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.

Moisturising toes on the train, a hotel with no toilet paper, and Jim gives dog curry a miss.

Day 161: Pak Chong & Phitsanulok, Thailand. We packed up again this morning and headed to Pak Chong train station, for our onward trip to Phitsanulok, via Ban Phachi Junction.

We were a little sad to say goodbye to Pak Chong – it was a short stay but we really loved the place. It’s a very tidy town with lots of friendly people, good restaurants and bars, and of course the intriguing cowboy shop for all your dress-up needs.

Our only disappointment was that we didn’t get to try out the open air laundry, which comes complete with a pool table that looks like it’s seen a fair bit of action over the years.

We sat in the shade at Pak Chong station, which was pretty quiet apart from a few people, and the odd sleepy dog.

The train journey to Ban Phachi was short – just over an hour and a half – however it was a stuffy, packed and uncomfortable journey. We didn’t manage to get two seats together, though on a positive note, at least we managed to get two seats. Jim perched on a bench outside a very strong smelling toilet, with the guy opposite him eating a huge bag of bugs like they were candy (and yes, Jim may have been just a bit envious). Lil was squished onto a bench further along the carriage, between two people who took up way more than their third of a bench allocation.

We were very relieved to get off the train at Ban Phachi Junction, where we had a three hour wait before our train to Phitsanulock. We found a rustic little eatery in the village-sized town, with battered plastic tables and chairs and vinyl tablecloths that had mostly disintegrated. No one in the restaurant spoke English (and our Thai is still non-existent), however we managed to order two plates of chicken and rice with the help of a man who jumped out of a mini van. And the food was really good.

There was a small market in the main street (which was pretty much the only street), and we bought a huge dragon fruit which we scoffed while sitting on the train platform – without doubt the best tasting dragon fruit we have ever had.

Thankfully we got seats together on the next train, opposite a lovely friendly guy who Lil labelled Mr Nice Man. He pointed out various sights along the way, and called out the names of train stations whenever we stopped (which to be honest was a little pointless, given every station has a name board in English).

The only thing about sitting opposite people in a four seat arrangement, is the need to avoid each other’s legs – a conundrum that ends up with passengers looking like they’re doing lively jigs. We adopted various poses, some worthy of a contortionist, but no amount of twisting and turning made us comfortable. Jim ended up sitting in a free seat behind, and after a couple of hours, a family in the four person section next to us left the train, so we grabbed their seats.

Our seat switch turned out to be perfect timing, as Mr Nice Man decided it was time to start moisturising his feet. Followed by a good dig under his toe nails with a tooth pick, to clear out any bits of dirt.

The food choices on the train were extensive (not that we had much of an appetite after Mr Nice Man’s feet treatment). Vendors walked up and down for the entire journey offering everything from pad thai to fried crickets, pork buns and whole fried fish (which seemed like an odd thing to nibble on during a train trip – thankfully no one nearby us bought one).

The five hour journey went past pretty quickly – helped by lots of reading and watching the fabulous scenery whizz past through the open windows. We also got to see the sun setting over the mountains, though as we’ve discovered before, night time journeys on open windowed trains mean swarms of mossies swing into the brightly lit carriages. Thankfully we had lots of insect repellent in our bags.

We arrived in Phitsanulok just before 9pm, and walked the short distance to our hotel. As it was getting late, we dumped our bags in our room and headed straight out for dinner at an eatery just around the corner.

Once again, google translator turned out to be our new best friend. The menu was in Thai, so we scanned the list with our phones to see what our choices were. Which turned out to be a very good thing, as the selection included dog curry, fried horse, roughly chopped spleen, and granny cartilege. We’ve no idea what that last one comprises, nor are we keen to find out.

We ordered grilled pork and grilled beef, with a spicy vegetable curry and sticky rice. It was all really good though Lil was a little rattled by the meat choices on the menu, whispering to Jim “you don’t reckon they would substitute dog for beef, do you?” Hopefully not. And interestingly, Jim says he won’t eat dog meat – the first thing he has ever refused to try.

When we arrived at our hotel room earlier, we spotted there was no toilet paper in the bathroom. On the way back, we visited the reception desk where the friendly girl told us the hotel had run out of toilet paper. As she couldn’t leave reception, she suggested we could walk down the street to the 7-Eleven to buy some. We suggested that we probably weren’t about to do the hotel’s shopping for them, so she rummaged around in a dark back room and eventually reappeared bearing a pack of tissues.

When we got back to our room, Jim quipped that we could have used the in-room phone to call reception – a splendid push-button phone that looks like a forgotten relic from the 70’s.

Tomorrow we’ll have a quick walk around Phitsanulok and take a look at Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat – a tongue twisting name but a very significant Buddhist temple. Then in the afternoon we’ll catch a bus to Sukhothai, a historical town an hour east of Phitsanulok. And hopefully there won’t be any passengers moisturing their toes on the bus.

More then.

A day spotting wildlife in the jungle, Lil gets mauled by a monkey, and Jim misses out on fried grasshopper.

Day 160: Pak Chong, Thailand. We were up super early this morning for our trip to Khao Yai, billed as the best national park in Thailand. We knocked back numerous cups of coffee on the patio in an attempt to jar our bodies into life. And while we were downing caffeine and scoffing sandwiches, we had our first wildlife encounter of the day – a fabulous snow white squirrel ran across the power lines above our heads. A pretty good omen for the day ahead.

At 6.50am a white pick-up with bench seats in the back pulled into the yard, and we climbed onboard and introduced ourselves to the other passengers – an English and French couple who live in Berlin, and two young German sisters. They were all lovely, and as the day went on, proved themselves to be great company and a lot of fun.

We drove to the HQ of the tour company, met the owner briefly, then our guide for the day, Jib, appeared and joined us in the truck. Jib is a bundle of energy and the early morning start didn’t seem to faze him at all. He asked us our names and where we’re from, writing the details down in a small lined notebook which he continued to write in during the day. He’s from the far south east of Thailand, close to the border with Cambodia, rents a room in the town to work (he does all sorts apparently, including construction) and is a tour guide for the company just once a month. We were lucky his one day’s tour guide work fell today.

Jib wore thigh length wellington boots and breeches, like a pair of waders, and looked a little like he might be heading off for a fishing trip. Meanwhile, we were given bright blue leech socks which we were instructed to put on ‘just in case’. We looked like dorks walking around in the shiny blue fabric shields, but at least we didn’t have to worry too much about having our blood sucked out. Jib reassured us that leeches in Khao Lai are quite small, unlike some of the leeches found in other national parks which can be up to 16 inches.Let’s hope we don’t encounter any of those on our travels.

We drove to to the national park with Jib hanging off the back of the truck, staring up into the trees above to spot wildlife. He shouted to the driver to stop a few times, and we clambered out to set up his telescope and peer into the trees above.

Over our first hour of wildlife spotting, we watched a gibbon swinging happily in the branches above our heads; several hornbills perched on the branches and flying across the jungle; and a giant squirrel eating fruit at the top of a huge tree.

We stopped briefly at a lookout point with fabulous views across the valley below. There were monkeys everywhere, and one of them jumped and grabbed Lil on the back of her thigh then bounded off again. Once we reached the visitors centre, Jim inspected Lil’s leg and confirmed there were no scratches. All to the amusement of the other visitors, as we rustled around behind her sarong.

We had a look around the visitor centre, a quick briefingwith Jib, then set off on a trek through the jungle.

Just like the guide we had in Mount Abu, Jib is a walking encyclopedia of all things fauna and flora. As we walked through the jungle, he stopped every couple of minutes to point out a plant or insect or animal prints in the mud. We tasted a few different plants and berries, some leaves and stems that tasted like celery and peas, and a small, tart, wild plum, secretly hoping that Jib’s plant knowledge was sound, and we weren’t unknowingly scoffing anything poisonous.

We were excited (and admittedly somewhat alarmed) when Jib pointed out some marks on a tree trunk, and said they were the claws of a bear who’d climbed the tree in search of food. How recently the bear made the climb, we have no idea, but we found ourselves glancing over our shoulders (and up the tree) just in case the creature was still hanging about.

We also saw piles of fresh elephant dung, indicating there a herd of elephants hanging out nearby. Unfortunately despite our best efforts during the trek, and later in the day when we went out in the truck for an elephant sighting, we didn’t see any. But it was enough to know that large numbers of elephants roam freely in the national park.

Sadly 6 elephants were recently killed when a baby elephant drowned at a waterfall, and others tried to save it. The disaster made international news media, as did the story of an elephant straddling a car in the national park just a few days ago. Luckily the tourists inside the car escaped unscathed, though their car was badly dented. That should make for an interesting insurance claim.

Image copyright www.khaosodenglish.com

Jib speaks excellent English, with an impressive vocabulary which he’s determined to keep improving. As the day went on, he continued to ask us to spell words he wasn’t familiar with or doesn’t use much, and wrote them down in his notebook.

Our trek finished with a visit to an observation tower (Jib said he has seen tigers there in the past, but these days there are too many visitors for tigers to hang around).

We had lunch at one of the national park cafes – huge plates of pad thai followed by a large bag of longan fruits. Then we drove to another lookout point where people sat with legs dangling on the side of the cliff for photos (we stood well back), followed by a final walk through the forest to spot some more birds.

We arrived back in Pak Chong around 7.30pm, after a long but fabulous day. As always we felt really lucky to get close to some amazing wildlife, and meet others with the same passion for animals and birdlife.

Once we’d showered and changed we walked into town for dinner, and had some of the best food of our travels at a Chinese restaurant which doubles as a family living room, with a collection of well loved cats roaming around our feet.

Thank goodness for Google translator as the menu was all in Thai. Had we randomly pointed at a few dishes we could have ended up with stir fried horse with basil, or fried jungle frog. Instead we had a sensational dish of fried basil with chicken and chilli, kung pao chicken, and stir fried morning glory and chilli.

While we ate our food, one of the cats chased a giant green grasshopper around our table, eventually catching and eating it. As Lil pointed out, had Jim been quick enough, he could have caught it himself and asked for it to be stir fried and added to his dinner.

Then back to the guesthouse for a long night’s sleep. Tomorrow we catch the train to Ban Phachi Junction, then on to Phitsanulok, where we’ll spend one night before continuing to Sukhothai historical city the next day. Perhaps Jim will have another opportunity to catch some grasshoppers there.

More then.

An irritating fidget on the train, wandering around a town filled with cowboys, and fruity treats at the night market.

Day 159: Bangkok & Pak Chong, Thailand. We were up and about early today to finish packing, and leave Bangkok again.

We caught a couple of trains from Bangkok station when we were here in June, so are already familiar with the station and the ticket buying process, which was just as time consuming and frustrating as our last visit. And the station was just as busy, with hoards of people sitting on the ground chatting and eating picnics.

The train to Pak Chong left pretty much on time and was a lot less packed and chaotic than our Indian train experiences. Only a couple of minutes after we set off, a stream of vendors starting walking up and down selling all kinds of foods and drinks, and we happily bought two green papaya with sugar dip, which is one of our favourite snacks.

The train journey was fairly uneventful, apart from a slightly irritating twitchy guy sitting opposite us who kept springing up without warning and sticking his head out of the train like a dog. He also pointed out that Jim’s bag was under his seat (which Jim knew, as he’d put it there), and when we stood up to get off the train he checked carefully under our seats to make sure we’d left nothing behind. For a skinny chap he also had a voracious appetite, chomping his way through two full meals and an ongoing selection of snacks.

We arrived in Pak Chong mid-afternoon, and walked to our guesthouse about a kilometre away. It’s an interesting town, about 200km to the north east of Bangkok, and with a population of around 200,000. The main street is packed with little restaurants and cafes, along with a rather bizarre ‘cowboy shop’ selling a wide range of ‘cowboys and indians’ outfits.

We also spotted various cowboy-themed signs around the town, and when we checked online discovered that the town is part of the Khao Yai Cowboy Festival, which was started in 2006 by a local man. Every year in late December, hundreds of ‘Thai cowboys’ visit from across the country visit the local area to enjoy country and western music, cow contests, whip cracking and dairy farming exhibits. Sounds like quite a spectacle.

After we’d settled into our guesthouse (and Lil, out of sheer frustration at the weight of her backpack, gave away a bunch of stuff to the owner), we wandered back into town to take a look around. We climbed up some steps to the Khao Noi public park, had a look at an interesting shrine surrounded by statues of animals, then headed back down through an open air fitness area where dozens of people were jogging and using outdoor fitness machines – pretty impressive for a Sunday evening.

We also visited the town’s night market which is fabulous – it’s not huge but has a great range of fresh and cooked produce.

We were very happy to find so much fresh fruit, having only had apples and bananas for most of our two months in India, and bought a large tray of jack fruit, which is one of our favourites. Jim bought some small fried whole fish with chilli sauce, which he wolfed as we walked. Thankfully there were no rats on offer.

We had dinner in a small outdoor cafe – chicken noodle soup and stir fried duck with vegetables and rice – both excellent. Afterwards we went to one of the local bars for a quick cold beer, then wandered back to our guesthouse for a good long night’s sleep.

Tomorrow we’re up at crazy o’clock to visit Khao Yai National Park. Our guide is collecting us at 6.50am and then we’ll spend the day trekking in the park, and doing some wildlife spotting. Jim is particularly excited at the prospect of seeing more snakes – Lil not so much.

More then.

A spot of travel plotting and planning, savouring some eclectic live music, and chilled beers in a wooden shack.

Day 158: Bangkok, Thailand. We woke to another cool and cloudy day – perfect for sitting on the balcony to plough through some travel planning.

Yesterday we spotted a t-shirt that said “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way”. Perhaps we should have bought two.

While we have a very outline plan – largely a list of countries that we’d like to visit at some point, and a rough idea of which months are best weather-wise – our itinerary is pretty fluid. In Thailand, we know we want to head up north and do some trekking around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, but how we get there, where we stay and what we do along the way is totally open.

Travel planning takes up an inordinate amount of time, but thankfully Lil loves doing it and spent many happy hours today, fueled by endless cups of coffee, researching different sights and national parks and wildlife sanctuaries and formulating an outline plan for the next couple of weeks.

There’s no shortage of national parks in Thailand – over 100 in total – however not all of them are doable. Some are too difficult to access without a car, some have restricted numbers of visitors and require bookings weeks or sometimes months in advance, and others require camping out which we’re not equipped to do.

While Lil was doing her research and Jim was catching up with news and Reddit and technology blogs, we could hear a band warming up in a nearby art gallery as part of the Bangkok Music City Festival, a music showcase taking place across a number of venues today and tomorrow. We’re feeling a little starved of live music, so it was fun to be able to listen to some eclectic music drifting through the lane ways.

With plans sorted and accommodation booked for the next couple of days, we headed out late afternoon to visit Jack’s Bar, a small laid-back shack by the Chao Phraya river with rickety wooden benches and tables, fabulous views and some great people watching. It’s a perfect place to while away a few hours over a few icy cold beers, which is exactly what we did.

On the way home we had dinner at a small eatery – more noodles, rice porridge and crispy pork with kale (but thankfully no rat) – then stopped to check out another of the Bangkok Music City venues, where a very loud rock band was giving it all they’ve got.

Then a last coffee on the balcony, while listening to the last music set emanating from the nearby art gallery.

Tomorrow we catch a train to Pak Chong, to visit Khao Yai National Park. We’ve booked a day long ‘jungle tour’ on Monday which includes trekking and wildlife spotting. Lil’s hoping for elephants, Jim’s hoping for snakes.

More tomorrow.

Replacing worn out walking gear, Lil gets her boot stitched up, and dead rats for sale at the market.

Day 157: Bangkok, Thailand. We woke to a surprisingly cloudy and cool morning – a nice change after the baking heat yesterday.

We whiled the morning away drinking coffee on the guesthouse balcony, watching the comings and goings in the lane way below through the tangled mass of overhead cables.

While we were consuming endless cups of caffeine, Jim spotted a guy with a DHL shirt pulling up on a motorbike in the lane way below. He sprinted down and hallelujah, it was his replacement debit card, delivered only two days after it was requested. A very different experience to our recent endless wait in Mandawa, India.

After lunch we wandered out for another long walk through the city. We badly needed to replace some now very worn out walking tops we bought before we left Sydney. Decathlon has a local branch about 8km away from our guesthouse, so we headed there for a mini shopping spree. Our Sydney membership number also worked, which is pretty cool.

Another of our ‘must-dos’ today was to get one of Lil’s walking boots repaired – the rubber sole had started to come away from the leather upper, and every time we go hiking Lil fears she will end up tying her boot together. We found a tiny shoe repair shop on Google Maps, which was tucked down a small alley way next to shops selling motorbike tyres, hammers and paint. Despite the language barrier, we managed to convey what we needed and the lovely man in the shop stitched the boot there and then – refusing to take any money for his work.

By now it was after 6pm, so we decided to skip walking back and catch a bus home. On the way to the bus stop, we wandered through a busy local market selling fruit, vegetables and meat, including live chickens, dead chickens and – much to Lil’s horror – dead rats. A quick search on Google confirms rat meat is a delicacy, costing as much or more than chicken. The hope, of course, is that the creatures on sale are farm rats, and not rats caught from the city sewers. Quite how you can tell, we have no idea.

While we waited at the bus stop, Lil asked Jim whether he’d eat rat. Perhaps no great surprise, his reply was “Yes of course. So long as it’s cooked. Then it’s just like eating pigeon.”. Lil suspects it’s nothing at all like eating pigeon, but as she’s not going to attempt eating either any time soon, she said nowt.

We waited and waited for a bus, walking out into the busy street every couple of minutes to see if we could spot one coming in the distance. Despite online information saying they run every 15 minutes, after 40 minutes or so there was still no sign of one appearing, so we gave up and walked to the metro station further along the street. The metro here is fab – fast, clean and frequent, and at 7pm there was hardly anyone at the station. The nearest metro station is only 10 minutes from our guesthouse, so it was still a nice easy trip home.

We had dinner at a local restaurant – more big bowls of noodles and stir fried chicken and vegetables. Then we wandered home to start our planning for the next stage of our journey through Thailand. We have one more night in Bangkok before we start our travels north.

Tomorrow we’ll finalise our plans, find somewhere to watch the rugby world cup final, and enjoy a last dinner in Bangkok. And hopefully we won’t find any rat on the menu.

More then.

Time to resume Asian Rambles, getting our lizard fix at Lumpini, and a travel kettle that’s prone to smoking.

Day 156: Bangkok, Thailand. We’re back! After a quick and chilly visit to the UK for Jim’s dad’s funeral, we’re now in toasty Bangkok and all set to resume our crazy Asian Rambles. We booked our flights to Thailand the night before we left the UK; tempting as it was to return to India, we decided we really needed a break from the chaos.

The English weather was a bit of a shock to the system; biting cold and with a fair bit of rain. On a positive note, it was lovely to catch up with family, albeit on a very sad occasion. We also managed to pack in a couple of walks, gleefully hiking through the English countryside in the comforting knowledge that we had no chance of meeting deadly snakes, bears or leopards.

We’d originally planned to head straight from Bangkok to the north of Thailand, but as luck would have it, one of Jim’s debit cards got hit with a few fraudulent transactions. So once again we’re grounded until a replacement card arrives. Thankfully this time we’re in a major international city, which should help speed things along.

We woke this morning to a glorious Bangkok day – hot and sunny but nowhere near as humid as our June visit, and perfect for sitting on the balcony and reading in the early morning sun. Our guesthouse is tucked down a lane way with a bunch of street vendors selling food and an extraordinary number of cats bearing collars and bells (we reckon the guesthouse owner must be a crazy cat lady).

We wandered out around midday and stopped for food at one of the lane way eateries, where we perched on plastic chairs impressively taped together to seal the cracks. And after two months of rich Indian vegetarian food, it felt good to sit and scoff huge bowls of noodles with pork and chicken and crunchy stir fried vegetables.

Afterwards, we headed off for a long sunny walk around the city. Compared to India, the streets are a lot easier to negotiate, with neat lanes of cars and bikes, traffic lights at every junction, proper pavements to walk on, no incessant honking of horns (hallelujah), and no free-roaming cows causing udder havoc.

And of course, there are fabulous ornately decorated Buddhist temples liberally dotted around the city.

A local restaurant was drying a large platter of meat in the sun as we walked past – we’re not sure how hygienic it is to dry food on a busy pavement next to traffic, but hey, everyone does it.

Having spent a chunk of time here in June, we’ve already done all the regular city sightseeing and exploring. However, we were keen to return for another visit to Lumpini Park, a 57 hectare green oasis in the middle of the city, for a spot of lizard spotting. The lake in the park is home to around 400 water monitors and it’s a real treat to be able to get so close to them (but not too close, as they’re prone to attacking if they feel threatened).

After our lizard fix, we headed to Central World for some shopping – a busy modern shopping mall in the heart of the city, which even on a weekday was packed with shoppers. We also saw our first Christmas tree – just in time, as Halloween finishes tonight.

We bought local sim cards, stocked up on toiletries, and Lil bought a light travel kettle so she can fix her coffee cravings at any time of day or night. It’s a natty white and green plastic job that looks like it may not have a very long life, and with a rather unsettling instruction leaflet which warns ‘May have some smoke during the first-time boiling’. Thankfully there was no smoke when we tried it out, or it would have been going straight back to the shop. The leaflet also has a rather complicated diagram on boiling times and temperatures, which we assume in summary means that it takes 3-4 minutes for the water to reach 85C and 10 minutes to reach 100C.

In our continuing endeavour to try ‘new things’, we also bought some preserved salted boiled eggs, which last for a month without being refrigerated. They’re incredibly salty with a pretty unusual and not very eggy flavour, and Lil says they’re unlikely to be a repeat purchase. Jim, of course, loves them.

Being Halloween today, we saw a few people dressed as witches strolling about in the baking heat, and the bar opposite our guest house was sporting a few dangling pumpkins. Otherwise, Halloween celebrations were pretty quiet in our neck of the woods, though doubtless on Khaosan Road the witches and ghouls will be partying hard.

We had dinner in a restaurant at the end of the laneway – good old pad yhai, chicken noodle soup, and a green bean, lime and chilli salad. Thankfully Jim was happy to skip the duck lips special, given his previous encounter with the rubbery delicacy was pretty disappointing.

Tomorrow we’re planning another long walk around the city, after a couple of caffeine hits from Lil’s new travel kettle. Let’s hope it continues to do its thing without resorting to smoking.

More then.

A final spot of shopping, watching chaos from the rooftop, and time to take a break from Asian Rambles.

Day 155: Agra, India. Today’s mission was to finish our dreaded clothes shopping, before we head back to the UK early this coming week.

We started our shopping extravaganza on the first floor of a five story mens clothes store, in a strip of shops about 5km from our hotel. Eight overly excited sales staff helped Jim find a pair of black trousers that mostly fit him, albeit they had to do an on-the-spot rush tailoring job. On a positive note, we were offered comfy seats and served hot coffee while we waited.

There seemed to be an awful lot of sales staff in the store, and not very many customers. The owner said he employs 100 people in total across five floors (bearing in mind each floor is only about 10m x 5m, it sounded like a huge amount compared to Australia), and that they expect a ‘big rush’ in the run up to the Diwali festival, which is next weekend.

We wandered upstairs to level three to buy a tie, which thankfully turned out to be a lot simpler than the trouser selection. Once Jim had chosen one, the sales guy insisted on carrying it all the way down to the ground floor for him, so he could pay for it. It’s all part of the customer service apparently (and probably a useful way to keep some idle sales staff busy).

Afterwards we walked down the street in search of mens shoes, and stumbled across a rather eclectic shoe shop. We had a quick browse around, then one of the sales guys rummaged around in the store cupboard and dropped 14 boxes of shoes in front of Jim. Thankfully he managed to find one pair that were big enough for his large foreigner feet.

We headed back to town where Lil bought a shawl in a local ‘cottage industry’ shop, along with some Indian style shoes with curled up toes. They’re a little weird and will no doubt cause some raised eyebrows, but given the limited choice and Lil’s very narrow feet, they were the best she could find. And for the first time in ages, we had to shelter from a rain storm.

This evening we had drinks and dinner on a rooftop restaurant in the town, enjoying the views over the chaotic streets below, as our visit here comes to an end. It’s been a fabulous eight week ramble around India, and despite the chaos and the frustrations, we’ll really miss the place.

We’re taking a short break from Asian Rambles now, as we head back to the UK for Jim’s dad’s funeral. We’ll be back online again once we resume our adventures, in about ten days time.

More soon.

Shopping malls largely devoid of shops, a freshly painted antique telly, and Lil declines the offer of a goat.

Day 154: Agra, India. Today’s big plan was a shopping trip to buy clothes for our UK visit next week.

Fuelled by a hearty breakfast and some very strong coffee we headed out, resigned to the horrors of crowds and changing rooms. A vegetable stall had randomly set up in the lane way outside the hotel, with an impressively flexible stall holder, who weighed and sold vegetables to passersby with his foot firmly planted on the top of the wooden cart the entire time. Had we attempted the same feat, we likely wouldn’t be able to walk for a week.

We’d collated details of half a dozen shopping malls, spread across the town. The first one was a complete wash out. Only four or five stores were open, mostly selling saucepans and dinner plates, and the rest of the building was derelict. There was one mens’ clothing shop so Jim had a quick look around, with three eager shop staff trailing one inch behind him the entire time. The clothes weren’t even close to what he was after, but he spotted some shoes he quite liked. Disappointment followed, as Jim’s shoe size is 11, and the shop’s stock only goes up to 10.

We walked a kilometre to the next shopping mall, through lots of small streets that clearly don’t see many foreigners, causing a bit of stir as we went past. We were amused to see a heap of cows bathing in a very muddy pond nearby, clearly happy to cool off from the afternoon heat. And to be honest, it looked a lot more relaxing than shopping.

The next mall was a little better, with two open clothes shops catering for both men and ladies. Lil had a quick rummage, found a dress she liked, and headed to the changing room to try it on. When she came back out to show it to Jim, he was in the process of being reprimanded for daring to step three inches across the threshold of the changing room, with a sales guy barking at him “Not allowed sir, no men, you must stay outside all times!” On a positive note, a gang of eager sales staff crowded around and gave Lil a big thumbs up on the dress she’d chosen.

Jim tried on many many pairs of trousers. The fashion trend in India just now is to wear pants with very narrow legs, and in some cases cropped bottoms too. Frankly, they made Jim look like a goof. The sales staff kept bringing more and more options into the changing room, each more ridiculous than the last. One of them even tried to upsell him with a pair of yellow and white patterned shorts, and looked pretty horrified when Lil started falling about laughing.

We decided to stop for a caffeine break, although we struggled to find a coffee shop. We asked a couple of security guards, who seemed baffled that we wanted coffee at a shopping mall. In the end our only option was McDonalds, though we decided to skip the ‘McAloo Tikka’ burger on offer.

We caught an Uber to the next shopping mall, a few kilometres away, thinking it couldn’t be any worse than the previous ones. Turns out we were wrong. The entire place had been knocked down, so there was no shopping mall at all. At that point we gave up and headed home to work on travel plans for our UK trip and beyond.

Early evening we walked into town for dinner at the same restaurant as last night. We initially decided against going up to the rooftop due to the mobs of mossies, plus we spotted a sign warning that monkeys are out to get people’s food – they love thali apparently.

The downstairs restaurant had just undergone a major painting job, with every single inch of the room now covered in fresh paint. Including the antique telly, which was now sporting the same brown woodstain effect as the panels on the walls.

We ordered two beers, which came in chunky mugs, and were asked to store our half empty bottles under the table. We’re guessing they’re not licensed to sell alcohol.

A little kid appeared at the window while we were drinking our mugs of beer. He waved madly at us, then started doing some sort of weird interpretive dancing, and was clearly after money. We smiled and waved him away. We could see a bunch of his mates lining up across the road, ready in join in if any rupees happened to be on offer.

After a bit, Lil went outside for some fresh air and to get away from the paint fumes. She wandered over to have a look at a very cute black, brown and white goat outside a shop across the street. The guy offered to sell it to her, however she explained that it might be tricky to get it into the overhead locker, and that customs might not be too happy either.

The paint fumes eventually got too much for us, and we made our way up to the rooftop. Thankfully the mossies weren’t as bad as last night, and the monkeys left us alone. We chatted for a while to a lovely couple from Australia, who are just starting a six week stay in India, and were keen to pick our brains on all things India. We had lots to say.

Tomorrow is shopping day number two, with two more malls on our list. Hopefully the shopping malls still exist, the trousers have wider legs, and someone somewhere stocks size 11 shoes.

More then.

An offer to ride in a very broken tuk tuk, a feisty tug of war with a badger, and welding fairground planes back together.

Day 153: Agra, India. After breakfast this morning, we headed out to visit Agra Fort – our last historical site visit before we leave India next week.

The fort is a couple of kilometres from our hotel – an easy walk through the town. A gazillion tuk tuk drivers called out along the way to try and get our business “Tuk tuk, sir, madam! Very cheap price, where you going?”.

We laughed when the owner of a tuk tuk that was clearly very broken offered to take us to the fort, in the hope we’d hang about while it was being put together again. It might have been quite a wait.

We got to the fort, bought tickets and joined the reasonably lengthy entrance queue. There was no signage and we only realised closer to the top of the queue that there were in fact two separate lines – one for girls and one for guys. Lil made a quick attempt to climb over the tall barrier but the security guard shouted at her, so she had to push her way back through the crowds to get into the other line.

For anyone who’s read ‘A bit about this blog’ on the asianrambles.com web site, we travel with a stuffed badger called Bodger, with a challenge of getting him into one photograph every day. He’s always parked in the bottom of Lil’s backpack, ready for a good photo opportunity.

The security lady who was checking bags at the fort smiled broadly when she saw Bodger, then quickly said “Cannot take into fort” and placed him on a side table, in a clear effort to try and badger-nap him. A feisty tug of war broke out, and Lil managed to wrestle the badger back.

We walked back to the cloak room to leave Lil’s bag there. Before she handed her bag over, we put the badger and other valuables into Jim’s backpack. And funnily enough after going through Jim’s bag, the male security guard made no comment about the badger not being allowed into the fort. Badger-napping nicely averted.

Reviews say Agra Fort is an overlooked wonder, as a lot of people visiting Agra head straight for the Taj Mahal and don’t pay any attention to the fort. It’s billed as being one of the best examples of Mughal architecture, and the only fort where all Rajasthan kings have stayed at some point since 1570.

The fort is impressive and huge, but very run down in parts with much of the fine inlay-work picked out from the marble, and the paintings covered over. There’s been lots of really high quality restoration, especially to the stonework of the structure, but some lovely original features still stand out.

Sadly there’s lots of graffiti on the walls of buildings, despite signs asking people not to do so. It baffles us that anyone thinks it’s a cool thing to do.

To the east side of the standing fort and palaces, there are ruins of an older palace which is said to have housed a harem of 5,000 women, each with their own chamber. The mind boggles on how that all worked. Lil of course had to ask the question “With no social media, how did they all meet each other?”

When we’d finished at the fort, we walked around the perimeter (which was a fair distance), then back to the hotel via a cute little cafe for coffee and pancakes.

Later in the evening, we walked back into town for dinner. We were amused to watch a local welder working on some fairground aeroplanes (without any eye protection, which seems to be the norm here) – let’s hope his welding skills are good.

We had dinner at a small rooftop restaurant with fabulous 360 degree views over the town. A large family in a yard below us was cooking food in monster pots over open fires, which they carried up to their own little rooftop. The only downside of the rooftop was the swarms of mosquitos which gleefully chomped Lil, despite a thick layer of insect repellent.

While we were eating, fireworks started across the town, marking the run-up to Diwali, the most significant Hindu festival which peaks in ten days on 27 October. We’ll miss the main day, but hopefully we’ll see some more pre-festival celebrations before we leave next week.

Then we headed back home, to get a good night’s sleep and brace ourselves for a spot of shopping tomorrow to buy some clothes for our trip back to the UK. Hopefully there will be no more badger-napping attempts at the shopping centre.

More then.