Anushka's Travellin' Road

The places we see, the people we meet, and the journey we experience on our travels.

Auckland – The City of Sails

Living in Auckland for the last 16 years, I consider myself something of a native but even after sixteen years there is still so much to discover. Here are a few of my favourite places in Auckland:

 

Waiheke Island and Rangitoto Island 

I finally went to Rangitoto last year and climbed to the summit, after seeing its low peak along the skyline from mission bay. It’s a lovely walk and if you get a big enough group going you can get a discount on your ferry tickets over. There are a couple of caves along the track as well and it’s an easy walk you can do in an afternoon. It has little development but good walking tracks and pathways.

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Caves at Rangitoto

Waikheke Island actually has residents on it and is famous for its wineries, little boutiques and quaint island lifestyle. Many people commute on the ferry to the city for work every day. It is pretty developed and you can spend the day doing one of the many bush walks or going wine tasting.

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Waiheke Island

 

Beaches 

Popular beaches in Auckland within 15 minutes from the city would be Mission Bay, St Heliers and Devonport. There are many restaurants along the waterfront, boats in the harbour, and play areas for the kids if that is what you’re looking for.

Some popular restaurants and bars at Misson Bay include Portofino, Dos Amigos, Belgian Beer Café and Movenpick if you feel like an ice cream and walk along the beach.

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Mission Bay

But if you want to get out of the city and go back to the basics a bit you could check out Shakespeare Beach, Long Bay beach, Tawhranui Beach and cockle bay. As its namesake suggests, you can also pick cockles at Cockle Bay as the tide goes out although there is a restriction per person which has heavy penalties if violated.

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Goat Island

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Tawharanui Beach

 

Bush walks

Believe it or not I used to do a bit of tramping back in the day. I never realised until I left New Zealand that ‘tramping’ is a very Kiwi word. You might say hiking or trekking instead. The Waitakere ranges and Hunua ranges are popular places to go tramping in the bush that are easy to get to and quite close to cities. There are walking tracks graded different levels based on difficulty and a few cabins that can be booked in advance if you don’t fancy yourself sleeping in a tent.

 




I haven’t done the Tongariro Crossing myself but I’ve heard it’s a good place to start if you’ve never been tramping before. My first ever tramp was an easy one along the Waimai Ranges with 6 river crossings each way. We slept on the deck of our cabin overnight as it had been double booked and luckily because it was summer it was a lovely night sleeping under the stars, spotting possums in the dark.

 

Food 

There is a lot of multicultural food options in Auckland as it’s the largest city in New Zealand and the one that most immigrants have chosen to live in. The thing I like about New Zealand is that each suburb has its little hub with shops and cafes that exists quite separately. You can have your local pub/ café/ dairy (that’s kiwi for 7-eleven or corner store).

 

Some areas that have a lot of eating options generally are Mt Eden Village, Parnell shops, Mission Bay, Ponsonby Road, and of course the city centre. If you’re looking for specific restaurants, some of my favourites are:

  • Nice Restaurants: Monsoon Poon, Wildfire, Elliot Stables, Orleans, Mexico
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Prawns at Orleans

  • Cheap food (burgers etc): Velvet burger, White Lady Diner, Sal’s New York Pizza
  • Popular but imo overpriced restaurants: Circus Circus
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Circus Circus

 

Belgian Beer Cafe

Belgian Beer Cafe

  • Bars: Cassette nine, The Occidental Belgian Beer Café, Mexican Café, Ostro, Britomart Country Club, 1885
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Britomart

  • Dessert: Milse, Milk Moustache Cookie Bar
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Milk Moustache and Cookie Bar

History 

With a written history that is only a couple of centuries old, New Zealand has succeed in presenting it extremely well though its embracing of Maori arts and culture. The Auckland Museum (donation entry) has a Wharenui within it which is a Maori Meeting house, where you can sign up for the Maori Cultural performance, and view the wall panel carvings of their ancestors spirits.

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Auckland Museum

As children, we were taught Maori songs, colours and numbers in school and there is a growing emphasis on speaking the Maori language and keeping it alive.

The University of Auckland also contains heritage buildings that have an interesting history as well as the nearby Symonds Street Cemetery, the object of my Year 12 History assignment, which houses the remains of some of Auckland’s founding fathers.

 

Markets

Avondale Market: Fresh Fruit and vegs, carnival games, second hand clothes

Pakuranga Night markets: Food carts, knick knacks

St Heliers Craft Market: Handmade crafts, soaps

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Pakuranga Night Markets

 

Wider Horizons

Sunday 13th November

Travel widens your horizons, it gives you hopes you may not have had before. Each person opens up a new perspective with their stories and pasts. With travel I have dared to dream of ideals not considered by my ancestors. I have dared to wait for more.

I’ve met people who love to talk, people who don’t – people who are naturally demonstrative and people who are absentminded. I’ve had friends who were quick to be affectionate and those whose trust had to be won but were friends for life.

In all honesty there is no one thing that is better than the other – there is no one way of showing love and giving love that is the ‘right’ way. Yet I find myself increasingly gravitating towards people who act on their words. I’m not one for grand gestures, I’m a girl with simple tastes. I do not ask to be worshipped over. I do not ask to be put on a pedestal. But sometimes it’s nice to feel treasured.

After meeting guys who refuse to ever have a conversation, guys who cannot handle a rational discussion – men who have not yet conquered their tempers and think that the loudest voice wins – it makes a pleasant change to be around people who are open to talking about things and coming to an understanding. But I’ve been so pleasantly surprised – and relieved – to find that people like that do exist, that I failed to notice that the actions that followed hardly – if ever – lived up to the promises they made.

It’s all well and good coming to an agreement about something. But if you consistently fail to deliver on what you have said you would do, you might as well never have had the discussion at all. Some might say the intention is there and that’s good enough. Once, twice – sure. But not every single time.

If you love me, don’t put your money where your mouth is – just do what you say you’re going to do. I don’t need you to give me the world, I just need you to follow through and say ‘I’ve got this’ and show me you do.

I feel like a woman in a Western – from another time another era. Somehow I’ve been left behind and not a cowboy in sight.

If the mundane is too inane to commit to, then how can I trust you with the profane? This love, this life – the trust I give to you is profane in both senses of the word.

Cue: Paula Cole singing “Where is my John Wayne…..”

On the Bayou: New Orleans in a weekend!

New Orleans has been celebrated in music, food, film and is beloved by many artists – from the Herman Grima House in ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ made famous by the Animals, to the iconic yet slightly disturbing movie ‘Pretty Baby’ starring a young Brooke Shields as a 12 year old prostitute in the Storyville, the Red-light district in New Orleans in 1917. A weekend in New Orleans gave me glimpses of his colourful history, flavourful food and the creole and Hispanic influences on its spiritual quirks and beliefs.

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Lafayette

Rum Tasting

Before arriving in New Orleans on our Top Deck tour, we spent a night in Lafayette and stopped at the Bayou Rum Distillery on the Mississippi. The whole thing reminded me of the Little House on the prairie or How the West was won or one of those cliché American feel good stories. Turns out rum is made from molasses, and after tasting some of that good old molasses rum I turned into a passed-out mess. I was so conked out that I only woke up when my friend Ellie woke me up when our bus engine caught on fire and we thought we’d have to get off the bus. Warning to those uninitiated in rum tasting – cancel all plans for the next couple of hours and find yourself a spot to sleep it off!

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Rum Factory

Son of a gun we’re gonna have fun on the Bayou

One of the songs of my childhood was Jambalya by Hank Williams. I still know all the words and it’s the first thing I thought off driving into the swampy Missisippi land. Like the song proclaims, one of the highlights of the bayou is its food – “Jambalaya and a crawfish pie, filet gumbo. Cos tonight I’m gonna see my cher amio”. With high expectations, the Cajun dinner at Pieros in Lafayette did not fail to please.

 

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Eating gumbo in New Orleans

I tried the chicken and sausage gumbo, and crawfish etoufee with rice and popcorn shrimp. It was rich and flavourful and so different from the food you would typically get in the states. I felt a little like Scarlett O’hara on her honeymoon, pointing at plates of food with eyes bigger than my stomach.

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Avery Island Tabasco Factory

The next day we drove to Avery Island Tabasco Factory and saw a video of how they make it which is pretty cheesy just warning you. They have a cool shop where you can try different types of tobacco sauce with pretzels. There were at least twelve different types and also the collectable coins that are unique in each location that you can get all over America and famous places.

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Tabasco Tasting

Swamp Tour

Before driving into New Orleans we did a Swamp Tour at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park which was pretty cool. I got to hold a baby alligator and got some good photos of wildlife and freaky bugs. The swamp was a site of many movies such as the Paperboy I’m pretty sure.

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New Orleans

The House of the Rising Sun

I grew up listening to the house of the rising sun and it was only when I got to New Orleans and bored over a tourist map of points of interest that I realised that it was an actual house in New Orleans, with one of the possible locations being the white house beside the Herman Grima House on Louis Street.

 

 

It’s a beautifully haunting song and when I was looking for it, I met a man who was working at the bar across the road, who came outside and offered to take the photo for me. It was a strange moment and one of those moments you have when you’re travelling that you will always remember. It was a moment charged with chemistry. My skin felt static. I can’t help thinking that it had something to do with that house, that place, the history it has seen unfolding.

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Bourbon Street

We had an amazing night walking around bourbon Street and loved the attention and the music and the way people compliment you so openly. You can buy frozen daiquiris in a small bucket, hawkers selling bead chains on the streets and promoters enticing tourists into their bars. If you love live music, southern hospitality and country wholesomeness – New Orleans will not disappoint. You can buy jelly shots and inject them into your mouth, the girls serving drinks will pour shots into your mouth from their mouth. I finished the night at a Jazz bar that made me feel like I was freakin Nina Simone.

 

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Free Walking Tour

 

I did a free walking historic tour around New Orleans that I thought was pretty good. It went over the history of several iconic buildings around a few blocks by the waterfront, through Jackson Square and points out places of interest in the French Quarter. They meet at 9.30am and its first come first served so make sure you get in early. There are other walking tours such as French Quarter tours, Voodoo Tours and Ghost tours. Lots of things to do depending on your interest!

 

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Café Du Monde

 

I tried the famous Beignets from Café Du Monde which is an institution in itself and it was as good as it claimed to be. So yum and sugary I had a film of soft white sugar dusting all over my face and my shorts like I was a cupcake sitting on a wire rack being frosted.

 

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Marie Laveau Voodoo Museum

 

I also went to the Marie Laveau Voodoo Museum which was a bit of a disappointment. Marie Laveau and her daughter with the same name were well known voodoo practitioners. The mother was known as the Witch Queen of New Orleans and was talented at finding out information about her wealthy patrons from their servants by paying them or mysteriously ‘curing’ them. The museum was a collection spanning three tiny rooms that were cluttered with random bric a brac stuff to do with her life and displayed in a vaguely spooky voodoo themed setting with dim red halogen lights. It was interesting but I think I prefer my museums a little less claustrophobic.

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Frenchman Street

Went to Frenchman Street with some cool bars that was a bit less congested than Bourbon Street. I also went to a market nearby and had a look around. On the whole Bourbon Street was a lot better and a nice place to end the night if anything. I literally ended up stopping traffic on the way home – like actually trying to direct cars. I would advise that you do not try this at home.

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The best things I liked about New Orleans were its flavourful food, its colourful quaint little houses and its vibrant live music and nightlife. New Orleans is like a kaleidoscope of east meets west meets west indies meets creole meets African meets spiritual hedonism. Its strength is in its otherness and that’s ultimately what sets it apart from the rest of the states.

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The coastal city of Mangalore, Karnataka

As a child I spent many school holidays in Bangalore and Mangalore visiting family. While I hated the compulsory naps I was forced to take, I couldn’t wait for the ice-cream, trips to the beach and seeing family. Sixteen years later, I still feel the same way about Mangalore (or Manguluru if you want to be pedantic), except I’m quite happy to take afternoon naps now. Mangalore has changed tremendously over the last two decades and is almost unrecognizable to ex-pats who return after 20 years.

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Women working in the rice (paddy) fields

A sleepy coastal city, the construction of huge shopping malls has changed the skyline and the way that families and young people spend their money and time, as has technology. Where sixteen years ago I was still ‘dialing’ numbers on an old-fashioned landline, now even the fisherwoman at the local market has a smartphone and will whatsapp her regular customers with pictures of the fish on sale.

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Fish we bought from the market

 

Beaches

The Beaches in Mangalore are not as popular with locals as you might imagine, which means it isn’t full of annoying tourists! An early morning walk on the beach is lovely, with fisherman bringing in their spoils – you might even be able to buy it straight from them at a lower price. Like any tropical beach, there are plenty of coconut trees, mangroves, stalls selling ice cream, mangoes, coconut water. Watch your belongings, unlike beaches in a Western country I would not leave my things unattended on the beach and go for a swim. Popular beaches include Panambur Beach, Ullal Beach and Sasihitulu Beach. If you want to go for a walk in the evening and see the sunset, Sultan Battery is a nice evening walk with a great view of the sun setting over the river.

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Sunset at Sultan Battery

Food

With plenty of beaches naturally comes fresh seafood! Mangalorean food includes south Indian specialities like fried fish, kubes (cockles) cooked in desiccated coconut, prawn and spinach curry, pumpkin with coconut, cabbage with coconut…basically everything is cooked with coconut.

You can try Mangalorean food at some of these places:

 

Ocean Pearl

I haven’t been to Ocean Pearl myself but it is rated #16 out of 299 on Trip Advisor and is raved about for its crabs and prawns so you couldn’t go wrong there. Not sure about the pricing but it looks like it’s got great ambience so factor this into the menu.

 

Froth on Top

Froth on top is on the corner of Arya Samaj Road and Balmatta Road as well and used to be the Post Office when my father was young. It’s now an awesome restaurant with a private room at the back for groups which cutely enough, is called The Family room. We were ushered in and it was a welcomed respite from the heat outside with air-conditioning, cold beer and cruisers (Yes I still drink Cruisers *eyeroll*). We had chicken lollipops and I think some fish and mushrooms. There’s plenty to choose from and if you want authentic Mangalorean Food I would go for the Goa Sausages and Prawn Curry.

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Cold Beer at Froth on Tap

 

Village Restaurant

I’ve been to Village a couple of times and I reckon its overpriced by Indian standards, but if you want a nice dinner and are prepared to spend more than you normally would on a dinner in India but less than you would in a Western country you could try it. Its good food, great ambience and service. I personally like the Indo-Chinese food here and it has another one of those Indian quirks where you can order soup and say 4 by 8 or 5 by 7 and the waiters know exactly that you mean divide five soups up for seven people lol.

I haven’t been in a few years though but recently went to Gaja Lee which was pretty good, the meat melted in our mouths.

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Gajalee with my Aunty

Vas Bakery

Vas Bakery is an institution in itself. Situated in a prime location at the top of Balmatta Road, its just near the intersection with Arya Samaj Road, where my paternal grandmother currently lives. I have heard my father raving about it for years. The descendants of the original family still run the bakery and over Christmas thousands of families will buy their Christmas sweets from the bakery to eat with family and distribute to friends and neighbours instead of making their own.

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Arya Samaj Road

Other Food

While in Mangalore you should try the sugar cane juice but get it in the malls where you can be sure it’s clean. If its outside, there’s a risk that flies have sat on the cut cane and you might get food poisoning (been there done that). It’s extremely refreshing and you can get flavours added to it like ginger, lemon and pepper.

Also love other snacks you can buy in the malls like paani puri and other chaats of course, and cups of corn with different flavourings like chaat masala, pepper, lemon, etc.

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Ice Cream

Yes I know Ice Cream is food (questionable – is it food or could it really be the ambrosia of the Gods?) but Ice Cream deserves its own section. I love the ice cream in Mangalore. Some might say it’s the main reason I go there. When you’re in Mangalore, you have to go to Pabba’s and try a Chocolate Dad, Gadbad, Tiramisu ice cream, American Choconut – you might as well try it all. My brother is well known at Pabbas because he goes there almost 3 times a day when he’s in Mangalore.

Another good Ice Cream place is Ideal where you can try a refreshing and delicious Tender Coconut Ice Cream.

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My brother with a Tiramisu Icecream

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Chocolate Dad at Pabbas

Churches

Mangalore has as many churches as Chiang Mai has temples – no I lie Chiang Mai has more temples but Mangalore comes pretty close. While in Mangalore check out the crowds at Milagres Church and Rosario Cathedral, and St Sebastian’s in Bendur. St Aloysius Chapel is also very beautiful with its stained glass windows.  Speaking of crowds, weddings in Mangalore are extremely extravagant with each family trying to out-do the other, inviting thousands of people they barely know. It’s a bit of a farce with people rushing between three weddings on one night because they need to make an appearance so as not to offend anyone. I’m quite happy to go to weddings usually but the increase in speeches, traditional ceremonies and decrease in dancing in weddings in Mangalore have made me quite put off weddings to be honest. And that’s saying something, when your resident Wedding enthusiast cannot bear the thought of sitting through a 40-minute speech at a reception.

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Aloysius College Chapel

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Urwa Church

Culture

Ruled by the Portuguese in the 1500’s, there is a strong Catholic presence in Goa and Mangalore with European influences that can be seen in the churches, songs in the Konkani language, the western attire of Catholic women, and consumption of beef and pork. While Goa is a lot more liberal, Mangalore still holds onto a traditional conservatism. Culturally, Mangalore is steeped in rigid family values with a strong religious focus. Even in the last decade, there have been public riots against modernisation. I guess as with any new place you go to, it’s important to respect local customs and behave as locals do. For example, public demonstrations of affection, women drinking in a bar and wearing revealing clothes may be acceptable in other cities in India but are frowned upon in many areas of Mangalore and may result in harsher consequences.

In the end, a trip to Mangalore is for me always a chance to see hear stories from my parents about their childhood and see the places where my dad grew up. I have many fond memories of climbing coconut trees on the beaches as a child and walking on the river bed in rural Mangalore. I hope you form your own memories and that they are pleasant ones.

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A traditional washing stone and my brother looking into the well

 

Chiang Mai – The Walled City

The walled city of Chiang Mai is a subtle balance of quiet tree-lined streets dotted with temples and tiny shops selling hot meals and massages, and the hustle and bustle of night markets almost every evening of the week and the flower sellers at Warowat Market.

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The city walls of Chiang Mai

Night Markets

 

While Chiang Rai attracts many tourists who want to see the Golden Triangle and learn of the opium trade in the area, Chiang Mai is a lovely quieter alternative with its charming ‘Gates’ leading in and out of the walled city centre. I stayed just outside the Chiang Mai gate and spent my first night in Chiang Mai at the Chiang Mai Gate night market where street vendors sell colourful woven bags and clothes, trinkets like bracelets and dream catchers, and hot food and fruit shakes. The market extends all the way down the street and it’s impossible to see the end of it which can be overwhelming at first.

 

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Eating a giant waterbug dscf3300

 

Feeling adventurous I decided to try some fried insects which were 10 baht for a bag of each type. Not really inclined to eat an entire bag of fried waterbugs or bamboo worms, I asked if I could get a selection of each one for 10 baht and tried a waterbug, couple of bamboo worms, and a couple of other insects. I asked a Spanish couple nearby to take a photo of me eating them and the girl asked if she could try one since she’d watched me stomach them without batting an eyelid. She promptly gagged and ran into a nearby alleyway to throw up and I felt terrible but ran into them at another market the next day and we became fast friends.

 

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I bought a pair of these shorts for 100 Baht which was roughly $8 AUD at the time

 

Lady Boy shows

 

I later met up with the group I was travelling with on a G Adventures Tour and we went to dinner at another market where there was a mix of relaxed bars and restaurants and stalls selling food. I had a delicious laksa and then explored the market where locals were selling beautiful hand-crafted wooden toys and homeware. Beware that if you show interest in an item and pick it up, persistent stall owners will keep trying to haggle with you and reach a price that will convince you to buy it even if you say you’re not interested. I had a few yelling after me even after I walked 20 metres away and tried to lose myself in a crowd. The night markets are also a good chance to sit in a Fish Spa but be warned its extremely ticklish. I have seen grown men laughing uncontrollably with tears in their eyes which was pretty entertaining.

 




Afterwards we went to a Lady Boy show that was very reasonably priced with the ticket including a free drink. It wasn’t as explicit as I imagined it would be but the performers were all beautifully done up with jewelled sequins, tassels and winged with bright lurid green feather wings like in Carnival or the Mardi Gras. Favourite performances of the night were probably One Man. One Woman, Lady Marmalade and Don’t cry for me Argentina.

 

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Temples

 

There is a lot to do in Chiang Mai and many temples are within walkable distance. You can easily spend a day taking in the culture and history from the three museums in close vicinity of each other and temples that are so common on the streets of Chiang Mai they soon fail to stir that first sense of wonder at the architecture and beauty of their design. In fact, you will soon get ‘templed out’. To avoid this I would suggest exploring the Northern and Eastern gates which offer a different flavour of the city. It’s almost like leaving the walled city of Minas Tirith and finding that the rest of Middle Earth looks similar, but still different.

 

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Culture and Massages

 

Another popular way to experience local culture is attending the Kantoke dance performance with traditional northern Thailand food. The performances are varied and sometimes interactive…don’t be surprised if the dancers grab members of the audience and encourage them to dance with them on stage!

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Kantoke Dancers

For those of you wishing to explore other areas of the city, you can walk through Thai Pae gate down the main road just in front of it to Warowat market where there is a huge indoor market with clothes, shoes, and other artifacts and outdoor market with flowers and food by the river. You can also get very reasonably priced foot massages, thai full body massages and oil massages which was interesting. The price of massages is a lot cheaper in Chiang Mai than it is in Bangkok so this is a good chance to get one. I got a Thai massage the first time and I have never been in so much pain. It amazes me that such a tiny woman could bend me backwards over her and crack my back, putting all her weight on the exact part of my hip that would make me cry…yet somehow it’s kinda good. Extremely masochistic form of relaxing the body if you ask me. The oil massages are much more enjoyable but be prepared to get fully naked.

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Flowers at Warowat market

 

Other nearby sites

 

There are many interesting places close to Chiang Mai such as the Doi Suthep Temple which is called Wat Phra That. Its one of Thailand’s most sacred cities and overlooks the city from a great height. One of the interesting things you can do there is shake a box that has numbered sticks in it. The first stick to fall out dictates your future based on the number on the stick according to Buddhist belief. Each number has a prescribed future that relates to it. It is said that a white elephant bearing the bones/ relic of Buddha climbed to the top of Doi Suthep and then dropped dead, resulting in the site being declared holy and the temple was built. While at Doi Suthep, watch out for the adorable little Thai girls in traditional costumes eager to take photos with you. The adults watching they will charge you for the photos and the girls have recently been suspected to be young pick pockets.

 

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Little girls taking photos with tourists at the base of Wat Phra That

 

On the way to Doi Suthep you can stop at a café and rest stop called Cabbages and Condoms which sells junk food, water, necessities and condoms. The restaurant has beautiful gardens and the entire place is condom themed. It was started to encourage people to talk about sex, contraception and other issues that are taboo in Asian culture like STIs. The idea is that condoms should be as readily available as vegetables like cabbages and there should be no stigma attached. It’s a great concept and the restaurant itself is a must see with lampshades, lights, wedding dresses and costumes, all made out of condoms. Once you notice them you will see them everywhere!

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And if you’re travelling back to Bangkok you can get the overnight train from Chiang Mai and experience regional travel like a local! You will arrive at Hua Lampong in the early morning and save the daytime for more sightseeing. If you’re looking for things to do in Bangkok check out my post on One day in Bangkok.

 

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On the night train to Bangkok

One Day in Bangkok. Warning: For fast-paced travellers only!

Early morning in the backstreets of Bangkok

 

Pak Khlong Talad, a huge flower market in the middle of Bangkok, is filled with the smell of exotic flowers. Buckets of bright roses are crammed onto the tables and succulents, cacti and orchids line the footpaths where tiny Thai women with furrowed brows and toothless smiles nod their heads as they string garlands of marigold and jasmine. Unlike in India there are also covered areas inside where the flowers fade into food and fresh fish is sold from baskets and steel vessels. Women leave their stalls halfway through their early morning shift and gather together for a Zumba class to what I can only imagine is Thai pop music.

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One of the many stalls selling bags of freshly cut fruit such as Mango and Dragon Fruit

Walking along the flower market, you can make your way slowly to Sanam Luang, a large oval ground close to the Grand Palace. Along the way you can buy snacks or drinks from any of the shops and stalls starting to open early selling chicken kebabs and cocktail sausages on skewers. Whilst locals from smaller cities are happy to help, my experience at least was that locals in Bangkok were not as welcoming and did not have the time to help me with directions.

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Local people setting up their stalls in the early morning at the markets

I suppose that is true of all busy cities though. By and large, older men were much more willing to pore over my well-marked tourist map and point me in the right direction than young Thai people who seemed insulted that I knew absolutely no Thai. In hindsight, having a few words and phrases in the national language handy goes a long way in encouraging someone to help you. Once you get closer to Sanam Luang you’ll find that there are many signposts for tourist attractions in English, with tourist maps showing all the nearby attractions and walking times. I managed to find my way around Bangkok with a tourist map and street signs, without phone data. Walking is truly the best way to get to know the city.

 

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Backstreets of Bangkok

Sanam Luang and surrounding Temples

Following Sanam Chai road, you’ll soon find yourself at Wat Mahathat. Built in the 1700s, the Wat’s wihan and bot were both rebuilt between 1844 and 1851. A distinctive feature is the mondop that has a cruciform roof, which is rarely found in Bangkok. Close by is the National Museum and Buddhaisawan Chapel where you can see the 15th Century Phra Buddha Sihing, one of the most venerated Buddha images in Thailand after the Emerald Buddha. The chapel is famous for its paintings depicting the life of Buddha which are the oldest murals in Bangkok. The National Museum has some amazing royal funeral chariots and gilded teak chariots. Some of which are at the Royal Barge Museum near Wat Arun if you want to see more when on the other side of the Chao Phraya River. Continuing along Sanam Luang, is the National Gallery on Chao Fa Road which was established in 1977. It contains modern Thai and International art. Although it was featured in many of the tourist guides to Thailand I thought it was passable but if you are interested in modern Thai art its right at the top of Sanam Luang so it’s easy to make a quick stop.

 

From backpacker district to the Golden Mount

Retracing my footsteps at the North end of Sanam Luang, I walked up past Khao San Road, the famous backpacker district where travellers live in budget accommodation with cheap beer and street food making it a lively magnet for young tourists at night, to Wat Bowonniwet on 248 Phra Sumen Road. Hidden in quiet tree filled grounds, this temple is known for its Chinese influence. It’s a little bit hard to find but I think definitely worth it. Back on Maha Chai road, I walked past the Democracy monument designed by Silpa Birasi, an Italian Sculptor and went to Wat Rachanadda, a huge temple that pretty much exhausted me. Its best known for Loha Prasat, a multi-tiered temple with 37 spires symbolising the 37 qualities one must attain before enlightenment.

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The vast grounds of Wat Rachanadda

If you’re following this plan you’re probably dehydrated by this point so I’d suggest buying some fresh bags of fruit like mango and dragon fruit from the vendors on the street. They’re about 15 – 30 baht and so refreshing. Chicken skewers are about the same price and if you’re feeling adventurous you can try some of the dubious looking shrimp ball skewers and the sausage on a stick. Walking through the Wat Rachanadda along the road, I crossed a tiny river to Wat Saket and the Golden Mount. Built by Rama I in the late 18th Century, it is one of the oldest temples in Bangkok. It was rebuilt to create the mythical Mount Meru seen today. The artificial hill is topped with a golden tower within the grounds. Along the way are manmade waterfalls that look somewhat like a grotto in a church, with statues of Buddha that locals venerate. I couldn’t find the Monks bowl village, I will leave that for another trip but if you have time I could encourage you to go there. If you keep walking along Bamrung Muang road you will find yourself at a busy intersection. Ask the policemen patrolling the area if you need help to cross as it is a junction of five main roads. From there you can continue on to Wat Suthat and the Giang Swing. Banmrung Muang Road was one of Thailand’s first paved roads. Along the road are shops selling religious paraphernalia, monks robes and Buddha images.

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At the top of the Golden Mount

 

The Giant Swing, Museums…and you guessed it even more Temples!

Wat Suthat has the largest wihan in Bangkok. The central Buddha is 26 feet high, one of the largest surviving Sukhothai Bronzes. The teak doors to the wihaan are carved in five delicate layers and stand 18 feet high. The cloister around the outside of the wihaan is lined with 156 golden Buddha images. The square in front of Wat Suthat used to feature the giant swing, that were originally used for a Brahmin ceremony.

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Giant Buddha at Wat Suthat

If you’re not too tired, you can explore Wat Rachabophit on Fuang Nakhon Road. It blends east and west styles of architecture as construction began under King Chulalongkom, the boy prince in the movie The King and I. The whole complex is decorated with porcelain tiles, the focal point is the central Sri Lankan style chedi. It is an unusual layout for a Thai wat. Next I went to Wat Rachapradit on Saran Rom Road and then the Museum of Siam which was a cool relief from the hot humid day. It had great interactive exhibits about Thai history and culture. The building was designed by Milanese Mario Tamagno.

Time for a massage for those aching feet…

This is where I called it a day by 3pm and decided to go Silom Market and get a foot massage and check out MBK Mall but for those of you who want to power through and keep sightseeing there is plenty more to see. You can easily spend the afternoon at the air-conditioned malls in Siam Square or MBK Mall. In the evening you can explore the Patpong markets on Silom Road and checking out the local karaoke, food stalls with an entire rice and curry/stew meals for 20baht.

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Food Stall at the Patpong Night Markets on Silom Road

A nice way to end the day is a visit a fish spa where fish will eat the dead skin off your feet. You could also go for a lady-boy show at the markets which you should experience before you leave Thailand. If you do decide to continue on, check out my post on the other attractions in Bangkok! There is plenty to see in this bustling city.

Bangkok: Same same but different!

 

There is so much to see in Bangkok I wouldn’t know where to begin. If you want to read about my crazy first day in Bangkok check out my post One day in Bangkok: For Fast-paced travellers only!. It was a hard first day and I was exhausted by the end of it as a first time solo-traveller but if you’re used to fast-paced travel, it’s a great way to see as much as possible in one day. I would recommend leaving a whole second day for the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and the Vimanmek Mansion and Museum.

 

The Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Vimanmek Mansion

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Statues at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

There is a free tour of the Grand palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha in English everyday at 10.00am, 10.30am, 1.30pm and 2.00pm. Your ticket for the Grand Palace also gets you free entry into the Royal Coin museum and Vimanmek Mansion. While you are here it is worth visiting Wat Pho next door which is the city’s oldest temple dating back to the 17th century. It is famed for its school of massage. In 1832, Rama III built the chapel of the reclining Buddha. The feet of the Buddha have striking intricate mother of pearl images on the soles of the feet and when you walk along the far wall you can drop coins into the 108 metal pots along the wall symbolising the 108 lives of Buddha before he attained Nirvana. Scenes from the Ramakein are carved into the outer base and inner doors. There are stone statutes around the wat which were used as balancing weights on the ship used to transport it over to Bangkok.

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The feet of the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

There is a free bus from Sanam Luang to the Vimanmek Mansion but you may need to ask a few different people to make sure you’re getting on the right bus as it operates as a normal local bus route. Vimanmek Mansion is a beautiful building with wooden shutters at the windows, very European. At the Vimanek mansion you can see the Support Museum, Textile museum, and the King Rama V statue after visiting the mansion itself but bear in mind that these close around 4pm so you will need to get in early.

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Vimanmek Museum

Women have to wear long skirts so I had to buy a sarong for 50 baht which was really annoying since I was already fully covered. I would recommend carrying a cheap sarong that is light rather than buying the thick tablecloth they sold me. The museum was really well done though and there was an audio guide for the whole museum. After that you could either take the bus to Siam Square or walk to the BTS and get a sky train to Siam square. Siam Square has lots of high-end shops and also laneways that have tiny stalls and cheap clothes. Don’t be surprised if shop ladies dress you and do up the buttons right to the top and lift it over your head like you’re a child. They consider it part of their job and especially if you’re a young woman they will insist on dressing you up to push the sale.

 

Wat Benchamabopit and Lumpinee Park

 

Alternatively you can go to Wat Benchamabopit which is a marble temple with a traditional Thai Roof. Not much to see inside the temple but it looks amazing glittering in the sun from outside. If you continue along this road you can walk past Chitralada Palace, the residence of the King and Queen. You can’t see much from the outside though so I would give this a skip and take a bus to the Victory Monument from Ratchawithi Road. On this note, getting a train in Thailand is a lot easier than a bus because there are clearly marked train routes and maps, stations are also clearly marked with signs in English saying which stop it is. The buses are a whole other story. I was lost coming back from Wat Arun and spent about three hours getting the wrong buses all over to the other side of the river. Stick to the train as far as possible. The bus from Ratchawithi Road to the Victory monument is pretty clear as it’s just a straight road. Around the victory monument are several shops and stalls, I bought lunch at one for 35 baht. You can then take a bus back to Silom Station and spend the evening at Lumpinee Park – or if you want to go a bit further out of the city, to Chatuchak Park. If you’re in Thailand during mid-January you might just see the Thai festival at Lumpinee park where there are Thai pop songs, lady-boys, plays and food stalls. Regardless of when you travel to Bangkok, Lumpinee Park is a delight in the mornings, with people jogging through the park, working out on the public exercise machines, women doing Zumba, and group Tai Chi.

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Wat Benchamabopit on a sunny day

 

Wat Arun and the Royal Barge Museum

 

Wat Arun is a bit hard to get to via public Transport. I would say the best way is to take the BTS to Saphon Thanon and then a ferry up the river for about 5 baht and another one across the river to Wat Arun. It was a steep climb to the top of the chedi which is decorated by thousands of porcelain plates. It’s called the Temple of Dawn as you can see the first light of the sun reflected off it across the river and because its namesake, the God Arjuna, is often symbolised by the rising sun. A relatively short walk away is the Royal Barge Museum which is actually within Military grounds. You will see a lot of soldiers on the way there so be careful not to trespass into Military property like I did. I thought it was a bit of a rip off but if you’re interested in the Royal Barges then go ahead and check it out. Also you’re not allowed to take any photos but I took a few sneaky ones.

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The steep climb to the top of Wat Arun

From Chinatown to the Chao Phraya River

 

From Silom Road you can walk or take the sky train to Maha Uma Devi Temple which is a popular Hindu temple in Bangkok known for its brightly coloured carvings. I tried to find the cathedral on Convent Road but I couldn’t see it so continued on to the Temple which is on the corner of Silom and Pan Roads. Tamils founded this colourful hindu temple in the 1860s. The main temple is topped by a gold plated copper dome above a 20 foot high façade depicting various hindu gods. Went to a market across the road where I spent 40 Baht on Jackfruit and Dragonfruit. You can either buy the fruit whole or buy little bags of fruit that have already been cut up for you that you can eat with a toothpick. After leaving the temple you can take the BTS Sky Train from Chonsi Station to Silom Road and take the normal train to Hua Lampong station. I would highly recommend getting a three day train pass it’s well worth it.

 

From Hua Lampong station you can walk to Wat Trimitr the temple of the Golden Buddha which is close by and then walk along Yaowarat Road and Charoen Krung Road in where you can see the General post office, Haroon Mosque, the French Embassy, The China House, Shangrila Hotel, Oriental Hotel on the banks of the Chao Praya River. Haroon Mosque is a little bit hard to find so if you do decide to go there it’s probably better earlier in the day or in the afternoon. I wouldn’t wander down the random lanes after it gets dark. Yaowarat Road has many gold and jewellery shops but I would recommend getting some local insights as to the quality of the jewellery before you buy anything.

 

A Museum that is often overlooked is the Suan Pakkad Palace. I got a BTS to Si Ayutta Road one morning and went to Suan Pakkad palace which is a teak wood museum, saw a lot on Thai history and amazing gardens.

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Suan Pakkad Teakwood Palace

There are still many things I did not see in Bangkok like the famous cat café, Jim Thompson’s historic house, and Muay Thai Boxing which is right next to Lumpinee Park. With such a busy and constantly changing city, I doubt anyone could ever claim to know Bangkok like the back of their hand. Its charm is in the layering of history, the coexisting of old and new buildings side by side, its laneways and local produce, and of course the famous hospitality of its people.

 

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