Thursday, 30 April 2015

Contiki Big Indochina Adventure #2 | Chiang Mai

Arriving at Chiang Mai train station we all stuck together and were greeted with a colourful bus which was ours for the next 3 days and we were also introduced to our local guide. With Contiki throughout Asia you've your own personal guide for each specific place which is wonderful. Each and everyone of the guides were so informative and friendly and would answer any question you had! We boarded the bus and drove 15 minutes or so to the Hotel. This hotel was by far the nicest hotel. We weren't able to check in as it was early and our rooms weren't ready yet, but we dropped off our luggage and headed to breakfast. This breakfast was by far the best- Hello Waffles? After eating our bodyweight in Waffles, we all relaxed for an hour and around 11am we were on our way to our second temple of the trip, Doi Suthep.

Doi Suthep  is located 15km outside Chiang Mai. The Pagoda's are located up 309 steps and I promise you it's worth it. It wasn't too difficult and thankfully it wasn't too hot for us all! It definitely didn't disappoint, it was stunningly beautiful and we got the chance to be blessed by monks which was a lovely experience. We also had a chance to learn about the Chinese Zodiac and find out which ones we were. Mine was the year of the Snake -1989, something I'm not too fond about, but as a friend told me a lot of the great's are Year of the Snake, so here's hoping! We spent around an hour and a half here and it was the perfect amount. The majority of us got blessed by monks and we all got our Chinese Zodiac in that time too as well as having many a photo opportunity. 

After the Doi Suthep we had an optional that Contiki don't endorse and I now know why. The Tiger Kingdom. The majority of the group went, myself included. I'm not saying I wasn't aware of the fact the Tiger's aren't treated as fairly as they should, but I went along anyway and along with the Ping Pong show is one of my only regret's of the trip. For around 1,000 baht(€29 Euro) you can take photo's of Tigers ranging from baby cubs to adults. They are very much on drugs, and where the tiger keepers(is that what they're called?) weren't obviously cruel towards the animals but you still feel uneasy. On the way out I saw four grown tigers kept in a cage, no bigger than a Box room and my heart just sank, It's something that doesn't resonate well with me that I went, but I did and I can't turn back time. The only thing I can do is try and warn others about it and discourage people from going. Anyway, after the hour drive back to the Hotel after a quick shower and change we were on our way to do one of the Optional Extra's which was a Thai cooking class, which was so much fun and probably one of my favourite Optional Extra's. We set off to the local food market first to learn about all the different ingredients.

 After the market we hopped into two separate vans and made our way to the Cooking School, which was a little bit outside of Chiang Mai. The cooking school was so popular it has recently been refurbished to cater for it's growing demand so we had a swanky new kitchen to work with, each having our own spacious work station. It was all outdoors which our Tour Manager had pre-warned us about so we all made sure to cover ourselves in insect repellent. Thanks for the heads up! We made four dishes, the first being Tom Yum soup which was absolutely delicious and so simply to make and really quick. After demolishing it down, we started making our main dishes. The second being a pumpkin curry which was different but tasted amazing! The third dish was chicken and cashew nuts which is what I'd usually order out if I was in an Asian restaurant and the fourth my all time favourite Asian dish being Pad Thai. Needless to say they all tasted delicious. We all ate all our dishes at the end together at a number of tables and bonded more over Thai food. For desert Mango and Sticky Rice was served up to us, and My God it tasted amazing. I'm not a huge fan of Mango back home in Ireland, but the Mango over there was so juicy and sweet. Definitely something I'm going to make for my friends and family.
After the cooking class we made our way back to Chiang Mai and all met up at the Night Market. A few of us split up at this point half going to a Muay Thai fight and half of us going to a Lady Boy show.  Two guesses to which I went too! For 250baht(€8) we saw the show and all got a complimentary beer. It wasn't the best show in the world, but it was definitely entertaining and we all had such a laugh together! If you want to take a photo with a Ladyboy you give them a little tip and they'll be happy to pose and pout with you!
After the show we all went to bed as it was up early the next morning it was on to our next destination Chiang Rai!
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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Contiki Big Indochina Adventure #1 | Bangkok

So I'm back, Jet lag seems like things of the past, as is drinking Mai Tai's out of Pineapples on tropical beaches! I had such a wonderful time and enjoyed all my Contiki's from start to finish.  I wanted to share my adventures with you, as well as giving you guys advice if you're thinking of travelling South East Asia or doing a Contiki Tour! I booked the Big Indochina Adventure Tour and I had the absolutely time of my life and is probably my favourite out of all three Contiki's

I arrived at 7am having little to no sleep in Bangkok and met up my friend Niamh which was a fantastic start to my trip. Bangkok is everything I imagined, crazy, busy and overwhelming. We got foot massages, went shopping at Chatuchak Market and then later that evening we had an extravagant meal at Above Eleven, overlooking the beautiful Bangkok skyline. I got a real taste of Bangkok and all its craziness. After having a sleepover with Niamh and catching up (read:eating Irish chocolate)I was ready to start my tour. I had the whole afternoon to myself so after doing a bit of shopping I wandered back to my hotel and spotted a blonde girl clutching a Contiki folder. I proceeded to stalk this girl and we ended up being the best of friends! With a few hours to kill before our introductory meeting Amy and I bonded over Pad Thai's and Fish Pedicure's, before retreating back to the Hotel to meet our Room-mates. I was sharing with Hannah from New Zealand and Amy was sharing with Rena from Canada. We met up with our entire Contiki group that evening and we were introduced to our Tour Manager Alex. After the introductory talk we got all went for a "Family Meal" to the same restaurant Amy and I had gone a few hours before. It was delicious so we didn't mind too much. It boasted the "Best Spring Rolls in Thailand" so I naturally had to try them! Not the best (surprisingly that was Phuket) but still pretty high up on this foodie's list!

After Dinner and a few cocktails, most of us decided to venture to an infamous "Ping Pong" show. Racing there on Tuk Tuk's blaring music it was crazy, insane and when you're drunk it seems like the best idea in the world. In hindsight, it was extremely grim and I felt uncomfortable having basically contributed to Sex Tourism. It's something I don't recommend. It's depressing and the majority of the group felt the same way, having all exchanged awkward glances, we made our (literal) quick getaway on Tuk Tuk's back to our accommodation a stone's throw away from the Khao San Road. Now don't get me wrong I'm not a prude but there was something incredibly seedy about the whole "show". I've encountered very,very few people who have actually enjoyed one. My advice on the subject is to stick to getting drunk off cheap Buckets on the Khao San Road, it's cheaper and you'll have more fun! After the show most of us went back to our rooms as at this point Jet Lag was hitting us hard. Hannah and I were the first awake and we went down for Breakfast which consisted of rice and noodles as well as some more westernised dishes.It's unusual in our part of the world, but you have to just roll with it and enjoy your chicken and rice for breakfast. After that, we finished packing and donned our Elephant Pants and headed to the Grand Palace for a morning of culture! 
We had a short walk towards the Canals where we opted for a public boat to bring us to the Grand Palace. It was great to be immersed in the Thai culture from the get go, and it certainly beats a commute on Dublin Bus any day! After 5 stops we arrive and our Guide Teya made sure we were all dressed appropriately for the Grand Temple as it's the most sacred temple in Thailand. The temperature's were rising at this point and wearing a sweater was a bit uncomfortable, but It was all worth it. The Grand Palace is incredibly beautiful, The intricacy of the buildings is just jaw dropping. The colours, the details, just everything! Teya our guide was incredibly informative and extremely funny, something that must be hard when English isn't your first language! We spent about two hours in the Grand Temple, taking a million pictures and learning about Buddhism and their culture. It was, in fact, the home of some of Thailand's Kings for over 150 years before they moved just before the 20th Century. Inside the Grand Palace, there are numerous buildings, the most impressive in my eyes being Wat Phra Kaew home to the Emerald Buddha which dates back to the 14th Century. It's incredible to see, although smaller than I expected it was beautiful. After having a good wander around the grounds it was time for us to move on, at the point the midday heat was really getting to us!  The minute we were out of the Grand Palace grounds, the whole group pretty much stripped off all our layers and raced to buy extortionately overpriced water (by Asian standards anyway!) 

After cooling down for a few minutes, It was back on to the famous Bangkok canals for a quick tour of the city, seeing some floating markets and some crazy fish! We were back at the hotel by 1pm and we all went in search of some Food as we were travelling up to Chiang Mai that evening on a night train. Most of the group went to the same restaurant and we got to know each other more. It's amazing how close you become with people on the tour, you become one big happy family! After meeting back in the Hotel we hopped on a coach to the train station! We were there a little early and while Alex watched our luggage we all headed off to the little shop to stock up on snacks for the long train ride (Pringles, Panda Biscuits and M&M's were my picks of choice if you're wondering) After boarding the train we all settled in and were chatting away like old friends! Jet lag was still a bit of a nightmare for me so I was dipping in and out of sleep (much to the amusement of my Contiki crew) before our seats were changed into beds! I was on the bottom and had an exceptionally good sleep! At 5am a man selling us Orange juice decided to give us all a wake-up call just in case we were in the mood for some citrus goodness, needless to say, we weren't. I really enjoyed the night train and would really recommend anyone take one. I didn't feel anyway unsafe and I slept like a baby! The train stops sporadically during the night and that kind of wakes you up, but when it starts moving again the gentle rocking sets you back to sleep almost immediately. We arrived in Chiang Mai at around 8.30am and set off towards our hotel for a very busy day, but more on that tomorrow!
Phew, that was a long post, the longest I've written in a long, long time! I'll know do Do's and Dont's of Bangkok and if you've been feeling free to pop a comment down below for other travellers :) 

  • Haggle, haggle, haggle. You're given a "Felang" (Foreigner) price on everything. Be confident and assertive, but not aggressive. At the end of the day if you're arguing over 50cents re-evaluate your income versus their income.  
  • Take Tuk Tuk's they're incredibly fun and if you're lucky you'll get one that blares out music! 
  • Eat the street food. It's delicious and so cheap! 
  • Buy Elephant Pants on the Khao San Road (They were the cheapest I found in Thailand believe it or not!), but pay no more than 100-150baht. They're perfect for Temple's and for travelling. Just be warned they'll inevitably rip.more often than not in the crotch area. Always go for baggier ones and you'll get more wear out of them before they rip!
  • Stock up on Tiger Balm- it was a lifesaver for me throughout my trip. It's amazing for insect bits and really does help an awful lot!
  • Wear flip flops or sandals that you can slip on and off as you take off your shoes entering Temples, people's Homes and even some shops. 
  • Treat Monks with the utmost respect, and if don't touch them if you're a woman.
  • Get as many massages as you'd like they're dirt cheap. My favourite was getting a 30-minute foot massage every day for like €4, it's incredibly relaxing! Also, take advantage of getting pedicures every few days as for €3 you can get your tootsies polished! 
  • Don't get ripped off on Tuk Tuk's. Always negotiate a price before you go, and insist on NO STOPS as before you know if you'll be pulling up to their Tailor friend or some tacky souvenir shop and you'll have a hard time leaving without buying something. 
  • On transport notes, I wouldn't recommend getting a Motorcycle Taxi unless you're living life on the edge and want to encounter a cardiac arrest or want to fucking well die. - speaking from experience. Sorry Mum.
  • Learn a few phrases. The Thai people are so warm and welcoming and a little effort for a long way. Alex our Tour Manager gave us phrases everywhere we went, which was a great help!
  • Don't say anything negative about the Thai Royal Family - a Thai man got 2 months in Jail for a dodgy Facebook Status insulting the Royal Family. 
  • Street food is delicious - ask anyone, but you have to be smart about it. If it looks dodgy or if it looks like it's being laying out there all day, don't eat it for the love of God or you'll be ill, which it's not a pleasant experience, especially when you're faced with Squat toilets.
  • Which brings be to my next point. Don't be a Diva. Things are different and more often than not you encounter Squat toilets, get over yourself and don't moan. You're not better than it. Embrace the cultural differences and I guarantee you, your trip will be made 10 times better. 
  • Avoid Ping Pong Shows. They're not fun, it's not anyway entertaining and if you have a conscience you'll feel like shit for going to one. 

Okay, well I think that's all my advice on Bangkok like I said to leave some tips for other travellers in the comments if you want to add to mine! I'm glad I'm back, I can't wait to share all my travels with you lovely lot! 

Speak real soon! 
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