Battambang

We travelled to Battambang by bus – one of our easier journeys to date, only taking us a few hours door-to-door. Our bus tickets only cost us $6 each as well, however our hostel quoted a few dollars more than this, so be sure to shop around for the best prices. We got a tuk tuk to our guesthouse for as little as 50 cents, but we were aware that this meant the driver would likely ask us to use him for any journeys we took whilst we were there.

What we did

We only stayed in Battambang for 2 nights, which was enough time for us. Our first day we spent mainly getting our bearings, checking out the cafes and restaurants, however the next day we had an excursion booked with our tuk tuk driver, taking us to all of the main sights in Battambang. We bargained him down for a better price, and paid 18 dollars between us.

In the morning we visited two temples. One of them had been there since the 18th century with the newer one just behind it. 

Following that we visited a rice farm, where we watched the girls make rice paper for spring rolls. You could choose to try some fresh spring rolls – which of course we did – our tuk tuk driver paid for this himself from the money we gave him.

We then went further down the road to a house where they made dried banana snacks, slicing the bananas into super thin pieces and drying these out in the sun. We wished we’d have bought a bag of these – so tasty!

From here, our driver asked if we’d like to visit the crocodile farm. With it being one of the ‘main attractions’ in Battambang, we thought why not. To be honest, I’m still not sure I enjoyed visiting the crocodile farm or whether I’d recommend it, but it’s certainly an eye opener. We paid 3 dollars entry but we were only inside for about 15 minutes. First, you’re taken inside where there are baby crocs in big buckets, which you can hold and have a picture with. Scott went first and managed to keep it still, but on my go the croc kept snapping its head around despite me gripping it’s tail as instructed. Whilst they’re only small, their teeth are still really sharp. I really didn’t like it and quickly passed the croc back to the tuk tuk driver, much to Scott’s amusement.

You then walk around the corner to the enclosures where the big crocs are kept. One thing that struck me was how still they all were, they looked dead! Then we learnt that they’re only fed 2x a month as it’s all the owner can afford to feed them. At first I found that hard to believe, until we were told that the farm has over 700 crocodiles. The adult ones being used for breeding and the baby ones sold to China and Vietnam for their skin/meat. We couldn’t believe how low the barrier was to all these hungry crocs, and when the tuk tuk driver prodded them with a stick to make them move, we decided it was time to go. I can see why people want to visit, but the conditions here seem really harsh and it personally wasn’t an enjoyable experience, but you can see for yourself.

We were then dropped off back at the guesthouse until later in the afternoon, where we were picked up to visit the ‘Bat Cave’ and ‘Killing Cave.’ Depending on what time you arrive to the caves, most people venture up to the Killing Cave first, you can walk up yourself – this will take an hour/ an hour and a half according to our tuk tuk driver – otherwise you can share a truck up to the top for a small cost, around a dollar each.

We went to the Bat Cave first as we arrived just before the bats were due to fly out. The time of this fluctuates but those who work in the area will be able to tell you on the day, it’s usually around 5pm. We enjoyed some cheap beers sat outside the bottom of the cave and waited. At first they flew out in dribs and drabs, eventually forming a huge swarm that went on for the best part of an hour, they just didn’t stop! Our driver told us they fly out like this everyday searching for food, returning back in the early hours of the morning, and everyday, tourists crowd to watch the spectacle.




As it was getting dark – and we didn’t fancy getting lost in the Killing Cave in the dark – we paid for a taxi up to the top with some friends we had met earlier that day. The views are absolutely stunning at the top of the cave, a stark contrast to the eerie black hole that stands as a lasting reminder of the brutality of the Khmer Rouge. 

During the Khmer Rouge, thousands of innocent Cambodians were thrown to their death down into what is now known as the Killing Cave. Whilst the bones of those killed were once loose in the pit, they have since been kept in locked cages which you can see if you step down into the cave. We learnt that this was because those responsible for such crimes had put a bounty on the bones to try and cover it up, and the villagers were therefore stealing them for money. To be honest, we found the cave pretty overwhelming so didn’t stay down there for very long, but it was certainly very interesting and a must-see if you are visiting Battambang.


The caves were our final stop on the tour, however if we had been staying longer in Battambang, we would have loved to visit the Human Gallery. Entry is free, however it’s only open at certain times of the day, so you may want to look into this if you plan to visit here.

Where we stayed

We stayed in the ‘Lux Guesthouse’ in Battambang, mainly for its good location as we only had a short stay here. It was relatively cheap at $12 a night for a private double room with en suite. The only downside had to be that it was a fan room and we were absolutely roasting! We would have booked a room with AC however there wasn’t any available upon booking. If you stay here you can use the pool at a neighbouring hotel around the corner, where you can also get breakfast. Overall we had a really enjoyable stay here, but it’s worth noting that we would have stayed in a hostel had they not been described as 10km out of town, when in reality some were only a 10 minute walk from where we were staying. If you browse on Hostelworld, it’s perhaps worth checking the distance yourself on Google maps.

Where we ate/drank

Generally, we tend to have a browse on Trip Advisor for the best places to eat in a city and it’s never let us down. Rated no 1 was Jaan Bai which we visited on our first night, and it was truly amazing. They offer a tasting menu but we opted for 2 starters and 2 mains between us to share instead.


Corn fritters, calamari, chicken cooked in banana flower and the national dish of Cambodia, fish amok.

Each dish was cooked to absolute perfection and all for a reasonable price. The customer service was brilliant and to top it off, a share of the profits goes towards the Cambodia Children’s Trust (CCT). The restaurant is actually part of a social enterprise initiative for the CCT, which we learnt more about whilst waiting for our food. Briefly, there are an immense number of ‘fake orphanages’ in Battambang along with a jaw dropping number across all of Cambodia. Children are taken from their families and made to act as orphans for the profit of such organisations. CCT aims to get kids like this off the street, provide them with skills and training so they stand a chance in the world, some of which now work at places like Jaan Bai. If you wish to read more about this, click the link below.

https://www.cambodianchildrenstrust.org

Another place worth a visit is the Battambang BBQ. For $6 a head you can choose from a wide range of meat and seafood to cook on your own table BBQ. You can pile your plate up with noodles, rice, spring rolls, ribs and more to go with your meal, and the best part is, it’s all you can eat!


Finally, if you just fancy a sit down in a nice cafe, The Lonely Tree is a great place to relax. We sat here to catch up on some blogging, and they serve great fruit shakes/coffee.

With it being low season, Battambang was pretty quiet, so we didn’t drink that much whilst we were there, however one bar we can recommend is Buffalo Alley, conveniently located just around the corner from Jaan Bai. The bar is ran entirely by students and the drinks are really cheap, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area.

Recommended budget

Budget wise, we didn’t spend too much in Battambang at all. We suggest you can easily get by on $30 a day (around £23), including your accommodation, food & drink, and any sightseeing you wish to do, on the basis that you would be staying a couple of days.

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Siem Reap

Our journey to Siem Reap was not ideal to say the least. We travelled from Pai to Chiang Mai via coach, and flew to Bangkok from there later that day, which bar some turbulence on the plane, wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately however, we got caught in a severe thunderstorm whilst we waited for our overnight transfer to Siem Reap, and within 10 minutes, the ground went from dry to over a foot of water.  In just two minutes in the rain, we got absolutely drenched through – our bags and clothes included. Not the best start to a 12 hour coach journey.

We arrived at the Cambodian border at around 6am, and had to walk through the Poi Pet border – dubbed “no man’s land” – an area which is considered neither in Thailand or Cambodia. The area is full of big casinos and hotels, with beggars hassling you as soon as you get through border control. The VISA for Cambodia is $30 at the border, our best advice would be don’t be fooled into paying more. Our coach service offered to do it for us for a $10 fee, warning that they would leave without us if we took too long doing it ourselves. As it turned out, we were the first ones back on the coach. Any form of processing fee you get asked to pay isn’t actually required. We fell into the trap of being told by the police that we had to pay a 200 baht fee for our visa, but after such a long journey we didn’t see it fit to argue with the Cambodian police – so paid the fee that amounted to about £5 each. We finally arrived in Siem Reap at around 12pm, and after being transferred to our accommodation by the delightful Pounn, arrived at our destination after what all in all was a 27 hour journey.

What we did 

As soon as we arrived in Siem Reap, we knew we would enjoy it. The main attraction is of course Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples, which we decided to visit on our first full day. A lot of people who visit go for the sunrise, and although it requires a 4am alarm, it’s definitely worth seeing. We got picked up by Pounn, who runs SiemReapDailyTours at 4.30am – you can find him on Facebook – and then made the 45 minute journey to Angkor Wat via tuk tuk.

We picked up our tickets en route, and although we read elsewhere that these were quite cheap, the tickets were $37 dollars, which is the price on the official Cambodian government website. Although the price was expensive in comparison to other excursions, we still very much recommend visiting. We got to the temple at around 5.30am and saw the sunrise at around 6.15am, which was incredible.


You can explore the inside of the temples and queue up to go to the summit, and the range of sights within the temple means you can explore for a good while – we were at Angkor Wat for a good few hours. After leaving Angkor Wat, we visited two of the other main temples, Angkor Thom and the Ta Prohm temple – otherwise known as the Tomb Raider temple, where Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was filmed. It was really interesting to learn the history behind the temples, amongst others we stopped at on the way, courtesy of our tour guide who explained everything brilliantly.

Temples aside, the nightlife in Siem Reap is quality, with a huge amount of bars on Pub Street offering $0.5 beers (approximately 40p). If you’re a fan of sports, Score Sports Bar has HD screens and a project, as well as jugs of beer for $5, and we made the most of it here while watching Liverpool v Manchester United.


There’s an endless amount of bars and clubs on Pub Street offering really cheap drinks, but one bar we particularly enjoyed was Temple Bar. While downstairs was a nightclub with heavy dance music, upstairs had table football and pool tables – but with similar EDM and strobe lights to mess up your concentration… hardly the Crucible.

It’s worth mentioning that the Mad Monkey hostel offer a range of excursions, one of the most popular being the Cultural Booze Cruise. For many backpackers, this offers you the chance to have the best of both worlds: sightsee in Siem Reap whilst swigging a few bevs along the way. For just $25, you go on a tuk tuk ride through the countryside, visit the floating village and the crocodile farms, go for a swim in the lake – the biggest in SEA – and to top it off there’s music and free beer all day – not bad for less than 20 quid.

What we ate

This is becoming a common occurrence with everywhere we go, but the food in Siem Reap was unbelievable. There’s a number of good restaurants located around Pub Street for you to choose from, and our favourite meal during our time here was at a Mexican restaurant called Maybe Later. The restaurant is owned by a Californian man who used to run a restaurant near the border of Mexico – so he knows his stuff. We both opted for the soft tacos, one chicken and two beef. We also got nachos to share, as well as two beers each – and our whole bill came in at $27, or $13.50 (just over £10 each). Compared to other places this is above the average, but so too was the food, and it was worth every penny.

We also ate a lot of the street food in Siem Reap, such as beef noodles for $2 (£1.40) and $1 kebabs – which was a brilliant idea at the time, but actually gave use stomach ache the next day so probably not the wisest choice. The food at Mad Monkey was also really good, so we ate here a few times during the day whilst round the pool. You can get a large baguette with crisps for around $4, and the beers there are only $1 all day. They offer a range of both western and Asian food on their menu, all of which looked really good.

Where we stayed 

The Mad Monkey Hostel has arguably been our favourite accommodation of our trip so far. The staff were amazing, the food really good, it was a very good price ($5 each a night for a medium-sized bed in a mixed dorm), and featured rooftop bar, pool with decent music and pool-side bar with $1 beers – you can’t go far wrong with that. Our dorm had three clean bathrooms and showers which were always free, and a room where you can get ready for a night out with a full-length mirror. They offer laundry service and a number of popular excursions, as well as events almost every night such as free beer/punch and pub quizzes with prizes. Not only the staff, but everyone staying here was sound, so we really couldn’t fault our stay here whatsoever. Also a five minute walk to the lively Pub Street, so your stumble back after a night out shouldn’t take too long.

Top tips

  • If you’re going to Angkor Wat, make sure you do the sunrise. We thought the temples were amazing, but by far the best part was the sunrise over the temples. Yes it is a 4.30am pick up, but one early start is a small price to pay for such a good experience. Plus it’s regarded as one of the man-made wonders of the world, which is surely worth swerving the snooze button for.
  • Check the weather before you go. The last thing you want is to pay $37, which is quite steep in Cambodian terms (equivalent to 74 bevvies), to turn up to grey skies first thing in the morning. So try to get there on a clear morning to prevent the weather clouding the experience.
  • Make the most of the $0.5 beers. In some bars they jump up to $1 after a certain time (hardly a bank-breaker), but making the most of the even-cheaper prices will make your money go even further.

 

 

Pai

Our next destination after Chiang Mai was Pai, a small but spirited town in the North of Thailand, about 3 and a half hours away from Chiang Mai. We booked a minivan there, costing us 160 baht each (approx. £4) for a one way ticket – this took us from our hostel to the centre of Pai. Whilst a lot of places in Chiang Mai offer tickets for 200 baht, the office at Bann Walking Street Hostel in Chiang Mai offer the ticket for 160, and every little helps. Almost everyone who has been to Pai will rave on about how much they love it, many of which stayed for three nights like us. We suggest three nights is the perfect amount of time for you to enjoy all that Pai has to offer.

What we did

This was my first time visiting Pai, but Jess had already been before on a previous trip so we already had a good idea of what there was to do. We checked into the Pai Hot Springs Resort for our first night and chilled by the pool for the day. Later that night we headed into town to a restaurant called Bale, where the food was really good and drinks were relatively cheap. They even offered us a taxi home as most taxi services finish at 9pm, so it’s worth bearing this in mind when booking the location of your accommodation.

Our first full day in Pai was really enjoyable. We went for breakfast at L’artist Café – where they serve amazing frappe’s – whilst we waited for the rain to pass before heading out for the day. One of the best things about Pai is the number of viewpoints you pass travelling around, with huge green forests surrounding the small, secluded town as far as you can see. We went to a few viewpoints – our favourite stop being ‘Coffee in Love’. This is a small coffee shop set on the side of the road, with an unreal view. You can get a picture with the ‘I am Pai’ sign next door. We found this particular view point en route to the World War 2 Memorial Bridge – this is about 15km out of town but well worth a visit.

The bridge was built by Japanese forces in WW2 as a route for an attempted attack on the allied forces, who were based in the then-British colonised Burma. The bridge was built by using elephants to carry bamboo from the jungle, and was seen as the only route to cross over to Burma. The bridge has since been maintained by the Pai people and used to cross over to the town.

We then visited Waterfall, again quite a distance away, but well worth the drive there.

In the evening we headed out for food (see below) and then worked our way round the numerous bars in the centre of Pai – our favourite was Boom Bar. Here we bumped into a few people we met in Chiang Mai, so ended up spending the night with them. The drinks are really cheap in Pai; in Boom Bar we got a large SangSom bucket that was at least a 50/50 alcohol/mixer ratio, costing us about 250 baht (approx. £6). A lot of bars do happy hours, where you can get a spirit and mixer for 100 baht (approx. £2.50), and beers even cheaper. All bars are free to go to, so you can have a decent night out until the early hours on no more than 1000 baht (just over £20).

We decided to book an excursion on our final full day in Pai with the company ‘Pai Let’s Go,’ which cost 500 baht (approx. £11.50) each, but in all honestly we couldn’t figure out how they make any money from it. Firstly, we got picked up from our hostel and travelled 45 minutes through the windy mountains to Kiu Lom viewpoint (not ideal on a harsh hangover), but unfortunately the clouds prevented most of the view. At the top you’ll likely find Thai families, who dress their children up in traditional clothing and hats. They let “you decide” a price for getting a photo with them if you wish to do so. One lady suggested to us 5-10 baht, nothing at all to us, so we got a picture as you can see below. Note that we both look incredibly rough and both had to have a good sit down after this picture was taken.

Our next destination was Lod cave. Here you take a bamboo raft to the centre of the cave with your guide – you aren’t allowed to enter without one. Inside the various stalagmites and stalactites have formed a number of odd shapes, which the tour guide had given a number of amusing names to dependent on their shape: Popcorn, Elephant, Frog, UFO etc.

After touring the cave, we had lunch at the nearby restaurant which was included in the ticket price. We chose from a small menu and ordered chicken pad Thai, also being given a large selection of fruit, including dragon fruit (much nicer than the name would suggest) and a big bottle of water each.

After lunch we headed to the Sai Ngam natural hot spring – one of many in Pai – and this was an absolute godsend for what was until now a nasty hangover. If you decide to see some of these sights independently or have time to visit another, Jess suggests that Pong Nam Ron Tha Pai is much better, which she visited on her previous trip. Here you can find a collection of hot springs and scorching ponds, so hot you can boil an egg on them. There are genuinely signs dotted around the site asking you not to do so, although don’t be surprised if you go and see some of the locals ignoring them.

After spending about an hour there, we then went to Mor Pang waterfall, which is definitely worth a visit, before heading to Pai Canyon for the sunset – usually just before 6pm. The 10-minute walk to the top was relatively easy up the steps, and the views at the top are surreal. You can walk round the canyon to various points, depending how susceptible to heights you are.

The tracks are very narrow, so just be sure to wear suitable footwear because it’s a very big drop if you were to slip. The Canyon was our last stop of the day, and for less than £12 we got our entry to all the attractions included, private transfer for the whole day (probably totalling 2-3 hours driving in all), lunch and water, plus a helpful tour guide, so we would definitely recommend it.

Our final night consisted of going out for street food at the night markets, where the street is flooded with stalls every night. The street food in Pai is as good, if not better, than some of the food in restaurants, so we definitely recommend trying this, whether you’re on a budget or not. With a 24 hour journey the next day upon us, we called it a night and prepared for what would turn out to be a challenging journey to Cambodia.

Where we stayed 

On our first night we stayed at the Pai Hot Springs Resort, which we booked as a one off, knowing that we would likely to be staying in hostels for the foreseeable future. It cost £40 for a night, which in usual circumstances is cheap for a hotel, but our opinion was that our money could’ve gone much further for what we actually got. The room and facilities were good, but we booked this particular room on the basis that it included a private hot springs tub on the balcony, which wasn’t actually the case, with only cold water coming out of the taps. Apparently they got rid of the private hot spring feature a couple of years ago, despite it still being advertised online and even in the rooms.

We also found the staff here pretty rude and unhelpful, unlike anywhere else we have stayed, where staff are always friendly and accommodating. It didn’t help that when we tried to communicate our complaint that none of the staff spoke English. The restaurant also closed early without notice, meaning we had to head into town for food, by which point we wished we had just stayed there instead. Elsewhere, £40 can get you four nights decent accommodation, so we felt quite missold on this occasion for what we actually received. For our final two nights we checked into the Bann Pai Riverside, which was a riverside hut with private bathroom and hammock outside. The staff were much friendlier at this accommodation, and we felt much more comfortable staying here. The only downside was the bamboo bridge connecting the resort to the town centre was under repair (just our luck ey), so the five minute walk into the town centre took 15 with us having to walk around the river.

What we ate

The food we had in Pai was some of the best we’ve had on our trip to date. Aside from eating at our accommodation, which was all really good, we ate at Bale bar, where we both got beef pad thai and a beer for 150 baht (approximately £3.70). The next evening, we ate at Boom burger, somewhere you simply must go if you’re staying in Pai. I’d go as far to say this was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. We both got an Australian beef burger with cheese, bacon and salad, with a side of hand-cut chips and onion rings, as well as a Singha beer – all for 230 baht (approx. £5.50).

On our final evening, we decided to make the most of the range of street food on offer at the night markets in Pai. The food was amazing. We opted for sushi for 5-10 baht per piece (10-20p), large bruschetta with various toppings for 40 baht (approx. £1) and banana and Nutella rotees (similar to a crepe) for 60 baht (£1.50), finishing off with a fresh mango fruit shake, also 60 baht.

There’s so much choice and considering the quantity/quality of the food on offer, it’s really good value for money.

Top tips

You’ll realise this as soon as you arrive, but renting mopeds is something that is extremely popular in Pai. It will appear all tourists do this, due to how cheap it is and the distance of the attractions. You can rent a moped for as little as 100 baht (£2.50) for 24 hours, with the more powerful ones still only costing you 150 baht tops, if you’re wanting one that’s less of a chicken chaser. Including insurance, you can hire one in total for around 200 baht (£5) for 24 hours.

The attractions are really far apart and it’s by far the cheapest option, so worth doing as long as you’re confident on a bike. Remember to take photos of the bike before renting it, to ensure they don’t claim any prior damage was made by you. Finally, never hand over your passport, as in some cases it’s been known that companies have refused to return these unless a fee is paid, claiming damage to a bike was done by you (even if it wasn’t). Some companies accept cash or a driving licence as a form of deposit, which is a lot less risky than handing over your passport.

As mentioned, the roads in Pai are incredibly windy and not particularly pleasant for anyone who suffers from motion sickness. We advise stocking up on any travel sickness pills you may take beforehand for the journey. Also, if you book an excursion and there is room in the back of the car, ask to sit there instead of the back of the truck. You’ll feel much better for doing so.

Chiang Mai

After leaving Bangkok, our second destination was Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand. We chose to fly after finding a cheap deal with Air Asia, however you can get the sleeper train. Depending on the company, this can take you between 11-15 hours and will usually cost you between 900-1300 baht (£20-£30). If you can find a cheap flight, it’s well worth booking as it only takes you an hour to get there, however we have friends who have taken the sleeper train before and had no issues with it.

Chiang Mai is a beautiful and culturally rich city, home to hundreds of Buddhist temples, the most famous being Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang. Naturally, it’s a very peaceful city, and the perfect place to relax and recharge after the bustle and chaos of Bangkok. On saying that, there are also so many activities on offer for you to get involved in here! We’ve included a few below which we would highly recommend. We advise a three day stay is long enough to complete all of your main sightseeing, plus any excursions you may wish to take, without feeling like you’re rushing around.

What to do

As mentioned, there are temples galore in Chiang Mai, with over 30 being situated within the walls of the Old City. Grab a free city map – we got ours from our hostel – and spend some time exploring these at your own pace. If you’re only interested in seeing a couple, focus on Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang, but remember to dress appropriately (shoulders and knees covered). 


The dress code isn’t as strict for men, as long as you have your shoulders covered. Ladies, if you’re like me and don’t want to walk around in trousers and a long sleeved top, you can borrow a shawl and trousers if needed within the temple grounds – you may be asked to give a small deposit until you leave or encouraged to leave a donation, either way, this shouldn’t cost you more than 20 baht (around 50p).



In terms of entrance fees, it is free to go in most temples, however entrance to Wat Chedi Luang will cost you 20 baht. If you like, a monk will bless you for a small donation. My favourite part of the day was visiting Wat Phra Singh, as we made it in time to witness the monks prayer. We knelt behind what must have been at least 50 monks, with their age ranging from 7-70 as they prayed to the Buddha. If you want to see this, make sure you’re inside the temple for 5pm.


Temples aside, many tourists flood to Chiang Mai to see the elephants. Whilst there are elephants all over Thailand, Chiang Mai has a growing number of tour companies offering experiences with elephants. Due to the large number of these companies out there, it’s important to make sure you go to the right kind of place; a lot of these ‘camps’ do not care properly for the elephants, keeping them chained up and forcing them to work with sharp tools.

If you want to have a truly enjoyable and memorable experience with these beautiful creatures, visit an elephant sanctuary. We can’t recommend the ‘Elephant Jungle Sanctuary’ enough. Here, you can spend a half-day, full-day or even a 2 day 1 night visit. We opted for the half-day morning visit which was the perfect amount of time for us. We paid 1700 baht (approximately £40 each), which included 1.5 hour return transfer from the hostel to the jungle, lunch and refreshments. During the visit we were able to spend a good few hours with the elephants, including two babies, where we fed them bananas, washed them and mud bathed them to keep them cool. 

 There were plenty of opportunities to take photos and the company also took their own professional ones which were uploaded onto Facebook the same day. There were 11 elephants in total and the group size was kept small at around 20 people, so you’re able to spend time with all of the elephants without it being overcrowded, allowing for a really personal experience. At the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, it’s clear the mahouts really do care about the elephants and look after them well, unlike so many of the other tours that are offered. Here is a link to their website if you wish to check it out yourself: http://www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com. 

Another highlight of our trip was taking part in a Thai cooking class. After researching a few different ones, we decided to book with the ‘The Best Thai Cookery Class.’ We paid 900 baht for a half-day course, and it’s fair to say we got our money’s worth! After being picked up by minivan, we drove to a local market with our tour guide, where we learnt all about the fresh ingredients we were going to be using that day.

We then drove approximately 30 minutes away to a picturesque farm where the class was to be held – this was one factor that stood out for us from the rest, as many other classes are held in the town, but we felt that cooking at the farm would be much more authentic. The cooking area itself is very clean and spacious, with each person having their own cooking station fully equipped with everything you need for the day. Our chef was hilarious and very friendly, walking us through each of the six courses we were going to make with our own individual cooking books, which we were given to take home free of charge.





During the course of the morning we made papaya salad, pad thai and sticky rice with mango. We also then had a choice of three for the following three courses; between us we made tom yung soup, fried holy basil leaf, panaeng curry and red curry. Considering we made it all ourselves – and I’ve been known to have one or two kitchen disasters – it was bloody delicious, we were absolutely stuffed by the end. 

Despite Scott and I both being successful with the ‘Big Fire’ trick, I’m doubtful as to my capabilities/ the safety of this when back on English soil. Probably shouldn’t try this at home. Our chef told us to pray to our God beforehand, and judging by how close the fire came to our faces, it’s probably a good job we did. 

Where to eat/drink

For cheap and tasty Thai food, try Bamboo Cafe, just around the corner from the Three Kings Monument. We both ordered pork dishes with rice, coming in at 80 baht each (less than £2) and a fruit shake for 40 baht (just under £1). The food was great and it’s really good value for money, although I couldn’t help but laugh when I was presented with a fried egg, delicately placed on top of a mound of steamed rice. Little did I know that ‘egg fried rice’ is literally just that.


If you’re visiting Chiang Mai over the weekend, you should also visit the Saturday/Sunday Walking Market for amazing food and drink, where various street food is sold for as little as 10 baht (just over 20p!) We ate our way around the market, but the meat skewers and sushi were amongst our favourites. Whilst it would seem that the sale of alcohol on the market is restricted on a Sunday, there’s plenty of fresh fruit juices and shakes on offer. Note: if the whole street comes to a standstill, you’re not in the latest episode of Black Mirror, they’re about to sing the National Anthem.

In terms of drinking, Chiang Mai is a lot more relaxed than Bangkok or the south of Thailand, but you can still have a really good night if you know where to go. We recommend starting off at Zoey in Yellow, where there is a small square of bars, including ’48 Garage’ all offering cheap drinks and good music. Whilst these bars shut relatively early at around midnight, ‘Spicy’ and ‘The Living Room’ – which literally looks like someone’s living room – are open until late. Just ask any of the locals to point you in the right direction.

Where to stay
We have both previously visited Chiang Mai before on separate occasions; I stayed at the Lai Thai Guesthouse and Scott at Bunk Boutique. This time, we both wanted to stay more central, and so booked the ‘Bann Elephant Home’ hostel, located inside the Old City, which we would say is your best area to stay in terms of being close to all the attractions, bars and restaurants. It will also save you money which you would otherwise of spent on tuk tuk’s getting around the city.

If you don’t mind your accommodation being relatively basic, the location of Bann Elephant Home is excellent and it’s also super cheap – it only cost us £4 each a night for a private double bedroom and shared bathroom. One thing they don’t tell you on booking.com is that the beds are actually just mattresses on the floor, but this didn’t really bother us. The rooms are also very small, but if you’re anything like us, you’ll spend so much time out and about that this isn’t really an issue.


The staff are very friendly and accommodating and they also serve food inside the hostel – we highly recommend the banana pancakes for breakfast. Like many of the hostels in Chiang Mai, it doesn’t have a pool, which you may long for on a hot day after you’ve been out sightseeing. We decided to walk to the Lai Thai Guesthouse, which is about a 15 minute walk from Bann Elephant, and paid to use their pool for the day, costing us 100 baht each (well worth the £2.50).

Daily budget

When it comes to budgeting for Chiang Mai, you’re likely to spend slightly more here if you want to take advantage of all the amazing activities on offer. If you’re happy to stay in basic accommodation, it’s really cheap to stay in Chiang Mai. It’s also really cheap to eat; we would advise you can eat well and stay in good accommodation for £15-£20 a day, including some alcoholic drinks. If you’re planning on a proper night out, you’ll need a little bit more, but not much. You may pay 100 baht entry for places like The Living Room, but your ticket includes a drink inside. If you like to keep to a strict budget, work out what activities you would like to do before you go and keep some money aside for this. We spent just over £60 on our activities outlined above, but relatively little on everything else in Chiang Mai.

Top tips

  • Remember to barter the tuk tuk drivers down. The standard rate is 30 baht pp for a journey within the city. If they try and charge you over 80 baht for a journey, you’re paying too much.
  • Save money at the markets! The food is so good you don’t want to miss out.
  • Remember that your hostel staff will all be working to promote certain excursion companies, but these might not be the best for you. Do your own research beforehand so you are getting the best deal/experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Bangkok

After what was approximately a 22 hour door-to-door journey, we finally arrived in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. Once we had passed through immigration control, we got a taxi to our accommodation. The journey takes roughly 30 minutes to get from the airport to the city centre. A dedicated taxi service is ran by the airport and the taxi’s work on a metre, so you don’t have to worry about being ripped off.  A four-seater taxi to the Khao San Road area costs around 500 baht (£11.50). All you have to do is collect a ticket from the machine outside the taxi stand and you’ll have one with you within a few minutes.

Based on our experience, we’ve included some recommendations below on what to do, where to eat/drink and where to stay, as well as a budget guide. Whilst there’s lots to see and do in Bangkok, we advise you would need no longer than three days in the capital – any longer than that and you’ll probably be craving a change of scenery and a move away from the stench of the sewers – which by the way, we’re afraid to say you don’t really get used to.

What to do

Bangkok is renowned for its elaborate temples, such as the sacred Wat Phra Kaew Temple, Wat Pho (also known as the ‘Big Buddha temple’) and Wat Arun. One thing Bangkok isn’t short of is tuk tuk drivers, and it won’t be long until you’re approached by three at once all offering to take you round the city for as little as 10 baht each (about 25p) where they will wait for you to explore the sights and bring you back. Their fuel is paid for in coupons by the government, however this does mean you will probably have to stop off at various shops on the way (don’t worry, you aren’t inclined to buy anything, just have a walk around and politely move on.)

Another place on your tourist hitlist has to be the spectacular Grand Palace! Located at the heart of Bangkok, the Grand Palace was once home to King Rama I to King Rama V of the Rattanakosin Kingdom, now mainly used for hosting royal ceremonies, aside from becoming a tourist attraction. Tourists can visit the Grand Palace for an entrance fee of 500 baht (around £11.50 at today’s rate), but remember to dress appropriately; shoulders and knees covered. As the country are still in mourning over the late King Rama IX, they also advise you to dress in black or white to show your condolences.

We’ll be visiting together with Scott’s family when they fly over to Thailand for Christmas. We also plan to visit the ‘Floating Markets’ during our next trip to Bangkok. Here you can see how the locals sell their produce on the water, despite many of the buyers being tourists now, they’re reminiscent of a time when water transport was key to trade. There are actually more than 5 floating markets in Bangkok, the best known being Damnoen Saduak – just be prepared for an early start as many are at least an hour’s drive outside the city centre. For a more authentic market closer to the city, visit Taling Chan Floating Market, which is said to be far more genuine than the bigger, more famous markets.

Finally, Bangkok is world-famous for its vibrant street life. Whilst there are an array of rooftop bars and nightclubs, if you’re a backpacker you simply must head to Khao San Road – you won’t be able to miss it. Khao San is just a whole new level of crazy – at every turn there’s somebody trying to sell you a fried scorpion, a three-piece suit, or a collection of bracelets adorned with a list of X-rated phrases (you can use your imagination, but let’s just say they wouldn’t make a good souvenir for your Mum).

At night, the streets are jam-packed with restaurants turned bars blasting EDM and techno, with vodka and SangSom buckets pushed towards you at every opportunity. For those who don’t know, SangSom is a lethal Thai rum which is pretty much guaranteed to leave you in a sorry state the next day. We recommend ‘9 bar’ for cheap buckets which we visited on both our nights in Bangkok, where the DJ had an uncanny resemblance of Steve Aoki (dubbed Steve Thaioki by Jess). Unfortunately, our first night in Bangkok was cut short at midnight as, unbeknown to us, it was the Buddhist holy day. There are a number of national holidays in Thailand where the public sale of alcohol is restricted, so you may want to research this before you go.

Where to eat

Admittedly, we didn’t leave Khao San Road for food, however we had a really great lunch at Superflow, just a few doors down from the D and D. We both ordered pad thai and it was delicious. Good value for money and the restaurant itself is lovely. You always know you’re on to a winner when the locals are eating there too!

Whilst a lot of tourists can be wary of street food – and rightly so in some places – we really recommend you try some whilst you’re here. Personally, we didn’t have any bad experiences. A lot of street food stands now have good seated areas and sell alcohol, so it doesn’t feel much different to many of the restaurants, but you’re eating at less than half the price. We recommend the stall outside Rakka Inn on Khao San Road – good portion sizes and really tasty!

Where to stay

We highly recommend staying at the D and D Inn for anyone who is planning on visiting Bangkok, which is conveniently located right in the centre of Khao San Road, meaning you’re only a stones throw from your bed after a night out. You can get a private double room with an ensuite, air conditioning, television, hairdryer and fridge for approximately £24 a night (£12 each for two people). We think it’s really great value for money and it also has an amazing rooftop pool and bar, which we took full advantage of during our stay!

Recommended budget

Your budget for Bangkok really depends on whether you’re a shoestring backpacker or whether you’re visiting Thailand for a few weeks as more of a holiday. If you’re travelling on a tight budget, you can eat well on 200 baht a day (approximately £5) if you’re happy to live off 7/11 toasties and street food, but even by eating in restaurants you shouldn’t spend more than 500 baht (approximately £11.50). The sightseeing is pretty much free, with the exception of the Grand Palace which is 500 baht admission. The rest of your money is left for alcohol, so what you spend after this really depends on how much you want to drink; a bucket on Khao San Road starts at 150 baht (about £3.50), whereas prices for beer range from 70-120 baht depending on the size (£1.60-£2.80 roughly). Personally, if you’re staying in budget accommodation and eating mainly street food/in cheap restaurants, we feel you can get by on £30 a day, including much of the sightseeing you may wish to do, and a night on Khao San Road.

Any other tips

If you’re arriving into Bangkok, this is probably your first destination, so you might not be fully accustomed to the ‘bum gun’ / not flushing your toilet paper yet – the majority of Asia hasn’t reached the dizzy heights of modern plumbing that many of us are used to. Don’t forget this like we did upon arriving and block the toilet, it isn’t so pretty the day after a night on Khao San!

 

 

 

Manchester to Bangkok

3rd October 2017

We’re finally off!! It’s felt like a lifetime since we booked our first flight until now – we’ve both worked long, gruelling hours in multiple jobs, to save enough money so that we can complete our whole trip across Asia, Australia and the US without having to work along the way. It’s always been something that we’ve both wanted to do, but we were unsure as to whether we should book it all independently in advance, go through a travel agency, or book a one-way flight and see where it took us. We already had a rough idea of where we wanted to go, so decided to make the most of cheap flights and book the main components of our route in advance.

We went to STA travel first in the hope of paying a deposit for a set route with them that fit with our plan, however we were quoted £3000 each for a flight plan that wasn’t very flexible and didn’t include many short haul flights which we knew we would have to take and book ourselves on top of this. Having already done some research, we were sure we could find the flights cheaper on our own. After then being quoted approximately £16,000 each for flights and spends, we decided to go ahead and do it ourselves, which seems to have been the right decision for us.

We booked our first flight out as early as January, gradually booking further flights each monthly payday, searching the Internet to get the best deals (hopefully). As we are about to set off, here are the flights we have booked up to now:

  • Manchester – Bangkok, £265
  • Bangkok – Chiang Mai, £28
  • Chiang Mai – Bangkok – Siem Reap (Cambodia), £28
  • Cambodia – Vietnam – Laos, travel via coach (prices included in individual blog posts)
  • Laos – Bangkok – Mandalay (Myanmar), £80
  • Yangon – Bangkok £50
  • Bangkok – Krabi, £40
  • Krabi – Kuala Lumpur, £45
  • Kuala Lumpur – Singapore, £35
  • Singapore – Cebu (Phillipines), £80
  • Philippines – Bali, £96
  • Bali – Perth, £80
  • Perth – Melbourne, £90
  • Sydney – Hawaii, £260
  • Hawaii – LA, £240

The total for our flights up to now is £1419 per person, which considering not only the amount of flights, but also the distance covered, seems to be a good price in comparison to previous quotes. Including internal flights in the United States, plus our intended flight from New York to Manchester at the end of our trip, our total flight cost should come in at around £2000, straight away saving us at least an extra £1,000 each through booking it all ourselves.

We mainly used SkyScanner, but also booked directly through airlines as it was slightly cheaper in some cases. We also often found much cheaper options through Google Flights – just something to bear in mind when booking your next flight. The only thing that can sometimes sting you is the baggage. Some of our flights in Asia may have only cost us £16, but the baggage on top can nearly cost you just as much – still ridiculously cheap though.

We will be writing a post for each place we visit, starting with Bangkok.