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Bolivia is a landlocked country in South America that is bordered Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile and Peru.

The administrative capital (and seat of government) is La Paz. The constitutional capital is Sucre (the seat of the judiciary). While the largest city and main industrial center is Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

Before Spanish colonisation, the area that is now Bolivia was part of the Inca Empire. But in the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors took control of the region and found it to be rich in silver deposits. Spain built its empire, in large part ,upon the silver that was extracted from Bolivia’s mines.

Bolivia was named after Simón Bolivar (officially José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar Palacios Ponte y Blanco) who was a Venezuelan leader that led the majority of South America (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, and Bolivia) to independence from the Spanish Empire. Bolivia gained its independence in 1825.

Lake Titicaca is about the only thing I had heard about from Bolivia and we didn’t get near it. It is the largest lake in South America and sits high in the Andes mountains on the border of Bolivia and Peru. The western part of the lake lies within Peru while the eastern side is located in Bolivia, near La Paz.

Five major river systems feed into Lake Titicaca (Ramis, Coata, Ilave, Huancané, and Suchez) and more than 20 other smaller streams also empty into Titicaca. There are 41 islands on the lake, some of which are densely populated.

Most importantly, Lake Titicaca is the legendary birthplace of the Inca civilization, and is also believed to hold precious Inca treasure.

The other thing that I had seen about Bolivia was about the Yungas Road. This is more commonly known as death road. I had seen documentaries of cars, trucks and buses trying to navigate (and pass each other) on this stretch of road, often in pouring rain, with landslides taking place underneath vehicle tyres. All of this on the side of a cliff with inches to spare.

The steep slopes, lack of guardrails, narrow width of the road (3 meters in some places), weather conditions (rain and fog would reduce visibility), muddy terrain and loose stones made it the most dangerous road on the planet. It was infamous for its dangerous conditions and deaths. Before an alternate route was built it averaged 209 accidents with 96 deaths per year.

In July 1983, a bus fell from the Yungas Road into a canyon, killing more than one hundred passengers (I am still trying to work out how you get 100 people in a bus) in one of the worst road accidents in Bolivia. Until the mid-1990s, 2-300 drivers fell off to the cliff each year.

When it stopped being used as a vehicle road (due to the danger) it has now become a 60 km downhill mountain biking route between La Paz and the Yungas region.

Even as a cycle path, at least 18 cyclists have died on the road since 1998.

Santa Cruz de la Sierra

This mouthful translates as the Holy Cross of the Mountain Range and is the largest city in Bolivia, with a population of around 2.4 million.

The city was first founded in 1561 by Spanish explorers and remained fairly small until the mid-20th century.

But now it is the most important business center producing nearly 35% of Bolivia’s GDP, and receiving over 40% of all foreign direct investment in the country.

Our arrival here was great. We checked in to a local hostel that was right in the middle of things (restaurants, clubs and bars) and a relatively short walk (1.5 km) to the heart of town. Having arrived fairly late (and not that hungry) we settled into a local cafe for some refreshing beverages and a light snack. As it turned out our snack was quite considerable and our beverages were very refreshing.

As we finished up and returned home, a great storm hit that dumped rain for about the next 10 hours or so. So the next day we kicked back waiting for the rain to ease before starting our schlepp around the tourist sights in town. The first thing that we hit on the walk was the Parque El Arenal which is a park with a large lake, fountains, and an epic mosaic mural by artist Lorgio Vaca.

After the park I saw the local barber and decided it had been a while since I had been Manpered.

So I pulled in for a haircut and a straight razor shave.

I still highly recommend these.

Next stop was the main square (the Plaza 24 de Septiembre) which is a large square filled with plants, tall palm trees and benches. Until recently, sloths were hanging from tamarinds’ branches bordering the square. They are now in the zoo. And they had the coolest little old dudes wandering about in yellow offering to sell you a coffee.

The square is dominated at one end by the Cathedral Basilica of St. Lawrence.

The rest of the square is surrounded by government buildings and shops. There is an artisanal alley close by with very cool local handicrafts. Which i would have got some if space was not an issue. 

Plaza Calleja is a huge fizzer, billed as the centre of South America.

It is just a tiny park with the centre allegedly marked with a wooden cross and a sign with city names and distances.

If you take a good look at any map it is not really the at the centre of South America.

The tourist blurb billed a Christ the Redeemer, similar to Brazil, right here in Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

Needless to say we were underwhelmed when we found it holding up traffic as a roundabout, at a busy intersection, just North of town.

Having blitzed town we opted to take a private tour that cost us about $100 for the driver for the day but involved a 6am pick up and a whole day exploring with a 5:30 pm drop off. So for almost 12 hours of his time and the fuel and guidance $100 (for the two of us) it was a steal.


About 120 kilometres (and over 3 hrs driving) to the southwest of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in the foothills of the Andes (still at just under the height of Mount Kosciuszko) is the small town of Samaipata.

The town itself is seriously nice and small with colonial buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. The centre is set around a really nice, and seriously well used park, which seems to be the focal point for all activities in the tiny town (under 5000 people).

But the main reason for coming was to see the El Fuerte de Samaipata or Fort Samaipata. But before we did, a quick pop into the Archaeological Museum (a four room display) for a poke about (one $11 ticket does both) before heading up the mountain to see the main attraction.

But before you get to the site, you are met with some pretty spectacular mountain, farmland and jungle views from the foothills of the Andes.

This is a UNESCO listed pre-Columbian archaeological site. The site encompasses buildings of three different cultures: Chané  (pre-Inca), Inca and Spanish. It is believed to have been started by the Chané but there are also ruins of an Inca plaza and residences, from the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

The archaeological site is about 20 hectares (49 acres) and is divided into a ceremonial sector and an administrative/residential sector. The ceremonial sector is a large rock (220 x 60 metres) that has been almost completely covered with carvings of both Inca and pre-Inca origin. At the highest point of the rock you find “coro de los sacerdotes” (choir of the priests) . This is 18 niches carved into the rock, that were believed to be seats.

The residential and administrative sector is believed to have been an Incan provincial capital. It has a large plaza about 100 metres on each side bordered by a “kallanka,” (rectangular building typical of Inca cities). The kallanka is 70 metres long and 16 metres wide and was typically used for public gatherings, feasts, and housing visitors and soldiers. The kallanka at Samaipata is the second largest in Bolivia.

Having milled about taking photos for a few hours we headed back to town for some well-needed lunch and a look around the tourist shops in the rain.

This was a fantastic day that saw us hiking up and down the side of a mountain and checking out some Incan ruins. I did not know it existed before now, but really loved the opportunity to get out and about amongst it.

About 35 minutes from Santa Cruz you can find the Biocenter Güembe Mariposario, which is a combined eco-park and a pool complex. The park is home to the world’s largest butterfly sanctuary and houses a diverse collection of orchids in its “orquideario“. There is an aviary where you can see scarlet macaws, toucans, parrots, peacocks and other colourful tropical birds, along with the odd monkey. Having seen birds, butterflies and not particularly being into pool developments we passed on this, but by all accounts it is ok.

On our middle evening in Bolivia we had a very ordinary meal that we decided to top off across the road with an extraordinary dessert.

It was extremely decadent, totally unnecessary, over the top and was magnificent.

Well Bolivia has been great. This goes on the list of places to come back to to get up high in the mountains to La Paz and Lake Titicaca. We did not make it this time as time was tight and we both knew full well the effects of altitude after our earlier Everest adventure.

The next trip will include the long awaited Machu Picchu in Peru which sits at a similar elevation as Lake Titicaca and Cusco. If you want to play about at decent elevations we found last time around that it is best to spend some time acclimatising. So it may be a nice trip to bounce about at the 3500-4000 meter elevation level for a while doing so.

Recife, Brazil

Recife (The Reef) is a major (just under 2 million) Brazilian city on the Atlantic coast, at the estuary of three rivers (Capibaribe, Beberibe and Jordão). Due to the abundance of waterways in the area, it has become known as the Venice of Brazil (Veneza Brasileira). Having been to both, I think that the Venice reference is a bit of a stretch.

Brazil has a terrible reputation when it comes to violent crime. The US Department of State claims that violent crimes, such as murder, armed robbery, and carjacking, are common in urban areas, day and night. Gang activity and organised crime is widespread. Assaults, including with sedatives and drugs placed in drinks, are common.

Our experience after the first two cities has been quite different. It must be noted however that the military and police presence on every street corner has been extreme. Whether they put on a blitz when a boat arrives or if it is standard is unclear. But we have walked around freely and un-harassed and at no point even felt insecure or uneasy.

We do tend to be alert and aware travellers, we watch our surroundings and do not take unnecessary risks. But so far there has been no point where we have felt threatened or uncomfortable. For those who have been reading along the feeling that we got in the Canary Islands was much more troubling than anything in Brazil so far.

But Recife is a major city. It is famous for its beaches, history, Carnival, arts, the cuisine and of course the cheeky bikinis.

Boa Viagem is by far the most famous of the beaches, stretching for 8 kilometers it is the longest urbanised seafront in Brazil. The nearby coastal reef calms the waves and helps keep the water at 25 °C.

While the beach is amazing, since the mid 1990’s it has been plagued by bull and tiger shark attacks. This started after the building of a new port facility (about 50kms away) that changed the sharks pattern. Between 1992 and 2021, there were 62 shark attacks with 25 fatalities. Some were attacked while swimming in water barely up to their waist. Boa Viagem is so dangerous that lifeguards no longer train on the beach itself.

National Geographic photographer Daniel Botelho managed to get a split-level image that showed the shark beneath the surface and the nearby skyline above the surface.

The photo was taken only 50 meters from the shore.

Having read all of this, we chose not to swim. So instead we wandered the streets of town and took in the colonial architecture that was on offer. There were police and military everywhere you looked but at no point was it uncomfortable.

We wandered along the waterfront and broke right, to take in some of the waterways and parks near the ports. We found bridges, statues and a massively cheap way of living. All of the restaurants that we passed had menus showing that the major price was about 22 Brazilian real (about $7).

Not really sure why, but we kept coming across a bunch of 3 meter tall chickens.

Our wander about was possibly not reflective of the others on the boat. We told a group from the boat where we had been and what we had seen and when they tried to replicate, they were turned around and sent back by the police who told them that it was unsafe. My ability to look like a local almost everywhere I go coupled with my size allows me to walk virtually anywhere I want without being approached. Jill just kind of tags along and is also left alone.

Our meanderings saw us running into the Basílica e Convento de Nossa Senhora do Carmo. This is a church and a convent.

The Basilica started in 1580 by Carmelite friars and in 1654 the Our Lady of Mount Carmel nuns arrived.

The Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue doesn’t look like much from the outside but is OK once you pop your head in.

It is the oldest Synagogue in South America (established in 1636).

We found the local markets and got to experience life in real neighbourhoods. There were large American Style shopping malls that others on the ship had gone to, but ours was more like the local neighbourhood shops and even included a wet market.

While we never felt threatened or in peril, there was a great deal of overt poverty all through the place. There were lots of people sleeping on the streets, bathing in fountains and using the local parks as their own private laundries.

Recife had a really nice feel to it and we look forward to coming back when time is not so much a factor.

Fortaleza, Brazil

Fortaleza (or fortress) is Brazil’s 4th largest city (with about 4 million people) that sits in the Northeast of the country. The main claim to fame of Fortaleza is as a major domestic tourist destination hub. At this stage, it does not draw large numbers of international tourists but is a Mecca for the locals.

Hopping off the boat we got sick of the idea of haggling with the overpriced taxis that infested the port. The taxis were trying to charge $20-30USD (96-144 Brazilian real) to get a lift to town. So we did our usual and walked out of the port area to get an Uber.

Jill’s map showed that there was a lighthouse just outside the gate so we aimed for that.

At this point, we were met with a police blockade telling us that the nearby neighbourhood was too dangerous to walk through and that they would only let us leave in a vehicle.

We met another couple who wanted to walk along the nearby beach but they were also discouraged due to the perceived danger. We also met a Canadian couple who were equally as eager to explore but equally oblivious as to where to go.

So we perched on the side of the road and ordered our Uber. Having no idea where to go we aimed for the Cathedral, figuring it would be pretty central and we could roam about from there. So a 37 real ($7.70) Uber ride and we were delivered direct to St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

This is the main Cathedral in town and can fit up to 5000 inside. The main towers reach 75 meters. Perched on the top of the hill it is a mere block or so from the circular Fortaleza Central Market (Mercado Central de Fortaleza). Originally a meat and fish market, it has now been converted to a crafts market with about 500 shops.

The streets around the markets were full of pop-up market stalls with virtually anything you could imagine on offer.

But the main thing about Fortaleza is the foreshore. To the north of the city is a long, scenic and highly accessible Atlantic Ocean. Leaving the Central market I led the way and marched down the road, around the corner and through some pretty dodgy areas until we eventually turned left and found ourselves at the suspect end of the Avenida Beira Mar.

The Avenida Beira Mar is a wide beachfront promenade that runs along the oceanfront. Our entry point was closest to town which was pretty sketchy at best. While the beaches offer emerald green seas, the neighbourhoods were not quite as salubrious. Not quite favelas , but certainly not very tourist friendly.

But the more we walked, the nicer it got. The dodginess eased and the tourist staples started to appear. The Avenida Beira-Mar sidewalk kicked in revealing the expected cafe’s, restaurants, Japanese garden, beach volleyball courts and the rest of the tourist elements. In fact, the range of shoreline activities are almost unending.

We (including the Canadian couple that we met) found ourselves at a funky little beachside cafe that offered good (if tough to understand and communicate with) and cheap service. Really nice, cold, big beers, by the beach and surrounded by cheeky bikinis made for a tough afternoon. Even more so when the bill came back at under $10 for 4 really large beers. Add to this the random lobster and prawn salesman who was offering 3 for $10.

Futuro Beach is one of the most famous beaches in Fortaleza. Stretching for 8km along the city foreshore it is a great beach and the local touts offer fresh lobster, shrimp, crab and fish.

As we walked away from town the beach kept getting better and better. They were obviously setting up for the upcoming New Year’s celebrations and stages, generators and makeshift toilets were all finding their way to the foreshore. We were due back to the boat before 5pm which sadly saw us having to leave the area early.

I got the sense that the area that we were in would be absolutely amazing for sundowner drinks and into the early evening. I would probably stick more to the tourist end rather than the town end but the beach promenade would certainly be the place to be.

The Uber back to the ship was even cheaper and we ended up getting transport in both directions and 4 big beers for less than the cab drivers were charging for a one way fare.


Martinique is an overseas territorial island of France. It is part of the Lesser Antilles and is 35km from Dominica, 26km to Saint Lucia and about 75km to Guadeloupe.

Martinique is about 80 km long and 35 km at the widest part. This makes it one of the smallest of the French overseas territories, but it has one of the highest population densities. The climate is remarkably constant with the average temperature being about 26° with minimums of 20–22 and maximums up to 34 °.

According to the blurb the original population disappeared after Europeans arrived, as a result of either disease or being wiped out by the invading French. In 1658 there were 5000 French settlers on the island. From here a lot of slaves were brought from Africa which added a new ethnic component. Today people of mixed European and African ancestry account for more than 90% of the population.


Fort de France is the main city of the overseas territory and was our landing point on the island. Interestingly as Martinique is only a territory, it does not officially have a capital. While the city lacks the palm trees and beaches of the rest of the island it does have the restaurants, shops, bars, and places showcasing the island’s history. Many of these venues sit in colonial-era buildings.

Fort Saint Louis was built to protect the city against enemy attacks. The fort was soon destroyed, and rebuilt in 1669 under Louis XIV as Fort Royal. It changed to Fort-de-France sometime in the 19th century and is the enduring name of the fort and the surrounding town.

St. Louis Cathedral is the main church in town and is probably the highlight of a town with not that much going for it.

Old town hall is one of the more impressive buildings in a town that is broadly underwhelming.

The covered market was the next on the trek through town. It provided the mix between a normal fruit and veggie market, some trinkets and souvenirs and some traditional food stalls. But in essence, it was a tin shed with some veggies in it. I don’t mean to sound down on Martinique, there really was nothing wrong with it at all. The people were friendly, the prices were good, there just was not too much to see or do.

Jardin de Balata is the local botanic gardens that is a short cab ride from town, if you are of a mind to do the hike be warned it is a fair walk and it is all uphill.

There is a zoo here, we didn’t go to it, but the promo picture shows this little critter. I have no idea what it is, but it looks pretty interesting.

Anyway, that is something else you could have done.

If you had more time in Martinique the recommendations are to stop and visit some of the smaller towns. The top on this list is Les Anses d’Arlet. The area is mostly jungle-covered mountains but there are also 3 coves for the nature lovers.

Other towns suggested were Big Cove (Grande Anse) and Arlet Cove (Anses d’Arlet) in both have restaurants and accommodation right on the sandy beach while Small Cove (Petite Anse) has a rocky shoreline.

Chiang Mai

Our previous forays into Thailand saw us in Bangkok and in Phuket, neither of which really appealed to us at all. The food has always been good (with the exception of the coriander) however the general feel of these two areas have been too touristy and aggressively in your face for our liking.

So this trip we thought that we would head north, up into the mountains near the Laos and Myanmar borders. Another area with lots of old temples and hopefully some great food options. Myanmar was one of our favourite countries to visit, however, the current political situation has made it an international no-go zone, we figure we will be close enough to the border that some of the culinary offers may have leaked through the border.

About Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai was founded in the 13th century (1296) and is set high in the mountains. It was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom (18th and 19th century) where it was (and remains) the religious and cultural centre of the region. The old part is a walled city with 4 gates.

Within the walls of the old city, the narrow streets are filled with shops, bars, restaurants, markets and more temples than you count. In the centre of the Old Town are the temple ruins of several temples along with many brand new and functioning ones. In fact there are over 300 wats scattered throughout the city and surrounding countryside.

Dead centre is the Chiang Mai arts and cultural centre along with the Three Kings Monument with the Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang Temple just to the left as you look at it.

The Temples (Wat)

The sheer number of temples (known as Wat) within the walled city is amazing, you virtually cannot walk a block without hitting at least one, often times more. The other thing that is fair to say is that one Thai temple is remarkably similar to the next and the one before.

The anatomy of each Thai temple is pretty similar, there is the Phutthawat which is the area devoted to buddha. It can contain several buildings but would typically include a Stupa (Chedi) the bell shaped tower, prang (a tower), an ordination hall (bot), shrine/s (wihan), and several pavilions (sala) for receiving religious education or merely for shade.

The Sangkhawat contains the majority of the working parts of the temple including the kitchen and the monks living quarters, there may also be pavilions in the sangkhawat.

The roofs usually are split into 2-4 tiers and the bargeboards are ornately decorated with a serpent style carving known as a lamyong.

Things to do in Chiang Mai

Our early research showed the abundance of temples, bars and of course food. The Three Kings Monument is in the heart of Old City in front of the arts ad cultural centre. The statue portrays the three founders of Chiang Mai, in the 13th century – King Mengrai, King Ramkhamhaeng and King Ngam Muang.

The gates

The Chang Phueak (Chang Puak) Gate faces north and is in very poor condition, however it is the site of the best street food markets virtually every night of the week. Head to the gate, take your life into your hands crossing the road and turn left. There are stall after stall selling almost anything you want for not very much…and it is all good.

The tha phae gate faces east and is the best, most preserved (renovated) and most tourist friendly of all of the gates of the old city. Because of this it is always busy and has developed an unusual tourist attraction – the pigeons. Groups of roaming touts feed masses of pigeons to get them to cluster then charge tourists money to take photos of them after banging and yelling loudly to get the pigeons to fly. The end result is a lot of noise and some photos of people with birds fluttering about them.

The Chiang Mai gate faces south and is in a reasonable state however due to COVID many of the businesses in the vicinity are closed so many of the shops are not operating.

The Suan Dok gate is to the west and is possibly the second best preserved of the gates. However similar to the south gate many of the businesses are not currently operation (early 2023).

At the north-eastern corner of the city you will find the Si Phum Corner. This is the site of the original unrenovated wall that is slowly crumbling into the canal that surrounds the old city.

The temples around town

As mentioned before, the sheer number of temples in town is staggering and there is no way that I am going to list or visit them all. But here is a sample of some of them and a bit of an idea about each.

Wat Chedi Luang is at the centre of the city and is commonly known as the big temple. Wat Chian Man is the oldest of the temples in Chiang Mai built around 1296-97. Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (also known as Wat Hua Khuang) is one of the most beautifully maintained and grand looking temples 

Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang was built over 700 years ago and literally translates to “temple of the city navel”, due to its location in the center of old city. Wat Umong Mahathera Chan is not as ornate and is basically a collection of brick stupas for monks to meditate inside.

Night Markets

The Sunday night market (or Sunday walking market ) is the most famous and the most popular but there are night markets oevery day of the week if you care to look a little further afield. As mentioned above in the gates section we regularly hit the night food markets outside the northern gate but it was just for food and not really for shopping.

The Sunday walking market is essentially the one for the tourists and is the most popular with them. It has a wide variety of the expected local art, craft, music. The thing it does possibly better than the others is the incorporation of food stalls (and ore importantly somewhere to sit and eat them) in more than one location. In addition, the various massage vendors are there and on hand to offer a foot massage should it be needed.

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is probably the largest of the markets with hundreds of shops in one place and it is open every day.

It is outside the old city on the eastern side. This night bazaar offers virtually everything including shoes, bags, clothes, handicrafts, artwork, sunglasses, and electronic items. The Anusarn Night Market, Ploen Ruedee Night Market and Kalare Night Markets are all in the same vicinity and as far as I could tell they would be indistinguishable as to where one stops and the next one starts. But they are all open each evening from 6pm.

The Wualai walking street and Gate markets are situated at or just outside the southern gate of old town while the Wororot markets can be found in the heart of Chinatown.

I got my shoes resewn here for the ridiculous price of $3 as I had a blowout – probably from all the stairs.

Getting Around in Chiang Mai

The local preference and probably easiest for getting around is the Songthaew – pronounced song tail (aka Road-Daeng, Red Taxi or Red Truck). It is basically a converted ute with two rows of seats in the back. The most common one used in Chiang Mai is red and all you need to do is hail one down, tell them where you want to go, ask the price and if it is in the general direction they are heading then they will take you. If not, try the next one. As a guide about 30 baht ($1-1.30) will get you almost anywhere in town. If you don’t want to share your ute with the locals then you can pay more and hire a private one (similar to a taxi).

Tuk Tuk – is the second most common transport however is more expensive than the Songthaew with the rates starting at 60 baht for a short trip and 100 to 150 baht for longer distance.

Taxis – There are actual taxis that exist however they tend to park up at the airport, railway station, bus station, malls, and hotels.

Ridesharing – is available and they generally use the apps either Uber or Grab. In fact if you are planning on spending any significant amount of time in SE Asia it is probably worth downloading the Grab app as it is widely used in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Bus – the Smart city bus was introduced in mid 2018 and for a flat rate of 30 baht you can get on and get around. Coins can be used as can the rabbit card that is used in Bangkok for use on the MRT or the BTS Metro Systems. Two tourist card options can be bought that will give you unlimited riding for 180 baht for one day or 400 for 3 days.

Samlor – this is the traditional Thai rickshaw – powered by some skinny old guy pedalling you around. I cannot tell you the prices as I can not bring myself to order one. The thought of a 70 year old, 40kg Asian dude struggling to peddle my fat ass around is something that I will just not do.

Rent a motorbike – this is very cheap at about 100-200 baht for 24 hours that will get you a 100cc motorbike and 2 helmets with the more powerful 110-125cc bikes with automatic transmissions costing more. Beware some places will want to keep your original passport as collateral. Also as a westerner you will be stopped frequently by police to check that you have your helmet, international licence and that the bike is not too powerful (read here that you will need to bribe your way out if you do get stopped).

And of course car rentals and tours are always available.

Things to do around Chiang Mai

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

This is the most famous and most frequently visited of the temples in the region It is easy to get to (about 15 km from town) with most of the transport options (explained below) getting you there with very little fuss. It was built in the early 19th century and is set atop a hill with amazing views over Chiang Mai.

Upon arrival you are met with the usual tourist stalls before you find the stairs (306 of the buggers) to the temple. The stairs are lined by the seven-headed serpent statues (naga) – there is a funicular if you really are not up to the stairs.

Once you have made it up the hill you will find the temple where a golden pagoda sits that is said to contain a bone from buddha’s shoulder. On the terrace you will find a statue of the white elephant that allegedly carried the bone to the temple. As usual for this sort of place you will also find the obligatory shrines and monuments. For those willing to pay the money there is also a night tour available.

If you are willing to pay a little more and take a private trip, there is a night tour available.

Bhubing Rajanives Palace was built in 1961 as the king’s residence when he came to stay in Chiang Mai.  It is about 22 kms from old town on Buak Ha Mountain. The gardens are perfectly manicured with extensive plantings that would send a gardening nut into fits of rapture. From my side…it was very pretty.

Doi Inthanon National Park is the highest point of Thailand and home of the beautiful King and Queen pagodas. There are tours heading here all the time and many of them will include some of the items listed below as well. This is a truly stunning spot and well worth the visit. While there are a ton of stairs to get to the Pagodas they have thoughtfully considered us old buggers and put an escalator (up only) to the top of each side…very civilised.

Chiang Mai Zoo and aquarium is a is a 200-acre zoo with over 400 species of animals that includes a 133m aquatic tunnel and they have a night safari. Oh Claudia, if you are reading along…they have pandas.

Elephant Sanctuary – The Meaklang Elephant Sky Camp is reported to be an ethical Elephant Sanctuary where the elephants are taken care of very well. The ads recommend that you bring spare clothes and a towel for if you join in to the elephant bathing.

As we have done numerous elephant sanctuaries in Sri Lanka and Laos we chose to skip this but those we met spoke highly of the experience.

Wachirathan Falls is one of the largest and most beautiful waterfalls in the country at over 80 meters tall the waterfall creates a mist that feeds the surrounding vegetation. Sirithan Waterfall is a stunning 50-meter cascade, fed by the Mae Klan River. Paths all around this one gives you many angles and photo opportunities.

Chiang Mai Street Art

Similar to Penang, Chiang Mai has a thriving street art scene that has not been advertised and is rarely written about. So much so that we didn’t even know to look but Jill kept stopping and taking photos of these amazing scenes or funky pictures. The same sort of thing exists in Penang but somebody has put it together as a tourist attraction as a sort of hide and seek for the artworks.

The same thing could easily be done here. I am certain that we have missed a heap of these and a google images search assures us that we have, and we saw others but parked cars ruined photos. The bottom line is that if you care to look there are amazing artworks often hidden down tiny alleys or side streets and if you are willing to roam patience is required to find these hidden gems.

Long story short – here is a business opportunity for anyone willing to make a map and add it to the tourist agenda. A complete list of the artworks and a treasure map of where to find them would keep people amused for hours and would add greatly to the local tourism scene and things to do list.


This bit surprised me a little given all that we Aussies have heard about Thailand’s tolerance of drugs – or lack thereof. Cannabis can be bought simply and easily almost everywhere through old town and beyond. The smoking of weed is totally legal at home or in private places but not in public.

WARNING – Fines for smoking weed in public are about $1000-1200 Australian and 3 months imprisonment.

This was either unknown to the backpackers or they just didn’t care as it didn’t seem to stop them smoking away as they walked down many of the streets and alleys late at night.

Inle Lake

This is a 2017 post and not a 2014 post like most of the others. Having run out of money and going home to be adults and work for a while we saved our pennies and came back to Myanmar. This time to catch the bits we missed and see some of the things that were under construction or renovation on the first trip through. And the big ticket item that we missed was Inle Lake.

Jill was looking for a bit of pampering on this leg so the accommodation was significantly more extravagant than we normally use. We stayed at the Novotel and to be fair…it was both very nice and well priced for what it was. As usual in a western hotel in Asia…the food sucked. The buffet breakfast was good but the a-la-carte fusion thing just never works and this was no exception.  But it had (as I have been told) the bathtub to die for, a swim up pool and views across the lake that really shone at around sunset.

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The lake itself is about 26 km long and 10 km wide at the widest point. And Dr Google tells me that there are about thirty species of snails and fish that can be found nowhere else in the world. But for most of us it is just pretty. The commuting by longboat water taxis makes for an interesting time and there is so much to see and do around the area. That said, it will cost you a lot of money to do it (especially by Myanmar standards).

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Everything here is more expensive. The taxis, the boats, the food, the beer…everything. And this is without even factoring in the Novotel factor (which adds extra onto the bill if  they find out where you are staying). But it is pretty and is certainly worth the  trip.

A major factor of interest around Inle Lake is the rolling markets. The markets alternate on a five day cycle between the little townships and villages along the shore (Heho, Nyaungshwe, Taunggyi, Minethauk, Shwenyaung). This means that every morning you can head off by boat to a new township and see a different market. There is the obvious tourist junk that is at every one of the markets, but there is also a local flavour to each of them and each one is just a little bit different.

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The other thing of note with the rolling markets is the sheer beauty of taking  the boat rides to get to them. Needless to say over the years we have been to any number of floating villages. For the most part these have  been tourist traps designed to part you from your dollars. But here on Inle lake, they are almost all floating villages. It is not a gimmick it is the lifestyle…and it is charming. So the boat rides to the various markets see you riding along past ramshackle residences and shops all perched on stumps above the water.

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Another major attraction of coming to the lake is to meet with the Kayan people of Myanmar. For those  that do not know they are the group that place brass coils around their neck. Most often they have been seen on the Thailand border (having fled the former fighting) the Kayan people have largely migrated back closer to their original home base. They have been referred to in any number of ways, that not surprisingly they find  somewhat offensive. Names like giraffe women and long neck women are less than appreciated. They are however  more  than comfortable being referred to as the ladies with the long elegant necks.

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Another unique thing about the lake is the local fishermen and their rowing style. They perch on the edge of these insanely narrow and shallow boats while casting and retrieving  fishing nets and simultaneously rowing the boat using their legs. This is a sight not to be missed and for us mere mortals, a zen like demonstration of both concentration and balance. The fishermen come in two varieties…the actual fishermen who use modern nets and the touristy ones that use bamboo nets as perhaps was done once upon a time.  The second type just do it to pose for tourist photos and stage capturing fish by throwing them into their nets after the fact. Both types are highly entertaining.

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And lets not be silly…it is Myanmar so there is no shortage of stupas, pagodas, temples and monasteries to go to. The lake is littered with them. You can cruise the lake stopping at any one that you like.

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And other than this…almost everything that you can imagine happens on the water. The weeds are harvested manually and are used for fertiliser for crops. The lake itself is turned into a massive hydroponic tomato cropping area.  The lake bed is dredged manually for dirt and building materials, the banks are used to distil rice down into what passes for the local hooch. In short there are so very many things to see and do on Inle Lake.

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But the most impressive of all…is the people. This is as true for Inle Lake as it has been throughout Myanmar. It is impossible to walk down the street without being met with a huge smile and somebody greeting you with the local “Mingalabar”.  This is even more evident with the little ones. Shy kids (generally) under the age of 4 will be beaming and waving as you go past. They will try a ‘hello’ if they are old enough or they will merely beam a huge smile and wave.

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And lastly, as we always do…we eat local. We ignore the hotels and we find dodgy little shacks to eat at.  Our options this time around were a little limited as we were in an out of the way location. But a short 2km walk away was the long jetty at Maing Thauk. This is the location that you could come to to get a boat for the day if you did not want to add  the ‘Novotel’ premium to your price. But it is also the location of some local fare that is just delicious. The jetty itself is quite the tourist  attraction and makes for some stunning sunset photographs along with some very tense moments in the dark as you wander along in the pitch blackness hoping not to hear a big splash meaning that Jill or I has hit the water.

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But we didn’t…and we found about 4 different restaurants along the jetty serving local food, cold beer and heapings of smiles and hospitality. Plates give way to lily leaves and the local salads come to the fore. The local avocados are the smoothest and creamiest that I have ever tasted and the other offerings that they put forward are tough to beat. And needless to say, for a village on the lake…they know how to cook a really good fish. We tried many incantations of the fish and they were magnificent.

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So if you are a traveller looking for a place to come, Inle Lake should be high on a list. It is on the pricey side (activities) for those on a tight budget but it is definitely worth a look…if you can swing 5-6 days here you will get to sample each of the townships and the markets. The big hotels are well priced  by western standards (half to one third of back home) for the rooms but comparable on the food and drinks.


Bangkok, Thailand

This post is well overdue for a number of reasons. reason number one is that it was written and cued on my Ipad…which died upon arrival back in Australia. This means that all of the witty quips and the contemporaneous comments are missing as I try and wrack my brain about what actually took place three weeks ago. Number two is obviously that we are at home now and have been immersed in the “real world” and have as such been busy.


The first thing that must be done is to add a minor amendment to the Phuket post. While we were in Phuket…we were staying at Patpong Beach which is the main tourist area…and it sucked…a lot. During our time there we made two forays to Phuket old town and they were both fantastic. The first time was on a weekend and we did the 17km tuk tuk ride to go and see the market. Now this place is a food lover’s heaven. Immediately we were overwhelmed with awesome food choices at incredibly reasonable prices.

While Thailand is generally considered cheap when compared to Australia, it is highly priced compared against most of Asia…and the tourist zones are comparable to Australian prices for most things (especially food and beers). The old town however was not. It was cheap, hectic, loud and fun. We ate, drank, cruised the rubbish tourist market stalls and generally had a ball…and paid more for the transport to get us to and fro.

Three days later we went back to try again, but a scheduling mixup meant the market wasn’t on so we wandered the streets. This time we paid about a dollar to catch the local bus there rather than the $16 that the tuk tuk drivers charged. It was hot so we stopped in for a refreshing beverage and immediately noticed the difference between this and where we were staying. Cocktails were $3-4 and beers were about $2 and the girl serving was both lovely and efficient…and a girl for that matter.

Upon ordering our second round she apologised that happy hour had kicked in and that alas our first round of drinks would be charged at the full rate of $2 per 600ml stubbie rather than the now discounted rate. As the sun set she directed us to the local street food stall area where we could get good local food. After a short walk we found this and settled in for an absolute feast. We just kept ordering from various stalls and eating and despite 5 attempts to get a bill from my little street vendor… the lady just kept saying “when you finish”. An hour or two later, the 4 of us were completely stuffed and I sheepishly headed for the bill.

As it turned out we were paying about $1 a plate for some of the most amazing food that we had eaten in Thailand thus far. In essence the entire meal for 4 of us in Phuket old town was about that which we would pay per head where we were staying. I guess the main point to be made in all of this is that Phuket does not actually suck…just the tourist beach areas do. If we had our time over again we would stay in Phuket old town and do the day trips to the beach. Had we done this we would have had a much better and cheaper time.


Upon arrival in Bangkok, we headed almost straight to Chinatown for dinner. Wandering the streets we found kerbside restaurants and market stalls that just could not be overlooked or bypassed. From here and on the recommendation of KAT (who spent much time living in Bangkok) we headed out to what he described was his favourite bar in BKK… Wongs Place. We arrived at about 9:30pm to find it still shut so we found another venue which charged us $10 for a little beer while we waited. At 10:30pm we returned to find it still not open so I grabbed some 600ml beer from the 7-11 (for $2) and we settled in for a foot massage across the road.

When it opened we entered this dark dingy little room with the walls lined with photographs of patrons from yesteryear. Our advice was to help yourself to the beer at the back in the fridge and they would just count up the empties at the end of the night. Alas the owner was not there to be able to pass on KAT’s regards and the beer prices had more than doubled to a ridiculous $4 for a beer. A hunt around the walls found some historical gems of photos that had to be captured and shared for posterity.

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Day 2 in BKK was the inevitable shopping expedition during the day, hitting the infamous MBK shopping centre which thankfully was a short walk from our accommodation. Add to this the late night show at Patpong Night Market and we effectively did the normal tourist run through BKK. For those that do not know…Patpong night market is where all the sleazy side of Thailand resides. So as we wandered the streets were met with the usual touts offering us the girlie shows including the firing of ping pong balls and darts from various parts of the anatomy and the offers of some unique forms of entertainment.

While cruising around we stopped into one of the venues for a beer and use of the toilets. There were girls “dancing” on stage where in actual fact they were leaning against the poles holding the roof up. The entertainment was so poor that we started to watch the fish tank as the fish were both better looking and more active than the girls on stage. This was fine for a while but eventually we had to leave when Jill (justifiably) tried to slip a tip into the fish tank thus offending the owner and the girls.

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The next day we were joined by long term friends of Brett’s (Annette and Peter) and we did the day trip out to the Bridge over the River Quai via the floating markets. This is quite a way out of town and for most people other than military buffs or veterans is probably not worth the time or expense to get there. I came here in about 1995 with my mate Nadim and the floating markets were quite the sight…today they are just filled with the same tourist trash you get everywhere else but at a greater price than elsewhere.

We took the long boat to the market which was a zig zag through the canals to get to the market…in reality we could drive right up to them and save 40 mins. It was once authentic…now it is a farce. The cemetery was interesting but the museum was a bunch of reproduction photos with little or no explanation…an hour of googling and a printer could get you the same result. In hindsight this trip was overpriced and really not worth the effort.

Our last day was spent at shopping centres eating, drinking and having overpriced coffee while we waited for our late night flights.