Songkran was immense and we love Bangkok, but it was getting hot and humid.
In search of a change, we headed to Kanchanaburi. We were obviously too stupid to realise Songkran was still going on there in full force. We got doused in chalk, perfume oil and water, had a great time getting thrown into paddling pools and dancing through the streets. All of us apart from our youngest who was 'over' Songkran by day two and hated every minute... The chalk and oil combo was 'dirty' and he was beyond convincing... so we only stayed one night and headed back to the safety of the capital. You can read about Songkran here.
Back in Bangkok we booked our sleeper train to the north. We booked through a local agent called Poona, just off Soi Rambutri who was refreshingly honest and told us
a) we'd definitely be sitting together on the train,
b) the youngest looks like me, the eldest like Mike and that
c) taxis would try to rip us off at the station. We were already on it, but appreciated the heads up (and she was right, btw).
We had planned to go to Chiangmai and spend a week exploring the mountains and to meet up with an old friend. The last time I was there, I was 19 years old- our three day Jungle trek had gone sour after our guide had a psychotic episode. 'Rambo' (his name should have been a clue) had too much opium and rice whiskey and tried to beat everyone up. I could only hope our family experience would be an improvement on my last- even though it was immense in its own, formative years/rose tinted glasses kind of way.
The train was fun- everyone loves a sleeper train. I even managed to watch an adult film for the first time in eight months in my bunk with the curtains drawn. 'Wolf Creek' was just as I expected, and it was nostalgic seeing Western Australia on film, even if I did have to skip the scary bits- a sure sign I've been spending too much time watching Disney.
We woke at 6am to see the sun rise over the mountains, passing villages that were cloaked in ethereal orange light. The soundtrack was the hacking morning coughs of our fellow passengers waking up. This is Asia, right here.
Fuzzy-headed, we went to our guest house and planned for the week ahead.
We managed to find an ethical trek, after much searching that didn't include things like Elephant riding and human zoos like the Karen Long Neck village. The trek was beautiful, all round the rice paddies and old opium farms (which are now flower farms) we saw three poisonous snakes and foraged a load of fruit that were hanging, ripe in the jungle. The best bits though were the waterfalls and the precarious bamboo bridges that ran across the ravines- we were explorers for the day and we couldn't wait to get in the water.
The signs around us all said ridiculous things like 'no bathing' and 'no paddling' which we duly ignored. It's all part of learning, right? Evaluate and assess the rules- then break them if you're not hurting anyone and the cool water feels good between your toes...
Following this was a very special day. The eldest had initially asked for 'nothing' for his eighth birthday (bless). It's hard to make birthdays special when you are on the road; We have no extra space in our packs for gifts and no friends or family to celebrate with. I decorated the bathroom mirror with felt tips, found some rafia in the 7/11 and strung it around the room. The birthday boy got to choose an activity and where to eat... which for many 8 year olds is McDonalds and bowling. Our 8 year old was no different. To top this off, we said 'Happy Birthday' to him every half an hour, just to make sure he knew that we knew it was his special day, annoying or not.
His new favourite thing is fishing, so I was pleased that I had managed to find a collapsible fishing rod to give him in the morning, which i thought would fit into the backpack.
It didn't fit in the bag, obviously. Lugging that thing around, cable tied to the packs was a small price to pay to see his little face light up. Less really is more, If he'd had ten presents, he couldn't have been happier.
Bowling, on the other hand was a complete flop, resulting in tears of frustration as the balls were too heavy and the alley didn't have any ramps or buffers. We threw money at the problem, gave them 100 Baht (2.27 GBP) and let them play some driving games in the local shopping mall- not the birthday we had planned, but it would do.
We clawed it back the next day, with a trip to the fishing lake and a HUGE bowl of ice cream with candle shoved in the top. The adults loved it too- and although we didn't strictly speaking catch anything at the lake, the lovely local Thais got the boys to help reel in HUGE catfish, so it was a definite win.
Getting picked up by an old mate and taken to his home to meet his wife and kids was a perfect way to say goodbye to the North. It was back to our base in Bangkok. South east Asia was done- it was time to leave the hot and humid city and escape to the Himalayas, Nepal is waiting!
Where we stayed:
New Siam 1 Guest House, Bangkok- in the enclave Chana Songkran off Soi Rambutri, which runs around a temple that you can walk to, to get to Khao San Road. The best of both worlds, in my opinion and we always stay there.
The hotel was 22 GBP per night for an Air Con family room on the ground floor. It smelt of open drains due to the location of the room, but we took that for the price and location!
Sam's Place Guest House, Kanchanaburi- 22 GBP per night for a family bungalow on stilts over the water.
Sounds idyllic, but in reality we were the only people there and the staff weren't that friendly. There was no restaurant or anywhere to get a coffee/food closeby and due to Songkran, going anywhere meant getting soaked and covered in chalk. We cut our stay short and only stayed one night,
24 Guest House, Chiangmai. 11 GBP per night for a family studio apartment,
By FAR the best value accommodation to date. Clean, located just outside the Old Town walls and so comfortable. Book ahead though as it is popular.
How we got around:
-Bangkok to Kanchanburi- tourist bus was 30 GBP for family of 4 by tourist bus. Arranged through hotel.
-Kanchanaburi to Bangkok by public bus- 3 GBP each. The bus was comfortable and not much slower than the tourist bus, can definitely recommend.
-Bangkok to Chiangmai- sleeper train. 20 GBP per person, each way.
The train was comfortable and fun, but we realised afterwards we could have flown for 17 GBP per person. I personally prefer to see the countryside passing by in the early morning, but it's all about personal choice. Beware of scams with the 'welcome drink' (see below)
Uber- when doing big journeys, we used Uber as it stops the chance of getting ripped off.
Songtheaw- these operate in Chiangmai and are GREAT, they pick up other people too but are a cheap, fun way of getting around.
What we did
Wat Po in Bangkok, 2 GBP per person to see the reclining Buddha. Very beautiful but after this our boys didn't want to see any more temples...!
Chao Phraya express boat. A tourist boat which allows you to take a relaxed ferry ride along the river in Bangkok. You can take in the city's skyline without the traffic.
Central Chidlom department store, Bangkok which had air con (YES!) And a soft play inside the mall so the children can let off some steam whilst you buy your bits and bobs
Jeath War museum, Kanchanaburi- 2 GBP per person. A nice place to sit with a view of the bridge (and hide from Songkran!!!) A bit dusty and tired but some good info on the bridge and prisoners.
Bo Sang Fishing lake, Chiangmai. 6 GBP per rod, catch and release policy. The Catfish were HUGE and the boys were invited by other anglers to help them land them. Thank goodness we were fishing the Tilapia lake (and they weren't biting) as we wouldn't have known what to do with them!! A fun day though.
Bully Bowling in Chiangmai. for the Eldest birthday, he wanted to go bowling. it was 2.50 per person.
There were no ramps for the children to use or buffers, the balls were too heavy for the children to bowl... it was a birthday outing that ended in tears of frustration, so I can't say that I would recommend at all.
Chiangmai Night market, each night, great entertainment and loads of food to try. The eldest even ate bugs- see film below.
Wonderful Eco Tours, Chiangmai 70 GBP for a family of 4, doing a one day trek.
The trek was great in morning, but we could have done WITHOUT the afternoon which included time at the stupa. We were there for nature, not to look at man made tributes to the royal family, but hindsight is a wonderful thing, We could have asked to skip that bit, if we had known.
Unicorn Cafe, Bangkok- Dress up as a unicorn and eat a massive pudding. Everyone loved it, but the sugar crash was immense.
The usual big city stuff- watch taxis and don't flash your cash! When we got out the train station a taxi driver tried to charge us 20 GBP for a five minute journey! We laughed, he laughed and moved on to try and find the mug who WOULD pay it. We paid the standard 3 GBP and got to our hotel with no bother.
On the train to Chiangmai we were each offered orange juice as a welcome drink- then charged 12 GBP (3 GBP EACH) for that drink the next day. The juice wasn't even very nice- just be aware that nothing is free! (we were silly and thought it was gifted)