Sydney & The Hunter Valley

I’ve been in a reflective mood recently.  For fun, I decided back in January that I’d start posting a “Throwback Thursday” image on Instagram every week of my travels back in 2007/2008 in Australia.  This mini project has finally given me the kick I need to share the images and stories I took at that time.  If you happen to follow my Flickr account you’ll see I’ve been uploading like mad over the past few weeks and months. The intention is to now also run with a flurry of posts here – 2 a month – until I’m up to date.

Each picture tells a story though and viewing them brings back memories and feelings, some of which I had long forgotten.  In November it’ll be 10 years since I left England. 10 whole years. A decade.  I’m so aware of time slipping through my fingertips … and beginning to feel my age.

When I left the hometown village I didn’t realise that it would never be quite the same again. My friends are now mostly married with children, the people I met on my travels are very much the same.  As for me, I’m just stuttering along not knowing quite where I’m going or what to do next.

I guess that’s what has made me so reflective.  I genuinely believed that going away would change me for the better, that somehow I would have an epiphany and life would be mapped out and straightforward ever more.  How wrong I was.

~ ~ ~

Sydney November 2007

After a whirlwind stop in Bangkok we touched down in Sydney airport.  We’d heard tales of people being stuck at passport control for hours, but for us immigration was a breeze and we waltzed through.  The first few days were spent adjusting to the time difference and acclimatising ourselves in the city.  Days consisted of exploration and nights of beer drinking. We had a jet boat tour of Sydney harbour and I took a course in hospitality skills so that I’d be qualified to do bar work there (this didn’t come in helpful , once!). This was an exciting time. I still remember my first sight of Sydney Opera House.  I was seeing something with my own eyes I’d previously only dreamed of.  For a small time country boy this was some occasion. The first week was over before I knew it.

Fractures were beginning to appear however and I wasn’t feeling as happy in myself as I should have been.  I felt increasingly lonely and was struggling to form a bond with the people I’d travelled over with.

We then (still as a group) headed to The Hunter Valley for a wine tasting tour and few days out of the city.  I realised at this point that as much as I liked the people I’d flown over with, that I was going to have to find my own way from here on.  We were too different and this eventually culminated in a bit of an alcohol fuelled argument with one of the others.  Nevertheless, in those few days I met a couple of new people who I got on with brilliantly and who lifted my spirits considerably (Mark and Alice).  Though sadly I would only see Alice again once more when back in Sydney, Mark and I remained close and I even got to visit him in Melbourne nearly a year later.

When we returned from The Hunter Valley I knew my future wasn’t in Sydney itself.  I needed to get out and find some blue juice therapy.  I didn’t go far though.  I found what I needed just over the water in Manly.  That’s where I will pick up in the next blog post.

People often ask if you’re a Sydney or Melbourne person;  I will always pick Sydney, I did love it, but it’s a city of contrast for me.  Of excitement and discovery, yet of loneliness and unhappiness entwined.

Islands In The Sun

The weirdest thing about writing this post from last years trip?  That in the past few weeks I’ve just enjoyed my second visit to Thailand! Prior to this my memories from 2015 were vivid and clear, but now they’ve become somewhat hazy.  This means I really need to focus on finishing the blog posts before my mind becomes too murky and confused.

After the visit to Chiang Mai and the north of the country I hopped on a flight down to Phuket.  the intention was to spend a few days relaxing but also to make sure I visited a few islands.  Top of the list was The Phi Phi Islands – I think mainly (just like everyone else) because of ‘The Beach’.  For so long I’d had a longing to see that place.

I booked onto a speed boat tour from Phuket which would take in both Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh (where Maya Bay is located).  The trip was pretty hectic, but there were some nice people on it and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  The only shame was the crowds.  Perhaps best in hindsight to stay overnight at Phi Phi Don and arrange for an early morning trip to Phi Phi Leh before the crowds arrive on the scheduled tours.  Nevermind, that’s one off the bucket list!

The White Temple & Golden Triangle

This was my last day in the North of Thailand and in advance I had decided that I’d participate in a full days trip which would take in The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) in Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle, which is where the countries of Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos all meet, split by the mighty Mekong and Ruak rivers which converge here.

As with all my other trips in this area I booked with Travel Hub Chiang Mai.  A really nice and professional company.

Starting early in the morning (and I mean wayyy too early!) we got picked up in the bus and started driving North.  First stop was at The White Temple, Chiang Rai.  This is a spectacular sight (even the toilet block is magnificent – but sadly not yet opened for us!).

After a short while here it was back in the bus to head up to The Golden Triangle.  We experienced some pretty stormy weather on the way up and I lost count of the times we aquaplaned.  We had a schedule to keep to!  My seat belt was firmly fastened I tell you!  The Golden Triangle was interesting to see (despite the downpour) and it was fascinating hearing about the history of opium in the area.

The trip included a visit to Don Sao island, which technically is in Laos.  On arrival we were given a free shot of ‘Cobra Whiskey’.  This is supposed to help men with sexual ailments and to ‘make you strong’.  I got given two shots – I wonder if I looked like I might need help in that department?

We then headed up to Wat Phra That Doi Wao, which is a temple overlooking the town of Mae Sai, an official border point into Myanmar.  The views were pretty great and we had some lovely golden afternoon light making it really special.  I was so engrossed taking photos that I nearly missed our bus leaving!

On the way back we stopped in a hill village (just like the previous day).  Again a bit too touristy for me, but then again this I think is what you should expect and I certainly didn’t begrudge our time there.

We got back into Chiang Mai mid-evening.  Most of the day seemed to be spent travelling, yet it was completely worth it to see such an interesting part of the country.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

The next day however … I’d be heading off down to Phuket!

Chiang Mai

Bangkok was a lot of fun, but after 4 nights I was ready to get moving.  Big cities are an adventure (Bangkok especially) but I’m a country boy at heart and already I needed some space.  Next up was a flight to Chiang Mai (for a ridiculously cheap price) where I was set to spend 3 nights and then head down to Phuket.

One thing I’m sure now, with the benefit of hindsight is that 3 nights wasn’t nearly enough.  Chiang Mai is one cool city.

I arrived just as evening hit.  So, I grabbed my tripod to see what I could find.  Aiming for the city centre and stepping out the hotels front door I immediately took the wrong direction and walked out of town.  This wasn’t all bad though and fairly quickly realising my mistake I used the opportunity to grab some long exposures of the traffic. After that it was a quick stop for food and a beer and then a good nights sleep – the next two days would be busy.

I woke up early (erm … maybe 9am?!) with the intention of spending the morning exploring as many of the temples I could find.  Chiang Mai is absolutely littered with beautiful temples – I think it would be possible to spend days seeing them all.  From my hotel I walked down to Wat Phra Singh (with a few pancake and coffee stops – Chiang Mai is a goldmine for coffee shops!).  After this Wat I had plans to head to Wat Chedi Luang, which looked ace in the guides I’d read.  I had spent a bit too long at Wat Phra Singh though and needed to be back to my hotel for the afternoons tour.  On my way back I was able to pop in and see Wat Mahawan and Wat Beppharam.  Both small and very beautiful.  And handily located almost on my hotels doorstep!

The afternoon tour was a group one I’d booked with Travel Hub Chiang Mai which would take me up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – a famous, beautiful Wat overlooking the city.

On the way we called in at Hmong Hill Village.  It was a bit of a tourist trap (at least the part of it I saw) selling a lot of the typical fare you’d find all over, but it was nice to be up out of the city and there was a pretty waterfall garden I could explore.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was really busy, but incredibly beautiful.  we got there as the light turned golden and it was a wonderful sight to behold.  The view over the city and beyond was stunning.

Returning after dark I headed out to the Night Bazaar, which handily was only a short walk from the hotel.  My bartering skills were pretty terrible, but at least I now have a nice leather passport holder!  I also managed to find a bit of a red light area with lots of bars and a boxing stadium.  Which was nice. I hung about a short while and watched a few minutes of Muay Thai – but dashed off before being dragged into a bar.  As you’ll later see, the following day was going to be a bit of a lang haul and I needed an early night.

It’s worth me mentioning that I stayed at The Small Hotel – I’d really recommend it.  Walking distance to everything, very close to the night market.  Clean and super friendly staff.

For now, here’s night 1 and day 2 of my Chiang Mai photos.  Sorry for the lengthy post and vast number of pictures.  This I think is probably the post with the largest content from my trip!

 

The Grand Palace & Emerald Buddha

Day 3 of the Thailand trip and this time I was heading off to see The Grand Palace.  Now, I was supposed to have been here before however the 2007 tour was waylaid by a wild preceding night on Khaosan Road.  I don’t need to remind you of that now, but you can of course read about that adventure here should you feel inclined.

We were told en route by our travel mates to Sydney that we’d really missed out, so this time I was determined to find out for myself.  My drinking buddy Mike has since returned to Thailand and seen it and now was my chance to tick it off the list  This was also the last of my scheduled Bangkok trips and the next day I’d be heading North on a flight to Chiang Mai.  Again, a trip with Isango proved to be just the ticket easily booked from the UK prior to departure.

I wasn’t disappointed at all; The Grand Palace is spectacular.  It was absolutely heaving with visitors and I could easily see why it’s such a popular tourist destination.  The colour, detail and intricacies of the buildings blew my mind.  I’ll let my photos do the talking and to give you an idea, but if you happen to find yourself in Bangkok do make sure you allocate some time to see this place.

 

Temples of Bangkok

And so, the Thailand posts continue …

One of the first posts on this blog was of a day in late 2007 where I was taken around three of the most popular temples in Bangkok.  Flash forward to late 2015 and although I’d been once before, I felt that I’d only have regrets if I didn’t take the opportunity to spend a day seeing them again.  It’s funny what time does to memories and I really wanted to savour the moment this time around.

As with the previous days trip to Damoen Saduak, I booked with Isango who offered a well priced trip (including pick up and drop off at my hotel) which would cover everything I wanted.

Wat Traimit (Temple of the Golden Buddha)

This was stop one and in this instance was the one I was most interested in.  Back in 2007 the Golden Buddha (official title Phra Phuttha Maha Suwan Patimakon) was kept in a much smaller building (see pics here). Since then it’s been moved into a much larger building which is far more fitting.  It was weird in a sense as aside from the Buddha itself, I didn’t recognise the site at at all!  The Golden Buddha is made of solid gold and weighs 5 1/2 tonnes.  Awesome!

Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

Stop two and this one I remembered well.  This is one of Bangkok’s oldest temples and the Reclining Buddha within is huge (15 metres high and 46 metres long). It’s a big site and in 2007 we only saw some of it.  This time, although I didn’t visit Phra Ubosot (the ordination hall) I did get to look around the exterior of Phra Mondob (the scripture hall) which I found fascinating.

Wat Benchamabophit (The Marble Temple)

Final stop, at the beautiful Marble Temple.  Construction began here in 1899 using marble from Italy.  Not a lot to say other than it’s a stunning building.

Following are rather a lot of snapshots (apologies) …

Damnoen Saduak

I originally started this blog with the intention of it being a travel blog.  I was planning on processing the images I’d taken on my travels across Australia (years ago now) and to write short accompanying stories with each section.  As you’ll know, it hasn’t quite worked out like that.  In fact, I’ve not posted a single story or image about Australia to date.  I did in my early days however write a post about the couple of nights in Bangkok, where I had a short stopover en-route.  Ever since then (late 2007) I’ve had a burning desire to go back.  Well, November 2015 came about and I found myself on a plane once again travelling long haul.

So, from here I’m going to share the 3 weeks I enjoyed exploring a small part of this amazing country.  I figure it’s time to get to work on it … ‘cos I’m going again in less than 6 months! Yeehah!

I’m going to break up these posts into roughly daily sections or places where I spent several days.  I’m not entirely sure yet, but here’s the first post which was essentially my first day and second night in the country.  I’d got into Bangkok late Friday night, I headed out for a couple of beers to relax (it turns out Nana Plaza is NOT a place for a quiet and relaxing beer!) and then got a fairly early night for a 6am wake up call to head to a floating market.

Seeing a floating market was high on my wishlist and Damnoen Saduak, despite being pretty touristy didn’t disappoint.  We had awful weather, but it didn’t detract from the fun.  I also enjoyed my first taste of Pad Thai ever.  That’s now up there with my all time favourite foods and I subsequently ate it again at every opportunity presented to me! As with all my Bangkok tours, I booked with Isango in advance to ensure I could see all I wanted in the short time I had arranged to stay in the city.

Here’s a selection of photos from my first day or so in Bangkok.  The following day I re-visited the temples I’d seen on my first trip. Photos from thatwill be in the next posting …

 

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