pretty paper. true stories. {and scrapbooking classes with cupcakes.}

Twitter Facebook Pinterest YouTube

Scrapbooking Classes

online scrapbooking classes

Reading Material

travel

i will scrapbook this Category

Travel Notes from Hanoi, Vietnam

hanoi vietnam travel notes
hanoi, vietnam
After five quite blissful days in lovely Luang Prabang, the most laid-back place I have ever ventured in my life, it was time to move on. How exactly does one move on from the calm of monks, the beauty of waterfalls, the peace of elephants and an overwhelming quiet? Basically with one big slap in the face.

hanoi, vietnam
hanoi, vietnam
We left one extreme behind in Laos and came through immigration to the other end of the spectrum in Hanoi, Vietnam. For all the quiet zen of Luang Prabang, Hanoi is the loudest place I have ever been, hands down. It’s a crowded city with everything seeming to lean on whatever is next door. It’s a city where hard sales are the only sales. A city that gives an entirely new definition to the term ‘street smart’.

hanoi, vietnam
We had only been in the country minutes when we happened upon our first attempted con: a taxi driver who cornered us at the currency window to give us a ‘good price – cheap price’ to our hotel. This is forty-five kilometres away, he told us and quoted us a price. It will take an hour, at least. Except we knew it wasn’t and it wouldn’t and we finally managed to walk further away than he was willing to follow. The metered taxi outside took half the time and cost less than half the original quote. Oh, hurrah.

hanoi, vietnam
We found ourselves at our hotel in the old quarter, a place with teeny-tiny streets and towering buildings that seem to hang a bit over the road in some death-defying stunt of architecture. And once we checked in, we found ourselves shouting to each other. Because even nine floors up, with the windows closed, the noise from the street level was so loud we couldn’t hear a darned thing we said. Things got even better around 3am, when full-fledged building work started up across the road, complete with bulldozers, sledgehammers and assorted things I can only describe as a full tabernacle chorus of banging pots and pans together. Trust me, there are no ear plugs in the world that would have equipped me for the shock of going from peace to chaos in just one day.

hanoi, vietnam
hanoi, vietnam
The next day we explored Hanoi on foot. We walked through the citadel (if only for my love of official world heritage sites), wandered through a history museum that documented the early history of Vietnam and its links to China, admired the lovely opera house. We talked to a group of university students preparing a debate about a local problem with people setting their pet turtles free in the city’s lake — they would be debating in English and wanted to chat to native speakers for some rehearsal. That was lovely fun. But so often, we would turn to walk down a street and each one just seemed to assault us a little more – more traffic, more noise, more things crammed into a tiny space. Eventually all I was craving was somewhere that wouldn’t make my heart race with the stress of it all.

hanoi, vietnam
I am terrible at finding things (or remembering where they are) and The Boy has a knack for this. As he likes to say, I know where your stuff’s at. And yes, he says it that way just to annoy my inner English teacher for ending a phrase with a wholly unnecessary preposition, because that is the sort of thing he finds hilarious. But presto: he found us a somewhat abandoned park on the edge of a lake with no cars, no shops and very few people. Indeed, he knew where this stuff was at.

hanoi, vietnam
hanoi, vietnam
I’m still not quite sure if this is a working fun fair or an old fun fair that has just been left to rust. It looks abandoned to me, but we did have to pay an entry fee (albeit not much) so I’m not too sure. Earlier that day we had been talking about how traditional illustrations of animals like lions and tigers in very old Asian pictures don’t look anything like the actual animals, and how this is because the artists had never seen a lion or a tiger, but instead had taken a description from someone who had taken a description from someone who had taken a description from someone who claimed they had seen a lion or a tiger, and thus sometimes lions look a bit like dragons or poodles or goat-people as a result. I think the ferris wheel cars are what happens when someone who has never seen Mickey Mouse or 101 Dalmatians paints Mickey Mouse or 101 Dalmatians, based a description from someone who had taken a description from someone who had taken a description from someone who claimed they had seen Mickey Mouse or 101 Dalmatians. In that case, it’s pretty darn good. (In any other case, I’m not sure why Mickey has multiple sets of ears, so there we go.)

hanoi, vietnam
Everywhere we walked that day, we saw brides having their photos taken. At first I thought it was a fashion shoot for a magazine or something. Then I thought maybe it was like Japan, where having your photo taken in a Western-style white wedding dress is a bit of a trendy form of playing dress-up, and often has nothing to do with an actual wedding. But later it all became clear: here, the wedding portraits are taken before the wedding. The bride and groom in Western dress and tux, photographed a week or two before the big day and the photographs all go on display at the actual wedding, where they may wear traditional dress, modern dress or a combination. We were in Hanoi in the few days right before the new year and January is the luckiest month to getting married in the Vietnamese calendar, so seeing brides everywhere turned out to have more to do with the date than anything else. It was exciting to spot them though – I wish we saw more of this back home, just because it is hard to not be happy when you pass a couple getting ready to get married. Or perhaps that is just because I am a romantic sap, which is okay too.

hanoi, vietnam
There came a time when we had to depart the quiet precinct of the park (because while I can’t be sure if the ferris wheel had been abandoned, I am sure the ladies’ room was abandoned a very long time ago) and so we were back to the traffic. Only we were back to the traffic at about half-past five in the afternoon. We were suddenly pedestrians in rush hour, in a place where the traffic will take any available surface to move forward, even if it’s on the pedestrian path and even if it’s a lane heading the other direction. It is sheer insanity that goes against all your survival instincts. Instead of the green cross code, the rule for crossing the road on foot is look straight ahead (not at the traffic) and move at an even pace. Traffic will move around you, provided you don’t freak the heck out and start to run through an open gap or turn around and go back. But every single bit of my insides really, really wanted to freak out. Every single time. Getting to the other side of the road was always a victory! But indeed the traffic always went around us, and the worst problem we had was discovering that a word we had heard from several motorbike drivers was perhaps a bit colourful in nature. Pedestrians are really not their favourite thing, it would seem.

hanoi, vietnam
hanoi, vietnam
I don’t want to be unfair, but I’ll be honest: I didn’t love Hanoi. I found the air hard to breathe from all that traffic and I felt lucky to have all ten toes still intact when we crossed the street for the last time to board our train. We’ve seen quite a few sad things that have made me gasp along this journey, but crossing paths with a dog-catcher was the worst of them all and I completely lost it right there in the street, with all the locals wondering what the heck was wrong with me. I was worried that much of Vietnam would be just like this and I would spend the next two weeks in a permanent state of migraine-inducing panic, and I wondered how on earth the locals coped with this as a permanent state of affairs. But I promise: it got much, much better as we continued. Just consider yourself warned: Hanoi is really not the sort of place you want to wake up if you’ve become acclimated to an entire town that has the general ambiance of a day spa. Unless, you know, you just love a full assault on the senses. Then it’s totally the place for you.

xlovesx

Travel Notes from Luang Prabang, Laos

travel notes from luang prabang, laos
travel notes from luang prabang, laos
I remember being of an age when politics seemed really simple to grasp, because everything was in pure concept form. Textbooks have an amazing way of summing up entire political systems in just ten words or so that we would copy from the glossary as part of our homework. Democracy: a government decided by the vote of the people. Socialism: a government that provided systems of education, medicine and welfare for its people. Capitalism: a market in which things are freely bought and sold at various costs. Communism: a system in which all people are paid equally. And so on, right? It all sounded so pure and simple.

travel notes from luang prabang, laos
Please keep in mind, I am indeed talking about a time when I was about twelve. It wasn’t exactly sophisticated academic discussion of world politics: it was a mimeographed worksheet from sixth grade social studies class. But I grew up in middle America and started school when Ronald Reagan was in office. In England, I get lots of questions about what it’s like to start the day by pledging allegiance to the flag. England doesn’t have this same form of patriotism (and in fact, there is much controversy surrounding the various flags of Britain these days, something that is as difficult to explain to outsiders as it is to explain to Brits that pledging allegiance was just part of the day) and a school that displays the flag or a picture of the queen (or the prime minister?!) in every room is the realm of the highly elite, if it exists at all. In the past decade, patriotism has taken on a new awareness in the states, but when I was very young, patriotism meant reassurance. I specifically remember full school assemblies – well before age twelve – that talked about world politics and used phrases like ‘America has its finger on the button’ and there was very much a Space Invaders feel to how this would all work. I would sit and listen to these sorts of discussions and think that if there were to be a World War III in my youth, the presidents of assorted nations would get out their Atari 2600s and use awkward joysticks to decide the fate of the world, just like my friends and I would decide who got the best piece of candy from the dish by the high score on Pac-Man.

travel notes from luang prabang, laos
Yes, perhaps I watched War Games one too many times. But such was my outlook on the world from the perspective of one little girl who was eager but naive. And so I copied out definitions from the glossary of the textbook and turned in my homework on time most days. Nothing worth noting in the memoirs of life.

travel notes from luang prabang, laos
There is something the authors of such textbooks really never bargained for, and that is the well-meaning side of youth. It doesn’t take a political genius to infer that the textbooks I was reading at the end of the cold war would be a bit biased against oh, say, the Soviet Union. Or communism in general. Right? And yet there was this magical idea written right there in the textbook: everyone would be treated the same. Oh, if you take the political context away and look just at that phrase, isn’t it an amazing idea? Wouldn’t twelve-year-old you want to live there? Wouldn’t you look at whatever differences you saw in society at that age and think Yes: this is the way we can make the world better and no one will be homeless and no one will be hungry and no one will be greedy because everyone will have exactly what they need and we will all be equal and we will all just get along?

travel notes from luang prabang, laos
So before I had learned much else about the rest of the concept, before I had learned about dictatorship, before I had read Animal Farm and very much all the rest, there was this part of me that just didn’t understand why everyone wasn’t falling in love with the idea of communism. Does that sound ridiculous or what? There I am, pledging allegiance every morning and being as American as apple pie at the state fair whilst secretly thinking if this were a communist nation, everyone would find exactly what they wanted under the Christmas tree.

travel notes from luang prabang, laos
Of course, the Soviet Union fell long before I even had a passport. The closest I have been to China is Hong Kong, which thrives on the free market to an extreme. And so, visiting Laos became my first up-close-and-personal experience with communism. And that inner twelve year old, though long ago re-educated with a broader picture of how communism in practice wasn’t so much peace and gumdrops and gold-medal olympic tap-dancing as that original idea, she was a little bit curious to see how all this would play out.

travel notes from luang prabang, laos
Laos didn’t hesitate to provide reminders, and nearly everywhere we saw a Laos flag, there would be a red flag with a hammer to beg the question: where is all this equality? One place we visited in Luang Prabang was the former royal palace, which is now a museum. You have to check all your bags, cameras and shoes at the door, so we walked around barefoot on polished floors with a temporary lightness and took the time to read all the caption cards to the exhibits. Much of what is highlighted is about three generations of kings who led the country though some of its most stable times. And from room to room, there is a mix of things made in Laos over the years, but there are also so many gifts from the rest of the world. In one room, a stereo console was a gift from the Americans. In the next room, a case of history books from China. A television from East Germany. And then the space race: a piece of something Sputnik, a Laos flag that orbited the planet with a Mercury astronaut, a badge from a cosmonaut’s jacket, a tiny piece of moon rock brought back from Apollo 11. All over from room to room, evidence of political courting from two very different parts of the world. Like Laos was the girl they both wanted to take to the prom and they were leaving presents by her locker every morning.

travel notes from luang prabang, laos
And yet, looking around the two towns we visited and the few villages we walked through on days out, there was no evidence of everyone is the same, everyone is equal. In tourist hotspots, successful innkeepers, tour guides and restaurant owners thrive. On other streets, not so much. There is an amazing market of handmade things in Luang Prabang every night, and these sellers come every day of the week to set up, hope for sales, and go home in the wee hours of the morning. I bought one tiny souvenir at the market – a little cross-stitched heart with a pin on the back. It was about thirteen pence (and I am sure there are some who would try to bargain down that price, but you have got to be kidding me) and when I said yes and handed over my money, well, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a celebration of thanks. There were thank yous in several languages, there was holding of my hands and bowing of the head and some more thank yous, then as I stepped away, she took the money and touched it to every other handmade item on her stall, hoping more good luck would come from this sale. Do you know how much I wished I could figure out a way to set this lady up with an Etsy store? The size of the market compared to the number of shoppers is enough to tell you at a glance that there will always be nights when some vendors make no sales at all.

travel notes from luang prabang, laos
And there we go: I’m back to total confusion as to how this system can be called communism if so much of the population’s survival is based on selling and buying? I ask about that sixth grade social studies explanation that in a communist society, brain surgeons and janitors make the same wage, and all I get back is nervous laughter. No. Of course they don’t. Sorry, I just had to know.

travel notes from luang prabang, laos
It turns out I am quite late to see full-fledged communism in action here. After all that courting, Laos never really had a date to the prom at all, and her loveliness was eclipsed by the next girl who caught the boys’ attention. It’s still a country that considers itself communist. It’s a place where the people would never say anything negative about their own land. But it’s a place where if they can make a sale and bring something home to their family, they will. Which isn’t any different to anywhere I’ve been so far in my life. All the complicated politics aside, some things really are so simple.

travel notes from luang prabang, laos
And one other thing made Luang Prabang positively hilarious for us. The guidebook we had downloaded at this point in our trip was perhaps a few years old. It was perhaps much, much cheaper from Amazon and as we were mostly interested in maps and things that wouldn’t have changed much, we figured that was fine. That book described Luang Prabang in a way that it was essentially an old, forgotten village that wasn’t Westernised in the slightest. At one point, we were actually nervous that we had booked too many nights in this town, as surely there wouldn’t be enough to actually fill five whole days as there would be no other tourists we could talk to and possibly nowhere to grab a coffee or check our email. This old, forgotten village that wasn’t Westernised in the slightest.

We walked into that ‘village’ and were welcomed by street vendors selling Oreo milkshakes to queues of tourists who had just come from a variety of coffee shops, all with free wifi.

It turns out, sometime between the writing of our guidebook and our visit, the New York Times named Luang Prabang the number one location in the entire world to get away from it all. And as such, you can now get away from it all, accompanied by a thousand others doing exactly the same thing, and you can do all that without having to give up Oreos, cappuccino or the Wall Street Journal if you really want.

My inner twelve year old suggests saying yes to Oreos and no to newspapers, for the record.

xlovesx

The winner from this weekend’s giveaway will be posted later today! Have a great week.

Travel Notes on Crossing Laos by bus

Travel Notes on Crossing Laos by bus
Travel Notes on Crossing Laos by bus
I suppose it is inevitable that a journey through a dozen countries would include transportation from a variety of planes, trains and automobiles. Including days where the itinerary reads something like spend all waking hours on a bus. All part of the adventure! Our first long bus ride was the journey to cross Laos, from Vientiane to Luang Prabang – from the new capital to the old capital. And from the last two updates, you might think I’m ready to whinge about being completely uncomfortable, worried about a million species of small insects and really wishing I was one of those lucky people who have never experienced travel sickness. But I promise you right now: I shall not be saying any such thing. For I may have left a bit more of my heart in Laos than I ever left in San Francisco.

Travel Notes on Crossing Laos by bus
There are those who love to research every little detail of a place before they arrive, so they can be fully aware and recognise what they see, almost as if they have been there before and are just visiting home after many years. I’ve been that person sometimes. On this trip, I really am not. I’m reading a lot as we go, and I have a big habit of jotting down the names of various places we might see during the day then plugging them into Wikipedia the next time we grab some wi-fi access. (It’s a little different but I’m actually quite enjoying that system!) Of all the countries we’re visiting, Laos was the biggest unknown quantity. Neither of us had been there before and neither of us read much about it. I think it was mentioned in one single lesson of my high school history classes. I’m not sure how many Westerners could point to it on a map, much less tell me what to expect there.

Travel Notes on Crossing Laos by bus
Which makes it the perfect place to cross by bus, during the day, to get an idea of exactly what lies on the line between those two points. Small villages set by the road, happy to make a few sales to the buses that pass a few times a day. Homes made from grass but accompanied by satellite dishes. Scenery that includes mountains and valleys, blue skies and moody clouds, jungle and prairie.

Travel Notes on Crossing Laos by bus
As much as my poor head can’t fathom why I would want to sit on a vehicle that continues to zig and zag around tight corners and climb and descend enough that my ears don’t know whether to pop or unpop, my more sentimental side was amazed to see little mountain scenes like this that reminded me of Iceland but with an entirely different climate. That alone may explain why I fell in love with Laos. Oh how I can wax lyrical about Iceland all the livelong day, I promise.

Travel Notes on Crossing Laos by bus
But also because there is a sheer happiness here that does what this kind of travel should do: refresh the soul and put things into perspective. Once the bus rounded this corner, this little girl turned and ran to our windows with the biggest smile, just waving as fast as her hands could. That smile is one we saw all over this country. Especially from children – children who don’t have a toy box filled with gizmos or the latest pair of shoes. There’s a great deal of imperfection here for children too. So much. Please don’t think that my go-first-read-second approach to this place left me with that much naivete. But there is just this little bit of something right to see happiness in simplicity. Something much sweeter than many things we have seen elsewhere along our journey. For this bus ride, anyway, it was a little contagious. I found I was still smiling even when our bus broke down at the side of the road and we had an hour or so of sitting still while the driver bashed at some whatsits with a hammer until we could drive again.

Travel Notes on Crossing Laos by bus
Plus, it’s not so often that when you break down at the side of the road, this is the view from your window. My head was happy for the chance to stop moving for a little while anyway.

More about what we found when our bus eventually arrived soon. But crafty stuff first.

xlovesx

Travel Notes from Vientiane, Laos

travel notes from vientiane laos
travel notes from vientiane laos
Just like that, we woke up one morning on the northeast border of Thailand and made our way to the Friendship Bridge. It looks like nothing more than the standard way to make a motorway cross a river, but the idea of a bridge of friendship, you have to be pretty cynical to not see some bit of sweetness in such a name. Cross the bridge, fill in some paperwork, present your passport and presto: welcome to Laos.

Everyone says you’re crossing from Nong Khai to Vientiane, which is roughly true. True in the sense that those are the nearest towns, but you’ll need a tuk-tuk to get you from the town of Nong Khai to the border, a bus to cross the bridge and your choice of tuk, taxi or another bus to take you from the border to Vientiane itself. After an hour or so comprised of tuk-tuk transportation, a bus piled with people and their chickens and a bit of an adventure in the back of a pick-up truck (something I have relatively little experience with, considering I grew up in Kansas), we are finally in Vientiane. And we have been taken to the road of our hotel, and our driver roughly points ahead and says it must be somewhere down there. ‘This is the road but I no know that hotel.’ Looking down a street that doesn’t seem like it will end until it falls into the sea, we start walking, trying to figure out the numbering system in this particular locale.

travel notes from vientiane laos
Laos Cable: A house with a bunch of satellite dishes in the front garden. Of course.

Oh, street numbering. Some towns are pure bliss, with odd numbers on one side and evens on the other, and everything ascending by one or five, so very simple to decipher. Alas, somewhere along the line, that system required forward planning. Not all towns have embraced such a radical idea. Other towns have numbered the buildings on a given street in the order they were built, regardless of their location on the road, meaning number 17 is quite possibly next to number 342 then followed by 57. Still other towns have more mystical numerical systems, with the owner of each property consulting a priest to find which number his house is destined to be, meaning that number 17 is quite possibly next to another number 17, since it’s quite unlikely that the priest was keeping any sort of list of which numbers he had already allocated on any given road. And to think I once had a lengthy conversation trying to explain how if the street where I grew up only had about ten houses on each side, our house number could be in the 17000s. That system pales in comparison to auspicious apartment numbers, I tell you.

travel notes from vientiane laos
Anyway, we figure out the numbering of this street – or at least some pattern that seems to be working – and realise we have been walking the wrong direction. We should probably go in the opposite way to what we were told by the truck driver. Of course, when we do, we see the name of our hotel in gigantic lighted letters, high above anything else in our field of vision. Well, at least we are now sure we are not lost.

travel notes from vientiane laos
Vientiane is the capital city of Laos. The official buildings are mostly in a French colonial style, though the only other French influence that still seems evident is in the cooking (never a bad thing). This town has become to southeast Asia what Brussels is to Europe – so there are diplomats here and plenty of embassies and meeting halls and the occasional unbelievably expensive car, like a shiny Aston-Martin or Rolls Royce, rolling down the road with thirty year old sedans that really wish their upholstery was still made with something other than duct tape. Calling it Brussels makes it sound like a significantly sized place. It isn’t. One can walk all of Vientiane in a day or two. Almost everyone seems to do this by bicycle, which might make it possible to see everything by lunchtime, perhaps. It’s a bit like a capital town rather than a city, and that is quite sweet really.

But there are things here that are not sweet. Like the street we nicknamed ‘Open Sewer Avenue’, for the sidewalk is paved there, but every so often there’s an entire section of paving missing and absolutely nothing – except the open sewer system – to catch you if you’re not looking at the ground. I have to admit we quickly learned another way to get from A to B to bypass Open Sewer Avenue completely, and I would suggest anyone who wants to keep their head up do the same frankly.

Our overnight stop in Nong Khai was my introduction to backpacker lodging. The sort of place where everyone is friendly and happy to talk about their journey and doesn’t really care where you come from or where you live. But also the sort of place where you need a flashlight to unlock the door to your room, where the mosquito netting is for practical reasons rather than to make your room feel aesthetically exotic and where the air-conditioned rooms are pretty much always available rather than being the first rooms to be booked. Oh, and when you check in? You don’t give a check-out date. You just decide when you’re going to leave and let them know that day, be it one night or ninety. It’s a whole other world to Howard Johnson’s, for sure.

travel notes from vientiane laos
Between sleeper trains, backpacker central and all that communal transportation in the heat, I managed to hit my threshold of OH MY GOODNESS I AM NEARLY NOT HUMAN right about the time we checked into our hotel in Vientiane. A hotel with a perfumed lobby. And check out dates. And hot showers. A blow-dryer, a kettle and laundry service. It wasn’t what anyone back home would define as a fancy hotel, but I was ready to rate it right up there with the Ritz. I do believe I danced with the hair-dryer like something out of a chick flick, celebrating the first time in a bit over a week that I had been able to do something somewhat respectable with my hair.

Wait. A bit over a week? Nine days into this trip and I’m already freaking out about the hairdryer? Goodness me, how am I going to make it to Argentina at this rate?

Taking a deep breath (and joyfully, it was a deep breath of steam from the hot shower!) I made some sort of decision: I will take what I can get when I can get it. And I will agree to just get over the rest. Exhale.

I resolve that it is okay to dance with the hairdryer when one appears, and spend the extra ten minutes constructing some hilariously inappropriate-for-backpacking hairdo as a result. I resolve that it is okay to indulge in the cheapest manicures I’ve ever seen when I find one and have time (so far, that has meant a £4 mani/pedi in Vientiane and a £1 manicure in a Saigon market). I resolve to not let it phase me when yet another backpacker asks me ‘really, you’re doing this trip in a dress?’ and to not feel ashamed of the glory of a hot shower, the smallest bit of make up, chick lit to read on the bus, window shopping and the occasional pink cocktail.

At the same time, I accept these things will not be available every day. I accept the entire world does not share my need for pristine public toilets. I will learn to check my food for bugs before I dig in. I will not whine excessively about how my feet have more blisters than when I wore pointe shoes every day.* I will understand that sometimes you have to step just a tiny bit into the unknown in order to get anything from an adventure. Without the unknown, there is no adventure at all.

travel notes from vientiane laos
Vientiane is a small place. The most obvious tourist spot is a sort of Laotian Arc de Triumph that was never finished with a sign that describes it as a ‘monster of concrete’. There’s that, a few temples, a few government buildings, a pretty view of the Mekong and Open Sewer Avenue. It’s nice enough, but not exactly the sort of place where you need to stay ages to get a feel for everything.

Just long enough to catch that deep breath. Then onto the next stop with an entirely new outlook.

xlovesx

*To those of you with a special concern for my health and well-being, I promise at the time of writing my feet are a bit blistered, but perfectly fine, I have only eaten bugs once that I know of and it ended up not being a problem (and The Boy has actually ordered bugs on purpose!), and I have mostly perfected a system to cope with scary toilets. Oh, and I have only had one pink cocktail too, actually. You can sleep without worry.

Travel Notes on Sleeper Trains

Travel notes on sleeper trains
Travel notes on sleeper trains nong khai train station
I always thought I spent a fair amount of time on the train back home in London. Not a huge amount… not enough to make me completely stressed when the trains don’t run on time, but enough to give a heavy sigh when I run to the station to find that’s the case. A nice, in-between, middle of the road amount of time to spend on a train.

I have quickly been learning: I have never really spent time on trains.

There is a small element of our trip that is a bit Darjeeling Limited in that we’re doing most of our travel throughout southeast Asia by train. Including my first ever ride on a sleeper train, traveling from Bangkok to Nong Khai, a much smaller town in the northeast of Thailand, right on the Mekong that creates the border with Laos.

Upon finding our seats, we’re given a menu should we want dinner or breakfast delivered from the dining car. “What time is breakfast served?” we ask.

“An hour before we arrive in Nong Khai.”

“What time is that?”

“Oh. That’s different every day.”

Classic.

Travel notes on sleeper trains
The term ‘sleeper’ train has continued to make me giggle, because we often tell ourselves it’s good to take sleeper trains as it means we don’t need a hotel room for the night, so we can save a little money (train tickets are considerably less expensive than rooms in some cities) and not waste any time by traveling during the day. This is all true in theory.

In fact, it is pretty much impossible to really sleep on a train.

Perhaps it is possible in first class of a brand new train on smooth tracks traveling at a constant speed. Perhaps then, with ear plugs and an eye mask. Perhaps.

So far, I’ve learned it’s not possible with a group in the same carriage who have decided to turn the carriage into a bar, with an all-night happy hour special on local whiskey. It’s not possible when the train rocks back and forth to the point that you’re searching for something to cling to so you don’t fly from the top bunk. It’s not possible when someone’s story of a much-worse experience has you convinced the moment you shut your eyes, you will be attacked by giant insects. It’s almost possible when your bunkmates turn out to be very young mothers who already have their babies tucked in bed asleep, but it’s then you’ll realise you arrive at your stop at 5am and therefore need to be awake in order to not miss it – nor wake said sleeping babies by setting an alarm clock.

Travel notes on sleeper trains
Still… sleeper trains is what they are called. And they can be rather fun.

I’ll let you know if at any point in time I learn to actually sleep on one.

xlovesx

Travel Notes from Ko Kret Potteries

Travel Notes from Thailand :: Ko Kret Potteries
Travel Notes from Thailand :: Ko Kret Potteries
The potteries of Ko Kret were lovely enough to deserve their own post, I thought – or perhaps I just took too many pictures and couldn’t choose my favourites! On this small island there are several potteries, all working throughout the year to create terra cotta pots for tourists, local guests and large retailers. You can walk right up to each of the work rooms and we were encouraged to walk around and see everyone at work.

Travel Notes from Thailand :: Ko Kret Potteries
Travel Notes from Thailand :: Ko Kret Potteries
Travel Notes from Thailand :: Ko Kret Potteries
Each pottery has its own space for keeping the raw pottery in its greenware form. Some kept it in blocks and others in pits, then as you walked down pathways we passed the unfired pots waiting their turn in the kiln.

Travel Notes from Thailand :: Ko Kret Potteries
Many of the kilns are huge and seem to run pretty much nonstop. They are such a part of the scenery that we saw small mock-up kilns for children, with teddy bears and other toys nestled inside – like a dollhouse really!

Travel Notes from Thailand :: Ko Kret Potteries
Travel Notes from Thailand :: Ko Kret Potteries
The workspace of the individual artisans was intriguing. They spend day after day in these spots, working on their own style of decoration. The potter in the top photo had several fish tanks that we could see as he worked. The potter from the second shot had stepped away when we passed, but I thought this space was amazing – definitely a case of finding just the right arrangement of everything to his liking. How many pots must have been made right there?


In this pottery the fluorescent lighting played havoc with the video, but you can get a little idea of how quickly they work. He made a completed pot in less than sixty seconds, and there were three potters working here making thousands of pots for export.

Travel Notes from Thailand :: Ko Kret Potteries
These were made by the potter with the fish tanks – his work all had a very ornate carving style, and he made all of this with two tools – a scalpel and a plastic cigarette lighter. He used the rolling metal part of the lighter to draw the lines in rings around the pots rather than any sort of fire from it.

Travel Notes from Thailand :: Ko Kret Potteries
There are storage cabins filled with small, basic pots ready to be put out on the sales tables or be crated up for larger orders.

Travel Notes from Thailand :: Ko Kret Potteries
Some of the small pots are sold as souvenirs with tiny starter plants, so many of the ledges are covered in seedlings in preparation. Everything an on-going process.

Travel Notes from Thailand :: Ko Kret Potteries
Travel Notes from Thailand :: Ko Kret Potteries
These pots were from larger orders being boxed up to ship to retailers all over the world. I am somewhat curious if we’ll find terra cotta heart pots at the garden centre next summer.

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway while you are here!

xlovesx

Scrapbooking Supplies - Clearance Sale
Find tons of scrapbooking bargains in the Two Peas Year-End Sale. US customers can also get free shipping for orders $50 or more with code 2YRANN in December or NYRESE in January.

Travel Notes from Ko Kret, Thailand

Travel Notes from Ko Kret, Thailand
Travel Notes from Ko Kret, Thailand
Our all our exploration of the areas surrounding Bangkok, I believe Ko Kret was my very favourite. Ko Kret is a small island in the middle of the Chao Phraya river that runs to the north of Bangkok. It was created as a bit of a byproduct really, as a sort of river by-pass was built in the 1700s and Ko Kret was the bit of land left when the river took its new course.

It is popular with the locals but it’s a weekend destination and we spent the day here from Friday morning to afternoon. During that time it’s all but deserted and it was so quiet we could just wander around and see everything without worrying about the hustle of the visiting crowd – more a peek into everyday life here.

Travel Notes from Ko Kret, Thailand
Travel Notes from Ko Kret, Thailand
Ko Kret is filled with terra cotta potteries – mostly making a variety of clay pots but also some individual sculpted items. Of course it’s all quite breakable so there are scenes like this here and there all around the island. We were invited in to see the entire pottery process, so I’m saving that for a post all its own. I could have watched them create pots all day.

Travel Notes from Ko Kret, Thailand
We walked the island on a path that takes you in a full circle. I think most people probably do this by bicycle as it is quite a long path and you can rent a bike as soon as you step off the ferry, but as we had plenty of time and the temperature was quite nice, we decided we would just walk. (Admittedly, the cooler temperatures came hand in hand with cloudy skies rather than the beautiful blues of the earlier days, but it stayed dry so we couldn’t complain.) The ferry to cross the river, by the way? It will cost you two baht – that’s about 4p in sterling or 6 cents in US dollars. Each way, of course. Worth every penny!

Walking the path, there are several temples, mostly in this style with red, green and gold. There’s also a white and gold buddha garden, which is a silent fenced area with statues of buddhas from all different times and regions – quite interesting to see them all together, from skinny and shiny interpretations to stout characters carved from wood.

Travel Notes from Ko Kret, Thailand
I am quickly learning a temple isn’t a temple without some chickens! Chickens walk freely all over the island, but there is something that makes me giggle about chickens searching for their enlightenment. My Gran has always said I should write a children’s book called There’s a Hedgehog in my Garden. I think it could have a sequel for the other side of the world called There’s a Chicken at my Temple, right?

Travel Notes from Ko Kret, Thailand
We passed the school here and I loved this little touch – a chalkboard on the playground. When I was little, I loved the excitement of getting to write on the board, so I think this is quite sweet that they could write here at breaktime. The mix of doodles, Thai and English may have made the sentimental teacher part of me melt. Just maybe.

Travel Notes from Ko Kret, Thailand
Travel Notes from Ko Kret, Thailand
Everything here is quiet and simple, but there’s also a lovely feel that there isn’t progress for progress’ sake. Some there are shrines and statues that have been here since the late eighteenth century with this weathered look.

Travel Notes from Ko Kret, Thailand
Travel Notes from Ko Kret, Thailand
Travel Notes from Ko Kret, Thailand
But also a fair bit of sparkle here too! I may have a slight obsession with needing to check out every reclining buddha we pass – as a result of the song from Chess. Forgive me! But also, they are pretty darn impressive. This was the first we had seen with all the ornate carving on the feet.

Travel Notes from Ko Kret, Thailand
There are spots on the island that are relatively busy – meaning there are shops and places to eat, not that there were lots of people about – and then also places that aren’t touristy at all, where we watched farmers and monks. Just so lovely from start to finish. Though if you ever come here, be sure you have some excellent bug repellant – as you can guess, there’s plenty of water here so plenty of mosquitos ready for lunch!

Stop by tomorrow for a look at my favourite part – the Ko Kret potteries.

xlovesx

Travel Notes from Dumnoen Saduak Floating Market Thailand

Travel Notes from Dumnoen Saduak Floating Market Thailand
Travel Notes from Dumnoen Saduak Floating Market Thailand
Over the course of three days in Thailand, we visited three different floating markets. In one, the market sellers were floating in boats and you shopped by walking by on the land or the dock. In another, we sat in the boat and the market stalls were set up on the sides of the canal. And at Dumnoen Saduak floating market, there was a bit of both.

When we arrived, someone quickly came up to us and offered us the choice of one or two hours in a boat, and it turned out an hour was plenty of time to see everything since we were there quite early in the morning and the canal didn’t start to get busy until we were getting back on our feet. We just sat in the canoe and our guide rowed, taking us from one section of the market to another.

Travel Notes from Dumnoen Saduak Floating Market Thailand
There are a few things that are universal as far as we have always found: Coca-Cola is certainly one of them. (So far other contenders include Pepsi, Starbucks and KFC which seems to be exceedingly popular in Thailand. There is also many a Tesco shop!) Also, I love this lady’s hat. I have a feeling she has a brilliant character.


Here’s a short little video of the market so you can get a feel for the atmosphere of this place. Think calm and peaceful interrupted by moments of intense sales pitch! Although we don’t know for sure, we assumed our guide either had friends or colleagues that made it worth her while to take us to certain stands, as sometimes she really didn’t want to push away until we bought something, but others she would totally ignore. Admittedly, we have been slightly infuriating to many a market person as we have packed so lightly that we aren’t really buying much in the way of souvenirs. I have mostly been looking for postcards but they have been dire and far between. I wish I had picked up more on our very first day as we’ve never seen a proper rack of postcards like that since. Hoping some will pop up on our radar soon!

Travel Notes from Dumnoen Saduak Floating Market Thailand
Some of the markets we have visited are quite small, but you can see this one covers a fair bit of space. Admittedly many of the shops are empty – it looks like they haven’t always been, so I think this may be exactly like the empty shops on our high streets back home. This market is mostly aimed at tourists and fewer people travel right now, so that affects businesses like this too. If you do go here and have room in your bags, you can get things to take home for mere pennies. It’s way more fun than shopping at the airport for a shot glass and a keychain with the name of the destination.

Travel Notes from Dumnoen Saduak Floating Market Thailand
Things were picking up as it grew closer to lunchtime. I can imagine at its busiest, it’s quite difficult to navigate the boat through everything! But here you can see how there are both shoppers and sellers in boats, plus more along the side on the bank. The colours are amazing – all the bright primary shades against the neutrals of the water.

Travel Notes from Dumnoen Saduak Floating Market Thailand
There is one thing we do buy at markets because we don’t have to find room for it in our backpacks: food! This lady made fried bananas – some with sesame seeds and some with coconut flakes. We watched her make them and then she scooped them up to us in a bowl attached to a stick, so we could take them and pass the money back to her even though she was in the water and we were on a bridge. They were seriously yummy and the bag had more than the two of us could eat – for a whopping price that worked out to… forty pence. Thai food… of course it is seriously amazing, but it’s amazing at every level from a boat to a fancy restaurant. But there’s at least a full blog post in that idea. More soon.

xlovesx

✂ older posts