Wrestling with prepositional phrases, travel research fuelled by 103 browser tabs, and another big fun night of music.

Day 171: Chiang Mai, Thailand. Today was a day of learning, research and planning – all necessary admin in amongst all the fun.

This morning Lil managed to complete another chunk of her Teaching English as a Foreign Language course, wrestling with prepositional phrases, gerunds and the present perfect progressive tense. Lots of grammar structures that are a very distant memory from our school days, and a little mind boggling to revisit at this stage in life.

Jim spent a few happy hours playing online scrabble – not exactly learning, research or planning. Though he did run up and down stairs to the laundry a few times, to get a very large pile of washing cleaned and dried. So top marks for that one.

The afternoon was spent planning the final two weeks of our stay in Thailand, and where to head after that. We’ve given up trying to pack too much into our travels, then finding ourselves having too little time in too many places and a lot of stressful shuffling in between. So we’ve agreed to focus on just three more places in Northern Thailand – Chiang Dao, Pai and Soppong. All of which are easy to get to from Chiang Mai, and appear to offer good hiking opportunities.

After a few hours of research, fuelled by 103 open browser tabs, we decided enough was enough and packed up and headed out for an early dinner. We couldn’t resist a final visit to the lovely lady in the laneway restaurant (we still don’t know what the restaurant is called and couldn’t spot the name today either). We had yellow chicken curry again, very spicy fish and beans, and beef noodles with cabbage – and once again, everything was sensational. The lady should probably be running a cooking school to share her impressive cooking skills, but then she’s probably very happy just keeping on doing what she’s doing.

The other good thing about the restaurant is there’s a market right outside, so Lil popped out to buy another ton of jack fruit while we were waiting for dinner to be cooked. All in the name of efficiency.

Afterwards we had another big evening of music – our third this week. This time a Friday evening open jam session at a cafe and bar in the old town. It was a long night and a lot of fun, and we recognised a few of the musicians from Monday night’s blues jam. We’re starting to feel like we fit in a bit too well here. 🙂

A young English couple set up the music jam seven months ago after they arrived in Chiang Mai, having thrown in their stressy jobs in the UK. They’re both musicians, have since set up online web businesses that cover the bills, and have grown the open jam night from nothing to a hugely successful event. Very impressive.

The venue was packed, with people spilling out onto the outdoor patio and pavement, and a chalk board full of musicians keen to get up and jam.

One of the ladies running the venue takes her dog to work; a super cute brown terrier called Luca who runs around the bar (when he’s not relaxing on ‘his’ seat) demanding pets and attention from everyone. A simply adorable canine, which we instantly fell in love with.

We chatted to a lovely elderly Canadian couple for a bit, who were having their after dinner ‘cawfee’. Like the Canadian couple last night, they leave Canada during the winter to spend six months of the year in Chiang Mai. We also chatted to an American guy who has had a late life career change. Having spent his previous working life in the US military, he’s now attending massage school for seven weeks in Chiang Mai before returning to the US to put his new skills into action. That’s quite a career change right there.

It was another very late night, which likely means another late start tomorrow. We’re hoping to pack in another walk around the town, a visit to a charity book sale (we don’t need any more books, but can never resist a rummage through a pile of secondhand paperbacks). Then we’ll head to stand up comedy in the old town tomorrow evening – our first comedy in over six months. And hopefully we’ll get to chat to some more interesting travellers over a beer or two.

More then.

A long hike to a touristy temple, packing away thousands of lanterns, and pets are the next big thing in town.

Day 170: Chiang Mai, Thailand. We were up super early to head out and hike the Monk’s Trail up to Wat Doi Suthep, a Buddhist temple on the top of nearby Suthep mountain.

We could have got a taxi to the start of the hike, but decided to walk the 5.5km instead. It was a cool and overcast morning, perfect for hiking. As we walked out of town we could just about see Wat Doi Suthep through the trees, perched up on the mountain in front of us – from where we were, it looked an awfully long way up.

We walked west out through the town, eventually passing Chiang Mai Zoo, and up a steep paved road to the start of the walk.

The Monk’s trail up through the forest was fabulous. It’s a little rough and pretty steep in places, but very easy to follow, with strips of orange monks robes tied around trees at intervals. It’s a popular hike with locals too – we passed lots of other walkers, and some very keen people running up and down the trail, somehow managing to stay upright.

It’s autumn here now, and lots of fallen leaves were piling up along the way. Some nice cover for the oodles of snakes that are no doubt lurking in the forest.

Roughly half way up the trail is another temple, called Wat Pha Lat. The temple itself isn’t large or particularly ornate, but it’s very pretty and in lovely surroundings, with shrines, gardens, a rocky stream and some great views across the city.

We continued up the trail, reaching a main road where we needed to cross over to the continue the trail up the mountain. There were big signs saying ‘Construction area, do not enter’ and the route to the trail was taped off. Lil went and spoke to the workmen and asked if we could climb over the tape to access the trail. They nodded yes, and didn’t seem at all bothered – over the course of the day we realised that stacks of people were doing the same thing. The guys were laying new power lines and further up the trail we had to step precariously over the new cables and conduits before continuing up the path. Clearly OH&S isn’t much of a thing here.

The second half of the trail was even steeper than the first half. We eventually arrived at the main road again, and walked a few hundred metres to reach Wat Doi Suthep. We could see straight away we’d arrived at temple tourist land, with thousands of people milling on the streets and in the temple complex itself.

The temple definitely wasn’t our favourite place. It’s hellishly touristy, with endless opportunities for people to part with their money by buying flowers, candles, incense, having photographs taking or donating to a list of different causes. But on a positive note, there wasn’t a single monkey in sight.

As we walked up the steps to the temple, we spotted three little girls dressed in what we assume is some sort of traditional costume. They were posing for photographs with people – we guess in return for money, though we didn’t actually see any money changing hands.

When we’d finished at the temple (which didn’t take long), we walked up to a viewpoint, then retraced our steps back down to the town. The return trail was easier because it was downhill, but also tougher in parts due to the slippery mud. A little bafflingly, we saw a few girls walking the trail in flip flops and thin sandals – hopefully they managed to stay upright.

As we walked into the old town area, lanterns were being taken down and packed into the back of trucks – the end of the Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festival for another year. Next up is the Chiang Mai Pet Fair from 14th to 17th of November, the biggest pet event in Thailand with a theme of ‘My Pet, My Super Hero’. While we doubt it will attract many tourists, perhaps we’ll see some superman and superwoman attired moggies roaming around town.

In total we walked 22km, a decent chunk of which was uphill, so we were happy to put our feet up for a bit when we reached our guesthouse.

This evening we went for a couple of beers at the Sax Bar (though again there wasn’t any live music). We had a lovely chat with a couple from Canada who spend 6 months of the year at home, and 6 months travelling to avoid the Canadian winter. Afterwards we went to a nearby eatery for dinner, where it took forever for our food to arrive. We only got three of the five items we ordered, but couldn’t be bothered asking for the missing food, or we might well still be there now.

Tomorrow we’re having a catch up day, to do some travel planning and a large pile of washing, and Lil needs to do another chunk of her Teaching English as a Foreign Language course. Our legs will also be happy to have a rest.

More then.

A tricky trip to the insect zoo, learning all about beetle fighting, and Jim holds a venomous scorpion.

Day 169: Chiang Mai, Thailand. We were up late again, after a late night of music. Nights out on the town and early mornings just don’t mix too well.

We decided to push out our hike again, and instead visit the Siam Insect Zoo, about 20km north of Chiang Mai. Getting there proved to be a bit tricky – an online app called Moovit showed a series of buses that leaves from outside the nearby Design College, and either go right to the Insect Zoo, or drop passengers on the main road a few kilometres away.

We walked to the Design College to catch the 12 noon bus, but couldn’t find a bus stop, and a girl at the college said she’d never seen a bus pass by in all the time she’d worked there.

We waited until 12.15pm, then gave up and walked to the bus terminal, further to the north of town. The information desk has a window at waist height, so Lil crouched over and had a tricky conversation with the girl behind the desk, who pointed us to the yellow taxis around the corner.

The yellow taxis were pretty expensive, so we went back to the regular buses, and asked if one of the buses going up the main road towards Doi Luang could just drop us off. After trying to sell us tickets to a completely different town, then to the Tiger Kingdom, we eventually managed to buy the tickets we needed.

The bus trip took around 30 minutes, and after being dropped off on the main road, we walked the last 3 and a half kilometres to the Insect Zoo.

The Zoo is fabulous – a huge collection of insects and arachnids, some we’d never heard of before. We spent a couple of hours wandering through the exhibition area, peering at lots of live bugs, shining torches in the cages with tarantulas, walking through a butterfly garden, and taking the opportunity to hold some live critters.

We read about beetle fighting – a gambling sport in the north of Thailand, particularly in Chiang Mai. Locals search out the large horned beetles, then feed them with sugar cane stem, train them to be more aggressive for fighting, and sell them on roadside stalls.

There was also an information stand on the nutritional value of bugs, so now Jim can check the protein and fat content when he scoffs crickets, silkwork pupae and other delicacies at street markets.

One of the staff at the zoo let us climb into a cage with three large iguanas which we were allowed to touch but not hold, then afterwards we were able to hold some smaller ones. They’re such fabulous creatures.

And for anyone who’s keen to have an iguana as a pet, there was a tank full of small ones on sale for 420 Baht each (around 20 AUD).

Jim held a small but interesting caterpillar, a huge Jungle Nymph stick insect, and then was super-brave and asked to hold a venomous scorpion. Lil was happy to just watch.

When we’d had our fill of critters, we had some great coffee in the outdoor courtyard cafe, then walked back to the main road to catch a bus home again.

The first two buses that went past were full, but then a songthaew which had a couple of seats spare pulled over and gave us a ride back to Chiang Mai.

We dropped our packs off at the guesthouse, then went straight out again for dinner, back to the restaurant from a couple of nights ago where the lovely lady cooked us some more sensational food – red chicken curry, fried chicken and cashew nuts and the great papaya salad she makes right on the spot.

Then home for a much needed chill-out evening with some rubbish TV and a couple of beers, followed by an early night.

Tomorrow we’ll walk to the base of a nature trail, then hike up through the woods to an old temple, and on to some other scenic attractions. And hopefully we won’t see any of the icky bugs we encountered at the Insect Zoo today.

More then.

A playschool moment at the post office, Jim considers getting a beer service dog, and jazzing it up at the co-op.

Day 168: Chiang Mai, Thailand. After a very late night, we had a very late start to the day. We woke to find all four wifi connections at the guesthouse internet not working – not great when you need to do a bunch of stuff online, including writing this blog post.

We headed out to a local cafe to use their wifi. While it wasn’t the strongest connection, it just about sufficed.

When we’d finished what we needed to achieve online, we headed out to take a look at a few more wats (Buddhist temples) and have another long walk. The town was noticeably quieter today; either people had headed off after yesterday’s main festival event, or they were still in bed with hangovers.

We walked to a nearby post office to post a letter. We took a ticket and sat in the waiting area. When our turn came, the lady behind the desk gave us two postage stamps, and a tube of glue. Here the stamps don’t come pre-glued – it’s a stick-it-yourself affair. We enjoyed our brief playschool moment.

Close to the post office there’s a cat cafe, similar to the ones in Sydney and Japan, where you pay a fee to play with cats and have a coffee. Interestingly this one also offers cat grooming, which we’d never heard of before. Do cats need or want to be groomed?

Next we walked through the complex of the Women’s Correctional Institute, an initiative that trains female prison inmates with skills such as massage, hospitality and customer service, so they’re equipped with skills to find a job when they leave prison. Each morning around 25 inmates leave Chiang Mai Women Prison to go to the Institute, where they work in a massage shop in a wooden house, alongside a restaurant with a small leafy courtyard. It’s a great initiative, that gets great reviews.

Further into our walk, Jim spotted a sign for a local bar with a sketch of a dog carrying a beer on its head, which he thinks is a great idea. Lil pointed out that taking a dog with us on our travels may be a little problematic, and a beer-carrying dog is unlikely to qualify as ‘a service animal’.

We stopped for a break in a park on the edge of the old town. The park shop was selling food to feed the fish in the lake. A little girl was having a heap of fun with her mum, until dozens of pigeons started descending for some free food. At which point the little girl screamed and ran away, deciding feeding the fish wasn’t such a fun thing to do after all.

We had one final wat visit to Wat Lok Moli, originally built around 1360 and long abandoned until the early 21st century when it was renovated. We watched a golden cockerel being raised and lowered on a pully, offering up a small container of holy water to the Buddha on the temple above, from a basin beneath the chedi.

In another part of the temple grounds, there was an impressive and huge display of coloured cockerels along a wall, and gathered around a shrine. Each of them had an inscription though we were unable to find out much more about the quite bizarre display.

We had dinner at an outdoor eatery, a really good red chicken curry, minced pork with green beans, and stir fried tofu and beansprouts. They mustn’t clean their woks too well in between different dishes, as Jim got a free piece of pork intestine and a prawn whisker in his. Needless to say, he scoffed the intestine.

Nearby, a guy was lighting and inflating a night lantern – the first time we’ve got close to the process – he made it look easy, but we suspect there are many singed tourists around town today.

After dinner, we went to the North Gate Jazz Co-Op for their weekly jazz jam, which was high energy and sensational. The evening started with a set from the house band, which was phenomenal, then continued with a jam which ranged from jazz through blues, rock and everything in between.

The place was packed and spilled out on to the street for the entire night. It was fabulous to see so many international musicians coming together, they hailed from all over the world including the US, Germany, Korea, Japan and Holland. Some very proficient musicians and some great singers, apart from two Koreans who introduced themselves with “we don’t sing so well, but we’re on vacation so we thought we’d give it a go”. They were right when they said they don’t sing well, my goodness. Jim’s beer service dog could probably do a better job.

We got home very late again, so tomorrow’s hiking plans may get shifted another day. Hopefully we’ll manage an early night tomorrow.

More then.

Anticipating a major festival event, lanterns and flowers everywhere, and a superb night of blues music.

Day 167: Chiang Mai, Thailand. Chiang Mai is packed full of wats (Buddhist temples) – over 300 of them to be precise(ish). After a fairly lazy start to the day, we headed out early afternoon to check out just a few of them.

There was a noticeable level of excitement building around the town, in anticipation of one of the main Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festival events tonight – launching thousands of night lanterns into the sky, and floating (loy) banana leaf flower and candle boats (krathong) down the river Ping.

Hundreds of stalls around the town have been selling all sorts of krathong, from small simple flower collections to highly creative and elaborate arrangements in all sorts of shapes. Prices mostly range from 50c to about five dollars.

We visited a few different wats; Wat Phantao and Wat Chedi Luang being the oldest and largest, dating from around 1400 – all decorated with lanterns and ribbons for the festival.

At Wat Muen Tum people were buying lanterns, which the monks constructed and lit for them, before hanging them in nearby trees and around the monastery.

The town is very walkable, with decent pavements and roads, and before long we found ourselves right on the other side of town. We turned back to retrace our steps and headed back to the guesthouse for a rest. Even there, there were nightlights being placed on the railings and stairwells of the guesthouse, for lighting later in the evening.

Around 6pm we headed back into town, taking care not to ignite our trouser legs or hair as we walked down the stairs.

Our big plan tonight was a weekly blues jam at a venue above the night bazaar, called Boy Blues Bar. We’ve been starved of live music of late, so were pretty excited at the prospect of some good blues music.

As we walked across to the night bazaar, the streets were filling up with people clutching flat pack lanterns and krathong, making their way to the parks on the banks of the Ping River to set them off.

We had dinner at the night bazaar first – pretty decent pad thai, spicy minced pork and a pork, egg and rice dish – then wandered back out to take a look at the thousands of lanterns starting to be launched into the sky.

Boy Blues Bar opens at 8pm, and eager beavers that we are, we were first to arrive, keen to grab some good seats. A great band played from 8.15 to 9.45pm (a pretty diverse range of blues and rock), then the jam started.

The music venue gets excellent reviews, and the weekly jam is billed as attended with great musicians, and a lot of fun. It deserves the praise. We had a superb evening, with musicians changing every two songs and some really fun guys too. Interestingly, a lot of the musicians were either American or German, and lots must live in the town as they were well known to each other.

Boy (the owner of the place) is a huge ball of energy – he sings and plays guitar excellently, is a wise crack and a really lovely guy. He opened Boy Blues Bar in 2010, as the first venue to feature blues music in Chiang Mai.

The venue is covered with a large tin roof, with open sides, so we were able to keep an eye on the lantern launching while the evening went on. The jam finished after midnight, and we wandered back to our guesthouse, a 30 minute walk.

What goes up, must come down of course, and the streets were liberally littered with fallen deflated night lanterns. Thousands of people were still out roaming the streets, launching lanterns and fireworks, eating and drinking, and enjoying the party atmosphere.

We were impressed to see teams of cleaners out starting to clear up the mess – we suspect by tomorrow morning it will look like nothing had happened.

We reached home close to 1am, had a quick sandwich (hungry again and on a mission to try and control our already reduced weight levels), then headed to bed for a good night’s sleep.

We’d originally planned to go on a hike tomorrow, but given the late night, it’s unlikely we’ll be up and about early enough to make it worthwhile. Which is fine, as we have another 5 days in Chiang Mai. So we’ll likely head out and explore some more of the town. And we may even find some more live music later – we’re determined to pack it in while we can.

More then.

A long queue for a short journey, settling in to a bizarre apartment, and getting into festival mode.

Day 166: Lampang & Chiang Mai, Thailand. After a last coffee at the fabulous guesthouse garden cafe in Lampang, where we were treated to a Sunday morning bout of Thai yodelling music, we packed up and walked to the bus station around 11.30am.

The queues at the bus station were unexpectedly long. Presumably people were visiting Chiang Mai for a few days for the Loy Krathong and Yi Pen Festival, or returning home to Chiang Mai after a weekend spent visiting friends and family in Lampang. Who knows? What we did know was that we were going to be lucky to get any bus tickets at all, given the length of the queues.

Thankfully we managed to get two seats on the 3.30pm bus, which meant a four hour wait. A short while later, a sign was taped onto the bus ticket kiosk saying next available bus 5.50am tomorrow. So we really did get lucky.

While were were waiting, we bumped into Marjorie again, the lovely retired lady we met on the bus from Sukhothai a couple of days ago, who is travelling around Asia on her own. She said her stay in Lampang was great; she hired a bicycle and had a ball pedalling around the temples and quiet streets on her own. She was also on her way to Chiang Mai, so perhaps we’ll bump into her again there.

We had coffee at a cafe near the station, did some travel planning and some reading, and kept ourselves amused until our scheduled bus departure. It’s only an hour and a half to Chiang Mai, so a large chunk of the day was spent on going a very short distance.

We arrived in Chiang Mai just after 5pm, clambered into a red truck and headed into crazy town. The Loy Krathong and Yi Pen Festival is a massive event, with people flocking from across the country and overseas to be part of it. The streets were heaving as our driver weaved his way in and out of the traffic, towards the centre of town.

By the time we arrived in the centre, the evening festival activities were already well underway, with lanterns strung from every roof, lamp post and corner, and the streets packed with people taking in the sights.

We settled into our accommodation, which to be honest is a little bizarre. The guesthouse must have run out of standard rooms, so they assigned us an apartment on the top floor which is filled with an eclectic range of furniture, none of which matches. There are office chairs at the dining room table, old antique chairs next to the TV, and even a second sink in the living room. What the second sink is for, we have no idea. But the apartment is really clean, it’s in a great location and it’s fabulous to have so much space, so we’re very happy.

We headed out into the evening to catch a bit of the festival, starting by watching adults and kids lighting thousands and thousands of tea lights on the pathway around the moat. A spectacular sight, and very moving.

Then we stood and watched a street procession for a bit – lots of traditional costumes and huge festival floats. It was fabulous, but very, very slow.

There was lots of pushing and shoving as late comers tried to get a spot at the front. A French lady next to us growled at anyone who tried to secure a better spot and pushed them backwards again. We were almost expecting her to start a full on punch up, but thankfully she just kept growling at people. The beers she was knocking back (throwing the empty cans into her baby’s pram) probably weren’t helping.

After a while, we decided to head off and walk around the town for a bit. We spotted a bar called ‘Sax Bar’ which claims to be a music pub, though there was no sign of live music. A pavement table had just come free, so we grabbed it and sat with a couple of beers for the most excellent people watching session in a long time.

We also had the opportunity to watch some lanterns being launched into the sky. Officially, lanterns are only meant to be set off tomorrow and the next day after 7pm. Over a hundred flights into the local airport are being cancelled or rescheduled to allow this year’s mass lantern releases at out-of-town venues, which people pay hundreds of dollars to attend.

It was after 10pm when we left the Sax Bar, and lots of restaurants were already closing. We found a small eatery tucked down a laneway where the lovely lady owner cooked us a superb red chicken curry, green chicken curry and a fabulous papaya salad.

Then home to bed for a very long night’s sleep. Tomorrow we’ll explore the town a bit more, and see some more of the festival – and we may even have the chance to see some live music, which would be amazing. And perhaps we’ll bump into Marjorie again.

More then.

Jim samples bee larvae honeycomb, a packed day exploring Lampang, and pre-loved teddies at the night market.

Day 165: Lampang, Thailand. We started the day drinking coffee in the cafe at the guesthouse, which is like a little oasis in the middle of a busy town. The coffee shop is in a fabulous lush garden, packed with huge trees and ferns, and lots of rickety wooden tables and chairs. Great coffee and lovely friendly staff too.

Then we headed back to our guesthouse room, where it was time for Jim to try the bee larvae honeycomb. Lil had emergency services on speed dial, ‘just in case’. He unwrapped the chunk of solid mottled matter. studied it for a bit, then pointed out to nose-wrinkling Lil the dead bees (black bits) and the bee larvae (white bits). He bit into it, wiped a river of sweet runny goo off his chin, and declared that it was ‘interesting, with a nice nutty flavour’. Though he reckons it might be better with a bit more honey than bees, and perhaps it would also benefit from being grilled. Another time, perhaps.

Then we set out for a walk about town, first dropping into the bus station to buy a bus ticket for Chiang Mai tomorrow. Having queued for ages, we discovered it’s not possible to buy them in advance, so we’ll have to go and queue up again tomorrow.

Lampang is also known as ‘Muang rot ma’ which translates to ‘horse carriage town’. It’s the last place in Thailand where horse carriages are still in use, and we quickly got used to the clip clop noise all around us. The carriages can be hired for tours of the town, with fees set by the Lampang Horse Carriage Association (which sounds rather formal).

There were thousands of lanterns strung across one of the streets in the town (which we now call ‘lantern street’, for the purposes of navigation). We assume the lanterns are linked to the annual Yi Peng and Loy Krathong festival, which is in swing across a number of towns in northern Thailand.

There are lots of wats around Lampang – we dropped into a few of them, including a stunning white glittery one called Wat Chiang Rai and another called Wat Pratu Pong. In one of them, a group of ladies was pulling Thai money notes from the wings of brightly coloured peacock ornaments, an interesting collection method.

We walked down Talad Gao Road, which is one of the oldest streets in town. Some of the original shops from the 1890s, which were built by immigrant Burmese and Chinese traders, are still there. It leads up to Ratsadaphisek Bridge, a picturesque white concrete arched bridge over the river Wang which divides the town in two, north to south.

We walked across the bridge, then along the incredibly neat and tidy riverside lanes where we stopped for a bucket of coffee at a cute coffee shop, packed with old antiques and memorabilia.

Afterwards we walked across to Baan Sao Nak, also known as the ‘House of many pillars’ as it was constructed using 116 teak wood pillars. Built in 1895, the house was designed in a combination of northern Thai and Burmese architecture. It’s a fabulous building with amazing teak walls and flooring. Our entry fee included a free soft drink and cookie, which wasn’t great timing given the bucket of coffee we’d just had at the riverside coffee shop. We still managed to make our way through a small glass of what tasted like prune juice (but probably wasn’t) and some crispy honey rice wafers.

We wandered home for a quick break, before heading back out for the Kad Kong Ta weekend night market, which kicks off at 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

By now it was dark and all the lanterns along ‘lantern street’ were lit up – a fabulous multi-coloured display, which was difficult to photograph.

We followed google maps to the night market, which it turns out takes place in the old town streets we’d walked through this morning. It was huge, with a fabulous selection of stalls selling all kinds of food, drink and handicrafts.

Jim was once again attracted to insects, this time buying a large bag of fried silkworm pupae, which he declared ‘yummy’. Lil bought chunks of melon and a large cup of sweetcorn kernels lightly warmed with butter and sugar. Afterwards we shared a huge avocado smoothie, which was unbelievably good.

The market also had a pre-loved teddy bear selection, which made us go ‘awww’ and hope that they all go to good homes soon.

We stopped for dinner between some of the old houses in the middle of the market. We puzzled over the longish looking menu on the wall, until the waiter came over and told us “menu is noodles with chicken, pork, or pork balls”. The menu had lots more options, but trying to explain it to a couple of foreigners on a very busy night just wasn’t going to happen. We were very happy though, and our chicken noodles were delicious. Though Lil had to remove and donate her chunks of sprongy blood cake to Jim before she could begin eating.

Tomorrow we pack up and catch a bus to Chiang Mai, after we’ve queued again for tickets. Apparently they have good night markets there, which will likely mean more ‘yummy’ bugs for Jim.

More then.

Dodging a guesthouse with a monkey, meeting Marjorie on the way to Lampang, and Jim gets excited by his latest weird food.

Day 164: Sukhothai & Lampang, Thailand. This morning we packed up again, this time to head to Lampang for a couple of days on our way north to Chiang Mai.

By the time we reach Chiang Mai, the Yoy Krathong and Yi Peng festivals will be in full swing, so we thought we’d better take a look online before we left Sukhothai and book some accommodation, before it all gets snapped up.

Researching accommodation takes a decent chunk of time. On the surface, lots of guesthouse options seem pretty good; however once you read the reviews, they can tell a different story. We had a good giggle at one set of reviews for a guesthouse near the old town in Chiang Mai, where apparently the owner keeps a pack of 9 smelly dogs, a parrot and – get this – a marmoset monkey. Reviews tell tales of guests arriving to a heavy stench and having to leave again straight away, holding their noses while they check right back out again. Good to dodge that one.

After we’d finished our accommodation search, we left our current guesthouse (which was a good find and thankfully monkey-free) and walked down to the bus station, to perch for a bit on the rows of blue hard plastic seats.

The bus arrived late, as is often the case, and was two thirds full, having started its journey in Sukhothai new town. The luggage store underneath the bus was already jammed with backpacks and suitcases and prams. The driver did an impressive job of rearranging everyone’s bags, with a lit ciggie hanging out of his mouth the entire time.

With bags safely stashed, we clambered on to the bus and luckily found a couple of seats together. Despite being the same bus company that took us from Phitsanulok to Sukhothai a couple of days ago, this bus was a heap more comfortable – more leg room, better seats and the air con even worked. There was some great scenery along the way too.

We stopped for a quick coffee break at a small cute cafe about an hour outside Lampang. Excellent coffee and a lovely little garden with wooden benches. An English lady called Marjorie came over to chat to us for a bit. She told us she’s recently retired, and has been travelling on her own around Asia for nearly 7 months, and is loving it. She said this is her life now, but she’ll ‘pop back home to see people in England now and then, like at Christmas time’. She is also staying in Lampang for a couple of days, so we may well bump into her again.

We arrived in Lampang late afternoon and walked to our guesthouse, an easy 10 minute trot from the bus station. We settled in then wandered out to take a look around the town, stopping for a quick beer at a local cafe, then heading on to check out one of the three local night markets. The town has a population of around 56,000, so it’s not huge, but it appears to be a very lively place with lots going on.

The market was fabulous, with stalls stretched across a large indoor area, selling all sorts of fresh produce and spices, plus some clothes. We took the opportunity to buy lots of fresh fruit – jack fruit, bananas and papaya – plus some edamame (soy beans cooked in their pods), and a piece of cake that turned out to be a slightly odd tasting (but still delicious) custardy slice.

Jim was super excited to spot that one of the stalls had a large platter of bee larvae honeycomb (honeycomb with bee larvae inside). It’s one of the delicacies he missed out on in Luang Prabang in Laos. He gleefully bought a big piece of the stuff, with Lil wrinkling her nose beside him, and making loud ewww noises. Insects are a staple in many Asian diets, and apparently bee larvae packs a particularly strong punch of protein and flavor. Lil says she’ll stick with chicken thanks.

We had dinner at a small eatery close to the market – sensational pad thai wrapped in egg, that was freshly cooked in the open air kitchen next to us.

When we got back to our guesthouse, Jim unwrapped his bee larvae honeycomb, and was keen to start scoffing it before he headed to bed. Lil suggested he leave it until tomorrow, just in case any emergency services are needed (she’s still not convinced that eating bees is a good thing). Some close-up pics of larvae to follow in tomorrow’s blog post.

Tomorrow we’ll take a longer walk around the town, including a couple of wats and another night market. And doubtless Jim will find something else weird and wonderful to eat (after he’s scoffed his bee larvae, hopefully with no ill effects).

More then.

A special saddle for Jim’s delicate bum, pedalling around some impressive old ruins, and meeting a bright red German at the bus station.

Day 163: Sukhothai, Thailand. After a late breakfast this morning, we wandered around to the bike hire shop next to the guesthouse.

As always, Jim had a little trouble finding a bike big enough to fit him. The Thai ladies who own the bike shop kept dragging out different bikes, which all seemed to be mostly the same size, just in different colours and different states of disrepair. He ended up with a bike that was just about manageable, with the highest handlebars we’ve ever seen – once again looking like a cartoon character.

And much to Lil’s amusement, either by some coincidence or perhaps destiny, Jim once again ended up with a saddle that said ‘Special’ and which looked like it should support his delicate bum very nicely.

We climbed on our bikes and headed back into the central zone of the historical park, where we’d walked around the market and food stalls last night. We weaved through the stalls to reach the main sites in the complex: Wat Mahathat built in 1292, with its huge stupa and two giant Buddhas, one on each side, Wat Tra Kuan which dates from 1400; Wat Sa Si which sits on an island; and Wat Si Sawai which again is from the late 12th century and is adapted from an earlier Hindu shrine for Vishnu. A very impressive collection of old buildings.

When we’d finished at the central zone, we pedalled out and around the western zone, a quiet uncurated area housing dozens more wats. A bunch of them were on hillsides overlooking the main historic park, so we had to keep parking our bikes at the bottom and dragging ourselves uphill in the scorching afternoon sun. The ride was only about 8km, but the frequent stops every few hundred metres meant it took a couple of hours.

Our favorite wat in the western zone was Wat Chedi Ngam, which is at least as impressive as those in the main town, and we had the entire place to ourselves.

On the way back we stopped for drinks at a small cafe in the main park. A pair of German guys, also with bikes and looking a little heat fatigued, sat next to us chatting and then promptly nodded off into their cokes.

When we got back to the town, we pedalled down the street to find the bus station and buy tickets for tomorrow’s trip to Lampang. The station is just a hole in the wall with a dozen blue plastic seats. The guy behind the counter shook himself awake to serve us, while his colleague remained fast asleep on the floor behind him.

A German girl with brightly glowing red skin walked into the station while we were there, to exchange two tickets she’d purchased online (we’d say her chances weren’t too high). Clearly needing to explain why she looked like a large tomato, she said her current sunscreen didn’t seem to work, but she’d just bought a different higher factor one. Let’s hope that one works, or she’ll be heading straight for the local hospital.

We returned the bikes to the hire shop, and had a much needed snooze in our room for a couple of hours. We inadvertently booked a room with a fan rather than air conditioning (with no option to switch), and as a result had a bit of a restless night’s sleep last night.

We had dinner at another eatery next to our guesthouse – there’s a whole strip of restaurants and cafes, mostly selling Thai food but with the occasional one offering pizza and chips for any westerners who can’t live without home comforts. Lil caught up with the news in the Bangkok Times and Jim puzzled over a cryptic crossword.

While we were eating, a bunch of fireworks and lanterns launched from the historical park in front of us – more celebrations for the Loi Krathong festival.

We headed home for an early night, then Jim decided to go back out again for the 11pm fireworks display, which started at 10.30pm and only lasted two minutes. All a little odd.

Tomorrow we pack up again and catch the bus to Lampang for a couple of days. And who knows, perhaps we’ll be able to hire bikes again and find another ‘special’ saddle for Jim’s delicate bum.

More then.

Squeezing zits at the bus station, a monster festival in a historical park, and Jim gets another bug fix.

Day 162: Phitsanulok & Sukhothai, Thailand. When we’d finished packing up this morning, we headed downstairs for breakfast at the hotel. Toast and coffee for Lil; fried pork and rice with a copious amount of fresh chilli for Jim. Even Jim said it was ‘rather a lot of chilli’ first thing in the morning.

We checked out, left our backpacks at reception, and wandered out to take a look at Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat (also known as Wat Yai, which is a heck of a lot easier to say and write).

The highlight of Wat Yai is Phra Phuttha Chinnarat, an exquisite bronze seated Buddha statue. It’s believed to have been made under the supervision of King Phraya Lithai back in the 1300s. At the time, Phitsanulok was capital of the Sukhothai kingdom. It’s housed in an elaborately decorated temple with murals and paintings depicting scenes from King Naresuan’s elephant battle which happened some 300 years later.

One of the outlying temples has a unique Buddha statue lying in cremation pose with its feet sticking out. The temple also has amazing mother of pearl inlaid doors donated by King Boromakot in 1756.

After our wander around the wat, we walked back to the hotel to retrieve our backpacks, then headed to Phitsanulok bus station to catch a bus to Sukhothai.

We had over an hour’s wait, which gave us some time to catch up on our books. We also had the not-so-awesome opportunity to watch a girl who appeared to be squeezing her boyfriend’s zits.

The bus was stuffy and ridiculously hot with air conditioning that barely worked. Any occasional puffs of cold air were quickly dismissed by the searing hot sun beating through the window. Thankfully the journey was less than an hour and a half and we arrived at Sukothai bus station, jumped into a tuk tuk, and were at our guesthouse before 5pm.

We settled into the guesthouse, then headed out for a walk around the perimeter of zone 1 of Sukhothai historical park. There are three zones which make things a little complex – all with separate entry gates and separate entry fees. Most people just focus on zone 1 which is where some of the primary attractions lie.

We’re really fortunate to be staying in Sukhothai during the annual Loi Krathong and Candle Festival 2019, which is celebrated nationally on the 11th day of the twelfth lunar month. The festival started on 2 November and is now in full swing, with ten days of activities including floating lights, sky lanterns, fireworks, music, traditional entertainment, fighting arts, a huge market in the zone 1 grounds and the Miss Noppamas Beauty Contest.

The market was underway as we walked past early evening, so we wandered up the main avenue and spent a couple of hours trying different foods, looking at craft stalls, and walking around the lit up monuments, shrines and grounds. It’s a very impressive event and as Jim remarked, whoever the operations manager is, they’re a legend. Just getting the many hundreds of food vendors into the venue and set up must be a huge logistical challenge in itself.

A guy was cooking some very large crispy wafers over a small open fire at one of the stalls. Lil got a large bag and we munched our way through most of them as we walked around. They were slightly sweet and very moreish.

Jim meanwhile spotted a stall selling an impressive selection of edible bugs, and bought a large bag of black slightly greasy crickets. He scoffed the lot in less than 5 minutes, while Lil walked next to him wrinkling her nose in disgust.

We had dinner at a small restaurant next to our guesthouse – excellent chilli pork and dry green curry. Jim dug out a cocktail stick at one point, and when Lil asked what it was for, he replied “I’ve got a cricket leg stuck in my teeth”. Ewww.

Tomorrow we’re planning to hire bikes and pedal around the historical park in daylight (zone 1 at least). And perhaps Jim will find some more bugs to scoff along the way.

More then.