Archive for October, 2013

A Stop in Tha Ton

The bus from Chiang Dao to Tha Ton took about three hours. The first hour or so was rather hair-raising as we descended the mountain in the rain and passed two cars run off the road within 100m of each other. We made it down safely and the weather cleared as we did.

our guesthouse from across the river

Sappaya Guesthouse

Tha Ton is a small town on the Mae Kok river and the bus dropped us within walking distance of our chosen guesthouse. The owner, Suni, came to meet us and show us the way. We stayed at Sappaya Guesthouse which only opened in March this year. It’s right on the bank of the river and has six rooms with two shared bathrooms and a shared kitchen.

Our room at Sappaya Guesthouse

Our room at Sappaya Guesthouse

Suni is lovely and we felt right at home. We paid 700 baht ($AUD23) for a big fan room with a single bed and a double bed including toast and tea/coffee self service at any time along with fruit. Suni spent seven years living in Sydney and was a childcare worker there so she was also great with the kids!

Ed and Dave looking at the 'boo'

Top terrace view at Sappaya Guesthouse

The next day we had a rest day and besides heading out for lunch and dinner we mostly hung around the guesthouse, did some washing, and booked some more things for the European leg of the trip. Dave and Ed made sand castles down by the river on a little sandy ‘beach’.

yeah! Another Wat!

Yeah! Another Wat!

The following day we decided to visit Tha Ton’s main attraction, Wat Tha Ton. Another temple up a hill, groaned the kids. This one has nine levels (I think we made it to level 8) and each level has something different on it.

up to level 8

Walking up

At level 8 was the huge Chedi Kaew Pagoda which seemed quite new and was rather impressive. The levels beforehand has not hinted to the greatness to come! From the top of the chedi was a great view over the surrounding countryside and mountains. The walk back down to the bottom of the mountain was much faster than the way up!

very top view

View from the top

almost back down the hill

Heading back down

We ate at a few different places in Tha Ton. Sunshine Cafe, Chankasen, a place right next to the guesthouse that only had a Thai sign, and a place on the other side of the river with an abundance of blue plastic. This is Tha Ton at 7:45pm on a Saturday night. Moments after I took this photo they turned the lights out and started packing up.

This is Tha Ton at 7:45pm on a Saturday night. And they just turned those lights off.

Tha Ton on a Saturday night

I will also note that Tha Ton has four ATMs. We know this because on Saturday night we tried them all with multiple cards and no luck. We think the mastercard network must have been down. We eventually used a maestro visa debit card successfully and the mastercard worked again in the next town. So the ATMs are outside the mini-market, outside the 7-11 on the same side of the road, across the road from the 7-11, and then way down the other end of town outside another mini-market (where the person working spoke good enough English to tell us, “You should call your bank.”)

Tha Ton was just what we needed. Dry weather after the rain of Chiang Mai and Chiang Dao, but not too hot, and a nice homely place to stay and relax for a few days. We had a few options of where to move on to from here and eventually decided to go back up a mountain to Mae Salong. More on that next time!

List 43/52 – Family Accommodation in Singapore and Malaysia

I’ve been writing about each place we stay in as we go along but I thought it might be handy to have a list all in one spot. So here are the places we stayed in Singapore and Malaysia in July 2013 including costs, links and photos. Finding good family accommodation can be tricky so I hope this helps someone! I’ll do another list for Thailand when we’ve left.

1. Singapore – Hangout @ Mt Emily – $AUD155 – big room with four single beds, aircon, wifi, bathroom and breakfast included. Paddle pool on the roof and great common areas. Read more here.

Edward in the hotel room. We're moving on from here tomorrow.

Hangout @ Mt Emily, Singapore

2. Johor Bahru – Warm Blanket Hotel – MYR 60 ($AUD21) – internal room with double bunk bed, shared bathroom, aircon and wifi. Read more here.

warm blanket hostel

Warm Blanket Hotel, Johor Bahru

3. Melaka – Old Town Guesthouse – MYR 80 ($AUD28) – room with internal window, double bed and two single beds, aircon, wifi, shared bathroom and toast and coffee included. Great common area. Read more here.

our room and common room

Old Town Guesthouse, Melaka

4. Kuala Lumpur – Berjaya Times Square Hotel – $AUD146 – one bedroom suite with separate living area and kitchenette. One king size bed and one extra single bed, bathroom, aircon,tv, wifi for four devices and entry tickets to the Times Square theme park. Big buffet breakfast for four included. Read more here.

bedroom

Berjaya Times Square, Kuala Lumpur

5. Ipoh – Ipoh Boutique Hotel – $AUD55 – one double bed and one single, fridge, aircon, wifi, tv, couch. Read more here.

Our room

Ipoh Boutique Hotel, Ipoh

6. Georgetown, Penang – The Small Inn – MYR70 ($AUD27) – one double bed and one single, aircon, wifi, tv. Read more here.

The Small Inn room

The Small Inn, Georgetown, Penang

 

Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao

The bus to Chiang Dao leaves from Chiang Mai’s Chang Pheuak bus station. They leave quite frequently and there was one about to leave when our taxi dropped us off so we climbed aboard straight away. You buy your tickets from the conductor on board and it cost us 100 baht for two adults and one child. The bus has two seats on one side of the aisle and three on the other so we had a group of three seats and Ed sat on my lap and fell asleep. The ride takes about one and half hours and climbs up into the mountains. People hail the bus anywhere along the side of the road so there is lots of stopping and starting and there were people standing in the aisles when the seats all filled up. The bus in this photo is actually the one we took to Tha Ton but the same buses shuttle between Chiang Mai – Chiang Dao – Fang – Tha Ton.

Tha Ton bound.

Chiang Mai to Tha Ton bus

In Chiang Dao we were dropped in the main street outside a Tesco Lotus. Chiang Dao town really only has the one main street and the town itself is not that interesting. We ate lunch at a restaurant across the road before getting a taxi (which cost 150 baht!) to our bungalow guesthouse, Chiang Dao Nest.

Our home of the moment.

Our bungalow at Chiang Dao Nest

The Nest is about a ten minute drive out of the town and is nestled at the foot of the mountains. It’s a beautiful spot and the clouds come down low on the mountains. We had a double bungalow with an extra bed for 1195 baht ($AUD40) a night. The bungalow had a fan (aircon was not needed) and bathroom and wifi was available in the restaurant area but the 3G on my phone was actually faster. I first read about the Nest online over a year ago and really wanted to stay there!

Chiang Dao Nest Bungalow

Inside the bungalow

The bungalow was simple but very comfortable, and the resort is great with a small pool, and lots of open air pavilions around the place for hanging out in, including one with a basket of kids toys. Unfortunately, as in Chiang Mai, the weather was pretty rainy so things were very damp.

play sala

Play Sala

Chiang Dao Nest 1 (where we stayed) has a famous restaurant serving Western food but it is pricey with mains 3 – 400 baht each. Chiang Dao Nest 2 down the road has a cheaper Thai restaurant but it is also quite pricey compared to our normal eateries. We didn’t try the food at Nest 2 but I’m sure it’s great. We ate dinner two nights at the bungalows next door to Nest 1, Malee’s Nature Lovers, and the food there was very nice and reasonably priced.

Coffee and clouds on the mountain.

Coffee in the garden at Nest 1

On our last night we splurged and ate at the restaurant Nest 1. The food really was delicious and it’s lucky it was our last night or we would have been very tempted to blow the budget and eat there again. They also have an interesting kids menu. Lillian ordered ‘Alice’s Platter’ which had cheese cubes, crackers, carrot and cucumber sticks, homemade baked beans and sliced apple. She ate the lot and then went off and played with Alice who is the chef’s daughter and 7 years old.

Chiang Dao has a market once a week on a Tuesday morning and seeing as we were there on the right day I thought we should see it. Alas, it started to rain just as we got there and the market was very wet and muddy. It also straddles the main road so was not very relaxing to walk along with the kids! The kids were moaning about the rain and mud so we abandoned the market for coffee and milkshakes until the rain had stopped. After a bit more of a wander we ate lunch at the same restaurant as the day before, bought some breakfast supplies from Tesco, and got the taxi back to the Nest again. It was an expensive outing at 150 baht each way and probably not really worth it but if we hadn’t gone I’d still be wondering!

temple

Chiang Dao Temple

On our final day in Chiang Dao we walked up the road to visit a temple on the mountain. This one had 510 steps to walk up. Just as we got to the start the heavens opened again so we took refuge in a shelter that bizarrely had bookshelves full of Thai home decorating magazines (for the monks??). They made for interesting reading while waiting (again) for the rain to stop.

cave shrine

Temple cave shrine

Chiang Dao was a nice relaxing place after the hustle of Chiang Mai. It was nice to lie in the bungalow with the windows open at night listening to the insects and frogs. We all slept well and I even enjoyed being woken at 3am by the monk’s chanting. After three nights it was time to get back on the bus and move on to Tha Ton.

A Week In Chiang Mai

We planned a week in Chiang Mai as a bit of a rest from travelling and so that we were not in a rush to see things. Dave and I visited Chiang Mai in 2005, at the end of our three month SE Asia trip. We were a bit over sight seeing then and did not visit one temple in the four days we were there. We had just come from Northern Laos so were still walking around open mouthed at 7-11s and other such modern conveniences like internet cafes (those things of the past). So this time around I was determined to see some of the temples Chiang Mai is famous for.

roof

Doi Suthep

In planning for Chiang Mai I found it really hard to find good budget family accommodation online. I emailed a few places and some never responded, some said they were full and others only had a room for part of the week. I wasn’t willing to risk not pre-booking because back in 2005 it took us a whole morning pounding the streets to find somewhere with vacancies.

In the end we chose Thapae Garden Guesthouse which is about five or ten minutes walk (depending if with kids or not!) from the old city and Thapae Gate. It was also a 5-10 minute walk in the other direction to the night market. We paid 890 baht ($AUD29) for a fairly small room with a double bed and a single bed, wifi, tv, fridge, bathroom, and aircon. They cleaned the room every second day. There was a swimming pool but it was under the building and freezing cold. The hotel was fine, comfortable enough and very quiet but nothing really special. I think we were spoiled by Sukhothai and anything would have been a come down after Baan Georges.

Thapae Garden Guesthouse

Our room at Thapae Garden Guesthouse

After a bit of enforced rest due to Dave coming down with a bad cold, the first temple we visited was Wat Doi Suthep which is on the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. We took a tuk tuk to the base of the mountain and from there a sangthaew up to the temple. There are over 300 steps to climb up to the temple itself but it was quite interesting and the path was lined with food and souvenir vendors. I really enjoyed this temple. It was very busy with tourists but there was lots going on to watch. People praying, people circumnavigating the stupa, people lighting lamps and candles, people writing on cloth to be wrapped around the stupa. The kids seemed to enjoy this one too and Lillian went photo crazy with her ipod.

bells

Bells Wat Doi Suthep

We also had a 3rd birthday to celebrate while in Chiang Mai so the day before the big day, while Dave and Ed napped, Lil and I went searching for a cake. We tried a few places and then found Da Bakery Home and bought a chocolate fudge loaf cake. With time still to kill I decided to get a foot massage to celebrate our 100th day of travel. Lil opted to just sit in a massage chair with her feet up and play on her ipod for an hour. They brought her chilled water and snacks and she was happy and so was I!

What better way to celebrate 100 days of travel?

What better way to celebrate 100 days of travel?

Birthday preparations continued after dinner that evening when I went shopping (alone!) at the night market for presents. I had to wrap them in towels for lack of paper but the birthday boy didn’t mind the next morning. That day we were off to the zoo!

photographer

Chiang Mai Zoo

Chiang Mai Zoo is at the base of the mountain right where the sangthaews take you up to the temple. It’s quite a big and hilly zoo and has both a bus and monorail to take you around but we ended up walking it. It was a lovely cool day with drizzle on and off and not too hot to be walking around.

giraffe viewing

Giraffe!

The zoo was actually pretty good. We saw monkeys of all kinds, a seal show, peacocks and chickens (Ed’s favourites), elephants, lions, tigers, zebras, giraffes, orangutan, and more! We stopped for morning tea and ate the cake we’d bought the day before. It was absolutely delicious! Unfortunately we had no lighter for the candles but Ed blew them anyway.

cake face

Birthday boy cake face

It was lucky we went to the zoo when we did because the next day it poured with rain, and the day after, and then the next day too. It was a little bit miserable but when it did stop raining enough to get out and about we saw some lovely temples. The kids always moan about going to ‘another temple!’ but once we’re there they do enjoy them. There are usually plenty of quirky things like animal statues to keep their attention.

lying down incense

Temple incense

So that was our week in Chiang Mai! A little bit sick, a little bit wet, birthday fun, and temples galore. On Monday we got the bus north to Chiang Dao for some nature time!

Many more Chiang Mai photos here.

List 42/52 – Our Five Favourite North-Eastern Thai (Isan) Foods

(I’m a little late with my usual Sunday list this week!)

While in Sisaket we really enjoyed the food. The north-eastern region of Thailand is known as Isan and the food is heavily influenced by Laos styles. Some of the dishes are popular all over Thailand but some are harder to come by in other parts. We’ve found a couple of great restaurants making Isan style Thai food since leaving Sisaket. On’s Restaurant in Kanchanaburi is great for vegetarian food and in Chiang Mai we enjoyed Lert Ros in the Old City (and both were so cheap!). So here are our five favourite dishes:

1. Sticky rice – the kids love this especially.

2. Spicy papaya salad

3. Grilled Chicken (numbers 1, 2, and 3 are excellent all served together)

4. Grilled fish with spicy salad on top

5. Larb – a spicy minced pork dish. Also sometimes made with minced fish. Larb is actually a favourite dish of ours at our local Thai restaurant back home too.

Sukhothai – Old and New

Sukhothai is six hours by bus north of Ayutthaya. It’s a good spot to break the journey to Chiang Mai (which is a further five and half hours) and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our guesthouse in Ayutthaya organised our bus tickets for us as well as the tuk tuk that took us to the bus stop out on the highway.

Waiting for a bus. Today we're off to Sukhothai! 6 hours away...

Waiting for the bus to Sukhothai to arrive from Bangkok.

We booked and paid for four seats, seeing as it was a long trip, but when the bus arrived from Bangkok there were only three seats left (plus two for two others) and they were scattered all over the bus. Lillian refused to sit alone next to a stranger so we ended up with a child on each lap (I got the lighter one) for at least half the journey. Not very happy about that but what can you do? Nobody offered to move so we could at least sit together. By the time we arrived in Sukhothai we had two seats together at the front plus one down the back.

Things improved in Sukhothai. I had booked a family room at Baan Georges Guesthouse and the owner came to pick us up for free from the bus station. The guesthouse turned out to be fabulous. Easily one of the best places we’ve stayed on the trip. It’s all fairly new and our family room had a big queen size four poster bed, a set of bunk beds, a fridge, hot water urn, tea and coffee, tv, air-con, wifi and breakfast included for 1000 baht ($AUD33.50). The bathroom was amazing with an actual shower cubicle and rain shower. And the swimming pool out the front was big and deep and warm. The included breakfast was substantial, with a choice off a menu, and was served on the roof-top terrace. I can’t rave enough about this place. They gave the kids stuffed toys to play with during our stay and books to read. It was really great and I was glad we had planned to stay four nights.

Baan George's Guesthouse Sukhothai

Baan George’s Guesthouse Sukhothai

Sukhothai is divided into Old Sukhothai and New Sukhothai which are about 12 or 13km apart. Old Sukhothai has the UNESCO site and some accommodation and restaurants but New Sukhothai is the main town. Our guesthouse was in New Sukhothai so the next morning we got one of the truck-buses that regularly shuttle between the two towns. It cost 30 baht each ($AUD1) and the kids were free.

From Dave's phone the other day.

The return truck-bus journey.

The truck dropped us at the entry to the Historical park right near some bike hire places. We got two big bikes (one with a little seat for Ed on the front) and a kids bike for Lil for 30 baht each for a day.

The Historical Park is divided into zones which each cost 100 baht to enter. We decided to concentrate on the main central zone that day. Cycling was fun!

cycling in Sukhothai

Dave and Ed cycle by (Lil in background)

happy rider

Happy if riding.

Lillian was not too happy about stopping to look at temples so we saw the main one and a couple of littler ones and the rest were viewed as we cycled by!

Ed and Mad Wat Mahathat

Ed and Mad at Wat Mahathat

one not so cooperative

One not so cooperative poser

On our second day in Sukhothai we had a rest from site-seeing and spent the day mostly around the guesthouse trying to get some things done with travel planning. That night there was a big once a week night market by the river so we had a wander there after dinner. Lil played a pop the balloon dart game but thankfully didn’t win a giant stuffed animal.

On Sunday we were back to site-seeing and decided to see the Northern Zone of the historical park. This time we got there by tuk tuk and visited two temples. The tuk tuks in Sukhothai are unlike any I’ve seen elsewhere. The passengers sit in front of the rider instead of behind or beside.

funny faces in a tuk tuk

Sukhothai Tuk Tuk

walking into Wat Si Chum

Walking into Wat Si Chum

offerings Wat Si Chum

Offerings at Wat Si Chum

carvings Wat Phra Phai Luang

Wat Phra Phai Luang

buddha overlooking Wat Phra Phai Luang

Buddha Overlooking Wat Phra Phai Luang

tired in the tuk tuk

Tired in the tuk tuk

Although we were in Sukhothai for four nights we only ate at two different places. Poo Restaurant used to be owned by our Guesthouse owner and we ate there the first night. The service was very friendly, and they had two cool wooden rocking things for the kids, but the food was just a bit bland. No spice at all. We ate there again for lunch on our rest day and again, it was fine but nothing amazing. The other three dinners were at Pai Restaurant which was really nice. Enough zing in the food and enough food to keep the kids happy. Plain spaghetti (split onto two plates), a chocolate shake (split into two glasses), and yummy spring rolls. All the Thai food we ate here was very good.

And that is about that for our time in Sukhothai. The guesthouse owner bought our bus tickets to Chiang Mai for us, and again drove us to the station for free.

We’re now in Chiang Mai, fighting off a bit of illness but enjoying being here again after visiting in 2005. But more on Chiang Mai another time!

Two Nights In Ayutthaya

From Kanchanaburi we caught a minibus direct to Ayutthaya. It was pricey, at 400 baht each ($AUD13, we didn’t have to pay for Ed), but saved us going back to Bangkok. The trip took about three hours.

In Ayutthaya the minibus dropped us at the guesthouse we had chosen. Once again we didn’t pre-book and luckily there was a room available. The owner turned people away after us.

We had a room at Baan Lotus Guesthouse, in a lovely wooden building with three big single beds, aircon, bathroom and wifi for 800 baht ($AUD27).

Baan Lotus Guesthouse Ayutthaya

Baan Lotus Guesthouse Room

The guesthouse had a lovely lotus pond out the back with a deck area over the top of it and hammocks.

pond gazing

Lotus Pond at Baan Lotus

The next morning we walked to visit Wat Mahathat to see the famous buddha head in a tree. Ed enjoyed looking around the ruins and asked lots of questions.

Head in tree Wat Maha That

Head in tree Wat Maha That

One temple was enough for the kids that morning and so we tuk tuked it to a restaurant for lunch and then back to the guesthouse for a nap that didn’t happen!

That afternoon we joined a tuk tuk temple tour with another couple, organised by the guesthouse. We got taken around to about 5 or six different temples over three hours and finished at the night market for dinner. Some photos of the temples we saw (many more on flickr!):

buddha Wat Lokayasutharam

Wat Lokayasutharam

family shot

Rare Family Shot

cute

Temple Quirkiness

birds Wat Phu Khao Thong

Wat Phu Khao Thong

The night market was in a lovely spot. We had a table right by the river with a view across to a temple.

Tonight's dinner view.

Dinner View

After dinner we caught another tuk tuk back to the guesthouse and it was straight to bed. The next day we were off to Sukhothai!