Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Yuanyang Rice Terraces – a Photo Blog

Yuanyang was my final stop in China, and sadly due to time constraints I only had a full day and two nights there. Yuanyang is an area, rather than an actual town or village. Buses arrive and leave from the largest (and only) town, Xinjie, and from there I took a bumpy, 30-minute minivan ride to my guesthouse in Duoyishu village.

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

The following morning I was awake unnaturally early so I could make it to the closest ‘viewing platform’ for sunrise. This, luckily, was only a ten minute walk from my guesthouse; however it was still done in darkness, through a tiny village and past several wild dogs and pet buffaloes. I made it in time but my efforts were wasted as I stood in the cold waiting for a non-existent sun to rise.

Baby Water Buffalo

Baby Water Buffalo

Realising at around this time that I had run out of money and that the nearest ATM was back in Xinjie village, I worked out the fastest walking route from Duoyishu through the rice fields – a relatively lengthy hike of five hours. The rest of my day continued as my morning started, and I found myself lost in amongst over 2,000 square kilometres of crops. The fields I wandered through were clearly not made for tourists – I battled through long grass and large spider webs, across a small (but pretty deep) river, past angry guard dogs and up and down muddy rocks, and after the first couple of hours ran out of path entirely. With only an hour left until sunset (and having been hiking for several hours longer than expected) I finally found my exit through a local village, where I was met by curious children and farming animals.

Local Girl

Local Girl

The photos below are from my utterly scary, but definitely worth it, hike (literally) through Yuanyang Rice Terraces.

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Ducks in a Row at Yuanyang

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Blue Sky over the Rice Terraces

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Market Ladies in Xinjie

Market Ladies in Xinjie

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Red Dragonfly

Red Dragonfly

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Laem Sala Beach

Hua Hin – not just a beach resort

I left Bangkok again at the beginning of August and took a train four hours south to the coastal city of Hua Hin. Hua Hin has a slightly undeserved reputation as a has-been seaside resort (some say it was Thailand’s first tourist beach spot), but I really liked it and I didn’t hit the beach once! The night market there is especially good, and there are plenty of bars and a decent nightlife scene.

Hua Hin

Hua Hin

I stayed at the south side of the city, in a gorgeous and charming boutique hotel called Baan Talay Dao Resort. Situated directly on the beach and equipped with a cool water swimming pool, the hotel was perfect for a lazy afternoon.

From here it was just a ten minute drive past small fishing area to Wat Khao Takiab, a hilltop temple that has been overrun by monkeys. Having been in Thailand for two months I still hadn’t seen any wildlife, so these temple monkeys gave me hours of excitement and photo opportunities! The temple itself wasn’t particularly special, compared to others I have visited, but the views from the top were magnificent and the food stalls surrounding it were good.

Khao Takiab Temple Monkeys

Khao Takiab Temple Monkeys

Baby Monkey

Baby Monkey

Monkey Shower

Monkey Shower

Without question the highlight of my stay in Hua Hin, and one reason alone to stay there, was a day trip to Sam Roi Yot National Park. About 60km away, the drive there is through pretty rural areas and takes approximately one and a half hours. Khao Sam Roi Yot means ‘the mountain with 300 peaks’ and it was the first established coastal national park in Thailand.

On arrival at the park entrance, located literally on the beach, I hired a private longtail boat to take me around the nearby islands and then through a small fishing village. The scenery around the mainland is made up of beautiful white, sandy beaches, forest and stunning limestone mountains. The ocean surrounding this is dotted with karst islands, and I’ve read that pods of dolphins are regularly seen (unfortunately I didn’t spot any on my visit). The fishing village was authentic, quaint and super colourful, and the locals sailing by on their boats waved as they passed my boat.

Sam Roi Yot National Park

Sam Roi Yot National Park

Bang Pu Fishing Village

Bang Pu Fishing Village

Fishermen

Fishermen

After an hour or two of exploring the waterways I was dropped just offshore of a gorgeous beach, Laem Sala, which was literally deserted. During my full day at Khao Sam Roi Yot I only saw a handful of Western tourists, and very few domestic ones too. I spent a while walking along the beach, before heading in land to enquire about visiting the most famous attraction in the park, Phra Nakhon Cave.

Laem Sala Beach

Laem Sala Beach

Laem Sala Beach

Laem Sala Beach

The cave is located a 430m climb up some rocky steps from the beach and consists of two chambers, both of which are open from the top allowing rays of light into the cave. Inside the main chamber is a pavilion, built for King Rama V, and when the sunlight catches this it gives it an amazing, mystical feel. I hired a guide to take me up to the cave, but this really wasn’t necessary. The cave is easy to find and the path leading up to it, whilst hard work to climb, is a direct route. My guide was a Burmese boy, perhaps around 8 years old, who didn’t speak any English, so as a guide he wasn’t particularly useful!

Phra Nakhon Cave

Phra Nakhon Cave

With my guide and his sister

With my guide and his sister

Phra Nakhon Cave

Phra Nakhon Cave

There are opportunities for longer trekking through the forested parts of the park, and there is accommodation (luxury hotels and gorgeous beach huts) around the beach area and just outside the park grounds. During peak travel months (November to May) a huge variety of migratory birdlife, and also wildlife including antelope, various species of langur, porcupine and deer can be seen within the National Park. Although I heard the occasional monkey call during my hike to and from the cave, I wasn’t lucky enough to see anything.

Temple Monkeys

Temple Monkeys

Luang Prabang

A post, at last

First, an apology, to my family and anyone else who has been eagerly checking my blog whilst I’ve been away and found nothing from me, other than a couple of dated Istagram photos.

My first six weeks of travelling Southeast Asia have been incredible, emotional, and rather traumatic at times, but I’ve seen and experienced so many amazing things in a short space of time that I felt ready to start writing finally. I’m currently staying on the coast of southern Thailand, about three hours from Bangkok in a small city called Rayong. With a week to waste in Bangkok waiting for my Chinese visa to be processed, I thought I’d take a mini-break to see a different area, catch up with family over skype and start sorting through the tonne of photos I’ve taken so far. I’ve splurged on a slightly nicer hotel (I have a bathtub, desk and the comfiest bed I’ve possibly ever slept in) to ‘ahem’ assist with my plans.

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I’ll start with a brief overview of where I’ve been so far, and will follow up on the highlights with further blog posts later.

Starting in Bangkok on 9th June, I spent five days in the city before heading north. I packed a fair amount into my first few days, including Wat Pho, Jim Thompson’s house, a local boat ride through the city rivers, a bicycle tour around Bangkok and into the nearby jungle, an afternoon cuddling kitties at Caturday Cafe, shopping at Chatuchak and various night markets and three separate nights out on the infamous Khao San road.

Wat Pho

Buddhas at Wat Pho

Caturday Cafe

Caturday Cafe

Bangkok market

Bangkok market

Slightly over the craziness and noise of Bangkok, I caught a night bus up to Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand. The journey was nine hours of stomach-churning, panic-inducing, sleepless hell. Being seated on the top floor of a double-decker travelling way too fast through monsoonal storms, I would recommend to anyone else that the train is a much more comfortable, and safer option! My fear was confirmed last week when I met a couple whose bus travelling the same route toppled off the road into a small river.

I love Chiang Mai. Full of friendly locals, delicious street food and a lively night scene, I happily spent over two weeks there making new friends, visiting beautiful temples and eating, a lot. My list of highlights from here is huge, but includes seeing a local football match (Chiang Mai vs Ayuthaya), getting a bamboo tattoo, visiting my favourite temple at the top of Doi Suthep and watching a ladyboy cabaret show.

Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep

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I also took two separate trips to Pai, a small hippie village set in a picturesque valley just three hours north.

Pai

Pai

After Chiang Mai I caught a local bus up to Chiang Rai and spent a day visiting the two strangest buildings I’ve ever seen. Built fairly recently by different architects, the White Temple and Black House are at opposite ends of the city, both geographically and architecturally. The Black House is full of dark objects, including animal skulls, crocodile skins and cages enclosing huge snakes and an owl. The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is beautifully designed, with mirrored glass embedded into the stonework, although work on the compound is still ongoing.

Black House, Chiang Rai

Skulls at the Black House

White Temple, Chiang Rai

The White Temple

White Temple

Hands from hell

After a rather early start to cross the border into Laos, I boarded a two-day slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, stopping overnight in Pakbeng en route. The scenery along the Mekong was stunning, but the boat was cramped and uncomfortable. Having spent seven hours on the first day packed onto a bench with no head rest or leg room, I spent the second day sat at the back of the boat with a few friends, several locals, two chickens and three freshly caught fish – a much more comfortable, and authentic experience.

Mekong River

Mekong River

Slow boat

The boat

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang Countryside

The time I spent in Luang Prabang is almost certainly my favourite part of my trip so far. I didn’t particularly love the city, although the night bazaar was outstanding, but the countryside around was stunning. Spending an afternoon at Kuang Si Falls, the 40-minute drive there was through villages surrounded by rice fields, small rivers and mountain valleys.

Luang Prabang

Sunset in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Kuang Si Falls

Kuang Si Falls

I took a two-day trek in the area just north of Luang Prabang, and spent the night in a Khmu tribe village.

Trekking in Laos

Trekking in Laos

Hmong Girl

Hmong Girl

Khmu Village

Khmu Village

After Luang Prabang I took a minibus to Vang Vieng, a small town once known only for its parties and drunken tubing. I’m proud to say that I didn’t even ride a tube down the Nam Song, and instead spent four days relaxing by the river, eating pie and mash, and shamefully watching at least two full seasons of Friends.

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng

After a short stay in Vientiane to visit the COPE centre, an extremely informative and inspirational centre established to treat victims of unexploded ordinance (UXO), I headed back to Bangkok. Taking a short train ride across the Laos/Thailand border, I then boarded an overnight train to the city.

COPE, Vientiane

COPE, Vientiane

Luang Prabang night market

Luang Prabang night market

My plans from here are to spend a few weeks on the southern islands, before flying over to China (visa-dependent, of course).

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100 Days ‘Til Summer

I have realised suddenly that the days are almost into double digits and the three-month mark is closing in. My arms will soon start to feel like a hypodermic pin cushion (one injection down; ten to go). And with inoculations, bank appointments and extra work shifts, my schedule is becoming hard to manage.

Yet it will all soon be worth it. The months of working seven-day weeks, avoiding clothes shops and getting far less sleep than I need to function will definitely soon be worth it. In 100 days, I will be fleeing the beautiful Cotswolds for an altogether more terrifying – yet enticing – destination.

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I don’t have my whole trip planned out, but here is my rough itinerary for the first few months:

Starting slowly in Bangkok, I would really like to spend a few days getting to know the city. Visiting the must-see attractions and shopping at Chatuchak market are on my list, but I also plan to wander around the suburbs and along the riverbank that makes this metropolis so accessible.
Afterwards, I plan to move north to explore Ayutthaya and Sangkhlaburi, before heading nearer the Myanmar border to see a different, more rural side of Thailand.

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Following months of long working hours and desperately needing to relax, I have promised myself a summer on the Thai islands. By July/August the Andaman coast will be well into the monsoon season, so I plan to stay on Koh Tao and spend my days hiking, eating and learning to dive – a lifetime fear of mine that I’ve challenged myself to overcome.

At the end of August, China awaits. Whilst I have a few ideas and surprises lined up, from here I plan to not plan as much.

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