chiang Mai’s old city walls (built 700 years ago to defend against Burmese invaders) felt deserted during the daytime, after the chaos of Bangkok it was hard to believe that this is the second city of Thailand, it felt so peaceful and (too) quiet. There are 175,000 people living in Chiang Mai compared to 7.7m in Bangkok!

Temple in Chiang Mai - Soph and the gong!

Temple in Chiang Mai - Soph and the gong!


Temple in Chiang Mai

Temple in Chiang Mai


Chiang Mai temple dragons

Chiang Mai temple dragons


Temple in Chiang Mai - doors

Temple in Chiang Mai - doors


Chiang Mai temple

Chiang Mai temple


Temple in Chiang Mai

Temple in Chiang Mai

Whilst in Chiang Mai we also had great fun going to watch an evening of Muay Thai boxing. We treated ourselves to ringside seats so that we were close to the action. It was fascinating to see the traditional pre-match ‘dance’ that the fighters perform. Each bout is made up of 5 3-minute rounds. There was a great atmosphere in the small stadium and we saw some energetic bouts and witnessed two knock-outs! We picked a team each to support and at the end of the night, Sully’s blue corner had won more fights, but it was close…

Muay Thai boxing in Chiang Mai

Muay Thai boxing in Chiang Mai


Muay Thai boxing in Chiang Mai - Soph's red corner

Muay Thai boxing in Chiang Mai - Soph's red corner


Muay Thai boxing in Chiang Mai - Sully's blue corner

Muay Thai boxing in Chiang Mai - Sully's blue corner


Muay Thai boxing in Chiang Mai

Muay Thai boxing in Chiang Mai


Muay Thai boxing in Chiang Mai

Muay Thai boxing in Chiang Mai

We spent the rest of our time in Chiang Mai hanging out in coffee shops, reading, drinking fruit smoothies and watching the sunny world go by.

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 06:29 Archived in Thailand

Cycling through ancient city ruins

Ayuthaya and Sukhothai

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We left Bangkok on a morning train from Hualamphong Central Station where the Thai national anthem was played across the speaker system and everyone had stopped what they were doing to stand silently and respectfully on the spot.

During the two hour journey to Ayuthaya, heading north from Bangkok, we started to see some of the signs of the recent flooding that had hit the country. There were still flooded plains and many of the houses were built on wooden stilts, reminding us that the recent floods were definitely not the first they had experienced here.

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We arrived at our lovely guesthouse where we rented some bicycles and were given a nice cup of tea, a map and some tips on what to visit in the area. We then spent the day cycling around the ruins of this ancient city.

Us on our bikes - Ayuthaya

Us on our bikes - Ayuthaya

Ayuthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with historic temples scattered all over the old city and along the rivers. Ayuthaya was named after the home of Rama in the Hindu epic Ramayana and in its heyday it crowned the pinnacle of ancient Thai history. It was from here that that the country achieved domination of the region and flourished for almost 400 years. Eventually the city was sacked by the Burmese after two years of war and so in 1767 power was transferred to Bangkok.

Ayuthaya - old city ruins

Ayuthaya - old city ruins

Ayuthaya - old city ruins

Ayuthaya - old city ruins


Ayuthaya - old city ruins

Ayuthaya - old city ruins


Buddha's head in tree roots Ayuthaya

Buddha's head in tree roots Ayuthaya


Gold leaf on Buddha's head

Gold leaf on Buddha's head


Ayuthaya - old city ruins

Ayuthaya - old city ruins

We had only one day in Ayuthaya but this was plenty of time to explore the ruins of various temples and the 15th Century Royal Palace. The weather was gorgeous, the cycling was easy and there were amazing sites everywhere we turned. Inside the temple we watched the devotees pressing small squares of gold leaf onto the Buddha statues. We also saw them praying whilst shaking an open box of chopsticks. Each stick is numbered and the first one to fall out when they shake the box is then allocated to a slip of paper with the same number on it which tells them their fortune.

One of the surprises we had was coming across an elephant kraal where we fed some of the older elephants. There was also one very cute baby elephant there that Sully made friends with.

Party tricks, Ayuthaya

Party tricks, Ayuthaya


Sully with baby elephant in Ayuthaya

Sully with baby elephant in Ayuthaya


Elephants in Ayuthaya

Elephants in Ayuthaya

In the evening we enjoyed our hotel room which was pure luxury compared to smelly hostel in Bangkok and went for some food at the small night market nearby the hotel.

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The next morning we took a 4 hour train journey further north to Phitsanulok. The train was delayed but luckily we had a pack of cards on hand to keep us entertained. Whilst on board we were give fruit juice, snacks, a rice dish for lunch and a bottle of water, we weren’t expecting that! The journey through Thailand’s countryside was quite scenic and again we saw flooded plains along the route. After the train ride we took a bus for one hour to get to Sukhothai, a small town with a big history. A nice lady was waiting at the bus station with a sign saying Soph's name in big letters, ready to drop us at our guest house. We weren’t expecting her there so it was a nice surprise after the long journey.

We checked into our wooden hut and spent the afternoon reading, relaxing and making the most of the free pool table at the hotel restaurant. The food was delicious and we ate a little too much! We had tom yam, pad thai, grilled fish...everything tasted great!

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Like Ayuthaya, Sukhothai Historical Park is an important ancient city but it is better preserved and is also a World Heritage Site. Sukhothai is older; it is considered the first independent Thai Kingdom to arise after the Khmer empire fell away in the 13th Century and the design of the buildings here was influenced by the style of the former Khmer rulers. Sukhothai means ‘Rising Happiness’.

Ancient city ruins, Sukhothai

Ancient city ruins, Sukhothai

Ancient city ruins, Sukhothai

Ancient city ruins, Sukhothai


Ancient city ruins, Sukhothai

Ancient city ruins, Sukhothai


Ancient city ruins, Sukhothai

Ancient city ruins, Sukhothai


Ancient city ruins, Sukhothai

Ancient city ruins, Sukhothai


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We had one full day to visit the site of the ancient kingdom and again we explored on bike, stopping at each temple complex as we passed by. The area is surrounded by moats and is very green so it was a nice place to peddle around and get some fresh air and good exercise too!

We had a great few days exploring the ancient sites of Thailand and learning more about the history of the former empire and kingdom. The people we met were very friendly and the food was the most delicious we have had so far on our travels.

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 06:03 Archived in Thailand

City of 'Angels' - Bangkok

Bangkok - Thailand

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The journey from Malaysia left us yearning for a shower and so we hurried on to the Metro, shaking off the beckoning calls of the scooter taxi drivers: 'hey!', 'Where you go?', 'Can I help you?' and 'Where you go today?'. A nice semi-retired gent with very good English joined us as we embarked on to the, Singapore style ultra-modern Metro system. He told us how he had visited England a couple decades ago when he was a high flyer on the non-woven fabric front and how he much preferred Manchester over London – too busy for him! Soph enquired about non-wovens and he explained it was material for things like nappies. We had to pass through a metal detector to get into the station and after beeping we had to open our giant backpacks on the station floor whilst the uniformed officer shone his torch inside half-heartedly. Soon we were at our backpacker hostel near the famous Muay Thai Lumpini stadium…we hoped to catch a show at some point.

The dorm was basic but modern, which was fine aside from the 12man stench it produced due to lack of ventilation, which brought a whole new meaning to ‘melting pot’. After freshening up we landed ourselves deep in the heart of the Chinese quarter and started to pound the streets by foot to explore the sights and sounds of this area. We were rewarded with intimate alleys and a breadth of activity within them. We saw little children playfully peek out at us, squatting old ladies stirring up simple but fragrant dishes for eager locals and industrious workers loading their wares onto carts and pickups. Soon we entered a market akin to a labyrinth. The Sampeng market stretches for a mile through a series of connected alleys that dissect through a number of Bangkok blocks. The narrow, covered markets were packed tight with people fighting to move in opposite directions. Every now and then, a scooter overladen with good tries to charge its way through. A couple of hours later, we emerged…hungry!

Chillis for sale in Bangkok market

Chillis for sale in Bangkok market


Peacock feathers for sale

Peacock feathers for sale

Food in China Town, Bangkok

Food in China Town, Bangkok

The Indian ‘Phahurat’ district followed next and we explored briefly here before heading to two prominent temples. We snacked on some street food, sticky rice covered in egg and grilled over charcoals. Before we hit the historical quarter we walked through the flower street market which sprawled a couple of blocks on the pavement.

Bangkok flower market

Bangkok flower market


Bangkok flower market

Bangkok flower market

Eggy rice on sticks

Eggy rice on sticks

We visited Wat Pho near the royal palace; it is the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok from the 16th century and houses the country’s largest Buddha; 46m long and 15m high! We had a great time exploring the sight and the giant Buddha was amazing, coated in gold leaf, with an intricate pattern on its sole filled with mother of pearl. After this temple we took a ferry river crossing to Wat Arun named after the Indian God of dawn ‘Aruna’. It was made of tile mosaic and 82m tall.

Wat Pho, Bangkok

Wat Pho, Bangkok

Reclining Buddha's headrest

Reclining Buddha's headrest

Base of Buddha's feet - mother of pearl

Base of Buddha's feet - mother of pearl

Us with the giant Buddha feet

Us with the giant Buddha feet


Wat Pho, Bangkok

Wat Pho, Bangkok


Wat Pho, Bangkok

Wat Pho, Bangkok


Worshipers at Wat Pho

Worshipers at Wat Pho


Giant reclining Buddha

Giant reclining Buddha


Bearded men in Bangkok

Bearded men in Bangkok


Wat Pho, Bangkok

Wat Pho, Bangkok


Wat Pho, Bangkok

Wat Pho, Bangkok

The big fight night was on at the Lumpini stadium so we rushed back and barely made the 9pm start, however the good seats were well out of our backpacker budget. We consoled each other that we would inevitably find somewhere else in Thailand to watch Muay Thai. Disappointed, we headed back to the hostel. Sensing our disappointment, the receptionist recommended a good, professional, massage centre. We headed over to a place near the stadium where none of the masseuses spoke English and most of the clientele were Thai. Soon we were being elbowed, crushed and twisted into positions that would make a contortionist green with envy. Feeling like a bowl of Pad Thai we stumbled back to our dorms for a restful night’s sleep (helped by the ear plugs). The next day Sully woke up early and brought back a flower garland for Soph and soften the blow when he dragged her out onto the to the large variety of stalls that lined the streets for Bangkok commuters and office workers.

The following days we explored the rest of the city and tried to get to know the real Bangkok. We witnessed middle aged western men courting ladies young enough to be their granddaughters! Thailand definitely has a knack for attracting the oddballs and outcast men from America looking to fulfil their testosterone fuelled desires. The stalls in the Pat Pong night market sold some great stuff and we promised to buy a few things before we returned back to the UK and when we would re-visit Bangkok in March. Unfortunately, this area suffered from the worst desperations of society. Row upon rows of girls sat on little plastic chairs waiting to be plucked by punters. Touts waved laminated sheets in front of us with photos of young women on them for your choosing.

Soph read a book called ‘The Pat Pong Sisters’ Cleo Odzer, written some time ago by an American PhD student who sought to get behind the notorious industry here. As one would expect, many of the girls come from poverty ridden rural areas, often being pushed into the industry by family members. But what came as a surprise was that the ladies would be considered akin to movie stars when they returned to the village as they were dressed really well and afforded luxuries those left behind could never dream of having. Another reason why Thailand is culturally accepting and encouraging of this behaviour. Apparently, it was historically common for Thai men and Laos men to have paid mistresses. In modern times, the wealthier western man has simply taking their place.

Other touts, and the most relentless, kept trying to convince us how great the ‘shows’ were. These shows are where women project various inanimate objects from themselves. The only way we found to stop them from pestering us was to say we had already been to a show the previous night, at which point the more enterprising touts asked which object we had seen and would offer us to attend a show where a different object was being launched to Mars.

We also visited the Arab district, where it distinctly felt like Cairo in Egypt and we saw Muslims dressed in traditional clothes. We enjoyed some mint tea and talked to the owners. A nearby shopping mall was fascinating. Called Terminal 21, the staff were dressed like air hostesses and each floor was based on a different country with décor to match…our kind of shopping mall!

After a couple of nights in Bangkok, and with only a 15 day visa, we decided not to spend too much longer in this city of thrills as we will definitely be back and booked tickets to travel to nearby Ayutthaya, a town teeming with ancient history…

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 03:55 Archived in Thailand

So close, yet...so far...

Langkawi to Bangkok

sunny 28 °C

The plan:

Catch a 2 hour ferry from Langkawi to Kuala Perlis on the mainland of Malaysia; take a bus to the train station in Arau and a catch our pre-booked sleeper train directly to Bangkok, Thailand.

The events as they unfolded:

We caught the ferry to the mainland, that went without a hitch and we were lulled into a false sense of security as our boat bobbed up and down in the water. Once on the mainland, we discovered that there was no bus available and so we would have to take a taxi to Arau train station. Our budget doesn’t stretch to the luxury of taxis.

Once we arrived in Arau, we discovered we were in the middle of nowhere (apart from a KFC which came in useful for a much needed morale boost later) and that the ticket counter was closed for the next two hours. We had only one hour before our reserved tickets would be released and so we had to make a mobile call to the customer service number in Malaysia to ask them to hold our tickets. We dumped our bags with a ‘security’ man who was sleeping in a cabin at the train station and went to KFC for some budget-busting lunch.

Back at the station the counter boy was stirring from his sleep so we eagerly waited in the queue whilst elbowing locals to stop them from pushing in. Once at the front of the queue we presented our booking information, to which we received the following response “no train here”. A confused Sully began a speech rally with him, trying to convince him that this was indeed a train station and that a train should be arriving here to take us to Bangkok. And why not, we had booked in advanced over the phone and had only spoken to someone again that morning. “No train here”, Soph took over and it soon became apparent that we would not be getting a train that evening or indeed the next as the train had derailed and no-one knew when the service would be back up and running. The surprised Thai rail call centre girl confirmed the ambiguity with when things would be back on track. So we decided to fly solo and wing it from here to the Thai border. We established from a taxi driver, who didn’t speak much English, to take us to the nearest big town. 40km later we made our way to a bust stop to see if there were any buses heading to Bangkok. None. Sully found a group of boisterous taxi drivers whom a joke or two later agreed to take us to the Thai border. What happened beyond that was still unknown. A couple of hours later we were at the border and found a Thai lad who would take us to the bus station on the other side. His level of English wasn’t great and we wished we had some basic Malay or Thai to help us along. Once through the border he dropped us off to an office in a southern Thai neighbourhood.

The difference between countries became quickly apparent even though we were not far beyond the border. The infrastructure was more consistently better in Malaysia, as was the town planning as well as the quality of buildings. We were pretty tire by now, with it being 8hours since we had left Langkawi. Our morale was boosted when we saw a double decker bus parked outside the bus office. Inside there was no mutual understanding of words with the two lovely Thai ladies. However, Sully pointed at the bus, made steering wheel impressions and moved his body around to describe Bangkok and soon we were being told we can jump on the bus. Sully rushed off to the local shops to get the obligatory munchies for the trip. Soph found him smiling and skipping back in the distance, but as he approached she knew she had some knowledge that would wipe the smile off his bearded face.

“I’ve got some water, some fruit, some squid flavour crisps…” Soph “Darling, the lady called the company to confirm we can get on this bus but unfortunately this bus is full. We cannot repeat what Sully said in response to this. Back in the office we spent ages trying to find out when the next bus would be or what our options would be now but we were just simply told “no bus here”. Soph had to stop Sully from explaining to them that there is a bus there and miraculously managed to get a ride on the bus to the nearest ‘big town’ a couple of hours away.

2.5 hours later we were dropped off at Hat Yai. Southern Thailand has a large Muslim population, with the local dish being fried chicken! We decided to give the fried chicken a miss and so a halal noodle soup later we finally managed to get on a 12hour bus to Bangkok! The arctic temperature on the bus was mitigated by the free flowing provision of biscuits. The next morning we rubbed our eyes to the urban sprawl of Bangkok, an imposing modern city that stretches out for miles and miles. The famous Bangkok traffic meant that our introduction to Bangkok was a slow scenic one but before we knew it, and 24 hours after we set out from Langkawi; we were on the pavement and having our backpacks hurled at us…it was ON again!

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 06:51 Archived in Thailand

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