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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 Thailand's Ancient City

Travel Notes from Ancient City, Thailand
Travel Notes from Ancient City, Thailand
The Ancient City in Thailand… it’s an interesting sort of place. Imagine you were a wealthy businessman who wanted to do something nice for your country. I know, you think, I’ll build an amusement park! But not the sort of amusement park with daredevil rollercoasters and log flumes. The kind that plots a map of the entire country on some empty land and fills it with a mix of transplanted, recreated or just plain made up landmarks that correspond to each region of the country’s geography. That makes sense, right? Well, that is the Ancient City in a nutshell.

Pay to get in, then ride a bicycle or drive a golf cart around the winding paths to see various structures either moved here or constructed here so you can get a feel for every part of the country and all the unique cultures contained therein. You’ll see things like this:

Travel Notes from Ancient City, Thailand
Because every theme park needs some random cattle, right?
Travel Notes from Ancient City, Thailand
And some pretty flowers.
Travel Notes from Ancient City, Thailand
As well as samples of product packaging over the years.

No rollercoasters, but on the plus side, you also don’t have to queue for anything and the ladies’ room was the cleanest of all I saw in Thailand, I do believe!

Travel Notes from Ancient City, Thailand
The real reason The Boy was a fan: he could drive a golf cart all afternoon. He would quite happily forget the ‘lf’ at the end of ‘golf’ and tell you this was a go cart instead. Oh my. So maybe there was nearly one rollercoaster, if you were a passenger on this cart!

Travel Notes from Ancient City, Thailand
And if you can understand what they mean by all that, then your translation skills are awesome. (Not that I could read a word of it in Thai – just that this particular translation is more creative than others!)

Travel Notes from Ancient City, Thailand
There are temples, ruins, bridges, homes, waterfalls, mountainsides, rivers and ancient burial grounds all recreated here.

Travel Notes from Ancient City, Thailand
Which makes it seem like a geography teacher’s dream: can you imagine the field trip potential? I am sure there are often many children here with worksheets in hand.

Travel Notes from Ancient City, Thailand
Though that might be a bit confusing when you come to a spot on the map where it indicates that some pieces were just made up from their imagination, like a bridge (over no water) painted like a rainbow and clouds. The little-known Rainbow Brite province, I do believe.

Travel Notes from Ancient City, Thailand
Rather than school children when we were there we saw a corporate retreat, with all sorts of groups doing trust falls and scavenger hunts… something comforted me that those mixed up days are part of business life all over the world! I went on many as a teacher and they were always a little hit and miss. But then they were usually in the school yard or maybe a conference room at a local hotel. Not a theme park of national landmarks!

Travel Notes from Ancient City, Thailand
Travel Notes from Ancient City, Thailand
Okay, so maybe I think this whole idea is slightly comical, but it is worth seeing. It’s a very pleasant place and far quieter than Alton Towers or Six Flags, of course. And it did let us see a bit about life in years gone by or parts of the country we’re not going to see with our own eyes.

Travel Notes from Ancient City, Thailand
And just to ensure family and friends that I am actually here and this isn’t a random joke I’m blogging from my bedroom in London, some photographic evidence of my location:
Travel Notes from Ancient City, Thailand

Now… share a slightly funny thing to see if I came to your neck of the woods! After all, I hail from the state with the world’s second largest ball of twine, so your locale must have something unique too! (And given the choice, definitely go see the Ancient City rather than the ball of twine! But if you happen to be driving by…)

xlovesx

Travel Notes from Nighttime Bangkok

happy new year from bangkok
banyan tree vertigo bar bangkok
Happy New Year! May 2011 bring you and yours much happiness and nothing you can’t overcome with grace.
banyan tree vertigo bar bangkok
We’re a few countries on from this today, but a sparkly night in Bangkok sounds pretty New Year’s Eve to me!

xlovesx

On getting a fish pedicure

getting a fish pedicure
fish pedicure
So I’ll warn you now… if you don’t want to see pictures of our feet, go ahead and click away. But I promise, our feet are clean and everything… it’s just that they were also dinner for a few hundred small fish who specialise in giving pedicures. True story.

Fish pedicures aren’t really all that hard to come by now – there are several places in London where you can get one if you fancy, but they are all over the place in Bangkok and we decided to give it a whirl at a night market. Essentially, you wash your feet then stick them in a tank filled with lots of tiny fish you nibble at the dead skin. It doesn’t hurt, but it tickles more than I could have imagined, and it took about ten of our fifteen minutes for me to calm down and not constantly shake the fish from my toes. So that sign that says one of the benefits is ‘the rest’ and how it will ‘cause relaxation’? That bit is far, far from what we experienced!


We did however giggle a great deal and get many laughs from passersby who had no intention of sticking their feet in the tank. Definitely a conversation starter.

By the way, if you ever get a fish pedicure, go for a tank that has smaller fish. We passed various places offering fish of different sizes and our tank had mostly small but a couple large fish. The large fish bite harder and they are too big to get to the little spots anyway, so I was very glad we didn’t opt for the all-big-fish tank. Seriously, there is a certain I can’t believe I am writing this message going through my mind as I type about fish instead of scrapbooking!

fish pedicure
Admittedly, my feet were very soft after a fish pedicure and if I had the nerve to keep my feet in that tank for thirty minutes instead of fifteen, I think my toes could have won awards for their amazing condition. But I’m just not sure I could manage… we’ll see what the verdict is on that after several more weeks of miles of walking every day!

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

Travel Notes from Bangkok Grand Palace

Notes from Bangkok Grand Palace
Grand Palace Bangkok Thailand
From the older ruins of Ayutthaya, we headed to something much more sparkly and new: the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Its construction started in 1782 and new additions have continued to be built. Indeed, we saw a few towers of scaffolding while we were here.

Grand Palace Bangkok Thailand
This is an expansive place, yet the tiny details are what I found most amazing. Tiny reflective tiles hand-cut and placed in mosaic patterns to make up a rich picture, at times in the way that individual brush strokes can be beautiful both in close scrutiny and upon stepping back to see everything as one full picture.

Grand Palace Bangkok Thailand
Grand Palace Bangkok Thailand
While our last stop showed styles that were consistently Thai, at this palace there were bits here and there that reminded me of other cultures. The bonsai trees and a few of the guard statues reminded me of what we saw at the palaces in Kyoto, Japan. Whether there is a real connection there, I’m not yet sure – I’m making this note here so I can look up the influences and political connections of the time and find out! (We arrived a bit late in the day to meet up with a tour guide, who probably would have known, so I’ll ask the powers of the internet when we have a better connection than today.)

Grand Palace Bangkok Thailand
The palace has a smart dress code – our first time to test what we chose to pack in our small bags. The Boy had no problem, but I was stopped at the door for something that surprised me entirely! I was wearing a knee-length dress with short sleeves (but not sleeveless) and three-quarter length leggings. I would always think that was more modest than the same dress without leggings, right? But no – I was asked to either remove the leggings and wear the same dress with bare legs or to wear a full-length sarong, which anyone who doesn’t meet the dress code can borrow while they walk around the grounds. So no problem at all and I happily borrowed a pretty blue sarong, but it left me perplexed that bare legs would be preferred to covered! One of the ladies explained it was because anything tight would be disrespectful. Learn something new every day!

Grand Palace Bangkok Thailand
When we walked around other areas of Bangkok, there was an interesting mix of old and new, where modernisations have been added right on top of the existing culture, so you get interesting scenarios like elderly shopkeepers selling the latest in modern technology and very old buildings with signs for Western fastfood restaurants – that sort of thing. But at the palace that was notably absent. I think if you took photos here thirty years ago and compared them to today, they would look remarkably similar.

Probably something else I should try to find out, I’m sure!

xlovesx