I write this post from the top bunk of a sleeper train between Nha Trang and Hoi An in Vietnam. Although its a sleeper train we are riding it during the day. We had to buy beds because there were no seats left on the train. The Vietnamese celebrate “Tet” (lunar New Year) on the 19th February and the period before the holiday becomes increasingly busy on public transport. We were warned that the Vietnamese like to travel with their belongings, we saw one person get on the train with a kitchen sink. Despite getting a full night’s sleep last night, we have slept again on the train today, mostly because other than sleep and write blog posts, there is very little else to do when you are staring at the ceiling for ten hours lay on upper bunks. Here’s what we have been up to since leaving Myanamar, we are attempting to bring the blog up to date!
We flew back from Myanamar to Chaing Mai. There was plenty to do in the town which holds its reputation as a top backpackers destination. I took part in a 10K road race which reminded me how unfit I have become over the last eight months. Lack of training coupled with the temptations of Asian food equals personal worst race times. We did have fun cycling to the start along dark, quite lanes in the last of the night before sun broke over a lake adjacent to the race start line. The race was a nightmare – enough said.
In Chaing Mai we went to watch more Thai Boxing, one evening we were upgraded to ringside seats for no apparent reason but we were grateful nonetheless. The fighters practice their art with vigour, brutal punches and leg kicks mix with the foot work of a ballet dancer. The night markets in Chaing Mai were excellent and we ate lots of local street food including sliced roast pork with rice, green curry, pad thai and my favourite – mango with sticky rice, a food that would make an excellent addition to a checkpoints at UK ultra races.
After a couple of nights in the town centre we moved to a cheap out of town resort that had a massive Olympic sized swimming pool. We thought we could laze about for a few days before the rigours of Bangkok. I suspect the low price of the accommodation was responsible for attracting the various odd people that were also in temporary residence. First we met an Australian man that was a self confessed sex tourist, he couldn’t help but graphically recount his body massage experiences as we returned to the resort each night in the free shuttle bus which was laid on by the hotel. Then there was the Japanese man who bonded with us instantly. After a brief 5 minute chat he asked if he could accompany us to the train station the next day to wave us off!
The best part about Chaing Mai was taking part in a full day cooking class. We begun with a tour of the local market where we picked up fresh ingredients. We then drove into the country to an organic farm. First, we walked in the sunny orchard and the vegetable gardens learning about the traditional Thai ingredients then we returned to the kitchens to cook. We cooked all manner of Thai delights, curries, noodles and spring rolls, pausing only to eat each course with our fellow travellers. We even cooked a Pad Thai meal which was given to us at the end of the day in take away bags for us to take home for tea. It was an amazing day learning new cooking techniques and we went home stuffed to the gills.
We travelled from Chaing Mai to Bangkok on the night train. We find the train preferable to the bus. The train is generally more comfortable and is a good way to see local life pass by inside and outside the carriage. On the Bangkok bound train we met a young, lone male traveller from Holland. He had been working on a banana farm in Australia and he seemed to have loved the experience, he recounted his tales with exuberance. He told us that the work was well paid and fun and we spent some time looking at his photos as we shared a bottle of Sam Sang, (Thai rum that is drunk like water in Thailand) before climbing into our bunks to sleep.
We awoke the next day on the fringes of Bangkok. We lay, wearily in our bunks, sipping sweet, cheap coffee as we sped through the suburbs into the city watching Bangkokians on their way to work. We weren’t particularly phased by the throng of pedestrians and the traffic that we encountered when we got off the train in the city, it was busy but not that bad. It took us a while wandering around the early morning streets until we located our hostel hidden up a narrow alleyway.
During our time in Bangkok we sailed up the Chao Phraya river, visited the Royal Palace, and had a night out on Khao San Road (perhaps the world capital of the backpacker scene) where we were offered scorpions and spiders to eat from street vendors. The food courts in Bangkok match the size of the massive shopping malls where they are found. I found Laksa, a curry like soup with noodles and meat, a food that I had discovered in Malaysia and probably my favourite food of the trip so far. Another night I ordered a goan style fish curry despite the waitresses’ genuine warnings that it would be too spicy for my delicate western palate. With the attitude of a caviller I dismissed her concerns and nearly had to jump in the river when the curry arrived and I tasted the first mouthful. If that curry was on fire it would have been less hot.
One day on the way back to the sky train we saw a sky scraper on fire in the middle of the busiest part of Bangkok’s city centre. It turned out that the hospital was being refurbished and the upper levels had caught fire. We spent some time watching in amusement as various raggle taggle firemen arrived, sometimes on mopeds to deal with the inferno. The fire fighters seemed hopelessly under prepared, but the fire did go out some 30 minutes later. Bangkok was a whirling feast of fun, a real ‘world capital’ city.
We had enjoyed our stay in the city but it was time to move on to cross the border into Cambodia.