Wednesday 28 December 2016

Memories of Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar

This time last year I was embarking on a two-week family holiday around Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar for my Mum's 60th birthday. Family related dramas aside, it was a pretty amazing holiday and despite visiting SE Asia back in 2010 this was an entirely different trip with lots of new memories to make.

I don't know why I've not managed to blog about it but in keeping with my Japan and South Korea post I thought it would be nice to start with a summary of my favourites moments.

1. Visiting Chiang Mai again

Chiamg Mai has always been one of my favourite Thai cities. I absolutely loved it back in 2010 so when it came to organising my family holiday to SE Asia I knew I wanted to visit again. The city is Thailand's northern capital so there's a ton of stuff to do. It's a great place for culture with lots of beautiful temples to visit as well as being great for organised activities like cooking lessons and trekking. The food is a some of the best in the country with the street food scene spanning across the entire city. Not only is the food incredible tasting but it's also super cheap. One of my fondest memories of the entire trip was our very first dinner at the night market in Chiang Mai. The five of us each ordered a plate of food and a loads of beers. The food was beyond delicious and the entire bill came to £15. Such a bargain!

The Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai are really beautiful. Covered in gold, they're colourful and impressive. They're also quite small which means it doesn't take long to have a walk around. Chiang Mai is also a great place for a cheap and amazing Thai massages. I visited the Women's Correctional Institution one afternoon for a massage. Female inmates are trained to give massages as a form of rehabilitation. This isn't a luxurious experience but the massage you receive will be an experience. A tiny lady gave me the most powerful massage I have ever experienced. My body was twisted and contorted and whilst there were a few moments of what can only be described as agony, I felt incredible afterwards. The massages cost next to nothing and at the same time you're helping less fortunate women as they try to turn their lives around. It's a really great cause.

2. Visiting the White Temple in Chiang Rai

This was something I really wanted to do when I visit Chiang Mai back in 2010 but alas we didn't have time. When it came to organising our family holiday I knew I wanted to make sure we had a day free in Chiang Mai to go on a day trip to see Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple in Chiang Rai. The temple is a contemporary, privately owned, art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple, owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed, constructed, and opened it to visitors in 1997. The temple is covered in glass and mirrors giving it the illusion that is sparkles. It looks absolutely stunning against the vivid blue sky and whilst it's swarming in visitors it really is a special place to visit. It's a long journey from Chiang Mai but definitely worth the it for the sheer uniqueness.

3. A week of luxury in Phuket

Because we were on holiday with my parents they didn't want to be on the move every few days so we decided to spend just under a week at Amari Phuket in Patong on Phuket island for some much needed beach life. I don't like Phuket, it's the biggest Thai island and has become so overrun with tourists, hotel complexes and overpriced crap restaurants that it's lost all it's charm. The town of Patong is particularly bad for this. So why did we stay here you're probably asking? Well, my parents like to play golf and Phuket has some world class courses, that with Patong being nicely situated in the middle of them all made it a no brainer that we chose this as our base. Being experienced with the seediness of Phuket from my previous trip I wanted to find a nice resort that we could stay in away from the red light district vibes of Patong but still on the beach. Say hello to Amari. The resort is located on a private stretch of beach at the southern end of Patong. The week we spent at this luxury hotel was utterly gorgeous. We stayed in the Ocean View suites which have beautiful views, the rooms are huge and supremely comfortable and because they're situated up a hill the hotel has a shuttle bus service where golf buggies whiz you about to the different parts of the hotel. It was such a treat to stay here and because I am usually go go go on holiday I used this week to completely chill out. Reading by the pool. taking boat trips to nearby beaches and jumping off the pier into the bath water warm ocean, it was bliss.

4. NYE in Phucket

We were in Phuket for New Year's Eve and decided to book ourselves into one of the hotel's evenings galas. There was a few to choose from and we ended up going for the restaurant at the very top of the hotel which has views over the whole of Patong, the perfect location for watching the fireworks come midnight. Whilst I was sad to not be spending the night with Steve it was really nice to enjoy the celebrations with my family. It's not often all of us (and my Uncle Tim) are in the same room so the family time was much appreciated. Despite all my reservations about Patong, the hotels sure know how to put on a great light show. Lanterns floated prettily into the sky for hours in the lead up to midnight when the whole area exploded into flames and flashes with an almighty fireworks display. It lasted for so long that by the time I'd gone back to my room to Skype Steve I could still see fireworks from my window. It really was a beautiful sight.

5. Visiting the Temples of Angkor, again

I felt very blessed the first time I visited the Temple of Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I didn't imagine I would ever seen them again, especially only five years later. But alas I could not organise a family trip to SE Asia without including this world renowned destination on the itinerary. Back in 2010 I spent three solid days visiting the temples, there are literally hundreds in the Angkor region and you would need a seriously long time to visit them all. Three days means you can see all the major temples as well as some of those harder to reach but still as impressive. I could have spent another three days visiting temples on this trip but my family are not as keen as me. We had one full day all five of us together where we visited the the most famous i.e. Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm (made famous thanks to Tomb Raider) and Bayon which is the centre piece of the Angkor Thom area. Whilst my parents played golf and sisters relaxed around the pool on our second day in Siem Reap I went on a little solo adventure to visit Beng Mealea, a huge temple where the jungle has run riot, 68km north-east of Siem Reap. This was a brand new temple for me, having visited the others on my previous visit. I really wanted to explore one of the distant temples. Having visited the magnificent, pink Banteay Srei in 2010 I wanted to see somewhere as impressive. Beng Mealea did not disappoint. The jungle has caused a lot of destruction at the temple making the site feel like an Indiana Jones adventure. You have to climb through crumbling brick passages and over huge entwining trees. I had a really fun couple of hours exploring the site and am so glad I made the effort to visit. It was a really long journey in the tuk-tuk but it was 100% worth it.

6. Hot air ballooning in Bagan

After our three days in Cambodia we were back on a plane to Myanmar, a country I had never visited before. In keeping with my quest to explore ancient temple sites I planned a two-night stay in the ancient city of Bagan. Bagan is a pain to reach. From Siem Reap we flew to Bangkok and picked up a second flight to Mandalay in Myanmar. From here it was a three hour drive to Bagan along a bumpy old road. The following day I experienced my favourite moment of the trip making the huge journey absolutely worth it. At sunrise we did a hot air balloon ride over the ancient city of Bagan where we could see thousands of Buddhist temples below us. The sunrise flight meant we could fly very close to the temples due to the cooler early morning temperatures, as well as experiencing an incredible sunrise. The company we used, Balloons Over Bagan, have a huge fleet on balloons and seeing them all in the air at the same time was almost as incredible a sight as the actual temples. I don't think I have ever experienced something so incredibly beautiful as this hot air balloon ride.

It was a pricey trip, costing $330 per person but if you ever get the chance to visit I cannot recommend this enough. It really was a once in a life time experience and I feel so grateful that I was able to take part. To make matters even better, once you land you get to enjoy a champagne breakfast which is quite a lot of fun.

7. Visiting the temple of Bagan, solo

After our incredible hot air balloon ride I wanted to check out the temples on foot. Of course no one else wanted to come with me so I hired someone to drive me around all day and off we went visiting the temples until it was sunset and time to go back to the hotel. Hiring a driver sounds like a pricey thing to do but in reality it cost less than £20 for an entire day. You can also hire motorbikes but lol as if I would ever do that, #blind. I told the driver what temples I wanted to see, as well as taking his suggestions, and he drove me around until I'd had enough. I can't remember the names of the temples I visited, nor can I be bothered to look them up right now but we must have visited at least 20 in that one day. Unlike the temples of Angkor, the temples of Bagan are a lot smaller with many still being actively used for worship.

Despite Bagan being the most touristy part of Myanmar the city really didn't fell overrun with people, but I can imagine that changing in the next few years as more visitors come. One of my favourite temples was seven-story Shwesandaw Pagoda which has breathtaking 360 panoramic views over the surrounding plains, it's a great place to watch sunset but it does get busy. The climb to the top is a little treacherous but the views are incredible.

8. Arun Residence in Bangkok

We only spent one night in Bangkok, Thailand, the last evening of our holiday. I wanted to visit the Grand Palace and Wat Pho so I made sure to book us a hotel nearby. Arun Residence was probably my favourite hotel on the trip. Situated on the Chaopraya River it overlooks the magnificent Wat Arun as well as being situated next door to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. My sisters and I stayed in the suite at the very top of the hotel, we had a private balcony which made the perfect place for a sunset cocktail. My parents were in the room next door which was split across two levels. The hotel is very traditional with lots of dark wood and Asian touches. Both rooms were extremely comfortable with beautiful bathrooms. We didn't eat dinner here but the bar and restaurant area, situated right on the river, were beautiful areas to hang out. The hotel is small, with only six rooms, and probably isn't ideal for a long stay as it doesn't have a pool but I could have easily spent longer than a night here. The rooms are amazing value for money which means despite you're budget you'll probably find a something to suit. Breakfast is included in the price and consists of a lovely continental spread on the deck area. Arun Residence was the perfect slice of traditional, Asian charm to finish our holiday.

9. An incredible meal at Gaggan

For our last night of holiday I wanted to book a special meal. I'd heard about Gaggan, an Indian restaurant in the heart of Bangkok that serves incredible tasting menus. I booked a table thinking we could go for a six course tasting menu. When we arrived I found out that the small testing menu isn't offered during the Christmas / New Year period so we had to go for the 20+ course tasting menu instead. I felt pretty terrible about this, my Dad was paying after all so this pretty much tripled the price of dinner. Oops! However, the food was magnificent. I've never eaten fine dining Indian cuisine before so this was an absolute treat. We were treated to small plate after small place of the most beautiful and delicious food I have tasted. The dinning room is light, crisp and not at all like the rest of Bangkok. This was most definitely an unforgettable evening and whilst I felt a little bad about not having Thai food on our final night, I changed my mind as soon as I began to eat.

10. Spending quality time with my sisters

One of the best things about this holiday was spending some much needed bonding time with my sisters. The three of us don't always see eye to eye and I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a single argument over the two weeks. But quarrels aside we had a really fun time. My parents were gone most days playing golf so we had an awful lot of time just the three of us. Apart from an odd evening here and there at home I don't spend that much time with Helen and Sarah so it really was nice having everyone to talk to for two solid weeks. At the end of the trip Helen went to Cambodia to volunteer for a couple months and now, 12 months later she's living in Bali which is quite a turn for the books. I hope she comes to visit us soon as I do miss her a lot.

Our holiday around Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar really was an incredible experience and I am ever thankful for my parents for taking us on such an amazing adventure. I don't do holidays with them any more as we like completely different things (as evidenced from this very post) but because I was given free range to plan this entire trip I managed to create an itinerary of actives that we all loved, something I was pretty pleased about. Planning a family holiday was a lot harder than I thought it would be but in the end most things went off without a glitch and we all had a great time.

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  1. Can't believe this was a year ago! The hot air balloon ride looks amazing. x

  2. Love this Han! Great read and great memories xxx


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