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I’m Christie. I created The Butterfly Editions to share my travel experiences and connect with travellers around the globe. You’re in the right place to find plenty of information and inspiration for your future travels. Enjoy!
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Tag Archives: Backpacking
When our long-term travels through Asia ended so abruptly in early 2015, I never quite finished documenting each of the places we visited. Despite it being nearly two years later, I've decided to continue writing about each of the destinations we visited - primarily for my own personal satisfaction and memories. This post about Xi'an has been sitting in my drafts for quite some time, so it is about time to press the publish button...hope you enjoy!
It was a long five hours, the train from Luoyang to Xi’an.
We had opted to take the cheaper slow train instead of the high-speed train that can whip you between the cities in less than two hours.
Our seats were in different compartments and while Alan lucked out with a upper berth where he could relax with a couple of movies, I was on a lower berth where my blonde hair and fair skin meant I had plenty of company!
I’d started doing some editing on my laptop but it wasn’t long before I had an audience viewing each and every photo on my computer, as well as a young boy being nudged over by his parents with a shy “hello” and nervously offering me his teddy. It was cute and funny the first time, after about the fifteenth time? I was more than ready to arrive in Xi’an!
It was late and dark when we disembarked, and after fending off overpriced taxis outside the train station we began to walk in the direction of our guesthouse. It didn’t take long before tiredness and hunger took over and we flagged a taxi, which turned out to be a wise decision. In the expansive maze that is the Muslim Quarter, our taxi driver had to ask for directions three times, so there really was little hope for us if we had of walked!
The Muslim Quarter is an area that appears to have thrived since the 1st Century BC. As the starting point of the ancient Silk Road, Xi'an attracted traders from throughout Central Asia and the Middle East - during the 8th century it was the biggest city in the world with more than 1 million inhabitants, many of whom were foreigners. The age of this history just astounds me!
Popular among tourists, The Muslim Quarter is a great spot to be in for hearty street food, and although we arrived late at night there were still a few stalls open. We each grabbed a Rou Jia Mo (a Chinese Hamburger, of sorts), which were quickly demolished as we wandered the streets back to our guesthouse.
Looking out our window early the next morning, vendors were already set up for the day displaying tables of their fresh fruits and vegetables. I was eager to explore and soak in the hive of activity in the Muslim Quarter!
As we wandered down the street hunting for a hot breakfast, pots were steaming away and butchers were hard at work.
Honking motorbikes wove in and out of pedestrians, while cats sniffed for forgotten crumbs.
Nuts were being shelled and sweet, sticky candy was being hand-pulled.
Warm aromas of freshly baked bread and sizzling pastries teased our senses.
These pastries caught our eye and quickly became our go-to breakfast over the next few days. A fried flatbread of sorts, stuffed with what we decided was cabbage and minced meat - though I can't be entirely sure!
The variety of food in the Muslim Quarter was incredible! Some was delicious, and some not so much - but a great opportunity to try lots of different things.
Some kind of glutinous rice cake. It tasted like...rice!
Hearty Mutton and Bread Soup
As is the norm across Asia, in Xi'an there are motorbikes everywhere. I loved the motorbike quilts throughout China that riders wore to protect themselves from the bitter cold.
We spent some time wandering around the city sights including the Bell Tower and Drum Tower - two iconic symbols of X’ian built during the Ming dynasty way back in the 1300's. Historically, the Bell Tower would ring a bell at dawn and the Drum Tower would beat a drum at dusk to signal the end of the day, hence the names.
We didn’t go inside either because, honestly? They were a touch expensive and we were feeling a little over sightseeing. Very pretty from the outside though!
Also, we had other overpriced things to spend our money on! Like hot drinks at Pacific Coffee, which became quite a thing for us in X’ian. It was essential to stop every now and then somewhere warm to thaw out our fingers by wrapping them around a steaming hot drink. Not to mention, Pacific Coffee’s English Breakfast Tea Lattes are seriously addictive. I could barely go a day without.
After some exploring on the first day we were ready to face what would be our most active afternoon since Muay Thai training in Thailand. I’d read about cycling around the city wall on Our Dream Adventure, and was looking forward to doing it myself! A total length of nearly 14km, though being flat is still quite the effort to zip around in a couple of hours (if you return your bikes after 2 hours, you have to pay extra!).
Chinese New Year was coming up so there were plenty of grand, multicoloured decorations being assembled in preparation for celebrations!
But of course, no trip to X’ian is complete without visiting the famous Terracotta Warriors! Early the next day we made our way to the bus station and caught a local bus out to the site about 30km from Xi'an city.
It was a chilly winter's day so a hot cuppa was essential to warm up the insides for a day of exploring!
They were created in the 3rd century BC as the burial site for Emporor Qin Shi Huang, presumably to protect him in the afterlife. We learnt about the detail of the statues, right down to their distinct hair texture and facial features. Incredibly, each was intricately different, with uniforms and style depicting the statues' ranks.
The statues were so colourful! Though much of the colour has decayed over more than 2000 years (!!), there is a full display about the colours, how they were made and how they are being preserved. Which is especially fascinating, considering when the statues were created.
This kind of history just blows my mind.
The Bronze Horsemen were also on display in the museum area.
First discovered in 1974 by a local farmer digging a well, it is believed that only as much as 25-30% of the warriors have been uncovered so far - that is just over 2000 warriors from an estimated 8000+. There is still plenty of excavation more to be done!
There are three pits open for public viewing, however Pit 1 is the most active and impressive. There are sites where excavation work is still being completed and other areas where pieces that are found are meticulously out back together, like a highly meticulous puzzle!
It was a fascinating day at the Terracotta Warriors and I'm so pleased we made it to Xi'an to explore the area!
After another day of our favourite activities - wandering, street food and perhaps another cuppa from Pacific Coffee - it wasn't long before we were jammed amongst the crowds awaiting our overnight train to Beijing.
With a 1200km journey ahead of us that night, we hoped we were going to be able to get some sleep on this train...
Stay tuned for Beijing and ticking one enormous wall off my bucket list in my next travel post!
Oh hey there! How's it going? Good, I hope.
I guess its about time for a little update. If you have still been popping by, you might have noticed that I haven’t been hanging around here lately.
Where on earth am I? What happened? What's going on?
I really didn’t expect to ever have to write a post like this, and to be honest, I’ve been putting it off tremendously. But, I feel like these words simply have to come out before I can carry on.
When you last heard from me, Alan and I were happily exploring Cambodia - then all of a sudden I seem to have fallen off the blogging radar. I haven’t posted on my blog, have barely looked at my Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and all those things we seem to think are so important - but that I’ve quickly come to realise at a time like this they are right at the very bottom of my priorities…and actually make me feel worse.
I had to return home for health reasons, requiring an unexpected and fairly major surgery. By the time I arrived home I remember saying that I’d cried so much that I’d literally run out of tears. I think most of the tears are for my travel dream, that now feels like its been shattered into a million pieces just out of my reach.
I left my spirit in Asia. Thats the best way I’ve been able to describe how I feel right now.
I gave up so much to follow this dream and I guess I just feel cheated. I gave up a stable job, a decent income and my comfortable home to chase this dream I’d had for as long as I can remember - and to have returned this much earlier than planned feels like...failure.
Deep down, I know that I’m very lucky. I could have had long-term health implications. I could have had no “home” to return to. For goodness sake, I travelled through Asia for more than six months - a continent where many will never leave their own village, let alone their country. I’m indescribably privileged to be able to consider travel as an option, not to mention be freely on the move constantly for as long as Alan and I did.
I’ve taken a long break from my blog. The honest truth? It's been too upsetting for me to reflect on our travels, too difficult to write these words, too many tears escaping every time my mind revisits my incomplete travels.
However, it's time to carry on with what I started. I'm digging deep into my dreams, adapting my plans, moving onwards and upwards. There are plenty of posts to come here on the Butterfly Editions, along with some exciting changes over the next few months.
So, there's the simplified version of the story. For the time being, Alan and I are living in my hometown of Nelson, New Zealand. It hasn’t been an easy few months, and I’m still not quite finished dealing with what happened yet. Fake it till you make it, right? But hey, we all get there in the end, don’t we!
Some life changes look negative and painful on the surface, but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new and beautiful to emerge.
- Eckhart Tolle
For those of you that continue to follow along with my journey - thank you. I sure hope you stick around for whats to come!
WOW. Today marks exactly six months since Alan and I packed up our little home in Christchurch, New Zealand, prepared to spend all our savings (eek!), and set off to travel through Asia. In many ways it feels like we have been gone for so long, though in other ways it feels like just yesterday that we left.
As this six month milestone whizzes by, I'm feeling reflective on whats changed in my life over the past half year. It's been an absolute whirlwind - I have learnt a lot about the world, about myself, my values, my hopes and dreams, about the kind of life I want to lead. In many ways I have gained a lot of clarity, but in other ways I'm more confused than ever.
Especially travelling in Asia where many people live on so little, it makes you question a lot about humanity, your morals and what you truly need in order to be happy. I'm not going to get into that today, though - I'll stew that one up and get all deep and meaningful on you another time!
I love a good list (who doesn't?) so I thought it might be interesting to reflect on the past six months of travel with a list of the numbers. Ready? Here we go!
Days on the road: 182 (exactly 26 weeks!)
Countries visited: 7
Beds slept in: 41
Inter-city busses: 30. Including 2 overnight busses, we've managed to avoid more than that!
Local busses: too many to count!
Scooters hired: 10
Inter-city trains: 4
Metro/subway/MRT rides: dozens!
Boat trips: 18
Arguments between Alan and I: 1,000+
Dentists visited: 1 (Alan)
Bouts of food poisoning: just 1 so far! (me)
Crickets consumed: 2 for me and 4 for Alan...yep, I'm talking about the insects!
Theme parks visited: 2 - Universal Studios in Singapore and Vinpearl Island in Vietnam.
Jandals (flip-flops) replaced: 1 pair each.
Mango smoothies consumed: A fair estimate would be 100 each...
Dollars spent: Let's just say my savings are looking a little dry...take a look at my country budget breakdowns if you want to do the maths for yourself.
Panic/stress meltdowns: Christie - approximately 1,000. Alan - zero (how is he so damn chilled out?).
Where we stayed the longest time: Koh Samui, Thailand, where we trained Muay Thai for one month.
Where we stayed the shortest time: Probolinggo, Indonesia, where we arrived at 3am in the morning to experience the Mount Bromo sunrise and left later that afternoon.
1. Canyoning in Dalat, Vietnam. And zooming down waterslides on Vinpearl Island in Vietnam. And slow mornings in Hoi An, Vietnam. Let's just say Vietnam in general, okay? I love Vietnam.
2. Attending my friends' wedding in Huangshi, China.
3. Learning the art of Muay Thai on Koh Samui, Thailand.
But also because three is far too few: Splurging at Universal Studios Singapore. Playing with puppies in Ubud, Bali. Relaxing in waterfalls on Langkawi, Malaysia. And SO many more!
1. Packing. I swear it gets worse and worse every single time.
2. Being tricked into eating dried rat (yep, rat) in Da Lat, Vietnam, only to be told afterwards what it actually was! Though admittedly, until I was told it was rat I was nodding and thinking this wouldn't be too bad mixed in with a bit of rice...
3. The biggest lowlight of them all? Realising that this can't last forever.
POSTED IN: adventure, Asia, Backpacking, budget, dreams, goals, inspiration, journal, life, travel
"It's not here," I panicked. "The hostel isn't here!"
It was pitch black at night and after arriving into Luoyang an hour ago we had already missed our bus stop, backtracked in a taxi for ten minutes to the address of our hostel, and anxiously walked up three flights of stairs in an abandoned building with broken tiles, dust and glass fragments strewn everywhere - at the exact address our hostel was supposed to be. This building seemed like no one had graced it's stairs for a number of years.
My heart was racing. "No, no, there's no way this can be a scam - it's got good reviews online!" Alan assured me.
We traipsed back down the stairs in the dark with our heads hung low, each mentally contemplating what our next move would be and how we would find somewhere else to stay this late at night. At the bottom of the stairs we noticed a dim crack of light peeping through a gap from behind a very thick, quilted curtain, something we both hadn't noticed as we'd entered the building earlier.
Thankfully, this curtain hid the doorway to our hostel and we both heaved a sigh of relief after those brief moments of panic, that we had found what would be our home for the next few nights.
Luoyang Longmen Youth Hostel was nothing fancy, but it did the trick. Coming from our luxurious five-star experience at the Tonino Lamborghini the previous night, I'll admit it took me a few minutes to reacquaint myself with hostel life and all that comes with it. Here, it was the sewerage pipe running through our bathroom from the level above that wafted unpleasant smells through the air - though as long as we kept the door closed and held our breath as long as possible while in there it was no problem, we got on with it. Our room was warm, and that was the main thing because now that we had traveled further north the temperatures were dropping and we were looking at days of between 0-5 degrees Celsius.
One thing about hostels is China that is different to what we had experienced in Southeast Asia is that in SEA breakfast is usually included with your room, whereas the opposite tends to be true in China. Not to worry,
we Alan had been carrying around a half pack of rolled oats since we'd been living on Koh Samui that my frugal self couldn't bear to part with - I knew we would eat them some day! Well, what do you know. All we needed was to buy a few bananas and a pack of instant coffee to feed my addiction and we were set for breakfasts for the next few days.
We had three days to spend in Luoyang, and with a couple of full days ahead we decided to spend day one doing a bit of planning, a bit of exploring and a bit of shopping - despite stocking up on a few winter woollies in Chiang Mai we were still short of gloves and a beanie - items we had quickly realised were a necessity!
Feeling refreshed after a fairly straightforward day and organised with enough warm clothes to keep us toasty, we were up early on our second day for an independent day trip to the Shaolin Monastery. Located on the Shaoshi Mountain (hence the name) in the Songshan Mountain range, Shaolin Monastery and its associated temple were established during the Northern Wei Dynasty in the year 495 A.D. It is one of China's four holy Buddhist temples and the birthplace of Chan Buddhism.
Though, perhaps Shaolin Temple is best known as the home of Kung Fu! There is a Chinese saying that "all martial arts under heaven arose out of Shaolin," so with a boyfriend who is right into his martial arts it seemed only fitting that we visit while we were nearby.
We had decided against an organised tour to Shaolin Temple. According to our research, we could catch a series of public busses to get there and, as is usually the case with tours, doing it independently would be significantly cheaper. It was going to take a couple of hours each way, but why worry, we had all day! Famous last words...
Firstly we took a twenty-minute bus into the central city of Luoyang, where we located the central bus station and, despite some language difficulties, were eventually loaded onto a bus that we were told was going to take us to Shaolin. Alan and I were the only passengers waiting on the us to begin with, so the driver kindly put an English movie on for us to pass the time while we waited. By the time we had watched The Fast and the Furious 1 in its entirety, the bus was finally full and we set off in the direction of the Shaolin Temple.
It was nearing the end of 2 Fast 2 Furious when we pulled into the bus station in Dengfeng and were herded off our bus onto a smaller bus, that would take us the rest of the way to the temple, which was another twenty minutes or so. Despite getting an early start, we had completely underestimated the time it would take to get to Shaolin Temple. I was quickly mentally planning our route for the afternoon so that we could be sure to see all the best bits of this enormous temple complex!
At last, we arrived at the entrance, eagerly paid the 100 yuan entry fee (NZ$20), and raced through the gates to begin exploring.
I'd seen some photos of how busy Shaolin Temple can be in the summer months - so despite the freezing cold it was incredible to have a place like this just about all to ourselves. We could explore and soak in the rich history without being shoulder to shoulder with other tourists all day.
Our first stop in the complex was visiting the Shaolin Temple itself. It is enormous and you could easily spend hours here, wandering around and exploring every corner. But due to our, uh, transport delays of the morning, we were now on a rather tight schedule so as to not miss the last bus back! We spent about 45 minutes looking around.
After we had finished exploring the temple, we walked through the Pagoda Forest which is the resting place for revered monks. It is said to be one of China's largest pagoda forests, consisting of more than 200 pagodas. It was pretty, though not particularly lush during winter, so we quickly ticked that one off in order to make it in time to the Kung Fu show!
Kungfu continues to be practiced and studied at Shaolin Temple, as it has been for more than 1500 years. As we walked in the direction of the performance centre we saw hundreds and hundreds of students training out in the chilly winter air.
But of course the highlight of our visit was the Kung Fu demonstration! We watched a group of monks performing a series of Kung Fu techniques, followed by a breathtaking showcase of qigong - where all of one's inner energy is focussed into a certain exercise. We witnessed a monk bending a spear with his neck, and another who threw a small needle at a sheet of glass, piercing the glass and popping a balloon held behind it. Very impressive!
After our journey from Luoyang to Shaolin Temple took over three hours, I was more than a little worried about getting back. I was feeling antsy the entire time we were exploring the temple that we would miss the last bus back. We were directed to board a bus and - after apparent road closures, a couple of hours of navigating rugged farm roads, a bus breakdown, a woman on our bus that insisted on numerous photoshoots with me, waiting in the middle of nowhere for a new bus and then elbowing our way through a mob where we managed to snap up the last two seats on the new bus - STRESS! - we finally saw the lights of Luoyang ahead. I'm pretty sure I melted with relief.
Our journey to and from the Shaolin Temple was the kind of day where we just had to put our faith in people and trust that we would end up in the right place! Although I wish we had more time to explore - there was SO much more to see! - with the beauty of hindsight, it was still a pretty amazing day. Amazing because of the incredible history, but equally amazing because we made it there and back - there were plenty of moments I was sure we wouldn't! So with that said...
...if you are going to visit the Shaolin Temple yourself, here's some tips.
Yes, it is totally possible to do an independent day trip from Luoyang - though from my experience if you don't speak the language it is likely be a rather stressful day! It is a lot cheaper (transport there and back cost us all up about $11 each) but also a lot more difficult. You may also be tight on time like we were and have to miss out on exploring certain areas of the complex.
My recommendation would be if you want to enjoy the day fully and you're staying in Luoyang, fork out for an organised tour. You'll not only spend the day worry-free but also get a lot more information out of it with a local guide.
Otherwise, and this is what I would do next time, stay in Dengfeng where you are much closer to the temple to begin with (only 13km away). This option would allow you to spend all day at the temple as you don't need to worry about missing the last bus back to Luoyang. Also there is tonnes of cool stuff to do around the mountains too that we missed out on, if you have a full day or two you will get to see and do so much more!
In my next post I'll be writing about our final day in Luoyang, where we visited a place that we had never even heard of...and turned out to be an absolute highlight of our time in China!
POSTED IN: adventure, Asia, Backpacking, budget, China, Culture, Luoyang, temple, travel
We all make mistakes, and when you're on the road it is easy to make a lot - I know I sure have! But as the saying goes, we learn from our mistakes, so in this post I am going to share with you five travel lessons I have learned the hard way.
Travel Lesson 1// Pack a (mostly) neutral wardrobe
The mistake: I made some questionable decisions when I packed my luggage, and brought with me so many different colours and prints. I have too many tops and bottoms that just cannot be worn together! Not such a problem when all of my clothes are freshly laundered, but definitely a big problem when I'm down to the animal print shorts and green patterned singlet that, when worn together, look like I've been dressed by a five-year-old.
Lesson learned: Select your clothes in a careful and planned way, sticking with neutral colours and adding in just a couple of key pieces with colours and patterns. Colourful scarves are a great way to add some life to an otherwise plain outfit.
Travel Lesson 2// Don't pack clothes that must be hand-washed
The mistake: Also on the subject of clothing, I packed too many items that require hand-washing. Laundry across Asia is so cheap (and comes back smelling so good!) that it is usually a waste of time and energy to hand-wash clothes. I packed a couple of pairs of brightly coloured underwear that bleed dye every time they are washed, so I can't get them laundered with my other clothes or they will all come back with a pink tinge. It is such a pain, I don't know why I don't just get rid of them already! I also had a dress that was made of delicate fabric that I sent off to be washed and it came back all stretched and unwearable.
Lesson learned: Don't pack clothes that bleed colour, be sure to wash everything at home before you leave to double-check. Likewise, go for durable fabrics over delicate, pretty ones.
Travel Lesson 3// Book in advance during peak seasons and public holidays
The mistake: I like to be flexible with our plans so usually we end up booking just a day or two in advance of moving to our next destination. This is fine when travelling during off-peak seasons, in fact you can often not book at all and simply take your pick of accommodation once you arrive. But peak season, along with holidays like Chinese New Year can affect your travel in many countries across Asia. We tried to book a guesthouse in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, a few nights ago and Agoda had ZERO rooms left out of more than 100 hotels. Luckily we managed to reserve one of the last rooms on another booking engine, but then we struggled to book a bus - they were also just about completely booked!
Lesson learned: During peak seasons and public holidays try to plan ahead as best as you can. If you want to be organised but still retain flexibility, try booking a room with free cancellation. Or better yet, travel during off-peak season! I much prefer travelling outside of peak seasons where room prices tend to be cheaper and you're not sharing the sights with hundreds of other people.
Travel Lesson 4// Screenshot some maps on your phone before you arrive
The mistake: Especially when you're arriving by bus into a new city, you often have absolutely no idea where you are when you are dropped off. In Asia, you will quickly be approached by clever taxi/tuk-tuk drivers eager to take you to your accommodation. When I was in Vietnam a couple of years ago I made the mistake of arriving somewhere new and hopping in the first taxi I saw to take me to my guesthouse. 20 minutes and about $20 later, I arrived there. The mistake was only realised when I walked around the corner later that day and discovered that was exactly where the bus has dropped us off - that cunning taxi driver had taken me on a very expensive joyride!
Lesson learned: By mapping your accommodation and taking some screenshots, along with some zoomed out screenshots that show the layout of the city and a few key street names, you will be more easily able to locate yourself on your arrival. Then you can decide to walk if your accommodation is nearby, or you can barter a fair price with the taxi driver because you have an idea of the distance.
Travel Lesson 5// You don't have to see everything
The mistake: I am the type of person that feels like I have to see and do everything, everywhere I go. I would plan our days so that we could fit in as much as possible, and I'd feel guilty if we spent a whole morning (let alone a whole day!) doing, well, nothing. But by the time we reached Chiang Mai I was feeling run down and over it - I had lost my travel mojo. Being too 'on-the-go' for too long had taken its toll.
Lesson learned: Although travelling is amazing and fun, it can also be very exhausting, especially when you are on the road for months at a time. Just like you sometimes blob out on the couch at home, it is important to have downtime while travelling too. Don't feel guilty for taking a whole day off, for watching hours of TV, or for missing a couple of the sights. As long as you enjoyed your time there, that is 100% the most important thing!
Have you also made some silly mistakes while travelling, that you have later learned from? Please share in the comments below!
China was added to our itinerary months ago because we had a wedding to attend! We decided to make the most of it while we were in the country and take a three week tangent from our route through Southeast Asia - an interlude from the heat and instead layer on the winter woolies to beat China's glacial mid-winter temperatures.
To be perfectly honest, I was a little nervous about travelling in China. Of course I had heard plenty of good things, but on the flipside, I had also heard that the language barrier can make it a particularly tough country to travel. I’m always up for a challenge but after spending four months in the well-trodden tourist paths of Southeast Asia, China was beginning to feel particularly scary. Southeast Asia was so easy (well, most of the time), what on earth was ahead of me?
We flew bright and early from Bangkok to Wuhan, where we surprisingly quickly managed to score the last two seats on a stuffed - and stuffy! - bus to Huangshi, my friend’s hometown and where we would be staying the next five nights to spend time with her family and attend her wedding.
Wuhan airport impressed me with its unexpected, Singapore-esque cleanliness. Get this: the bathrooms had a sensor you would hover your hand over as you entered the cubicle, which would automatically activate a new plastic seat cover that slid onto the seat - without you having to touch a thing! Can I just say - hooray for not having to hover, and hooray for western toilets! Unfortunately over the next three weeks we learnt dirty squatters tend to be the norm - but hey, I appreciated it while it lasted.
From Wuhan it was a couple of hours on the highway with a view that seemed like boom town - in every direction we could see a countless number of cranes assisting the build of skyscrapers and apartment blocks. The province of Hubei, that is home to both Wuhan and Huangshi, has a staggering population of 57 million - so I can't really be surprised, can I!
On arrival in Huangshi, despite doing the very best planning we could, we had absolutely zero idea where we were when we were dropped off by our bus at the final stop. However, the friendliness and desire to help from the locals came to our aid immediately. One young guy about my age got chatting to Alan in broken english and asked the bus driver if he could drop us directly at our hotel - despite the bus journey being over and our hotel being a further 10 minutes drive down the road! That was the first of many experiences we had in China where, despite language difficulties, people generously went out of their way to help us hopeless foreigners.
Huangshi is not on the tourist trail - even when we were looking for accommodation in advance it was difficult to find more than a few options on any english-language website. No hostels or budget guesthouses set up for backpackers here! We decided to splurge a little and booked the hotel that the wedding was at - a plush four-star - which was especially welcome following our budget guesthouse accommodations of the last four months.
Because the city is not on the tourist trail, in terms of western visitors the numbers Huangshi sees are few. A handful of the hotels may see perhaps a handful of western businessmen over the course of a year, but certainly young tourists like us (especially a young, blonde one like me!) are an absolute oddity. Therefore we were stared at constantly, wherever we went - some people even came right up to us for a closer look. We may have been the first westerners some of the local children had ever seen!
Huangshi is a city of beautiful lakes, and by China's standards is really just a small town of 650,000. We spent five nights in Huangshi, exploring the city with my friend and her family by whom we were also generously treated to a number of delicious, banquet-style meals. Of course, plenty of time was also spent lounging in our room (I’m still convinced the bed was a cloud sent from heaven), and ended on a high with the most EPIC buffet breakfast of all time on our final day. I may or may not have indulged in two helpings of bread and butter pudding before 10am in the morning.
But we weren’t in Huangshi to talk about bread and butter pudding, we were there for a wedding! As it was not my special day I won’t go into too much detail, but I will note that the bride looked incredibly beautiful, I caught the bouquet (in fact I think my friend’s cousin and I both caught it together and I over-enthusiastically tugged it out of her hands…sorry!), and post-wedding we celebrated with karaoke until the place closed at 3am. Good times were had by all.
Other notable highlights of our time in Huangshi included:
- A $6 gel french manicure (what a bargain!), though this could be argued as a lowlight for Alan as he had to sit and watch the whole thing.
- Trying stinky tofu, wasn’t my favourite but try anything once, right?
- Catching public busses, because our poor receptionist was horrified when we mentioned we were going to catch the bus and encouraged us to take a taxi instead. She probably thought we would get lost and never found again - ha, we proved her wrong! Well, we did get a bit lost, but…
- New Years eve dumplings, cooked by my friend’s mum (who makes the best Chinese food ever), and eaten by us in the hope of prosperity and wealth in the year ahead…YUM.
- Our final night we splurged on the fancy five-star Tonino Lamborghini Lakeside Hotel to stay with our friends after the wedding. So lush!
It was so wonderful to see a couple of our friends from home after months on the road. But all must come to an end and before we knew it we were back on our own again. We had a series of trains booked to take us north to our next destination and had to collect our tickets at the station a couple of hours beforehand.
Naturally, there were a couple of momentary episodes of pre-train panic - once when our taxi driver nearly took us to the wrong train station, followed by a few drawn out minutes when the ticket lady insisted we did not have any tickets booked and there were no seats left today...uh-oh. Turns out we did have tickets booked after all, phew! It simply took a bit of convincing because the ticket lady had just never seen a booking confirmation from an english website before...we were probably the first westerners in the history of time to catch a train from this station!
Tickets tightly in hand and panicked moments behind us, we entered the station and waited patiently for our train. One of the guards came over to us and started speaking to us in Chinese, of course it was very clear that we didn’t understand. This happened about three more times and we were beginning to wonder what was going on, then he managed to recruit an english-speaking passenger to translate - the guard wanted us to follow him with our luggage. We were led past the giant queue that was forming for our train, bypassed security, and shown to our seats on the empty train - all at least 15 minutes before anyone else was allowed to board! It was such a generous and welcome gesture, he must have been so worried about us!
If only all our train experiences were that easy…
Stay tuned for some stories from our next destination in China, Luoyang, where we checked out some breathtaking history!
POSTED IN: adventure, Asia, Backpacking, China, Chinese Wedding, Culture, Huangshi, travel
Although the internet has many posts about renting a scooter in Southeast Asia, I still feel compelled to write a comprehensive guide of my own as we have learnt so much about this topic along the way!
This post is not trying to convince you to give up on renting a scooter, in fact my intentions are quite the opposite. We have rented scooters a number of times now in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, and will no doubt rent many more as we continue our travels through Asia. Our favourite destinations seem to consistently be when we have the independence of a scooter.
This guide is written in regards to the automatic scooters we have been renting, though many of the points are also applicable to semi-automatic and manual motorbikes. It was also written with plenty of input from Alan, my Chief Scooter Driver - because I trust his driving way more than mine!
Tips for renting a scooter in Southeast Asia
Before you hire
- Before you leave home, ensure to get your International Driver’s License. In New Zealand you just need to pop into the AA with a passport photo and your regular driver’s license, pay $20, and you’ll be given a little booklet with your photo stuck inside that is valid for 1 year. This is your International Driver’s License, which you legally need to drive in most (if not all?) Southeast Asian countries. If you’re stopped and asked to show your license you need to show both your regular license AND your International License. That said, many people do drive without an International Drivers’ License and if stopped by police simply pay a bribe instead, but if you want to avoid all possibility of being on the wrong side of the law then it makes total sense to just hand over the $20 before you leave - the whole process took us both less than 10 minutes, its worth it!
- If you want to rent a manual motorbike you obviously need to know how to manually change gears (duh) and also hold a valid motorbike license. If you have a regular drivers license you can legally drive a moped/scooter.
- Expect that you will have to hand over your passport or a big bond (for example on Koh Samui we handed over a 5000 baht bond, NZ$210), which we got back on return). It is a much better idea to leave a deposit, I know I'd rather lose 5000 baht than have my passport held ransom for way more $$!
- Find a reputable company to rent from or rent from your guesthouse. Take a business card with their name and number on it so you can call should you need to. You'll also usually have to sign a document stating that you're liable for any damage, etc. Make sure you know what you are signing and that you are comfortable with it. There are some dodgy companies out there that have been known to follow you and steal your scooter back after you park it somewhere, then you have to pay them reparation for the missing scooter. If it feels dodgy, it probably is, so use your common sense.
- Wear a helmet. Yes, I realise this is the most repeated tip of all time. One thing I’ve noticed from our journey so far is that some places it is the norm to wear a helmet (Malaysia springs to mind), and other places no-one wears a helmet (Bali, Koh Samui, and plenty more). Buck the trend and wear a helmet! Just do it. Also, police are way more likely to target foreigners who aren't following the 'rules' because we are known to have, uh, fat wallets. It is also important to note than a helmet should be included for free with your rental, if they make you pay for it rent from somewhere else!
- Drive safely. You may be the greatest driver out there, but at the end of the day everybody on the road is not under your control. Be as aware and defensive as you can.
- Don't be in a rush. Come on, you're on holiday! No need to be speeding and rushing around just to create more danger for yourself and others on the road.
- Again, please wear one! You'll be surprised how many people (locals and foreigners) drive around with their helmets in their basket, or anywhere on their bike other than their head! This is so they can put it on quickly in case stopped by police. But still, the best and only place for it is on your head.
- When you park the scooter and your helmet won't fit under the seat, the best way to store it is open up the seat, then close the seat with the strap inside and helmet hanging out. That way there is no chance of it getting stolen, plus you don't have to carry it around when you're out and about. Here's a picture of what I'm talking about...
Picking your scooter
- What power to get? Depends on how hilly the terrain is and if its just you or if there will be two of you on the scooter. We had a 110cc scooter on Koh Samui which was fine for generally driving around but when we ventured inland into the very hilly areas there were a few times I had to get off and walk up the hill instead, ha!
- Don't rent a brand new scooter. The natural inclination is to rent the flashest, coolest-looking one. But, chances are you may drop it or scratch something, so if you go for a less fancy scooter that already has a few light scratches here and there they are less likely to notice if you also add a scratch or two.
- Before you commit, take it for a quick drive down the road. Check the brakes work, the light works, the indicators, the horn, the speedo (we have had a couple of rentals where the speedo hasn't worked which isn't a big problem, it is just important to make sure the rental company are aware it doesn't go before you drive away, otherwise you may get blamed and made to cough up for fixing it when you return).
- If there are some minor scrapes or damage to your scooter, make sure you point it out to the dealership AND take some photos as evidence before you drive away, just in case they question it upon your return.
- Make sure you ask how to open the seat up and unlock the ignition as this can vary between models.
Filling up the tank
- Ask how much petrol is per litre and how many litres it will need to fill up. Petrol stations sometimes rip you off so be careful (we got ripped of at a petrol station in Hoi An and have been super cautious about this ever since!). Think about how much driving around you're going to do before returning the scooter, you may only need half a tank.
- Ask where the nearest petrol station is. Often your scooter will come with an empty tank of gas and your first stop is going to be to fill it up!
- Are you expected to return your scooter empty or full? Obviously, if you hired it with an empty tank you should never be expected to return it full - go hire somewhere else! But if it comes with a full tank when you rent it, you are usually expected to return it full.
On the road
- Always park your scooter with the wheel locked. Just the other day on parking our scooter in Mui Ne, we came across some concerned travellers whose scooter had been stolen (literally, wheeled away like a push bike!) when they forgot to lock the wheel. Locking the wheel makes it a lot harder for someone to steal your scooter.
- Don't be afraid to use the horn! When overtaking someone is the most common, but some local drivers are known to just speed down the road absuing their horn non-stop. Don't go overboard, but do use it when you need to.
- You're in Asia, meaning there are more hazards on the road than just cars and an overload of motorbikes. Also watch out for dogs, cows, snakes...you name it! We had two near-misses with snakes in Thailand already! Slow down, beep your horn and gently swerve around them.
If something goes wrong
- Usually, you'll have to pay out of pocket if you get a flat tyre - it should't cost more than a few dollars. This has only happened to us once, but one of the friendly guys from our guesthouse in Ubud, Bali, took it to get it fixed and wouldn't accept any of our money to pay for it!
- Accidents happen - this is where you are going to want to make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers mopeds. You don't want to end up paying for an unexpected hospital visit out of pocket...
If you haven't driven a scooter before
- Don't learn in a busy area. Start somewhere quiet and empty (like a parking lot, or I learnt on an empty basketball court!) and practice starting, stopping, corners, indicating, and parking. I wouldn't recommend learning anywhere like Koh Samui or Kuta, Bali.
- Remember that road rules barely exist in much of Southeast Asia. Don't expect for people to look out for you, give way for you and make sure you know what side of the road you're meant to be driving on (e.g. in Thailand its on the left but in Vietnam its on the right). If you are not very confident, slow and steady is best.
- Always keep your left hand over the brake - this is the back brake and obviously the one you want to be using the most pressure on. A good guide is 90% of the braking should come from the rear and 10% from the front.
- Especially if you're on the back of the bike, make sure your leg doesn't touch the scalding exhaust pipe or you will quickly end up with a nasty burn.
- Adjust your mirrors before you drive - seems obvious but don't forget! As you will have traffic swerving around you constantly, its very important you can see whats coming up behind you and either side of you.
Some of those tips may make hiring a scooter sound scary, but it is truly so much fun! There is nothing better than streaming along with the wind flowing through your hair and the independence of driving wherever you like that day. Many of our favourite travel days have been when we have hired scooters and explored the area we were in. We have seen so much more of so many places than we would have otherwise!
Have you hired a scooter in Southeast Asia? Any further tips you can share?
Money, money, money! Wanna know how much baht I spent during my two months in Thailand? Read on for a little insight into my wallet...
Thailand: Our Itinerary
- 3 nights Krabi town
- 2 nights Ao Nang
- 30 nights Koh Samui (training Muay Thai)
- 3 nights Koh Tao
- 1 night Surat Thani
- 7 nights Chiang Mai
- 3 nights Pai
- 3 nights Sukhothai
- 1 night Phitsanulok
- 5 nights Bangkok
Before we left New Zealand we got 60-day Thailand tourist visas (we sent our passports to the Thailand Embassy in Wellington). We squeezed out nearly every day of those visas, staying a total of 58 nights.
Though we had our visas before we left, we didn't have a plan of what we would do in Thailand at the beginning. It was while we were in Singapore that we took the plunge and booked in a month at Superpro Samui. I was also keen to see some of the north as I had never visited that part of the country before and heard amazing things (yup, its true!).
I loved having an entire month in one place - we had a little studio apartment of our own on Koh Samui and did normal things like go grocery shopping and go to the movies and other fun stuff like that. I love travelling but its no secret that this little island has become dear to my heart and I'm already dreaming of going back!
Thailand: Travel Budget Breakdown
Please note these costs are in New Zealand dollars (NZD), unless otherwise stated.
Total we spent over 59 days for two people: $5,025 ($2,512.50 per person)
Daily average per person: $42.60 (we try to average less than $50 each overall)
Category Breakdown (Note these costs are for two people and I have rounded to the nearest dollar):
- Accommodation: $1,907
- Food and drink: $1690
- Transport: $688
- Entertainment/attractions: $181
- Visas: $50 each*
- Shopping: $495 (most of it was Muay Thai essentials!)
- Massage: $59
- Laundry: $5 (surprisingly low! We mostly hand-washed our clothes on Koh Samui so they were clean for training the next day)
*Not included in the cost summary as we got these before we departed New Zealand. Most nationalities get a visa-free 30 day entry, so if you're travelling for less than a month in Thailand you don't need to worry!
Our accommodation in Koh Samui was by far our biggest cost as it included training - we paid 1000 baht a night (about $40, or $20 each). We were meant to have a standard double room at Superpro but due to some plumbing issues we scored a free upgrade to a studio apartment which was amazing! We were really happy with the value of this, especially as it included our training, plus had facilities like a gym, swimming pool, yoga classes and more.
With our 30 nights at Superpro taken out of the equation, over the remaining 28 nights we spent an average of $26 per night ($13 each). We continued to use Agoda for most of our bookings because not only do we love a good deal, we love to pay in New Zealand dollars (no conversion fees, hooray!). As always, we stay in private double rooms of varying quality - though overall in Thailand I felt the standard was pretty good.
We spent about $29 a day on food and drink for both of us. I love Thai food to bits but because we were there for so long we definitely ate western food quite often, which is often a bit pricier. I usually try and find highly rated western restaurants on TripAdvisor first so that I know we'll be getting a good meal for your buck!
Of course, I can't go past a good Pad Thai, but I'm also very, very fond of a creamy Panang Curry. Lip-smackingly good! I also had a favourite place on Koh Samui where I felt very virtuous ordering their delicious tofu and cashew stir-fry on brown rice. Alan cursed me whenever I wanted to go there for lunch as it was a good half hour drive away on the far side of Lamai - but it was worth the effort! I still think my favourite meal in Thailand was the one we cooked in Ao Nang, followed a close second by Kalasea on Koh Samui - they get bonus points for ambience!
Naturally, mango smoothies continue to be a common occurrence. I'm addicted - even now, as I write this in Vietnam, I'm still sipping on one! Though admittedly, I did cheat on my love of mango smoothies with the BEST vanilla milkshake of my life at Cheeseburger Cheeseburger on Samui, so...my heart is torn!
Our apartment on Superpro had a big fridge but no cooking facilities, so when we wanted to eat in we chowed down on plenty of filled rolls and peanut butter sandwiches. We always made breakfast in our apartment and it was so nice to put together my own muesli, fruit and yoghurt just the way I like it! I enjoyed being able to grocery shop at Tescos, but in fact eating out is often cheaper so we did plenty of both.
I should have been focussing on my fitness, but hey, you only live once so a few fun nights were thrown in there! Probably the most memorable were my 25th birthday where I was surprised with a cake and sung happy birthday at the Lamai Kickboxing, and the other highlight being our final night where we had a bit of a leaving shindig - I may have enjoyed a few too many wine coolers and come *this* close to getting my upper-ear pierced...hey at least it wasn't a tattoo! Alan hasn't let me live that one down yet.
We came from Langkawi in Malaysia, and simply took a ferry from Langkawi to Satun on the Thai mainland where we checked through very basic immigration point, then took a shuttle onwards to Krabi. We travelled overland by bus for the rest of our journeys (except by ferry to and between the islands, of course!), bar one flight we splurged on between Surat Thani and Chiang Mai. An hour in a place versus two overnight busses/trains? Yeah...
We rented a Scoopy-i 110cc scooter on Koh Samui, which cost us 3000 baht for the month (about NZ$4 a day). Originally we got a pink one because it was all they had available, they told us to come back the next day to switch. I didn't mind the pink but since Alan was mostly driving it probably wasn't that great for his image haha. We went back most days for nearly two weeks until we were able to switch to a blue one!
We also rented scooters on Koh Tao and in Pai, both places I think its pretty essential to have some wheels in order to explore. Not that we were really in the mood to do so while we were in Chiang Mai, but I think having a scooter there would have made a big difference in the way we were feeling - unfortunately we didn't have our passports (they were at the Consulate getting our China visas) which are used as your 'deposit' for rental. So we used our feet mainly, I don't know about yours but my feet prefer scooters.
And how could I forget - we also cycled plenty around Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai!
We loved our time in Thailand and I'm comfortable with the amount we spent (you could easily travel way cheaper by staying in dorms, fan rooms and eating less western food and more street food). I'm already hatching a plan to go back - wait and see if we are able to make a second round at Koh Samui happen this year!
Have you travelled to Thailand? Did you visit on a backpackers budget, or go all out?
If I thought Sukhothai was ‘off the beaten track’, then Si Satchanalai took that ten steps further.
Dubbed by the Lonely Planet as a ‘suburb’ of the Sukhothai empire, Si Satchanalai is another incredible historical park housing even more incredible ruins from the 13th century Kingdom of Siam. Meaning “The City of Good People” it was built after the city of Sukhothai and became the major second town of the Kingdom in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Although I really enjoyed Sukhothai Historical Park, I loved Si Satchanalai even more, as it is a lot more rustic in its appearance and hasn’t been restored or set up for tourism quite so much as Sukhothai. According to some reports thousands of tourists visit each year, though I found that hard to believe as there was just a handful of others there the day we visited. We barely saw another soul the entire time, how wonderful!
We caught a tuk-tuk from our hotel to the Sukhothai New City Bus Station and purchased our bus tickets for 50 baht (NZ$2) each. Si Satchanalai is about 55 kilometres away and takes about an hour, simply let the driver or bus conductor know you're headed for the Historical Park and they’ll let you know when to jump off.
On unloading from the bus, we were quickly greeted by a friendly man offering full-day bicycle rental at 40 baht (NZ$1.65). We gladly rented off him, as the only other place we saw to rent bikes was right in by the park entrance 3 kilometres away - better to cycle than walk, I say!
We cycled through the modest archway, crossed the, uh - rickety - suspension bridge and first came across Wat Phra Si Ratanamahathat, an ancient Khmer style masterpiece complete with happy temple dog. This guy looked healthy and happy - like he ran the place! - but for many temple dogs this is not the case.
Three kilometres further down the road and you’ll reach the entrance to the main part of the park. See why I was glad we had already rented some bicycles?
After paying our entry fee of 100 baht (NZ$4), we spent the best part of a day cycling around Si Satchanalai and taking in the peaceful, rustic atmosphere. It was very humbling to have the opportunity to explore and absorb he enormity of these 13th century, crumbling temples almost in total solitude.
Consisting of more than forty ruins within and outside the city walls of Si Satchanalai, there is plenty to discover and occupy yourself for hours.
The only thing we wished for was more information. We visited without much prior knowledge, and although each ruin is signposted with its name and a short description of its known history, sometimes we longed for a little more detail to help those of us with poor imaginations build a better picture of what this thriving city would have been like all those 700+ years ago.
Careful not to miss the last bus back to Sukhothai, by mid-afternoon we made our way back to the simple roadside bus stop. As we demolished well-earnt ice creams and awaited the bus, we were reminded that - at least for the day - we had escaped Thailand's well-beaten track. Not another tourist to be seen, locals going about their daily lives without an interest in us, motorbikes sharing the road with tractors, cars, trucks, busses, and chickens. Yep, chickens.
With little of a plan ahead of us, the next morning we once again packed our bags and departed Sukhothai in the direction of nearby Phitsanulok in search of some more off the beaten track activities.
Phitsanulok was a strange place for us. Generally a town only frequented by tourists for transit, we thought it would make a good base for some exploration into the nearby National Parks. Unfortunately, this time it didn't work out for us. We had a hard time finding information - the first two tourist information offices we were directed to in the city were abandoned, and when we finally came across the actual tourist office at 5pm it had already closed for the day.
With the next day being Christmas Eve - and not wanting to be completely off the grid for
Santa to visit essential Christmas Day Skype sessions - we decided to give up on the idea of untouched nature this time around and instead do the polar opposite by heading to bustling Bangkok in time for Christmas.
So while we didn't end up doing much in Phitsanulok, other than spending hours trying to find information to no avail - oh and there was that shifty riverside bar we ended up having an awkward drink at - it was still rather fascinating to have a night in a truly un-touristed, provincial Thai town.
Not to mention - I would go back to Phitsanulok in a heartbeat if only for the hotel we stayed in. For just 545 baht (NZ$22.50), Hip Inn Coffee was a steal. Quirky, modern and with a funky design - and by that I mean the gaping window between the bedroom and the toilet means you're going to want to know that person very well before you share a room with them!
Seriously though, Hip Inn Coffee was a very cool hotel and the puppy complete in Santa outfit was the cherry on top. Cue puppy photo overload...
Do it yourself
It is possible to do an organised day trip to Si Satchanalai from Sukhothai, if you’re staying in the new city I’d recommend booking this through your hotel, as we found tour offices and tourist information centres very hard to come by! We came across the best information at the information centre about two doors down from EZ House Hotel, which has many english brochures, despite the minimal english spoken by the staff - but I can’t complain because my Thai skills are a lot worse! However, if you’re game for public busses it is very easy to take yourself on your very own do-it-yourself day trip.
Stay tuned for the last instalment of our Thai adventures, when we head to Bangkok! Have you visited Si Satchanalai? Do you like getting off the tourist trail?
Sukhothai wasn’t really originally on our Thailand “plan” - and I say that in inverted commas because we didn’t really have much of a plan at all. So when my brother took a rather impromptu trip to India with a week in Bangkok on his way home, we immediately began to scratch together a plan to meet somewhere in Thailand. Considering Alan and I were in Northern Thailand and my brother would be flying into Bangkok, what better place that bang smack in the middle: Sukhothai. Yeah, that would do the trick.
To be honest, I didn’t know much about Sukhothai other than it was the name of one of the Thai restaurants we frequented in my home town when I was growing up. I may be very partial to Pai and Koh Samui, but Sukhothai quickly joined their ranks and became one of my favourite places in Thailand to date.
Sukhothai is a city in two pieces: the New City, which is the modern city, and the Old City, which houses the ruins of the ancient Thai capital and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located 12 kilometres apart, you can stay in either the old or the new area, though we were pleased with our decision to stay in the new city where we were surrounded by locals, a pleasingly minimal tourist scene, and simply travelled by bus - or rather, a large songthaew - to the old city for a day of exploring.
Translated as "Dawn of Happiness", Sukhothai was the political and administrative hub of the Kingdom of Siam back in the 13th and 15th centuries (1238-1438 to be exact). The city had an enormous influence on the culture and art of what we now know as Thailand, and created what is referred to as "Sukhothai style" in terms of the design of its Buddha images. In the 1400's, Sukhothai was seen to its demise as it was conquered by Ayutthaya, another historical region of interesting ruins that can be explored by day trip from Bangkok. If you are interested in a detailed history of Sukhothai, you can read all about it on the UNESCO World Heritage Site here.
One of the best things about Sukhothai is that no-one seems to know about it! It is touristy enough that it is straightforward to find a meal, a great value guesthouse (we loved EZ House in the new city) and general amenities, however it definitely lacked the crowds of tourists and touts that can be a problem in so many other parts of Thailand. Sukhothai was so peaceful and felt almost empty, at least when we were there.
We arrived late at night after an exhausting series of busses from Pai via Chiang Mai - we departed Pai at 8am and arrived in Sukhothai at 9pm (travel isn’t always fun!) - and my brother arrived on a similarly tiresome journey from Bangkok shortly after. Following a quick meal at a restaurant called - are you ready for it - Poo Restaurant (please tell me I'm not the only one to giggle...), we tucked up for the night, ready for some exploring of the Sukhothai ruins the next day.
The next morning after adequate coffee and breakfast consumption we boarded a bus bound for the Old City (20 baht) where we were quick to hire some rather old-school bicycles that would become our mode of transport for the day (30 baht for a full day). We paid our entrance fee for the largest, central area (100 baht for foreigners plus an extra 10 baht for the bicycle), cycled through the gates into Sukhothai Historical Park and were free to roam and marvel at the ruins.
Marvel we did. Sukhothai is truly spectacular!
Consisting of various temples and ruins of which many are 800+ years old, the park is very well-maintained, if not overly restored in some parts. Regardless, the peaceful ambience you would expect from such a place was retained and we barely saw more than a few tourists at each sight. Some areas that we visited we were the only people there which was truly a breath of fresh air!
I love this photo - even monks can take ages to capture the perfect shot!
Before we knew it, we were beginning to run low on energy and needed some sustenance for lunch. We circled back around to the corner of the park dedicated to restaurants and souvenir shops, and quickly demolished a very average plate of pad thai, saved only by the fact that it was very reasonably priced compared to what you would usually pay in a tourist area.
As we ambled back to our bicycles ready to continue our day of exploring, we were stopped by a group of university students undertaking an English project where they wanted to ask us some questions. Naturally we were very hesitant (scam alert!) but over the course of a few minutes we became certain that this was in fact the truth and happily volunteered to be interviewed. Some of their English was really good, others you really had to listen hard to pick out keywords - but we managed with smiles all round. Usually we would avoid this kind of activity if approached in tourist areas (and always keep a close hand on your possessions!), but that was one of the beauties of Sukhothai for us - we felt like this was a safe and real environment, and it was!
Post-interviews, more cycling ensued. We continued to explore within the walls, before venturing out back onto the road and spotting a few more ruins dotted around.
You can pay extra to visit the North and West areas of Sukhothai Historical park, which I’m certain are just as impressive, but we all agreed that for us it was more about the atmosphere and feeling of the place than ticking off each specific temple. We cycled as much as we could without having to pay an additional fee, before circling back and calling it a day - and a surprisingly magnificent one at that.
Little did we know, the next day we would be marvelling even more at the ruins of outlying Si Satchanalai…stay tuned!