Monday, March 15, 2010

12th February 2010 - 25th February 2010 - Bangkok - Sukhothai - Chiang Mai

(note that I wrote this blog a while ago but haven't had the chance of posting it till now)

Culture and shit...

Sawutdee Krup!

Lazy time over… after a month of acquiring a wad more freckles and a darker shade of brown (as many relatives would say; “My Sheena you are so dark!”), it was time to leave the sandy shores and venture up north to expose ourselves to what we like to call “culture and shit” (oh the irony). So after another comfy bus ride we arrived in Bangkok and headed to the regular travellers haunt around Khao San Rd to look for some accommodation (it‘s the easiest place to go).

In Bangkok we visited the regular sights such as the Palace and surrounding wats with their impressive Buddahs and chedis, whilst also getting beaten to a pulp in a pleasant way by some of Thailands most revered masseurs at the famous centre in Wat Phra Chetuphon. Chinatown made for an interesting visit with it’s range of food (such as flattened and grilled pig face) and shops, which made a nice change from wandering around the generic tourist stalls around Khao San Rd.

Wat Phra Chetuphon

Checking out the Royal Palace in Bangkok

We were required to obtain our Laos visas in Bangkok and as a result we were forced to wait a few days until the process was completed. We utilised the time by taking a day trip out to Ayutthaya to visit the ruins of one of Thailand’s ancient capitals. The visit was very worthwhile with many interesting ruins to roam around containing tombs, wats, and Buddah statues. Thailand has had several capitals in it’s history with Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, and Bangkok being the most interesting. Ayutthaya and Sukhothai were both attacked, burned and looted by the neighbouring Burmese leaving behind the ruins seen today.

The Ancient City of Ayutthaya

The day after receiving our passports back, we headed up to Sukhothai. The older of the two ancient capitals populated over 800 years ago, Sukhothai is located almost midway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai making it an excellent place to break up a long journey. I was very keen to visit the ancient city and Sheena was less keen as it would have been so easy to get an overnight train all the way to Chiang Mai. Might I just say “I was right and she was wrong” :p Sukhothai was up there with one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen. A fantastically maintained historical park containing enormous Buddha statues, and the ruins of palaces and wats, made even the more enjoyable by the fact you can cycle around in relative peace and quiet due to the low numbers. Standing in front of a pond reflecting the sun drenched images of the ancient palace at sunset made for a particularly memorable experience.

Cycling and admiring the beautiful

By the time we reached Chiang Mai, we were fairly ready for some relaxation, so our stay in town was fairly subdued. Our time was predominantly spent spending the morning eating and reading in our favourite breakfast joint, followed by a wander around the walled old city or simply continuing reading and relaxing in our room. We did manage to find time for a cooking class one fun afternoon at our favourite breakfast restaurant where we both learned to make green curry and pad thai from scratch. We broke up our stay in Chiang Mai with a trip out to Pai (pronounced “bye” not “pie”!), we had heard a lot about this place as it is written up as a travellers oasis. Unfortunately for us we came at the wrong time of year… usually Pai is green and lush with a beautiful flowing river.. we got to see a river half full and a whole stack of burnt trees and black ground as all the farmers use the “slash and burn” technique to prepare for the next years crop,.. A technique which conservationists are trying to eradicate. Our trip to Pai was saved by a really fun visit to an elephant camp where we got to ride bare back for a an hour (about 45 minutes too long to be honest) and then got to play with the elephant in the river! The elephant is trained to throw us off it’s back into the water and spray us with it’s trunk… really great fun J. I’m very conscious of cruelty to animals and I donate to WSPA every month, I also research animal parks before visiting them, hence why we didn’t go to the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi. Some people say that elephants shouldn’t be utilised in this manner, however I’m off the opinion that humans and animals can interact in many different ways, as long as the elephant is being kept full of food and is happy, I don’t see the problem. All in all, besides a stressful afternoon when we realised we were running out of pages in our passport, our trip to Chiang Mai and around was very pleasant made even nicer by getting to see a friendly face from home in Jess one night at the markets.

Our friendly elephant in Pai

Thailand has come to an end now and Laos has since beckoned…Sheena and I both admit that we aren’t the most culturally inquisitive people, however we do like to understand at least a synopsis of history for whatever country we may be in at any time. Yet having spoken to many other tourists whilst in Thailand, it would appear that a large percentage of visitors to the country have no real interest in history, culture, and food and are purely interested in lazing on the sand, drinking, partying, and in some cases having sex with as many locals as possible. This to me is pretty sad, and I personally think people are missing out on learning something fascinating or tasting something flavoursome and spicy (harden the f**k up people and learn to eat the damn chilli!). Each to their own I guess, but it‘s hard not to be a little critical if not high and mighty when you think a country‘s integrity is being whittled away… I heard a guy say today that “Thailand knows tourism and Laos doesn’t”… I’m sitting in Laos right now writing this blog and I think that Laos understands Thailand’s tourist industry; they think it’s gotten out of control.
Laos seem to be making a concerted effort not to become the next Asian theme park. I hope they keep it up. Our trip through Thailand was fantastic, we loved almost every minute of it, and will most likely come back again…. however, I hope that if it any more changes occur to the country, they are in the reverse direction to where the place is heading now.

Time for a beer Lao (which Sheena now drinks!)


Simon & Sheena

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