Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 2

I’m currently riding the length of Vietnam on a Scooter. Here’s Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 1 if you missed it.


Day 6 – Hong Linh to Dong Hui – 223km
While the more direct route would have been about 50km shorter, today I wanted ride the Ho Chi Minh highway for the first time. This highway follows the Ho Chi Minh Trail used during the American War with amazing mountainous scenery. The weather remained fairly good, although I had to stop to put pack-covers on my bags when a particularly nasty cloud threatened, but nothing came of it.


I arrived at Dong Hui and after getting settled into my hostel, took a ride around a city that had been laid waste during the war. Dong Hui is virtually a new city, as there’s little left of how it was. The city isn’t on the tourist route and the beautiful empty beaches were serene.


Day 7 – Dong Hui to Hue – 176km
Today started out with blue skies over the ocean but began turning sour after half an hour out from Dong Hui. While it didn’t actually rain, it seriously threatened to. With heavy black clouds further inland, I decided to take a more direct route to Hue. I’m not sure which would have been the lesser of the two evils, getting rained on or riding through the constant road works every 2km. To make it worse, the roads were jammed with trucks spraying up dust and sand from the road works. Before lunch I rode through the Demilitarized Zone, crossing out of what was North Vietnam and into South Vietnam, stopping at the War Memorial Monument.


Then as I arrived on the outskirts of Hue, I crossed another milestone, my 1000th kilometre on the road since leaving Hanoi. Later in the afternoon, I walked around the ruins of the Imperial City and at its centre, the forbidden Purple City. it was home to the ruling dynasty between 1800 and 1950, when Hue was the Vietnam’s capital.


Day 8 – Hue Rest Day
There are many stories of motorcycles that break down regularly on this trip through Vietnam. While often cheap to repair because most Vietnamese boys over the age of 12 can fix them, it’s inconvenient. To date I’ve suffered only a flat tyre and in hopes of staving off any other issues, I got the scooter serviced. While the bike was away, I took the day off and just hung around the hostel.

Day 9 – Hue to Hoi An – 130km
Since the ride to Hoi An was to shorter than average, I decided to see more of the sights around Hue before heading on. I found the Thien Mu Temple and Pagoda a little away from the Imperial Palace and stopped for a look.


Around Hue, there several tombs belonging to the emperors who ruled from Hue. I took some time to visit the closest one to town – Tu Duc Tomb – and was surprised at how large the area was. The location was called the Second Imperial City as the emperor used it as his ‘man cave’ to get away from affairs of home and state.


After my visit I headed to Hoi An, but on the way disaster struck. An hour out of Hue I got a flat tyre, then only a minute away from where the puncture was repaired, the engine cut out and wouldn’t start again. The ‘mechanic’ who fixed my tyre and who didn’t speak any english informed me I needed a new carburetor. Ninety minutes and a million Dong (US$47) later I was back on the road. So much for servicing it to prevent it breaking down. I continued on, crossing the Hai Van Pass and eventually arrived in Hoi An two hours later than expected.

Day 10 – Exploring Hoi An
Like Hue, Hoi An is a popular tourist spot. After breakfast, I headed out on the bike to a location called My Son where there are the ruins of an old Hindu temple complex. Of the buildings, some have barely a column standing while others are in the process of being rebuilt.


I then rode into Da Nang, a city north of Hoi An, to a place called the Marble Mountains. Atop the monolithic mountains is a large buddhist temple complex with plentiful adjoining caves.


The Marble Mountains give great views along My Khe Beach, as 30 km stretch of nicknamed China Beach by the Americans during the war. It was used as both an evacuation hospital area and site for rest and recreation during the war.


Day 11 – Hoi An Rest Day
As I had spent a lot of time on my bike around Hoi An yesterday, I decided to take the day off and just relax around Hoi An, so I did.

Vietnam Central1

In Part 3, I head south into the Vietnamese highlands.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 1

Riding a motorbike the length of Vietnam is becoming a popular way to see the country. After hearing about a fellow traveller’s motorcycle adventure from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City I decided to do it. So I bought a scooter in Hanoi and prepared for an adventure that would take the better part of three weeks.


Here’s a brief breakdown of my trip…

Day 1 – Hanoi to Ha Long Bay – 167km
Ha Long Bay is a tourist destination not traditionally part of the Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City route, but I added it anyway. It would give me a chance to test my scooter over long distance.

The main highway is well maintained and once I was out of the super bustle of Hanoi it was even relaxing. With my speed averaging between 50 and 60 kilometre per hour, a good speed without pushing the scooter, the trip took about 5 hours. With a terribly sore arse and only 5km short of my hotel I discovered I had a flat tyre. A friendly local offered to fix it for me for US$5.

Later, after checking into my hotel I went for a ride to have a look around the city and book a cruise.


Day 2 – Ha Long Bay Boat Cruise
It was a misty, overcast day for my cruise. But being the middle of winter all is forgiven. Ha Long Bay means literally ‘descending dragon bay’ and has around 1600 limestone monoliths scattered around it. While it was chilly out on the water and the skies grey, the views were still amazing. Mist hung around the monoliths giving the bay both an eerie and magical appearance.


The tour took us to some interesting places and we got to walk through the depths of Thien Cung Grotto, a large touristy cave system where many sections were lit up in colours.


We also visited a floating village, a fish market and a pair of small monoliths called Fighting Cock Rocks, which from certain angles look vaguely like a pair of chickens fighting.

Day 3 – Ha Long Bay to Ninh Binh – 175km
On several occasions during today’s ride it threatened to rain, but other than vaguely spitting, nothing came of it. Today, when my arse began to get sore, I stopped and got off the bike for a bit. Five minute every hour seemed to work well.

I arrived in Ninh Binh on time and after settling in the hotel, I headed out to explore. I found a place called Bich Dong Pagoda, which is a buddhist temple set into the side of a limestone mountain.


I followed a path into the cave, up a long set of stairs to a higher cave and a shrine, outside and up another set of stairs to another building which offered great views. A thin trail lead up around behind this building and ever curious, I had a look. Thirty minutes later, I’d climbed the jagged rocks of the mountain and stood at the top looking out over monoliths surrounded by wet rice paddies.


Day 4 – Ninh Binh to Thanh Hoa/Sam Son Beach – 64km

The weather has been overcast for much of my time in Vietnam, clearing up a little in the afternoons. Today, however, I awoke to blue skies. This decided my next stop. The beach. The ride was barely longer than an hour and as I arrived in Thanh Hoa, I discovered the huge Thien view Truc Lam Ham Rong temple and pagoda on a hill.


Then when I was settled into the hotel, where beyond the word ‘hello’ no-one could speak English, I was back on the bike and rode the 13km out to Sam Son beach. While the skies were bare of clouds, the beach was virtually empty. Winter. I rode around the Sam Son area for some time, discovering a large portion of the beach front is a construction zone. Dozens of brick buildings are in the process of being demolished, likely to build more resorts.


Day 5 – Thanh Hoa to Hong Linh – 174km

Today’s five hour ride was fairly straightforward. In the small town of Hong Linh, I arrived at my hotel to find the years had not been kind to it. Seven years ago, a flood struck the town, possibly flooding the lower levels and killing the hotel’s business. After settling in, I took a ride around town and stopped to admire the local catholic church.


Compared to the rest of Asia, Vietnam has a lot of churches. You can see their spires as you approach each city and town. In comparison, there are very few buddhist temples, although most houses still have shrines.

Vietnam North1

In Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 2, I travel into Central Vietnam and explore the areas struck hardest by the American War.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Hanoi, Vietnam – Impressions

First established as a city in 1010, only half a century after Vietnam’s independence from a millennium of Imperial Chinese rule.


Sleeper Bus
There are two ways to get from Luang Prabang, Laos, to Hanoi. I chose to take a sleeper bus instead of flying, as it was far cheaper in comparison, although the bus takes just over 24 hours. I’ve been on overnight buses before, although they’re more comfortable in South America.


The seats of our bus are set in a ‘sleeper’ position and that’s how the stay, the roof isn’t high enough for them to sit up straight. With the seats only providing a total of 1.5 metres of room my legs had to be extended into the padded aisle. I was luckier than those on the upper level.


About eight hours into the journey the tooting began. The chain-smoking drivers used the horn perhaps 30 times a minute for the entire rest of the journey. This meant the young children onboard could not sleep, and tired young children tend to cry. A lot. In the end it was a rather noisy ride, but they do call this the ‘bus from hell’, so I wasn’t expecting anything less. Even so, when we arrived in Hanoi after 26 hours I had a cracking headache.

Old Quarter
Arriving late in the evening my initial impressions of Hanoi were not pleasant. The thin dirty streets clogged with motorbikes going every which way, seemingly without order, and all tooting their horns with obscene regularity. The headache didn’t help either.


Initial daylight impressions weren’t much better, the thin dirty streets were still crazy with tooting motorcycles, but markets had been erected and people were crowded everywhere. To add to that, the city was draped in a heavy layer of smog. But first impressions are just that, first impressions, and they often change if you get to know a place.

Buying a Bike
Instead of catching tourist buses/trains through Vietnam, I decided to buy a motorbike and ride the 1,750km south to Ho Chi Minh City. This is becoming a more popular way of seeing the country. With the help of my hostel manager, I was picked up and taken across the city to a 2nd hand motorcycle sales yard with many dozens of used bikes available.


An hour later, I’d tried 5 different bikes and had selected a favourite. I tossed down 6 million Dong (US$280) and rode away.

For the next couple of days, I put the scooter to good use as I toured the city.

Hanoi Opera House
Modelled after Palais Garnier, the older of Paris’s two opera houses, the building was built in the early 1900s.


Trán Quóc Pagoda
The oldest pagoda in Hanoi at approximately 1,400 years old. It sits on a small islet on West Lake and is connected to the mainland by a causeway.


Cua Bac Catholic Church
Built in the 1930s in Art Deco style, Cua Bac is one of three major churches in the city and is famous for having been attended by President George W. Bush during an official visit.


St. Joseph’s Cathedral
The oldest church in Hanoi, it was one of the first buildings built by the french colonial government.


Presidential Palace
Built to house the French Governor-General, it was built in a french design with Italian Renaissance elements. The palace is guarded outside the gates and I was lucky to get a distant photo as attempts to get closer caused the guards to angrily blow whistles at me.


Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Inspired by Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, the Mausoleum is the home of the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh, Chairman of the Communist Party between 1951 and 1969. Armed guards protect the site and public viewings occur most mornings, although very strict rules must be abided by during the visit.


Ho Chi Minh Museum
Near the Mausoleum, the museum steps visitors thoroughly through Ho Chi Minh’s life and Vietnam’s revolutionary struggles. Unfortunately, most of the exhibits are in Vietnamese and French.


One Pillar Pagoda
Standing between Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Ho Chi Minh Museum, the pagoda is one of the most iconic temples in Vietnam. It was ordered to be built nearly 1,000 years ago after a childless emperor had dreamed of the buddha sitting on a lotus leaf and handing him a son. Unfortunately the area around the pagoda is being redone, so closer viewing was not possible.


Historical Military Museum
No visit to Hanoi would be complete without a visit to the war museum. The exhibits step through the conflicts during the past century, including the Indochina war, with France, and then on into the American War (the war we know as the Vietnam War). Many old relics are staged around the museum, from tanks to bombers.


Hanoi Citadel and Flag Tower
The Imperial Citadel was the former home of Vietnamese royalty between the years 1010AD and 1810AD. Most of the buildings were destroyed during the French colonisation. Some of the buildings that remained intact were the Flag Tower…


…and the citadel’s Ladies Quarters.


The hustle and bustle of Hanoi did grow on me over 4 days, although the constant beeping is enough to drive anyone insane in a week.

Next I begin a three-week quest to ride the length of Vietnam, from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City on a scooter.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Luang Prabang, Laos – Impressions

Literally, “Royal Buddha Image”, Luang Prabang is the Royal Capital of Laos. The city is on the Mekong River and surrounded by mountains in central northern Laos.


The trip from Vang Vieng by minivan is seven hours on the badly maintained roads which are the norm in Laos. Luang Prabang is an expensive city, with the price of many things – tours, transport, food – double elsewhere in the country. Only the large number of hostels manage to keep accommodation prices down. And beer is the same price everywhere.


Luang Prabang is well-known for its temples and monasteries which accommodate many monks. Early each morning hundreds of monks walk the streets collecting alms. One of the many temples in the city is Wat Manorom…


…and, on the grounds of the Royal Palace, Haw Pha Bang…


Mt Phou Si
At the centre of old town and across the night markets from the Royal Palace is the 100 metre tall Mount Phou Si. Atop the hill’s summit is Wat Chom Si, a buddhist temple.


The steep climb to the temple is very popular among tourists especially during the hour leading up to sunset. The views before during and after the sunset are wondrous, although fighting for a position during that time was quite an adventure in itself.


Whisky Village
On our journeys we stopped off at a village about 30 minutes out from the main city. The village, like many in the region, brews its own whiskey – Lao-Lao, plus two types of sweet rice wine – Lao-Khao and Lao-Hai.


We were able to try some of each and while some would argue that Lao-Lao isn’t whiskey but moonshine, it tasted pretty good to me. Most of the bottles include some form of local creature: usually large scorpions, cobras or lizards.


Elephant Camp
During my visit I got the opportunity to visit the Manifa Elephant Camp, home to six female elephants. The camp has a good reputation, feeding the animals well and looking after them.


To raise funds for the camp groups are taken for rides through the forest, including the feeding the animals sugar cane and bananas. Because there was an odd number in our group, I got to sit atop the largest elephant’s neck instead of the flat wooden seats. This was quite an experience as the constant moving of her front legs jabbed into my butt cheeks, making it a little sore to walk for a bit after.


Pak Ou Caves – 4000 Buddha Caves
Across the Mekong river from the Elephant Camp are a pair of caves popular with tourists. The upper cave, Tham Theung, has a pair of shrines buried in the darkness. Torches are available for those willing to provide a donation.


Tham Ting, the lower cave, is decorated by many hundreds of small buddhas sitting in any nook and cranny large enough to hold them. The number of the buddhas is ever-growing, as locals bring new ones to the caves every day.


Kuang Si Falls
Perhaps one of the more famous attractions in the city is the Kuang Si Falls. Forty-five minutes out of town, the main section of the falls where water cascades down many levels.


But the main falls are not all there is to see here. For a couple of hundred metres the river cascades into shallow turquoise blue pools. There are many such pools, with the lower areas available for swimming. As we arrived late in the day, during cool season, I wasn’t so keen to get in the icy waters.


Overall, while Luang Prabang is more expensive than the other cities in Lao, it’s just as touristic and still a fun place to spend a couple of days.

Next I take a very long bus ride to Hanoi, Vietnam.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Vang Vieng, Laos – Impressions

Vang Vieng was little more than a staging post Vientiane and Luang Prabang until the US airforce built an airbase there during the Vietnam War. Since the war the town has attracted backpackers who have flocked there as a site of adventure.


Four hours by bus north of Vientiane, Vang Vieng is nestled on the Nam Song river surrounded by mountains. It was perhaps the second worst bus ride of my travels but on arrival it felt glorious to be in the mountains again. But even though Vang Vieng is only 234 metres above sea level, the days are cooler and the nights often chilly. It’s the first time I’ve had to wear long pants in Asia.


Vang Vieng has a reputation. The New Zealand Herald once suggested, “If teenagers ruled the world, it might resemble Vang Vieng.” And I would have to agree with them. Vang Vieng’s target audience seems to be backpackers in their 20s.

Wat That?
Well duh, it’s a temple. Wat That is one of five such temples in town in the typical Laotian style.


Pha Poak Mountain
Not far from town is a small rocky hill which gives great views over the larger mountains and a panoramic view across the town. While on a casual stroll around town, I followed a sign across the river and through a set of fields to the hill.


I hadn’t intended to climb anything as I was only in flip-flops, but since I was there I climbed it and indeed the views were superb.


Take a large tyre inner tube, a backpacker and a river, and you have tubing. An idea formed by the locals who organised themselves into a cooperative business involving more than 1,555 households. Tuk-tuks drop groups ten kilometres upstream where they launch into the water and drift their way slowly back to town a handful of hours later.


While the views are amazing along the way the scenery isn’t the only drawcard. At various points along the river, locals have set up river bars for tubers, throwing out ropes to drag them in. Along the river there are other adventures to be had, trekking to caves, zip lining and other such activities.


Unfortunately, the safety levels are fairly low and 22 tourists were killed during 2011 on such tubing trips. Supposedly safety measures have been better implemented since then. and while it has reduced the deaths, they haven’t stopped entirely. I chose not to do the tubing, instead choosing another method to float down the river.

As part of a full day tour, I kayaked with a group along the river. Unfortunately because it’s dry season the river was low, so we only kayaked for about 6km instead of the usual 15km. I managed to get a solo kayak to myself and this allowed me more freedom.


The views of the river and surrounding mountains were marvellous. A little way along, we started encountering the river bars and stopped at one for a beer.


Then it was back in the water and paddling along through brief periods of rapids and slow patches. On my smaller solo kayak I was able to quickly paddle back up the river to some of the other kayaks, spin around and paddle backwards, or just drift sideways. It was a lot of fun. I found that many of the more dangerous swings and other activities had been closed.


Wet Cave
I did end up on an inner tube at one point. As part of the kayaking day tour, we floated into a low-roofed water-filled cave with head lamps on.


The water was quite cold, but I quickly became accustomed to it. The cave was perhaps only 50 metres long with a loop at the end.


Elephant Cave
Perhaps one of the smaller of many dozens of caves in the region, we went to a cave where elephants used to sleep when it rained. When humans moved to the area and planted crops, the elephants ate it all, so the locals were forced to move the animals. The cave is now a buddha shrine.


Overall, Vang Vieng is a peaceful little town on the backpacker route. It’s just a shame that the backpackers are often attracted here more for the partying aspect rather than the adventure, but thus is South-East Asia. If I had more time, I would have hiked through the mountains for several days. Perhaps another time…

Next I head north for my final Laos destination, Luang Prabang.

The Long Trail Wanderer

Vientiane, Laos – Impressions

Compared to the massive sprawling beasts that are most capital cities in South East Asia, Vientiane – pronounced ‘Vieng chan’ — is decidedly small town. But even with only two hundred and ten thousand people, Vientiane is still the largest city in the Laos.


Because ‘chan’ has two meanings in the modern Lao language, Vientiane is known as both the ‘City of the Moon’ and ‘City of Sandalwood’. The city is nestled on the northern bank of the Mekong River, with Thailand on the other side.


Sleeper Train
The 12-hour journey from Bangkok to Laos was by overnight train, my first experience on a sleeper train. I booked in the second class car and ended up with an upper berth. Being 189 cm tall (6’3”), I was concerned that I might not fit. But when the bed was made up and I climbed into it, it was just enough.


I’ve slept in tighter locations and actually got a good sleep. The train has two toilets per car, a western toilet and a squat toilet, but instead of going into a septic tank, waste simply drops out a hole in the bottom of the car onto the tracks. I guess it’s biodegradable. By about 10pm the car was silent with most curtains closed.


Buddha Park
About 25 km east of Vientiane is a sculpture park called Xiang Khuan, meaning Spirit City. The site was begun in 1958 by a monk who integrated both Hinduism and Buddhism into the sculptures. There are over a hundred statues in the park, some quite massive. The largest is the reclining buddha…


Another piece has a crawlway inside and has several chambers on three levels and access to the roof.


There are several ways to get to the park, by tour bus, tuk-tuk, or as I did, by scooter!

Petuxai – The Victory Gate
Also known as the Gate of Triumph, the monument is dedicated to those who fought for independence from France in 1949.


The monument resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but is Laotian in design and decorated with mythological creatures. The structure has 7 levels, the top three giving great views across Vientiane.

Pha That Luang
The golden buddhist stupa is regarded as the most important national monument in Laos and is a national symbol. It is suggested to have been built in the 3rd century and is surrounded on three sides by other temples.


That Dam
A black stupa said to be inhabited by a seven-headed naga, a water deity taking on the form of a large snake with the upper body of a female. This creature was to have protected Laos from the Siamese army in 1827.


Nagas are the divine enemy of Garuda, the great eagle ridden by Shiva in the Hindu religion.

Like all cities in Asia, Vientiane is littered with temples. Most temples have a very Thai design — or maybe the Thai temples have a Laotian design — but in Lao the temple compound is usually surrounded by a series of shrines. Laotian temples often have a tower in their compounds that can be climbed.


Here are some of the temples I visited in my travels in Vientiane:

Wat Si Maung


Wat Si Saket


Wat Mixai


Wat Thatlueng Neua


COPE Visitor Centre
Laos is the most bombed country in the world. With a major portion of the Ho Chi Minh trail running through Laos it was bombed heavily during the Vietnam War in attempts to sever the Vietcong supply lines. But also during bombing runs, if the US had not expended all of its ordinance it would be discarded over Laos.

COPE is an organisation that provides rehabilitation to Laotians who have suffered disabilities from unexploded munitions left over from the war. The Visitor Centre is a museum which also presents a documentary film following one such victim.


Overall, Vientiane surprised me. Considering Laos is a poor country, the capital was more advanced than I expected. There were more Apple stores than any other city I have ever been to (including the US), a large western style cafe district and a decided lack of US chain restaurants — not a KFC, McDonalds or Starbucks in sight.

Next, I head north to the backpacker town of Vang Vieng.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Bangkok, Thailand – Impressions

Bangkok is known in Thai as Krung Thep Mahanakhon, which means “City of the Deity”.


After my brother headed home I travelled to Bangkok to continue my adventures. But never alone long, I met a British girl at the hostel and we spent 3 days exploring the city.

Day 1 – Getting Around In Bangkok

Cruising Chao Phraya River
The rapid growth of the city has caused major troubles with traffic congestion and pollution. While four metro train lines have been built to combat this, they do little to cover the city. Only one train stop goes near the Chao Phraya River, where commuters can transfer to express boats to move along its length. As these boats are the easiest ways to see the city, we booked tickets and headed out to see what Bangkok had to offer.


Wat Pho – Temple of the Reclining Buddha
Named after a temple in India where the Buddha was believed to have lived, Wat Pho is a massive complex with many traditional Thai designed temples and buildings. It is also known as the home of traditional Thai Massage.


A major building in the complex contains a massive golden buddha in a reclining position. It’s the most popular building on the site where tourists filter in one side, around the feet and out past the back of the head.


Khao San Road
Originally a rice market, the road is now considered a backpacker ghetto and party zone. As I prefer quieter hostels, I didn’t to stay in the area. During the day there are plentiful backpackers, markets and food stalls. In the evenings, bars appear and backpackers party away the night.


Democracy Monument
At the end of Khao San Road is the grand monument commemorating the Siamese Revolution of 1932 which led to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. Unfortunately, the widening of the road to accommodate the monument and ceremonial boulevard meant mass evictions of local residents and the cutting down of hundreds of shade trees.


Wat Saket
Known as the Golden Mountain, this Buddhist temple sits atop an artificial mountain. The temple has a rounded golden feature atop it giving it the sense of being a mountain. The roof of the temple allows great views across Bangkok.


Wat Suthat
One of the ten first-grade temples in Bangkok. King Rama I began the construction himself in 1807. King Rama II helped to carve the doors during his reign and the temple was finally completed by King Rama III in 1847. There are 28 Chinese pagodas at the base of the temple to commemorate the 28 buddhas born on this earth.


Day 2 – Wat? More Temples?
Bangkok is the city of temples and while we’d visited several on day one there were a couple more we wanted to see.

The Victory Monument
Our hostel was right near the monument commemorating the 59 Thais killed during the 2 month Franco-Thai war in 1941. The outcome of the war was decided by the Japanese, who didn’t want a prolonged war between two of its allies just prior to its own war of conquest in SE Asia.


Jim Thompson House
One of the most popular tourist locations in Thailand, the house was created by a US soldier during the 1950’s and 60’s. He put together 6 Thai houses made from Teak and brought from all over Thailand. After Jim went missing in Malaysia, his nephew created the Jim Thompson Foundation and turned the site into a museum.


The Grand Palace and The Emerald Buddha Temple
Another of the most popular tourist attractions in Thailand, the Grand Palace was the home to the Kings of Siam between 1782 and 1925. The Palace compound is huge with many Temples, Halls and of course, the Palace.


The compound is also the site of the Emerald Buddha Temple, home of a famous buddha statue. Labelled ‘emerald’ because of its green colour, it’s actually carved from Jasper. The statue has a long history, being carved in India, taken to Sri Lanka, lost on its way to Burma and ending up in Angkor Wat in Cambodia before the Siamese invaded and claimed it. Unfortunately, photos aren’t permitted within the temple.


What Arun – Temple of Dawn
Once home to Emerald Buddha and named after a Hindu God, the Temple of Dawn is said to catch the first rays of the sun each morning, glowing with pearly iridescence.


The main temple has very steep stairs that climb two tiers and give great views of the city.


Day 3 – Market Day

All templed out by day 3, my British companion and I decided to explore a couple of weekend markets around the city.

Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market
Bangkok has several floating markets, although the largest and most popular take over 90 minutes outside the city. We aimed for a smaller, less touristy floating market closer to central Bangkok. A floating market is a river market navigable by boat, with other boats and vendors along the sides of the river selling goods. Khlong Lat Mayom only has a small floating aspect…


The market is mainly a food market which stretches across the river but with only the occasional boat floating by. As it was raining we were happy not to be on the water. Instead we enjoyed the local food, a spicy chicken side and some fried squid eggs in a batter. Interesting.


Chatuchak Weekend Markets
Known as Jatujak in the Thai language, the markets are not only the largest markets in the city, but the largest markets I’ve ever been to. As the name suggests, it’s only open on the weekends, and is vastly busy during this time.


The markets have 27 sections and 8000 stalls! Beyond seeing the markets, my major reason for going was to find and consume a fried scorpion on a stick. Unfortunately, after spending hours searching, I wasn’t able to find one so settled for a frozen banana dipped in chocolate and chopped almonds instead. While not entirely the dish I was looking for, it would have to do but my search will continue.


Overall, Bangkok is a busy capital city with plenty to do assuming you aren’t already over temples.

Next, I catch my first sleeper train to Vientiane, capital of Laos.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Ao Nang, Thailand – Impressions

Ao Nang, pronounced ‘ow nang’, is also known as Krabi Ao Nang, as Ao Nang Beach is near Krabi City in the Krabi province of Thailand.


Ao Nang falls within Thailand’s ‘party zone’ which stretches from Phuket across to Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand.


With its closeness to party island Koh Phi Phi, Ao Nang is commonly used as a transit point for 20-somethings crossing the peninsula to the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. But Ao Nang is more than just a transit town, it’s a beach resort town with a beauty of its own and access to many interesting beaches.


The main street of Ao Nang runs along the beachfront and along its length are hundreds of vendors and restaurants During high season, December to March, it’s common to see large numbers of people at all times of the day and night, shopping or looking for something to eat.


The vibe of Ao Nang is different to the nearby Koh Phi Phi or Koh Samui. There are less roving packs of 20-somethings and more family groups. While there are bars and a clubbing area, Ao Nang is not about rampant partying and drunk people doing stupid things. Ao Nang is all about the beaches and is a far more family friendly location.


Like other parts of the Malay Peninsula, there are plentiful limestone mountains protruding from both land and sea. At the end of Ao Nang Beach is a peninsula entirely cut off by a limestone ridgeline leaving the beaches of Railay Peninsula only accessible by long tail boats.


There are three main beaches on the Railay Peninsula, and all a connected by walkways, along which there are many resorts and restaurants. While the beaches are beautiful and worth the effort to get to, they aren’t quiet, tranquil places. They can be more popular than the main beaches along Ao Nang.


There are numerous things to do near Ao Nang, although not a lot of them could be considered cultural. Tours from here predominantly head out around the islands in the bay to snorkel, kayak, scuba dive or just take in the sights.


The most popular thing to do in the area is hang out on a beach. And for the period of a few days between Christmas and New Years, the peak of the tourist time, we did just that. A great place to hang out, eat good food and just relax.


Next, we fly back to Kuala Lumpur for a Thai Visa run and to wish farewell to my brother. Then I’m back to Thailand and on my way north to Bangkok.

The Trail Wanderers