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Published: June 28th 2006
We left Koh Phagnan on the 8.30am catameran to head back upto Bangkok. We were transfered from the catamaran at the 'port' of Chumporn (which is a jetty off a beach) to aircon buses which were waiting ready to take us to Bangkok. We arrived in Bangkok at just after 8.30pm after a hassle free journey. Already we are missing the sea breeze of the coast, as the heat, humidity and aromas of Bangkok are stifling, even at night.
Our aim whilst back in Bangkok is to sort out our visas for Laos. Having sorted out the forms and handing them in it is just a matter of waiting for a couple of days. We aren't really in the mood for any more tramping around Bangkok at the moment so we are taking advantage of the 20b an hour air-conditioned internet cafe to get back up to date with our blogs and take refuge from the heat of the city.
We met up with Jackie & Scott whom we met in Koh Phagnan to watch England play in the world cup. The 'bar' we met them in was a converted shell petrol station. A bar had been set up
between two of the pumps, tables were set up all around the forecourt and there was a massive tv screen put up. It was a pretty good atmosphere which was enhanced by England winning.
After the footie, the 'shell station' was closing so we decided to head out for a snack and another drink elswhere. We saw one stall selling deep fried crickets, caterpillers, scorpions and maggots. Andy and Scott were very brave and ate a cricket each, with soy sauce! They both looked quite unbothered by it and Andy said it was a thin crispy shell and the only flavour was the soy sauce. Even so - I was not eating a cricket nor a maggot for that matter! After crickets and more conventional snacks we headed out to get another drink but to our suprise all of the bars around the main tourist area close at 1am, either that or they dont serve alcohol after 1am. We therefore decided to call it a day and head back to our beds.
Having got our visas for Laos sorted out, said our goodbyes to Jackie and Scott and scouted out what souveniers we want to buy on our
return to Bangkok we were ready to start moving North. We caught a morning bus from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal to Ayuthaya for a short one and a half hour journey.
Ayuthaya is a former capital of Thailand and remained the capital of Thailand for 417 years. The Ayuthaya historical park is registered as an UNESCO world cultural heritage site. The site is reputed to have been founded in 1350 by Prince Uthong (later King Ramathibodi I). Ayuthaya became one of the most prosperous kingdoms in South East Asia, ultimately the Kingdom spread from Angkor in Cambodia in the East to Pegu (Burma) in the West.
The city of Ayuthaya was built on an island at the confluence of three rivers and was a major trading port. The city now spreads out much further and is now not only on the island, however the main parts of historical interest are on the Island. Ayuthaya is fast being consumed by Bangkok's suburbs but the Historical park (3 sq km of the 8 sq km of the Island) is now protected from building. Although you do see some ruins in the back yard of modern buildings and in the centre
of the town.
Due to its position Ayutthaya has over 50km of waterways so we decided to take an evening tour around some of the Waterways stopping off at some fo the sights of the town. The tour took in:
*Wat Chai Wattanaram, a beautiful site along the side of the river. I think Angkor Wat in Cambodia will be a more intact and larger version of this place as it has a Khmer quality. It was badly damaged when the Burmese attacked the city in 1767 when the burmese smashed the heads off the images of Buddha and destroyed some buildings. The site has been partially restored but in a sensative way.
*Wat Phanan Choeng - restored wat containing a 19m high seated buddha chronicled as being made in 1324, thought the Wat was founded at the same time making it the oldest wat in Ayutthaya.
*Wat Phutthaisawan - an active Wat
The tour finished at the night market where we had a good look around the stalls, which included food clothing and souveniers. Included in the fare on offer were chickens arses (parsons nose), pigs intestines and chicken heart skeweres (yum yum, Andy didn't try thee tho).
The next day we awoke early to try and take advantage of the cooler morning and avoid the tourist crowds. We commisioned a Tuk Tuk and driver and set off on a city tour of Wat Na Phramane, Wat Lokaya Sutha - Large White reclining buddha, Wat Phra Ram, Wat Phra Sri Sanphet and Wat Phra Mahathat - buddha head in tree. I am not going to go into the description of each as they are all basically ruins of Wats (Temples) with damaged or restored images of buddha. We also visited the Ayuthaya Historical Study centre as part of our tour and were pleasantly supprised. In their words " The museum aims at recreating the social and cultural life of Ayutthaya in the past through accurate scale models of various structures, places, communities, activities and long lost objects, based on historical evidence." It really put things into perspective and made you see what the Kingdom would have been like in its 'hay day'.
By the time we were finishing our tour at around 11am the day was getting hot and the coach loads of tourists from Bangkok were starting to arrive. We are glad we started early
as it made it muh more enjoyable to wander around the places with only a few people about.
We caught the 1pm bus for the 6 hour journey upto Sukhothai. The scenery soon turns from urban sprawl to paddy fields and as you pass through Thamphaeng Phet and near Sukhothai. Along it's possible to see ruins interspersed within paddy fields.
We arrived in Sukhothai after dark and headed to the No 4 guesthouse, the Tuk Tuk driver seemed to be driving us into a swamp with loads of mossies that kept hitting our faces as we drove along, 'Dumb and dumber style' where the hell are we staying? But once we got to the hostel, it was actually really nice - but loads of mossies. The accomodation is in individual bamboo huts with ensuite bathroom (with western toilet that flush!) and only 250bht a night. The lady at the hostel cooked us a beautiful meal, its a shame we arent staying here a while as she also runs cookery courses.
In the light of the day it seems that there have been some serious floods here so maybe the hostel isn't meant to be on the edge
Damaged Buddah Images
Wat Chai Wattanaram - Ayuthaya
of a swamp.
I suppose if we had done a little more research we would have found out that we were in the province that recently suffurd from serious flooding. Where we were flooding has occured but 80km North in the neighbouring province it is where a village was destroyed by landslides. The flooding was caused by unusually heavy rain at the onset of the monsoon season and deforestation higher up in the mountains. Around the town there are sandbags and pumps near the river defences to get the water out of the town. There is now alot of standing water in what were the drainage dykes as it looks like they had to block alot of the dykes near the river to stop the drains doing the oppoite and the river flowing into the town.
We were staying in New Sukhothai so we tried to no avail to hire a scooter to go the 12km to the 'old city' so we jumped on the local bus and then hired a scooter once we arrived in the old city.
We set off driving around the site of sukothai historical park which is basically lots of ruins -
Wat Phra Mahathat - Ayuthaya
some in good some bad, some in clearings and some overgrown and with resident cows and chickens. We found it hard to get enthused as we are getting pretty much templed and ruined out for a while. I think it is time for us to do a few more nature and advernture things.
There are only so many buddhas you can see and get excited about. Big buddhas, small buddhas, standing, sitting, reclining in the pose of fearlessness, sitting in the attitude of subduing Mara style, stone buddhas, gold buddhas, jade buddhas, bronze buddhas! As someone we did a tour with said "York Minster Abbey is pretty impressive, but at least York Minster isn't everywhere"
Most of the information signs at the ruins are missing, so it is worth taking your guide book to read of on the ruins you come to.
At Sukhothai most of the ruins of any decent size have been 'renovated' sometimes not that greatly. Also it seems that some of the renovations are looking worse than the original building as alot of the mortar has gone black and is crumbling. When you go into the museum and see the pictures of the
Corn Cob Prang
Wat Chai Wattanaram - Ayuthaya
site when they were discovered, they look very different. Especially Wat Si Chum. The site was very delapidated, but now the buddha and the walls have been rebuilt. The tablets and slates and anything of interest either got stolen from the site shortly after it was rediscovered or have been removed to the local or Bangkok museum.
We have read other peoples blogs and the travel guides about the Ayutthaya and Suukhothai ruins and I have to say in our opinion we prefered Ayutthaya to Sukhothai.
After the day of sight seeing we returned to New Sokhothai and then to the hostel for some food and a shower before we headed off for the night bus at 11.30pm to Khon Kaen. Khon Kaen is a transport hub in the central planes where we are to get the bus upto the Laos border. It was absoultely powring it down outside. We had to head out to the bus terminal early at 10pm as it seems the majority of the Tuk tuk drivers don't work late here.
For the night bus you can't book tickets in advance, you buy the tickets on the bus but we were told this
The new & the old
wasnt a problem. There was only us and a Thai family waiting for the bus and as time went on and no bus we started to worry, but at 2.00am the bus eventually turned up, two people got off and then the driver told us the bus was full and drove off! We couldn't believe it. The bus driver obviously didnt want any arguments about who was getting the two seats but we were fuming - the next bus wasnt until 8.30am!
The Thai family just went home, but we were faced with a dilema. The hostel we were staying at was full as a tour group had arrived and taken all the beds that evening. If we went somewhere else it would be a matter of getting an overpriced Tuk tuk there (only one at the bus station) and back in the morning and trying to find somewhere that would let us in at 2am. We also had to be back at the station by 8am to get the bus in the morning. We therefore took the decision to sleep in the bus station. The station seamed quiet and safe enough. A monk and the toilet attendant had
set their beds up at one end of the station and there were a couple of workers at the station on the night shift, sat around playing a board game. We moved our stuff into a quiet corner of the inside terminal which happened to be in the childrens play area and setted down to sleep using our back packs as pillows.
We both actually slept pretty well, only being awoken by torrential rain beating down on the corrugated roof in the night. As the bus station started getting busier we got up at (about 7am). I have to say our first experience of sleeping in a bus station wasn't that bad and we felt pretty safe there.
The morning bus was also late (it turn out there are floods on the road between Chiang Mai and Sukhothai) but at 9.30am we were on our way - Yeah!
On the bus journey you can definately see why they are having problems with flooding in the lowlands. It seems to be the classic problems as we have seen in so many of the developing counties we have travelled in. The lack of control or corruption of building planning,
the difficulties of preventing people settling in forests or national park areas and economic development.
Areas of forest have been cleared to make way for farming, what looked like mainly banana and pineapple crops plus others. Areas have been slashed and burned and then settled with smallholdings. From the recent rain you can see scars and gullies in the now bare soil where it has been washed away with the rain. Where there is still vegetation cover it tends to be low level vegetation and lots of bamboo and only a few large trees. Where the valuable large trees have been removed bamboo is spreading and taking over.
When it rains it truly does rain with some force here so there's no wonder that the river lag times are grealy reduced with the deforestation. In Sukhothai town the river is now almost returned to its normal level after it burst its banks which are about 5m above the current water level! Logging and deforestation is now meant to be banned in Thailand after extensive flooding and landslides caused the death of 300 people in Chumphon province in 1988 which was attributed to deforestation.
We arrived in Khon
Large Stone Buddah
wat Sri Chum Sukhothai
Kaen at about 4.40pm and managed to transfer straight onto a bus upto Nong Khai. We got there at about 7.30pm and were tired, in need of a shower and very hungry after just eating snacks for the duration of the journey.
The place we are staying at (Mut Mee Guesthouse) is recommended in the footprint guide and it is a realy nice place. The room we are in is the best we have had in Thailand so far.
The food is good, they have proper filter coffee and it is a reaxed place by the river. Our aim is therefore to recharge our batteries, get our laundry done and chill for a couple of days before heading into Loas.
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