We spent one night in the Thai border city of Chiang Khong before taking a bus to Chiang Rai where we spent two nights. Lonely Planet described it more of a livable place rather than a visitable place which all in all we thought was true. Nevertheless we had a good time. We did plan on doing a trek to visit local indigenous tribes, however the prices here seemed rather on the expensive side in comparison to the prices we had been told about in Chiang Mai, so we opted for a bike ride instead. That day we cycled a total of 36km. This was not flat road territory. Many hills. On the journey back, both of us very hot (it was 40 degrees), tired and in need of a boost, we thought it best that we buy a Red Bull . In the small village shop all they had to offer was the Thai equivalent, M150. After sharing the can half each, Jade raced away at Lance Armstrong speeds. I honestly couldn't keep up with her. At the time I just assumed it was her eagerness to get back to the guesthouse. It wasn't until a few days later when we were chatting to a few girls we had met that we found out that this probably wasn't the case. Apparently M150 contains some kind of Speed. Although at the time we found this quite funny, we will not be drinking M150 again.
The following day we hopped on a local bus to Chaing Mai. Our first full day there was 5th April - Jade's Birthday. Given this the plan was to do whatever she wanted. After booking trekking tours and cooking courses, the main part of the day was spent relaxing by the local lake with two Aussie girls we had met in Vang Vieng. This was followed by dinner at a restaurant where your feet dangled through the ceiling and a trip to the cinema. Jade's film of choice was Alice In Wonderland. After being a bit sceptical it turned out not to be that bad, however the highlight of the screening was what happened before the film began. The entire audience rose to their feet (we were ushered to do the same) and the Thai national anthem was played alongside the most nationalistic video I've ever seen. We managed to contain our laughter but it did highlight how adored the king is.
We had an early start the next morning as we began our three day, two night trekking tour in Doi Inthanon National Park. Our first day of trekking included a trip to a temple, two waterfalls and a two hour walk to our camp for the night. The accommodation was very basic and in the wilderness. No electricity and a shack to sleep in. That night we spent around the camp fire as our tour leaders (3 young Thai chaps Tommy, Bow and Book) took it in turns playing songs on the 'Jungle Guitar' - in essence an out of tune guitar - and drinking homemade Thai whisky. Between the 3 of them they serenaded us with about 12 western songs - the standard 12 known across Thailand. They included songs by Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Vengaboys, Oasis, The Beatles, Jason Mraz, Coldplay and my personal favourite “When You Say Nothing At All” by Ronan Keating. I had heard Tommy humming along to this earlier in the day as well as Puppy Love. LAD!
The next day was another early start as we had a full day of trekking. After brushing our teeth in the river, we were off. About a minute in we encountered a snake, which scared all the girls, but after Tommy assured us it was only a grass snake we headed to the Karen village - a local hill tribe. By the time we had reached it the group was in serious need of a waterfall. The temperature was 42 degrees. It stayed at that heat for most of the day, and in between waterfall stops we arrived at our digs for the night after 5 hours of trekking. Our lunch, which we ate out of banana leaves half way through our trek (no cutlery was provided so I fashioned a pair of chopsticks out of twigs), attracted a pack of scabby dogs which decided to join us for the remainder of our trip. They were horrible. Despite getting rabies jabs, it wouldn't surprise me if we had caught the disease just from breathing in the same air as them.
The last day of our trek included bamboo rafting and elephant riding. In comparison to our elephant mahout experience the elephant riding was disappointing – but this was to be expected. The elephant we were sitting on seemed to be very sick. Every so often he sneezed yellow gunk over us. It was either this or it was greedy as it seemed as though he would only sneeze when we didn’t give him bananas. The bamboo rafting was a better experience. The chap we had driving our one though didn’t know what he was doing so as there was a spare steering stick on board I thought I better help him out. All was going well until we hit some pretty rough rapids. To ensure the safety of my passengers I stood up when in hindsight I should’ve sat down and ended up falling in and smashing my foot against a rock. 24 hours later it was the size of my big toe. However it healed fairly sharpish and we assume it was only a bruise.
Our last full day in Chiang Mai was spent in a Thai cooking class - both of us making 5 dishes each. We started off at a local food market before being taken to the kitchen. Six hours later we emerged a stone heavier (you get to eat everything you cook) and under the impression that we were some kind of Thai culinary genius. I challenge anyone to make a better spring roll than me.
On the 10th April we had booked ourselves on two flights that would get us from Chiang Mai to Singapore, with a stop off in KL in between. Other than waiting around airport lounges, very little happened on this day. The next day we headed off to one of Singapore’s many malls in search of a camera – to replace the one that a Vietnamese chap took from my bag. After deciding upon the camera I wanted we began to explore Singapore. It was more expensive than the rest of SE Asia, but despite this we both really enjoyed our short time there. We began with a stroll around the Raffles Hotel (we passed on the Singapore Sling – like I said Singapore was more expensive than the rest of SE Asia), before heading to Clarke Quay. As expected there were remnants of British imperialism along the way. This was alongside more modern buildings and quirky restaurants and bars. Our personal favorite was a bar called Clinic Bar where people’s seats were wheelchairs and drinks were served in drips. The next day our flight to Melbourne was at 7.45pm, which gave us the most of the day to continue looking around Singapore. Jade requested a walk down Orchard Road, which translates into a shopping session. Along Orchard Road there are 22 shopping malls.
That evening we caught our flight to Melbourne. Arriving at 5 in the morning, and having slept very little, we both crashed out on our hostels sofa as they weren’t letting us check in until 2 in the afternoon. By 12 our batteries were recharged and we headed out to explore. From our first impressions we both agreed that Melbourne felt very European.
The next day we spent the whole day in Victoria State Library organising the hire of a camper van so we could drive the Great Ocean Road. It felt like exam time all over again. By about 8 in the evening we had it all sorted and spent the remainder of the day preparing ourselves for our trip that started in the morning.
The trip was one of our highlights so far. The views we got of Australia’s Southern coast were amazing. You could point your camera in any direction and get something postcard worthy. The first leg of our three day trip we drove from Melbourne to Apollo Bay, stopping off along the way to see Kangaroos that lived on a golf course, men surfing some of the biggest waves I’ve ever seen meters away from massive rocks and a friendly Koala Bear that had climbed down a tree to come a meet us (apparently they usually stay high up away from predators). By now the sun had started to set so we headed for our campsite. This turned out to be a very unnerving experience. It felt as though we were entering our own horror film. We drove for about 30 minutes along a dirt track, coming across no signs of other people. Our telephone had no reception and was on the blink of running out of battery, the petrol in the van was low and the windscreen wipers had stopped working (not that it was raining). But just as the conversation about turning around and heading back began we came across a group of girls who were staying on the site. A little relieved, we parked up and set about facing our next challenge, cooking dinner. By now it was pitch black and as it was a free site there was no electricity. The lights in the van were playing up, and being as prepared as ever, the batteries in both or our torches had ran out. After playing around with**** in the front of the van and overcoming our lack of matches to light the stove (again unprepared), we had light and were cooking on gas. As there was very little going on in the campsite, once we finished dinner we hit the sack at about 8.30.
We awoke after 12 hours of sleep and continued on our tour along the coast to Warnambool, stopping off along the way to see the 12 Apostles, the Arch and London Bridge (this one fell down in 1990 leaving two people stranded on a rock formation out at sea) amongst other things. Arriving in Warnambool with the sun still in the sky, setting up camp was a lot easier. But where we chose to stop was a proper hi-de-hi caravan park. According to another camper there were two good things about our spot, we got it for free and it was close the toilets. That night we only grabbed 10 hours of sleep, and in the morning we set off back to Melbourne.
We arrived back at our hostel at 4pm, and after dropping our bags off headed straight to the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) to watch the mighty Hawthorn Hawks play the Collingwood Magpies at Aussie Rules Football. Two reasons why we chose the Hawks. Number one – they wore the same colours as Barnet. Number two – their fan base was made up of less pikeys. If you had to compare Collingwood to a Football team, Leeds and Millwall spring to mind. I was half expecting to find a fleet of caravans parked up outside the stadium when we left waiting to take them home. As for the atmosphere, it was good, but I expected more from about 90,000 people. The crowd made nowhere near as much noise as White Hart Lane, but it was considerably louder than The Library. Opps, I mean The Emirates.
Our last two days in Melbourne were spent looking around the City. The first day it was just the two of us. The second day we had met up with Mark and Suz (two good friends from home). The free tourist bus and tram were good to get an overview. We both enjoyed Federation Square. It’s a Covent Garden and Leicester Square mix. We watched a street performer from South London. A morning was spent in Queen Victoria Market as well. On our last Afternoon we branched out into the suburbs. Now we head to Sydney.
First impressions of Australia have been good ones. It’s nice coming back to Western civilization after 3 months in Asia. But it’s not exactly like home. There are differences to the UK that go further than just the water going down the sink in the opposite direction. They still have Safeways and Woolworths (which isn’t a pointless shop that sells a miss-mash of everything, it is a supermarket). There are things that remind us of home though. For example we drove past a signpost to Jubilee Park, we picked up our campervan from a place called Tottenham and around central Melbourne we saw Southgate Casino.
Lots of love