Saturday, February 1, 2014

Bats, Buddhas and Beers (with good friends!) in Thailand!


After a few days back in Bangkok, we set off to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand.  Our sleeper train was supposed to take fourteen hours, but took over seventeen. Trains aren’t exactly punctual in Thailand!  Luckily, it was pretty comfortable – the seats converted into beds and the night passed fairly quickly.

We spent our days in Chiang Mai temple-hopping and chilling out in a few of the many cafes in the old city.  We also took a trip up to the mountain top Wat Doi Suthep.  Crowded with worshippers and tourists, we preferred the quieter and older Wat Lok Molee and Wat Phra Singh back in the Chiang Mai.
 
 
 

 

We also checked out the Night Market – stalls galore selling everything from hill tribe handicrafts to Buddha lampshades.  The disadvantage of travelling with a small pack – no room for new purchases!  Having said that, Ku did treat herself to a Ganesh t-shirt, which she found rather irresistible!

We narrowly missed our bus to Sukhothai as the details had been incorrectly written on our tickets!  There were two terminals and our ticket stated ‘terminal 1’, when it should have read ‘terminal 2’!  A last minute dash and a thankfully, slightly late departure saved the day and we arrived in Sukhothai about five hours later!

We stayed at Pai Sukhothai Coffee and Guest House. (Highly recommended). At £15.00 per night, we had a rather nice bungalow with porch looking out over a tiny garden.  A lovely spot to have a beer and play cards.

In the mornings we took a songtheaw to Old Sukhothai (in relation to New Sukhothai, where we stayed) and hired some bikes to explore the ancient city.  The main area was within a park with manicured lawns, lily ponds and some beautiful Buddhas.  Most of the ruins in this area remained relatively intact.  Outside of the park, we found ourselves in the countryside.  We cycled past corn fields and were chased by dogs.  There were many ruins, but the highlight was Wat Saphan Hin, a standing Buddha on a hill top overlooking the fields and Wat Si Chum, a partially hidden Buddha that peeped out from a V-shaped gap in the enclosure surrounding it.
 
 



 

We had a fun couple of days and missed our bikes when we had to return them!  We have always enjoyed cycling on our travels and some of our best memories have been biking around areas rich in archeological sites, but also in fairly rural settings.  Maybe one day, we’ll do that bike trip around the world!
 
 
 



 

Back in Bangkok, the protests continued.  In Sukhumvit, the area we stayed in, there were tents, live music and ‘Bangkok Shutdown’ t-shirts were selling like hotcakes.  In reality, only pockets of the city were ‘shut down’ and for the majority of people life continued as normal, with a little inconvenience here and there.  Taxi drivers, for example, were avoiding certain routes.  Certainly, the protests we had witnessed so far had been almost festive in atmosphere, although we were aware that tensions had been flaring up elsewhere in the city.

Whilst in Bangkok, we went to see ’12 Years a Slave’, a great movie, but heart wrenching and quite difficult to watch in places.  It was certainly cheap to catch a movie in Bangkok, at only £2.00 each a seat.

We also got together with our friends, Grant and Kevin who were on a year- long round the world trip and happened to be in Thailand at the same time as us. (Check out Grant's  travel blog - ricebowlsandrucksacks.wordpress.com/)
We went for a few drinks in an underground British pub (not intentional, but the most suitable watering hole we could find at the time!)
  
 
 
We also spent the weekend with them exploring Khao Yai National Park.  We stayed at the Greenleaf Guest House just outside the park and also did a couple of tours run by the them.  One of the trips involved visiting a temple cave where monks meditate for hours at a time.  Keeping them company are a variety of creepy crawlies and lots of bats, most of which we were able to see a close quarters.

 



The highlight of the weekend was seeing millions of bats flying from a cave and over our heads at sunset!  It was a spectacular sight!
 

 
 




 
 
We also went trekking and to a waterfall. We saw Great Hornbills, monkeys, deer, but alas no elephants!
  
 

 

 
In the evenings, we had dinner and beers with Grant and Kevin back at the guest house.  It was a great value weekend and worked out to be about £40.00 each for two nights accommodation, a day and a half of tours and all food and drink (including beers!)  Thanks to Kevin for finding it for us!


 
We said our goodbyes on Monday morning at the bus station.  The boys were heading to the Cambodian border and we took a bus and then a train to Hua Hin on the Gulf of Thailand.  It had been fun to get together and catch up. 

The only reason we chose Hua Hin was because we only had a few days left in Thailand and didn’t want to travel too far from Bangkok.  Four hours away by train (in reality five!), it is full of holidaying Westerners and Thais.  Umbrellas and sunbeds were crammed along the beach.  Older Western gentlemen paraded with young Thai girls and the bars and restaurants were packed every night.

It wasn’t quite the beach paradise we had in mind, but we passed a few days swimming and enjoying drinks at a beach bar, while the waves lapped at our feet.  We had a trip to Hua Hin Hills Winery, where we did some sampling and enjoyed some lovely cheeses that we hadn’t come across elsewhere in South East Asia.
 
 
 

 
We decided to spend a couple of nights at a hotel near the airport as the elections were due to be held on the day before we left the country and we didn’t want to get caught up in any protests and miss our flight!  We were ready for our next destination – the land of the long white cloud, New Zealand!