Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Sukhothai Historical Park

Rising early I duck walked into the main town and a had a nice breakfast of something. (see Picture).
Phad something. It tasted really nice.
I arrived in the city in time to see a procession of some kind heading to the local Wat (temple). People dressed in ghoulish attire and many looking like "Goths". The procession had drawn a big crowd so it must have some significance.

After that I headed back to my accommodation and hired a motorcycle because walking sucked big time.
I rode out to the Sukhothai Historical Park, about 4km all up. First stop was Wat Traphang Thong, a lovely restored temple surrounded by a moat and featuring a footprint of Buddha.
The moat - an idyllic scene
The Bludger. Did you notice the yellow cloth coming out of the hat?

Buddha's footprint. He had very big feet and symmetrical toes

The next stop was Wat Mahathat the principle Wat of old Sukhothai. There are a number of Chedi's (Stupa, a kind of hollow tower) here, of which the architectural style shows Khmer influence. The old Khmer empire had a huge geographical reach.

I also visited Wat Traphang Ngoen and Wat Sa Si, by this time I was getting more than slightly bemused and befuddled after a large amount of Chedis, Wats and other buildings not to mention Buddha.
I kept at it though until I was almost trampled to death by a herd of rampaging elephants, that like me had seen far too much of the temples and were now doing a runner. (Joke)
And I left them to the tender mercies of 4 wise men.
I saw more, but even describing it is too much.
I returned to my hotel and returned the motorbike, I relaxed for a while.
That evening I walked into town and had a meal in a restaurant overlooking the river. Nice food, not worth blogging about.
The Bludger had a great day.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

October 30 - Travel to Sukhothai

Ayutthaya had been a good start to Thailand, it helped put some of the Thai history into context. My next destination Sukhothai was going to add to that. Sukhothai was capital of a kingdom which predated Ayutthaya, in fact as Sukhothai waned, Ayutthaya grew in strength and importance. So in effect I was going backward in time.
I had organised to catch the bus to modern Sukhothai through my hotel. I paid a premium price, but they provided transport to the bus station which was on the main highway, several Km from town. A small van picked myself and several others up and we had gone about 200 metres when I began to have doubts. "Where was my passport?". I checked pockets and bags and decided that I must have left it in my room. I attracted the drivers attention and asked him to turn around. The other passengers must have thought that I was an idiot. Back at the hotel I suggested that the driver continue to the bus stop, I didn't want to make the other passengers miss the bus, but they all insisted on waiting, that was very kind of them.
The passport was in the room still, along with money belt and wallet. I had put them aside as I packed saying that they were important and needed to be carried on me. I had then taken a shower and threw the wet towel over the valuables thus hiding them. In over 25 years of independent travel that is the third time that I have left a passport or valuables behind. Fortunately each time I have realised quickly and recovered them.
Anyway we made it to the bus station with plenty of spare time.
The bus trip was uneventful but longer than I had expected, close to 6 hours. In Sukhothai I picked a place out of the Lonely Planet guide and took a motorbike there. It was nice, had a pool, which was empty as it was being repaired and I was quite happy to stay there.
I have mentioned my broken toe earlier. At this stage I was in a fair bit of pain and walking with difficulty. I did a duck walk as I found that pointing my right foot to the right was bearable when I stepped on it. I must have looked like a cripple.
So I walked into the main town to have something to eat and a look around. There was an annual "fair" on and I took some time to have a look around. A variety of stalls selling cheap clothing, plenty of stalls selling food and drink of various kinds, sideshows of the pop the ball in the clowns mouth variety and pop 3 balloons with 3 darts to win a prize and a stall with what looked like Thai Buddhist Priests selling tickets to compete for prizes. I thought that Buddhists were not allowed to accept money as offerings. You live and learn.
After that sojourn I had a meal followed by a massage. The meal was unsatisfactory as it was described as a noodle soup. There was not a single noodle in the soup and basically I ended up with a vegetable soup. I reasoned that I probably needed the healthy food. The massage was also a bit of a worry as I was constantly on edge in case my broken toe was mistreated.
That basically ended the night for me.
The Bludger went to sleep. He does that a lot.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Location unknown: Somewhere in Thailand

I awoke in the morning and made it in good time to my new Thai friends place. There it was a very relaxed start, the train was due at 9:30am. We walked via the markets to the Ferry terminal. The ferry took us over the river and basically only 100 metres from the train station. By this time it was about 9:50 and me the silly westerner was fretting about having missed the train. When a train did arrive it was the 9:30 train - very delayed. Apparently this is normal.
Hard wooden seats. 3rd class train
What followed seemed like a couple of hours of bum crunching agony on a hard wooden seat. But we eventually made it to Lopburi. From there a mini van was hired and we were driven to a nearby lake. About 20 minutes drive all up. It was a pretty lake surrounded by low hills and had a large resort at one point. We checked out the resort, which was deserted. That is to say no customers, but there were staff around. However it was decided that we would move elsewhere.
The beach near the resort
Where we moved to was a series of restaurants along the roadside. On the lakeside of the road were pontoons and jetty's built out onto the lake. Narrow floating walkways allowed us to gain access to the pontoons which were set up as seating and eating areas. It was all very rustic and I was thrilled to be there. We spent the next several hours at one of the large tables eating, drinking and swimming. It was a lovely relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
Making our way out to the pontoons
The Thai women all swam fully clothed, whereas the two western men stripped off to bathers and showed their beer belly's and man boobs. Fortunately there were no mirrors.
I have no idea what I ate. I left the ordering to the locals and there was a steady procession of food brought out to us from one of the restaurants. All good, very tasty and very authentic Thai food. We drank Whiskey again, with soda. Lots of it.
Swimming and eating and drinking can all be done at the same time
I took a walk along the pontoons at one stage and met a couple of guys, I assumed from the ages father and son. They were very hospitable, offering me to sample their food, but I was too full from our other meal. I shared a drink with them instead and while we could not say much to each other I think that we all realised that the hand of friendship had been extended and accepted.
Effectively we went on a family picnic, of the type that I remember going on with my parents while I was a child. The difference was that the objective was to spend time in each others company. There were no distractions such as a radio with the cricket scores in the background. There were no games of rounders, or french cricket or frisbees or kicking the footy. Other than swimming there was just eating, drinking and socialising. I noticed when I was in Vietnam with my girlfriend's family the same thing. We went on a family outing, walked a little way and then stopped. I wanted to explore the area, but the family just sat and drank and ate and talked. On that occasion I could tell from the sideways glances that I was the butt of several jokes. That didn't distress me, as the foreigner I expected it. I am trying to draw a contrast with my Australian life style where an outing like that would be quite planned, require games and someone organising "things" and I would be off for a walk, part exercise, part exploring.
Nearby hills
I am trying to say that in some ways we are missing something beautiful out of life. Just talking and creating friendships with little distractions.
Eventually our drivers of the minivan started getting agitated and it was obviously time to head back to the train station to catch the train. Despite the large quantity of whiskey inside us all, no one fell off the walkways and we made it back to dry land in one piece.
The trip back was uneventful but contributed to the callouses on my bum.
It was a lovely day.
However our day was not finished. If you are eating and drinking too much throughout the day you may as well carry on into the night.
I should point out at this stage that my Thai friends were either on holiday, retired, not working or had flexibility to not work if they so chose. That meant that it was not a problem for them to be partying on a "school night".
We reconvened at one of their places and continued drinking, it was then decided that we would go out for dinner. We went to a restaurant with an unpronounceable name. Something like "mon ger ria" which I called Mongolia. This was a lovely place on the banks of one of the rivers in Ayutthaya. It seemed to be in the middle of nowhere but I later learned that it was actually not far away from the Historical Park. We continued drinking, continued eating and added dancing to the mix.
Mongereia - much better inside, don't judge a book by its cover
After a day with the family there was no further pretense. Pa, who is a lovely lady, was obviously quite attracted to me and I had to dance with her, pay her way and generally be the supporting man. I played along, she is nice and it was no hardship holding hands and being supportive. To be honest I quite liked her too, but for me it takes more than a couple of days to start falling in love, especially when you do not speak each others language.
The night ended. We all had too much to drink, and ate far too much. Pa fell asleep on the way home and disappeared as I was paying the Tuk Tuk driver. I had been a little confused about whether I needed to "perform" that night, but that question was quickly answered by her disappearance.
The Bludger went to bed weary, slightly drunk and with a big day ahead of him the next day. I was leaving Ayutthaya.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Exploring Ayutthaya Historical Park

I started my day with a short walk around the nearby streets to orientate myself.
Tuk Tuks in Ayutthaya have a distinctive shape and form
After breakfast I checked out of my hovel and dropped my bags at the new place. I was able to check in straight away.
The view from my new room

My new room includes ensuite and fridge.
The main objective of today was to explore the ancient city. Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam from about 1350 AD until 1767 when it was destroyed by the Burmese army with much raping and pillaging and destruction of the city. So today the ancient city lies in ruins, although some parts have now been restored. The modern city of Ayutthaya was built apart from the ancient city.
The ancient city is nowhere near as impressive as say Angkor Wat but the ruins and still standing towers have some grandeur to them.It is also of great significance in Thai history.
Ruins, reclining Buddha in the background
On the map it, the historical park, did not look very big, so I decided to catch a motorcycle taxi to the main entrance and then to walk around. A decision that I later regretted as broken toes and lengthy walks on hot days are not my cup of tea.
Walking around did however give a great perspective and on a later occasion when I retraced my journey by motorbike it was very tempting to just zoom around and not stop and take things in. I walked around a seemingly endless procession of Wats and the buildings associated with them. Some were modern temples in daily use and well maintained, some were the ancient ruins. At one location is a massive reclining Buddha.
It's big.
I later saw pictures of this surrounded by water when the area flooded a couple of years ago. The city is actually built on a large island which is formed by the confluence of 3 rivers. The rivers are navigable and one can see huge barges towed by tugs making their way up and down stream to or from the Ocean. This was one reason for putting the capital here, it was a major shipping and trading port.
The ancient city is impressive and gives an indication of what grandeur it had in the past. It is sad to see it in ruins, but lets face it the city was sacked over 350 years ago and was then lost to civilisation until quite recently. We are lucky to see it at all, in any condition.

I walked and I walked and I walked. It was hot. My mind could not take in any further images. Eventually I gave up and had a late lunch in a restaurant overlooking a large pond. It was pleasant in the shade and the cold beers and food were very welcome.
One way of seeing the Park

Restaurant views
I cabbed it back to my accommodation, well that is to say on the back of a motorcycle taxi.
I showered and rested and in the late afternoon decided to fill up my water bottle. There was a filling station, a bit like an ATM, basically at the end of the street where the hotel was located. Maybe 100 metres away. Filling a water bottle is cheap and environmentally friendly as you re-use your plastic bottle, the water is filtered and generally UV treated so safe to drink even for Westerners.
As I walked by a house near the end of the street there was sounds of merriment. Glancing in to their courtyard I could see a group of Thais having drinks. Earlier I had noticed a white man outside this house having a cigarette and we were on nodding terms. One of the ladies called out to me and said hello. I paused and replied and we had a brief conversation. Before I knew it I was sitting down and sharing drinks with them. The lady who called me in spoke quite good English and we had a little chat along the lines of where do you come from? how long are you staying? etc. We were soon joined by my cigarette smoking companion, who is also called Nick, and it turned out that he married one of the girls at the party and was now living here in Thailand. He is American.
The party continued and when the Whiskey ran out I felt that it was my duty to buy another bottle so I never got to dinner that night, but had a great night with my new found friends. During the course of the evening I was invited to accompany them the next day to a lakeside resort to go swimming. I hesitated as I did not want to overstay my welcome, but decided to join them anyway.
The Bludger was pretty drunk when he got home that night and it was obvious that one of the ladies at the party had taken a shine to him, even though she could not speak English and I cannot speak Thai.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Thailand 2012 - arrived in Thailand

After waking up I went to the Airline Counter and was able to book my next flight into Bangkok. No problems, they also arranged to pick up my bag from lost luggage and book it through to Bangkok. I was a bit skeptical about this but it did indeed turn up at the other end.
So breakfast was Kaya Toast, coffee and a half cooked egg. I learned later that they deliberately under cook the eggs. A delicacy. Shortly after I was boarding and I arrived in Bangkok without incident. As it happened the Immigration did not bother to check if I had onward travel arrangements.
I had decided not to stay in Bangkok, so from the airport I got onto the rail system and made my way to Hua Lamphong Station. I made a couple of errors on the way and ended up having to go back several stops.While I waited for the return train I spoke with an American girl who was standing nearby. It turned out that she was a women's health officer in Afghanistan. She told me a little bit of the conditions there and how happy she was to be in a safe country for a short time. In Afghanistan she moved in armed convoys and I wondered how effective you can be in such circumstances. She put on a brave face but I could sense the underlying fear of going back.That girl had True Grit and I admired her.
Waiting for the train in Hua Lamphong
I made it to the station and bought a ticket to Ayutthaya. Third class, 15 baht about 50 cents for a journey of some 90 Km. That journey ended up taking 3 hours and I was hot tired thirsty and sore by the end of it. My idea of traveling the country by train took severe punishment. In fact I only did one more train journey.
Lunch in Hua Lamphong. Have to keep the fluids up.
In Ayutthaya I took a taxi to a place that looked good on the Lonely Planet guide. It turned out to be shut, so I ended up walking about 2km to an alternate place. I should mention that I had a broken toe and walking was not much fun. At the new location I took the first accommodation option open to me. An airless room, with a fan. I "lumped" it rather than liked it but by now it was evening and I had a bed for the night. I had a meal nearby and took a walk to orientate myself. During the walk I found a much nicer place to stay and booked in for the next 2 nights. Fate was guiding me at this stage.
The Bludger was tired and retired for the night.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Thailand 2012 - getting out of Darwin. Oct 26

Doing my best to get out of Darwin and onto a flight to Bangkok.
Last minute cleaning of my apartment before handing in the keys. As normal it took much longer than expected but the place was spotless. Despite that the Real Estate Agent came back with a list of issues and kept some of my bond money. Dust on the external balcony was one of the issues. They had inspected 3 days after I left and a huge storm had been through. Petty.
After dropping the keys I had a bit of last minute business to do, waiting on a bill, which I ended up not paying, and needed some travel cash. Then I dropped my bag at the Airport and put it in a luggage store. This was to negate having to lug it around for the afternoon. The car was then driven to the storage facility and I made my way back to Palmerston Bus station where I was able to catch a bus that took me close to the airport. I hoofed it the rest of the way.
That got me to the airport in time to check in and I was looking forward to relaxing and taking it easy.
However there was a problem. The airline would not let me on to the flight because I had no onward travel ticket out of Thailand.
From my point of view this was crap. It was my intent to travel overland from Bangkok to Singapore and fly home from there. As my date out of Singapore was flexible and at this point unknown I had not booked anything else. The airline would not budge and I had no opportunity of booking something at this stage. Bureaucracy was getting in the way of a holiday and almost causing grief on day 1.
However a compromise was found and I was allowed to travel as far as Singapore where I would change flights and have a 10 hour stop over. During that time I would easily find some onward travel that would please the airline.
The flight was uneventful and the "normal" delay not worth mentioning.
In Singapore I stayed in the Transit area and hit the Internet to find some travel options. For those who have never been to Singapore airport it has 3 Terminals, with a 4th on the way, all interconnected, with shops, restaurants, pool, Hotels, free wifi and pretty much all that you need to live on. If you had money you would never need to leave the Transit area. Anyway I found a ferry ticket from Satun in southern Thailand to Langkawi in Malaysia for about $10. This should be enough to satisfy the airline and I decided that I may even use the ticket.
So with that done I checked into the Transit Hotel and had a few hours sleep. It was late and I was tired and managed to find a Mojito in a bottle at a supermarket and take it to my room. The Mojito was quite drinkable although made from Vodka not Rum. I don't get that, it cannot be a Mojito surely?

The Bludger slept.