A Travellerspoint blog

Coming home

The title says it all really.

Chiang Mai is mostly closed, there's a curfew here now at night and I was due to go to Pai tomorrow only to find that there are no longer any buses running and won't be until May 1st, I'm essentially stuck here.

So very sadly I've made the decision to return home, I couldn't really see any alternative. I fly back to Bangkok tomorrow and then back to London Sunday.

It's annoying as hell, I didn't even make it out of the country, but I'm glad I got as far as I did, that was difficult enough.

I can come back and resume this amazing journey as soon as everything is back to normal. Until then I'll just plan.

At least the wifi will be better

Posted by cblanc102 02:01 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Back on track

See what I did there? Man, I'm hilarious

So after 3 days back in Bangkok, with very little to do but sit around all day whilst venturing out each evening looking for food, I was looking forward to moving on Northward to Chiang Mai. I had somewhat of a credo before I left the UK, at least an Idea of what I wanted to do and sitting around doing nothing all day was not part of the plan. It's beautiful here and the weather is lovely, if a bit hot (41C here today, a bit of rain would be welcome at this point), but whatever your view, a lockdown is still a lockdown.

I had researched the various ways to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and the sleeper train seemed like the best way. Way longer than a flight, but much easier and I wouldn't have to pay for a hotel for a night. I'd been on a sleeper train before, from Goa to Mumbai, which was fine (and much better than the hellish sleeper bus from Mumbai to Goa!!) so I was happy to go that way.

I stopped off outside the station at a 7/11 to get supplies (which turned out to be a good idea as the food on the train was very expensive!) and boarded the train. It was really nice, the seats were big and comfy with a light and a plug socket just beside me. There was room in my area for three other travellers, but they weren't used, the train was pretty empty. I was happy to be travelling properly again. The train started and I gazed out the window watching the country go past for a short time before it got dark. There wasn't really anything of note, apart from a building that looked a lot like the Gherkin! Apparently it's called the Pearl.

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The train journey was long and pretty uneventful, almost all of it taking place after dark and very few passengers on the train, but it was comfortable, I got a few hours sleep and it got me to where I wanted to go. Good tip though, book a bottom bunk bed, there are lights above the top bunks that never turn off, I don't know how they slept (if they did).

The most annoying this was that I somehow managed to lose another pair of glasses! I know I do this all the time, but I have no idea how this happened. I was using them before I went to sleep, woke up, the guy got rid of my sheets and turned my bed into seats again. Shortly after, I realised the glasses were gone and went over the whole area. Nothing. Then the porter who had taken the sheets went through all the sheets for the whole carriage to find them and found nothing.

It's so annoying, not only do I have to pay out for a new pair, but have to find a place that sells them, which isn't easy, I bought this pair from a weird little mart in the middle of nowhere. They only cost a fiver, but that's almost two days rent at the hotel I'm staying at, I'm trying to keep costs down!

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I arrived in Chiang Mai around 7am and got a taxi of sorts to my hotel. The taxis are called Songthaew, which apparently means red car and they're essentially a red pick up truck with benches on the back and a roof on top. They're the cheapest way to get around here. My hotel is very nice, with quite a lot of travellers here considering how quiet it is everywhere. Unfortunately, I was wearing my Captain America shield T-Shirt, which grabbed the attention of the world's most annoying American, who now whenever I do downstairs for food or a drinks, will grab me and tell me how the virus was created by the deep state, or how Trump saved the world by defeating Clinton who would have started a nuclear war. You know the type I'm talking about. Believes in secret cabals running everything, every bad thing that happens has been caused by some seedy dark organisation. He may be right, what do I know? I don't need to hear about it 5 times a day though, which is why I went out to eat in the evening rather than stay at the hotel.

Everything was closed.

in Bangkok each evening, loads of food stalls would open up and shops were still serving food, here almost everything was closed. I walked around for ages trying to find something, eventually heading up to the night market in the hope that something would be open there, but almost everything was closed, the market, the street food area, even the Hard Rock cafe! I eventually found a Burger King and ate there. It turns out all restaurants are closed apart from take aways, so most places have just stayed closed. It was pretty depressing. I had hoped that moving away from Bangkok would mean less restrictions, but this felt like the opposite.

I did however get propositioned by a prostitute while on the phone to my Mum, so not all business is closed here!

After my call home to cheer myself up and a quick beer back at the hotel avoiding the annoying American as much as possible I went to bed early, hoping that there would be temples open in the morning for me to visit.

And boy were there!!

Chiang Mai has over 300 temples and today I saw a good few of them! The Old City is a square area about 1.5 km each side surrounded by a moat that's about 200 meters from my hotel. I decided to start there and looked sup some of the temples on Google Maps giving myself some sort of plan, but by the time I'd reached the 1st temple on my plan, I'd already visited two others that were just on the way. They are everywhere! Mostly Buddhist, all beautiful and interesting, some with fairly creepy wax monks sitting in halls that you think are real at first, but lots of actual living monks around all happy to talk and lots of places with shade to sit and let the day go by. It really lifted my spirits, as did the delicious iced latte I bought from a stall at the side of the road.

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I've no idea how long I can carry this journey on, I may have to leave here on the 26th or even earlier unless Vietnam or somewhere else close opens. everything changes daily and sometimes it feels like the walls are closing in, but I'll carry on as best as I can, I haven't given up yet and I'm determined to make the most of it while I can!

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This is my new motto, being beautiful isn't enough :)

Posted by cblanc102 00:31 Archived in Thailand Tagged temples train thailand vietnam chiang mai visa asia journey solo_travel Comments (1)

Jungle Love

Surely it should rain in the rainforest??


View Discovering South East Asia on cblanc102's travel map.

This is a post I meant to write a week ago, but with everything going on I just didn't get around to it, but Bangkok is pretty much closed down now and I'm heading up to Chiang Mai at 6pm and the kind girl running the hostel today said that it was fine for me to sit up on the roof deck until I have to leave. So I have some time.

So two weeks ago I was staying in a bamboo hut, nursing my sunburnt back and dreading my journey to Khao Sok. Don't get me wrong, I was very much looking forward to being there, I felt I'd spent too much time on the island, but I just wasn't looking forward to the travel. Carrying my pack with a burnt back was not going to be fun!

It was actually worse than I'd expected.

The pack carrying part was ok. My backpack is bloody marvelous, with lots of ways to carry it, and as I'd thrown some bits away was now both a tad lighter and a lot easier to pack. It was the journey itself that was annoying. The journey out had been fine, well organised with easy follow-able instructions about how to do each part of the journey. Not so this time, as I stood around wondering where the hell I was supposed to be and what boat I was supposed to take. As it turned out, there was only one boat, but who knew?? I eventually saw someone with a similar sticker to me. We were all given stickers and luggage tags with our final destination written on, so it was fairly easy to find someone with the same sticker and hope to hell they knew what they were doing!

I knew the journey was going to take 8 or so hours, but thought that it would be two hours by boat and the rest by minibus, but it was actually two boat trips of two hours, a good 90 mins wait in between and the rest by minibus. Both boat rides were pretty horrendous, very bumpy with people being sick and falling over you as they attempted to traverse the isles. The minibus was then hot and stuffy, with a random change in the middle and I couldn't sit back and rest as my back was covered in blisters...

However. The scenery on the minibus ride went from being lovely to breathtaking. Generally as you travel outside the cities in Thailand it looks great. Palm trees and the like everywhere, interesting little shrines in the unlikeliest of places, wildlife, people going about their days with interesting looking cargo. But when I was about half an hour away from my hotel, the landscape changed into huge limestone cliffs everywhere surrounded by jungle. It was incredible. Even the dirty bus station I arrived at looked amazing because of the scenery. I got a cab to my hotel.

In 2013 I did my first proper solo trip, to Nepal. It was pretty cheap I thought at the time. A 10 day guided tour of the country including 3 days hiking in the Himalayas, 3 days full board at another place, then three days in Mumbai, India all for under £1000. I had been in a very nice hotel in a town called Pokhara, then up into the mountains and was heading south to Chitwan National Park in the Jungle. I had been driven there by a guy who obviously didn't know where the hotel was at the other end. We drove to a couple of places, before ending up at the most beautiful place I'd ever seen. Surely this couldn't be my hotel on the amount I'd paid? But of course it

That was how I felt when I arrived at Nung House in Khao Sok. The place was stunning, surrounded by trees in the shadow of giant limestone cliffs with a beautiful garden and lovely little cottages around the border. This place had cost me £6 a night for my own room! I was then told that someone was still in my room so they were bumping me up to deluxe for a couple of nights, even better! Over the next week or so I actually stayed in three different rooms there, the least of which was great. Also the staff there couldn't have been nicer or more helpful. I was very lucky to have found the place. Well, not lucky I guess. I do a lot of work on finding the right places!

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The village itself is just really one long road with a load of hotels and restaurants along it or shooting off it, but it had everything I needed, including a little shop about 30 meters away that sold most bits and did fruit smoothies. This is where I discovered passion fruits. Where have you been all my life? (Answer: I have actively avoided all but the most basic of fruits for most of my life)

After a few days of relaxing, I booked a tour out to Cheow Lan Lake. This is a man made reservoir built a little over 30 years ago that has a dam used to power most of Southern Thailand, but also used as a tourist destination. Again nestled in the middle of hundreds of towering limestone cliffs, I was to stay in a floating bungalow, explore caves, go hiking, kayaking, swimming and go on river safaris which ended up being mostly pointless. It turns out as you noisily charge your boat around a lake, most of the wildlife sods off. The same is true for the jungle where all we saw was a few glimpses of monkeys and loads of wild boar droppings (not really droppings, they were pretty big!).

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We arrived at the lake and had to have a Coronavirus check. This was a first for me and I was worried as they were checking temperatures at a time when it was 38 degrees outside. One of the girls with us was on the cusp and had to sit in the shade and cool down some before she tried again and passed. All through, we took a boat out for about 90 mins to our floating bungalows.

The bamboo hut I stayed in at Koh Tao was pretty basic, just a bed, mosquito net, bedside table, plug socket and large gecko, but this 'bungalow' made that place seem like the Ritz. It was literally just a mattress of the floor and mattress is a very generous term for what was essentially a hard rubber mat covered in a sheet. But I was only there for one night, so didn't really care. Also, it turned out there were no mosquitoes on this lake, so no need for a net. I have no idea why they stayed away, but good news.

We were told that we had 2 hours to do what we like and most of us went swimming, with loads of the group wearing life jackets like diapers to float, it was pretty funny to see. After our swim we went for the aforementioned hike into the jungle, about 2km each way, the first kilometer being uphill all the way followed by a fairly treacherous climb up sharp rocks. There were a fair few cuts and bruises along the way. But the view at the top was incredible.

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We then returned the way we came, back down the jagged rocks, it's a wonder that no one was really hurt, but it was fun overall. Also, I randomly weighed myself before the lake trip and then a week later and I had lost 3 kilos in a week, so it must have been good exercise!

That night I decided to wake up at 4am to see the Milky Way, which has always been on my bucket list. I could barely sleep on the stupidly hard mat, so it seemed like a plan, but when I woke up at 4am there was nothing. I don't know why, we were in the middle of nowhere, there was practically no light and according to my application that tells you these things I was looking in the right direction at the right time. Oh well, there's always Chiang Mai...

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I slept for about an hour on the bamboo floor out front of my hut, just as comfortable (so not really at all) and waited for the sunrise, which was pretty special, before going on a boat safari that was not and then touring a cave, which was also pretty dull apart from seeing a few massive spiders and a load of bats, but all the time surrounded by this spectacular scenery.

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I returned to Khao Sok, looking to leave the next day, but ended up staying another 4 nights as I was unable to book onward travel. This was all pretty tense and I wrote about it here: https://cblanc102.travellerspoint.com/13/ I finally left for what turned out to be a 15 hour journey by minibus and train. It was a pretty good journey as they go, with food and drink given to us throughout the day and the station I arrived at was only 15 mins walk from my hostel. Bonus!

Posted by cblanc102 21:15 Archived in Thailand Tagged landscapes mountains trees animals night boats travel thailand lake hostels island holiday khao sok lan solo_travel cheow Comments (0)

Trying to get a Visa Extension in the middle of a Pandemic

The day from hell

The past 13 hours have easily been the worst of this trip, and I'm including the day I sunburned myself so badly I could barely move for 3 days. I have never had a day when I felt so confused, so frustrated, at times terrified, but mostly bored.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The day started as normal here. I woke up, had breakfast and coffee and a shower. Checked out the page that told me how to get a Visa extension. It all seemed easy enough, should take about an hour, with an hour getting there and back.

I left the hostel at 9 .30 and walked to the subway, following the directions from the website I'd been using earlier, which were pretty spot on at that point. I left the subway and decided to call a cab the rest of the way, opting to go by bike to save a few Baht, I'm on a strict budget don't you know!

This was my first mistake.

I've ridden many a moped, the last being just a fortnight ago, but nothing prepared me for the sheer terror of zipping through heavy traffic in the middle of Bangkok on the back of a tiny bike, weaving in between trucks and cars on a motorway, speeding down tiny, bumpy alley ways avoiding pedestrians. When we finally got to the destination I almost kissed the ground.

But we were at the wrong place.

We were in another road, with the same name, about two kilometers away from where we needed to be. The poor driver had no clue, as I spent the next 15 mins with several locals, none of whom spoke English, as we worked out where I needed to be. We eventually found the place, I was a lottle less petrified this time, but still glad to be off the back of the bike.

It's a running theme of today. Things seem terrible at the time, but are OK when you look back on it. Am I glad I got a moped cab? Sure, it was an experience and I lived to tell the tale. Would I do it again? Sod off.

So inside the Visa place, I'm told to fill out a form and get some photocopies of my passport, This was easier said than done. The form was confusing and the photocopy place was at the back of the basement floor of a sprawling building with no sort of signage. But I got it done (eventually).

I'm then told that I'm in the wrong building, they've moved the Visa extension place to another complex, some 8km away. It takes me a while to find it, finally getting some help from a nice lady who works there and I call a cab (a car this time).

I should say at this point, that I have in the past been less than patient with people. People who don't speak the greatest English needing something, people having issues at work, even my poor Mum and her adventures with the tv remote. I get irritable very easy when people don't get what I'm saying right away. How I ran Silver Surfers for 10 years and kept my cool (mostly) is beyond me. It's only when you're on the other side of this, feeling helpless, needing just someone to give you a hand, that you realise what an arse you've been to others in the past. I got the help I needed. Hopefully, I'll pay that forward next time someone comes to me.

Anyhoo...

I get to the second building about 2pm and it's absolute carnage. Hundreds, if not thousand of people standing around, no one knowing what's happening or where to go, beleaguered staff trying to direct people with a multitude of languages to the right place. It was a mess.

After standing around for about 30 mins, not knowing if I was in the right queue, or even any queue at all, I walked over to a helper, asked what was going on, they didn't know, I saw someone walk past straight into the building, so just followed them in, bypassing everyone else. Result!! This is just how I got past a 2 hour queue at comicon a few years ago, this is how I ended up in the pit at the front of a Prince concert at Wembley in 1993. Brazenness!

I walked into a building and was asked for my number. I had no number. They then sent me to floor 2 to get a number. At floor 2, we were told to go to floor 4, which looked like it had nothing there, but after a few runs up and down stairs, we finally got to where we needed to be. It was the start of a 6 hour wait to be seen.

We were initially sat on the floor on the fourth floor of a car park. It felt like waiting to go into Guantanamo.

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At first there weren't too many of us, but the floor soon filled up and it became apparent how it would all work. We were on the 4th floor. There were 7 rows of about 20 people. once in a while, a row would leave and go downstairs. What we soon discovered was that you just go down one floor and go to that back of that queue. Then to the floor below, and below.. It took about 5 hours.

At this point I should point out that I had not eaten or drunk anything since 9am. At one point some guys handed out food to the people in one row of our floor, but not my row. Another time, some guys came around and handed out water. But that ran out before they got to me as well. We did at least get chairs to sit on. It's also worth noting that my phone was dying fast. I hadn't anticipated being there an age and so didn't bring my portable charger. I'd been on the phone to Jane for a while too looking for alternatives in case this all went to shit. I had to turn the phone off at 15% to save enough to grab a cab later. Boredom loomed.

FINALLY. I arrived back on the ground floor, the room where we got our Visas. I was pretty relieved. It was 7pm at this point and the office was supposed to close at 4:30. I do feel bad for those poor people who worked there today, I don't think they knew what they were getting into when they came into work this morning!

The room was pretty full, but moved ok, at first. Then it seemed that someone had told the staff there needed to be social distancing in the building and a strange game of musical chairs was played out. I didn't move forward for half an hour but was getting closer without knowing it as chairs were being taken away from the queue to keep everyone away from each other. I think it was pretty pointless though. The virus can surviv on plastic for three days. How many chairs did I touch today???

I finally got to the desk and finished around 8pm, breathing a sigh of relief as I wasn't sure I had all the documents I needed. But it seemed ok, I was done. All I needed to do was go outside and wait for my name to be called and pick up my passport. Bonus! So I sat and waited. And waited.

And Waited.

What I did learn was that there were very few 'Westerners' applying for a Visa extension. By far the most common nationality was Laos, but there were people there from the UK, Japan, The Philippines, Australia, Laos, Vietnam and many others. We sat and waited, in the end I waited for 1 hour and 50 mins. The whole process was supposed to take an hour. What bothered me as well was that whenever they called out someone's name to pick up their passport, they came up meekly, took it quietly and left. Had they not been through what I had been through? Sod that! Sod taking it quietly like I'd been there 15 mins! Not me!

When they (finally) called out my name. I stood up. Shouted yes and raised my arms like I had won an Oscar. We were all in this together. Me, them, the staff who worked so hard so long. I celebrated, I told everyone that it was like winning the lottery and we all cheered. They cheered for me getting my bloody Visa. It was amazing. It was quite emotional. I had been there for 8 hours, we had all been there 8 hours I'm sure. It was a celebration and a bit of letting the stress go.

So I have my extension, I'm travelling at least another 30 days, no worrying for a while.

That was 90 mins ago now and as I said earlier, it's done now. It was a pain, it was boring as hell, especially without my phone, but it's in the past and it was an experience. Good or bad, that's what this trip is supposed to be about.

Posted by cblanc102 08:46 Archived in Thailand Tagged travel thailand visa asia Comments (0)

Trapped in Paradise

The walls are starting to close in

Hi all. Time for a catch-up on my travel plans. This isn't the blog entry I was going to write, about my travel to Khao Sok and my experiences here, that'll hopefully come later today or tomorrow, but this is whats's happening to me now.

I wrote the first few paragraphs of this 3 days ago, then it got worse.

It's 36 degrees outside as I sit in the shade drinking a strawberry shake in paradise. There are certainly worse places to be trapped.

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Not a bad view

But I'm not trapped, not yet. I still have options, though these seem to change daily and this travelling adventure that I took on 3 weeks ago is becoming harder and harder to complete.

Rewind back 3 weeks to my original plan. I was to travel to Bangkok, stay there for a few days, then make my way down to the island of Koh Tao to learn to dive then travel down to Khao Sok to experience the rain forest for a few days before leaving Thailand. Check, check and check.

I was then going to fly to Vietnam, travel north through the country for a month, then into Laos, then sail down the Mekong back into Northern Thailand possibly visiting Myanmar time permitting. But now Vietnam has closed it's borders to pretty much everyone, Malaysia has done the same, and now Indonesia. It looks like I'm heading North.

Myanmar (formerly Burma) is still allowing tourists in, although not if you've been to certain countries in the last 14 days (I haven't) and Laos will also let me in. As it stands today.

You can't blame anyone, A lot of these countries have little in the way of Coronavirus cases, Myanmar claim they've had none. And they want to keep it that way. I think my best bet it to get a train back to Bangkok and go visit the Myanmar Embassy, from there I can travel across the Bridge over the River Kwai and make my way overland. Hopefully.

Another update: I wrote that last bit last night, and since then, both Myanmar and Laos have closed. At this point all I can do is get to Bangkok, extend my visa for a further 30 days and review my options or hope that a country opens. At this point I've looked at going anywhere from Nepal to Malawi.

I don't want to have to come home. I know it's a real possibility at this point and an understandable act, but it still feels like giving up. I could go back to the UK, 'wait for it to all blow over' and try again, but while I have enough money to last at least another 6 months out here, that money would get sucked up in no time back home, and that's besides losing loads of it to flights.

It's times like these that the whole 'solo' bit becomes a pain. If I had someone here with me, they could help plan, make decisions, but then I guess they could also decide that they want to return, so I guess that's a bonus of being alone.

It's strange being here and there still being so little about the virus being talked about. Sure, when I meet people the subject always comes up much the same as Brexit did when I travelled solo around Greece a couple of years back. It's still something that's happening elsewhere for us. But my Mum is self isolating, my Sister is self isolating as she's come down with something. My friends are working from home or the office is closed. I am very aware how real it is back home. It's all that's on the news, social media, Youtube.

All I can do is try to move forward.

Posted by cblanc102 07:34 Archived in Thailand Tagged travel thailand vietnam visa koh khao sok tao coronavirus Comments (2)

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