Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Oct.29 Siamese history in Sukhothai

We took the bus from CM to Sukhothai to start the move back south. (No boat trip down the Mekong River into Laos this time.) We weren't on the bus pad for 2 minutes before a very motherly lady asked us to come stay at her guesthouse. Fortunately for her Sukhothai GH is in our book and we missed getting off the bus at the old city. Lonely Planet did not do a good job describing how Sukhothai is split into "Old" which is a small town built up around the historic park and "New" which is the city 12km away. SGH had mostly older couples staying (parents and uncles/aunts take note!) in the nice bungalows with verandas and a pretty garden. We took the plain (read cheap) room, went to the market, bought a DVD and watched a movie in the common area since there wasn't much to do in this small town.

The next day we rented some scooters and headed up the road to the old city. Images of the ruins are splashed across many advertisements of Thailand, even in restaurants back in Winnipeg and I was keen to see them in person. The historical park is a sprawling site and it's a good thing Julie figured we should rent the motorbikes. Strangely the visitor centre is poorly maintained and few of the sites had much information about them. But they did have 3D drawings of what they suppose the ruin looked like when first built – quite frankly ancient civilizations had a lot of time/money on their hands!

A guidebook said that the park is lit up at night creating a neat effect. We hung around till dark, had supper at small restaurant and drove back in to the park only to find it completely dark. Dammit. So we headed home.

If anyone’s ever rode a bike at dusk then they know how bugs get in your face. We never did find cheap sunglasses to ride the bikes so tonight we used the plastic sleeve that our cutlery came in at the restaurant. Julie’s head’s a bit smaller than mine so the plastic wrapped around perfectly to cover her eyes. Dorky, perhaps. Effective, yes!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Oct.21-27: Chiang Mai, northern Thailand

It's sort of surprising that we've spent a week (well, more than) here in Chiang Mai since we didn't expect to, but we've been busy! Picking up a handful of brochures the first day, we at first thought we'd for sure have to spend a week here just to do everything that interested us: trekking, cooking classes, mountain biking, yoga, whitewater rafting, etc... Julie spotted the horse riding brochure so our first activity was learning how to control the temperamental little horses. Mine tried bucking me off, Julie's wouldn't go anywhere but home and our guide's horse succeeded in tossing him over the front. But we plodded around safely and had fun.
The picture show is available here.

In the evening we took a quick Thai cooking class where we learned to make curry (from scratch) and spicy Thai soups. We also got a tour through the market (to buy our ingredients) and learned what a lot of things were that we'd been eating for the past week. I suppose if we can find the ingredients back home we'll try to remember how to make it and possibly whip up some
tom khaw gai for you.

Pretty much every hotel, guesthouse, restaurant and regular travel agent will sell you a tour or arrange any ticket for you. The standard stuff that they all pitch are trekking tours into the hills to go elephant riding, rafting and a hill tribe. I was not interested at all in this "default tour" as I called it, but after heavy rains everyday Julie got her wish as I figured mountain biking wouldn't be too good in the mud. We got a deal on the tour (900ß vs. 12-1400) and really it wasn't a bad way to spend a day. The orchid/butterfly farm was neat [sorry mom, I was hoping to get you a pretty orchid brooch but figured it wouldn't survive my backpack]. My first white-water rafting experience was quite fun although our bamboo raft was barely buoyant. And the elephant ride through the jungle was entertaining too. But the hill tribe "village" was a total joke and confirmed my fears of feeling like a tool. We pull up to this little strip mall of huts with scarves in them and our guide calls out to the ladies to come out from their homes in back. A handful of "long-necked" women came out and did their thing on their looms. Our guide showed us the brass rings that they place around their neck and shins and said "take a picture! Buy something!". Our group wasn't impressed and it was a short stop. Julie bought a book on hill tribes and I was wondering why long-necks were not mentioned in it. That's because they're not really in Thailand, sort of imported by tour operators as a gimmick, although we think some of our tour fee went to the people to send back home. [More info available @]

We heard from others that if you took a 2d/1n trekking trip then you actually went out into the jungle and found real villages where real people really lived and it was more interesting. But it was time to move on; we are running close to our visa allowance time & still need to hit Thailand’s most famous beaches.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Oct.24-25 Adventure in samWAENG!

If you want it done right, do it yourself - so we rented a car and set off to create our own tour.

There are road maps created by a motorbike group giving suitable day trips from Chiang Mai and surrounding areas. We found one for the Mae Sa loop around Doi Suthep (Sutep Mtn) that appeared to provide a good taste of the countryside. In our little Toyota Vios (compact sedan) we set out and stopped at a Tesco (sort of like SuperStore/Walmart) for some supplies since they are the only place that we can find cheese and crackers.

The hills north-west of CM are very scenic: luscious green with the tops of the hills shrouded in mist and small villages and rice fields scattered in the valleys. Stopped and bought a pomelo from a roadside stand (10ß! vs 50 at Tesco and this lady even peeled it and cut if for us. Oh, a pomelo is large fruit, size somewhere between 5-pin bowling ball and a volleyball that tastes like a mild grapefruit and we're becoming big fans of them) and Julie munched on that while I enjoyed all the hairpin turns up and down the hills.

We got to the halfway point of the small town of Samoeng and were pointed in the direction of Samoeng Guesthouse. It's a quaint little place in a traditional Thai style teak wooden house up on stilts. Very nice woodwork that would probably cost a fortune back home. There was a map on the wall pointing to some hot springs just up the road, so we figured we'd go there in the morning.

We had a good map and it showed the hot springs on it and also showed that there were some dirt roads to travel to get there, but we didn't rent the 4x4. So when the pavement suddenly ran out and the road turned to wet clay I had my doubts of continuing. But Julie can sniff out a hotspring! We asked some kids (Ai and Bia- ha ha his name is 'beer' in Vietnamese) for directions and got some strange looks driving the little car down the back roads. And then it got worse: it had rained and the road disappeared into mud and water. "We've gone this far!" Julie says so we stop the car and continue on foot. I see some buildings up ahead and oh look! the road's washed out with a board laid across for motorbikes. We get to the buildings and it looks like it would have been a nice resort back in the day, but the pool's empty and bridge is collapsed. [Tony G, I've got your next investment opportunity!] Other than being inaccessible the place is in perfect condition & open so we use the toilet. Some more buildings are visible a little way up the river so we walk up and sunuva- PongKwao Hot Springs!

The gate's closed (no wonder since the road is washed out) but we squeeze through and go in. We walk around a building and lo'n'behold there are people! A lady sees us, comes over with 2 folded towels and says "hot springs?". I'm still flabbergasted by it. The 4 people working there seemed indifferent to us walking up and continued playing cards while we swam and had Mr.Noodles. The hot water was surprisingly nice given the air temperature and I hadn't felt that good walking out of there in a long time. The place had 2 large pools along with a handful of personal pools each in it's own hut.

We walked back to our car only to discover a flat tire. I position the car on a level spot on the small road to change the tire only to discover that there's no jack. Honestly! And then a pickup truck comes around the bend, squeezes past us on the narrow road and stops to help. Fortunately it was carrying 6 guys who lifted the car onto a bottle jack that they had. Quickly changed the tire and go lower the car - no, wait, the jack's jammed. So we lift the car up off of the jack and set it down. We smile and bow our gratitude and head back to Chiang Mai. This is what I call choose your own adventure!