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Vote Now & Help Us Choose Our Anniversary Destination!

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We’re set to celebrate our anniversary in the South of Thailand… but where?

 

Our 2nd anniversary is fast approaching and it looks like we’ll be headed to the south of Thailand a week or so before. We’ve had such a great time in the North meeting new friends, like Uncle and the Wagoners; participating in interesting activities, such as the Scorpion Tailed River Cruise; and have stayed at some amazing places, like Soi One Bedrooms in Pai. We’d love to find someplace where we can have a similarly memorable anniversary celebration. We know we want to start exploring the islands after a short visit in Bangkok, but we aren’t sure on which island we want to celebrate our anniversary. So we thought we’d get some opinions about where everyone else would choose.

We’ve given a brief description of our top 10 contenders below…

 

but, if you’re looking for more information on any of the islands, click on each one for descriptions from our new affiliate, LonelyPlanet.com.  If you’re interested in purchasing any Lonely Planet travel guides, be sure to help support us and use this link.

 

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1. Koh Samui – We’ve read about street fairs, world class resorts and a bustling nightlife but we also know it is a major tourist attraction and Macrae has already been to this island.

2. Koh Pha-Ngan – This island has rain forests and beaches, temples and a nightlife but is also a pretty big backpacker destination.

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3. Koh Tao – Increasing in popualrity, Koh Tao is supposedly great for recreational activities and boasts a great nightlife

4. Koh Chang – While this island is considered a major attraction, it is less touristy than Koh Samui and has mountains, waterfalls, coral reefs and beaches.

 

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5. Koh Lipe – This is a small island but has recommended snorkeling and a fairly big nightlife.

6. Koh Phi Phi Don – This is close to Koh Phi Phi Leh where the beach was filmed and while Macrae has already visited both islands, Koh Phi Phi is one of his favourite places…ever.

 

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7. Koh Phing Kan – Also called the James Bond Island as it was featured in the film The Man With The Golden Gun, Koh Phing Kan has some pretty neat rock formations and beautiful beaches but is apparenty turning quite commercial with many vendors.

8. Koh Samet – Although considered overdeveloped, Koh Samet boasts white sand beaches, a large number of activities and an active nightlife.

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9. Koh Tarutao – This island has both rugged mountain and jungle scenery and, if Carolann had her way, there’s a chance to see some sea turtles as Koh Tarutao has a popular breeding and nesting ground on one of its shores!

10. Koh Kut – This island is mostly a destination for Thai weekenders so it has that local flavour and is not overly bombarded by foreign tourists.

Vote below and let us know which island you would choose OR if you know of a better location, leave a comment and tell us about it!

 

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Scorpion Tailed River Cruise With New Friends

Scorpion Tailed Boat Ride, Chiang Mai Scorpion Tailed boat, Chiang Mai Attractions

Sailing down the Ping River with WagonersAbroad!

We woke up to the sound of our alarm at 9:30am and were about to hit the snooze button, again, for probably the tenth time when we realized what we were doing and set off into a panic. We had made arrangements to meet with a family of travel bloggers, the Wagoners of WagonersAbroad.com, and take the Scorpion-Tailed River Cruise along the Ping River at 11am. We still had to dress, eat breakfast and try and find the place with only a drawn map from the website and a Google map of a nearby landmark, a condominium.

We were excited to meet the Wagoners after following their site for a few months and some recent correspondence. We had only met one blogger (Emily), and we really wanted to connect more with our new community. Plus, this family just seemed pretty awesome in general. So while we were hesitant to shell out the 500baht (18.50 CDN) per person, as that was the majority of our budget for the day and we had read a few TripAdvisor reviews (although there were many good reviews) that had us worried, we knew the ride would be a neat outing and we could potentially make some new friends. Plus, the ride included a complimentary dessert, so how could we resist?

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Surprisingly, we arrived early and bought our tickets and since we had skipped breakfast, we decided to use the fifteen minutes we had to find something to eat.  After grabbing some pastries and coffee from a nearby café, we returned to find the Wagoners there. It’s a strange thing this blogging world. You end up knowing a whole lot about other people you’ve never actually met. So there we were introducing ourselves and shaking hands with people with whom we were already familiar.

We learned quickly that they were not only awesome people on their blog but they were truly great people in real life. Genuine, kind, funny and fun, this family is exactly what they portray themselves to be online.So when the tour was about to start and we saw that it was only our two groups boarding the boat, we were pleasantly surprised.  Our tour guide, complete with a headset microphone and a speaker secured to his waistband, lead us onto the boat with a giant smile and we set off.

Scorpion Tailed Boat Ride, Scorpion Tailed Boat Chiang Mai, Ping River Boat Ride   Thailand Flag, Scorpion Tailed Boat Ride, Ping River Ride

Starting along the river our guide held up cards with photos to show what the different buildings along the route used to look like and explained their significance. He went through some history about the river, bridges that were built over it, buildings of importance and the design and construction of scorpion tailed boats throughout history. Even though we couldn’t always fully understand him with his strong Chiang Mai accent, we got most of what he had said and laughed quite often at the many jokes he told. We particularly liked his one joke, after discussing the importance of elephants in Chiang Mai culture. He said that there is a saying in Chiang Mai, “Never stand below an elephant”, they eat so much food in one day, he said, so if you stand below, you better watch out…poo-poo. A neat aspect of the boat was that it was propelled essentially by a rudder attached to the engine of a Toyota Mercury, with a key ignition starter. it seemed odd when he told us but worked very well.

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In between explanations we got a chance to talk to our new friends about their experiences. They had recently lived in Spain for almost two years before leaving, touring around Europe a little and then heading to Thailand. You could tell they all found great enjoyment in travelling and we enjoyed talking with them all about their life in Spain and their success in relocating and developing their blog. The parents, Heidi and Alan, were kind of like us, but with kids. They seemed to love life and adventure and find enjoyment every chance they could. The kids were bright, engaging, fun to talk to and lucky for being able to learn so much through their travels. Honestly, we were a little in awe of this family and all that they had seen and accomplished. So with a great guide and conversation flowing when possible, we rode the boat at a leisurely pace first one way and then back down the other before stopping for our promised dessert.

Sticky rice and mangoes and a lesson in Chiang Mai gardening

Disembarking, we were lead through a garden of Thai plants, flowers, herbs, and fruit where we were given an explanation about each of the plants growing. We were shown dragon fruit and bananas, given parts of citronella and anice leaves to smell, and shown the different crops of jasmine and sticky rice. The garden was beautiful and interesting and our guide explained each one with great patience for all of our questions. It was an amazing learning experience that we were not expecting. While examining the different bugs we also found throughout the garden, we were shown a hammock made of just one piece of bamboo. Carolann decided to take a quick break before we were given our dessert!

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Guided to our seats for dessert, we were brought out some mango slices with sticky rice and a delicious lychee drink. We had seen a few street vendors in Pai selling mango and sticky rice and were interested in trying it out. The mango was flavourful and the sticky rice had a bit of condensed milk on it adding a sweet taste to match the fruit. While we were eating, our guide showed us snake and eel catching traps and explained how they work. He also showed us some cobra/scorpion whiskey discussing the supposed importance of combining both creatures to balance out the toxins. It was great entertainment while eating and he again told jokes and had us all laughing. After dessert, we headed back on the boat to return to the dock, the entire trip taking just over an hour and a half.

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Scorpion Tail River Cruise – The Best Ping River Boat Ride

The previously mentioned poor reviews that we read discussed the fact that the water was dirty, the guide held up cards to describe different parts of history and that he was hard to understand. What we decided about these reviews was that all of the comments were missing one crucial point, we are in Thailand to experience a culture different than ours and learn more about the places we visit so no, the Ping River during high season when the rains wash soil and sand into the water is not going to be pristine and clear as it is during low season or off the coast of some gorgeous island, the cue cards aid in explaining what we are seeing along the bank and the historical significance, and as far as accented English? We are getting a tour with a Chiang Mai local who is incredibly warm and welcoming and likes to tell jokes and explain his homeland, accent and all.scorpion tail river cruise, chiang mai river cruise, ping river cruise, wagoners abroad, wagonersabroad.com  scorpion tail river cruise, one modern couple, mango and sticky rice, palm hat

 

There were four things we noticed that set this riverboat cruise apart from the others we saw:

1. They don’t take commission. Many of the river boat cruises pay a commission to Tuk Tuk and taxi drivers for dropping tourists off. If you are an unsuspecting tourist looking for the Scorpion Tail River Cruise, even if you point it out on a map, they will take you to one of the others stating it is better and that the other one is no good. They then get paid a commission for doing so. The one we went to had a strict “No Commission” policy which we agree with and would recommend that if you are looking to take this river cruise, be prepared to tell the driver that you do not want to go to any of the others. Apparently the Wagoners experienced this trying to get there that day and told them explicitly where on the map they wanted to go.

2. It is all included. Unlike many of the other boat cruises you take, they don’t push you into buying other products or trick you into paying more for something you didn’t expect. We were told we’d get the dessert for free and we did. We actually received more from the cruise than we expected, like the walk along the gardens and explanations of all the plants. We even found out that where he had taken us for dessert and the garden walk was his own home.

3. They use LPG rather than the diesel fueled engines of the other boats which is better for the river and the environment and something we really appreciate

4. They had a funny and informative guide. We noticed that some of the other rides we passed had a driver but no guide to comment on what they were driving past or seeing. We enjoyed the information we were given, the tour along the garden and the entertainment during dessert. After the river cruise, we got to spend a little more time with the Wagoners, walking along the streets and markets and chatting along the way. We had a great day, both on the cruise learning about the Ping River, Chiang Mai and the local culture as well as meeting some great new friends.

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Finding The Best Place To Stay In Pai Is A Piece Of Cake

 Soi One Bedrooms – Best Place To Stay In Pai

Soi One Bedrooms, pai, pai accommodations, boutique thailand

We were sitting in our hotel room in Pai (pronounced “Pie” and called “Pai Town” by some), listening to the strong patter of rain and the thunder of the storm passing through the mountain town. We had made it back from sightseeing just in time, with only minimal soakage (luckily we had our ponchos with us) and we were pumped to spend some time in our air conditioned, clean, beautifully decorated boutique room we splurged a bit on for the night. We needed it though. As sad as it may sound, after almost 3 weeks of travelling, staying in hostels, hutongs, even a beautiful guesthouse, we had yet to have a really good shower. We needed to feel clean, refreshed and relaxed. So when we met the owner of one of the cafes in Pai where we stopped in to do some work and grab a caffeine boost and he mentioned his four bedroom boutique hotel, we decided that if we could afford it, and they had an available room, we would book it for the next night. Luckily, Sunday nights are their slow nights and they had one room remaining for us to book. As we walked into our room we realized that we have probably stumbled upon the best place to stay in Pai.

 

The Room

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So there we were, freshly showered, feeling clean and probably smelling better than we had in weeks, kicking back in what felt like complete luxury. We were in the Gold Room of Soi One Bedrooms. One of the aforementioned four rooms, the Gold room is the only one with two twin beds, rather than one large bed, and had a small patio out front with a seating area.  The room was nicely decorated with various artistic touches throughout. From the handmade, colourful lamp shade hanging from the ceiling, to the beautifully crafted pillows on the wooden chairs, the decor fit wonderfully with the room and the feel and vibe of the hotel and of Pai. Perhaps it was the fact that we’d been travelling so long, but not only was it decorated well, it smelled amazing. We were impressed with the cleanliness of the beds, the room and the washroom and were almost brought to tears when we tried the shower and found it had hot water and good pressure.

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There was even a mini-fridge, kettle, coffee mugs and enough outlets to charge all our gadgets. It took quite a bit to get out of the hotel room once we were there. We wanted to enjoy the comfort and feel of the room but knew we only had that last night in Pai to wander and explore. So we went out that night and relished the thought of being able to rest our head on a comfortable pillow, in a nice room, with a hot shower awaiting us in the morning. We did contemplate staying just one more night, but all the rooms were booked and judging by our experience, we expect they fill up fast!

Soi One Bedrooms Bathroom, Soi One Bedroom, Pai Accommodations, Best Pai Hotels, Pai Boutique Hotels   Soi One Bedroom, Soi One Bedroom Gold Room, Soi One Boutique, Pai Boutique, Pai hotels, Pai Accommodations

 

The Property & Reception

Soi One Balcony, Soi One Bedrooms, Pai Accommodations, Best hotels in Pai

The property itself felt like a little oasis with a small central area enclosing the staircase to the upstairs rooms and a small dining area for the attached restaurant. The two workers at reception were incredibly friendly and helpful and went above and beyond to accommodate and assist us with all of our needs. It’s our experience that in general people in Thailand are genuinely willing to help, but these two exceeded our expectations. We checked out a little early to head back to Chiang Mai and the lady at reception offered not only to hold our bags, but to use her personal umbrella to get to a restaurant for breakfast in the rain! She then provided us with large black garbage bags to cover up our backpacks for the long ride through the mountain in the event the rain began again.

While we didn’t patronize the restaurant, or the spa/massage parlor affiliated with Soi One Bedrooms, the areas looked inviting and clean. Had we planned to stay longer in Pai, we definitely would have made an effort to dine at the restaurant and maybe even venture to the spa for a Thai massage.

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Overall, this was a hotel we were tremendously glad we were able to book and would definitely go back if we had the opportunity. It was located right on the Pai walking street and off of one of the major bar streets, which was great even if it was a little noisy until 11pm. Since it was in the heart of the city, and walking street, there was a ton of things to do and see right off the front steps including restaurants, bars, walking street vendors, souvenir shops, coffee shops and convenience stores. There were several scooter rentals nearby for those that took the bus in and wanted to explore outside the city to the many viewpoints, waterfalls and other attractions Pai has to offer. (Drivers beware: there are a lot of people driving scooters for the first time in Pai and we saw many a bandaged and wounded Pai tourist.) We were pleased at the great value we received for our money. The only real downside was there were only 4 rooms so even though, like most places in Southeast Asia, you can get almost half price for a walk-in, it fills up fast and you aren’t guaranteed a room if you don’t book in advance, But if you’re lucky enough to get a room, you wont be disappointed because in our opinion it’s the best place to stay in pai.

Click here for Soi One’s latest prices and more info.

If you can’t get a room at Soi One during your stay in Pai, don’t worry, there are many hotels in Pai to choose from, just check out How We Slice It – A Guide to Pai. Part One: Where to Stay for a couple great options, or find Pai hotels by visiting our friends from Hotels Combined and they will defiantly help you out for your search for some great accommodations.

We Also have other information that you might want to sink our teeth into… like “How To Get From Chiang Mai To Pai” and “What To Do In Pai” when you get there.

When In Pai… You Must Eat Cake

 

Pai Siam Bistro

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A visit to Pai Siam Bistro was what started the change in our plans and lead to our stay at Soi One Bedrooms. Walking down the street in Pai, we were looking for a place to escape the walking street for a moment, grab a coffee to refuel and get some work done. We happened across the entrance to Pai Siam, first enticed by the “gelati” stand out front but drawn in by the look and appeal of the narrow bistro. Sitting down at one of the tables we were immediately given a menu offering a range of tasty sounding food and coffeehouse style drinks. Opting for a hot and a cold cappuccino, we signed on to their free Wi-Fi and settled in to do some work.  Incredibly comfortable, with a great ambiance, this bistro was the perfect spot for us. We took a moment to enjoy the handmade lampshades decorating the space and the soft bluesy sounding music playing in the background.  The lampshades are made and sold in the partnering and attached shop next door and add some crafty elegance to the bistro.

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Pai Siam Restaurant, Pai Siam Cafe, Pai Restaurants, Best Pai Coffee

Our drinks were great. The smiley face in the hot cappuccino was a cute touch that had us chuckling. At a second visit the next day, we tried out an iced latte as well which was just as delicious. It was a great place for us to get work done and then just relax. Unfortunately we did not get a chance to try any of the food on the menu but we heard a series of compliments regarding the food from customers sitting around us on both visits. A neat aspect of this restaurant was the handmade lampshades (such as those in the room at Soi One Bedrooms). Like we mentioned, these were made and sold at the shop next door but all the lamps on display at the bistro were also available for purchase! It’s a great theme that flows between all the properties. We liked it so much here that we included it in our Top 5 Cafes In Northern Thailand post… well deserved.

Pai Siam Coffee, Pai Siam Restaurant, Pai Siam Cafe, Pai Coffee, Best Pai Restaurants,

While sitting there, we started chatting with a very friendly man from Scotland whom we later found out owned the bistro (and Soi One Bedrooms) along with his wife. Engaging, warm and fun we enjoyed talking to him and learning a bit of his perspective on life as an expat for 15 years and his growing business in Pai. The bistro was fairly new, opening just a short time ago and complemented his boutique shop next door. We started eyeing their gelati stand again from our seat and were told by the owner that they had a selection of freshly made cakes and desserts in the display at the front. Taking a peek at the assortment, we were told the rainbow crepe cake was a must-try. So of course, we did! The many layers of rainbow coloured crepes were held together by some type of cream cheese frosting and topped with jam and a scoop of ice cream. The combination of the flavours were perfect and we devoured it pretty quickly. Definitely one of the best desserts we’ve had in a long time.

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We feel our visit to Pai was enhanced by our stay at Soi One Bedrooms and the coffee and dessert was a topping on the Cake (see what we did there?) from the little bistro called Pai Siam. Sure, we would have had a blast whether we stayed there or not, and there is a lot to do and see in and around Pai, but our night in the nicest hotel in pai, our smiley faced cappuccino and our delicious and unique crepe dessert made it extra special and extra memorable.

Click here for Soi One’s latest prices and more info.

Take a look at the map below to see how to get to Pai and where Soi One Bedrooms is located.

 

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The Ancient Lost City of Wiang Kum Kam

Discovering Chiang Mai – A Tour of Ancient Ruins

We decided to extend our stay in Chiang Mai an extra day before heading to Pai.  We had met up with an old friend of Macrae’s who was in Thailand for a week with some friends the night before and were invited to join them to watch a Muay Thai fight the following night. So while we knew what our plans were for the evening, we hadn’t figured anything out for the day. We mentioned our lack of plans to our host, Bob (whom we found on Airbnb), and he told us about the ancient temple ruins not too far from where we were staying.  He said they had uncovered and restored them several decades ago and were now accessible to the public but since it covers such a wide area, they have horse drawn buggy rides for 300 Baht ($11 CDN). So, with his directions and instructions, we set off to explore.

Wiang Kum Kam sign, Wiang kum kam, chiang mai ancient ruins

His directions were clear and we found ourselves following signs for Wiang Kum Kam, the ancient city we knew we were looking for, but missed the driveway for carriage rides and instead turned into the gates for a temple. There were ruins in view immediately as we turned down the first street to the temple. It was one of those perfect mistakes. One that turns out to be for the better despite any initial concerns.

Wat Kum Kam Ruins, Wat kum kam, wiang kum kam, acnient ruins chiang mai

Not only did we not have to pay the 300 baht for the ride, but we had accessed the small village and could now explore at our leisure on our scooter. We enjoy the adventure of discovering new things on our own and taking our time to do so, so this ended up being the perfect way to see the ruins.  We also ended up being able to see more ruins than the carriage ride would’ve taken us to (we met someone who was taking a carriage ride and he said they had only seen a handful).

Wiang Kum Kam, Chiang Mai Ancient Ruins, Chiang Mai Temple, Wiang Kum Kam Temple Map     Wiang Kum Kam, Wiang Kum Kam Horse Ride, Ancient Ruins Chiang Mai

It was pretty incredible to see ancient ruins, picture how they must’ve looked when they were at their prime and even how it must’ve looked when they were found. You could see on some areas how deep they had to dig in order to unearth the ruins and it must’ve been incredible to discover them hidden amongst the trees and shrubbery.

wiang kum kam, wat temples in wiang kum kam, chiang mai ancient ruins    wiang kum kam, streets of wiang kum kam, chiang mai ancient ruins

According to the various information sources, signs and centres, and what we were told, the city of Wiang Kum Kam was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom before the King declared Chiang Mai as the new capital in 1296. Wiang Kum Kam was abandoned and flooded several times and finally, buried metres under the ground. It wasn’t until 1984 that the ancient city was discovered and restoration began.

Wat Chang Kam, Wiang Kum Kam, Ancient ruins Chiang Mai   Wat Kan THome, Wat Chang Kam, Wiang kum kam

The first ruins we came upon, Wat Chang Kam or Wat Kan Thome, is situated in a small square with stalls of souvenirs sold by Buddhist monks, a temple that was in prayer when we arrived, and some other buildings of worship. This was the area we initially drove into off the main highway before delving further into the village.

Wat E-Kang, Wiang Kum Kam, Chiang Mai Ancient Ruins  Wat E Kang, Wiang Kum Kam, Chiang Mai Ancient Ruins

Wat E Kang, Wiang Kum Kam, Chiang Mai Ancient Ruins    Garden at Wat E Kang, Wat E-Kang, Chiang mai ancient ruins, wiang kum kam

Wat E-Kang, so named by the locals because of the many monkeys (Kang) that once inhabited the area when the ruins were shrouded in trees. The study of the soil here was what started the study into the flooding of Wiang Kum Kam. Ancient artifacts found in this area date back to the 16th and 17th centuries A.D.

 

Wat pupia, wat pupia ruins, wiang kum kam, chiang mai ancient ruins  Wat Pupia, Wat Pupia pedestal, Wiang Kum Kam, Ancient ruins chiang mai   Wat Pupia, Wiang Kum Kam, Chiang Mai Ancient Ruins

Wat Pupia was named by the locals as no official name was found in any historical documents. The excavation and restoration started in 1985 and ended in 1986. Despite the belief that there are other buildings and components to this site, excavation could not continue due to land disputes. It is believed this temple dates back to the 16th-17th centuries A.D.

 

Wat That Kaow, Wiang kum kam, ancient ruins thailand, ancient ruins chiang mai   Wat That Kaow, Wat That Kaow Buddha, Wiang kum kam, Chiang Mai Ancient Ruins   Wat that kaow, Wat That Kaow ruins, Ancient ruins chiang mai

Wat That Kaow (or Wat Thatkao) was named after the formerly lime plastered, white coloured pagoda. Facing the east, this temple has a bell-shaped main pagoda and according to the excavation in 1985, a Buddha image was found and presumed to be the original Buddha image. The current Buddha image was donated by the locals. The temple ruins themselves are dated around the 15th-16th centuries A.D.

Wat Phaya Mangrai, Wat Phra Chao Ong Dam, Wiang kum kam, chiang mai ancient ruins   Wat Phra Chao Ong Dam, Phaya Mangrai, Wiang Kum Kam, Chiang mai ancient ruins

Wat Phra Chao Ong Dam or Phaya Mangrai is a set of ruins, adjacent to eachother, so named because it was found with a bronze Buddha image in the area (Phra Chao means the Buddha image in some dialects in the North).  This temple is dated to the 15th-17th centuries A.D.

Wat ku magluer, Wiang kum kam, chiang mai ancient ruins   wat Ku Magluer, Ancient ruins, chiang mai ancient ruins, wiang kum kam

Wat Ku Magluer used to be a mound with a big Magluer tree. Several important artifacts found at this area are pieces of a lime Buddha, pieces of a bronze Buddha images and a bronze miniature Chedi. This temple is dated between the 16th-17th centuries A.D.

 

wat kumkam teepram, wiang kum kam, chiang mai ancient ruins

This temple is near Wat KumKam Teepram and marked as Wat KumKam Teepram No.1. There is apparently no record of this temple in any historical documentation. The villagers call it by the name Ton Khoi after a type of tree that grows in the area. This temple has been dated to the 16th-17th centuries A.D.

wiang kum kam, wiang kum kam sign, ancient ruins directions

We didn’t end up seeing all the Wats (temples) posted on the signs along the drive but we saw a fair number. The surprising thing we noticed was that there was not a lot of people or tourists visiting any of the ruins. In fact, when we first pulled in through the gates to the first ruins where the present-day temples were, we thought they must be closed for the day. It was deserted save for a few monks and some vendors. At the ruins themselves, we saw one horse-drawn carriage, a small tour bus with a group of tourists, and two fellow scooter drivers. That was it. This seems to be a little known, hidden gem in Chiang Mai and we would definitely recommend a visit through, especially since at least for now, you’ve got them all to yourself.

road in wiang kum kam, road around the ancient ruins chiang mai

The drive through the village was a truly unique one. Seeing the living, breathing village surrounding the long-forgotten ancient ruins, driving through the streets with random ancient temples scattered between the houses and people, it was this juxtaposition of thriving life with the crumbling, faded ruins of life-past that really made this place truly special to visit.

Comment below and tell us about any “hidden gems” you’ve found while travelling.

 

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Doi Suthep Mountain Thailand: Free Things in Chiang Mai

There’s Beauty and Adventure in Chiang Mai For Free

We’ve been on what you might call a shoestring budget. Sure we want to see all that we can, and often times you have to pay in order to do it, but with trying to maintain a strict budget, we sometimes have to forgo some of the more expensive options.  With this frame of mind it made it easier to notice, starting in China with the Black Bamboo Forest, that sometimes the most amazing experiences, the most relaxing, adventurous and beautiful times, cost little to nothing.

This was the case here in Thailand, when we decided to drive up the mountain from Hang Dong District to Mae Rim and Doi Suthep. It only cost us about $6 for the day for the rental bike and $3 in gas for a full tank. We were told there were many attractions to see along the way, the Chiang Mai Zoo and Aquarium, the Tiger Kingdom, Elephant Parks, The Palace and some temples and we thought we would make the drive and see what we wanted to stop at along the way.

The skies were blue with white clouds and we figured it would be a good day for a ride. Loong Kum, or “Uncle” as we call him, told us not to worry because there would be no rain. So, we traded our ponchos for extra water in our backpack, strapped on our helmets and started off on our rented motorbike to explore the mountain.

 

Once on the road to Doi Suthep the way quickly became an uphill winding drive. It felt very much like driving in a rain forest or jungle and it was surprising how lush and green the vegetation was. There are a couple lookout spots on the way to the first tourist area by the base of the temple.

doi suthep ountain, doi suthep view, chiang mai view,

The view was gorgeous and even though it was a partially cloudy day we were still able to see down to the city below. There was an artist set up, doing charcoal caricatures of those who wanted to pay and had mentioned that he thought it was going to rain. Still seeing blue skies and with “Uncle’s” forecast in our minds, we didn’t think anything of it and headed up the mountain once again.

 

We stopped a little further when we came across a little waterfall and couldn’t resist taking a moment to snap a few photos and enjoy the sound and view of the water.

doi suthep mountain, doi suthep waterfall, doi suthep view, chiang mai waterfall

Driving further up the mountain, we finally reached the base of the temple. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a Buddhist Temple located near the top of Doi Suthep Mountain. The legend of the temple is that King Nu Naone of the Lanna Kingdom placed what was thought to be a holy relic (a bone from Buddha himself) on the back of a white elephant. This elephant climbed Doi Suthep, trumpeted three times, and then died. It is there that the King built the temple, seeing the elephant’s death as a sign. If you want to climb to the temple from the base, prepare yourself for 309 stairs.

 

If not, you can take a shuttle bus or a cable car. Important to note is that proper attire is required so be prepared to have knees, shoulders, and chest covered for both men and women, and no tight clothing for either. We opted to visit the temple another day and instead walk around the shops and food stands that lined the street and the interconnected streets behind.

 

Doi Suthep Mountain, DOi Suthep Monk, Doi Suthep Temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Walking around the little village was a lot of fun. It was quite touristy though with lots of souvenirs for sale and although we didn’t plan on buying anything, Macrae tested his skills at bargaining with a few of the shop owners. The shop owners were unwilling to budge from their initial prices and it’s obvious that since this was a main tourist location, they knew they could get the price they want from another tourist eventually.

 

So we kept going and ventured off the main road and explored the side roads where little shops popped up here and there between houses and other village buildings.  We took our time, enjoying the walk, each other and the area around the temple’s base before hiking back up to our bike to continue on our way.

 

 

Thailand During Rainy Season – It’s All About Murphy’s Law

Phuping Village, Bhubing Palace, Doi Suthep Mountain, Doi Suthep Village, Doi Suthep Palace,

The drive from the base of the temple became a little steeper, with a lot more bends in the road, but the bike we were on handled it well and we had Macrae at the wheel so it was not an issue. Perhaps the neatest part of the trip was when we realized we were driving in a cloud. We stopped to enjoy the moment and the thought of being high enough on a mountain to be surrounded by cloud cover.

 

A little ways further and we reached another tourist stop, Bhubing Palace, or Phu Ping Palace. This winter palace for the Thai Royal family boasts beautiful gardens. We again decided to leave this tour for another day when it was less overcast and when we were up for some tourist activity. Instead, we walked through the adjacent Phu Ping Village which sold clothes, crafts, souvenirs and food. Again, we rambled along the side streets exploring and enjoying the different shops and things for sale.

      

It was as we were heading back to our bike that it started to rain. We had noticed signs of some rainfall as we drove up the mountain, but it had looked as though the rain had passed and we would be okay. For two weeks we had diligently lugged our two ponchos with us everywhere we went. We were prepared. But the one day we decided to leave them at home was the one day we actually needed them.

DOi Suthep Cloud, Doi Suthep Mountain, Doii Suthep Temple, Doi Suthep Palace

The rain only got worse driving down the mountain.  We stopped several times with other bikers to seek some shelter in the large overhanging trees but it didn’t really seem to help and it didn’t look like the rain was letting up any time soon. So we opted to keep driving, hoping to outrun, or drive past, the rain.  About 5 minutes into it, our plan worked, the rain had stopped. But only until we reached the base of the mountain.

Our hour long drive (or at least it seemed like it) from the mountain base to where we were staying in Hang Dong was a wet, cold and windy ride, but all we could do the entire way home was laugh, make jokes and shake our fists at “Uncle” for being a typical weatherman and getting it wrong.

By the end we looked like drenched rats pulling up to our guesthouse. Uncle shouted out to us and our host translated. Apparently Uncle joked that he thought we’d come back and kill him for telling us it wasn’t going to rain. They all had a good laugh at our waterlogged state. But then again, so did we.

Comment below and let us know when you’ve encountered Murphy’s Law while travelling.

 

 

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10 Things to Know About Beijing

The Capital of China – An Experience in Extremes

It’s always hard to describe a place to someone who hasn’t been there, but with Beijing, we don’t believe there could ever be the words, pictures, or videos, to fully explain what it is like. It is a full sensory experience. The sights, sounds, tastes, smells and tactile sensations are constant and overwhelming. The combination can be disconcerting and sometimes incredibly frustrating and at the same time fascinating and thrilling, all in one.

Like we mentioned in our post about the Beijing Night Market, it seems as though the unexpected exists around every corner. Every turn presenting a surprise and usually an unbelievable experience. Here we were in a world so incredibly different it was difficult to fully comprehend what was going on at any given moment, and while we were excited for the adventure, we were quickly worn down by the inundation of extremes.

The above video gives a good visual of what you will see and experience, but we’ve also put together a list of 10 things we feel are key to know about visiting Beijing.

From the budding in line to the sound of horking and spitting to the constant pungent smells, if you are planning on visiting Beijing, are interested in what it’s like or if you are already there and just want to know you are not alone in how you feel, the following will help explain exactly what it’s like to visit Beijing.

1. Don’t be afraid to push your way through crowds and lines.

night market crowd, night market beijing, wangfujing street beijing, beijing attractions

You may feel rude but from our experience it is just customary there to do what you have to do, to get where you need to go. There are so many people in Beijing, 19.6 million as reported in 2010, that you have to be assertive and sometimes a little aggressive in order to survive. The concept of “a personal bubble” seems to be a vague and uncommon concept. If you don’t want someone to bud in front of you in line you are going to have to get cozy with the person in front of you.Stand as close as you can to avoid someone sneaking their way in. If there is an opening in a line or crowd, someone will fill it so be prepared to wait if you don’t seize the opportunity yourself.

beijing subway, crowded subway, Beijing subway car,

In the week we were there, we were bumped, budded, and squeezed out of our turn in line. A split second of inattention and a new person would have stepped in front of us. So we adapted and learned fairly fast. There’s no need to be rude, but you definitely need to assert yourself in crowds and in queues. The exception to this rule is the subway. Generally, guided by markings on the floor, people stand to the side in a line and wait for people to exit the train before boarding in an orderly fashion.

2. Don’t be discouraged about asking for help.

It may be hard to find help and you may not get an encouraging response with the first person you ask. Like our experience on our way to The Great Wall, those that will help you will go out of their way. Often times it is just a language barrier so your best bet is with the younger locals as they have probably had more experience and practice speaking English.  If you are looking for directions, or any other kind of help, keep asking until you find the answer you need. There will be someone willing to help.

3. Make use of the subway system.

beijing transit, beijing subway, subway car

As we mentioned before, the subway system is incredibly easy to navigate once you understand how it works. The transfers for each line are visibly marked, numbered and colour coated. All stops and transfers are translated in English, both on the signs and on the announcement system on the subway trains themselves. Don’t be intimidated by the seemingly fast paced crowds and network.

beijing subway map, beijing transit, beijing subway, getting around beijing

This system will get you pretty much anywhere you need to go in and around the city and will save considerable amounts of time and money if you are considering taking a taxi. We paid under 50 cents CDN per ticket with unlimited transfers. One thing to note is that most hours are rush hour, so it can get busy and finding a seat is a rare (and exciting) occasion.

4. You will start getting used to the cultural differences.

beijing 711, asian 711, beijing 7/11

Or at least we feel like we started to become immune to many things by day 5. It is a pretty significant culture shock coming from a Western country. You will experience the following in large doses: the almost constant sounds of horking and spitting; the sounds of honking; the sounds of audio voice recordings broadcast in a loop; the smells of sewage and, in alleys near public washrooms, fecal matter; the smell of stinky tofu; the sights of many dogs and many dogs peeing; the sights of many, many people.

beijing alley, beijing hutong, chinese traditional house

You will also experience, in equally large doses: the sights of little children with rips in their pants, squatting on the sidewalk to pee, or poo; the sights of smog, pretty much all day, everyday; the feel of people walking, on bikes, or scooters brushing past you as you walk, the feel of other people bumping into you in crowded areas and on subway rides. But it is all part of the experience and eventually some of these start to fade into the background of the city.

5. There’s something unbelievable everywhere you go – go out and immerse yourself in the city.

beijing city, beijing city streets, beijing sights, beijing attractions

Whether you are visiting a temple, an historical site, a market or just walking around the streets of Beijing, chances are you will see something unexpected. We found that just wandering the streets or taking the subway to another part of the city had us stumbling upon interesting areas, new sights and some pretty neat things. Just being a part of the city is an experience in itself and it seems like each area has something different to offer.

We found incredible things getting lost while walking the streets, while visiting Tiananmen Square, while walking through parks and while sitting at coffee shops. Beijing is truly a study in extremes and you don’t always have to be visiting a major attraction to see something great.

6. Search online and ask locals for good restaurants.

the brown door beijing, beijing restaurants, best beijing restaurants

We had a hard time finding good food. We’re pretty sure there is lots out there since it seems as though there are thousands of restaurants, but many are without English translations and so we would inevitably ended up going into one of the first restaurants we could find with English or with photos that we could point at to order.

On the last day, we finally went on TripAdvisor.com and found The Brown Door, a restaurant that was recommended. While it was slightly more Westernized Chinese fare, it ended up being delicious and definitely the best meal of our trip. If you want to find good food, look online for reviews or find locals you can ask to point you in the right direction.

7. Plan your sightseeing according to the day of the week and time of day.

Like we mentioned, there are over 20 million people in Beijing and that’s not including the tourists, so if you are looking to cross off certain attractions on your list, plan accordingly. Every day will be busy but weekends will be PACKED, especially when visiting sacred locations such as temples. On weekdays, you will have to navigate between rush hour, and the after work crowds as well as early closing times for many of the sights.

As an example of what we planned, we went to the Beijing Zoo when it first opened on a Friday morning. It started getting busy by mid-day, when we were already ready to leave, so we headed over to the Bamboo park which is more spacious and we ran into few people or crowds. Mondays are a holiday for many attractions. If you are looking to get into a government run building, some of the museums, or most temples, you will be sorely disappointed if you try visiting on a Monday.

Definitely check to make sure you’re planning to visit someplace that is not only open to tourists but has no restricted areas. For example, The Forbidden City is closed on Mondays but you are still able to access the Imperial Gardens and walk around.  Even with many closures, most markets are open on Monday and there are still tons of things to do in the city.

8. Go to the bathroom when and where you can, comfortably.

squat toilet, asian toilet

 

If you can go, go. There are many public bathrooms on the street and in alleys between hutongs but these are not the most pleasant of experiences. There are also many places you may THINK should have a washroom (e.g. McDonald’s) but that’s not always the case. So if you are around a fairly clean and comfortable washroom, try and do your business there.

It’s also always good to keep some tissue to use as toilet paper as many public washrooms do not have any and don’t be surprised to find a squat toilet. Often times, some of the newer washrooms will have one Western toilet, but the majority of the time, if you are using a public washroom, you’re going to have to plant those feet and learn to squat!

9. Learn some basic phrases.

No smoking sign, water buffalo no smoking sign, beijing no smoking

English is not very common in Beijing so it helps to have a few basic words and phrases in your arsenal to communicate with others. There is a surprising amount of English translation on buses, subways and other transit areas and you can usually get by fine in the markets. The communication barrier really exists with interpersonal communication. Knowing key phrases can help when trying to interact in Beijing and you may be able to get by just knowing the basics.

10. It’s important to keep your passport with you at all times.

Security checks are prevalent across Beijing. Every time you enter into the subway station and any major attraction such as temples, etc, you will be asked to run your bags through a scanner. In some areas where military and police presence is high, such as Tiananmen square, you will also be asked to present your passport in order to gain entrance. It’s good practice to keep your passport readily available, and be prepared for bag checks as well having them use metal detectors on the people who pass through the entry ways.

 

Is there a general rule you follow when travelling abroad? If so, comment below and let us know what it is!

 

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Beijing Night Market – A Sensory Assault

NOTE: The Wangfujing Night Market is no longer operating. Closed in 2016, the area is now being repurposed. Here’s what you would have experienced:

Wangfujing Street Night Market – Fried Insects Anyone?

 

We were incredibly happy when we ended up meeting up with our fellow travel blogger/adventurer, Emily, back at the hostel after our day at the Beijing Zoo and the Black Bamboo Park. We had a great time at the Great Wall and were hoping we’d get a chance to say goodbye before she left the following day to continue on her journey in China.

We were all interested in seeing the Beijing Night Market, or Donghuamen Night Market, off Wangfujing street, we had heard so much about and decided to find our way, once again by foot, to this infamous market.

Walking down Wangfujing Street, it was clear that this was a downtown location (although we discovered that there are many downtown looking areas across Beijing). Major stores and brands such as H&M, Gucci, Prada, and the like lined this busy street.

At a particular portion, the street turned into a pedestrian only route with tents showcasing Maseratis and other expensive cars. We turned into one of the smaller streets off Wangfujing and it was here that the experience of the Beijing Night Market really began.

Wangfujing Street, Beijing Attractions, Beijing Night Market, Downtown Beijing    Parking in Beijing, Bikes in Beijing, Beijing Night Market, Wangfujing Street Beijing

 

It was, in one word, chaos. An assault on all the senses. True, much of our experience in Beijing could be considered a sensory assault but this was sensory overload.

Exiting from the main strip of Wangfujing street into the maze of winding and interconnected alleyways, we were bombarded by the sights, sounds and smells of the Night Market.

It was difficult to process exactly where we were. On one street there were souvenir vendors anxious to sell you something and on the next, there were vendors of fabrics, purses, jewelry and pretty much anything you could think of.

All these tables of items lined both sides of alleys anywhere from 7 ft to 10 ft wide and were packed from end to end with people.

snack street Beijing, Beijing night market, Beijing Attractions, Night Market  Beijing Night Market, Beijing attractions, Wangfujing street

We walked around at first in astonishment, trying to get our bearings and adjust to the onslaught. People yelling “hello! hello! do you want [insert any and every item here]?”, the smells of cooking food, stinky tofu and Beijing itself permeating the air, the push and shove of the people trying to get by, and the visual display of goods and art and food and people overwhelmed and enthralled us.

 

Night Market Lanterns Beijing, Beijing Night Market, Chinese Lanterns, Wangfujing Street Beijing

We stopped at a few souvenir stores and vendors to browse and to practice some bargaining. It was surprising to see a price start at 198RMB and be easily dropped to 40RMB simply by saying “too much” and starting to walk away, a few times.

Bartering was pretty big at all the places we went to in Beijing and it is a skill you need to learn fast if you want to get the best deal for what you are buying.

The Beijing Night Market is EXACTLY the place where these skills would come in handy as virtually everything has an initial price, and a significantly lower final price.

Beijing Bracelets, Beijing Night Market, Wanfujing Street Beijing

After a bit of perusing the stands and wandering between the small roads, we hit snack street. The Wangfujing snack street is a busy, narrow stretch with tons of food vendors.

If you’ve heard about strange fried insects and animals in China, this would probably be one of the places mentioned.

We first passed pretty typical looking foods: chicken skewers, squid and prawn skewers, some dumplings and takoyaki (balls of dough with octopus in the centre). There were stands with candy, nuts and even BBQ quail.

Chestnuts Beijing, Beijing Snack Street, Beijing Night Market

bbq fish and prawns at the beijing street market   BBQ Quail Beijing Night Market, Beijing Night Market, Beijing attractions

Then we hit the creepy crawlies. Rows of fried or BBQ insects and other creatures on skewers. We’re talking beetles, scorpions, crickets, lizards, starfish, snakes and seahorses…

We had heard about these stands and knew what we would be coming across but it was still a shock when we saw them live and up close. Apparently, these stands exist for the tourists with many locals completely baffled as to why anyone would even want to try these critters.

We’ve got to say, we were pretty baffled too, especially when we saw the skewers of uncooked and sometimes live scorpions, but we did see people buying and eating them.

BBQ cockroaches, BBQ scorpions, Fried insects, beijing night market, beijing attractions, wangfujing street

BBQ insects, Fried insects Beijing, Beijing night market, wangfujing street, friend lizards beijing, weird food in China

Carolann had mentioned early on that she wanted to brave the Night Market and try something weird, probably a tarantula, just to say she did. So we hunted for a while among the other fried creatures until we finally found a tarantula on a skewer.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos of the stand itself, so she decided against the tarantula and we all opted to try something different and fried…

bbq lizard, bbq starfish, Beijing Night Market,

 

No, we didn’t try any of the above fried “delicacies”. Instead, we opted for something a little more appealing and bought some deep fried ice cream.

deep fried ice cream, Beijing Snack Street, Beijing Night Market, Beijing Attractions

This was definitely a better option and we enjoyed the tasty treat as we walked through more of the twisting roads of the Beijing Night Market. We found a street of restaurants at the end of which had a small stage with a performer dressed in colourful, traditional clothing.

street performer beijing, beijing night market, beijing attractions

It seemed as though the things to do and see at the night market were endless and we could have walked around for several more hours without experiencing everything it had to offer, much like our experience of Beijing City as a whole and it’s surrounding areas: An incomprehensible amount of sights, smells and sounds and around every corner you turn, the unexpected.

Comment below and let us know which of the creepy crawly skewers you would choose if you were brave enough!

 

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A Day in Beijing Part Two – Black Bamboo Park

Beijing was one interesting experience. Over the week we were there we went through a wide range of feelings and experiences. Our favourite part of our time there however, were the times we simply walked around and explored the culture and the city. We learned 10 things you need to know before you go to Beijing, and saw a lot of different things, including an interesting night market, some historic landmarks and a few interesting attractions we simply stumbled upon,

Beijing’s Black Bamboo Park – A Photo Tour

After our visit at the Beijing Zoo, we decided we would venture on our own to Zizhuyuan Park, also known as the Purple Bamboo Park, or the Black Bamboo park, depending on who you ask. We opted to find our own way by foot, rather than take the ferry directly from the zoo as we knew it was close by. Asking directions from the tourist information centre at the zoo, we learned it was “down the street”, so we set off on yet another adventure to find a Beijing attraction.

zizhuyuan park, purple bamboo park, black bamboo park, beijing attractions

 

It was a ways down the road, there were no signs in English, and no one seemed to know what popular park we were talking about, but once we hit the black iron gates lined with bamboo, we knew we had found it. The Zizhuyuan park is by far one of the most interesting parks we’ve seen and offers so much to see and do.

Black bamboo park, purple bamboo park, ZiZhuYuan, beijing attractions, beijing parks    bamboo forest, black bamboo park, purple bamboo park, beijing parks, beijing attractions,

Upon entering the gates to the bamboo park, we were immediately met with music and dancing. Many couples and individuals gather together at different places in the park to perform various styles of dances, apparently just because they can.  They seem to enjoy it just as much as those that pass or gather to watch and it was interesting to see how many people were actually participating.

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The 34.5 acre, 3 lake, two island, expansive park has a host of activities including gondola rides, fishing, an amusement park and some pedal boat rides and there are many busker type performances. We didn’t end up doing anything other than walking but we had a great time watching all the activity around us, the sights and sounds and the beauty of the park. We had been slightly overwhelmed by the city of Beijing and its people and this was a wonderful respite from it all.

beijing gazebo, black bamboo park, purple bamboo park, beijing attractions, beijing parks       Buddha temple, beijing temple, buddha statue, black bamboo park, purple bamboo park

Black Bamboo Park, Purple Bamboo Park, Beijing attractions, bamboo forest  chinese lantern photos, black bamboo forest, purple bamboo forest, beijing attractions

The winding roads took us to tea houses, a worship area, a small market, gardens and many hidden gems along the way. The park seemed to be a popular place for many locals of all kinds but it was large enough that we didn’t feel crowded like in the rest of the city.

beijing souvenirs, black bamboo forest, purple bamboo forest, beijing attractions   chinese market, beijing attractions, purple bamboo park, black bamboo park

chinese jewellery, chinese beads, beijing attractions, black bamboo park, purple bamboo park,     chinese flowers, Black bamboo park, purple bamboo park, beijing attractions

We spent several hours just strolling and taking photos and enjoying the temporary serenity before we had to head back into the bustle of the main streets of Beijing. The Black Bamboo Park is one of the largest parks in Beijing and it was definitely one of the best we’ve seen so far.

Comment below and tell us about a great park you’ve visited while traveling!

bamboo forest, bamboo park, beijing attractions, black bamboo park, purple bamboo park

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A Day Touring Beijing Part One – The Beijing Zoo

The Beijing Zoo: Elephants and Tigers and Pandas, Oh my!

Still adjusting to the time difference, we were up pretty early one morning and decided to venture out to the opposite end of the subway system to where we knew there were a few tourist attractions. Since the zoo opened early, and Carolann loves elephants, we decided to head there first. Zoos aren’t our favourite places, and before we got to the Beijing zoo we had forgotten how hard it is to witness animals in captivity, but we had wanted to see the Giant Pandas (and of course the elephants) and with our limited time, we made the decision to check it out. We used a site with all the tourist information for Beijing to find all the information for the zoo we needed.

A few subway line transfers and we arrived at an already busy front gate. Purchasing our tickets proved to be an education in “queue etiquette” in Beijing, which is pretty much: move into any opening you can and take advantage of every opportunity to move yourself up in line. We learned fast and managed to get our entrance tickets, including admission to the panda house, fairly quickly. What surprised us was the price of admission. For a single entry with admission to the Panda House exhibit, it only cost 20RMB which is approximately $4 CDN. That made the cost of our entire trip, with subway to and from the zoo, come out to about $5 each!! They have one of the largest aquariums as well but we decided not to include that as part of our visit that day.

 

beijing zoo, beijing tourism, things to do in beijing, beijing panda house

Beijing zoo entrance

beijing zoo, things to do in beijing, beijing tourism, panda house,

Gotta see the elephants!!

panda house beijing zoo, beijing zoo, panda house, beijjing tourism

Entrance to the panda house

beijing zoo, blown sugar art, beijing tourism

Blown sugar art

The park is pretty expansive and colourful with lush greenery and many traditional Chinese buildings, statues and decorations throughout the winding roads. We strolled along the river, watching the ferries and boats go by taking zoo-goers on rides to various places, and stopped in at the different animal habitats along the way.

 

panda house, beijing zoo, things to do in beijing, panda stuffed animals   bear statue, beijing zoo, zoo photos, beijing attractions

beijing zoo, lion statue, Beijing tourism, things to do in Beijing

One of many statues decorating the park

beijing zoo ferry, beijing zoo, beiing attractions

One thing we noticed was that despite the signs instructing visitors not to feed the animals, many people ignored these postings and fed some of the animals various vegetables.  No one stopped them so we aren’t positive the zoo wasn’t selling these somewhere, we just didn’t see anywhere to buy feed.  This upset us both so we opted to visit only a few more before heading out. What did help us feel better was that it seemed as though all the animals were in good condition and there was always feed (from the zoo) visible in each habitat.

Gazelle, beijing zoo, beijing attractions,  ostrich, ostrich beijing zoo, beijing zoo, beijing attractions

snubnose monkey, beiing zoo, beijing attractions   zebra, beiing zoo, beijing attractions

Two of the last areas we visited were the tiger and the giraffe habitats where we managed to get a few amazing photos of each.

Giraffes, Beijing Zoo, Giraffe love, Beijing attractions   tiger photo, siberian tiger, beijing zoo, beijing attractions, beautiful tiger photo

The panda house exhibit was actually split into two areas, one was exclusively for the Olympic Games panda and boy did he have it made! An entire habitat to himself, with all the platforms, stairs and toys he could want.  The other pandas didn’t have it too bad either. The final habitat we visited was the elephant habitat. They had a decent sized area to roam in and around but it’s always sad to see them (as well as any animal) in captivity.

olympic panda at the beijing zoo   elephant photo, beijing zoo, beijing attractions, asian elephants

We were going to take the ferry from the zoo to a popular Bamboo Park nearby but decided we would save the money and create our own adventure getting there, just like we did to get to The Great Wall!

See our post for the rest of our day, where we will take you with us on a walk through the Bamboo Park!

 

beijing zoo, playful elephant, asian elephants, beijing attractions, elephant photo

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Climbing the Great Wall And Tourist Scams

The only thing harder than climbing the Great Wall is ordering dumplings.

Our first full day in China had us learning many a lesson about the tourist scene here in Beijing. The learning curve is steep and it is definitely not without stumbles but we managed to navigate our way to, and from, the Great wall with only a few “tourist bruises”, a great story to tell and one amazing memory of travelling to the Wall.

We met a fellow travel blogger/backpacker who was also on day one of her own journey (see Emily’s blog here) and started discussing possible ways to get to the Mutianyu portion of The Great Wall. At the hostel in Beijing we are staying at, there are guided tours but we were hoping to spend less and also wanted the adventure and challenge of getting there ourselves.

After researching the route and suggestions from other bloggers, all three of us set off to find our way to the Wall. From what we read, it was possible but tricky as scams and money grabbing schemes are common, so we knew we would very likely run into a few snags along the way. And we sure did!

Lesson #1: Don’t Act Like Tourists (Even Though It’s Obvious)

It started out pretty smoothly. We knew we needed to get to Dongzhimen station to catch a bus. Easy enough. We’ve only been here a short time but the subway system is pretty simple to learn once you’ve tried it and seen a map, so we knew how to navigate to get to the line transfers we needed.

Our instructions told us to catch the 916 bus to Huairou so we made our way to the bus transfer and found the line we needed. We hesitated. Just a moment where we opened a map and all three of us looked at it with concern, like we didn’t quite know where to go. And that’s all it took.

We were instantly approached by a woman claiming she could take us to bus 830 that would get us to Mutianyu quicker than the one we were waiting for. We followed at first but remembering that the lady at the reception desk at our hostel confirmed our directions for us, we quickly decided that even if it was quicker, we weren’t going to risk it.

We never did see bus 830 on route to the Wall but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or wouldn’t have gotten us there faster, we just don’t believe that’s the case. We opted for the way we had researched and got back in line for the 916.

        Mutianyu Great Wall, Guides at the Great Wall, How to get to Mutianyu

Lesson #2: Don’t get off the bus.

Three stops and an hour in and a man steps on the bus, walks up to the three of us and says this is the stop for Mutianyu. Now, we know for a fact this is not the stop the directions indicated and we wouldn’t have gotten off the bus, but two Chinese girls on the bus with us spoke to the man and told us the taxis weren’t running from Huairou (the station we needed to reach).

They said they’d get off the bus with us so we could go together as they were headed there as well. As the bus drove away and we listened to the one girl and the man, who we learned was a taxi driver, talk to each other in Chinese, it became increasingly obvious that this was one of those scams we had read about and by the sound of the girl’s tone, she was not happy about it.

It would have ended up being a scam and we would have had to pay significantly more. While we wouldn’t have gotten off that bus without the girl, she ended up saving us money and time in the long run by negotiating with the driver and ensuring we all went in the “cab” together.

She was incredibly helpful making sure we got our tickets and gave us instructions and directions for getting back. It was quite the contrast in attitudes to see one person working so hard to work their scheme and another fighting so hard against it. While we don’t appreciate being taken advantage of, we also don’t fault someone for wanting to make a little extra cash, and we sure are thankful for having someone who just wanted to help.

 

Dumplings in China, Great Wall of China restaurants, Mutianyu Great Wall, Dumplings and Noodles

Lesson #3: When Ordering Dumplings, Make Sure You Know How Much You’re Ordering.

The three of us were pretty hungry by the time we made it to the first entrance to get to the Wall, so we stopped in a dumpling restaurant. The waitress didn’t speak English but we tried hard to communicate that we wanted 3 pork and chive dumplings and 3 pork and shrimp dumplings.

We weren’t sure she had completely understood what we had said and were proven correct when we received three of each alright. Three plates of each for a grand total of 60 dumplings. We were shocked at first and a little upset because we weren’t convinced she didn’t “confuse” our order on purpose, but our frustration quickly turned to laughter at the absurd number of dumplings set before us.

We decided to make light of the situation, pack up a to go bag, pay our bill, and take the dumplings with us. Before we left Macrae joked in English/make-shift signing that since we bought so many dumplings, maybe we could take the chopsticks for free. She smiled and agreed, so we are now travelling with our own set of chopsticks.

mutianyu village, mutianyu great wall, stone carvings china

Lesson #4: Climbing the Great Wall is not a piece of cake but it is definitely worth every step.

After lunch we headed, on foot (instead of buying a shuttle ticket), the half hour walk from the first gate through the village of Mutianyu, to reach the stairs that would take us to the Wall.

Once there we started our climb to the top of the mountain and the Wall itself. It was not an easy task. Steep staircase, after steep staircase, we seemed to be climbing for hours but in reality it was probably only one.

By the time we made it to the top we were sweaty, exhausted and had drank more than half of our water. It was hard to focus on much else but the fact that our legs hurt, until we took the final step onto the Wall and got our first real glimpse of the view. It’s one of those views that no lens could ever capture to its fullest extent but regardless, you keep snapping photos in the futile hope of getting just one that may do it justice.

 

Great Wall Selfie, The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu Great Wall, Climbing the Great Wall

Lesson #5: Tours cost 280 Yuan (aprox. $40 USD). Finding our own adventure is priceless.

We walked along the Wall for a while before heading back down and making our way back to our hostel. The route home was somewhat less eventful since we knew the buses we needed to take and ignored all offers of a “taxi” ride.

Looking back on the day it was completely exhausting, filled with the unexpected, and one of the best days ever. It was only the first day of our adventures but we definitely learned and experienced a lot and it is a day we won’t soon forget.   

One Modern Couple Visiting The Great Wall Of China Mutinyu

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