Well, we left Koh Samui feeling pretty refreshed after our few days in luxury (thanks very much family!). Took the cheat's way out and flew up to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand rather than 3 days on train bus and more train!
Chiang Mai is a really nice city, it's the second biggest in Thailand but still only about the size of York. Ended up spending about 5 days there just wandering around the town and soaking it all up. Met some guys from Wolverhampton on our first night who had just bought a bar there, they took us to a really cool cocktail bar, a converted VW camper van parked by the edge of the street with stools outside, ended up being a pretty late night! The markets are amazing there too, you can buy pretty much anything, from clothes and textiles to art and fried insects (didn't try!).
I did a Thai cookery course in Chiang Mai which was pretty good, we were taken to the local market first to buy the ingredients and then back to the teacher's house where I was taught how to cook about 7 or 8 dishes - not sure how much I'll remember when I get home though!
From Chiang Mai we moved on to Chiang Rai, on a mission to cross the border to Laos. Bit of a nothingness place, just a local market town but interesting to see Thai normality away from the tourists. From here we took a day trip on the local bus followed by a songtheuw (a kind of taxi, usually a Toyota pick up truck with bench seats in the back and a tin roof) to a tiny Chinese settlement near the Burmese border, amazing scenery on the journey of mountains and tea plantations.
Crossed the border to Laos (which is the Mekong river) by ferry - if you can call it that, it was a little wooden boat that held about 6 people! Stayed a night in Huay Xai on the river in anticipation of our journey down the Mekong to Luang Prebang, something Andrew's wanted to do for a long long time. Well, what can I say about the journey… amazing and fascinating, yet one of the most uncomfortable trips either of us has ever done! Really great views of traditional Laos life by the river, little bamboo hut villages, working elephants logging, farmers and fishermen, plus the odd dead dog floating by. This for 2 days, 8 hours a day whilst sat with our knees up to our chests on cramped wooden benches alongside 120 other people on a boat made for 70, and surprisingly it was freezing (of course we'd dressed in T shirts and shorts, not clever, althoughthe second day it was everything warm we had!). Whiled away the hours with a German couple we'd met, Jacob and Connie who we also ended up spending our time in Luang Prebang with, really good fun!
Luang Prebang is a World Heritage Site, the old capital and supposedly the prettiest town in South East Asia. It was gorgeous, loads of old traditional Lao buildings especially if you wandered around the back streets. There's a real French influence as Laos was a French colony until the 1950's so plenty of good bread and pastries. The people were really friendly, especially Mama Nicole, our favourite baguette seller on the market! The street food was great too, noodle soups and freshly stir fried rice dishes, there's a real social scene sat on plastic chairs by the side of the road. Spent 5 days there then headed off to Phonsavan, which was unfortunately massively bombed by the Americans during the secret war at the same time as Vietnam. Another long long bus journey on the most crowded bus I've ever been on (you'd think we'd be used to it by now!), with most of the Lao people throwing up into little plastic bags every 5 minutes then throwing it out of the window!
Heading down to Vientiane (the capital) next for a couple of days.
Hope everyone's keeping well.
Nicola & Andrew xxx