Europe Cycle Tour: Sweden (Part 1)

I was excited going into my cycle tour of Sweden because I had heard about their law that allows anyone to camp anywhere in nature for free. The law is called ‘Allemansvretten’ and roughly translates to ‘all man’s freedom’. It has certain conditions that are fairly obvious – you can’t camp on (or too near to) private property, you can only stay a few days and you must leave the area clean. Those making use of this law clearly abide by its conditions – because Sweden is one of the cleanest countries I’ve ever seen.

However, having heard about a law and knowing how it works in practice are two different things, and I was a bit apprehensive about just how lenient this law is. Could I really just pull in and pitch up my tent wherever I wanted without being asked to move on? I was about to find out…

Day 1 – Stockholm to Soldetalje

I awoke in my overpriced Stockholm hostel ($30) ready to escape into the beautiful, and most importantly free, countryside. I spent the past week on a very expensive and boozy cruise through the Baltic peninsula and desperately needed a few cash-saving days of sobriety.

I had been raining heavily that weekend so I bought a rain suit and wrapped all my bags in plastic before heading out. However, by the time I got to the outskirts of the city, it was starting to clear. My first stop was a Decathlon just outside Stockholm where I hoped to get my bike serviced. Upon arrival, I proudly informed the store attendant that I had purchased my bicycle at a Decathlon in India over a year ago and ridden it through seven African countries. He looked disinterested and told me the bike mechanic wasn’t in yet.

Disheartened, I shopped around for a tent and some waterproof pannier bags, convinced I would be spending the next four months cycling in rain. Eventually, the bike mechanic arrived but told me they were booked up that entire week for services. He was equally disinterested in my global cross-country cycle expedition on a Decathlon-built bike that wasn’t designed to do more than collect groceries from the store.

I packed all my stuff into my new panniers and decided to see if any bike stores in the next town could help me out. Since rebuilding my bike in Stockholm after the flight it wasn’t changing gears properly and just needed a service in general after four months crossing Africa. I soon arrived in the next town of Soldetalje, following Sweden’s intricate but confusing bicycle paths all the way.

In Soldetalje I found a bike shop and the mechanic said he could have it done by tomorrow. I told him that would be fine and asked if there is anywhere to camp. People don’t usually camp in or around cities but Soldetalje benefited from a large forest on a hill right in the middle of it, so he told me that should be fine. I left the bike with him, took what I needed and headed into town to buy a simcard and grab some food. I got a simcard fairly easily at a small shop and topped up 3GB of data for 100 krona (€10).

I then checked out the town and ended settling at a familiar spot, a Subway sandwich shop, where I ate and used the wifi. I realised I was still wearing my cycling shorts so decided to change in the toilets. They only had a single toilet and stupidly I forgot to lock the door, so just as I had pulled down my cycle shorts and was bending over with my ass facing the door, somebody opened it! They must have gotten a terrible shock. Needless to say, I got the hell out of there pronto before someone called the police and reported me for indecent exposure.

I decided to check out the forest on the hill, called ‘Kussens Backe’, or Cousins Hill, and discovered its quite a popular after-work running area. I wondered if I would be able to find a quiet and hidden place to camp. The South African in me couldn’t shake the feeling that if somebody saw me setting up camp they may come back later in the night and try to rob me. Looking back now I realize I was more likely to get offered some coffee and cake than get robbed!

I decided to go work a bit at another nearby restaurant and wait until after dark. Little did I realize that the sun only sets at about 11pm in Sweden at this time of year, so I had a bit of waiting to do. Eventually, around 10pm I decided the park should be empty and I headed back. My suspicions were confirmed and the park was deserted, most likely because it was now freezing cold by this time. I quickly pitched my tent in a secluded area and turned in for the night.

Day 2: Soldetalje to somewhere in the countryside

Unfortunately, I didn’t get much sleep since the sun awoke me at 3am! I suddenly realized why the Decathlon had such a large stock of black-out tents. It never gets dark in this crazy country! I tried to get back to sleep but mostly just lay down for another two hours before packing up and heading down the hill to find coffee.

Nothing was open yet so I sat outside a cafe until they opened and then I promptly left upon discovering their coffee is €3.50 a cup! I sat on some benches at a nearby cafe advertising €1 coffee and did some work while waiting for it to open. Eventually, the owner arrived, opened up and promptly shouted at me to get away, even bringing out a hose for added intimidation. Clearly, he thought I was some kind of laptop-using homeless person with all my bags.

I packed my shit quickly, flipped him the bird and then continued on towards the shop where I had left my bike to get fixed. Fortunately, I found a nice cafe on the way which did bottomless coffee for €2 and had some cheap sandwiches, so I had breakfast and worked there for a few hours until it was time to get the bike.

Unfortunately, the bike shop turned out to be a dud, and they barely did anything to my bike. All they did was replace the gear cable and realign the gears – I was expecting a full service. He even forgot to fix my right brake which I told him was loose. So that was a waste of €30! Long story short, Soldetalje is a shithole, don’t go there.

I cycled off towards a nearby store to buy some camping gear and food and then cycled out of town, happy to see the last of that place. Town quickly gave way to the countryside and I enjoyed the decent roads with a wide shoulder and minimal traffic as lakes and forests passed beside me. Eventually, I had forgotten all about Soldetalje and as the evening drew near I began looking for a camping spot. This turned out to be easier said than done.

As I turned down a side road to find a lake I suddenly got a puncture on my front tyre. It was quite strange as my Schwalbe tyres are practically bulletproof and I couldn’t find any thorn in the tyre. I did find a small split in the side, though, and fixed it quickly enough with a patch and then headed off again. Unable to find any decent lake or grassy area I settled for hiding down a dirt path in small patch of forest.

As soon as I stopped, thousands of mosquitos surrounded me and started sucking the very lifeblood out of my tired soul. Wonderful. I carried mosquito spray 5000 kilometres across Africa and barely used it, and now I need it more than ever! I quickly set up the tent, jumped inside with my stuff and managed to get it closed with only one ill-fated mosquito sneaking inside. After splattering him, I cooked some tasteless tomato pasta and got to bed.

Day 3: Random camp spot to Stavsjo

Cleverly using a thing to cover my eyes, I managed to sleep until about 6 am. I packed soon after a quick cup of coffee and headed off towards Norrkoping, my next destination where I had arranged to stay with someone from the cycle touring app Warmshowers (like Couchsurfing). The route was relatively uneventful as I cycled along back roads and through farms and fields. Towards the afternoon my left knee started to get quite sore so I slowed down and took it easy.

I reached the town of Stavsjo in the early afternoon and decided to get some lunch, rest my knee and do some work. After a few hours I tried to cycle again but my knee was still quite bad and the evening was approaching. I messaged the Warmshowers guy and said I’ll rather stop here the night and could hopefully still stay with him the following night.

Using ‘satellite’ view on Google maps, I managed to find a lovely spot next to a lake to camp for the night. Although it was on a walking track, I barely saw or heard anybody passing until late in the night when somebody ran very close by my tent but didn’t stop to bother me.

Day 4: Stavsjo to Norrkoping

Since it was only about 10km’s to Norrkoping I was in no hurry to rush off. I had a few coffees around my beautiful campsite and waited until the sun was quite high in the sky and morning cold had worn off. Eventually, I packed and headed off on a slow cycle. Along the way, I found an awesome viewpoint and took some pictures overlooking the ocean.

Arriving in Norrkoping around lunchtime, I found my host Emil’s house easily enough and met him, his wife and their toddler. After they kindly shared their lunch with me, we headed out to check out the town. Norrkoping is built upon a complex water system that was one of the oldest operating hydroelectric power stations in the country until it was recently upgraded. Lots of the old construction remains, making for a beautiful old town built around a canal system and man-made waterfalls.

I bought a few extra pieces of equipment I needed and then we headed back for dinner at theirs. Emil offered to introduce me to a Swedish sauna, which inexplicably every building in Sweden has included as default. We grabbed some cold beers and up to the stairs to his buildings roof-top sauna. The experience was actually really cool as I’m not usually a fan of public saunas, but having the whole space to ourselves to drink some beers and chat was a nice change.

This was actually my first time as a Warmshowers guest and I was amazed at how welcoming and hospitable complete strangers can be. That evening after a nice dinner, Emil and I went out to town for a few beers and chatted about football, cycling and my life growing up in Cape Town.

Day 5: An awkward day in Norrkoping

My knee was still hurting in the morning and the night before Emil had offered to let me stay another night, so I told him I would. Unfortunately, I don’t think he had expressly discussed this with his wife so I may have caused an expected exchange between them. I didn’t understand what they were saying but it seemed awkward, even though they both said it was fine. I probably should have just left then but then it may have made her feel like it was her fault, so, unsure what else to do, I just kept quiet and stayed.

We all visited a beautiful nearby lake together which they had probably planned to do alone as a family that day. Either way, everyone seemed happy enough so I just went along with it. We swam briefly in freezing cold water and then hiked a nearby mountain that is clearly very popular with rock climbers.

Feeling bad for overstaying my welcome I stupidly offered to cook everyone dinner, as if my cooking would somehow make things better. Foresight lacking, I headed out to the shops and bought some lasagna sheets, butter, CRAZY EXPENSIVE beef (€10), cheap low-alcohol beers (50c), normally priced cheese (€2) and tinned tomatoes.

Back at their apartment, I placed myself in front of the stove promising my poor hosts the best lasagne they’ve ever had. Within minutes I had burnt the butter and set off a fire alarm that automatically alerts the fire department, so they had to call and tell them it was just an idiot homeless cycle-tourist who had forgotten how kitchens work.

Crisis averted, my long-suffering hosts somehow allowed me to continue my rampage of destruction and I managed to cobble together a barely-passable form of Italian cuisine that I feel unqualified to call lasagne. They assured me it was lovely in that special way that only parents with children are able to do. Needless to say, we all got to bed early and I made my thanks/apologies and departed early the next morning.

Day 6: Norrkoping to Gamleby

I cycled southeast from Norrkoping towards Valdemarksvik, a small coastal town where I hoped to find a pub playing the Liverpool – Spurs Cup final that night. The route took me along some lovely forested lanes and a town bizarrely called Tindered where I would have stopped if they had a pub with a TV.

Arriving at Valdermarksvik by early afternoon I quickly discovered they wouldn’t be showing any football in this tiny fishing village. After some lunch and a nap in a park, I continued on to Gamelby which Google Maps promised had a bowling alley and sports bar. On arrival, however, Gamelby was a literal ghost town, with the bowling alley long-closed and dilapidated.

I realized my quest was doomed and resigned myself to following updates of the score on my phone. I found a lovely quiet little spot on the river mouth, set up camp and made dinner. I briefly attempted to fish with a fishing line and hook that Emil had kindly gifted me but without proper bait, I didn’t have any luck. I ended up eating pasta and tomato sauce again.

Day 7: Gamleby to Oskarshamn

Heading south from Gamleby I discovered a strange wooden troll outside the town of Vastervik and decided to cycle onto a small, dirt forest road to see what I could find. After about 20 kms this quickly turned into a disaster as the path degenerated into a sandy, overgrown scrub that was impossible to cycle on. Too far in to turn back, I pushed my bike for a few kms until a more cyclable terrain reappeared.

I passed a shooting range which inexplicably faced ON to the road but fortunately was empty and then managed to rejoin the main tar road. I got back on the highway and road along in the fairly decently sized shoulder until I was almost in a small town called Oskarshamn.

Once again, Google Maps’ satellite view showed me a nice, discreet bit of lakeside forest that I could reach via a side road. I cycled off down there and found a quiet spot to camp. It was quite early so I spent some time exploring the forest and watching some fishermen who actually knew what they were doing.

Day 8: Oskarshamn to Kalmar

After leaving Oskarshamn I managed to find a decent bicycle path that weaved through the forests along the main road, keeping cyclists away from traffic. Unfortunately, it was also quite difficult to follow and often just ended without notice, leaving the cyclist abandoned in a random town. At one point while I was resting a young cyclist passed by and offered me an energy bar – I must have looked tired!

I decided to stop going on adventures and just get back on the highway and head straight to Kalmar where I was meeting friends I had met in Vietnam the year before. My knee was getting really sore again but all the strange and bizarre objects along the roadside in Sweden managed to keep me distracted long enough to arrive in Kalmar safely.

I pulled into a Burger King and spent a few hours working while waiting for my friends to get home from work. Oskar and Maria are a young couple who live in a lovely 1-bed flat in Kalmar and kindly let me crash on their couch and do some washing. We also visited the amazing Kalmar castle and the nearby island of Oland, accessible by a crazy long bridge.

One Year as a Digital Nomad: My Thoughts

I’ve been working as a digital nomad now for almost exactly one year and decided that I would share my inane thoughts and experiences for those who might be interested in the lifestyle.

A digital nomad is a term used to loosely describe people whose jobs are usually done on a laptop and are location independent. That is, they either don’t require you to attend an office or don’t involve the kind of work that requires you to stay in one particular place. Some examples include writing, photography, graphic design, web design, coding and video editing.

Being a digital nomad doesn’t necessarily mean you work for yourself – many digital nomads are normal, 9-5, Monday to Friday, company employees. However, the nature of their job means they never have to go into the office and can work from anywhere in the world – so long as there is an internet connection. Many digital nomads stay in one place for months or even years at a time, while others are essentially homeless travelers who work from hotels, restaurants, airports or anywhere else they can get a wifi signal. I fall into the latter group.

I got into digital nomad’ing via what I consider to be the simplest route available – content writing. Content writing simply means writing content for any kind of publication – websites, blogs, marketing agencies or even physical newspapers. All it requires is a laptop and a basic grasp of grammar and literacy in the language of your choice – English, of course, being the most widely accepted. Through content writing, I got involved in product reviews, research, technical writing, financial analysis and eventually journalism, which is what I mainly do now.

You can’t put a price on freedom

Working from a yacht off the east coast of Australia

The number one reason that I chose to become a digital nomad is the freedom. Not simply because I can work from home in my underwear (something I do far less often than you would think) but because I can go wherever I want, whenever I want. This is not something that necessarily appeals to everyone, but for me, I would go so far as to say that it is now a non-negotiable aspect of my life.

I earn CONSIDERABLY less than I did in my old 9-5 office job. I mean, like, seriously multiple, multiple times less, but I would never give up what I have now to go back to that. For me, there is genuinely no price that you can place on freedom. As a result, my lifestyle has had to take on some changes and I can no longer afford to live in major cities like London or New York. I can’t even eat sushi that often anymore. I can, however, live on a beach in Thailand, a lakeside cottage in Bulgaria, or literally anywhere else in the world that has vaguely decent wifi and affordable accommodation. For somebody with a severely debilitating addiction to travel, this is an understandably necessary requirement.

The unforeseen benefits

In the course of becoming a digital nomad, I have reaped many unforeseen benefits along the way. Probably the most significant of these are the lessons in motivation, self-restraint, diligence and independence. In my old job, I would do the least amount of work required in order to not get fired and I would call in sick the maximum amount of times possible without it triggering a disciplinary hearing. I was lazy, inconsiderate and unmotivated because I knew that I would still get paid the same amount of money no matter what I did.

Now, there are no sick days. There are no unnecessary toilet breaks or extended lunch hours. No sneaky work avoidance tactics or bullshit excuses. If I don’t work, the only person who loses out is me. Every minute of every hour of every day is potential earning time and every minute spent not working is money lost. This is an aspect of the lifestyle that would scare off many people but if I can do it, trust me, anyone can. It all comes down to how badly you want it.

Another incredible benefit that I have gained from this lifestyle is the amazing amount of new information that I learn on a daily basis. Over the past year, I have done the equivalent level of research that most people would do while studying for a degree. Not only have I learnt how to write on a professional level but I have also gained a wealth of knowledge on a range of ludicrous and useful topics in which I previously had no interest. Cloud computing, health and nutrition, gambling regulations, UK and US politics, relationship and sex advice – you name it. I now know all this crazy stuff about finance and economics that was all Greek to me before and I know practically everything about blockchain technology – something that I seriously hope will be useful one day because, f*ck me, it’s confusing!

All and all, I can safely say that one year on, the decision to become a digital nomad is working out swimmingly. I’ll admit, I’m still incredibly new to all this and have no idea if it will actually be successful in the long run. I haven’t even done my first tax return yet and have literally no idea which country I’m even supposed to do it in. But I’m no longer afraid of losing my job like I used to be in the old days because now the only person in control of my financial future is me…. which, when written down like that doesn’t actually seem like the best idea.

Anyway, whatever, the point is – life is too short to worry about money. I still have 153 more countries to see and this world is not going to travel itself. So, see you on a beach somewhere! I’ll be the guy squinting at my laptop in the annoying midday sun. (Seriously though, who works on the beach? That’s just ridiculous.)

Me, working on the beach

Actually becoming a digital nomad was, of course, a relatively more difficult and complicated process than I have described here. However, if you think it’s something that would interest you, feel free to ask me any questions. I would highly recommend it – especially if, like me, you have the nagging feeling that there is more to life than spending 40 hours a week in a dimly lit office cubicle.

Thailand – Pai, Chiang Rai and Phu Chi Fa

Pai
This place is incredible.  I never want to leave. It’s so cheap and very easy going, so you can kind of do what you want without anyone hassling you unnecessarily. You can bring alcohol from outside into all the bars, smoke anywhere, sleep anywhere. Not to mention it’s beautiful and full of equally beautiful people. Everyone is stoned all the time, or drunk. None of the huts or places have locks on the doors. Nobody steals shit, if you lose your phone or wallet usually the next day someone will have handed it in at the bar.  You can hire a scooter for the entire day for £2. A private double bedroom (well just a wooden hut really) is about £7 and dorms can be as cheap as £3.  The entire village is the size of London’s Spitalfields market, but it has about 40 bars and restaurants!  Beers are 80p in the shop or £2 in bars, but they’re much bigger than in London (620ml bottles).  A plate of pad thai or chicken fried rice is about £1 at the many small street markets or makeshift restaurants that every local person runs from the front of their house.
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On arrival I got dropped off by the bus in town centre and walked up to the hostel with some nice Swedish guy who helped me with google maps, as my phone is now broken. He seemed friendly enough but didn’t drink or smoke and so didn’t want to come chill with me at my hostel (The Famous Pai Circus Hostel), because apparently it’s a party hostel. Anyway I arrived and immediately bumped into Ed and Genie from the hostel in Bangkok! We had a few beers and swam and watched the sunset in the infinity pool overlooking the beautiful valley of Pai.  I could tell I was going to fall in love with this place from the start.
The young English and Australian guys from the Chiang Mai hostel were staying around the corner at Darling View hostel so I went to look for them but couldn’t find them, so headed into town.  Luckily Pai is tiny so I bumped into them pretty quickly.  They told me they were planning to do a tour tomorrow for £12 that visits most of the popular local attractions, so I decided to join them.  We walked back to their hostel, played some pool and then headed back to the circus hostel to watch the fire dancing.  I drank a load of rum and coke (thanks Ed!) and beers and then I think we all headed into town to an after hours bar called Don’t Cry.  Or possibly Boom Bar.  It’s really hard to keep track of what’s going on without a working phone.  Either way we were out somewhere until fairly late.
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The next day I was woken very early by an annoying rooster right next to my hostel dorm, which was essentially just a straw hut so had no sound insulation.  However I had to meet the others at 9am anyway to get down to town and have breakfast before our tour.  We had a proper Full English breakfast together at a small cafe and then all piled into the back of a tuk-tuk and headed off.
Our first stop was the Pai viewpoint, but I was really tired still from lack of sleep and the drive was very long and uncomfortable, so when we reached it I went straight to a nearby coffee van to get a double espresso.  Then when I turned around everyone was gone!  I noticed a small path leading up a hill with a sign to the ‘highest viewpoint’ so assumed they had all gone there.  I started walking up quickly to catch them but it just seemed deserted and I couldn’t see anyone ahead. It was getting more and more eerie and then as I turned a corner I was confronted by a man wielding two machete’s and sharpening them on each other.  I got a fright but didn’t want to turn and run as it seemed rude, so I kept walking towards him bravely.  Luckily he smiled and nodded in the most unthreatening way, so I continued past.  Then I noticed all the cut bamboo he had been chopping down.  However, I still didn’t see anybody up ahead so I turned back.  I eventually found the others back at the bottom all just behind the coffee shop, enjoying the actual viewpoint.
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For some obscure reason there is a ridiculously dangerous metal ferris wheel type thing built right up there at the viewpoint, with small rickety seats controlled only be the weight of who is sitting on it. This makes it very difficult to get four people on, and incredibly dangerous to climb off, as the weight change sends the remaining three into an uncontrolled spin.  So of course we all climbed on and spent a few minutes risking our lives and limbs trying to get it spinning.  Unfortunately we didn’t have a good distributed weight ratio so the only spinning we managed to do was when one person got off, sending the others flying.  It was scarier than all the crazy shit we did at the waterpark in Chiang Mai. Good fun!
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Then we continued to stop number two, the Lod Cave.  The Lod Cave consists of an extensive underground sequence of caves with a river running through it.  They have setup a tour run by the local people who take you through the cave on a series of walking paths over precarious bamboo bridges and then across the underground river on long thin bamboo rafts, lit only by kerosene lamps that they carry along.  An easy place to get lost and die a damp, 16174470_10158225714925220_3990808050471342702_ndark death if you wander away from the group!  We explored the many massive large caverns and rock formations created by stalactites and stalagmites, and then got on the rickety bamboo rafts and went to check out the deeper dark depths of the place.  It’s also home to a multitude of bats, snakes and various insects but the fearless locals make it all seem relatively safe. Deep within the last cave are centuries old wooden coffins that the ancient Thai people would send there dead down the river in.  Morbidly fascinating.
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Next were the hot springs, a somewhat calmer attraction that involves three man-made rock pools in a river heated by the natural springs that abound in this area.  We relaxed for an hour here and inexplicably spent most of the time searching for coins on the riverbed after one of the group found a 5 baht coin.  The last stop was the Pai Canyon, the most incredible rock formation I’ve ever seen.  It involves huge veins of hard rock around which the softer soil has eroded away, leaving a maze of very high thin ridges to walk along.  Super dangerous and something that would never be open to the public in health-and-safety-obsessed Europe.  Some parts were only inches wide with hundred 16142281_10158220996380220_3576038685444736075_nfeet drops on either side.  Obviously I found it necessary to run along these while filming and not concentrating particularly hard.  From one of the many vantage points we sat and watched the sunset over the beautiful Pai valley, and then eventually headed back into town.  I can’t remember what we did that night, there was supposed to be a beer pong competition at my hostel, but I think we headed out to town, probably to Boom Bar or Yellow Sun.
The next day I bumped into two other friends I had met at the waterpark in Pai, and we went to a bar to get ‘special’ happy shakes.  The didn’t have any available at the time but we put in an order for later that night and then got some drinks and played ping pong.  Then Bruna, the Brazilian girl from the lock-in bar in Chiang Mai, messaged me to say she had arrived in Pai and was at the circus hostel so I headed back and chilled in the pool with her and some of her friends for the afternoon.  That night was another fire show, so we took the special shakes and enjoyed the amazing lightening effects it all created. I felt like I was on a beach in Brazil because of all the palm trees around, and because earlier we had been discussing a Brazilian psy-trance party, Universo Paralello.  At some point we ended up at Don’t Cry again, but I was pretty tired and wasted by then so I headed back to bed early… ish.
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I awoke the next morning to find everyone at the hostel setting up for yoga, so I decided to join in even though I’m not usually a fan.  It worked a charm on getting rid of the hangover though! I spent the rest of the morning practicing slackline and after that met up with Tim, Chris, Ali, Holly, Fabio and Ani from the Chiang Mai hostel – we all hired scooters and drove off to find a waterfall to swim in.  It was freezing cold and shrouded from the sun by trees and towering cliffs, but most of us braved it and dived in.  After the initial shock it was actually quite nice, and I felt like I was buzzing after getting out.  I guess it really gets the blood flowing!
Then we went to the canyon again as some of them had not seen it yet, and I found some new places I hadn’t seen before.  Afterwards we just headed back to Circus hostel to swim and get all the canyon dust off ourselves and then to a cheap bar called Almost Famous that has half price cocktails for only 60 baht (£1.50)!  Once that closed, me and Tim headed over to Don’t Cry, the only bar open after 12.  As we got to the door we met a French girl named Amy who had just arrived in Pai and was finishing her drink outside.  We chatted and had a few drinks and I told her about the yoga every morning at my hostel, so we connected on facebook and made plans to meet at 9am the next day for yoga.
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Annoyingly the one day they don’t do yoga is Thursday and I didn’t know, so sadly Amy came all the way for nothing.  But at least she came, and since she was there we decided to go meet the others and have breakfast.  As usual in Thailand the food took really long and it was almost midday by the time we were done.  Then it was time for the kiwi girl Emily to leave back to New Zealand, Tim was tired and wanted to sleep and the others didn’t seem up for doing much, so me and Amy took my scooter and decided to go explore.
First we visited the World War 2 memorial bridge, which turned out to be really lame.  It’s quite small and old and right next to a big highway bridge with lots of traffic, so not the charming bridge they make it out to be in promotional photos.  16387884_10158274553305220_4616688809976260231_nThen we went to the Canyon which is usually a trip for sunset but we decided it would be good to go now and beat the crowds.  The canyon’s crazy precipices and thin walkways usually scare most people, but Amy had no fear and by following her I discovered some of the most dangerous bits of the canyon that I had yet to see even though this was my third visit.  As we were leaving we bumped into some others from my hostel who were going to a waterfall and invited us to join.  We quickly headed back to Amy’s hostel to get her bikini and then found the waterfall.
Unfortunately this time of year the farmers re-route a lot of the water to irrigate the rice paddies, so there was no water, just some green stagnant pools.  Needless to say we didn’t stay long and decided watching sunset from the Circus hostel infinity pool was probably a better idea, which it most certainly was.  We practiced slackline and hula-hoop for a bit (as you do at a circus hostel) and then headed into town to drop off the scooter and book white water rafting for tomorrow.  After grabbing some cheap £1 dinner at Pai’s best restaurant with no name, Amy headed back to her hostel to get to bed early so we could be up at 6:30 for the rafting.  I bumped into Ali and Holly on the way back to my hostel and we had some drinks in town at Banana Bar before heading to bed.
16299555_10158250258715220_1884359105317134772_nIn the morning I met Amy and the two other rafters on our trip for breakfast at 7am, then we all piled into a truck for a 2 and half hour uncomfortable ride to the river for rafting.  Being off-season the water was low so we didn’t encounter any huge rapids, but it was a really awesome day out in beautiful untouched nature close to the border with Burma.  We floated down the river, saw some buffalo and monkeys, swam and enjoyed some hot mud treatment at a small hot spring on the riverside. There were a few fairly decent rapids, but really the best part of the trip was just floating serenely down the river amongst the amazing natural rainforest.  16298878_10158250250930220_5074771363013308020_nLunch was provided as the traditional style vegetable fried rice wrapped in banana leaves, which we ate on the boat along with watermelon and clementines.
The hot spring was really just a trickle of water from where a small hot spring joined the river, and it was boiling hot – so hot you could barely touch it.  But it heated up the mud in a section on the riverbank, and Amy started throwing mud on me so I threw some back at her and soon we were bother covered.  It was quite nice though rubbing it over your body and apparently this is something people do, especially when they want to be children again.  We swam for a bit to get clean and continued on down the river through a few more rapids and a lovely calm area where we could swim again.  At the end of the day we reached a small resort where we took the boats out of the river, all had a shower and then piled back into the cars to head home.
My hostel was fully booked that evening so after some more super cheap food at the place across from Circus Hostel I grabbed my stuff and moved to Paizen River Jam hostel where Amy was staying as it was a much more chilled vibe after four days at the crazy Circus Hostel.  We didn’t party that night because after the long day both of us just wanted to get some sleep.  Amy does geo-caching, a kind of world wide treasure hunt, where you use an app on your phone to find small boxes or tubes that people have hidden around the world.  Then you open the box and add your name to a slip of paper inside and re-hide it for the next person.  So before heading to bed we went in 16298919_10158269668265220_5003526279976296831_nsearch of the only two geo-caches that were hidden in Pai, and found both!
The next day there was a festival called Norwegian Wood in the afternoon.  I did some much needed clothes shopping in the morning and bought a hoodie, two shirts and two pairs of pants for about £10!  I met the rest of our small crew around 2pm at Sabai Gardens where they were all staying. We walked down to the Sunset Bar first for a few drinks and then we headed off on quite a long walk to where the festival was.  It was quite strange, not the usual festival vibe we expected – very chilled and very local, almost all Thai people.  At first we were the only ones there, and didn’t want to spend a lot of money on beers at the bar so kept walking down the road to a little shop selling them at half the price and then sneaking them in.
As the night progressed the festival got busier and the music got weirder and weirder, with some really strange dramatic performances by this women dressed all in white and dancing like Bjork.  We had some food and really nice traditional Thai coffee and then eventually thought it might be time to head into town and find somewhere more normal to party. The others wanted more food but Amy and I weren’t hungry so we went in search of Chinese new years celebrations.  Unfortunately we soon discovered we were a day late for Chinese new year and couldn’t find the others again so we just went to Boom Bar, which was playing really good music and we had a great time drinking and dancing there until midnight.
I spent the following morning writing my blog and just melting into a hammock for hours at the Paizen hostel because it’s so chilled.  The others had mentioned heading to the White Buddha at some point so I went over to Sabai Gardens in the afternoon to meet them.  We were waiting for Tim who had gone to buy underwear because he burnt all his clothes in a fit of bedbug fear, so we played a few rounds of cards and then got a message from Tim that he was already heading to the White Buddha so we went to meet him. 16298692_10158255206265220_545769760174422916_n The White Buddha is a new attraction so unfortunately it was still being built and had some scaffolding that spoilt it a bit, but still we watched a lovely sunset from up on the high hill it’s on and then I heard from someone there that there is a festival just around the corner playing drum & bass and electro music.
We tried to find it for awhile but everyone was so hungry that we gave up quickly and went for food instead. This was a pity because Amy was there and said it was amazing but couldn’t get hold of me because I didn’t have a phone!  When I got back to the hostel and checked my laptop I got her message to say she was there and so headed off to find it, but it was miles away and I walked for ages without getting a lift.  By the time I got there the festival had ended, but we chilled by the fireplace anyway and drank some local wine out of traditional bamboo cups before heading back on Amy’s rental scooter.  I think it was quite late by then so we just went to bed, as we had plans to be up early and hitch hike to Chiang Rai in the morning.
After making some signs for hitching we said cheers to Tim and headed off for the highway to hitch back to Chiang Mai and then on to Chiang Rai.  Literally within 5 minutes someone picked us up and we had a lovely comfortable ride to Chiang Mai in the back of a small pickup truck.  It was much nicer than a hot, enclosed bus – and free!  This was the start of my love affair with hitch hiking!  The guy dropped us on an odd street on the outskirts of Chiang Mai so we had to walk for a bit to get to the freeway that led to Chiang Rai.  Luckily Amy persuaded a small delivery truck packed full of what seemed like an 16427696_10158269614285220_7214079013642045693_nentire family to let us ride in the back for a few kilometres to the freeway.  Then we grabbed some water, got some good luck blessings from a local man and within 10 minutes had a ride to Chiang Rai!  Amazing!  I couldn’t believe how easy it is hitching, and so much more fun and comfortable than taking buses or trains.
Upon arrival in Chiang Rai we didn’t have any planned accommodation, so just walked around asking places.  Most places on the main tourist street were fully booked unfortunately, but we eventually found one called Shaman Guesthouse down a quiet side street that had a private double room for 300 baht, and the owner was French so him and Amy got on well and chatted a bit. For dinner we went to this really cool cheap street food place with a view of this insane clock tower that plays music and changes colours for a few minutes every hour.  There isn’t much nightlife or anything like that in Chiang Rai so we just played a few games of pool in Chicken Bar (every bar is named after an animal for some reason) and then got to bed early so we could be up early and get to the white temple before all the tourists!
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This didn’t work out as well as we hoped – apparently the tour company buses have the same idea and even though we were up and out early it was already packed by 8am when we arrived!  So we ditched that plan and decided to try again the next day.  We drove up the road a bit to look for the Khun Kong waterfall, and after a short half hour hike through the beautiful jungle we found it.  It was still early though so it was freezing cold, but we were brave and went for a swim anyway. I wanted to skinny dip but Amy was scared people might come and public nudity is not well received in this part of the world, so we just swam around a bit and went behind the waterfall into a little cave like place and climbed up onto the rocks.  16387854_10158269618770220_1936253460528816147_nAfter about half an hour of swimming it was getting too cold, so we got out and shivered while trying to dry ourselves and get dressed.  On the hike back through the jungle we took a different route along these amazing bamboo bridges that are really well designed and incredibly strong.  Bamboo is such a useful material for building things, and the Thai people use it in some ingenious ways.
We had heard about a “beach” somewhere in Chiang Rai, so back on the scooter we googled it and headed off to find it.  On the way we stopped and got some really cheap lunch at a tiny little place that had no English menus, but we somehow managed to communicate ‘vegetable fried rice’.  You could tell the locals thought it was quite strange that ‘farangs’ were in their restaurant.  Unfortunately the first beach we found was really crap, so we headed off to find another one that looked a bit better.  This one was the real deal – it even had a sign saying “Chiang Rai Beach” very proudly.  They use the word ‘beach’ a bit loosely though as it was really just a grassy riverbank, but it was still nice and sunny so after buying some beers, snacks and a pink egg (don’t ask) we lay down and suntanned a bit, and then I taught Amy how to skim stones because apparently French kids don’t learn this while growing up in Paris.
As evening descended we scootered back to the hostel and then went looking for the night bazaar which we were told is really cool.  16388255_10158269619775220_6798673815345269865_nAfter walking around looking at all the cheap knock-off clothes and eating watermelon we found this cool little square with loads of tables, a live music stage and food stalls surrounding it.  Some traditional Chinese dancers came on and two young local guys played guitar and violin while we ate this strange hot and spicy vegetable soup that you cook yourself at the table in a clay pot.  The whole experience was great and it was the most genuinely traditional local type thing I had done so far on the trip.
At 5AM we were up and back off on the scooter to the White Temple.  It was pitch black and freezing (well, it was about 15 degrees which is freezing for Thailand) and we arrived at about 6am. Luckily one little coffee shop was open so we had some coffee and Chinese steamed buns while awaiting the sunrise.  As the sun rose more and more people started arriving with presumably the same idea as us, but luckily no tourist buses… yet.16473249_10158269576175220_576118562316320323_n  Our mission succeeded and we got loads of really good pics of the temple in varying degrees of light, and even though a bus did arrive at 8am, we still managed to get in first and get some pictures inside without loads of people.  The inside of the temple is so weird, because it’s decorated at the back with all these cartoons and characters from western culture, like Harry Potter and Terminator.  It’s supposed to depict how these things are bad and then as you move toward the front of the temple where Buddha is it depicts serene, heavenly type scenes.  Bizarre.
Amy wanted to leave at lunch time to go to Phu Chi Fa, and she wanted to go alone because it was something special to her, so after the temple we went back to the hostel to pack and get her stuff and then had a quick lunch next to the bus stop before she left.
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I did some much needed washing and then rode around on the scooter looking for somewhere to buy a new phone.  I found a huge western-type strip mall which had lots of electronics shops and I found some nice cheap phones, but didn’t have enough cash on me to buy them then and didn’t have any cards either.  I thought maybe I’ll go back the next day but never did.  The rest of the afternoon I spent looking for hot springs, but instead found the Goddess of Chiang Rai – the hugest Buddha statue I’ve ever seen!  Seriously, this thing is like 10 stories high.  I was running low on petrol by this point so I headed back, dropped off the scooter and then just went to chill in the hostel.  Just after dark I heard some music coming from nearby so I went to investigate.  I walked around for an hour but couldn’t locate the source of the music, so gave up and just walked back to the main street where the bars were.  I found a really strange bar where a big hen party or something was going on, which is very uncommon for Chiang Rai, so I had a drink out there for a bit while laughing at everyone dancing. A bit later I was turned away at the next bar because apparently I was too drunk, so I just went home and slept.
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The next day I moved from the guesthouse to Ti’Amo hostel which was a bit cheaper for a dorm bed than the private room on my own.  Amy was coming back from Phu Chi Fa to get a bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai, so I met her for lunch after buying a very cheap new phone from 7-11.  We had lunch and said some sad goodbyes as she hitched off toward the south bus station.  After she left I headed back to the hostel and just chilled as I didn’t really have anything to do.  I got chatting to a Slovenian guy who seemed really nice so we went and played some pool together.  He was an investment banker or something so we spoke a lot about all the financial problems in Europe.
The following day I borrowed a free bike from the hostel and cycled to the blue temple, which was disappointing but luckily I saw a nice bike shop nearby with 5000 baht bikes.  I kind of wanted to buy one to join Tim and his friends on their bike tour to Myanmar, but I knew I also had a whole bunch of other plans lined up, like Laos and Vietnam.  Instead I ended up getting a very cheap local bus to Theong and then hitch hiked from there to Phu Chi Fa.  I had to get 3 lifts, one with a guy who worked for the department of corrections, one on a scooter, and another with a wealthy couple from Bangkok.  I arrived towards evening, checked into a tent and then got a beer and watched the sunset at a nearby restaurant.
I could barely sleep that night because a cat was dying outside my tent, but I still managed to wake up at 5am to go watch the sunrise over the surreal Phu Chi Fa valley, high above the clouds and very moody and beautiful.  I didn’t want to spend more money getting a lift up the mountain in the morning like most people do, so I just hiked up in the pitch black with all my stuff. 16427597_10158283901180220_4920142288172599628_n It was a pretty sharp incline and an intense hike through thick jungle, so even though it was freezing cold I was covered in sweat by the time I reached the top.  It was really nice being in nature alone during the hike up, but once I got to the top it was crowded with thousands of people.  So much for it’s tagline as “the most beautiful place you’ve never heard of”.  Apparently a few other people got the memo.
To avoid the crowds and constant chattering I went past the ‘danger’ fence, found a comfy spot on the edge of a cliff and put my headphones in.  The sunrise at Phu Chi Fa is too amazing to try describe in words, so I’ll just say that if it’s the last thing you do before you die, go see it.  It’s nothing less than FREAKIN’ INCREDIBLE.  My heart was bursting out of my chest in awe and I was listening to power ballads as usual, so all in all it was a fairly emotional experience.
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After hiking back down I got some breakfast at a small restaurant and then hit the road again to start hitching to Chiang Kong.  A lovely couple from Bangkok picked me up after only a few minutes and we started the drive towards Theong.  Along the way I got chatting to the girl because she spoke English quite well but her partner didn’t, and she was fascinated to hear about my trip and the fact that I quit my job and left my life behind to come here.  As we neared Theong she decided they would change their plans and take me all the way to Chiang Kong as they wanted to explore some of the golden triangle area near there.  How awesome!  She also added me on Instagram and said I should message her when back in Bangkok.
They dropped me in Chiang Kong town centre because they thought that’s where the Visa place was, but it was actually about 10 km’s back at the new “Friendship bridge”, so I started hitching again and some nice guys took me all the way to the immigration office at the bridge.  I exchanged a few thousand baht for dollars as apparently that’s what they prefer when paying for the Laos visa, and then got a bus across the bridge to the Laos immigration gate.  The process was fairly quick and easy and then I was in Laos.

Brisbane

11870678_10156039161450220_6638630194692084989_nI was in Brisbane briefly for my cousins wedding and I was staying with another cousin in the Gold Coast. He had a lovely house on a canal area with a swimming pool and jetty onto the river. Me and my girlfriend at the time arrived just before the wedding and drove down to where the ceremony was with my parents.


It was quite a beautiful beach club type place and they had booked it all out, intending to have the wedding on the beach but unfortunately heavy winds meant they had to move it slightly inland to a more a protected grass area. All in all though it was a lovely wedding and went down without any more problems.


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Following the wedding we stayed in Brisbane a few days and I met up with a few old friends. Brisbane has an amazing bicycle path and infrastructure which I wasn’t lucky enough to make use of this time but hope to in the future. We did catch the ferry boat however which is a great way to see the river and get a good idea of the structure of the city.


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A few days after the wedding I went surfing with my Australian friend Ashley whom I had met in London and we explored a few of the beaches around the Miami part of the Gold Coast and further down the bay.  We also went up Q1, the highest building in Australia, had breakfast and got some amazing photos.


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In the second week we went out on a friends yacht into the lagoon where we watched speed boat racing, had dinner and spent the night.  I also met up with Ashley and we went to an insane punk rock gig in Goldie which was hilarious, I got raucously drunk and don’t remember much but woke up the next day on Ashley’s sofa.


11902415_10156062188150220_5542406126181056851_nThen we went to explore the beautiful forests and mountains that are inland from the beach, and have a number of waterfalls and panoramic views across the coast.   On our last day we travelled down to Byron Bay which is a very cool hippy town on a beautiful piece of coastline south of the Gold Coast.

 

 

 

Sydney

After Brisbane I flew down to Sydney to spend a weekend there with my girlfriend, who’s friend Anabelle had been kind enough to let us crash at her place. On the first day we explored the city centre, the Opera house and walked over Syndey Harbour Bridge. Towards evening we went to a bar and had two beers and then for no reason they wouldn’t serve me anymore. It was very strange but we brushed it off and moved onto the next bar. Bizarrely in the next bar, after one beer they asked me to leave! Apparently they seemed to think I was drunk, although after three beers I couldn’t possibly be – so I can only guess it was my foreign accent? Sydney has very strict drinking laws, it’s illegal to get drunk anywhere… which seems to negate the point of bars?


 

11951976_10156083284505220_4579950754146818350_nThe following day we went to the Sydney Fish Market which is AMAZING! Pretty much every type of fish you can find, and we had some awesome deep friend soft-shell crap, calamari and various other things – including sushi and very affordable glasses of white wine. There were also some crazy big pelicans hanging about which were actually pretty scary.  That evening we went out for dinner with Annabelle and her friends and then tried to go to some bars but once again it was very difficult to get in anywhere or get served.  Strange place Sydney.11899975_10156083282615220_5135415355372284848_n


 

Day three we walked all the way down to Bondi Beach and then walked along the rocky coastline watching surfers and just chilling out and taking photos. It was kind of winter time though so it wasn’t warm enough to swim or suntan.

Then it was the weekend, and time to head off to PsyFari, an outdoor trance party in the Blue Mountains. Annabelle had some college or something to do in the morning and then picked us up in her car and we drove off on the four hour drive to the venue. We arrived quite late and so go into partying pretty quickly as we only had one night there. We got pretty wasted and I think Annabelle was on my shoulders at some point. We were supposed meet some other friends from London who we had seen earlier in the week but only managed to see them briefly in the morning before we had to head off.