Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Shopping, Lanterns and a Happy Engagement!

Welcome to Part 3 of my Thailand Blog. It's taken me a while to write this one due to a number of interruptions (one of which was called 'Christmas'), but It's finally finished.
This part is all about the few days we spent in Chiang Mai, one of my favourite places ever. I should point out that, while most of these photos were taken by me, I have had to steal a few of them because some of mine came out pretty crap. Enjoy!

Pretty looking hotel with a pool. Awesome.
After arriving in the lovely looking city and Chiang Mai, our taxi driver took us down some little back streets in what looked like the middle of nowhere, and we soon arrived at the Baan Thai Resort & Spa. On first glance it looked fantastic. Our room had beautiful teak floor boards, a pretty garden and pool area, and free Wifi (always a plus!). Unfortunately it turned out to be not so great, but more on that later.

Found an amazing 'Walking Street'. Lots of shopping could be done here.
A 'Walking Street' in Thailand is basically a market. They close off an entire road, set up stalls and start selling to both locals and tourist. Oh, and it is fantastic! Almost everything there is handmade or, at the very least, something you would never get back home. The road goes on for miles and the amount of stuff to see is incredible. I loved the whole thing.

Two handbags for £7, a cool lamp, and some gorgeous smoothies. A good first night!
Another thing that is go great about the walking street is that it is so cheap! I decided that I wanted to buy a bag so I obviously went to a bag stall. I instantly found one I loved and I was definitely buying it. I then made the mistake of glancing at the other side of the stall and found another one that I wanted. Being a girl, deciding which bag to choose was very difficult indeed. The best way to settle it was to find out the price of them. It turns out that they were a whole 200baht each! (approximately £4) Mike kindly offered the lady 350 baht (£7) for the two of them and my decision was then made. I would have both. After that we managed to also buy a pretty little elephant lamp and the best kiwi smoothie you would ever taste. I love this place!

Which animal are you?

During the Loi Krathong festival, many people put up paper decorations and lanterns around their homes in the same way that we put up Christmas decorations. In the centre they decided to have a giant decoration for each of the Chinese calenders animals. Some of these were better than others, but all still pretty cool. By the way, I'm a Dragon.

How on earth is that classed as toast?
After all the excited of last nights shopping, we woke up at the hotel and went to try out the breakfast that was on offer. I didn't expect much, and not much is what we got. Tea and coffee was available and after taking our tickets, the woman disappeared for a bit and returned 5 minutes later with a couple of plates. On these plates was apparently a cooked breakfast. We had eggs, two tiny hot dog sausages, and some unknown meat. We also had 'toast' and jam. This toast was not toast. At the very least it was warm bread, and god knows how long that glob of jam had been out. Still, we ate the so-called breakfast, smiled, and went on with our day.

This is the less glamorous side of travelling.
One on the things that people often forget when listening to stories of people travelling around the world is that they have to travel light. We were just over a week into our trip and with 4 of those nights being spent in the jungle, it was time to do some laundry! After asking about the hotel if they had any kind of laundry service (which they didn't, despite their website saying they do), we were pointed in the direction of a building with a washing machine outside. This wasn't the most fun part of the holiday.

Just keep swimming!
A day of relaxing in the nice warm weather. More accurately, a day of swimming and relaxing before heading out to the Loi Krathong lantern festival tonight. I'll be honest, it's a good way to kill some time. Plus we got to meet Mirrel, the strange creature in the tree that looked like a squirrel crossed with a mouse. Shame I never got a photo, but it was very cute!

I just put my foot through the floor!
So begin the many problems we found in this hotel room. The beautiful teak flooring is actually antique and very weak. Walking from the bedroom to our little balcony area and I put my foot straight through the floor. Clearly this wasn't the first time that this had happened, as we were constantly having to avoid the multiple holes in the floor. On top of this, we had to clean the shower before using it, flip the mattress and re-make the bed so it was comfortable enough to sleep in it, and of course, keep the lizards out. Shame, the place looked so pretty too!

Off to investigate Loi Krathong.
The Loi Krathong festival actually translates as 'Floating Crown' or 'Floating Decoration' festival. This is festival is all about letting go of any hatred or anger a person may have by making a floating decoration, often out of banana leaves and flowers, and paying their respects to the water spirits by sending this decoration down the river. Although this is beautiful in itself, Loi Krathong also coincides with Yi Peng, which is the lantern festival that Thailand, and more specifically Chaing Mai, is so famous for. This lasted for about 3 days, though there were many decorations all over the city the day we arrived. The main day for this was the Sunday but Saturday was still full of lanterns, fireworks, and plenty of noise! It was fantastic.

This is amazing. Lanterns everywhere!
The two festivals were happening all over the city, but the main events and crowds were down by the river. We decided to walk towards the river, through the Sunday walking street. The view down here was amazing. On top of all the market stalls and beautiful items being sold, there were lanterns covering the entire sky and fireworks going off constantly. The atmosphere was absolutely amazing! We managed to find a space away from all the crowds to light our own lantern. It takes a little more time than you would think. Once lit, you have to wait for the hot air to fill the whole lantern before letting it go, and you had to be careful of the telephone wires and the trees above you. Ours got off to a bad start when a gush of wind sent it straight into a tree on it's way up. Apparently if your lantern doesn't make it up into the sky then its bad luck! A second bit of wind managed to free it from the tree and up into the sky it went. It only took a few seconds before it had joined the many other in the sky and we lost track of it. Still, we contributed to the littering of some guys farm in the morning. It was a pretty cool thought to wonder where it would end up.

A little bit of souvenir shopping in a very crowed market.
With today being the day where there is the most action in the city, the walking street was jammed packed with people. It was weird to see that there were Thai people from all over Thailand that had travelled to Chaing Mai to be a part of this festival along with every other tourist (though that explains why it was so difficult to get a hotel!). Even though our main mission was to get to the river, there was no way we would get through these crowds without buying one or two things... or five.


Looking out onto the river watching the fireworks and the hundreds of lanterns in the sky and Mike proposed! Best night ever!
Shopping done, many sights seen, and feet hurting, we finally arrived at the river. It was magical. Words can never express how beautiful this was and the atmosphere was electric. There were lanterns covering almost the entire sky and many more being lit around us. One even tried to set me on fire! Luckily it managed to miss me, but only just. I managed to get right to the edge of the bridge where I could see everything that was happening. There were fireworks everywhere, and beautiful boat floating along the river and so many people releasing there home made decorations onto the river and watching them float away. To help them, there were a number of men just stood in the river taking each Krathong and sending it on it way and stopping others falling in the river! This was the perfect view and although it was very chaotic around me, standing there looking over the river was so peaceful at the same time. There was no way this could have got any better, until a ring arrived in front of me and I heard Mike asking me to Marry Him! It was perfect (and obviously I said yes!)

I love my silly ring!
My Engagement ring was awesome. It was a £2 cheap costume jewellery thing from Halifax market that he has brought over the Thailand with him, but it didn't matter. It was mine and we were engaged. I loved it!

That pizza was beautiful. Better than any I've had in Italy.
After all the excitement of the evening so far, it was time to leave all the crowds and get some food. Wearing my silly ring, we headed to a nice little Italian restaurant just off the main road. We had to wait about 5 minutes for a table and whilst we were outside we were approached by someone who had just left the restaurant, telling us that its the best place ever and that he was Italian so we should believe him. Admittedly, I though he was drunk. We sat down, ordered a couple of pizzas, laughed at the manager who was running around like a mad man making sure everything was being done, and eventually our dinner arrived. It was honestly the most delicious pizza I have ever tasted, topped with the nicest ever mushrooms! Drunk or not, that possibly Italian guy was right!

And...sleep! What an eventful day.
Buses aren't buses in Chiang Mai. Buses are pick-up trucks with seats in the back. You have to flag down the driver, tell him where you are going and he'll tell you if he's going that way or not. If he is, then on you get. If he isn't then he'll drive away and leave you to flag down another one. On a busy night (like festival night) this can be a bit of a pain. We decided it would be easier to break it all down into smaller chunks, so 3 buses later and a small walk we were back at the hotel and completely shattered. It had been a fantastic evening but very exhausting!

Asked for no meat at breakfast, got rice soup with chicken. Hmm...
After all the excitement of yesterday, today was definitely a day of relaxing . First stop was back to the breakfast room for some 'food'. We decided to play it safe and safe for no meat on the breakfast. Toast and eggs would do just fine. Apparently this wasn't possible, as today was chicken and rice soup day. Chicken and soup. For breakfast. It's safe to say that we ate the bread that came with it and ran away to find some actual breakfast. Once again 7Eleven saved the day.

Swim, lunch, game, nap, sleep. Good day!
Oh what a day. A lovely swim in the pool followed by a nice lunch down the road from the hotel. After that we play a game of Gloom (see http://www.atlas-games.com/product_tables/AG1250.php for more details), had a nap, and then got woken up by Mike sending me to bed. Even on holiday you need a nothingness day!

Let's go to the zoo!
Yesterdays relaxing day was fine, but today it was time to visit the Chiang Mai zoo. We went to breakfast (the cooked breakfast was now magically back on the menu, though they had run out of tea!), and then made our way out onto the streets to find a bus to take us to the zoo. The first one we came across picked us up. That should have been our first clue...

Not sure where this driver is taking us.
We had been on this bus for about 20 minutes now and all we seem to be doing is circling the city centre looking for more passengers. People have been getting off and on, but there is still no sign of us getting any closer to the zoo. Since we clearly had plenty of time to kill we started chatting to a Thai lady on the bus. She was telling us about how Chiang Mai was better than Bangkok, especially with the mob in the Capital. We still had no idea what a 'mob' was, but at least we now knew the actual name was mob, not mot! Another 20 minutes passed and although we seemed to now be heading in the right direction (after picking up and dropping off a few more passengers), we pulled over at the side of the road for a little while. The driver came to the back to tell us we were next (thank god) and then started speaking to the other woman that was still on the bus with us. Turns out that he had misheard what she had said and had taken her miles away from where she wanted to be dropped off! At least it wasn't just foreigners he made wait a long time before getting them to their destination.

That is the closest that I have ever been to a giraffe!
Just over an hour after getting on the bus (a journey which only took about 20 minutes on the way home!), we had finally arrived at the zoo. What a pretty looking zoo it was. We paid an entire £2 each and after been greeted by Lotte the Koala (seriously), we headed into in zoo. We hit the African zone first with it's zebras, giraffes and ostriches all in the same place. It is safe to say that this is the first and probably only time I will get to feed a banana to a giraffe and I have never been that close to a zebra before either. It was fantastic. (P.s. No zoom lens was used during the taking of these photos)

Wow. Elephants are strong.
Seriously. This elephant took the bamboo out of my hands, crushed it with it's trunk and ate it, all in about 3 seconds. I know elephants are strong, but seeing one actually showing off it's strength is pretty cool.

Only about 36 pandas outside of China and I can now see two of them. So cute!
In the panda house we met Chuang Chuang (male) and Lin Hui (female) the two Pandas that are on loan from China. These creatures are absolutely gorgeous. They are the most cuddly looking animals that you could ever see and they are also huge. Chuang Chuang basically just sat there eating his bamboo until he ran out, then he wobbled across his room a few paces before he found a another pile of bamboo and sat down again to eat it. Lin Hui did the exact same thing in her enclosure too. Not the most active of animals.

Mike won't let me take a panda home. That's just mean!
These animals are so cute but typically Mike is being mean saying that they would take up too much room and smell and would eat all our bamboo. Sigh. How could anyone say no to this face? Think I need a new boyfriend.

Poor rabbits. That is not a lot of room.
The problem with this zoo is that they clearly put all there money into the animals that attract visitors. This includes the pandas, giraffes, monkeys and deer, but there were many animals that did seem to be a little bit more neglected than others. The pandas had a huge enclosure with lots for the to do, whereas the rabbits had three of them all in a small cage (smaller than our rabbit's cage) with some food in and that was it. Hardly fair really.

Roar! Noisy lion!
I can hear a lion but I just can't see it! That was one hell of a roar though. We could hear it from the other side of this massive zoo. Unless it was just a recording. Hmm...

Dance elephant, dance!
This elephant looks like he's dancing. Ha!

Gah! So many hills. The zoo wasn't supposed to be this much work.
This zoo was certainly not a small zoo, but we decided to give the tour buses and monorails a miss and walk around. This is possibly the most exercise that I have ever got in my life. Every path seemed to go uphill yet no path went back down. How is that even possible? My legs certainly hurt that day. On the bright side, we would have missed so much if we had used the transport that was available. They just drove by all the animals and you could see them (if you had a window seat) for about 10 seconds before they were gone again. Not the way to visit a zoo.

Holy crap that's a lot of deer!
I think I lost count somewhere around 60. Not only was this enclosure absolutely massive, it was also home to about 200 deer. It's a good job they weren't fighters.

Rain rain rain. Time to head back.
Yet more rain in Thailand meant that it was time to head home. Looking around the zoo it appeared that we weren't the only people thinking it as it was almost completely empty! (although it was also close to closing time). 

Lizards in the room! Oh so cute!
All over Thailand were little geckos trying to invade every room they could, and our bedroom was no exception. Luckily, I quite liked them and they were definitely better than having spiders in the room. Apart from the occasional squeak you wouldn't even notice they were on the walls. Sadly we did see a dead one in the light shade on the ceiling. Poor thing probably just wanted the warmth.

Wow. They really don't want us to leave this hotel.
Yet again there was even more rain in Chiang Mai. We had had a nice few days for the lantern festival and the zoo (mostly), but the rain from the night before was clearly trying to force us to stay at our hotel, despite us needing to get a flight out. This was basically a 'you shall not leave' kind of message.

Goodbye Chiang Mai! You've been great.
I'm pretty sure that Chiang Mai is, so far, my favourite city in the world. The walking streets alone are enough to win my heart, but add that to the other nice memories of the city means that it is definitely at the top of my list.

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