Months ago we planned out a rough intinery for our 6 week trip through Thailand and Laos to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Then I looked at our dates and realised that we would be riding round the Laos countryside during Songkran. The Laos (and Thai) New Year festival is celebrated by pouring water over friends and family, to symbolically wash away the strife of the last year. Somewhere along the way, this has turned into soaking anybody you see with as much water is possible. Including those riding past you on motorcycles. We knew we’d be a big target for those with buckets, hoses and super soakers…was this a good idea? We decided to go for it, the attraction of Konglor Cave was too much to resist, and so we rented a couple of bikes and headed out into the country.
Starting on the sunny shores of Koh Phi Phi and ending up at the ancient ruins of Angkor; we spent 5 and a half weeks making our way through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia with Matt's sister Lauren and her boyfriend, Tom.
When we leave each place we always ask each other 'best and worst?' so we thought we'd share our highs and lows with you...
We were in Chiang Rai and we wanted to get to the UNESCO Hertitage Site of Luang Prabang. We could take a long and windy bus journey, race there on a dangerous speedboat or spend two days drifting down the Mekong on the ‘slow boat’.
In all honestly, we probably didn’t make the most of Luang Prabang. One of our group was really sick and morale suffered. An action packed stay was out of the question. However, if it had to happen anywhere in Laos, Luang Prabang was probably the best place for it; it’s certainly a very attractive spot. The mixture of Buddhist temples and colonial architecture sandwiched in between two rivers make the streets an ideal place to stroll with a fresh fruit shake. There are plenty of markets, shops and cafes to keep you occupied as well.
On our third day in Chiang Rai we hired some twist-and-go scooters and headed for the hills.
We’d asked our friendly guesthouse where would be a good place to drive and they’d recommended heading for Doi Maesalong. Doi is the Thai word for Mountain, and our host told us it was a nice road, with scenic views of the Northern hills which dominate the border regions between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.
It’s a really liberating feeling riding out to somewhere new with no specific destination in mind. As soon as we got off the main Highway, the road became more rural and certainly more windy!
We saw some signs for Choui Fong Tea Plantation and decided we’d check it out. The small road which wound through the forest was very quiet and peaceful and it soon opened up into rolling hills covered in neat lines of tea plants. We followed the little winding road to the Plantation HQ and had a little wonder among the bushes. It was very quiet and very beautiful.
March seemed like a marathon month. Time, of course moves slowly and quickly at the same time but the last four weeks right now at least have felt particularly long. This puts paid to the old saying ‘times flies when you’re having fun’ because we’ve been having loads of it!
Of course, that’s if examining, interviewing and reporting on small children qualifies as fun, which in our book it does. The month kicked off with final exams for our students at Anuban Nakhon Sawan. The kids we teach are quite young, so the whole thing just went over their heads as they got excited about the impending holidays but for the older students at school it was a time of real stress.
It was also quite stressful for us as we anxiously marked the test papers and hoped the kids had shown some improvement. We also had to go through the process of writing reports for all of our students, which in Ruth’s case involves documenting some curious information; whether the kids can run and stop, walk in a straight line, draw a circle, put rubbish in the bin, throw and catch a ball, etc.
Stepping off the ferry at Koh Lanta after 3 days on Koh Phi Phi felt like returning to Thailand and 'real life'. There were motorbikes and songtaews on the roads (there were roads!) and we could smell grilled chicken from the road-side stalls.
You can see local life; children playing in the street, schools, hospitals, people's homes and the places they eat. Don't get me wrong, there's tourism in abundance but in amongst the sports bars and neon lights there are rice shops with tin tables where you can eat and chat with local people.
I've never been someone who loves hot weather, sure I love to get my shorts out on a summers day and cool down with an ice lolly but 24 degrees is quite enough for me thank you. Then we fell in love with life in Thailand and right now are sweating away in 38 degree heat.
Whenever we speak to someone from bcd home, they always ask how hot it is and how we cope with the high temperatures over here. So what's our secret? How do we survive? Well firstly we accept that it's hot and we will sweat; my hair straighteners and makeup bag are redundant and we drink our coffee iced.
I was slightly apprehensive about going to Koh Phi Phi. I had read and heard a wide range of opinions - from 'you HAVE to go there, it’s the most beautiful place in Thailand’ to 'don’t go there, it’s totally ruined’...who was I supposed to believe?
So I stopped reading, we packed our swimsuits and hopped on a bus with an open mind...
Well 2015 is flying by so far, I feel like I've barely had time to sit down this month but it's been great - no January blues here! I thought I'd share what we've been up to it a bit of a monthly roundup :)
New Year with family
We spend the first few days of the year sharing the sights and tastes of Nakhon Sawan with Darryl, Emma and Selina.
Well actually we haven't 'surfed' yet but we hosted for the first time last week and it was an incredible experience. Opening up your home to complete strangers is a fairly daunting prospect and I admit that we were a little scared about the whole thing.
Of course we had no need to fear and we were blessed with truly wonderful guests. Jon and Coco are very special people and being able to eat, drink, chat and laugh with them was a real pleasure.
Couchsurfing is not just about a place to stay, it's an exchange and this was demonstrated to us perfectly. We gave two people a bed for a couple of nights but I came away feeling that they had given us so much more in company and friendship.
Maybe we peaked early but we are looking forward to meeting many more people in this way. If you have ever thought about getting involved or are interested in this idea I would urge you to take the plunge - you never know who you'll meet!
About a month ago, a lucky combination of public holidays and other days of school gave us a surprise week long holiday. Making the most of the time off work, we decided to hop down to Koh Samed with our friends for a bit of beach action.
This a rather late New Year post but frankly we've been far too busy eating our weight in chocolate and cheese with friends and family to notice how quickly the New Year is already running away from us!
2014 was quite a year for us, it saw us both quit our jobs and move to Thailand to teach. For the first few months, everything felt new, scary and exciting and it definitely took us a while to get used to the jobs and culture - not to mention the heat. We are still learning all the time but we feel very settled in our new home and love our jobs and our life here. Over the year we visited Hong Kong (twice!) and Malaysia as well as countless beautiful places in Thailand. All of that was after taking in our favourite parts of the UK before we left in the Spring.