20th-23rd July 2017 - Pattaya and Koh Larn


My month off is quickly running out so time to get away from Bangkok for a few days. So I pay my 108baht and jump on the bus to Pattaya. Pattaya is a couple of hours south of Bangkok and the journey couldn't have been easier. Turn up buy a ticket and 20 minutes later we're off.

Pattaya is on the coast as has a couple of beaches back it's hardly what you'd call the idyllic beach holiday. The city is quite busy and the thin beaches full of people trying to sell you stuff whether that be boat trips, jet ski rides or dodgy looking seafood. A walk up and down the promenade is entertaining and lets you enjoy the lovely cooling sea breeze on a very hot sunny day.

There are other things to do in Pattaya and it is trying to improve its image with new developments and more family friendly entertainment. There are water parks, nature parks including elephant sanctuaries and plenty of markets to explore and things seem generally cheaper than Bangkok.

But say Pattaya to most people and they think of more adult pursuits and they are hard to avoid. All along the main beach road and for a couple of streets back there are bar after bar, go-go after go-go and at night lots of women hanging around the beach area who all insist on telling me I'm a 'handsome man' as I walk past! But this is all very tame compared to an area at one end of beach road called Walking Street.

Beer bars, live music and what seems like hundreds of go-go bars with girls dressed in various 'uniforms' depending on the bar's theme. Airport Club (air hostesses), Alcatraz (jail birds), AngelWitch (which is rock music themed) and Spanky's! Apparently the Windmill Club has 'Pattaya's Friendliest Girls'. I couldn't possibly comment but I can confirm they do have Sky Sports :-)

Koh Larn

Koh Larn is a smallish island half an hour by ferry from Pattaya and a world away in terms of atmosphere. About 2km by 1km and ringed by beaches. Songtheaws pick-up trucks with two benches in the back to sit on give them their name(song = two, theaw = row) run between the port and the beaches for less than a quid a journey. I choose a beach to head to found the right songthaew it soon filled up and soon I was on a far nicer beach than those in Pattaya.

Hire a sun lounger, order a fruit smoothie and time for a quick dip in the sea. The beach is fairly big and backed by a series of beach restaurants and bars. The best part is that you're not hassled. If you want a drink you can easily get one but otherwise you're just left to relax. The beach is very gently sloping and the sea a lovely temperature.

I enjoy the sun for a few hours, have some seafood for lunch and then head off in search of another beach. I'd read you could climb up some steps over the headland at the top end of Samae Beach that I was on to get to Tien Beach, and it really was that simple and gave a lovely view back over Samae Beach.

On the other side of the headland a battered walkway lead around to Tien which was smaller and quieter than Samae but equally nice.

I've been to Pattaya before and I was in no hurry to come back but now I've found Koh Larn and I know how easy it is to get to I may come down this way again. Within three hours of leaving home I could be on the beach. A very easy long weekend, I could even do it as a day trip.

27th July 2017 - The Temples of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai has been a gapping hole in my travel CV for a long time so time to put that right. A short flight up from Bangkok and I'm checked in shortly after lunchtime leaving the afternoon for a walk around the old town. I started off at the Three Kings Monument, a large bronze statue of King Mengrai (the founder of Chiang Mai) and his two friends. The three of them designed and built Chiang Mai in the late 1200’s. The monument isn't all that impressive but has great significance to the locals and monks come early in the morning to receive their alms.

From there I moved on via a couple of small temples to Wat Chiang Man (The Temple of the Fortified City). This temple is the oldest in Chiang Mai and was built shortly after the city was founded. The picture above is of Chang Lom Chedi which translates to tower Surrounded by Elephants.

I then followed the old city boundary for a while. The old city is 1.6km square and surrounded by a moat. There are also many remaining pieces of the old city wall. A huge impressive brick city wall. Below is another temple I passed, lots of gold check, big Buddha check, ornate roof check, huge bunch of typical Asian telephone wiring check.

Next temple, Wat Lok Molee, from the mid-1300’s. This was originally the grounds of a Royal Palace until 1397 when King Guna used it to house 10 visiting Monks from Burma that he brought in to further spread the word of Buddhism. You can definitely see the Burmese influence in Chiang Mai with the number of stupas everywhere.

These are actually very realistic wax work monks inside of of the temples.

This may be a temporary stupa or just a newly constructed one, whatever it is it was incredibly bright. Maybe it is solid brick underneath and it will last lifetimes but it looked so shiny as if it was a present wrapped in gold wrapping paper.

The picture below was taken inside the teak wood Sermon Hall at Wat Pan Tao. I just thought these banners hanging down from the wooden ceiling looked great.

Next door is Wat Chedi Luang. This is the largest temple complex I saw today and is dominated by the huge brick stupa. This was the largest structure in ancient Chiang Mai, but the top of the chedi was destroyed long ago, either by a 16th-century earthquake or by Burmese cannon fire when they captured the city in 1775. I really like buildings like this which were damaged and not repaired it makes them feel more authentic and gives them so many more angles, more light and shadow and I think adds the their beauty.

The complex also had quite a nice reclining Buddha housed in a lovely wooden building.

I love the way so many temples here have elephants on them, really shows how important elephants are to the people in this part of the world. They were used in timber production more recently but I guess in olden times they were used in war as transport and generally to show how important and powerful you were.

The elephants above and this golden statue were both on or around the the giant stupa.

Walking back to my hotel I walked under these umbrellas. This style of painted umbrella is one of the handicrafts of the area. These were hanging outside of the Hot Chilli restaurant.

In the evening I checked out the night bazaar. This is a huge night market running down both sides of a main street and filling huge dedicated areas off of the street. Interesting to see but after spending the last six months or so in Thailand I've bought all of the stuff I want to buy. It did give me chance to check out what different types of food they have in the area. I ended up with some BBQed Chiang Mai sausage and it was a very good choice in both the normal quite spicy form and the more spicy one. Sai ua is apparently one of the foods that Chiang Mai is most famous for. It is infused with a blend of spices and herbs including lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal and is very, very tasty. It went well with a spicy mango salad.


On the way back I passed another open market area where a local band were playing classics from Jailhouse Rock to YMCA so I got myself a mojito proclaimed the best in Chiang Mai and sat down for a while to round off a great first day in Chiang Mai.

28th July 2017 - Lazy Day

I decided to have a lazy day today so I spent the morning lazing in the sun by the hotel pool. I then headed out to confirm my tours for the next two days and along the way of pop into another couple of temples.

More gold, more stupas and more golden Buddhas. So many lovely quiet spaces to explore, sit, read a book; Chiang Mai really is a good place to chill out.

The photo below was taken by the Thapae Gate in the city walls. The red songthaews are everywhere they are the standard taxi in Chiang Mai. As the old city is so small I have had no need for them but they do provide a cheap way to get around. Of course there are plenty of tuk-tuks running around as well.

For very late lunch come early dinner I tried out another Chiang Mai specialty and it was another roaring success. I had a 'Hang Le' curry. It is a curry more in an Indian or Burmese style where I believe it originated. It's a pork curry which given how tender the meat was is very slowly cooked. It definitely includes some Indian spices, masala or the like but also some ginger, shallots and it tasted like it had some fruit in it. Online some recipes say pineapple others wild mangosteen I'm not sure but the result was a spicy Indian curry very like the ones my Mum makes and it was fantastic. Some sticky rice and a big pot of hot ginger tea and I was in food heaven all I was missing was a garlic naan.

29th July - Elephant Nature Park

When in Chiang Mai you have to see the elephants. You can ride them, you can watch them do party tricks or you can visit one of the growing number of elephant sanctuaries that are appearing around Chiang Mai. I chose Elephant Nature Park who started the drive improve the treatment of elephants in captivity.

Elephant Nature Park Website

Elephant Nature Park has led the movement to abandon rides and shows and focus on elephant welfare. It was founded by Sangduen (Lek) Chailert and focuses on interaction with the elephants; wandering with mahouts and their charges, helping feed and wash elephants.

First up the feeding, passing huge amounts of fruit to the elephants who took wrap it in their trunk and shovel it into their mouths before the trunk is straight back waiting for more.


The elephants here have been rescued from logging camps and tourist shows. They are freed from the hooks and chains and shown love and just positive reinforcement mainly through food. They form their own family groups or herds and follow as closely as possible the behaviour of wild herds.

After their breakfast we head out with their mahoots and walk through some beautiful countryside. We are carrying a bag full of bananas with us so we are the elephant's new best friends. They walk around trunks stretched out always wanting more.

I did the Pamper a Pachyderm tour. This is actually run at a neighbouring sanctuary. Lek and the team at the main park are slowly convincing other elephant centres around Chiang Mai to change from exploiting the elephants to allowing them to live more natural lives. Now more than half of the parks around Chiang Mai operate this way.

Pamper a Pachyderm

We walked down to the river where the elephants are obviously used to crossing. A couple took a bit of convincing but they all trudged into the mud and slowly across the fast moving river. We walked up stream and then trudged through the mud onto a boat to take us across to more knee deep mud on the other side.

The park's policy is don't approach the elephants let them approach you but if you are carrying a bag full of bananas you don't have to wait long. Jai-sai I think was her name is practically blind so she approaches and then feels around with her trunks sniffing out the bananas. You're walking along and the trunk comes over your shoulder or around your side, the only way to escape is to hand over another banana.

There were seven of us in the group and we were walking with four elephant and half a dozen dogs. The sanctuary also takes in and looks after injured and unwanted dogs. We're told the elephants are 80, 55 and two at around 45 years old.

No banana tree is safe from these hungry animals. First they break off a few branches and then the strip and eat the leaves. Here you can see the elephant standing on the stem and pulled her trunk right up the length of the stem stripping off the leaves to eat leaving the stringy stem behind. Discerning eaters you see.

We were told about how the elephants live in the park and how the deal with newcomers. The elephants live in small groups or herds in the region of 5, 6, 7 elephants in each one. The elephants themselves choose who is in each herd. When a new is brought to the park it is first looked after and treated for any physical or mental wounds and then they let the other elephants walk by and over time some show some interest and they are 'introduced'. If they bond and are accepted into the herd then all is good otherwise they are moved on to another group. The park has injured elephants, blind elephants and it also takes in some young animals. These get adopted by another elephant who takes care of them and they then become part of the herd. Later when we were back in the main park we saw how elephants look out for the blind and young and don't let them wander off or come to harm.

Half way up the hill we came to a spot set up for the elephants to take a mud bath. The mud both helps to cool them down and works as sun screen. They would dig at the mud with their hooves and the suck up the mud and spray it underneath, around the side and over their backs. They seemed to be having a lot of fun.

After lunch we headed back down to the river where we bathed the elephants. The elephants indulged in their twentieth meal of the day eating more water melons from a basket whilst we threw buckets of water from the river over them and often anyone standing on the other side. So our brown elephants became dark grey again and we all got to cool down in the process too.

After saying goodbye to our four three ton friends we headed off to the main Elephant Nature Park. We took a roundabout route. We drove up river, strapped on life jackets, donned helmets and jumped into dinghies to ride back down the river via some pretty serious rapids. We knew there was some rafting included on the trip but usually these things are quite tame but today's were far from it. We sit on the sides of the boat and hook our feet under the seats and start paddling. Soon up ahead is white water and a decent long stretch. The first piece bounces us around quite a bit, the second is a real hold on tight ride with water splashing right up over the whole boat. Obviously I was holding on tight during the fun bits so the picture below is more scenery than excitement.

We pulled the boats up at the elephant park and walked up through the food store. We're told they get three food deliveries a day and there are huge piles of watermelon, pineapple, bananas and packages of cooked rice and veg for the elephants with poor teeth.

After drying off and changing into clean clothes we head out for a tour of the park. It is great we have the park all to ourselves; all the day visitors have gone home so it's just us and the park staff and lots of elephants enjoying the peace and quiet and slowly moving back towards their beds for the night. And we get to see the 'relatively' little ones and how protective the herds are of them. The two in the picture are 15 months old and 5 years old and they are in a herd of five elephants. I think the 5 year old was the son of one of the mothers in the herd but the young one was adopted. The herd wouldn't let the little on get more than a few yards away and spent most of their time surrounding him. The five year old would try to lead him away but the mums were having none of it.

The funniest thing was when the young one joined an adult at the drinking trough. The adult put her front feet in and started drinking the young one tried to climb in and with the greatest of difficulty one leg at a time then back knees up on side it finally got in. Then of course getting back out was a pantomime too.

Baby elephant climbing out of trough.

After hanging around watching the various groups of elephants for a n hour we started to head off via the pens where injured elephants are held whilst they are being treated. This elephant came in with a badly infected foot and it looks like they use the same blue antiseptic spray on elephants they use on sheep. It didn't seem that the injury had effected her appetite at all.

By the exit were before and after picture of various elephants they had rescued this was one of the less gruesome. The worse showed an elephant that had been rescued from the Burmese border where it had trodden on a landmine!

Today was an amazing day with some amazing creatures. The Elephant Nature Park really seems to be achieving its aims. The elephants are forming herds and interacting with each other. Foraging, bathing, taking mud bathes and they really seem to be having fun. Considering some of them are 70, 80 even 90 years old they will have lived hard lives. Maybe working with huge logs in the forests before Thailand banned all logging in 1989. They were then taken either to be ridden by tourists whilst chained to posts when not working or into the middle of tourist areas of cities where their owners would beg for food and get money from tourists who took photos. They must've been petrified every day by the noise and chaos.

These elephants could never be released back into the wild but this park is the next best thing.

The legacy of Lek's work can be seen best in the brochures of the other companies. Here are some of them all advertising 'No Riding'.

30th July - Doi Inthanon National Park

Up even earlier today for another day trip out of Chiang Mai, this time to Doi Inthanon National Park. On thw way or were we already inside the park we stop off at Wachirathan Waterfall. The waterfall is pretty impressive and I think we are here at the perfect time. Plenty of water and bit of spray but not a complete white out that I experienced at Victoria Falls a few years back. If this much water pours over now before the wet season has really gotten started it must be immense come September and October.

After half an hour or so we head on the 'Roof of Thailand', Thailand's highest point. As we climb further and further up we drive into the clouds and what would've been an impressive view disappears. When we reach the top we are in the mist but luckily the rain held off until we were done and back in the mini-bus.

The little square stone is the official top of the mountain, behind it is the King Inthanon Memorial Shrine. The park is named Doi Inthanon in honour of King Inthawichayanon, one of the last kings of Chiang Mai. Supposedly his daughter (herself a royal consort) came to the mountain in 1915 and given her father's love of nature ordered a shrine to be built at the top to hold his ashes.

Our next stop is at the Phra Maha Dhatu Naphamethinidon and Naphaphonphumisiri Pagodas. A pair of beautiful pagodas set on a hill tops surrounded by lovely gardens ... so we're told. When we arrived we could barely see our hands in front of our faces let alone the pagodas.

Naphamethanidon and Naphapholphumisiri are two Chedi built to commemorate the 60th birthdays of the last King and Queen. Naphamethanidon was built for King in 1989 and Naphapholphumisiri for the Queen in 1992. Inside each one are Buddhist carvings, pictures and stories and the locals come to worships at the statues inside.

But we stayed for an hour and luckily the clouds dropped down into the valley below and the sun cam out so we could see them in all their splendor. They definitely are spectacular when the sun shines off of their golden roofs.

Above is the Queen Pagoda and below the King Pagoda. When we were at the top of the mountain in the mist it was a lovely 16 degrees, it's nice to feel that cool for a change when living somewhere as hot as Thailand. Down by the pagodas it was only a little warmer but as soon as the sun came out it changed completely. Thailand is in the tropics and at this time of year the sun is actually in the north, in the middle of Summer it is up over Southern China. Being so close to the peak height of the sun it is quite intense.

After lunch we headed into the national park. I opted for a tour with a two hour hike and I'm so glad I did, I wouldn't have wanted a full day just looking at the pagodas and temples. We walked down through the forest with a guide from the local hill tribe. The route followed the river most of the way as it crashed down over many waterfalls.

The path was well worn but a little tricky in parts, lots of big steps down and rough in places. It was as our guide said not easy but not hard. The scenery was beautiful with everything so green and there was always the background track of running water from the river. In places it looked very like home and I guess the temperatures up here are quite like those in Northern Europe. Although we don't get jungle 'Tarzan' vines hanging down from our trees in Devon.

After an hour or so we veered off into a side valley and wandered through the rice terraces and past lots of areas growing fruit and flowers.

As this is the start of the rainy season the rain has only recently been planted and is a beautiful shade of green which almost sparkles in the sun.

We ended up at the hill tribe village which was full of stilt houses and animals running around foraging for food. The local women were in the traditional hill tribe dresses and of course there was a woman weaving and scarves and bags on sale. Soon we were back on the minibus and heading back to Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai really does have a lot of markets. As well as the huge daily night market there are separate Saturday and Sunday Night Markets. Yesterday I ventured down to the Saturday Market but only lasted about ten minutes. It is in quite a narrow road and it was packed with people. Not somewhere I wanted to spend a any time. Tonight's Sunday Market was far nicer. It is in general bigger and sits in wider roads and spills off into side roads and the temples. There was a lot more handicraft and other locally made items here than in the daily market as well as loads of food and fruit juice/smoothie stalls. I did a bit of buying, drank a fruit smoothie or two and had my last meal of Chiang Mai sausage and spicy mango salad, lovely.

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