Blackbox Procurement Solutions Ltd was born out of my desire to find a flexible way of working that suited my travel alter ego. I had spent nearly 4 years being semi-retired (well, so I called it)… working for companies and then either leaving or taking 6 month sabbaticals and, although I was very lucky to be able to do so, I felt this was a very disruptive way of doing things not only for the business I worked for but also for my own personal life.

So, I decided to set up Blackbox early in 2017 and give the world of interim work a go, the plan being to take short or medium length contracts of 1-6 months and, in between the contracts, travel for 2-8 weeks. My foray into being self-employed started well when the first thing I did as Director was give myself 14 weeks off, good business decision making there. I can already tell I am going to enjoy being self-employed!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Here we go again….

Well just over 3 years after I last wandered off into Asian abyss in search of temples, I find myself poised and ready to leave the UK again for a few months to chase temples across Asia. This time embarking on a 4-month journey through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia, East Timor, The Philippines and India.

So here I am on trip eve, making last minute preparations which include finding out which terminal I am flying from, what time my flight actually is and trying to squeeze the last few bits into my rucksack!

What can you, my readers, expect… erm well lots of temples and Buddha, some hilarious stories involving local transportation and no doubt stories of me having to get up early to climb a mountain to watch another sunrise! Every time I am away I find myself being woken at 3.30/4am to hike up a mountain in the dark to watch sunrise when I should be rolling out of bed at 8am, breakfasting on a veranda with a view of the sea and then going for a leisurely stroll about town!

Still, after being away from the backpacking scene for 14 months I need to get off my backside and do some hiking! The most I have climbed in the last 14 months are the 2 flights of stairs to my current bedroom!

This trip is a chance to re-visit some countries that I have previously seen, visit some countries for the first time, meet with old friends, make some new, chill out, regroup, detox and unwind.

Thailand

Sa-wat-dee ka from Thailand. Well it’s already my final day in Thailand and it’s not even a week since I left the UK!

So, the start to the week was somewhat stressful when I discovered I don’t know more about Heathrow Terminals than Expedia. I had assumed I was flying from Terminal 4 as that is where all the middle eastern airlines fly from, upon checking my e-ticket Monday morning I discovered Expedia were saying Terminal 3!

So off I head on the tube to Terminal 3, one 12kg rucksack strapped to my back and a 5kg strapped to my front! Jump off at Terminal 3, hike the two miles from the tube station to the terminal to discover that I was right after all! So back down to the tube I hike, get on a tube going London bound one stop to Hatton Cross, get off, get back on the tube going the other way to Terminal 4 and then finally reach check in!

I know I said I needed to get some hiking in but this was not what I had in mind!

Anyway, arrive at the check in desk stressed and sweaty to be asked for my passport and return flight! I explained I didn’t have a return flight as I was leaving Thailand by boat down the Mekong, the woman looked at me like I was mental and called over a superior! I then proceeded to explain, again, that I was on a tour and not flying out of Thailand and did not have my boat ticket out of Thailand. Eventually he conceded and let me check in! Jeez, why do they make things so difficult?!

Flight left on time and was pretty empty so I had 2 seats to myself which was nice; arrived in Muscat with enough time to stretch my legs before jumping on the next flight to Bangkok.

I had booked myself a nice aisle seat near the front of the plane but 30 mins in the stewardess asked me if I would mind swapping seats with the girlfriend of the guy next to me. Being the nice person that I am… said yes and ended up sitting in the far left corner of the back row, squashed against the side of the plane! Won’t be doing that again, sod any forlorn lovers in the future!

Finally arrived in Bangkok and grabbed a taxi to my little homestay for the night, a lovely family run old Thai traditional wooden house called Baan Kapitchan.

The taxi driver threw me out on the main road and told me to walk the rest of the way to the house as he couldn’t drive there! So ladened with bags I stumbled down a dark alleyway containing wooden shacks, stalls, the stall owners and the odd cat.

Once at Baan Kapitchan I was plied with a welcome drink of chrysanthemum juice! Apparently, you can make juice from flowers! Then I crashed out asleep at 9pm!

The following day saw me head across town in a Tuktuk to the hotel where my travel buddies were. We are 7…two stylish Swiss German 73 year old ladies (who look late 50s) called Brigette and Doris or Thelma and Louise as they are now known, Irish John otherwise known as Irish, Californian Steve, otherwise known as Steve, Patrick known as Patrick, Lyn known as Lyn and myself!

The first night we hit Bangkok for dinner, going to a place just off of the Khao San Road! Khao San Road for those that don’t know is a mecca for 18-25 year old backpackers who revel in getting hammered, getting poorly designed holiday tattoos, taking in a ping pong show, eating scorpions on sticks and buying poorly dyed pieces of cotton for bracelets and ankle bracelets! It truly is a delight!

We took a post dinner stroll down the road to absorb the ambience which was wonderfully supplemented by differing booming music belting out of every bar and the aroma of sewage!

As much as the EZ Sleep Hostel above all of this seemed appealing, we walked 10 minutes back to our more refined hotel and crashed out.

The next morning, we were up and out on a long tailed boat for a tour around the canals of Bangkok. It was nice to get out on the water and take in the city from a different perspective. We stopped nearby a temple to feed some huge catfish before disembarking the boat at a temple called Wat Po. Wat Po is home to a stunning array of temples and the second largest reclining Buddha in Thailand. We wandered around for an hour and a half  before splitting off to enjoy some free time.

Patrick and I decided to swing by The Grand Palace. This involved a brief walk, followed by a free ride on the upstairs of an old London bus then a stroll around the palace where hordes of Thais were dressed in black mourning their King.

He appears to have been a very popular man and Thais pay homage to him across the country through posters, paintings, portraits and banners. In 6 days, I have gazed upon his face more times than I have my own in the last year! 

Patrick and I navigated our way back across Bangkok on foot and met up with others from the group for a drink. At 4.30pm we all met in the reception of the hotel to head to the train station for our overnight train to Chiang Mai. The train left just after 6pm and took 13 hours!

The train, I have to say, was modern and clean with fold down beds along both sides of each carriage. The toilets were devoid of squat pans and contained proper sit-down toilets, with soap, running water and toilet roll. What a novelty!

The food was edible also, grabbed some dimsum… five pork dumplings and a BBQ pork bun for just over £1! 

Sleep was fitful due to the freezing air con and substandard blanket provided but managed to cobble together another hour to be coherent in the morning.

We arrived in Chiang Mai at 7.15am and transferred to our hotel, quick shower and change, then we went off for breakfast to a French Bakery. L’Opèra sells the best croissants outside of France!

After our very European breakfast we spent the day wandering around town in 40 degree heat taking in canals, ancient city walls, shops, stupas, temples, Buddha’s, markets and bars!

Lunch was a Chinese affair where one could feast on such delights as baked fish stomach, duck feet and veg, shark fin soup, jellyfish and rice or a whole roasted pig! I opted for a simple beef and chilli dish with rice as bizarrely didn’t fancy much of the rest of the menu.

In the evening, we headed up 320 steps to a temple to watch evening prayers and see Chiang Mai from above, then we wandered around the night markets and ate street food, chicken Penang and broccoli, immense!

The following day saw much of the same…French bakery, walking miles around town in 40 degrees, stopping every hour for a sit down and cold drink. We also visited a fish foot spa to have our feet nibbled, a teak Buddhist temple to have our souls cleansed and a shopping centre to purchase some fruit, drinks and snacks!

The evening was more night market, chicken Penang this time with Chinese style broccoli, dress shopping and lady boy spotting! There was even a street vendor cutting his toenails in the street and a monk peeing up a fruit and veg stand!

This morning we were up early, breakfasted at the French bakery and on a minibus by 8am. We drove three hours to Chiang Rai passing rice paddies, national parks, massive areas of verdant flora, mountains, towns, villages and the ‘Cabbages and Condoms’ restaurant! Yes, that is the real name of a restaurant!

We then stopped for a couple of hours for a mooch around the white temple, which is a white and silver glistening affair that would not look out of place in a theme park! It was designed by a local Thai artist whose paintings make Salvador Dali look normal!

The temple has a pool of raised clay hands at the front, skulls mixed with images of Buddha, painted walls depicting space travel, the Mayan civilisation and paintings of Bush and Bin Laden riding a rocket! Round the back is a scaffold clad golden temple with a large statue of Ganesh and if that wasn’t enough, the toilets are marked by a grotesque male and female pooing gargoyle standing outside each one!

We grabbed a spot of lunch then drove an hour or so which now brings me to the here and now. Sitting on a balcony in 40 degree heat in a hotel with no electricity, the Mekong flows a mere 30m away and Laos sits on the furthest bank.

Tomorrow morning will see us cross the Friendship Bridge into Laos and then pick up a boat for 2 days sailing down the Mekong!

So, as we prepare to leave Thailand, I summarise as thus…

Steps done- 80,000 (according to my phone!)
Number of times eaten rice- 9
Number of Croissants consumed- 3
Number of lady boys spotted- a definite 9, a possible 15
Favourite dish- Penang Chicken
Number of restaurants supposedly serving the best Pad Thai in Thailand- 32

Let’s see what Laos brings!

Thailand Blog By Claire Francis