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One more night in Bangkok

Temples, museum and traffic

Our schedule was packed for the day. We walked from the guesthouse to the river area to catch the ferry - Chao Phraya Express to Wat Arun. We got a bit turned around but the staff were helpful enough to direct us to the regular ferry, not the private hire boats. The ride was busy with commuters in suits, students and tourists. We rode it until we could see the temple then took another ferry to get across to Wat Arun.


We arrived just after nine so it wasn't packed but busy enough with a few tours. The temple (wat) was under renovations and only part of it could be seen. We could still climb to the third level up the ultra steep stairs to enjoy the view. A lot of the ceramic pieces were being re-glued or changed on the surrounding chedis.


We wandered the surrounding temple too, our quick pace inspired by hunger. Some temples were long rectangular halls with demon and monkey statues standing guard. That area was pretty quiet.


After the ferry ride, we split a mango and had a bag of deep fried banana each for our late breakfast. We'd need the energy for crazy Grand Palace.
Group tours overtook most of the space in the entrance area. We were yelled at over the loud speaker to put on 'more appropriate' clothing before we could even get into our bags to reach the sarongs. We took a minute to breathe before tackling the lines for the entrance and the inflated admission price.


Once inside, we moved to see golden stupas, mirrored temple buildings, and then the demon monkeys supporting another stupa. There were gold demon statues separate with thin or big bushy tails. The crowds to see the Emerald Buddha were fierce. We did another lap before trying to beat the crowds by going through the back. Again actions were quite controlled. Guards told us to sit, and took away cameras from those who chose to ignore the signs. Somehow the whole atmosphere stood out more than the experience of actually seeing the small Emerald Buddha. It was too busy and crowded to have some profound moving moment.


We visited the other temples from the outside and then the different groups of palaces. Some had museums for weapons, international and local alike. I didn't recall them being open on my visit a few years prior. We saw two more temple groups, some with religious relics. People would also stand by the guards and take pictures with the poor men under orders not to move. We visited one more museum with information on the restoration before we took off.


The walk to food was a bit long and distracted. We found an art museum on the way with sculptures and models by a famous European sculptures, many of which were featured around the country. Then we found the National Museum but chose hunger instead. We headed for nearby Khao San road to get Pad Thai at a Spanish-owned restaurant since there were surprisingly few food stalls around the area.


We were also able to find the knock-off Lonely Planet vendors there as well. A Nepali woman from Myanmar was very friendly and told us lots of Canadians bought the Myanmar guide. I'd found a PDF version for the tablet already, but we got one for the Philippines since we were a little more hesitant to whip out a tablet in the streets there to find our way around.

National Museum was pretty large with many exhibits closed. The first section was an ambitious and well forged account of Thai history. Different groups and religions moved through the country, Buddhism being the one that stayed. There was so much to absorb, battles for territories with the Burmese kingdom, British, French in Indo-China, Khmer empire many centuries ago. We had to respect that the Thais had a longstanding kingdom and culture that managed to overcome a lot of adversaries and hold its own.


There was a temple, red house and other religious sculptures from various cultures around Thailand too like India, Laos and Myanmar during earlier periods. There were some Thai carvings from the Dharavati period too.

We took off, worried about meeting two of my friends and former co-workers on time. After plenty of cabs turned us down because of the distance and bad traffic around Lad Prao, we tried asking for a trip to the BTS instead which was successful, but we were stuck in traffic for quite awhile before reaching the sky train. Luckily, that flew over the traffic jams. At Mo Chit BTS, we grabbed another cab and we were grid locked again. The drivers hadn't been lying about the traffic.

Once we made it to Imperial Mall, a phone call helped us find the rock climbing wall where they were. It was an artificial wall run by a European man and his Thai wife. They also had a really cute little girl who'd been born prematurely. It was only 50 baht per climb with equipment rental.

My friends came here often and knew the owner quite well. They'd learned to belay as well and were challenging themselves by taking different routes marked by coloured tape. They'd climbed a few spots in and out of Thailand and their goal was to get to Chiang Mai later. My fear of heights kicked in on the first wall and they tried to bribe me up it with some chocolate on Ryan's advice. We both did a couple walls before we got too tired.

From the sounds of it, they really enjoyed worked out at the other campus. One was really improving her Thai to the point that she could use tones. It sounded like they were settling in quite nicely to their area of the city.

We had supper at the nearby cafeteria. I found a veggie fried rice. Other veg-friendly options were the omelette and a tasty Som Tam salad. In the supermarket, we wandered and found some pomelo on sale. Ryan and I had become fans since we left China so we picked on up.

We said our goodbyes and took a cab back via the MRT route (though the cabbies had a hard time understanding what the MRT was so we used the name of the station and some gestures for 'underground' to convey our message). Our walk back from the MRT passed through sidewalks turned into night markets where moving was a luxury. We got a little lost, but luckily the gates were still open when we got back to the guesthouse for our final sleep in Thailand.

Posted by Sarah.M 16:49 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand bangkok rock climb grand_palace national_museum Comments (0)

No water in these falls

Pha Taem National Park

We were up early again to cover greater distances in the national park today. We'd even used our fridge to store breakfast to save time on what had become our ritual 7-11 breakfast.


We drove nearly 70 kilometres to Pha Chana Dai. We got a bit lost along the way at one of the turns. After a bit of a wait to see if cars would come to indicate the path, we managed to get back into a town and asked for directions. A kind Thai man got on his motorbike so we could follow him to the right intersection and wished us 'Chok Dee' (good luck).


It was nice to have no entrance fee at this section of the park, but not as great when the sign in the parking lot read that we were 8-14 km from any of the big attractions with only roads most unsuitable for scooters and 2WD cars.

We attempted the 2km walk to the smaller waterfalls. The landscape was desert-like and the path was only driveable for the large 4WD trucks that kept passing us in the opposite direction. We imagined the Australian outback would be similar to this.

The up, downs and heat on the walk wore us down. It didn't help that by the time we reached the waterfall, it was dry, not even a stream in sight. There was a lovely sign to show us where it should have been.


I got my opportunity to try out our scooter in the empty parking lot. It was easier once I got up to speed and it could balance. The turns were the trickiest bit. Ryan hopped on the back and I attempted the roads out which were great until I tried to pull off the road for a photo. The rocky section was a challenge and I nearly knocked the bike over trying to park it. It was Ryan's turn to drive again after that.

Next, we drove to Thung Na Mueang waterfall, also falling victim to dry season but at least with a bit of a stream. A giant climber, a large tree with knotted roots, was the most impressive part of that visit.


On the way back. we stopped at the big Buddha statue, visible from afar, which turned out to be a temple under construction and pretty vacant in terms of people. Not even a monk was on site. It would be beautiful when complete though.


We went back to town early and rested away the afternoon until the bike needed to be fueled up and returned. I went down to the river to take photos and Ryan joined me after, but not before he was solicited for a photo with a Thai family. It must have been the new haircut or the curls, but they were really excited.


We walked to the animal island to explore the rocks and climb to the viewpoints for some sunset photos. It was nice to relax and take the time to enjoy the sunset for once.


We tried one restaurant that told us they had no vegetarian options before going back to the steakhouse. We shared mushroom spring rolls and I had 'fried rice no animal' while Ryan had a pork steak. It was good especially since we had skipped lunch.

Posted by Sarah.M 14:36 Archived in Thailand Tagged waterfalls thailand roots motorbike scooter dry_season pha_taem_national_park Comments (0)

Pha Taem National Park

Waterfalls and rock art

Traffic was pretty light this morning around eight. Filling the bike us with fuel cost us a whopping 60 baht ($2) so we could understand the appeal of driving these vehicles. We followed the main road/highway that we'd come in on until the 2112, and took that until the National Park entrance. Admission was 100 baht each for the day.

Sao Chaliang came up first which were giant rock pillars that had eroded to look like mushrooms. It was almost like being back in the badlands with the desert-like vegetation and impressive coloured rocks.


A bit of a walk up was a rock plateau with a significant crack/gap. It would have been quite the drop if we got caught in there. A viewpoint showed off the plains of the park and the visitor's centre. We went back down to see the mushroom rocks a bit closer once the crowds had dissipated a bit.


The visitor's centre, with an extremely rocky parking lot, was at the end of the road. We jumped off the bike to figure out which way to go to reach the walks to the historic rock art. The route to the cave paintings was not really clearly marked, but after following the crowds we got on the right track.


The path led us to impressive cliffs even without the cave paintings. They were quite tall and stood by the nearby Mekong river. Opposite the water was Laos, so we'd come pretty far East. After a bit of walking, we discovered our first cave paintings which depicted people and animals. The people had triangular heads and almost reminded us of aliens. The animals ranged from a whale to turtles and fish. The paintings were red in colour and according to the signs were 3,000 to 4,000 years old. There were some paintings of hands as well.


The next cliff had criss-crossed line paintings under one of the ledges which was a bamboo fish trap called 'blister'. The paintings were done at a significant height when the water levels must have been higher. They were part of the death rituals although there wasn't much further information to indicate why or how.


Our walk back took us along the riverside where they'd filmed part of the movie Alexander from the cliff tops. We stopped off at the restaurant across from the visitor's centre for lunch and had some fried rice that was alright.


Ryan navigated the tricky parking lot exit on the bike. The drive to Soi Sawan waterfall was thankfully smoother, 20 kilometres or so which took longer on a slower scooter. It was nice to have the wind against us to cool off.


There was a small walk to the falls. The trek down was not so bad but heading back up would be a challenge. There was a small thin stream running from the top of a rocky peak. Holes had been eroded in the rock floor at the bottom and were filled with water. Kids had fun splashing in the puddles. It was dry season but some water trickled down the falls.


To the side of one of the falls was a giant rock valley. From the smoothness of the rocks it, was pretty clear these would be another falls during wet season. We climbed around on the rocks to get some fun photos. The valley was so large we felt like ants.


There was a mini falls closer to the higher one where a river drained out the water. People were rock jumping and swimming. It would have been fun to have a bathing suit.

After the walk to the top, we decided to check out the wildflower fields. A hot, sunny walk revealed that they were sparse at best. We turned around a few kilometres in only to find that the cliffs we sought were in that direction too. We didn't have the energy to retrace those steps so we hopped back on the bike.


Next was Saeng Chan waterfall, another half hour or so away. It was easy enough to walk there from the parking lot, just a short flight of stairs. A decent amount of water ran from the stream up top. There was a small calm pool surrounded by vegetation at the bottom of the falls. Aside from the occasional shout or scream, it was quite serene. As we got closer, we could see the crescent or heart shaped hole formed by the erosion of the falls.


We went up to the falls, then behind them to climb up the cave area steps to the stream which fed the top of the falls. It was neat to see the hole and the drop but signs warned us not to get too close. Ryan joked one of us should jump to the bottom and meet the other there.


We drove back after one more visit to the bottom of the falls. Since we were fighting the clock and still needed gas, our pace was quicker than before. There was a gas station just before the main road and it only cost us 65 baht ($2.15) to fill up the tank. The hour plus drive began after that. Except for us trying to return the bike for 5:20, Ryan was really enjoyed the drive. I was just trying to sit without my legs going numb or tipping the thing over.


The bike made it back with fifteen minutes to spare. We rented it for another day then rode off to Two Colour River just down the street. This was where the Mekong and Moon rivers colours were meant to converge. The light from the setting sun obscured the colour a bit, but the sunset was beautiful too. Some visiting Thai travellers showed us Laos on the other side and asked us how our trip was going.


We had supper at a restaurant on the river and ordered a big fried rice, mixed veggie dish and Ryan had some fried chicken. It hit the spot and we enjoyed the bright gazebo decorations.


Posted by Sarah.M 19:41 Archived in Thailand Tagged art park colour thailand river waterfall national rock chan sao two pha taem chaliang saeng Comments (0)

Holiday Bus Travels

semi-overcast 28 °C

Our mission for the day was to get to Ubon Ratchatani and we arrived at the station to catch the 9:30 bus. It was unfortunately full. Christmas wasn't really a big deal, but New Years was a cause to celebrate in Thailand, meaning everyone was trying to get back to their families. We asked about tickets and the official information was to get our tickets on the bus itself. Another man came to try and buy tickets from him, but we declined as we thought it may be a scam. We waited it out.

At 10:15 another bus came. People asked or told us to get on the board so we did. The Thai vendor came running and yelling at us. I stayed with our bags near the bus in case there weren't seats while Ryan dealt with him. He'd been quite condescending but sold Ryan the tickets. When we boarded there weren't any seats, so Ryan ran back to try and get tickets for the next one. The guy threw his hands up and walked away, clearly not his problem anymore.

The driver pulled out plastic stools for us and the other Thai passengers who had purchased oversold seats. The same thing had happened to me in Malaysia a few years earlier so I wasn't too surprised. Once enough people left, we'd take their seats. This was technically the VIP bus, a private company so unlike the local bus (where you bought the tickets inside) they didn't say they were full, they just created more seats. Ryan was still pretty upset and wanted to punch the vendor.

After an hour and a half of hanging onto the backs of seats, handles and armrests, we got one of the big seats, larger than the average just so they could charge a high price per ticket and overfill the bus anyway. We even got to sit together later as the other passengers reached their destinations.

In Ubon, we took a tuktuk straight to Sri Isan Hotel. It had an actual lobby, unlike most of the budget places we stay, with couches, tables and lounging areas. We were led up to the second floor to our snazzy room which came with a couch, desk, hair dryer, kettle, fridge, TV and even free water in glass bottles. Weren't we special, usually our budget rooms didn't come with such luxury. It would be a nice place to spend the new year.


We went to the market to eat, passing a neat park in the process with a big track filled with joggers and runners. It gave me a good feeling to see so many active individuals engaging in basketball, running, and aerobics. There was a big gold statue area in the middle of the big park that we'd explore later. We passed the city shrine temple with animal statues in front of the white, gold and red building.


For supper, we found Vietnamese baguette sandwiches which were crunchy and a touch bland, but vegetarian friendly for me. Ryan tried some fried chicken and I had some taro dumplings. Back at the room, I managed to get my belated Christmas Skype in with a decent connection.

Posted by Sarah.M 21:01 Archived in Thailand Tagged temple bus market thailand ubon ratchatani overcrowded Comments (0)

Tour through Khao Sok

semi-overcast 29 °C

Even with our tricky mosquito net that didn't like night time bathroom runs, we didn't get eaten by the bugs. Our wake up calls came from gibbons, birds, and Ryan's favourite, the cicada squeal. He probably still cringes thinking about it. Breakfast was pretty relaxed with only a few people ordering and we managed to chat with Mr. Bao, the owner, and book the overnight lake tour. His absence yesterday was explained by the fact that he owned three business and they kept him on his toes.


We ventured to Jungle Huts guesthouse where our solo tour departed a touch late. They were nice enough to drive us to the gate. Our guide, Beer, welcomed us and made sure we bought our admission tickets. Then we went through the check-points to enter the park. We felt very tracked and it was odd.


The first part of the trail was a wide road with red dirt. Beer pointed out monkeys, flying squirrels and even a chameleon. We ventured into a more trail-like path soon after. We stopped quite frequently at viewpoints or to take a break even though we weren't tired. These seemed to be smoke breaks for the guides.


The waterfalls we saw were more like rapids in each spot that we visited. At least the water was clear and turquoise so it offered some natural beauty. I still didn't want to swim until we made more progress on the trial walk.


On one of our many breaks, other guides called out to the monkeys and offered them bananas to their hiker's delight. Many gray primates came over, even a mother with a small black baby clutched to her abdomen. They followed those guides afterward for awhile. We, Beer included, kept our distance. Beer shared in the opinion that feeding them only led to dependence and trouble. Afterwards we stopped for an early lunch.


At the fifth viewpoint, Beer had us cross a river in a sketchy way only to have another guide tell him not to go that way because of the water levels. As I struggled to make it back across the river, our guide decided it was a good time for a cigarette, probably to make up for all of those times we'd declined a break. The Thai rational for the mandatory guide was to make the experience safer. I wouldn't have tried to cross the river on my own, and Ryan was the only reason I made it back across. I was get more disillusioned by the guided experience.


The path to view the sixth area was covered in leeches that sat on the ground like inchworms with teeth, ready to pounce. My choice to wear sandals wasn't the brightest. I had to keep stopped to pluck them off my feet and would lose the group. When we finally arrived, I had two spots bleeding quite a lot. I washed them up while swimming near some neat caves. Ryan helped me patch up my foot. His shoes had been a much better barrier. By the time we made our way back to the entrance, I had picked up five more leeches. We also saw a centipede on the slippery ground.


For supper, we found a restaurant with good vegetarian and lacto-ovo options. We shared a massaman curry and sweet and sour tofu, which were both pretty good. When we got back and talked to Mr. Bao, he confirmed there would be enough participants to run the lake tour we wanted to postpone a night. Tomorrow would be a nice relaxing day for our bodies and wallets. Never hurt to rest in a beautiful place.

The following morning, just as we finished our tasty French toast and were about to sort out our arrangements for diving and research for the rest of our Thailand trip, the power went out. There went most of our plans for the day and the reason to postpone the lake trip. Shortly after, a man on a motorbike came by and confirmed that power was out around the whole town and probably wouldn't be up and running until later tonight.

The day passed by leisurely, reading, writing, relaxing in our little cabin. It was nice to have a balcony and the breeze since the fan wasn't working. We wandered a bit into town and found that the vegetarian restaurant was one of the few still open. With power out, many couldn't keep the fridges going. Exploring took up a bit more time, although Ryan was dismayed to learn fruit shakes couldn't be made and blended without power.

In the evening, the power came back, we got our dive booking sorted and went next door to eat since they had a Thailand Lonely Planet, something we'd be needing to figure out what sections I hadn't yet seen as Ryan wanted sights to be new for me too. That would be the biggest challenge. By the end of the night, we found a few sights in the Northeast that would be interesting to visit and might fill up the next couple of weeks: volcano temples linked to those in Cambodia, but on the Thai side since the Khmer empire stretched that far.

Posted by Sarah.M 23:17 Archived in Thailand Tagged monkey thailand waterfall hike national_park khao_sok Comments (0)

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