Bustling Bangkok and Kool Krabi: A Perfect Thai Fortnight.


After our travels in Indonesia it felt odd travelling northwards to Bangkok, but we were very excited at the prospect of another visit from family, with Sam’s sisters, Tina and Sandra joining us for two weeks in Bangkok and Krabi.

To say that we had two contrasting weeks would be something of an understatement. Tina and Sandra arrived on Saturday afternoon and we agreed it was best to let them adjust to the heat and humidity for the remainder of the day before hitting the tourist trail with a vengeance.

Chatuchak Market

We decided to jump straight in at the deep end and head for the City’s legendary Chatuchak Market on Sunday. In what was to become a metaphor for the fortnight we enjoyed a relaxing ferry across the River Chao Phraya followed by a bustling trip on Bangkok’s excellent Skytrain service to get to the Market. Calling Chatuchak a “market” does it something of a dis-service. It’s one of the worlds largest markets covering nearly 30 acres hosting 15,000 stalls that attract 200,000 visitors each day. It’s like visiting a village that lies dormant during weekdays, only to spring into life on Saturday and Sunday.

 Shopping Sisters

It’s a fun and vibrant place to visit whether you are searching for unique fashion designs, sampling tasty street food and drinks, enjoying a much needed foot massage or simply people watching. Given the size of Chatuchak it will cater for whatever you are looking for. However if you are clothes shopping be warned – in temperatures climbing uncomfortably above 30 degrees there is a tendency to sweat profusely. Not surprisingly this makes trying on clothes very tricky and many stalls display the sign “no trying clothes on” – so its a question of making your best guess!

One of the main perimeter routes at Chatuchak

Sam and I visited Chatuchak ten years ago when it seemed a bit more ramshackle and we had the unfortunate experience of stumbling into a section where there was cock-fighting going on. A horrible sight but happily no repeat this time. In fact it felt like a very safe place to be – enhanced by the reassuring site of the Market Police….

Segway Tourist Cop!

Another thing that has changed since our last visit is the speed of Bangkok Tuk-Tuks which like the City itself seem to have been turbo-charged. Instead of taking the same route home from the market we decided to jump into a couple of Tuk-Tuks for what tuned out to be a high speed race / chase through the city. Thoroughly scary and entertaining!

Who needs F1 when you have Bangkok Tuk-Tuks!


The “planes, trains, automobiles” theme to our week continued the next day when we headed north out of the city to one of Thailand’s most celebrated ancient sites – Ayutthaya. We decided to catch the train for the ninety minute journey starting out from Bangkok’s lovely Hua Lamphong Railway Station


Ayutthaya dates back to the 1300’s and is a fascinating collection of ancient ruins dotted around the town. I had been reliably informed that the sites were in walking distance from the railway station, so when I manfully strode out into the blistering heat of Ayutthaya I imperiously waved away enthusiastic Tuk-Tuk drivers, indicating that we were British, we had a map, and we would find the sites on our own steam – thank you very much. You could see the collective reaction of the drivers on their faces: “…Really?”

Thankfully after we had walked about ten yards and were starting to wilt a persistent driver gave me the charitable chance to re-think my strategy and we gratefully bundled into a Tuk-Tuk, having completely lost face.

Some of the thousands’s of Bhudda images to be found in Ayutthaya….

We’ve really been spoilt visiting ancient UNESCO Heritage sites and the trip to Ayutthaya was another that did not disappoint, with fabulous statues of Bhudda, Stupas galore, and temples spread throughout the town. There was one site we were incredibly excited to see though: the remarkable image of Bhudda embedded in a tree. It exceeded our expectations.

…but only one Bhudda in a Tree 

Kanchanaburi and the Bridge over the River Kwai*

With all the riches that day trips in and around Bangkok brings its hard to pick a favourite, but the day we spent in Kanchanaburi visiting the Bridge over the River Kwai sites was very special indeed. Our first stop was the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery which is a beautifully maintained and moving memorial to the Allied soldiers who lost their lives in inhumane and brutal conditions. Over 7000 servicemen and women are commemorated at the Cemetery. Visiting just a few days after Remembrance Sunday it was a sad and humbling experience to quietly walk among the headstones and reflect on sacrifice and the lives stolen away.

Honouring the Fallen

At a local Museum we learnt more about the horrendous conditions in which prisoners were kept. Over 15,000 prisoners of war and 100,000 civilians died of died of sickness, mistreatment, malnutrition and exhaustion as as result of the building the “Death Railway”. 

One of the many moving Memorial Plaques

We travelled by boat up to the infamous bridge itself. As with many of these sites (the Killing Fields and 9-11 spring to mind) there is part of you excited about seeing and photographing such a famous landmark, but another voice reminds you that this is the place where people lost their lives. It’s a delicate balance between the demands of tourism and showing respect.

The Bridge

Train services continue to run over the bridge and several miles up the line so we took the opportunity see the railway and countryside, including the remarkable viaduct that snakes its way along part of the line.

Viaduct heading west toward Burma

Jumping on an old-fashioned train and rolling along the tracks is one of the best ways to view S/E Asia, but this trip and route had an extra resonance.


Our day was made even more memorable by having the most wonderful guide called Vanda who as well as being incredibly informative, was the funniest and most sociable guide possible. Before we set off Vanda disappeared into the bathroom for a very long time. She then reappeared bouncing into our van apologising for the delay explaining that she had needed the toilet very badly but everything was okay and we would be pleased to know that she had washed her hands thoroughly! A case of a bit too much information first thing in the morning, but delivered with such frank glee that we couldn’t help but laugh. Vanda made sure we had perfect seats on the train and became our unofficial photographer. We think she is the best guide in Thailand!

Moments after the pic the train started to move almost leaving our guide behind

* A little known and rather inconvenient fact is that the Bridge does go not over the River Kwai – this was an error by Pierre Boulle the author of the book. The Bridge actually crosses the Mae Klong River but there are proposals to rename it Kwai!

As luck would have it good friends of  Tina’s – Veronica and Ray – were also in Bangkok and we enjoyed a great night out with them and over a meal and a few beers learnt more about their journey through S/E Asia. Veronica gives us lovely feedback on the blog so it was extra special to meet up.

The Grand Palace and the Reclining Bhudda

No trip to Bangkok would be complete without a visit to these two amazing sites (three if you include the short hop across the River to Wat Arun). Both always attract big crowds but the masses thin out remarkable quickly when you get inside given the sheer size of the sites.

Picture Perfect Palace’s

And what a greeting you get, glorious almost garish colours bask in the sunlight depicting tales of ancient creatures, monsters and demons, alongside beautiful temples and golden images of Bhudda.

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The detail is astonishing and the almost overwhelming assault on your sense leaves you wondering where to look next. It’s a spectacle that you can never tire of and when you have had your fill at the Palace, the Reclining Bhudda awaits.

Endless Treasures

Space is at more of a premium when you get to the Reclining Bhudda (in Wat Pho) and it can feel a bit more like a scrum than the Palace. It doesn’t really breed an atmosphere for reflection or spirituality – it’s more a case of sharpening elbows and getting stuck in, and just when you think you’ve made it to the ideal vantage point, the ultimate challenge totters into your viewfinder: a selfie-obsessed Chinese tourist. Why anyone thinks a picture of the world’s most beautiful Bhudda will be enhanced with an incongruous Churchill V sign and vacant smile in the foreground of the shot is beyond me – forget Bhudda it’s all about worshipping the 21st Century social media god: Insta.

Astonishing: the Reclining Bhudda

Hypocritical grumbles about fellow tourists aside, if you are patient gaps open up and you can stand in awe at this incredible sight, okay…it helps to be 6 ft+ ….and what you cant see in the two photos of the Reclining Bhudda are the hordes of 5ft something Chinese tourists buzzing about below me. A quick detour across the river to the striking Wat Arun completed the day and our sightseeing – we were well and truly pooped.

Wat Arun


Tina and Sandra’s trip really was a game of two halves, with the hyper-activity of our Bangkok days replaced with a much more sedate pace in Krabi where we arrived at a picture perfect resort on Tubkaak beach. Having visited Ko Phang Nga and Koh Samui earlier in our trip it was really interesting to compare west vs east coasts. Our conclusion was that beaches around Krabi win it by a short head on account of the huge limestone castes that sit brooding in the sea to create a dramatic backdrop against a clean, warm sea that laps on to beautiful sandy beaches. Heaven.

It really is that beautiful..

Hong Islands Hopping 

One of the attractions in the area is to hire a long tail boat and view the uninhabited Hong Islands close up. Setting off early we met our skipper for the day who was the living definition of the phrase “salty sea dog”. A lovely friendly fella who looked after us.

Our Skipper and his Boat

We headed out to the islands cutting through turquoise waters that revealed huge pink jellyfish that mercifully don’t venture into shallow waters. Our first stop was a hidden lagoon where after negotiating a narrow entrance it opens up into a bay with waters that invite you to jump in – which we did with no hesitation.

Secret Lagoon

Then we navigated our way to a lovely stretch of beach on another island which is part of a National Park. Your boatman drops you off and for a small fee you can stay on the beach for two hours before you get collected. It did feel and look a little bit like “The Beach” albeit without Leonardo Di Caprio and Tilda Swinton, but with a supporting cast of dozens of extras – you can’t expect to have these spots to yourself. The waters were full of fish making it ideal for snorkelling.

Hong Island Beach

After our allotted time we rejoined our boat and made for another unspoilt beach where if you time it right you can see the see separate at low tide – how very biblical! Sadly we didn’t catch low tide and missed out out on the chance to impersonate Moses. However the beach did have one of the ultimate Insta-magnets: a swing upon which we witnessed some remarkable posing and pouting. Of course we yielded to temptation and went for a nice family shot before we headed home through darkening skies and threatening cloud.

Swinging Sisters

Busy Doing Nothing

It’s quite hard to summon up the creative juices to describe the several hours we spent crashed out on big bean bags that begged you to firmly plant your backside into them and move no further, occasionally beckoning drinks from the bar-staff.

Sunset on Tubkaak Beach

But to be fair we weren’t totally idle as there were complementary Paddle-Boards and Kayaks to try out. The calm sea conditions were perfect to try these out, especially as Sam and I had practised Paddle -Boarding on Hove Lagoon and Kayaking on the River Adur in anticipation of exactly this opportunity. The Paddle-Boarding was great fun although as anyone who has tried it will know, it’s not as easy as it looks. Sam & I definitely benefited from our sessions earlier in the year, and after a bit of coaxing and a lot of wobbling both Sandra and Tina managed to assume the perpendicular…before heading for the horizontal! Fair play for having a go though.

..and when he was up he was up, and when he was down he was…..wet

Energised by a hitherto unknown passion for water sports Sandra decided to have a crack at kayaking next. As I nervously sat waiting in the kayak Sandra braced herself by sitting on its the edge promptly catapulting me out into the sea swiftly followed by the kayak itself. After this rather undignified start we managed to re-board successfully and paddled off without further incident. Sandra assures us that her maiden voyage wont be her last: something the Harbour Master in Christchurch should probably be made aware of. 

Pampering Krabi Elephants

Just an hours drive from our beachside reverie was an elephant sanctuary and the chance to share with Tina and Sandra the wonder of getting up close and personal with these majestic creatures. During the hours we were with them we made them food, fed them tons of bananas, helped give them an exfoliating mud bath and then scrubbed them clean in a lake. It was an elephantine pampering session. But after a tough life of logging if anyone deserves to be spoilt it is these wonderful animals.

Glorious Mud

By chance the morning we went to the see the elephants the heavens had opened but by the time we were heading back the clouds had cleared and we could hear the siren call of the beach bean bags summoning us back to that gorgeous strip of sandy shore and stunning views of the Andaman Sea.

A reluctant goodbye to Krabi

Before we knew it our wonderful fortnight was over and Sandra and Tine were heading home, while we set ourselves for Borneo. Travelling for so long we have really missed family and friends (and Ruby!), so it’s been great having our journey punctuated by visits from home, and less than a month after waving Tina and Sandra goodbye, we shall be arriving in Perth to stay with my sister Sue and her family for Christmas. 

Next up: Wild Borneo!


Suki and the Elephant AirBnB in Chiang Mai



We spent last year running an AirBnB from our home in Brighton, letting our spare bedrooms to travellers from all over the world. As a result, we regularly received an AirBnB magazine that highlighted some of the most unusual and exotic AirBnB accommodation across the world. One in particular caught our eye: a set of rustic villas located in an elephant sanctuary in the jungle an hour west from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. The article promised living among the elephants, and the chance to meet and interact with them close up. We duly checked the letting details – at about £30.00 a night it looked a great deal and a unique visit. As we don’t plan out itinerary much more than 2/3 weeks ahead at a time we couldn’t make an immediate booking, but we knew when we planned to go to Chiang Mai so we checked again once we were approaching Thailand and found there were rooms still available for a couple of nights. More messing around with elephants beckoned!

On arrival we discovered to get to the camp we had to drag our luggage across a long, rickety and bouncy bridge that swayed worryingly with each step and looked straight out of the set of “I’m a Celebrity….” but this was much more a case of “get me in there” as we viewed the idyllic  river running alongside the villas with elephants dotted about.


After checking into our Villa – a wonderfully ramshackle timber building – we were pointed in the direction of baby elephant Suki and invited to introduce ourselves to her. What a beauty Suki is, 3 months old and just about mastering coordination of her strong ungainly limbs and inquisitive trunk.


We booked ourselves on to a day’s tour at the sanctuary: a jungle trek, followed by rafting down the river, the highlight of feeding Suki and her mother, and bathing another one of the herd in the flowing river.

When you book onto something called a jungle trek you kind of expect a fairly long but pleasant stroll through a rainforest for an hour or so, taking in a waterfall or two. If that option existed we didn’t get it!! Along with three fellow trekkers from France and Brazil we headed off in our songthaew (an open-air taxi with minimal suspension) for a drive deep into the jungle where we were deposited with our two guides, one of whom was clearly worried about my age and fitness as she kept checking “John, you okay?” She had good reason. The heat was draining, but what made it exhausting was the regular disappearance of anything resembling a horizontal path to follow, which meant that we had to spend a lot of the trek head down working out where to place each foot. The terrain was uneven to say the least and obstructed by jagged rocks, fallen trees and swamps. Steep vertical drops started appearing on one side of the route with the only thing preventing us slipping being up grasping overhanging branches and vines for support. I was going to jokingly ask our guides how many tourists they had lost over the years but thought better of it in case they gave me an honest answer. My long legs gave me some advantage but poor Sam had to clamber over all sorts. We eventually reached a waterfall in one piece and went for a dip in rather bracing water – a blessed if short-lived relief from the heat.


While we swam in the river our guides decided that in the interests of health and safety we should each have a stick to help us through the jungle. Ten minutes later five bamboo sticks roughly hewn from the jungle were issued to us. They were a great help although I nearly speared myself on mine, pole vault style. Crossing narrow bamboo bridges over rapids soon followed (along with a sense of deja vu after our Luang Prabang bridge nightmare), until wet slippery undergrowth mercifully gave way to flat wide paths, allowing our travel insurance policy to slip back into its hammock and rest easy again. (I’ve come to think of our Travel Insurance Policy as a real entity that looks down on us frowning as we embark on some of our adventures).


After trekking, sailing down the Wang River on a bamboo raft of dubious construction was relaxing and serene, the waters rushing past us as we veered between rocks and overhanging trees skilfully steered by our skipper with his bamboo rod. Another magical experience when your senses drink in the jungle floating by and you are immersed in the moment, not a care in the world. Priceless.

However, the best was yet to come. Having scrambled off our raft we met up with our elephant guide and went off to feed Suki and mum: “you go ahead, they will follow you – they can smell the bananas!” Being eagerly pursued by several tons of elephant who are very keen to relieve you of all the bananas stored in the basket on your shoulder is quite a feeling, like having a London bus relentlessly homing in on you. Suki, who hasn’t yet graduated to banana feeding, added to the chaos by careering between her mums’ legs and nearly knocking me and Sam flat on our faces. Terrific fun and all the time being up close to these remarkable creatures.


After feeding time was over, we headed back down to the river to bathe another elephant who is one of the most delightfully tactile creatures, wrapping its trunk around us playfully as we did our best to exfoliate her tough hide.


As we sat in the bar area in the evenings and mornings elephants would wander up looking for a treat, sniffing out any sign of a banana going spare. We agreed that this remarkable AirBnB had exceeded the expectations that had whetted our appetite in the glossy magazine we read months ago whilst still in the UK.


However, the constant presence of glorious elephants is only half the story at Chai Lai Orchard. It also runs a social enterprise called Daughter’s Rising that rescues women and young girls from the ever growing sex trafficking industry. Their remarkable work not only allows a route for these women to escape this dreadful industry, but provides training and education. All of the young women working at this sanctuary have escaped and are being given opportunities to learn English, train in hospitality and have a future free from fear and exploitation. A brilliant short film explains more at this link:

Daughters Rising Film


Chiang Mai – same same, but different..

Ten years ago we we stayed in Chiang Mai and we were looking forward to returning to the city. We chose to stay close to the vibrant Night Market, which seems to have grown even bigger as have the food courts that accompany it, selling cheap and delicious meals. We happily overdosed on fabulous fresh veggie Pad Thai, cooked in seconds for a couple of quid and a refreshing bottle of Leo to accompany it.

The old town with its historic walls hasn’t changed much, but the Wat’s and Temples seemed to be grander, with more gold leaf decoration than when we last visited.


In one temple a young monk sat meditating and praying with fellow Bhuddists, while further across the room about a dozen elderly monks sat quietly, cross legged and as still as stone, a picture of tranquility in deep meditation………..it took us five minutes to realise they weren’t real, but astonishingly life like wax replicas.


Rather than head off straight to Bangkok, and onward to the islands in the south, we thought we would meander down on the train and spend a few days stopping off at some interesting towns en route, starting with Lampang. While the town itself was unremarkable the surrounding countryside offered beautiful hilltop panorama’s to view the paddy fields, plains and mountains of the area.


After a two day stopover we took the train to Sukothai where the ancient town was a real find. Temples, Wats, and statues of Bhudda in a lovely historical park area that was beautifully conserved. We took a couple of bikes from the hotel and happily cycled around the ancient sites for several hours.


Remarkably there was hardly anyone there, a handful of visitors wandering around the large site in virtual solitude. Sukothai really deserves more attention.


Sukothai also provided us with our best hotel infinity pool experience yet, which is saying something given the ones we’ve enjoyed to date…..


Our third stop was less enthralling. It started badly with a four hour journey on a train carriage with no air/con in 30 degrees+ temperature. Everyone in the train carriage appeared to be struggling to manage the sweltering heat and we were so glad we’d  decided to break the journey up and could escape before Bangkok. When we passed through Lopburi 10 years ago, the station was covered with monkeys scurrying around the station. On arrival there was no sign of any monkeys, other than ornamental ones, so we decided to head straight to the hotel and looked for a taxi, of which there were none. Instead two old fellas on 3-wheel bikes leapt up, crammed our bags, and us, into each of their tricycles and began to cycle….very slowly. In fact my cycling chauffeur was considerably older than Sam’s (who had overtaken us immediately) and after a short downhill stretch he had to hop off and push. Now I know I’m carrying a few extra pounds and could lose a bit of weight but I thought that this was a bit much. As he struggled to push the combined weight of his bike, bag and passenger guilt got the better of me and I hopped out and helped him push as well, much to the amusement of a passing van load of children, laughing at the sweaty westerner paying to push his own luggage on a tricycle.


After checking in we took the precaution of booking a taxi with a combustion engine and headed into town in search of Lopburi’s famous monkeys and oh my we found them! It was like stumbling on the set of Planet of the Apes. The ground was alive with the movement of wild monkeys eating, fighting, chasing each other through traffic, adorning buildings left, right and centre, and having the most blatant in your face sex!



Now we like our little simian ancestral cousins but quite frankly this was unpleasant, it was really clear who bossed Lopburi town! By a monument we met a man with dark glasses and a big white stick – we incorrectly assumed he was blind. In fact the big white stick was for beating monkeys that came too close. He gestured wildly to Sam speaking rapidly in Thai, but we were unable to get the gist of what he meant. A few more frantic gestures and it became clear he was indicating for her to take the sunglasses off her head, before the monkeys did it for her!! Looking at the numbers I couldn’t help feeling that his luck was going to run out soon and that stick was going to be appropriated by a pack of marauding monkeys and shoved in a place where the sun doesn’t shine ………sideways.


Two hours on from Lopburi we crawled into Bangkok for a one night stop before flying south. After the mixed comforts of our train journeys south we came across the complete opposite. Standing regally at the next platform was the Eastern Oriental Express that runs from Bangkok via Kuala Lumper to Singapore. An absolute beauty and thankfully not a monkey in sight!



Top Travelling Tips
Carrying travel books around for a year is not a practical option in the battle to keep luggage weight down. There are loads of good online travel sites that provide great up to date advice, maps, itineraries and recommendations. For S/E Asia we would recommend Travelfish for its detailed and excellent guides. Cheap to boot and well worth the investment. The other must have for train travel (anywhere in the world) is the superb Man in Seat 61. A brilliant source of information, timetables and advice.


Next Up: Island Life and a Treehouse in Southern Thailand

Laos: A Tale of Two Cities


Of all the locations on our itinerary, Laos is probably the one we knew least about and had done nearly no advance reading on.  The only land-locked country in S/E Asia, Laos doesn’t have an obvious wow factor to poach tourists from its neighbours. No Bangkok or Saigon, and while it certainly doesn’t lack interesting ancient temples, it has nothing in the scale of Angkor in Cambodia.

However, therein lies some of its charm. Laos feels calm, relaxed and is certainly less hectic than its Vietnamese neighbour. On arriving it had more in common with Cambodia – although the capital Vientiane is much smaller than its Cambodian counterpart Phnom Penh, which is no bad thing.

Vientiane has to be the smallest and quietest capital city we have ever visited. Sitting on the banks of the Mekong, you can view the northeast border of Thailan. The river was high when we visited, but in the dry season we were told there are numerous mud flats meaning you can actually make the journey across on foot for part of the year. Being so compact it’s quite easy to visit several of the main tourist attractions of Vientiane in a few days: a smattering of temples; a beautiful reclining Bhudda;


French colonial architecture; a rather endearing but tired version of the Arc de Triomphe; and a very grand Presidential Palace which seems strangely incongruous in what is one of the only Marxist-Leninist Socialist Republics in the world…


Nice pad comrade!

Sam and I are trying to avoid the travellers affliction of getting “templed-out” on our trip by visiting other sites, museums and attractions. In Vientiane this led us to a fascinating but shocking discovery about the legacy of the Vietnam War that Laos continues to live with over 40 years after the last shots were fired.


While we knew that the USA had bombed Laos and Cambodia as part of their efforts to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh trail, we didn’t appreciate the scale of the bombardment or its nature. We discovered more when we visited a medical centre that provides artificial limbs and treatment for the victims of land mines in Laos.

Incredibly, the USAF dropped more bombs on Laos than was dropped by the allies in Europe in WWII – 2 million tonnes of ordnance between 1964 and 1973; 580,000 missions, equivalent to a bombing raid every eight minutes 24 hours a day for nine years. Laos had more bombs dropped on it during the Vietnam war, despite having nothing to do with the war, than Vietnam itself.  As a result, Laos continues to hold the unwanted record of being the most bombed country in the world per capita.

If that wasn’t bad enough the “bombs” contained millions of small bombs known as “bombies” – the size of a tennis ball. 30% of these failed to detonate, leaving 80 million bombies scattered throughout the country at the end of the war. In turn this led to over 20,000 people being killed or injured by the unexploded bombs between 1975 and 2011.


A model of “bombies” at the COPE Centre

These bombies, which lie dormant for decades, are still being detonated today by farmers digging their land, the heat of an adjacent cooking pot, or commonly children discovering and playing with one. Having swathes of agricultural land, where farming can kill or maim you, prolongs the deadly legacy and poverty in Laos. Poverty also leads some to hunt for the scrap metal left from the war – a dangerous game of Russian roulette. The good news is that real progress is being made on bomb clearance making areas safe again, although this work can be undone in rainy season when mudslides and landslips mean that areas already declared safe once again become dangerous and need to be surveyed once again. It is a thoroughly depressing story that continues to create casualties today. The devastation caused by the USAs so called ‘Secret War’ is an epitaph to the war crimes of LBJ and Nixon.

Our visit to the COPE centre in Vientiane displayed not only the terrible consequences of the bombing, but the remarkable rehabilitation work to supply victims with new limbs and physiotherapy – a really inspiring effort in the face of what must seem like insurmountable odds.  If you are interested in reading more about their work it can be found at: http://www.copelaos.org


A short flight took us north to Luang Prabang, a Unesco World Heritage site. On landing we immediately knew we had arrived somewhere special, with jungle and mountains bordering a gorgeous town that sits as a peninsula between the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers. Both rivers were high, topped up by rainy season and full of mud gorged from the fields and plantations that usually form their embankments. The speed of the rivers, especially at their confluence was an amazing sight.


Go on, push him in..

Despite the surrounding geography, the centre of Luang Prabang is pancake flat – perfect for pottering around on bicycles, especially ones that have no brakes, gears or lights (though they did come with baskets). We spent our first day gently rolling around the town, getting our bearings and making several pit stops for delicious homegrown banana smoothies.

Beside the Nam Khan River we came across a sign inviting us to a lovely riverside cafe – one catch: it’s on the other side of the river only accessible by a small boat. We parked the bikes and gingerly stepped onto the boat, sitting down among the liberally distributed life jackets. Off we went battling the current when suddenly the engine stalled and for a moment we thought we might be making another unscheduled trip to the Mekong Delta.


Happily after a few moments the engine spluttered back into life and we made it to the other side, rewarding ourselves with sublime crepes while perched precariously above the river.


Luang Prabang as well as being wonderful to pronounce is a delight, certainly comparable to Hoi An in Vietnam. The night  market is full of stalls selling local goods – (no fake designer tat like the other markets) and totally hassle-free – Laotians don’t do hassle; fab street food, excellent restaurants in beautiful wooden French colonial buildings, temples with bhudda’s galore, and the two stunning rivers regularly popping into view as you glance down a street one way or the other.


During one of our cycle trips we came across an old iron bridge only accessible for  motorbikes. We weren’t entirely sure if it was meant for cycles but decided to go for it. The wooden slats wobbled as we peddled our way nervously across facing the oncoming motorbikes just inches from our wheels.  We became increasingly aware of the queue of motorbikes patiently building up behind us as we pootled our way across, as illustrated by the stubborn tricyclist below…


On returning we found a narrow section of bridge which we thought might be intended for pedestrian access and thought it might be a safer option to push our bikes along this quieter, but considerably narrower route….so began the terror. This part of the bridge was made up of planks of wood, most of which were loose, and in one or two spots had disappeared altogether into the Nam Khan River below which was a long way down, very deep and fast flowing. Every now and then the front wheels of our bikes would slip down a gap between the planks, and we had to yank the wheel out causing the wood to creak and shake. Neither of us uttered a word during the crossing, a sure sign we were both properly scared and just wanted it to be over. It probably took us 10 minutes to cross, but it felt an awful lot longer.


When we eventually stepped back onto terra firma an elderly gentleman stood looking at us bewildered by our antics. “Good afternoon” I said in my best Hugh Grant voice, while Sam plonked herself down in the kerb and tried to regain some composure. I don’t know why but at no point, not even a few yards in did we ever consider stopping and going back, as if forward was our only option.


Smiling through gritted teeth

Luang Prabang is also a great base to visit the surrounding countryside that offers waterfalls, caves and elephant treks. We adore elephants (who doesn’t) and took a trip to a sanctuary where they have been spared a life of logging. Being with an elephant up close never fails to be a jaw dropping experience, their size, strength, and beauty overwhelming the senses.


After feeding them bananas we hopped on their necks for a ride through the jungle to a watering hole. It’s a strange sensation feeling yourself rock from side to side as your elephant lumbers forward, with nothing to hold on to. Despite being given some basic instructions (forward, left, right, stop….stop, PLEASE STOP!!) they regularly wander off the route to find whatever food they can forage to feed their voracious appetite.


You just have to hope that you aren’t going to be decapitated by overhanging branches or launched into the mud head first several feet below! Riding an elephant into a watering hole is exhilarating and terrifying, watching your elephant slowly disappear into the water leaving you marooned on her head and back, trunk sloshing about joyfully. We can’t get enough of elephants and will be staying in an AirBnB located in an elephant sanctuary in Thailand next week – can’t wait!


Another must see is Kuang Si waterfalls – famed for their bright blue water. However in rainy season the falls are a gushing torrent, milky coffee in colour, and are an absolutely drenching spectacle.


With waters high and wild lots of the paths and viewing platforms are closed or actually under water.


In the park area we unexpectedly came across a sanctuary for Moon Bears – much smaller than black bears, but looking equally adorable. These bears have been rescued from farms where their bile is extracted for “health benefits”. Sadly many have spent years in cages and can’t be released into the wild, unable to fed themselves and at the mercy of poachers. The sanctuary they are in is spacious, but it is sad to see fences keeping them in. The lesser of two evils.


On our last day in Laos we found that the Mekong had calmed and we took the opportunity to take a boat trip out to see it close up – beautiful and serene. When we set off we didn’t think about how often we would meet the Mekong and what an incredible river it is, sustaining so many communities and lives on its path from the mountains in the north, right through to the Delta.



The River isn’t without controversy, with Laos building dams along its course with the aim of being the hydro-electricity powerhouse of the region. However there are real concerns about how that will affect the rivers’ ecology and sustainability downstream, particularly for Cambodia and Vietnam.


Laos, the quiet relation of S/E Asia has been a very relaxing leg on our journey, and Luang Prabang will be one of our highlights of our travels.

Next Week – 10 years on we return to Chiang Mai in Thailand: same same but different.