Published: November 27th 2007November 27th 2007
Thailand: our final country. I am writing this entry since Ashlee is not feeling well after eating a bad poached egg for breakfast yesterday. She is feeling better today but lacks energy so is spending the day watching movies on HBO.
We have decided to skip Malaysia for this trip, since it seems that our prefered style of travel is to take our time and explore our destinations at leisure. We arrived from Cambodia last week after an incredible 3 hour sprint to the border in a jacked up Toyota Camry. The road from Siem Reap is by far the worst national highway I have ever seen. It is really just a dirt road, or in our case, mud. Rumor has it, that a certain airline is bribing the Cambodian officials to keep the road in such bad condition to deter people from taking the overland route from Bangkok to the Temples at Angkor. In any event, we had heard that hiring a shared taxi was preferable to taking the bus since the camrys they use have jacked up suspension to better handle the potholes in the road. It cost us a few dollars more, but it was probably worth
it. The whole drive was a bit like being in a rally car race; the car was spraying mud at least 10 feet in either direction and at points we would spin out sideways in the slop. It all felt quite safe since our driver had obviously been doing this route every day for quite some time. I did feel sorry for all the poor people attempting to drive the road on motor bikes. Most of them were forced to push their bikes in sections because the mud was too deep and at the same time, they were getting coated in mud from yahoos like us.
The border was quite straight forward although we did have to stand in line for over and hour since there was only one customs official designated for foreigners. Once on the Thai side things went quite smoothly, we made our way to the bus station and were treated to the nicest bus we had yet been on for taking us to Bangkok. Arriving 4 hours later in Bangkok, we made our way to a tourist information booth, where we were informed that there were no rooms available in Bangkok except at one hotel.
Of course a room could be booked for us at a reduced rate (which was over twice what we were planning to spend). As well, transport to the hotel could also be arranged for us. Obviously a scam. We thanked the man working at the information booth and told him that we would rather go look at the hotel ourselves and make our own way there. At this point he got quite angry with us and told us that they would charge us much more if we went there ourselves. At this point we picked up our bags and left, catching the first metered taxi we could find. Our driver seemed very friendly but unfortunately spoke not a word of English and could not understand where we wanted to go. After about 15 minutes of driving around and clearly getting no where useful, we asked him to let us out and we continued on foot. First thing we did was walk into a big shopping centre, we thought there would be someone who spoke some english. Unlucky for us, we couldn't find any Thais who spoke english! Then we noticed two tourist-types having dinner, and screwing up our courage, we
asked them first if they spoke english and second if they knew of any guest houses around. They indeed were tourists, and looked just about as bedgragled as us. They were kind enough to hand us the guesthouse card of where they were staying, and told us it was nearby. We arrived at the guesthouse shortly after, tired after only one hour in the great city of Bangkok. We had had enough of Bangkok for one day, and were itching to get off the banana pankake tourist trail. As well, we were hoping for some place where we could just have some peace and quiet for a bit, to rejuvinate ourselves after Siem Reap. The next morning we caught a bus headed north to a city called Phitsanulok.
Phitsanulok is a city of about 100 000 people and as we had hoped was quite devoid of tourists. We spent one day there, we saw a temple containing the second most revered buddha statue in Thailand. The buddha itself was quite beautiful, all gold with two dragons encircling it. However, of more interest to us was the numbers of Thai people that had come to see it. The temple was
We found this instrument in a little stall in Chaing Mai. It has no body, instead the sound comes out of a horn. It sounded quite horrible, but neat idea.
completely packed and surrounding it was a sort of fair grounds complete with food stalls and monks speaking into microphones ect. As a city Phisanulok is not really very beautifull since it was leveled by a fire in the 1950s and so is now completely built of concrete buildings. However, we managed to find a cute little cafe called Coffee in Love where we sipped iced cappucinos, played cards, and read our books. Interestingly enough, Thailand has better iced coffee drinks than anywhere else we've travelled, including Canada! It may be the fact that they make them as a real warm latte first then add ice, whereas we usually just use cold milk then ice and espresso. Whatever it is, they are darn good!
Next destination was Phrae, a little town of around 30 000 people, which is noted for its old city built in a moated wall. It was quite charming and we spent the afternoon strolling the streets looking at the classic Thai teak houses that were quite prevalent. Having decided that it was time to partake in some more cultural activities, we stopped at one of the ever prevalent Thai wats. We were instantly greeted by
a VERY friendly monk who took it upon him to be our very own tour guide. Unfortunately, he didn't speak a work of english, but manged to be very enthousiastic while yammering away in Thai and pointing at the wat's pamphlet to help explain what we were now visiting. He led us on a whirlwind tour and I have never been shown so much that I didn't understand so quickly. At the end of our tour I pulled out our camera which I was carrying in my backpack to take a photo. Our guide became very excited and insisted that he go around and take pictures of us infront of each item of interest in the temple. It is a pose that the Thais seem to be very fond of. I am happy to say that we now have a whole collection of photos with us posing in front of unknown temple items. It was quite a bit of fun.
After exiting the temple we found the main square of the town where a festival seemed to be getting underway. The square was lined with food stalls and there were tables and chairs set up all over the lawn
Chef Hignell at wok
Making Chicken with Cashew Nut
infront of a large stage. We decided to join in, buying a large bottle of Singha and a bunch of street eats, all for the price of $5. We feasted while watching Thai performers sing and dance on stage. It was a great time, we still have no idea what the festival was for. While walking around the site, I ran into the only other foreigner there. He was an Austrailian who accosted me by yelling, "Hey you, are you American?" When I told him I was Canadian he replied, "You all sound the same to me. What are you doing here? There is f*** all to do in this town." I left him at that but thought to myself, that is exactly what we were looking for.
Next stop was Nan, another small town rarely visited by tourists. The guide book made it out to sound very nice, but once we got there we soon realized that Phrae was by far the nicer town. One great thing was that we were able to stay at a new hotel at a discounted rate - it was very plush, with a lovely king sized bed and very comfortable mattress. The
tv only had a few channels of Thai television, but we (mostly Ashlee) manged to catch up on Thai tv dramas. We rented a couple of bikes and spent the day peddaling around between a few temples in town and making our way to a hill 2 km out of town where there was an especially holy golden stupa. Another nicely relaxed day but we realized that we had had enough of too much relaxation, of no-one speaking english, and of only Thai breakfasts (the latter making Ashlee rather grumpy in the morning.) The next morning we headed for the center for tourism in the north, Chaing Mai.
One thing to be said for Thailand is that it has wonderful public transport, by far the nicest we've experienced in SE Asia. Even a little too nice at times! The only bus available to Chaing Mai was VIP, it was like being in first class on an airline (or as I would imagine it to be). It had three seats across, each being very large and lazy-boy like. Made for a very comfortable trip, but I think from now on we will go 1st or 2nd class and spare a
bit of money and room. We arrived at the bus station and decided, since it is now high tourist season, to phone the guesthouses and ask about availability. It's hard to imagine that this was the first time we've had to do this in our entire trip! And it was a very good thing we did, as the first 6 we phoned were full. We were on our last baht when we phoned the seventh guesthouse and found they had availability for one night only. We grabbed at it and hired a tuk-tuk to take us there straight away. After settling in we headed out to find dinner, only to be caught in a sudden downpour. It made finding dinner rather difficult, especially as the map for Chiang Mai in the Lonely Planet is of very inferior quality and it is actually much easier to find an Italian retaurant than a Thai one in Chaing Mai. We managed to find a guesthouse serving dinner, and after eating there went back to our guesthouse to get a good night's rest.
The next day the sun was shining; we found ourselves a new guest house and booked ourselves into a cooking
course, something we had been planning to do since early in our trip.
Our cooking course was fantastic. We started out by going shopping at the market. We then spent the day cooking all sorts of Thai food including fish cakes, noodle salad, and chicken in coconut milk soup. The highlight however was making curry paste from scratch. We chopped up all sorts of chillies, spices, and herbs, and ground them up with a mortor and pestle. It all tasted great, but there was so much to eat!
The next day we decided to be brave, conquer our fears, and rented a scooter. We had been meaning to earlier when we were in Nan, but found that they didn't have any insured scooters. Feeling a touch like Zach Braff, we drove all the way up a nearby mountain to a temple that looked out over the city. It was really beautiful and even a little cold up on the mountain. We also stopped off at the winter palace of the royal family, where I was told I needed to put pants on as my shorts were too short, and therefore disrespectful. This was rather humorous as I've worn
It was actually a bit scary how close we were allowed to get to that big mouth.
these shorts too countless temples, asking if they were appropriate, and always told yes they were. Needless to say, I rented some pants and continued on our tour. On our way back we stopped off at the zoo. I was quite impressed by the conditions that the animals were kept in. I had heard horror stories about some of the zoos in Asia. We saw hippos, giraffes, jaguars, bengal tigers, gibbons, penguins, and lots of others. It was quite fun, although seeing the Gibbons caged up was rather sad as only a month ago we had seen them roaming wild in the jungles of Laos and heard them in the forests of Cambodia.
That evening, there was a festival in Chaing Mai. We have yet to learn what the festival was for but we enjoyed it nonetheless. People were releasing hundreds of paper hot air balloon lanterns making hundreds of points of light in the night sky. It was a beautiful sight, seeing all the lanterns in the air merging together and heading up high in the sky. We released one ourselves, lighting the oil wick and holding the lantern until the hot air had built up enough for
it to rise magestically into the air taking with it our wishes.
Yesterday, we had arranged to go rock climbing at an area known as the crazy horse crag. We got up early, catching a quick breakfast before meeting our guide and heading out to the crag. We spent the morning doing some easy (and some not so easy) climbs and getting used to using the harnesses and ropes. We both were able to do all the climbs we tried except for one which proved to be too much for us. We decided to take a break for lunch and try again in the afternoon. On our way to lunch, Ashlee started to feel ill, and it became apparent that she had food poisoning. Our guide drove us back to the city and we spent the rest of the day in the hotel room watching movies and being sick.
It seems all is well now but we are taking it easy today. Tomorrow we are going to go get our visas extended at the Burmese border. We have been assured that it is completely safe and that people do it everyday. We are going with a tour group
The Chaing Mai Sunday walking market
As you can see, with the number of people, it was rather like the Chaing Mai Zoo
so it should be pretty straight forward. After getting our extensions we are planning to slowly work our way back south, arriving in Bangkok in about 7 days.
There are more photos below