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Download the detailed trip notes for everything you could possibly want to know about this trip, including detailed itinerary and full kit list.
I particularly selected this trip because the trip notes promised that the trip would be led by a food obsessed leader who would make sure that we would taste and learn about Thai cuisine and that there would be several extra food orientated inclusions to the standard itinerary.
Unfortunately this turned out not to be the case. We had a lovely guide, Tony, but he was either unaware of these extras or chose not to provide them:-
we did not get a tuk tuk food crawl in Bangkok so missed the opportunity to taste street food cooked as we watched it being prepared nor did we get a street food dinner at Hua Hin night bazaar. In both cases Tony replaced these highlights with meals at local restaurants.
We did get to visit Kanchanaburi night market and were encouraged to sample some street food there before we all sat down to a meal in one of the market restaurants. We also went for a "traditional" Khan Toke dinner but this was at a tourist trap on the outskirts of Chiang Mai with mediocre food and uninspiring entertainment in a huge hall filled with large tour parties. The Roti Sai Mai demonstration at a local market consisted of stopping at the roadside in Ayuthaya to watch a lady making the roti (pancakes) but the bags of filling were all pre-prepared and no explanation was provided as to how the cotton candy filling was prepared. We were able to participate in alms giving in Chiang Mai but again this was not an authentic experience as we were driven to an area of the city where vendors were selling prepared trays of food (almost like a UK Boots meal deal) which were then given to passing monks by tourists.
We had three enjoyable walks - the Erawan Falls outside Kanchanaburi, Hmong Village trek and Tham Phraya Nakhon cave
Bangkok - visiting the Grand Palace and Wat Po
Kanchanaburi - Hellfire Pass and War Museum
Ayuthaya - lunch cruise
Chiang Mai - Cookery school and "free" day taking part in Karen Elephant experience
Hua Hin - Khao Sam Roi Yurt National Park walk to Tham Phraya Nakhon cave (well worth the effort and the climb up was not nearly as difficult as Tony suggested)
I was very disappointed that this was not the food orientated trip promised by Exodus. Ultimately Exodus must take the responsibility for ensuring that customers get the trip that they sign up for. Exodus make a great deal about the need to read the trip notes in detail to check that travellers know what to expect so they have a responsibility to ensure that their guides deliver the trip described in the trip notes.
Based on previous reviews of this trip I took a box of items for children at the Hmong hilltribe - coloured pencils, dot-to-dot books, spot the difference puzzles, drawing pads, chalks, balls, toothbrushes etc. Our guide had no idea what to do with these items and, rather than let me give these to the local school or the village chief, kept calling young children to come over as we walked round the village. This was not what I had intended although the gifts were clearly appreciated by the youngsters.
This was a level 1 trip so there was free time at each location and it would have been helpful to have some local orientation when we arrived - Tony's main concern seemed to be to tell us the location of the nearest 7/11. This was a feature of all road trips too and rather than stop at local stops we often either stopped at tourist traps where the quality of food was poor (cafe beside Grand Palace in Bangkok, Butterfly/Orchid Farm en route to Hmong Village) or at service stations with Mcdonalds, KFC, 7/11 etc.
After pushing for the missing Tuk Tuk food tour from the first night of our trip Tony arranged for Tuk Tuk's to take us to Khao San Road on the last night. Unfortunately rather than the street food that we were looking forward to we were instead taken to a restaurant full of other tour groups for an uninspiring meal before we were taken for a walk up Khao San Road to get taxis back to our hotel.
For a relaxing introduction to Thailand this is an ideal trip although it will probably just whet your appetite to return and do your own thing in Thailand.
Bangkok is a very busy city with heavily congested traffic. The Rembrandt Hotel used by Exodus is in the business area of the city so if you want to do any sightseeing you have to use public transport or taxis.
This is an Exodus "Premium" trip but the hotels at Kanchanaburi (Felix River Kwai resort) and Chiang Mai (Imperial Mae Ping) were disappointing and, once again, the hotels selected by Exodus (at Kanchanaburi and Hua Hin) were miles from anywhere leaving us unable to visit local amenities in our free time.
The lodge at Hmong was much better than expected and the food at the lodge was delicious too.
The overnight train trip was better than expected although those on the top bunks had to spend the night sleeping under the bright carriage lights as these are not dimmed overnight. The beds had thin mattresses so weren't too uncomfortable,there was a curtain across the bunk for privacy and they provided clean sheet, pillow and blanket.
There were 14 in our group and all road travel was in two minivans. This meant that half the group did not have the guide travelling with them and had no-one pointing out things of interest etc. It would have been much better if we could have travelled together in one, larger, bus.
We flew back to Bangkok from Chiang Mai and then endured a lengthy road trip through heavy Bangkok traffic to the seaside resort of Hua Hin or rather to a concrete resort Novotel 30 minutes drive from Hua Hin. This is a large 240+ room resort hotel with small beach area and the hotel minibus offering free transport to Hua Hin was fully booked for the duration of our stay - I'm sure Exodus could find a much nicer beach resort for the last few nights or at least a hotel nearer Hua Hin
A great introduction to Thailand with a good balance between sightseeing and travelling, with comfortable accommodation throughout. I'd be very happy to go back to Thailand on my own given how safe I felt and how friendly the locals were.
There were so many highlights:
Hellfire Pass and the War Cemetery - when you see this for yourself you cannot help but be moved by what the prisoners of war had to endure.
Cooking at Home Thai Culinary School - Pom and her husband were so welcoming and great teachers. We started by visiting their local market and learning about the local produce, including the many many different varieties or rice! The actual cooking school at their home was brilliantly equipped and run. I thoroughly enjoyed cooking and eating a number of authentic Thai dishes. Great day and look forward to trying to replicate it all at home!
Hilltop Temple of Doi Suthep - there is always the possibility with these holidays that you can become a little "templed out", however, for me personally the setting of this temple in particular, up in the hilltops and with the incredible gold ornate detail and the stunning views made this a firm favourite for me.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary - the normal Elephant Nature Park that Exodus tends to visit was fully booked but the jungle sanctuary was a good second option. It was great spending time with the elephants feeding and washing them and so refreshing to see that they didn't have chains rounds their ankles. The elephants really were free to roam so if they got bored of you, or spotted someone else with more food they could just wander off as they pleased. Just a word of warning, if you do this particular optional extra the journey to the sanctuary was a good 1.5hrs and is in the back of a local taxi (in essence like being in the back of a pick up truck) - therefore take some warm clothes as it was certainly a bit chilly first thing in the morning.
Hmong Lodge - beautiful tranquil setting with very comfortable accommodation. They have a lovely pool so remember to take your swimmers if leaving your larger bag in Chiang Mai.
Tony was a great group leader, always willing to please and even on our free days was always around to see us off on trips etc. It was my birthday whilst I was out there and despite this falling on a fairly busy travelling day he'd done his best to source a birthday cake and candles!
I had been somewhat dreading the overnight train journey based on my experiences of having done this in other Asian countries. To my surprise it was a very enjoyable experience. We were fortunate to be on a fairly new train but it was clean, had western toilets, smooth ride (not too many stops throughout the night) and there was even a little mattress to make it more comfortable! I would advise taking an eye mask and ear plugs for this as they don't dim the lights at night.
On the whole all the convenience stops were perfectly acceptable but toilet roll is scare so do take some with you!
Whilst this trip is a Level 1 some of the walks were a little more challenging than expected, especially when you take the heat and humidity into account. The walk / trek round the Hmong tribe area was fine and more like a leisurely stroll around their stunning farmland area.
The walk up the Erawan Waterfalls is steep, slippery and hot! In Khao Sam Roi Yort National Park we chose to get the boat to the beach before embarking on the walk to the Tham Phraya Nakhon cave - the idea was that this would save our walking legs a little. Unfortunately my particular boat got struck by a rather large wave and as a result we were totally and utterly drenched. As a result I then didn't fancy hiking up to the cave in sodden clothes so perhaps take a few spare items in your bag in case something similar happens. For those that did the hike to the cave I gather it was another steep and slippery walk but based on their pictures clearly worth the effort!
All the local food is fine to eat, just make sure it is freshly cooked in front of you.
I have travelled with Exodus a lot over the years and I have to say the standard of accommodation on this trip was the best I have experienced to date. Obviously with busy days you don't always have a lot of time to enjoy the hotel facilities but I found the standard of the accommodation was a pleasant surprise when compared to other trips I've done.
The road network in Thailand was far better than I expected, no pot holes and so not the back breaking hours i've experienced on other trips being bounced up and down in mini vans! The traffic, however, particularly in Bangkok is terrible and therefore the transfer to Hua Hin is a very long and boring journey (not in the least bit scenic). We would have all preferred it if we could have either flown direct from Chiang Mai or got the train from Bangkok, however, the timetables for these don't match up with the needs of the trip unfortunately.
A relaxing holiday which combines about the right amount of excursions and free time.
Visiting Hellfire Pass and the death railway memorials was very moving. The day spent at the elephant jungle sanctuary was wonderful giving me a chance to embrace wild elephants.
She was outgoing and entertaining which helped with our small quiet group. She could have been quicker to take on board our preferences.
Although the walks are short they mostly involve steep and sometimes slippery steps so probably not the holiday for people with dodgy knees or hips.
All the hotels are of a good standard including the Hmong tribe lodge which had all mod cons, a swimming pool and wi-fi access.
On the sleeper trains, the beds are only folded down at night. There is generally a top bunk with no window and a lower bunk next to the windows. Curtains pull over both the window and across the beds so that you can't be seen by people walking down the aisles of the train. There are two toilets at the end of most carriages. It's advisable to bring your own toilet paper as this tends to run out quickly and DO NOT go to the toilet bare footed. There are showers, so wet wipes for freshening up are also recommended.
Kai Aylward - Sales
Despite recent changes to the visa regulations for some nationalities, British passport holders will still get an automatic 30 day visa on arrival (provided you are arriving by air). No photographs or money are required, you will simply get a 30 day stamp in your passport on arrival. Everytime you cross a border, please ensure that the visa stamp has been correctly signed off or a new one issued if re-entering the country.
Kai Aylward - Sales
Thais like their food spicy, but in most resturants they will assume that farang (foreigners) won't want their food quite as spicy and you'll be asked if you want it "Thai style" or not. Vegetarians who don't eat fish may find it difficult to avoid fish oil, as this is used in the vast majority of Thai food. Ask your tour leader to ask that this not be used in cooking, even if you are ordering a vegetarian meal. Street food is wide ranging, cheap and generally of excellent quality. If a vendor is busy, it's generally a sign of the food being good. Som Tum (spicy green papaya salad) is one dish I highly recommend. Grilled chicken (gai) with sticky rice is another. If you fancy a drink, Heineken, Singha and Chang are all available widely and will cost from 60 to 120 baht, depending on where you are. All three are brewed in Thailand.
Kai Aylward - Sales
With regards to money, it is easy to change cash or travellers cheques in most of the major cities and towns in South East Asia. ATMs are available everywhere (to give you some idea, there is a gloabally connected ATM at every 711, and there are two 711s for every one bus stop in Bangkok alone). However, there is now a flat fee added for every withdrawal made from an international bank account at ATMs (in addition to any fees charged by your own bank) so it's advisable to only make large cash withdrawals rather than taking out small sums as you go.
Kai Aylward - Sales
Unfortunately we are not qualified to answer all your questions in regards to travel health, so we strongly recommend you contact your GP or a Travel Health Clinic at least 8 weeks prior to departure for up-to-date information.
Nomad Travel Clinics are experts in preparing people for travel, providing advice on vaccinations, anti-malarial and staying healthy whilst overseas. We have arranged a special 10% discount for Exodus passengers on any vaccinations that you may require! Take along your Nomad discount card, sent with your confirmation pack, or call Exodus for your special discount code.
Visit www.nomadtravel.co.uk/exodus for further information.
For additional information please visit: www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk
Charlotte Taylor - Customer Operations
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