Entry #38 of our travel diary. Another week in Thailand, just before crossing to Cambodia. A week mostly dedicated to nature activities.
22-24 November 2016 – Chiang Mai
I had never been to Chiang Mai before and my idea was that it’s not very nice place, full of tourists and party-goers. As Luis was not in the mood to stroll around, I gladly did it on my own. I must admit I struggled a bit to walk under the heat of the day, but I still managed to see the ‘old town’ and walk a bit in the areas where there aren’t many tourists. It was some kind of special religious day when the pupils from all schools clean the temple compounds. I enjoyed the walk and even got to like the city.
My cooking class was a great experience in Chiang Mai. On the last day we had to wait for the night train that would depart in the late afternoon, thus I decided to use the waiting time usefully. We happened to be only three persons in the class. Very unusual for this time of the year. We went to a local market, did some shopping, tried some local delicacies and went to the house of the family that organises the classes. Fried chicken with cashew nuts, Tom Yum soup, spicy cucumber salad, green curry and sweet sticky rice with mango for dessert – we managed to prepare all this (and eat our own dishes!) in three hours. And it was really much better than in most of the restaurants. I guess they tend to ‘adjust’ their food to the westerners’ taste buds.
We said “see you soon” to our friend Jacques and went to Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is like the big brother of Chiang Rai, a much bigger city but also more touristy. Inside the walled old town there’s an almost infinite number of guesthouses, restaurants, massage parlours and travel agencies. It is still a pretty place and reminds me of other historical walled towns like Galle or Xi’an, but it is too touristy to feel authentic. Since I was here some years ago and was a bit feverish, I stayed in the hotel most of the time and let Ilze explore on her own.
After some searching I was also able to find a birdwatching guide (Guide Green), who took us to Doi Inchanon. Doi Inchanon is the highest mountain in Thailand (2333m) but like most around this area, one can drive to the top where there are temples and souvenir stalls. Not so much for wilderness. But is is a gorgeous place, with a cool breeze and beautiful views over north Thailand. And the birdwatching was great.
25 November 2016 – Early morning in Ayuthaya
The night train took us to Ayuthaya in 11h. I thought I would be tired enough and should be able to sleep. Wrong! Most of night I was half asleep as I had to keep myself from not falling from the top bunk bed. So bumpy is was! But the top bunk beds were the cheapest as well as the only available ones by the time we decided to take a train.
In any case, my fear was about the early morning when we were supposed to see the temples of the ancient city and by mid-day take another train to our final destination Pak Chong. I don’t know if it was due to strong determination or the guy we met with his never-ending energy, we managed to see the sunrise and quite a few temples travelling between them by tuk-tuk. To our surprise, it was free admission to all temple complexes in honour of the King who died a bit more than a month ago. The most impressive for me was not a particular temple but the head of Buddha that was grown into the roots of a huge tree.
By 9.30 we were exhausted and wanted to take a break in a café. Daniel, the Spanish guy said: “I don’t understand, there are still two hours till the train. We can see more.” And so we left him ‘to see more’ and indulge ourself in the coffee sofa, sipping our well-deserved morning coffee.
I mentioned already that I love travelling by train. Ok, the night train from Chiang Mai to Ayuthaya was a different story. What an uncomfortable ride! Bumpy, loud and hot, always on the verge of falling from the top bunk bed. The whole night I barely slept. And then, it arrived to Ayuthaya at the ungodly time of 4:30am.
We left our bags on the station, met a Spanish traveller (Daniel) and shared a tuk-tuk to visit the historical temples. Ayuthaya was, between 1350 and 1767, the capital of Siam, one of the biggest empires in the region. Once wealthy and cosmopolitan, now only ruins of temples and old buildings remain. There are plenty of old sites to visit but we were so tired and happy to have a 3h ‘highlights tour’.
Back to the train station we took another train (more comfortable and faster than previous one) to Pak Chong.
25-26 November 2016 – Pak Chong and Kho Yai NP
I’m no birdwatcher but it seems I can already spot and recognise some birds quite well. This is what we did in the National Park located close to the Pak Chong city. Daniel, the Spanish guy promised that he can be quiet, thus he joined us for the Birdwatching tour with insight in the wildlife and the nature of the park. We entered the park right before sunrise and the first thing we saw was the hornbills. Majestic and unbelievably beautiful birds! After seeing that Daniel exclaimed: “I’m gonna become a birdwatcher!”
We walked in the forest and green fields, it was amazing day. The special moment was when we saw gibbons on top of the trees staring at us and elephants having their lunch. At some point we saw a family of six elephants including two little ones.
The park is beautiful, and despite the long hours we spent there it definitely recharged me more than being in any of the cities.
What comes to Pak Chong, it is not designed for tourists. Our hotel was also more of accommodation for local tourists. Thus the night market was really for locals, without any souvenir stalls. We walked around and had some delicious street food.
Pak Chong is a mid-size city in the east of Thailand. Not touristy, feels very local and authentic. It is also close to Khao Yai NP, that’s why we stayed there.
I organised another birdwatching and wildlife day tour in Khao Yai NP, this time with Guide A. It seems all birdwatching guides in Thailand have a code name (Guide Green, Guide A), but I think it is because their real names are too difficult for westerners to pronounce.
Next day we visited Khao Yai NP. It was full of people. A few western tourists but mostly Thai people that visit during the weekend. Some come for a day trip (it is only 2h by car from Bangkok), many stay overnight in one of the camp-sites or hotels around. Despite all the people, the place is beautiful and we saw plenty of animals, including a good number of elephants, lar gibbons, monkeys and deers. In the bird domain, the highlight is the hornbills, but plenty of small birds as well. We had a great time and Guide A was very good and funny.
27 November 2016 – Long way to the border with Cambodia
Pak Chong is not that far from the border with Cambodia but lack of proper public transport turns 200km into a whole-day affair.
One local bus, waiting time in the middle of nowhere, another mini-van. After 5 or 6 hours we arrived to Aranya Prathet, a small border town, similar to all border towns. Shanty hotels, markets, lots of trucks waiting to cross the border. We found a nice place to stay and spent our last night in Thailand relaxing in the hotel.