Sukhothai historical park

After spending 2 days in Ayutthaya and feeling the need to move on, I booked a 6:30 am bus to Sukhothai. The idea was to get there around midday so I had plenty of time to see the park in the afternoon. I had decided to try to find a guesthouse within the historical Park as someone had told me that new Sukhothai was dead at night and that the park was where all the action was. This could not be further from the truth. While being in the park has its advantages, night life is definitely not one of the reasons to go there!

While waiting for the bus I spotted 2 fellow travellers which were carrying around full suitcases. This is not a normal sight while travelling around as most people tend to have backpacks. I decided to strike up a conversation and it turns out they were Italian! I was on luck as I am much more comfortable speaking Italian than I am speaking French so it meant the trip would become less intellectually challenging!

Their names were Alessandro and Gilberto and they would become my travelling companions for the next few days. πŸ™‚ They had been in Thailand for a few days and were heading towards the golden triangle. At that point I was still not sure what I wanted to do so I decided to tag along as far as Chiang Mai.

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The bus ride was OK and as we had VIP tickets we even had a stop to eat at 8:30am. We arrived at Sukhothai and got ripped off by the taxi driver that charged us 150baht each to take us to the hotels. Alessandr o and Gilbert had booked a hotel outside of the historical Park while I wanted to go inside as I had seen in my guide that there were a couple of cheap options in there. The taxi driver decided to drop me off at the hostel where he was getting commission instead of the one I wanted but I easily found the place. I got a nice aircon room for 500 baht and then got in touch with my new friends to see if they wanted to bike around the park.

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We ended up heading out at 4pm and got to see a few temples and a nice sunset. We then had some nice street food and tried to find a place toΒ  have a beer before we went to sleep. Everything was dead at 8pm and we had a beer at a place that was closing up for the night. We decided to call it an early night and meet up early the next day to see some more of the historical park.

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At 8am we were again on our bikes and heading into the historical park. It was well worth getting up early as it was not at all hot and it was a very pleasant ride. It rained a little bit but not enough to bother us. I stopped to have a couple of roadside delicacies which turned out to be chicken asses. They were not bad and they also turned out to be the only food I’d have until dinner time so I got lucky!

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Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya is a smallish town on the outskirts of Bangkok. The only reason I came here was because it was recommended by a French guy I met in Bangkok. I ended up staying here for 2 nights, mostly due to F.O.M.O.(fear of missing out) but as always it worked out ok. πŸ™‚

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I arrived here by minibus from bangkok. The ride was nice enough as the bus was big enough and had airconditioning. While I was waiting for the bus I bought some strawberries from a street vendor. She coated them with what I thought was sugar and handed them to me. It turns out that it was sugar and salt together! I have never had salty strawberries but it was not bad! I don’t know if I’d have them again back home but for a taste it was surprising and worked well.

I was planning on staying at what I thought was a guesthouse called Tony’s place. When I got there at 1pm they were already fully booked so I went across the road to the U.P. Inn. The room I got was lovely and cheap and I should have stayed there for both my nights but I didn’t.

At this time I was starting to get affected by something that sometimes happens when you travel alone. It’s a terrible thing called loneliness. I was enjoying my stay in the country but it had been 3 days since I had spoken to anyone and I was feeling rather down in the dumps. When you feel like this you tend to make stupid decisions based on trying to get to the place where you think you’ll meet people. In that frame of mind I went and booked a room at Tony’s place for twice the money of the place I was staying. I didn’t break the bank but I could have done without it.

I then rented a bike and went on a small tour around town to see the major ruins. The ruins were nice but the truth is that they are in the middle of a city and most are currently under construction. Though it may seem weird, they are rebuilding many of the ruins to make them look more attractive. I think they are ruining the charm of the 13th century buildings by plastering them over with new pieces but to each their own.

Why plaster this over?
Why plaster this over?

I headed back to town on my bike and went back to my hostel to rest a bit. As I said before, I was not exactly my cheerful self so I decided to wander around town to see if I could cheer myself up. I had a bit of dinner and kept my eyes open for potential groups I could join but all I could see where couples and families. I was starting to really regret booking a second night in this town and got sadder and sadder. After dinner I decided that this needed to stop and I sat down at a table of strangers and asked if I could join them. That’s how I met my travel buddy for the next day and it was a great move.

The 2 guys I met were from Quebec so I spent the evening and most of next day speaking in French. Seem like I need to travel to Asia to speak French! πŸ™‚ We went for another bite to eat and then had a few beers in town . There was little night life and we ended up sitting at a closed bar and buying beers from the shop across the road. We were then joined by another random French man whose only joy in life seemed to be to disagree with everything anyone said. He was a miserable man and kind of killed our buzz.

I agreed to meet Antoine the next day in front of my new hotel after I’d checked in so we could rent some bikes and go see some more ruins. It all went smoothly and I was shown to my new room which was definitely not worth twice the money of my previous place. We proceeded to bike all around town (over 20kms) in the midday heat. Suffice it to say that it was gruelling. I overheated at a certain point and had to pour loads of cold water over my head to cool down.

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When we were visiting one monument we ran into busloads of Thai students that had come to see the monument in airconditioned buses. The looks they gave us reminded me of how I used to look at German tourists when I’d see them sweating in the midday heat in Madrid. To think that now I’m the stupid tourist!

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After biking to the middle of nowhere to see a supposed Portuguese village, we called it a day and took a ferry back to town and returned our bikes. We headed to the local market for dinner and then parted ways as Antoine had to work and I wanted to update the blog. I booked an early morning bus to Sukhothai at the hostel and had a free dinner on the house as I had paid for breakfast but was leaving before breakfast was open.

The rest of the night was spent having beers with Antoine and talking about politics, acting, travelling and many other things. Overall a great night!

One night in Bangkok

So Bangkok, how to describe it? It’s a crazy sprawling metropolis with a little to offer for every taste. I’m afraid I only spent an afternoon there as I wanted to get away from the city for a bit but the little I saw has made sure I want to spend a couple of days there before I leave!

After my gruelling flight from Shanghai I spent all of my first morning in bangkok sleeping. I had booked a fancy hotel for the first couple of days as I wanted to make sure I had a nice place to crash while I adjusted to the jetlag. I’m not sure if that was the right choice as everyone at the hotel was there with their families which meant I didn’t really talk to anyone in my 2 days there.

I awoke at 2pm and headed out to explore the city, unfortunately the main temples all close at 3:30pm and I didn’t have enough time to get there. Instead I decided to wander around and see what I ran into. The first thing I saw was a big section of the centre of town closed off for the protests. It was a strange feeling as the streets were deserted but you could see overturned cars and military checkpoints everywhere. There were also big tents with people listening to speeches on big screen TVs. Not too sure what was happening but I acted the tourist and wandered all over the place. Nobody seemed to mind.

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I eventually made it to the first place I wanted to visit which was the Golden Summit. This stuppa was built on top of a previous mount and gives a great view over the city. I got there as there was some sort of ritual going on where a lot of people were pinning amulets on a long piece of cloth which they then wrapped around the stuppa. I felt very foreign and a little in the way but tried to be respectful.

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After making my way down and already sweating like a pig, I wandered vaguely in the direction of the Grand palace and Wat Po. I ended up at Sao Chingcha which is a big temple in the middle of a square. Apparently here there used to be a big swing where once a year they would place a bag of gold 15m high and people would swing on this swing trying to reach the bag. This practice was banned after many people killed themselves trying. The temple itself is very beautiful and had an impressive statue of the Buddha inside.

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I then left and headed towards Wat Po. I got there and was approached by a seemingly nice Thai man that asked me where I’m from and after a bit of a chat recommended I go to the Tourist office really quickly as it was a special Buddhist holiday and the government had removed all taxes from travel tickets to encourage tourism. The clincher was that he could get me a Tuk-Tuk (taxi) to take me there for free. I politely refused to be scammed and was so glad that I had already gotten scammed in Shanghai! I was approached by 2 more people with similar stories trying to get me to the Tourist information office which kind of confirmed it was a scam.

Tuk-Tuk selfie!
Tuk-Tuk selfie!

I got on a Tuk-Tuk by myself and headed to Chinatown for dinner. Chinatown feels like a completely different city to central Bangkok. That happened a few times while in Bangkok, it feels like there are many cities in this one! I got there a bit early for dinner but ended up walking to an open Street vendor and saying “Hungry” then sitting down. I got a delicious soup with seafood in it. I have been here for a while now and I have yet to be served bad food, I love this country! I wandered a bit around Chinatown and then headed back to the hotel to reset.

Chinatown stall
Chinatown stall

After a shower I went out again searching for a beer and someone to talk to. I went to Khao San which is the big backpacker area. Again this was yet another city! Brimming with tourists, bars, cheap cocktails and lots of music. I wandered around and went to a place called the rooftop bar. I didn’t get to talk to anyone but got nicely buzzed by myself. The band there wasn’t bad and the are much worse things than listening to versions of Mumford and sons while having a beer.

Crazy Khao San!
Crazy Khao San!

I tumbled back to the hotel and met a nice French man there that recommended I head to Ayutthaya as it is worth seeing. That is exactly what I did. I’m writing this post after having stayed here for 2 days. My next post will cover Ayutthaya, biking across the countryside and much more!

Shanghai my… oh my!

Shanghai… what a city! It is definitely not what I expected and that’s not always a bad thing. I arrived here expecting to see something completely different and in many ways it is very similar to being back in Europe. It’s like Europe gone crazy! I was there for barely 24 hours but I have a lot to tell so pull up a chair and join me!

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I got to Shanghai at 3 pm after a 12 hours flight from Rome. I flew with China Eastern which is not a bad company. The plane was OK and we each had our own little VOD screen. The guy sitting next to me however was a nightmare. He had no sense of personal space and kept digging his elbow into my side. This was the beginning of my contacts with the Chinese and I can tell you he was more the norm than the exception. More on this later.

We landed at Shanghai airport around 3 pm. I was a little nervous as I was planning on getting in using the new transit visa that China has established in Jan of this year. The idea is that if you are staying for less than 72 hours you don’t need to get a visa beforehand, all you need is to prove that you have a confirmed flight that is leaving in the next 3 days. With my usual lack of preparedness, I had forgotten to print out my flight information and all I had was an email in Italian on my phone that showed my flight info. Turns out everything went smoothly. I had more trouble getting them to accept that I was the hairy big-bearded guy that appears in my passport photo than getting my visa stamped.

My friend Michael was waiting patiently for me at the airport. The flight was delayed and the visa took a good while but he still greeted me with a big smile, handed me a transport card and we headed towards the MAGLEV train. This wonderful piece of engineering takes you straight from Shanghai airport to the outskirts of Shanghai at 300km/h. After the train we took a taxi which ended up being more expensive than expected as the taxi drivers said they couldn’t use the meter on Sundays. Who knew the Chinese we so religious! πŸ˜›

Michael’s apartment is amazing! It has a fantastic view over Shanghai and a really comfy couch for vagabonds like me to sleep on. I had a shower and put on a load of laundry and then we left to have dinner with my work colleagues. Dinner was great and consisted of a neverending stream of plates delivered to our table. They were all placed on a rotating centrepiece that you could spin to get to the food you wanted. This was fun and also a bit stressful as you had to be fast in serving your food or someone would spin the table and you would miss your chance!

What a view!
What a view!

We then went for drinks in a very western part of town (we went to the paulaner brewery!) and then we said our goodbyes. Michael took me for the last one to an expat hangout called I love Shanghai. The place is really cool and I would highly recommend it to anyone in Shanghai that wants to meet some English speaking people. We stayed until midnight and toasted in Paddy’s day and then went home where I slept like a drugged baby!

The next morning I got up at 9 and headed out to see Shanghai. As some of you know, I have a tendency to get scammed on the first day of my trips and you’ll be happy to know that this time was no different. I met what I thought was a nice pair of Chinese tourists and we walked around People’s square for a while. They mentioned that they were going to see a traditional Chinese tea ceremony and asked if I cared to join them. They seemed nice enough so I went along. The tea place they took me to was rather small but nice. I got shown a price chart and, even though it was expensive (49 RMB for a tea), I thought it might be worth it to see the ceremony. I quickly realised something was up when I got a thimble of tea and then we passed on to the next one. I said that I didn’t want all the teas (there was over a dozen) and said that 2 was enough for me. The scammer got a bit upset and even said that I should live a little and spend more money. Her argument was that my flight tomorrow might disappear like the Malaysian airlines one and then what good would my money do me. I smiled and paid my bill (130 RMB or almost 16 euro for 2 thimbles of tea!). The good thing is now I’ve gotten scammed, I’m immune for the rest of the trip!

Going about her business
Going about her business

The rest of my visit was kind of uneventful unless you count my annoyance with the Chinese as an event. They seem to be extremely rude and have no sense of social awareness. They will push, shove and do whatever they feel like with no consideration for the people around them. I spoke to Michael’s roommate John about this and he said that in China calling someone out on their behaviour is simply not done. This leads me to believe that the Chinese are not rude, they’re mostly just too polite. In Europe if you acted like a dick all the time, people would call you out on it and you’d stop. In China you can act like a dick all you want as nobody will ever say anything out of politeness. In any case I found it rather aggravating.

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At 4pm I proceeded to take the Metro to the MAGLEV train and got to the airport with almost no incidents. I did fall asleep on the Metro, freaked out thinking I had passed my stop and then realised after I had left the train that I was still 3 stops away! The wonders of jetlag!

The flight to Bangkok was a true nightmare. An elderly woman had a stroke on the plane so we had to make an emergency landing in Guangzhou to get her to a hospital. It was rather sad how the Chinese attitude shone here again. As she was being carried out from the airplane, all you could hear where mobile phones taking pictures left and right. We were grounded for over 4 hours and our 4 hour flight turned into a 9 hour one. Suffice it to say I was destroyed by the time I got to the hotel in Bangkok!

That’s all for now. I’ve been in Bangkok for just over 24 hours and have plenty to say in the next post. Make sure you don’t miss it!

Eastward bound

The time has come to leave the comforts of known territory and venture forth into the unknown. I have left Rome and am on a plane bound to Shanghai. I find myself once again with butterflies in my stomach but in the best possible way. Last night I caved in a little bit and booked my first night in a hostel in Bangkok. It’s not cheap but I have a feeling after all this travelling I’m going to want a nice place to rest my head.

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A small place to rest your head

My last day in Rome was kind of a drag. I spent the day wandering about town, waiting until I had to head to the airport. Don’t get me wrong, the worst day in Rome is still pretty amazing but by 4pm my feet were hurting a bit. Didn’t help that I twisted y ankle and almost killed myself. I am not kidding, I twisted my ankle and then did one of those stumbling runs were you are trying really hard not to fall over. All of this with my backpack on and my camera in one hand. Did I mention I did all of this into traffic? Yes, I. almost. killed. myself.
I did get to enjoy the luxury of packing light though. I walked for 6 hours around town with all my luggage on me and was not excessively tired. I could not have done this if I was dragging a big suitcase behind me, then again I might have just left it at luggage storage and saved myself the hassle…

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No hassle here

As I said, I am writing this from the plane, I will probably not post it until I get to Michael’s house in Shanghai, if I get there. The rules recently changed in China and from stays of under 72 hours they no longer require a visa. The only issue is I have no proof that I am staying only 24 hours! The airport attendants told me they would warn Shanghai of my situation and that I would have no issue. If you are reading this, chances are things went ok.

The flight from China eastern is better than I expected. The seats are not bad and we have individual VOD entertainment units. I have just sat through the wonder that is the Lone Ranger and will pick my next movie more carefully.

PS: Got to Bangkok safely. This post is brought to you with one day delay thanks to China’s Big Brother Internet filter. The next post is going to be a long one as I’ll cover my Chinese experience which has been interesting. I’ll cover a scam, my thoughts on Chinese behaviour and why we had to do an emergency landing in Gangzhou! It’s 3 am right now and I am knackered…

Living la Dolce Vita

As you may have guessed from my previous post, I love Rome. And I can happily say that today I rediscovered why! The streets, the people, that crazy mix of tradition and modernity. Rome seems to be grasping to its old traditions with strength while the modernity slowly seeps in through the cracks. You can see groups of locals chatting around a car straight out of 1950s while a young hipster with his headphones on walks right by them. I think I missed more photo opportunities today than ever but I was just in a state of catatonic happiness so I didn’t really care.

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let the light in

Some things have changed since the last time I was here. For example, the movie Gladiator had not come out and now one of the staples of all the tacky souvenir stall is a replica of Maximus’s helmet. Another thing that has changed for the better is the Underground. It is still a bit dirty but the trains are so much better than they used to be! Even the traffic felt less crazy than usual.

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out with the old!

Another way in which my experience in Rome is different this time is due to a change in me. The last time I was in Rome, I was an agnostic which was searching for my path. This time I come back as a convinced atheist and I have felt that this has changed a few things. I have always felt a sense of awe when visiting a church, especially in Rome. I associate this city with many religious experiences and I found myself feeling almost obligated to be reverential when I was visiting a church. Old instincts would kick in and I would find myself thinking about the rituals that I used to go through in church. It was a strange feeling to be able to just say no and realise that these are learned habits. It was even weirder to not do them and realise that nothing bad would happen. Maybe I’m over thinking this but it felt very cathartic to be able to cross in front of the altar of a church and not kneel and do the sign of the cross. It felt liberating, as if a weight had been lifted.

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The elephant in the room?

As you can see I spent a lot of time wandering the streets of Rome, thinking to myself. It was a great morning of wandering around randomly, followed by a delicious lunch of pasta and saltimbocca. I then made my way to the Colosseo to meet Sara whom I had not seen in over 17 years! We met when I was in my last year at the Italian School in Madrid and I then went to visit her in her hometown of Teramo. We then lost contact with each other until she popped up in my Facebook last year.

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Meet Eva!

Sara came to meet me with her boyfriend and her beautiful almost one year old baby daughter. We spent a few hours going back and forth the same streets of trastevere and then she invited me over to her aunt’s house for dinner. We had a great dinner of healthy food as Sara’s boyfriend does not unhealthy things. It was surprisingly good!

Sara’s cousin then dropped me off at the Metro station and I made my way back home. I spent the trip back trying to ignore the conversation of the girls next to me. They were a bunch of American girls that were discussing how they would never wear the same dress twice if they had appeared in a picture with it. Basically they bought 80 dollar dresses, wore them to a party, did some selfies, never wore them again. I bit my lip and refrained from giving them all a well deserved smack over the head.
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I don’t think there will be a post tomorrow as I will be flying to Shanghai! Stay tuned for adventures from the far east!

Hello Rome my old friend

So, the adventure begins again. Once more I find myself getting on a plane headed to faraway lands without a good idea of what I’m going to do when I get there! Before every trip I go through  period of nervousness and even feel that this might not be such a great idea. I have taught myself to ignore it and remind myself that there is method to this madness. I have never enjoyed myself as much as when I have had the freedom to go wherever I wanted to go. Some anxiety is a small price to pay for that freedom.

Anyway, this trip is being a true exercise of me repeating to myself: it will all work out in the end, it will all work out in the end… and so far it has! To give you an idea of how little I have done for this trip, I had a bit of a celebration yesterday and came back home shortly after 8am and my bag was still not fully packed! I also only bought my Thailand guide 4 days ago, so…yeah. If this trip goes well, I have a feeling on my next one I might do even less!

I boarded my plane this afternoon with 2 hours of sleep and a rather nasty hangover. I was unlucky enough to get seated in the middle of a large group of 15 year old Italian students that were returning to Rome after a field trip to Dublin. Luckily I was so knackered that I crashed and only woke up once in the whole flight.

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Roma, arrivo!

Getting to Rome was such a relief. I adore this city. It’s a city I have visited repeatedly throughout my life, as a child, as a teen and as an adult. I have spent many hours wandering its streets and there are so many memories hidden round every corner. I also love the Roman imperial time and simple things like seeing all the streets named after emperors whose history I know just adds to the magic of the place for me.

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What a view!

Due to a last minute change, I am staying at a B&B near the Vatican city. I have a beautiful view of St Peters basilica from my window and the owner is very nice. He recommended a great pizza place for dinner. I love this town! Cheap pizza, friendly staff, fast service. When Rome is good, it’s amazing!
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After dinner I went for a stroll around the Basilica until we got kicked out at 11pm as they close the piazza. I am really looking forward to tomorrow! My plan is to wander the city, meet up with a friend of mine I haven’t seen in 17 years and take a lot of pictures.
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