The Winner Inn – Chiang Mai

Day 5 – Chiang Mai – Sunday March 6th 2011

Our sleeper train arrived a few minutes early in Chiang Mai, so we waited around for our transport to the Hotel. Our driver arrived in a nice modern pickup truck with comfy benches in the back and a roof. As pickups go, this was a decent example. Our hotel was located just outside the southeast corner of the Chiang Mai canal boundary. The Winner Inn was clean and tidy, and maybe a bit old fashioned. Considering it cost us almost nothing, it was relatively luxurious, and certainly nicer than a hostel.

View from The Winner Inn
View from The Winner Inn

The restaurant area had a strange British Seaside feel to it. It’s hard to explain, but we could almost have been in Brighton twenty years ago.

Chick wasn’t feeling well so Nic, Frank and I went to explore the city, and to find Chick some medicine. We went to the market and had a look round some temples. It is customary to remove your shoes when entering a temple, but the ground is hot in Chiang Mai. We wanted to light some candles and incense and almost burnt the skin off the soles of our feet in the process.

The main centre of Chiang Mai is surrounded by a moat. We ventured outside this liquid boundary to find the Airport Plaza which was a massive Mall with a huge food court. We ate some food from a Japanese stall,  got some medication for Chick’s throat and then caught a Tuk-Tuk back to the Winner Inn (Which we pronounced Vinner Inn).

Before the night out, I applied my various potions – 55% Deet to repel insects, Anthisan for the bites I already had and Savlon for my already flip-flop ravaged feet. I had been told to wear long sleeves and long trousers in the evening to avoid getting bitten too badly. For the most part that plan worked.

After dark we walked to the famous night market. It was so busy, and there were swarms of flying ants (or something similar) buzzing round the street lights. After an hour or two, the ants had mostly disappeared (we saw some Thais catching them in bags and eating them!).

Nic and I sampled our first street food here with samosas and spring rolls. We were also on the lookout for Chang beer t-shirts. Everyone had them and Chang beer has become one of my favourites, on account of the unpredictable alcohol content. We didn’t find the right size t-shirts but Nic did get some maroon pantaloons.

On our way back from the market we stopped off for a beer at John’s Place. Due to the crazy time difference they were showing the Liverpool Vs Man Utd game live. We left at half time and Kuyt ended up with a hat trick in a 3-1 win.

Tomorrow is Jungle trekking, and none of us know what to expect.

Touring Temples & Sleeper Train

Day 4 – Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai – Saturday March 5th 2011

Our room was comfortable but the air conditioning was noisy and kept us awake for most of the night.

In the morning we arranged for our tuk-tuk driver to take us on a tour of all the local temples. Wat Yai Chaya Mongkol was huge, and still in use by monks. Our driver would sleep outside while we went in the temples.

Wat Yai Chai Mongkol - Ayutthaya
Wat Yai Chai Mongkol – Ayutthaya

After the long hot day touring temples, I wanted nothing more than to chill out and have a shower and a beer.

Our itinerary had other plans. We had to catch our next train to Lop Buri (Monkey Town). The train was 2nd class this time, with comfortable airline style seats and fans on the ceiling.

We arrived as the sun was setting and I realised quite fast that I didn’t like this place. The monkeys were violent and savage, grabbing things and attacking people. Luckily we only had a few hours to kill.

After a slow drink at a small cafe Frank went to explore whilst the rest of us went to take cover on the railway platform. Little did we know that Frank had almost got mugged by some dodgy locals after accidentally getting lost down some back streets.

Waiting for our third train, the famous sleeper train, I was not looking forward to a ten hour overnight journey. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The security was excellent, with guards on every door checking tickets and passports when people arrived. We were then lead to our top bunks which were surprisingly spacious.

I had an expensive Chang beer, which seemed to help me fall in love with the sleeper train even more. In fact, I wouldn’t mind just paying to do a few trips on the sleeper train. I couldn’t wait to get to sleep, and nearly nodded off with my beer still in my hand.

The toilets were an experience, but I was soon tucked up and asleep. I slept right through till morning. It was a million times more comfortable than any economy class flight!

Train to Ayutthaya

Day 3 – Bangkok to Ayutthaya – Friday March 4th 2011

We arrived at the TAT office at 11am and were taken into the railway station and shown which platform to wait at. We were heading for Ayutthaya, one of the most historic cities in Thailand, and former capital.

Bangkok to Ayutthaya Train Ticket
Bangkok to Ayutthaya Train Ticket

This train was ordinary class, which meant we were travelling local style. We travelled with mostly Thai people but there were a few other backpackers around. Our carriage had a rudimentary style of air conditioning, otherwise known as open windows.

The ride was a couple of hours on slatted wooden benches. Fine for this short distance but I can’t imagine sitting like that for much longer.

During the journey, a drunk Thai couple started having a fight in the middle of the train. The man was kicking the woman in the head until a very officious guard arrived to restore order and booted them off at the next stop. There seems to be a real respect for uniformed officials. Nothing like back home.

At Ayutthaya we were met unexpectedly by a friendly woman for our first ride in a Tuk-Tuk (pronounced Took Took). The tuk-tuk was fun and we were quickly at Baan Eve Guesthouse. It was away from the main road and had outdoor seating, tuck shop style bar, and a really lovely family running the place.

The family were more than happy to arrange transport and suggest local places to visit. We could easily make them laugh by trying our hardest to speak Thai. Sawatdee-Krup!

In the afternoon we walked to some local temple ruins, which were literally a few scattered rocks on the ground. They were so inconspicuous that we walked straight past them at first.

In the evening we had some new arrivals so went with our new friends to the night market by tuk-tuk. The market was tiny, and mostly selling food, so we were soon back at the guesthouse enjoying a beer before bed.

First Day In Bangkok

Day 2 – Bangkok – Thursday March 3rd 2011

As I lay in bed, trying and failing to sleep, I could sense that the others were doing the same. We had a four-bed dorm to ourselves. Nobody spoke, and only Frank was asleep. Suddenly he woke up and sat bolt upright in his bunk. “Shit, what time is it!” he blurted out. “It’s about 2 o’clock mate.” I said. “Oh no, we’ve wasted half the day!” he shouted as he jumped out of bed, scrabbling around for his things.

“No, Frank. It’s 2am. You’ve only been asleep a couple of hours…”

The look on his face was brilliant. Almost made up for the sleepless night. He still managed to get back to sleep while the rest of us just lay awake until morning.

When morning did finally arrive I was exhausted, and glad to get out of the room. I had a tiny bowl of freebie Cornflakes for breakfast and then we headed for Lumphini Park.

We decided to walk to the park. It was only a couple of centimetres on the map… It turned out to be a few miles away but a good walk, as we got to see some street food stalls and experience the endless lanes of traffic and congestion. An initiation of sorts.

The park was an oasis surrounded by high rise office blocks. There were pretty pagodas and small buildings throughout the park, and a large lake with some sort of Komodo Dragon sentries patrolling the waters edge. The pagodas provided a handy resting stop when an impromptu thunderstorm stopped us walking for an hour.

After the park we stopped for lunch at a Chinese cafe and then bough Ice lollies from Tesco Lotus. We needed some fuel for our walk to the train station.

At the train station a kindly lady with official looking name badge helped us with train times, and ushered us towards a T.A.T (or TAT, I can’t remember) tour office. We thought we would see what they had to offer, and ended up going for a package to get us up to Chiang Mai by train via Ayutthaya and Lop Buri (Monkey Town). The trip also included accommodation in Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai, and a jungle trek for 3 days at the end. We had the next 10 days all planned out and sorted for £100.

Maybe we were naive, but this seemed like a great deal.

Referring back to our map, we saw that our hostel was only round the corner, so off we walked again.


3 hours later, we took a short cut and were wading through a flooded back street, trying desperately to find the canal to get our bearings. Then a thunderstorm started again. Nic nearly lost a flip flop as it floated off down the road. We found the canal eventually and followed it through tiny alleyways and houses on the edge of the water. Occasionally a local would pop their head out and point us in the right direction. Helpful happy Thai people.

As we crossed a bridge, Chick slipped and ended up on one knee proposing to Frank. She cut her leg a bit.

We did eventually find the hostel, and although exhausted, we were glad to have seen such a hidden side of Bangkok. If we hadn’t got lost, we would have never met those locals, and never known about their little houses along the canal.

Arrival In Thailand

Day 1 – Bangkok – Wednesday March 2nd 2011
The flight to Thailand from London took a long time. The first leg to Mumbai was exciting, and we were all in high spirits in anticipation of seeing Bangkok for the first time. Mumbai to Bangkok was one of the strangest flights I’ve ever been on. It was full of noisy blokes on some sort of stag party. To add to the strange atmosphere, there was an Indian slapstick movie for in-flight entertainment which the stag party noisily enjoyed.

I had managed to plan our escape from the airport and into a Taxi-Meter (metered taxi) for the trip to our first ever hostel. Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport has an ingenious taxi-liason system where English speaking staff take details of your destination and relay it to the Thai taxi drivers. For first-time travellers in a strange city this was extremely helpful, and helped us avoid any scams from unofficial taxis.

The drive was fast. Scarily fast. but we felt pretty safe as we went from toll roads and motorways to densely packed roads between brightly lit tower blocks. The big surprise came when the driver stopped at a red light, unzipped his trousers, and started to piss into a plastic bottle. When you gotta go, don’t let a car full of passengers stop you! Luckily for Frank he was fast asleep in the front seat, but the girls in the back got a face-full of the smell when he stowed it in front of the air conditioning fan.

Welcome to Thailand young traveller. It’s like nowhere you’ve seen before.

Somehow we got to our stylish and modern hostel, Lub D, in one piece. Located in Siam Square, and wedged in between construction sites and high rise tower blocks, it was like a new flower growing from the rubble. The view from the front was dominated by a massive Skytrain Terminal, giving the place a kind of futuristic edge. It reminded me of a post-apocalyptic movie set, where the harsh modern new structures provide a stark contrast to the old traditional buildings and temples.

I thought Portsmouth was densely populated until I saw this place.

This Time Last Year Project

In February 2011 I had my last day at work. My car was put into storage and my arm was sore from all the vaccinations. My backpack had been packed for days already. I couldn’t wait to start out on a journey that I’d been planning since at least 2004. The trip would take me through Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and then coast-to-coast across the USA by car.

I would be travelling in a group with my girlfriend Nic, and our two friends Frank and Chick.

I consider myself extremely lucky that my boss gave me such a long time off work. It’s something I’ll be forever grateful for, especially considering he’s likely to become my father-in-law at some point in the future.