South East Asia

        Thailand

After previous trips to Thailand I was left with mixed feelings, some spectacular scenery but so much has been destroyed by thoughtless development. So much pollution, rubbish and general degradation. However this time I thought there must be more and vowed to travel on local buses from the south to the north.151 - Mae Selong

This showed Thailand in a new light. The more genuine pizza free food, relaxed enlightening culture, genuine friendliness and the lack of hard selling tourist touts made it a much better experience.

074 - Koh Nang Yuan

We started in the south near Chompon where we travelled to Koh Tao, the amazing diving island. However it is also a great spot to just rent a boat, a guide and go snorkeling away from the crowds.073 - Swimming with the fishies

We headed north to Bangkok and onto the old capital Ayutthaya with its amazing old temples and ruins. We then got back on the bus. I had a interesting chat on this leg with a friendly Buddhist monk, we sat on the back seat together and he told me all about how much he likes Lincoln Cathedral in the UK. He had visited the area a few years back and loved England. 099 - Wat Mahathat, AyutthayaWe then went to Loopburi the town over run with monkeys. They were everywhere doing everything you could think of. See how many you can spot in picture below;107 - Spot the monkeys, Lopburi

A next stop was Chang Mai where a Buddhist vegetarian festival was in full swing, each temple had lots of great almost free veggie food, Marion was in heaven, food that looked like it might have meat was definitely meat free so we could try loads of different stuff. We carried on north to Mae Selong and Chang Saen. All quiet but beautiful towns up in the winding roads of the forested mountains that make the region so rugged and interesting.156 - Sunrise, Mae Selong

Laos

I love Laos, it is such a peaceful relaxing country. We did a loop starting on the Mekong in Northern Thailand before heading north in Laos into the so called golden triangle region notorious for opium growing.043 - Milling maize

The area had no transport so it was either moped or taxi.  I voted for moped. With no cars on the road it was great fun. The odd dog or pig was the main distraction and Marion clinging on the back freaked out by the whole driving in middle of no where. One village we entered required a balance along a fallen tree cut flat but above a rather large river, we left the moped behind and ventured on foot for that one! 135 - Vieng Xai countrysideWe did take the moped off road to explore villages that only had footpath access. Not sure if moped was desinged for this but it coped admirably! 119 - The biggest jar, Plain of Jars site 1

Next was a long trek to the plain of Jars a weird and wonderful sight. Literally a huge expanse of countryside littered with these huge carved stone jars. What they were used for is not clear. No traces of food nor human remains seems to rule out burial sites or rice/grain storage. 098 - Plain of Jars site 3Fermenting rice wine or similar was another theory. who knows, but it is clear it was for something important as lugging the stone let alone carving it was a huge endeavor   Next we stopped to see the system of caves used during the Vietnam war to protect the government of a country not at war against illegal US bombings. This was an eerie place deserted by tourists and most other people, we picked up a guide from the local village who showed as around. It had bedrooms air purifying equipment and stately rooms.

Luang Prabang is a must see town full of interesting temples, markets and great food. The Mekong river provides a great back drop.IMG_9072This is the “Lai Heua Fai” Festival in Luang Prabang, the festival of the fire boat.

The day is celebrated by illuminated boat processions handmade with bamboo and banana trunks, colourfully decorated with candles and money. Each family has to make one, each people has to throw out one illuminated little boat on the Mekong, wishing good luck for the future and paying respect to the spirit of the waters. This was the boat from the local temple and the monks carefully carry it out.

A trek through the jungle with a great local eco tourism company was another cool trip. The stories of very recent Tiger attacks in the local village were probably a bit exaggerated but the ‘deadly’ snake caught by the guide seemed pretty real. Whether he saved us or antagonised it was another matter!

Any way these are some of my pictures, as with all of this trip to south east Asia I took a slide film SLR to get some great larger prints but sadly have never transferred onto digital.

Vietnam

Vietnam has changed a lot in the last 8 years. On this trip we arrived from Laos via a remote border crossing, there was no transport, we negotiated a lift with a man transporting a bus full of pumpkins, yes a bus not a truck, they were up to the seats so we had to almost lie down. I think our $20 tickets probably made a lot more cash for him than the pumpkins did! The bus struggled with the weight which made for some hairy moments on the super sketchy roads that wind down the mountains towards Hanoi. I nearly got out and walked after one incident where we wheel spun in gravel, before we lurched inches from the edge of the roadd made narrow from a recent land slide. From the window I could see uninterupted to a  river in the rainforest clad gorge far far below.044 - Temple roof and Mekong, Pak Beng

Once in Hanoi the first change I noticed was the number of cars on the narrow streets. There were still lots of mopeds but the increasingly affluent residents are rapidly ditching them for mini cars. The roads were the same rapidly flowing non-stop tide of traffic that one has to cross confidently and one soon learns to avoid the wait for the never arriving gap in the traffic!

A trip to the amazing Ha Long bay again brought differences; the number of boats sadly seems to have detracted from the experience. It is rightly popular, but rather than the feeling of exploration of the islands we were more in a steady procession of tourists doing ’the loop’. It might have just been the weather but the water seemed to have been affected by this procession and looked decidedly less inviting that my previous boat jumping exploits.

It really is still one of the most spectacular natural attractions in the world, the vertical islands rising dramatically from the water.IMG_9339

Anyway on a positive note Hanoi has the same charms of interesting streets with great food at every corner.

We then made our way down the coast stopping off at the usual places for amazing beaches a little surfing. We also stopped to get measured and order some tailored clothes. A suit and shirt, some smart shoes and a few dresses for Marion. They brought mixed results, the shoes were awful the suit pretty decent!

Ho Chi Minh city is the same bustling exciting place. Not the same fascination as Hanoi’s historical centre but certainly a lively place with a certain uniquely Asian undercurrent.

IMG_9647

Cambodia

003 - Sunrise at Angkor WatSadly time deserted us in Cambodia, we had the chance to visit Ankor Watt somewhere I had previously failed to get to. Despite the crowds at the main spots, I love this places, it is large and sprawling enough to get away and feel like you are exploring the jungle for yourself. We cycled to spots still being recovered from the jungle, they were using aerial info to uncover extra buildings that had been long lost to nature, the results are fascinating. One new complex had long drained stone ponds surrounding an intricate temple.057 - Monks, Mebon Temple

A particular highlight was the pre-dawn cycle ride from Siam Reap to Ankor to see the sun rise on the spectacular temple complex.

029 - Angkor Thom city gates

THe picture above was cycling over a bridge as we toured the sites that make up Angkor Watt. TH=he picture below was sunset over the temples another stunning viewpoint.

086 - Sunset at the City of Angkor

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