Things to do in Chiang Mai

Things to do in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand but please don’t think that it’s simply a smaller version of Bangkok.

There are many different things to do in Chiang Mai and it has such a different vibe to Bangkok that you could be forgiven for thinking that you are in a different country altogether.

Chiang Mai is a sprawling city with the usual suburbs and shopping malls but it has so much more going for it.  It retains much of its traditional charm while attracting numerous co-working spaces which cater for the hordes of digital nomads and ex-pats who work from the city.

This article has been updated since it was first published.

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things to do in Chiang Mai

The 10 best things to do in Chiang Mai

Walk the old city of Chiang Mai

To begin with, the original old city is still contained within an impressive moat which runs right around the perimeter and which is still guarded by chunks of ancient brick walls and protective gates.

A plethora of chic coffee shops rub shoulders with street food vendors and there are temples old and new on every street corner.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the traffic problem is as bad as in Bangkok; however whilst it’s true that it can take forever to get anywhere due to the convoluted one-way system which funnels vehicles around the moat and in and out through the city walls, people are generally patient and not in a huge rush to get anywhere.

You’ll find trios of young teenagers zipping their scooters (that’s 3 school children to a scooter) between hand carts, tuk-tuks, songthaews and pedestrians in a fluid flow that can give you a headache if you ponder upon it too carefully, but somehow it all moves and everybody gets where they need to be eventually.

One street away from the perimeter roads and it’s very easy to amble around the leafy lanes and backstreets of the old city without any bother at all.  A couple of large roads dissect the old town into four main districts each with a distinct individuality.  Allow yourself the luxury of getting lost because if you walk far enough you will come to the moat, get your bearings and you will get yourself right back on track.

Get your copy of the Lonely Planet Guide here to make sure that you stay on track and to help you sort out the best temples to visit

things to do in Chiang Mai

At night time the old city has a magical quality.  It has an old-world charm but it feels quite safe as it wraps its protective arms around you.

People wander around in the semi-darkness passing through pools of light that the little lamps shine out whilst monks silently scurry here and there in their vivid orange robes.

There are literally hundreds of guesthouses within the old city walls – many of them are rooms in the original wooden teak houses that were built high up on stilts.  Most of them have courtyards or roof terraces and nearly all serve food and drink to whoever happens to wander past.

The lanes are narrow and leafy with flowers everywhere and at night the intoxicating scents of jasmine and frangipani blend with the sweet wood-smoke from barbeques. In the south west corner of the old city is a large park where people relax under the trees with a picnic, where you can take a massage in the open air with birdsong all around or you can join in and practice Tai Chi on the grass.

The focus point of the old city is the large open plaza which is dominated by the Three Kings Monument and where you’ll find the excellent museums.  There are often activities held in this space and it was here that I watched a couple of very good music concerts which were put on to celebrate the King’s birthday.

Walking street markets

One of the top things to do in Chiang Mai has to be shopping for artisan products in the markets.

Three different night markets dominate the city.  The biggest and the best is on a Sunday evening and takes over much of the old city and to date is the best night market that I have yet seen anywhere in the world.

At this market you can buy any number of excellent quality yet bargain priced gifts but especially silk purses, silver jewellery or bright lamps. Seafood is cooked over coals and rows of masseuses offer cut price Thai massages on lines of plastic chairs.

The Saturday night market, whilst slightly smaller, still contains the same high quality gifts, the stalls spill over into the temples’ yards and musicians and dancers entertain the crowds.  In every small gap people eat at small tables sitting on plastic chairs or they walk around with juice or fresh coconut water in their hands. On all other nights of the week the night market is set up a little way outside the East Gate where it’s just a little rougher around the edges than the other two and as it’s on the edge of the red light district can also be slightly spicier than the others!

things to do in Chiang Mai

Loy Krathong and Yee Ping Festivals

These separate festivals are often lumped together into one because both take place at around the same time in November.

Yee Ping is the festival where large paper lanterns are floated up into the night sky.  There is the commercially run event which takes place outside of the city where tourists can get their requisite photographs but it costs a whopping $100 and it’s dismissed with disdain by the local people.

It makes me giggle when I am told of the more meaningful private lantern release for Thais – I think that the entire population of Chiang Mai spills out onto the streets and even the airport has to close to ensure the safety of flights.

Lanterns are officially only supposed to be released on the one night (due to the airport closure) and while many tourists will pay their money to attend the out of town event, thousands more throng the streets which run from the East Gate to the main bridge over the River Ping and float away their lanterns en masse.

Loy Krathong involves making (or buying) a krathong which is a little boat made from banana leaves, flowers, incense and candles and setting it afloat on the river in the darkness.

Flimsy bamboo platforms had been constructed on the banks of the River Ping and myself and several travel bloggers spent a lovely evening wandering around and watching the festivities as well as launching our own krathongs on the water from one of the rickety decks.

I had a very personal moving experience wandering around the temples prior to the lantern release during these festivals but later on during the evening of Yee Ping I also enjoyed watching  the monks who were getting excitedly involved and helping people to launch their lanterns from the temple grounds whilst taking selfies on their phones.  I later met up with two travel blogger friends and we sent our own lantern soaring into the sky. To find out how mindfulness can help you to move on from past issues, check out one of my articles here

The Lady Boy Show

Walking through the night market there could be no doubt that we were in the right place as groups of lady boys stood around handing out flyers and encouraged us to go and see their show.

You would be hard pressed to guess that many of these immaculately turned out women were born anything but female with bodies to die for, tight fitting clothes and flawless makeup  although others deliberately tried to confuse with more androgynous looks or even sported the odd moustache.

A group of us paid our money and went into the show – which was an hour and a half of pure entertainment.  The series of songs all lip-synched and with the dancers wearing fabulous costumes ranged from sophisticated and stunningly beautiful performances, through the raunchy and fun Lady Marmalade set to out and out outrageous camp which involved the girls kissing the majority of men in the audience and touting outrageously for tips to be pushed into their cleavages.

The Doi Suthep Temple

A 40 minute scooter ride up the twisty mountain which looms above Chiang Mai will bring you to the bottom of a long flight of staircase flanked by long nagas or serpents.  These green tiled snakes guide you up to the temple where the faithful come to pay their respects and if you are blessed with clear skies you’ll be rewarded with some lovely views of the city far below.

things to do in Chiang Mai

To read how I was blessed by monks at Doi Suthep and how I was finally able to free myself of a whole ton of guilt that I had been carting around for more than six years click on this link.

The Summer Palace

A few kilometres further up the mountain above Doi Suthep is the Summer Palace.  The building itself is almost ordinary but it’s set in lovely gardens and grounds.

High above the city it has great views in the clear air and is a peaceful place to wander around. It’s worth visiting if you have hired a scooter as the road has very little traffic and with switchbacks up into the clouds the ride is interesting.

Please, please,  please, if you plan to ride a scooter anywhere on your travels, make sure that any accidents are covered in the small print.  You can get a quote from Alpha Travel Insurance here

As this is a royal palace you will need to make sure that you are dressed respectfully but if you need to cover your legs or shoulders you can hire something suitable at the entrance.

The Sticky Waterfalls

Four of us spent a fun day out in the countryside about an hour away from Chiang Mai when we bargained for and hired a songthaew and a driver for the day who drove us to the Sticky Waterfalls.

Water cascades down the hillside running fast but shallow over big smooth bubble-like boulders. We left our shoes at the bottom and stepping onto the rocks we were all surprised to discover that they were indeed ‘sticky’.

They have a slightly rough texture which ‘glues’ bare feet to them, enabling a safe clamber up through the warm water to the top.  In places where slippery algae had grown, ropes hung down so that you could safely haul yourself up – it was like a giant climbing frame and stacks of fun. Reaching the top, the four of us grinned like lunatics then pelted back down the wooden steps to do it all over again.

things to do in Chiang Mai


Whether you prefer gold, silver or the original brick, you will find a temple to suit you in Chiang Mai.

Many of the temples have giant brick structures secreted behind them when in times past they had to hide the precious artefacts and most are especially spectacular under the floodlights after dark.

Wat Lam Chang (temple of the tethered elephants) is the temple where the royal elephants were once stabled and all of the temples were hung with lanterns and where monks sat quietly chanting during the Yee Ping festival. The silver temple of Wat Srisuphan gives the impression that it’s floating as it shimmers with a purple glow in the dark or blindingly stabs at your eyes in the sunlight during the daytime and Wat Lok Molee has an especially good pair of guardians at the gate.

things to do in Chiang Mai

Digital nomads

Chiang Mai has a reputation as one of the best places from which digital nomads can work.  It’s well served with many co-working office spaces, good wifi and it has very reasonably priced accommodation in modern apartments in the suburbs.

I chose to avoid the upmarket end of town where most of the online workers tend to rent their apartments and I took a room in the Mango Guesthouse in the old city which was far more authentic for me, however I would regularly join with other bloggers and online workers for workshops, discussions and evenings out.

Several times I even got up at the crack of dawn to join a group led by Nathan from Fit Living Lifestyle doing circuit training under the trees in a park.

Supporting good causes.

After several weeks in Thailand I was rapidly becoming addicted to Thai massages and I was very happy to support two worthwhile projects in Chiang Mai.

Firstly, the Supattra Jino centre is staffed by blind and visually impaired masseuses where I had the best massage of my life (to date) by the extraordinary Thon. I explained to him that I had a problem with my knee and somehow by manipulation he managed to improve it by about 85%, something that no other masseuse had managed to do prior to him.  I told him that he was a fantastic masseuse and he simply shrugged and said ‘I’m Thai’ like it was a given that he was amazing. You can find these magic hands at 15/5 Sripoom Soi 1 in the north east corner of the old town.

The Women’s Massage Centre by Ex-Prisoners gives vocational training to female prisoners who are nearing the end of their sentences.  They work in the centre giving various massages and the profits build up into a small pot of money which will help them to rebuild their lives once they are back out in the community and is another worthwhile cause to support (sadly, things may have changed in Chiang Mai since I was there as indicated in this news report)

things to do in Chiang Mai

Many people visit Chiang Mai with the intention of staying a couple of days but many of those end up staying longer or even relocate to the city.  I stayed there for four weeks and I grew to love the old town.

It began to feel like home as I got to know my hosts at the Mango Guesthouse local people around and about.

Bee made lovely fresh juices from her cart opposite Vincent and Diana in the Mango guesthouse and there were the other long term guests at the Mango with me.

Chema who was setting up a fish farm, Basilio who was in love with Bee and my Italian friend Enio who spent nearly a month in Chiang Mai taking Muy Thai (Thai kickboxing) classes and who discovered an unhealthy passion for the gross smelling durian fruit.

The food here in Chiang Mai is to die for and they make the most amazing Khao Soy – which turned out to be my number one dish of choice in Thailand.

Don’t discount Chiang Mai as being all about Bangkok’s second rated sister – it’s a fascinating city with much to offer but be careful – you may never want to leave!

things to do in Chiang Mai

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My final days in Ecuador

My final days in Ecuador

This article was first published February 2015 and has been updated.

The ‘Day of the Dead’ and Climbing a Volcano in Quito, Ecuador

Arriving in Quito, Ecuador on ‘The Day of the Dead’  my friend Marcel and I managed to wangle our way into the crypt which is underneath the Basilica.


Normally only open on this one day each year to the relatives of the dead whose remains are interred in little holes in the walls, we tried to look like locals as we sidled past the guards on the door.

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the crypt underneath the Basilica, Quito, Ecuador

the crypt underneath the Basilica, Quito, Ecuador

We respectfully spent half an hour or so wandering around the tunnels where families were dusting out the cobwebs in the little alcoves and replacing the plastic flowers, photos and statues of this saint or that virgin and generally just giving everything a bit of a spring-clean.

It was very different to the bright, colourful ceremony that we had passed in our bus earlier that day up in the mountains, although I do like the tradition of everybody remembering their loved ones on the same day.

Rather than individuals dealing with their personal loss on various anniversaries of birth, death or Christmas whilst the rest of life goes on around them, the Day of the Dead allows a collective understanding and empathy with others.

As our bus had driven out of the mountain town of Otavalo earlier that morning we had got caught up in a traffic jam outside the main cemetery where the majority of the indigenous population bury their dead.

The roads around the cemetery had been packed solid with people and families laden down with baskets and flowers as whole families decamped to the graves of their ancestors where they held picnics. The picnics which always included the dead person’s favourite food were actually spread out on top of the graves and everybody sat cross legged around.

The ‘Day of the Dead’ which is celebrated all around Central and South America and Mexico is a day of celebration rather than sadness and it was never going to be any more colourful than in that rural cemetery.

To further cement the collective remembrance, at this time of the year many of the shops and restaurants sell little images of people called guagua de pan (bread babies) and a thick, gloopy purple, slightly unsettlingly warm drink called colada morada (the drink is made of corn and blackberries).  Both of these seasonal treats are devoured with relish everywhere.

guagua de pan; treats for the Day of the Dead in Ecuador

guagua de pan; treats for the Day of the Dead in Ecuador

Reflecting on the previous five years.

As I update this article nearly five years after I had first published it, I reflect upon how my life has turned out.

Arriving in Quito after 3 months in a volunteer placement in Peru I was a totally confused solo traveller.  My personal life was in tatters and my self-belief was at rock bottom. I often pose myself the question….’what will my life look like in 5 years time’…and I vividly remember doing just that when I was in Ecuador.

I never take things for granted and I know that I got to the place in my head where I am right now with a lot of determination, constant questioning and with the support of some truly amazing friends. South America is edgy, dangerous, overwhelming and bursting with life and it was certainly a baptism of fire for me, then recently divorced and with almost zero self-confidence.

I am now a Mindfulness Practitioner and a published (ebook) author, (click here for my book, Becoming Stronger through Mindfulness), I support and guide others along their paths of self-discovery and I continue to travel.

At the end of this article I will post some useful links to resources that you might like if you are about to head off on your own journey – and if you are not quite ready to do that yet and you would like some guidance about how to learn to believe in yourself again, drop me an email.  I would love to hear from you.

Things began falling into place for me in South America and one day in Quito when I was out for lunch I met a lady from Canada who was visiting the city.  It now always makes me smile when this happens because one of my main worries before I set off on my adventures, and that of most solo travellers is of how you will meet people when you’re on your own; but back then, I didn’t realise how frequently this would happen.

I was extremely grateful when this lovely lady simply came over and asked to join me at my table.  The following day Sudha and I agreed to meet so that we could ride the cable car together – and there I was, no longer a frightened solo traveller

In the end we didn’t take the cable car as there was incredibly low cloud over the entire city but we went off for a morning’s shopping in a large craft market and drank some more of the purple colada morada.  Quito stretches the length of a long narrow valley and in just about every direction there are mountain peaks, volcanoes and clouds.

There is something so special about the clouds above the Andes.  I don’t know how the sky can appear to be bigger and more expansive but here it does, and because in the mountains you are high up, the clouds sit lower over you.

They can certainly affect the mood of the city trapping the air in when they press down grey and menacing, or stealthily creeping and flowing down the surrounding mountains like soft grey rivers of fog or, when there are no clouds at all, it’s as if your spirit is free to soar and fly up and away into the universe beyond and here I was enjoying it with a lady that I had only recently met and looking forward to my next destination.

Quito far below the Pichincha volcano in Quito

Quito far below the Pichincha volcano in Quito

Climbing the Pichincha volcano, Quito

However, I’m getting all poetical and I digress yet I still have to tell you about my last amazing day in Ecuador.  Marcel and I decided to climb a volcano.  We were joined by Rachael who was new in town and staying in the same hostel as us and luckily for us the clouds were way up high on the day that we set off for the cable car called the TeleferiCo.

Quito, the capital city of Ecuador sits at an altitude of 2800 metres and is the highest official capital city in the world.  It has more than 1.6 million inhabitants…and it literally sits around and up the sides of an active volcano which last had a significant eruption as recently as 1998.

These South Americans are a hardy lot and they don’t let a little thing like an active volcano bother them – they have even built a cable car system up the side of this one!

Unlike many other cable cars in Latin America such as those in Medellin or Manizales, this cable car in Quito has been built mainly for tourists and it whizzed us fast up the side of the volcano.  Or at least it was fast once we’d got onto the thing.  Rachael and I had to restrain Marcel who with his German scientific mind could not believe the method by which we had to get onto the system.

In fact there seemed to be no method.  Despite the steadily growing queue, if you wanted a whole cabin to yourself then you could have a whole cabin to yourself and damn everybody else behind you!  In the end, Marcel cracked and escaping the clutches of Rachael and me he jumped the queue and strode into a cabin with a family who had hoped to have it to themselves.


the summit of the Pichincha volcano is the furthest peak

the summit of the Pichincha volcano is the furthest peak

Once onboard the Teleferico it whisked us up to 4,000 metres and some absolutely stunning views of the city.  The ride costs twice as much for tourists as locals and is quite expensive by South American standards and in my opinion you shouldn’t bother going unless you have a clear day.  But we were lucky and we had a stunning wide-open sky kind of day and we were not here only for the ride.  We were here to climb a volcano.

It started out just like a walk in the park.  But an altitude affected heart thumping, heavy-limb uphill sort of a walk in the park.

A grassy ridge led us up and up for more than an hour and very gradually the sharp craggy rocks of the summit came into focus.

People use this volcano as a training ground for altitude and groups of runners – runners!!! – I could barely put one foot in front of the other at this altitude – groups of runners puffed past us.  In the cafe there was an oxygen bar where, for a few dollars you could buy time at an oxygen point and sit with a mask on and revive yourself.

the scree slope - great fun coming down the Pichincha volcano

the scree slope – great fun coming down the Pichincha volcano

I am never entirely happy with heights and a couple of hours we were faced with the steep side of the sharp peak.  Here I have to thank my two friends who encouraged me up – at times using hands and feet and climbing up the rocks.

It was tough going but we passed people on their way down who told us that the effort was worth it.  The clouds began to swirl down around us and I was a little afraid of getting lost because in some places there was no obvious path, but onwards and upwards we went.

And finally, after much scrabbling, we were there on top of the world.  The clouds lifted and swirled and allowed us to see Quito, just a large splodge of dusty colour below and we sat and caught our collective breaths.

It was amazing to think that we were stood on the summit of an active volcano, 4000 metres up in the sky – but we also knew that getting down was not going to be a piece of cake either.

we made it - the summit of the Pichincha volcano in Quito

we made it – the summit of the Pichincha volcano in Quito

But there was a quick option to get down part of the way.  Once past the spiky rocks which were very slowly negotiated, we bypassed the zigzag path and launched ourselves off down the scree slope.  This was an almost sheer, almost smooth slope at a steeper angle than 45 degrees and was made up of soft sand and gravel with the odd clump of grass or rock to add an element of danger.

At the top you take a deep breath and you launch yourself using whatever method best works for you.  Crouch down on your heels and scoot down the hill using your feet as a sled, or bounce down; leaning well back into the mountainside taking giant-sized slithery steps and all the time being very careful not to catch your boot on a misplaced hillock which would cause you to face-plant the gravel.

We all obviously made it down in one piece and we caught the cable car back down through the thick fog which had now swallowed up the entire city.

heading back down the volcano in Ecuador

heading back down the volcano in Ecuador

And then I was climbing into my bunk in the Minka Hostel for one last time before I would take a cab to the airport and my flights down to Brazil.

If you are thinking that your life is somehow stuck but you can’t quite put your finger on it, or you have demons that you need to fight before you can move forward, you can get my book here – Becoming Stronger through Mindfulness or trial my self confidence builder, the Smash the Pumpkin Project for a month, click here.

If you are ready to travel yourself; when I was in Quito I stayed at the Minka Hostel – get the latest prices and details here. I bounced in and out of this hostel for a couple of months because it had such a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.  I love the Lonely Planet Guide books – you can get many of them online now too so that you don’t have to carry them around in your backpack – and talking of backpacks I STILL love my Osprey Farpoint 55 backpack which has been all around the world with me

If you enjoy reading about my adventures, do follow me either here or on Facebook.  Click on this link and I will also send you a virtual postcard with the odd newsletter attached every month or so.

And do take 10 minutes to drop me an email or let me know in the comments what you are up to and what you thought of this article.

the hike up the Pichincha volcano started off fairly easily

the hike up the Pichincha volcano started off fairly easily

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Could I be the perfect girlfriend?

Could I be the perfect girlfriend?

This article explains why I could be the perfect girlfriend.  Or not!

I travel.  It’s what I do.  I wander from place to place; exploring and moving and volunteering and writing. Does this make me the perfect girlfriend?  You decide whether the following are pros or cons of your perfect girlfriend

the perfect girlfriend is independent

I’m a cheap date.

I usually prefer to travel on a budget. I stay in back-packers hostels and I eat street food.

Don’t get me wrong – I can fully appreciate a Michelin star lunch (thank you Louise) or a night in a plush hotel, but it’s the company that I love.  So whether it’s chatting over canapés with nice china and cutlery or eating finger food from a plastic bag sat on a tree stump – if you can make me laugh then I am happy.

There will be no awkward silences.

Ask me about my adventures or my future plans and I will talk forever.  One of my favourite pastimes is people watching – basically I am very nosey – so I will also want to know what makes you tick.

And I will question you.  I want to know what happened when you missed the train or when you went to Amsterdam.  I want to find out what happens at Le Mons or at a Full Moon Party and in return I will tell you how to make papa rellana – the best street snack in the entire world – or give you a blow by blow descripton of the parasite that took up residence inside me in Colombia.

I am not clingy.

I like my space.  I like my independence and I will allow you yours.

You want to travel with me?  Fine and good, but if you want to take a side trip by yourself for a month or so and see different stuff – in fact; perfect.  I think that I might go ever so slightly mad if I had to be on my best behaviour all of the time.  You can tell me all about your trip when we meet up again.  Just take lots of photos to show me when we meet up again.

I’m not moody

I don’t get moody and I rarely get jealous. Too good to be true right?

I want to empower and encourage and if that means that I am left behind when you find your wings, so be it.  I sometimes cry but you don’t need to comfort me.  I deal with it – in the same way that when I’m sick I prefer to be left alone. so please, you don’t need to hold back my hair over the toilet bowl – just leave me to it.

Surely this makes me the perfect girlfriend?

I am independent.

You don’t need to hold my hand and protect me when we go out together unless you’re chasing off would-be robbers who are armed with a large knife (thank you Lio).

I have been travelling solo for over 2 years and I am comfortable with my own company.  I am used to dining or drinking alone, so if we are out and you spot some old mates or you want to go and make some new ones, no worries; I can look out for myself – I don’t have to be hanging off your arm.

I have absolutely no sense of direction.

The needy girlfriend will get uptight if she gets lost or plans change.

I am ALWAYS getting lost and I love variety and the unexpected so you needn’t be afraid that I will throw a wobbly if we miss that bus or if we decide to head south instead of north.  I often toss a coin to choose my route – try it – it can be fun, and we can play scissors, paper, stone to decide on where we should stay.  I can’t play this one by myself, lol!

I am not precious about my belongings.

So you spilt that entire bottle of red wine down my dress at the posh Christmas dinner in the presence of the cream of the British Navy?  Why would I get mad?  I had several chivalrous officers gallop over to help mop me up and dry me out.  Me?  Attention seeking?  It was one way to get noticed.

Maybe I should change my attitude and become high-maintenance but my current lifestyle doesn’t allow it.  I would rather be spontaneous.

Just don’t mess with my phone or my laptop.  Those are my link with the rest of the world and the tools of my trade – but anything else – no worries.

I am resourceful.

Living in mixed dormitories can mean a lack of privacy.  I am resourceful.  Enough said.

the perfect girlfriend in the Amazon

What I don’t want.

So you now know my attributes, let me tell you what I don’t want in a relationship.

I don’t want to be tied down (emotionally) tied up in mind games or stuck in a rut.  I don’t want to feel trapped or manipulated.  I have learnt to be free and to roll with the dice that life shakes at me. I eat when I’m hungry and I don’t want to live to a rigid routine or to be forced into yours. I don’t want to waste a minute of any day.  I probably don’t need a boyfriend., but I am thinking more and more that I would quite like one.

What I do want

I want freedom, independence and lots of laughs.

I want to know that I am special but I don’t want responsibility.

I want cuddles but I want space.  I LOVE a massage and I will do almost anything for a good one.

I like wine. I want to dance in the rain, lie sleepily by the bonfire on the beach until dawn and I want to see whales migrate.

I want to lie in the snow and watch the glory of the Northern Lights shimmer and crackle above me.

I want to climb mountains and swim naked in the sea.

I want to love somebody and to be loved back,

I want to know that I am the sun, the moon and the stars to you but I want freedom to take off and to explore the world

The perfect girlfriend allows you freedom

This just about sums it up my attitude to my life at the moment.


I don’t want to arrive at my grave in a well preserved body.  I want to skid in sideways, screaming ‘Holy shit, what a ride!’ 

BUT….at times I miss having a special someone to share things with and to hug.  Maybe I have been solo for too long, but I am searching for somebody who can understand and relate to all of the things that I have written above.

I am not saying that I cannot do responsibilty or routine – but it will take a very special person to persuade me.  Or if I fall head over heels in love everything could all change in an instant.  I told you, I am flexible

What do you think?  Is it possible to be an independent traveller and to be a girlfriend? Could I be the perfect girlfriend?  Could you be the one?

Are you up to the challenge?

Scarlet Jones Travels
A pairing dinner and a Michelin star restaurant

A pairing dinner and a Michelin star restaurant

An engineer turned artist;

an artist turned chef 

We were driven to an industrial park on the outskirts of Banyoles for dinner.  The itinerary told us that we would be attending a ‘pairing dinner’ with the strambotic painter Quim Hereu. In the golden evening sun we were warmly welcomed by Quim and his wife Tania and taken inside the industrial unit where a surreal world had been created.  Follow this link to Quim’s website:


The Stram Project

Jaume introduces Quim and his work

The large space was totally dominated by Quim’s latest work in progress – which is the second of a trilogy of works.   The entire back wall was a work-in-progress – a MASSIVE painting with vibrant colours and wherever you looked you could spot something surreal or something simply beautiful.  The  first painting was already boxed up in readiness for its journey to Mexico where a buyer hopefully waits, the huge wooden crate stapled shut, although Quim would dearly love to see the painting exhibited in Girona.

Glassware and cutlery gleamed on a circular table in the centre of the room and the Argentinian chef Gonzalo Martinez  who is based in Barcelona had set up a kitchen in one corner of the room and was studiously piping tiny little balls of foie gras onto plates.  An old iron bed which had once belonged to Quim’s grandfather and a glasshouse glowing with light from a red chandelier were the only other decorations.  Casually propped against one wall was the original drawing from which Quim was replicating his painting.

the table set for dinner


Quim was passionate about his subject and spoke vivaciously in Catalan whilst Juame Marin the Director of Marketing at the tourist board: Costa Brava Girona  was translating just as fast.  Forgive me if I am a little inaccurate but there was so much information to absorb.  Strambotism is an artistic movement that was created and originated in Catalunya around 1974.  At first glance it has similarities to surrealism but it is a totally separate entity.  As I have already said, you could gaze forever at Quim’s work and always see something new.

After the introductions we all took our seats, joined by Jordi Xargay i Congost, the President of the Consell Comarcal del Pla de l’Estany and Ferran Vila Pugol who is one of the top sommeliers in the region. Gonzalo the chef had designed and produced each course to represent, compliment and explain a different aspect from some of Quim’s works, while Ferran the sommelier had paired a drink to compliment the food (and therefore also the paintings), even brewing or making some of them himself.

the centre piece of the painting

The first of the trilogy represents time, the birth of Venus and the craving to get eternal youth.  I hope that Quim will forgive me if I don’t explain this correctly but the snail is key to the factory of time and also appears in the second painting which is about power.  Not the power of swords, or strength or males, but it is more subtle. The centre figure of a lady on a horse is the first queen of Catalunya who had power over her subjects and even the Pope of the time.  She holds a snail in her hand – and here is another link where the snail mirrors and represents time.  Watch a snail and it moves frustratingly slowly.  Move away for a short while and when you return it has gone.  In the same way as time slips suddenly away from us and you are at the end of your life.  Blink and you miss it. The third painting will represent freedom; because without freedom one can’t enjoy the other two concepts of time and power.  The works represent six years of Quim’s life, with the majority of his time taken at the design stage with a blank canvas.  These works are massive – 6metres by 12 metres, and the problem has been finding a buyer or a space large enough to exhibit them.  As I mentioned before, Quim would dearly love Girona to display them, and preferably displayed together.  He is so passionate about this that he is actually prepared to donate them for free, despite the amount of time that he has dedicated to painting them.

 The food and drink

the chef Gonzalo at work

This pairing dinner formed a part of the ‘Live the History’ trip which Jaume and his team had arranged following the TBEX conference.  Three other travel bloggers and myself had the most interesting of evenings.  The four of us dined along with Jaume, Vikki who was our tour guide, and the other guests while Gonzalo kept extremely busy in his kitchen. You can see his website here: (  We were in the company of true creatives and artists, passionate about their respective mediums and their region. Our first drink was a beer, brewed by Ferran with 3 different types of hops – and – this is the cool thing – the texture in the mouth was more important than the smell or the taste as it complimented the textures of the food and the art. By eating replicates of the snails and the clock we were consuming the representation of the snails/time and internalising it.

The flavours were sublime: Catalan style spinach, pinenuts, raisins Iberian ham, fois gras and a tiny cypress tree, together with a label – continued the theme of internalising the art and strambotism. Our second drink was a sparkling wine – again made by Ferran who had produced only 300 bottles and which balanced the saltiness of the chequerboard of the carpa of tuna and anchovies and raspberry caviar.

soup with a twist – in porons

Perhaps the pairing was most visual with the third dish.  It was matched to a desert scene but one where the turbaned camel riders had porons instead of heads (a poron is a typical Spanish way of serving wine) – and now we had to drink the most exquisite soup from glass porons.  The desert theme was continued with home made harissa and fish on skewers and paired with a very special white wine from the region.  We kept the same shape wine glasses throughout our meal and Ferran explained that in his sommelier world the shape of the glass has no meaning at all. The drink is appreciated through smell and taste not by the shape of the glass.  He also told us that this region of Catalunya is one of the chief producers of cork, and while the artificial bottle stops are fine for a young wine, an older wine should only be stoppered with cork. Our fourth course was a sweet sausage accompanied by a foamy mashed potato.  But even the sausages were not simple.  They each had a centre of the local herbal drink ratafia and had an outer casing first of a seaweed and then the finest, thinnest spring-roll pastry.  The strong flavours of the sausage were balanced with a robust red wine from the south of Catalunya.

This fourth course was paired with the massive painting under which we were all seated and by now I was certainly appreciating the imagery and the connections.  The strength of the horse, the meatiness of the sausage and the flavours of the red wine all connected and flowed through each other. The fifth course was about cats and the apple temple, and like the painting and the sparkling Muscat wine it had an altogether lighter feel to it.

work in progress

Quim talked about his influencers and how with the Catalan spirit and strambotism his creativity and techniques can fly. What makes Quim so amazing is that he initially studied as an engineer but he followed his passion and moved across into the art world.

A Michelin star lunch

The following day we took lunch at a Michelin star restaurant in Banyoles where the chef had moved from the art world into that of food and cooking.

Both Quim the artist and Pere the chef are true masters in their second choice of career and are at the top of the tree – which also proves that it is never too late to follow our dreams and our hearts and we should pursue that which makes us truly happy.

Ca l’Arpa is a Michelin star restaurant in Banyoles where we were privileged to a tasting lunch.  The chef Pere Arpa is from the town and his restaurant and small boutique style hotel is in what was once his grandfather’s house.  Decorated in muted greys and whites with just a few splashes of colour, one of the nice touches in the dining room were the huge plate glass windows which offered a view to the shiny stainless steel kitchens and the chefs working behind the scenes.

the window into the kitchen

Our wine was carefully chosen to compliment the meal and as was to be expected, everything was sourced and produced locally and from Catalunya.  The first wine interestingly was aged in ceramic barrels as opposed to the traditional wood and from the Finca Olvidardots and made by a woman which is apparently also quite unusual in what is a predominately male dominated occupation here.  The wine accompanied our starter of a ravioli of apples and black sausage (blood sausage and rice) – and then the food kept coming.

We had numerous, exquisite tastes and bursts of flavours, all presented on little platters or saucers and served to us either by Pere himself or his wife Montserrat, along  with a detailed explanation of what we were eating or drinking and how the flavours had been designed and combined. One of the wines was a biodynamic wine and came in a plain bottle with no label – just a simple collar around the cork.  This was produced by a Swiss owner at the cellar Bell Lloc near Palamos. Then followed an animated discussion around language and exactly what cut of meat we were eating when Pere presented it to our table before carving it.  He said that it was veal – and the ultimate general consensus was the shank, but whatever, it just melted in the mouth and it was divine.  Pere had not forgotten that one of our group was a vegetarian and he had devised separate dishes for her with just as much care and thought as those for the rest of us.

Pere Arpa explains his dish

Our menu included delights such as a fresh cheese and plums, a sweet and sour terrine of pig’s head with onions, marinaded sardines on a little bed of chickpea puree with sunflower seeds scattered over the top and green, white and purple asparagus.  There was a sweet sausage of liver and curry butter (very subtle and delicate), a dessert of passion fruit and marscapone and a whole range of breads during the meal and a selection of little bonbons at the end.

After our lunch Pere showed us around the hotel upstairs and some of the bedrooms which have all been tastefully decorated and which overlook a serene little courtyard and garden at the back of the building.   Pere changed the direction of his career at the age of 25 and for 20 years he has dedicated himself to cooking.  He moved into his grandfather’s old home 8 years ago and extended and altered the house so that he could accommodate guests whilst cooking.  The overall ambience is one of calmness and tranquility.  There is a link to his previous life as an artist (with paint as he is still creating masterpieces albeit with food) as one of his paintings is displayed behind the reception desk.

Ca l’Arpa

 The magic and passion of Catalunya

The unique experience of the pairing dinner hosted by Quim Hereu was a very different experience to our lunch at Cal l’Arpa, but the Catalan region was weaving its magic and encircling and entwining us, drawing us tighter with strands of an opaque smoky substance.  Hard to see and not entirely tangible but there and ever present, the region has a culture and an identity, a passion and a pride which is expressed through its people and its food and its drink.

Engineer becomes artist, artist becomes chef. two men.  Both creative, talented and passionate.  Both proudly Catalan.

Quim produces his works in an industrial space; his initial career as an engineer stemmed from industry and Pere now lives and works in the space of his grandfather.   Thanks to everybody involved from the tourist agencies of Pla de l’Estany, Pirineu de Girona, the Costa Brava and Catalunya who made these such amazing experiences.  As usual, all opinions are my own and were not influenced in any way.

Otovalo – well worth another visit or two

Otovalo – well worth another visit or two

I survived my pickpocketing at the border but one hundred dollars lighter and I jumped on a bus to Otovalo.  I had been here before but I wanted to break my journey and this town warranted a better look around.


In the end I stayed here for ten days in two different hostels so I really got a feel for the place and its residents, bouncing in and out of Quito in between.  Since my first visit to Otovalo there had been an earthquake and the road through the mountain is currently closed.  It now takes twice as long to get to the town from Quito on a very long winding route which has had a severe impact on the number of tourists who pop up from the capital for the day.

Otavalo, Ecuador

Bt it is worth making the effort and it is worth staying longer.  Otavalo has got, of course the crafty, artisan  market – the biggest and arguably the best in Ecuador and it also has a weekly animal market.  There are TWO volcanos looming over the town and some beautiful towns and villages within striking distance.  It has lakes, mountains and a scenic railway line passes quite close by.

I spent some quality downtime here writing and walking in the countryside and I also  I met a British lady who had repatriated herself to the town and we went out together on a couple of day trips.

the mountains of Otavalo, Ecuador

We visited the nearby waterfalls at the Cascada de Peguche which are considered a sacred site by the local indigenous people and who hold ceremonies under and near them.

Cascada de Pegucha

We visited the large lagoon, the Lago San Pablo on a very still, foggy day, a day when dampness hung in the air and deadened all sounds and sucked the life and colour out of the landscape.  We saw the little pond formed where the stream tumbled down from the mountains and where the ancient stone washing stones stood.  The indigenous ladies still gather here in this pool to wash their clothes, pummelling them on the rocks, and chattering and passing the time of day while they sit or stand in the water.

washing machines

Another day we trekked for five and a half hours the fourteen kilometres around the rim of the Laguna de Cuicocha with its two forested humps of islands hunched in the middle and is so named for the guinea pigs that the islands are supposed to resemble.  That trek was actually quite tough as in some places where the path climbed very high above the crater, and the gradient rising from 3100 to 3400 metres but it was very beautiful.  The path wound in and out of trees and each time it took us back out above the lake our viewpoint had shifted and we had a different perspective.  The lake changed from a moody, glassy black which reflected the mountains to molten mercurial silver and all shades of blue/green in between.

Laguna de Cuicocha

We had rain, sun and hail thrown at us while we walked and then when we finally reached the road we had to hitchhike back to the town as there was no public transport. That in itself was an adventure as we climbed into the back of a truck who had already picked up a lady and a drunk guy who kept retching in the corner  – and thenthe truck got a puncture too.

waiting patiently for the puncture to be repaired

Julie the British lady that I had met was a masseuse and did something with crystals.  I had a lovely massage and she read my cards (something like tarots) with uncanny accuracy but the jury is still out on the crystal stuff.  I supposedly had all my bad energy taken away from me, but following subsequent events she would probably dispute that!

The cards. Uncannily accurate

On one of my return trips to Otavalo (by now my third visit) I was accompanied by the uber intelligent Marcel from Germany who I had met in Quito.  My trip has been educational in more ways than one but before I set out I never expected that I would learn about  black holes, quantum physics and tons of other sciency stuff.  And all credit to Marcel that despite my blank looks he didn’t tell me that I was completely stupid and he did explain a lot of stuff in a way that even my non-scientific mind could grasp (I gave up on physics in school on the day that we made patterns with a magnet and iron filings.  What use was that ever going to be in my life?)

One evening we heard that there was a cockfight going on.  This is legal in Ecuador and most towns have an arena.  We debated the ethics of going and then decided that, provided we didn’t have to pay an entrance fee, we might at least pop our heads in and see what was going on.

A cock fight – with birds strategically placed behind a post

It wasn’t as bad as I had thought – I actually found it more interesting watching the crowd watching the fighting than the birds themselves.  It was similar to a boxing match in as much as there were timed segments, the referree would frequently pause the match and there was some big money changing hands among the crowd.

We stayed for just twenty minutes which was quite enough, and I would not go again but just after we had left we were told that there had been an immediate kill which had earned the owner of the bird a huge two thousand dollars.

waiting for the cock fight

I have to ‘fess up to not being particularily politically correct in several respects because I also visited the animal market twice as well as the cock fight.   And they were both very un-pc.  But interesting.  And quite legal and normal in Colombia.  In the market there were all sorts of animals changing hands, from tiny little chicks and puppies to pigs, goats and bulls.  Some very grand cockerels were on display which we later learnt were being sold for cock fighting and a man was very strangely leading a randy bull around on a rope.

patiently waiting for a sale

Daniel from Cuenca had joined us in Otavalo by now and the three of us spent a hilarious half hour watching the bull  unsucessfully attempt to mount the other bulls that were tied up to the fence but he only succeeded in spraying everything and anybody who was stood too close with sperm.  Very prurile and childish but ever so funny.  Daniel actualy recorded the whole thing if you are interested!

calendar shot – October

Daniel had joined us in  Cuenca for a music festival which I had been reliably informed by Julie the Brit would take place at the sacred waterfall and which would be a moving,s spiritual affair.  Was it heck!

It was not at the waterfall at all, but in a large, drafty sports hall.  A bevvy of bands took their turn on stage but none of the music was spiritual – it was all a jazzed up version of the music that you can hear on many high streets.  Pan pipes accompanied by drums and guitars didn’t really do it for us since we were expecting such big things.  I have to say that it was a dreadful night – not least because a man who was sat next to me shoved his tongue in my ear and told me that he loved me (I moved pretty sharpish).  Marcel thought that the whole visit to Otavalo was hilariously funny and Daniel couldn’t wait to leave Ecuador (I should point at that neither were the owner of the out of control tongue)

volcano hidden in the clouds

One nice thing about Otavalo was that I also had the chance to meet up with Ashley from the States who I had previously met in Banos.  I was told before I started to travel that there was a well worn path that travellers followed but I never believed that I would re-meet the same people again.  After all, the distances are so huge, but people swap Facebook addresses and hook up again.  If somebody can recommend a hostel or a good place to visit that can sometimes be safer than winging it (not always as some of the best things that I have seen or done have been when I have got lost)

Since my return to the UK after my trip I have even met up with fellow travellers here too and that is fantastic because you have the connection and the shared memories.

a lady in Otavalo market

Leaving Otavalo behind on November 2nd Marcel and I in our bus drove past the cemetary where the indigenous population bury their dead.  It was packed.  The roads around it were solid with people and families laden down with baskets and flowers because it was  ‘The Day of the Dead’ which is celebrated all around Central and South America and Mexico.  It is a day of celebration rather than sadness when whole (usually indigenous) families decamp to the graves of their ancestors and hold a picnic alonsgside their resting place, complete with their deceased relatives favourite foods.

Arriving back in Quito we also witnessed the way that some of the city folk commemorated the Day of the Dead.  Enter your email address and follow me to ensure that you don’t miss my my next installment or like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter





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