Chiang Mai

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We tried. Maybe we should have tried earlier!

We were still in Bangkok and our next and final destination was Chiang Mai. We had hoped to catch a night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Jason had searched for tickets a week ago and there were not many options available. We were usually quite lucky up until now in finding accommodation and travel tickets last minute. Unfortunately there was nothing available, so whilst we were chilling on the island of Ko Phanang I booked our flights with Bangkok airways to Chiang Mai.

We were somewhat eager to leave the big cities and Chiang Mai was a place where we hoped to experience the tranquil village-like living through homestay. What we found was better than what we had hoped. It was a tree house! The place isn’t just called Tree House, but the place quite literally is built like a big tree house, all out of timbre and very rustic.

Tree House Hideway has four bedrooms inside the tree house. We were fortunate to have had someone cancel and so we got to have the big room, usually used by families, which can fit up to 8 people. The place is simple. With basic bedding, shared bathrooms and toilets, communal dining and hang-out area. The owners and workers are exceptionally friendly and the guides are well-spoken and helpful. There was always an abundance of traditional Thai food and our experience was truly memorable.

If you need somewhere to stay in North Thailand for an off-the typical tourist route, I strongly recommend checking out  Tree House Hideaway or searching them up on Airbnb. We spoke to some people who had booked through Airbnb. It’s not your typically cheap hostel accommodation, but with all meals included, pick-up and drop-off from the airport, and tours included (the price we paid), it is certainly worth the price.

It was quite special with the local children coming to do a singing/dance show every evening before dinner. Sebastian go right in there dancing with one of the older girls lol!

During our time here, we did the typical tours for this area:

We usually carry with us an empty bottle of water wherever we go so that when the boys need the toilet, we do not have to fuss over finding a toilet in less than a minute (as their bladders cannot hold it for long).

On this particular occasion we forgot the empty water bottle and we only realised when inside the cave. Yes – you guessed it! Both boys decided they really needed to go inside the cave! With no where to go, and we couldn’t exactly leave the group to go out, the tour guide put both boys in a corner and let them pee.

As expected, local Thai by-passers were not impressed and I could see them approach our guide, speaking about what I imagined was their disgust with what had just occurred. We were embarrassed. I didn’t want this to happen this way, but as the guide explained to everyone, what else were we to do? There was no where else to go, it was a long way back out and both boys would most likely have an accident.

I was thankful for the guide looking after the boys that way, but we also felt terrible of the fact that in a cave in Chiang Dao, our boys have marked their territory.

**Important tip:

If you’re going to go anywhere obscure with children, ALWAYS carry an empty water bottle!

 

  • Elephant Sanctuary

It was the 24th December, 2017 and we spent the morning visiting Kanta Elephant Sanctuary, and kind of forgot it was so close to Christmas!

They explained all about elephants and how they look after these beautiful animals at the sanctuary. The visit included feeding sugar cane to the elephants, patting them and then bathing them should you wish. We got given morning tea and a Kanta T-shirt.

I would recommend going to Kanta as the staff are all very friendly and the elephants look like they are well taken care of.

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Chaing Mai city

We arrived into Chiang Mai city after our peaceful retreat at Tree house Hideaway. Up until this morning we still were unsure where we were going to stay in Chiang Mai. We had 2 nights 24-26th. Jason spent the drive to the Sanctuary searching on his phone for accommodation. We looked on Airbnb and bookings.com He finally found a place through bookings.com called Thank you Chiang Mai. We paid $25 per night. It was just what we needed. The place was clean, the room had a double bed and a single bed. The staff were friendly and the place is located in the old part of town not far from the Phae Gate. If you are looking for budget accommodation, then Thank you Chiang Mai is perfect for this. Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 1.31.01 pm

We arrived a Sunday afternoon and thankfully we made it just in time for the Saturday/Sunday markets. It’s quite popular for tourists and locals alike. I really enjoyed these markets as there were slightly different knick-knacks than what I had seen in other parts of Thailand.

The massages on the street were also a sight to see AND experience. They have chairs and table beds lined up on the street for very cheap one hour massages. We all had a go at having a massage 🙂

**Tip: If you are planning to visit these markets with children, I would suggest arriving a little earlier – roughly 4ish as by the time 7:30pm hits it is completely packed and difficult to walk freely without having to push and shove!

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We had our Christmas Eve dinner in a restaurant around the market place area. The boys had Pad Thai and then we all shared Mango Sticky rice and some ice-cream.

Cooking class

Another activity besides visiting the markets or strolling the streets is taking a cooking class – and that is what I did!

I chose to go to Thai Vegetarian Cooking. I strongly recommend Thai Vegetarian cooking as a place to experience cooking classes. Doing the whole tourist group class can be a bit of waste of time with having to go pick everyone up in a vehicle, then visiting the market as part of ‘the class’, which I thought was not that great and a slight waste of time. I can say that the actual lessons were very worthwhile and the teacher was spot-on! Being a teacher myself, I could see she had a tonne of experience teaching novice cooks and a heap of patience too! There was not a detail that she didn’t anticipate and explain. The only disappointment was that we were told we could save our dishes and they would be packed away for take-away. Unfortunately these all got mixed up with the others in the group and some didn’t even get to take-away.

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We were welcomed with a purple drink and ” Khao Kriab Pak Moh” (Steamed Rice Skin Dumplings).

Anuchan

image taken from: https://sites.google.com/site/thaivegetariancooking/home

Some more exploring we did was just visiting the different Wot’s and trying the local food. If you are in Chiang Mai then you need to try Khao Soi a noodle-soup dish. It reminded me a little of the Vietnamese dish Cao lao (though this is drier). But it did have some crispy noodles on top that were oh so tasty!

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Khao Soi

Christmas came and went and we missed the Hustle and bustle that usually comes with christmas time back home. Our Khao Soi was our “Christmas lunch”. We then got ready to go back home on the 26th December and get ready to spend NYE with friends back home 🙂

 

 

Ko Phanang to Nam Tok to Bangkok (via death railway)

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It was a relaxed morning with not much to do but to let the rain pass. Then it was organising the taxi to the pier, ferry back to​ Don Sak pier and a bus to Surat Thani train station.

 

I was quezy from the windy/bumpy taxi ride to the pier, so it wasn’t a good start for me on the ferry. It was up and down, side to side. The ferry journey took every fibre in my body to avoid being sick. This may sound crazy, but it felt as though I was going through contractions. Not assimilating the same pain felt, but the amount of mental power and energy I exerted the entire journey.
I kept telling myself to “breath in, breath out”…. “mind over matter… mind over matter” over and over again. It was an Olympic mental effort. Just when I thought I was feeling ok and “I have this under control” the so-called contractions would reappear and I had to go through the entire breath in, breath out… mind over matter self-talk. This went on and on for the entire 2.5hr boat ride. I learned to go to a happy place, or somewhere else where I could focus my attention. Continue reading

Ko Phanang

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Our stay at Haad Salad Villa (16th- 18th December 2017) felt too short. It was a quiet beach, away from the riff-raff and the simple accommodation made it feel like we were glamping. The beach was a stones throw away, the food and drinks at the restaurant were cheap and good value for money. We figured, staying at a cheaper place such as this would also pay off as far as the drinks and food was concerned. It is likely that drinks and food at a 5-star resort would not be the same price.

We hope to come back one day and spend at least a week on this beach. I would recommend this beach to anyone who is looking for a quiet beach and cheap accommodation. Just a little warning, if you look on the “Haad Salad Villa” the place in real life looks a little more run down than in the pictures.

 

 

 

 

Penang to Surat Thani

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Our journey sketched out. Except this is shorter than what we were actually travelling for. Need to take into account immigration etc..

11.40am

Today we will be getting on our third train journey and I’m kind of not looking forward to the long day ahead.

In order to leave Penang, we need to get the ferry back to Butterworth. We are waiting, however, the ferry did not come at the time it was supposed to. They are supposed to come every 15mins. This ferry just wasn’t coming! We need to get the ferry across to Butterworth in order to catch the 12.25pm train to Padang Besar via a Kmuter train. It is now 11.40 and still no sign of any ferry. Jason is frantically trying to make a decision. We book an Uber to take us across the bridge to Butterworth.

11:55am

We are in the car and it is now 11.55am and our Uber driver was not too hopeful that he could get us there on time – as it’s dependent on traffic.

12.04pm

It is now 12.04pm and we have 20mins before the train leaves and we still need to buy tickets. You can’t buy these tickets online unfortunately. If we miss this train, we will miss our connecting train crossing the border!

12:24pm

Our driver is amazing. He sped as much as possible with the traffic and got us to the station with 5 minutes to spare. Jason slipped some extra cash for the speed and for getting us there on time. It was a hectic and stressful start.

The train takes off at 12.33pm.

1:00pm

We are now trying to find accommodation for tonight somewhere in Surat Thani. We think that if we stay close to the pier we will not have to rush tomorrow morning to the ferry.

1.45pm

We finally find accommodation close to the pier where we can stay for the night. The problem is that the room has only a double bed in the description. The site is linked to a taxi service, so I call the number to see whether they could pick us up from the station.

A lovely man called Chris who with his broken English agrees to wait for us at the station at 8:30pm. I also asked him if they could accommodate us by placing a mattress for the boys. It seems that this is ok, but with the language barrier – anything is possible! Let’s just hope there will not be any issues (fingers crossed).

2:30pm We arrive into Pedang Besar. We wait for a very long time to go through all the immigration ring-a-roll.

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16:20pm

There is a slight confusion about what time we will arrive to Hat Yai. Our ticket says that our train will depart Hat Yai from 16:23. However we are on the train and our phones say it’s 16:20 already. The locals are also telling us that we will never make it. They are all travelling to Hat Yai to purchase groceries, like the salted fish and chicken. We are a little confused and I’m feeling a little worried again. We are unsure what time we will arrive now, nor do we know how we will get to Surat Thani if we do miss that train.

16:24pm

We finally arrive to Hat Yai and we get on our train with no problem – time to spare. It seems we shouldn’t really trust what locals or western travellers tell us!!

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20:10pm

We are nearly at Surat Thani. It has been a long day of getting on and off trains, queing for immigration and not knowing what is going to occur next.

22:40pm

After an hour and ten minute drive, we arrive to our accommodation. The boys crashed out in the car and I’m exhausted. We decide we will go to Ko Phanang. But let’s decide on accommodation in the morning!

They really want to play in sand/dirt!

With our lovely host Chris

‘Stone art’ 😂

Kuala Lumpur to Penang

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We caught the 9am train from KL Sentral, which arrived into Butterworth at 1pm.

Our tickets were all spread out. Two seats in the D carriage but in aisle 1 and 10, whilst the other two were in carriage F. Buying tickets online using the ktmb.com.my website using a phone is impossible. If you’re going to buy ETS tickets then best to use a tablet or a computer. We booked our accommodation the night before arriving to Penang.

The train journey to Butterworth went by pretty quickly with entertainment, colouring in and playing games. We received a complimentary morning tea snack from the workers.

I was quite impressed that there is a constant cleaner on board, ready to sweep and ensure the toilets are clean. Whilst I was thankful that the train was clean, there was something about the new Malaysian trains that did not quite have the same ambiance/vibe as the older trains we travelled in Vietnam. They seem almost too clinical. It’s hard to explain.

Once arriving into Butterworth, we caught a shuttle bus to the Ferry that took us to Penang.

It has been a long day and we needed to find lunch as it was nearing 2pm.

We found a nice spot around the corner from where we were staying called Sri Ananda Bahwan. Excellent Indian food and well priced.

Things to see/do in Penang

1. Magic world

The boys loved Magic world, although Mr 4 found it a little scary at times – particularly when they “chopped me in half”. It was a good time killer away from the heat and they loved it.

 

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2. Fort Cornwallis

Not a whole lot to see here. Just a few canons and bit of interesting reading.

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3. Butterfly farm

This place is really interesting and well laid out. There’s so much to see and I would definitely recommend this for families. It isn’t all about butterflies. There is a lot about bugs and insects and overall the underworld.

Around Penang

We enjoyed Penang. It reminded us a little of Hoi An. It’s not quite like Hoi An, in the sense that it is still missing more of the cultural atmosphere, but the colonial buildings, the street art and people certainly make this place attractive.

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Jelly in the shell of an egg! Kids party ideas?

Our place. We stayed in the far left corner – bottom and top floor.

Where we had lunch one day

Our accommodation in Penang. We were happy with it

Kuala Lumpur 

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There isn’t much to jump up and down about in KL. It’s another big city, but unlike other cities, it’s a little backwards. There are so many half completed and abandoned buildings, which apparently haven’t had any work done since the 90s.
It’s difficult to walk around on foot in sections of KLCC, as footpaths are obsolete, rules are a little extreme, it seems less and less expats and tourists are present, I was quite surprised to see the number of very young girls wearing a hijab. My understanding was that girls usually start to wear the hijab once they reach puberty in an attempt to dress modestly according to the Quran. I was a little taken back to see girls as young as 6 wearing them.

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Thankfully we found a big playground next to the Petronas Towers, where I could let the boys let loose while Jason went to sort out the train tickets for tomorrow morning. I’ll come back to this one!

It is a fairly big open playground with various sections and then there is a kids water play/shallow pool with a little waterfall. All seems pretty reasonable at first, until you notice the security at the playground. It’s difficult to miss their whistle blowing. Either to stop splashing, or stop swinging on the swings too high, older kids (ages 7+) are told to get off the swings and I got the whistle blown at me for laying on the grass. Apparently you are “not allowed to lay down or sleep”. I was a little annoyed, as I wasn’t sleeping but ‘resting’, and it was so nice to do in the shade, away from the heat – but I guess I wasn’t going to push my point too hard in a foreign country.

The streets haven’t been designed very well. One has to travel a long distance just to get to a certain point that is not very far away. So you will often find taxis travelling down a long road only to have to do a U-turn back up the road

The traffic is horrendous at all times! We found that there are so many holidays and if you don’t know when these are, you get caught in peak hour traffic at 2pm!! It is just unbelievable how crazy it is to get around by car. One is better off walking – oh wait – but the footpaths are not great!

The impressions of those we came across, and of my husband (who was here years ago) is that the place seems run down. A large population of the Chinese malay have left, so it seems the country is being run by the Malay who don’t seem to be doing a great job, according to most. We spoke to our taxi driver who is Indian and he says the government is corrupt, the Indian and Chinese were the ones driving the place economically, but since most have left, the place is going downhill by incompetent and lazy workers. There are so many holidays, they stop working for prayer and on Fridays the Malay workers clock off very early, hence it is no wonder the country makes no advancements economically.

What to see/do

There are a lot of places to go and see, but we were tight with time and so we only go to see the Batu Caves, the Chinese markets, Petronas Twin Towers and the Aquaris.

1. Batu Caves

Batu Caves is a limestone hill and series of temple caves in Selangor, KL. It is one of the most popular Hindu Shrines outside India. It is the focal point of Hindu festival Thaipusam in Malaysia. The Hindu diety Murugan stands outside the Batu Caves 42.7m tall. It is quite an impressive sight to see, and the stairs are also a good workout to climb.

We end up catching a taxi to the caves as our uber cancelled and we didn’t want to waste any more time. It turned out to be more expensive than we had anticipated.

Upon arrival you cannot miss the Murugan statue and the stairs that you know you have to climb. For women wanting to go, if you are wearing shorts/skirt shorter than ‘appropriate’ you will be given a garment to wear around your waste for 5RM, and 2 RM given back upon return of the garment.

It’s an interesting cultural/religious place to visit. I don’t know much about Hindu, but there is something about it that intrigues me to learn more about their belief system

 

 

 

2. Petronas Twin Towers

A beautiful building that is the epicentre of KL and is difficult to miss. It looks especially impressive at night when lit up. Although it was the tallest in the world for six years it will soon no longer be the tallest in KL. There are already construction of new buildings that will overtake the Petronas twin towers as the tallest in Malaysia.

 

 

3. The aquaris 

Chinese markets

 

4. Chinese markets

Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos here because Mr 5 was complaining of a sore tummy and was quite sick. It ended up pouring rain and so we stopped at a Chinese restaurant for dinner. The food was delicious. We caught a cab back to the unit and it was a little difficult as Mr 5 was unwell that night.

In summary, the crux is Kuala Lumpur, is just another big city. If you (like big cities, then you will like KL. But if you are like us, looking for a cultural experience, chances are this will be experienced in the smaller towns.

Penang is next and hoping this will be different.

Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur 

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Sunday morning and we are trying to find breakfast before our 10am train to KL. We catch an Uber to JB Sentral hoping to have enough time to find a place to sit down and grab a bite to eat. Unfortunately it’s pretty chaotic. We briefly sit at a place, have a rice dish, and soon make a dash for the train.

The boys have anticipated this moment. They still love the train journeys and I thrive seeing their little faces light up at the sight of them. I know this will not last forever, so I have to enjoy every moment.

The train journey from JB to KL requires a changeover at a station called Gemas. We arrive into Gemas at 2.30pm and catch the next train at 3pm from Gemas, arriving at Kuala Lumpur station at 5.15pm.

About to board the train at Johor Bahru

The train at Gemas to KL

We finally arrive to Kuala Lumpur and the boys check out the front of the train.

Kuala Lumpur station

Walking to get a taxi to our unit

We go out for dinner that evening to a place called Havana bar and grill.

A before family photo

And after shot. The boys put themselves to sleep 😂