5 weeks in Thailand

Thailand-Travelogue  |  Travel time: February / March 2002  |  by Martin O.

The north

[Eddie: ] From Bangkok our way leads us towards Chiang Mai, 700 kilometers north. Of course we make some breaks to visit some sights on the way.

After recovering from a night at the bars with some other travellers in the Thanon Khao San we hit the road around noon - the first sight on this trip will be Ayutthaya, a former capital of ancient Siam. In the year 1767 the Burmese invaded the town, what resulted in the relocation of the capital to Bangkok. Today Ayutthaya is populated again. The modern Ayutthaya lies amidst a huge area of ancient, partially destroyed Buddhist temples in the Khmer style.

[Martin: ] The domes and pagodas are particularly impressing at night, when they are illuminated to make tourists happy. But because one can enjoy this pleasure entirely only after adventuresome climbs, the ignorance of all ancient barriers and the swift evasion of (most probably evil, rabid and hungry) bats, we decide to come back in the day time.

Buddha head wrapped in roots, actually not more than a vestige of the Burmese demolition policy.

Buddha head wrapped in roots, actually not more than a vestige of the Burmese demolition policy.

[Eddie: ] The temple area is so big that we have to rent bikes to get to see at least some of the temples (i.e. eight of them). Accompanied by Robert, an Englishman from Munich(!), we explore the city for one day, enjoying the left-hand drive and hundreds of Buddha statues in different positions and made of different materials, as there are: plaster, stone, bronze and gold.

Most impressed I was by the quite outlying temple Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon with numerous decorated, partially huge, stone buddhas.

Buddha images, decorated with monk garments, in the (in my opinion) most beautiful temple of Ayutthaya:
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon.

Buddha images, decorated with monk garments, in the (in my opinion) most beautiful temple of Ayutthaya:
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon.

[Martin: ] After that long exhausting ride we know what tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok are going through. Although the smog in Ayutthaya isn't as bad as in the capital, we feel the exhaust gases in the lungs, the breathing gets harder, an asthmatic cough troubles us. Because of that we're happy to get back to our guest house in the evening where we can rest and cure our dry throats with a lot of Singha beer. After a little while we feel fit enough to consecrate ourselves again to our basic needs (food, more beer):

[Eddie: ] Our first real non-touristic Thai food is a downright challenge. At first glance it doesn't seem to be too much, but after trying the food the plate seems huge and intimidating. It's unbelievable spicy. The first plate (of pig curry) I can do, so I order some vegetarian dish, assuming that it might be a little bit less spicy - since only where it says "curry" they put in chillies. Bad idea - after half a plate I have to resignate, this time it's just deadly. The routine is missing, one has to force oneself. After all Thai people can do it.

The following collective destruction of Singha beer, together with other travellers and Thais, I use to learn some vocabulary. Therefore I talk to the most important man of the town. Probably I will never understand why he is so important, but every passing policeman greets obediently with the Thai salutation, the "wai". And this guy is only 23. Whatever, after enough beers I've lost any kind of respect, so I let him explain this so-called wai to me:
the Thai society is structured in a strict hierarchic manner, depending on influence, fortune, age or religious status of the individual. The wai is done with folded hands and maybe with a bow. The higher the social rank of the other person compared to your own status, the higher you hold your hands and the deeper you take the bow. Coequal persons and friends you greet with your hands in front of your breast, parents and monks with hands in front of your forhead and VERY deep bow. The king is a special case, in front of him you additionally have to cringe.

[Martin: ] The next day leads us after an extensive hangover-breakfast up north to Lopburi. In Lopburi one can find a lot of temples, but since we had a temple overload yesterday, we are more interested in the main tourist attraction of the city: monkeys. Lots of monkeys! Many many monkeys! The little makaks hang on telephone wires, climb on road signs and run around on street refugees and temples. When I wanna pose for a picture next to one of these cute creatures, this little devil jumps on my back and after a while tries to get me a new hairstyle by ripping off my hair. You would never believe with how huch strength these little animals can tear on someone's hair. Thanks to our hard efforts and to the fact that my hair is totally inedible I can get rid of the monkey. I still have all of my hair, beyond it probably a lot of cooties and a whiplash. But at least we got a fine picture.

In Loburi with raging monkeys.

In Loburi with raging monkeys.

[Eddie: ] Taking the very air-conditioned (and therefore ice cold) VIP-bus we're continiuing our trip to Chiang Mai, with 160.000 inhabitants second-largest city of Thailand. Arriving quite supercooled after an eleven hour drive, we start looking for a guest house (the Smile House is to recommend here) and have a bad start of our visit: we wanna get some rest and sleep away the whole day. Since our day and night rhythm is quite confused now, we've got some difficulties the next days to get productive and don't see too much of Chiang Mai. Besides, my break-fresh-ground mail client broke down, caused by problems with the Thai special characters.

[Martin: ] Several hours we spend therefore in the internet cafe: Eddie has to repair his mail server, and so we spend more time in front of a computer on one day than some computer science major in a whole semester (without giving specific names here). Probably the other travellers have identified us as nerds by now, but at least we become the best friends of the girls who own the internet cafe, and Eddie's mail-thing works again, too.

[Eddie: ] Despite our acute laziness we make it at least to the Night Market, which fits quite well in our day scheduling (because it is at night). The Night Market is quite touristy, but you can get a lot of useful stuff, like Nike sandals or pretty colorful jute bags that you can nail to the wall at home. Also you can find a climbing wall here, about 30 meters high, very recommendable for starters.

[Martin: ] Our shopping addiction regarding sandals and jute posters fortunately is cured a little bit by the first bar, and so we get aquainted with the female singer of the bar, a totally shit-faced Thai trekking guide, and a new culinary deliciousness:

  • the singer is almost too good-looking, probably a man (refer to chapter "Gathoeys")

  • the trekking guide is addicted to "Four Wins" and wins every game

  • the deep-fried worms taste like peanut flakes

[Eddie: ] In Chiang Mai I finally take out the stitches of my cut, what actually isn't a big deal and definitely doesn't hurt, but since the stitches are so tiny, I have problems to cut them with my scissors. But somehow I make it (especially with Martin's assistance), put a litre of alcohol over the wound, add some band-aid and I'm done. Djungle hospital for pseudo-paramedics. I had imagined it to be more dramatic.
To escape from the doom loop of doing nothing, we decide to join a guided 3-day-trekking-tour to the surrounding "jungle". Like every other tourist, too.

[Martin: ] The next day we get picked up in front of our guest house, the only participant present at this moment we estimate to be about sixty years old, but maybe she just had a hard night and therefore looks so battered. Anyway, the rest of our party looks much younger and the "old lady" proves to be really cool as well. First, a three-hour ride on a pickup truck takes us to a waterfall, where we are supposed to take a bath and have lunch. When we arrive there are already three other trekking groups splashing happily and comparing their pallid beer bellies. Well, it's not really as "deserted" as it was supposed to be, but at least we won`t die from loneliness. There's also a group of Thais having fun in the cool water, probably to keep the authenticity. The first lunch is served in styrofoam containers, which delights the heart of the environmentally conscious traveller.

Except for the first meal the food is served ecologically, that is, in banana leaves. 
Even the "cutlery" is reusable.

Except for the first meal the food is served ecologically, that is, in banana leaves.
Even the "cutlery" is reusable.

[Martin: ] After taking a bath we finally start hiking. Of course we knew that the jungle of Northern Thailand wouldn't be a typical monkey-tiger-palm tree-jungle, where Central Europeans, raised by apes, jump from liana to liana, but that it would be more like a megalomaniac German mixed forest. But even the 400 different species of birds, that are supposed to live on the Doi Inthanon (the highest mountain of Thailand), are not to be seen. We cannot resent this - haunted by fifteen camera-armed tourists stamping through my living room, I would hide, too.

Tourists and mixed forests

Tourists and mixed forests

[Martin: ] After the first disillusioning impression we really have fun hiking, the nature is beautiful, and we enjoy the evenings around the camp fire. Only the visits at the so-called hill tribes are a little annoying. The members of these tribes fled from Tibet, China and Myanmar during the last 200 years, taking refuge in Thailand. Here they're trying to start a new existence, making their living mainly with agriculture and the cultivation of opium. Since they came to Thailand, they are consistently visited by hordes of tourists, and get photographed like monkeys in the zoo. We don't really want to participate in this behaviour and therefore we limit the picture-taking in these villages to pigs and chicken (finally birds!).
We're spending the nights on the floor of little bamboo cabins, close to waterfalls and clearances. Its really idyllic, not to say ... uhm ... pittoresque. At night it gets even really cold, even if certain people (!) dissuaded us from taking warm clothes with us, since one only might freeze under the shower...

[Eddie: ] ...thanks to my sleeping bag and especially thanks to my Therm-A-Rest sleeping pad I'm obviously the only one in our party, who is able to sleep without shivering.

Western people usually only know rice fields from war movies.
Well, it's nicer without the shooting.

Western people usually only know rice fields from war movies.
Well, it's nicer without the shooting.

[Eddie: ] Besides the really beautiful nature and our nice co-travellers, unfortunately we also have to deal with our trekking guide, who is kind of a South-East-Asia version of Crocodile Dundee. His name is Bond, and he is, to put it friendly, quite introverted. To say it straight, he's a psychotic maniac, who should be kept away from any kind of alcohol. He is an impressing counter-example to the typical Thai stoicism and to the practised Buddhism.
From the beginning he keeps his distance to our party, and doesn't bother to explain anything at all, despite his good English. Questions are answered in the shortest possible manner, mostly totally inscrutable and so absurd, that the questioner can't help getting the feeling not to be taken serious:
"Why are there single trees lying around in the forest?""That's how the peasants attain farmland." What?
During our first evening around the campfire we find out, that he has a problem with foreigners, but we still don't know what the actual problem is. It's probably about the female tourists, running around sleevelessly and therefore being responsible themselves when they get raped. And exactly these tourists are also to blame for the extinction of Buddhism, and we tourists are all total scum. Especially the Germans. Well, yeah.
The next evening we are able to experience him going nuts on the campfire and screaming around. It starts to get scary, at least the girls are quite frightened. He accuses us, that we ALL are only taking part on this trek to have SEX and we wouldn't be interested in anything else. Oddly enough nothing sexual had happened in these two days, instead we had asked him a lot of curious questions which he didn't want to answer or, if he did, then the answer was mostly totaly senseless.

It's more than comprehensible that Thais aren't big fans of the - especially in Bangkok - booming sex tourism, but one should be able to differentiate for what reason different people come to Thailand.
After all that I have read so far, two of the primary objectives of Buddhism are control of the own lust and broad-mindedness. Bond seemed not to be able or willing to control his lust by repressing his desires from within - the way it should be - but by correcting his environment, that is, not by broad-mindedness.
Since the Thai society is a very hierarchical one, whereas the status of an individual firstly is defined by his appearance(BMW or rags?), one of the worst things that could happen to a Thai is to "lose his face". His face loses, who shows to many weaknesses. The person who criticizes somebody else, not the person who is criticized, loses his face. And most of all, the person who screams. And our guide has shown all these weaknesses several times during these short two days.
Of course, as an outsider and Farang, it's not my job to judge the correct behaviour of Buddhists, but it just didn't feel right.

Our guide apologized the next morning for his behaviour in front of the whole group, which in my opinion takes a lot of courage, but the relationship was still quite tense after that evening.
Later I've read, that many murders are commited by people who have lost their face before. The reason is that one's face can only be reestablished by eliminating all witnesses. Anyway, we slept great in a cabin, whose thin (!) floor was about one yard above the floor and in a village where even kids play with machetes. Well, the best things come from underneath...

Furthermore (besides the already described dangers we have to deal with) river rafting and elephant riding are impending on us. Although both is part of the standard program for western tourists, its REALLY recommenddable. Since I come from the city, I know elephants only from Walt Disney, therefore I'm totally thrilled. Whoever wants to find out what feeling it is to feed such an animal with a banana, just has to put his vacuum cleaner into something moist and slimy

[Martin: ] Before we're starting our elephant ride, our guide explains that one elephant will be shared by two people. Since we are an odd number of participants in our party, I've got the honor, not to "have to" sit on the assembled chair on the back of the elephant, but on his neck. Very shaky, especially since my elephant is a little bit neurotic and likes to try out new, never used and steep pathes. Fortunately the elephant guide sits in front of me on the animal's head, so there's probably nothing I should be afraid of. One should guess. After a few meters, the boy jumps off the head and leaves me alone with the two ladies behind me, the big gray head in front of me, and the vertigo inside of me. But I'm brave. I enjoy the ride, especially when the guide, now somewhere behind/under/next to us, propels the elephant, so that it runs like crazy through the pampas. That way the Thais have fun and I the necessary kick of adrenaline.
While riding, I start to understand a woman's desire for us to shave. My pachyderm isn't shaved and on his head are many hairs, about two inches long , excoriating my thighs. But it was worth it, if I should fail to make my diploma in computer science, I will try to start a career as elephant rider.

Feeding Dumbo.

Feeding Dumbo.

[Eddie: ] River rafting is quite the same as riding "Stocherkahn" or punts (like it is done in Oxford, England or in Tübingen, Germany - where I come from): it takes eight long, thick bamboo sticks tied together as a raft. Furthermore it takes some stupid tourists who can be enthused by anything. Then one gives two of these students (i.e. Martin and me) a bamboo slat and lets the raft float down a wild river. The special fun part are the rapids or collisions with other rafts. It's really fun, one gets fairly wet and can make people on other rafts even wetter.

So actually the trek was really worth being taken, especially because the people in our party were really cool and funny folks. Anyway, the slow hiking speed was a little unnerving and the disorientation in which we found ourselves thanks to our close-mouthed guide didn't make it better.

Back to Chiang Mai our lives go on like we leaded them before in this city: the following evenings we have several meetings with our trekking party, we have to drink a lot of beer, we go to bed too late. A vicious circle.

[Martin: ] Note: Never hang out with other travellers for a beer, if you have plans for the next day. Other travellers are evil. Other travellers will seduce you to drink a lot more alcohol than you can stand and hence make it impossible to get up early the following day.

[Eddie: ] Despite all, we make it to visit some beautiful temples before we leave, among others the absolute temple-highlight so far, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, on the top of 300 steps, guarded by two huge stone serpents.

The most beautiful temple of our trip: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

The most beautiful temple of our trip: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

[Martin: ] After two days in Chiang Mai we decide to flee from the presence of the other travellers, whose plan it is to spread huge amounts of alcohol and a lot of headaches. So we catch a train to Lampang, south of Chiang Mai. When we arrive there's no traveller in sight, an early sleep seems to be guaranteed. But, in fact, there are no people at all in sight. Nobody. We are alone. In a city populated by barking dogs. Loneliness overcomes us. We miss the other travellers. By foot we search for a hostel. When finally a taxi picks us up, it doesn't take us to the hostel where we actually wanted to go, but to another place, where we are greeted friendly by a young man with greasy hair and shades (at night you really need them). Somehow this place reminds us of one of these houses of which our mommies have always warned us, because of the naked girls. So we take leave and look for another harborage. One with dirty mattresses and with lizards on the walls, but without naked girls. We have strange priorities.

Not really beautiful but still nice Buddha in the ancient temple Wat Phra That Lampang Luang near Lampang.
Probably a school project.

Not really beautiful but still nice Buddha in the ancient temple Wat Phra That Lampang Luang near Lampang.
Probably a school project.

[Eddie: ] Sukothai, a little further south, was the first capital of Thailand during the 13th and 14th century. Here we make our first "experiences" ("experiences", not experiences!) with Thai lady boys, the so-called Gathoeys: see extra chapter "Gathoeys".

[Martin: ] Of course the Old Town of Sukhothai can't avoid our visit, hence we investigade the temple ruins by bike. We find many wats in better or worse condition, some of them really impressing. But probably we are so surfeited now by temples and Buddhas, therefore our enthusiasm at the sight of another Buddha statue isn't much bigger than the ardor of an urban person who sees another cow after two weeks in the countryside.
To be mentioned is the very beautiful Wat Mahathat and another temple, whose name was so long and full of vowels, so that a typical European can't remember it.

Amidst the temples Thai girl scouts run into us and give us (Yeah!) baloons for presents! Great!!!

Amidst the temples Thai girl scouts run into us and give us (Yeah!) baloons for presents! Great!!!

The three towers of Wat Si Sawai, built in the typical Khmer style.

The three towers of Wat Si Sawai, built in the typical Khmer style.

The huge Buddha of Wat Si Chum, difficult to take a picture of, but beautiful.

The huge Buddha of Wat Si Chum, difficult to take a picture of, but beautiful.

[Eddie: ] The styles of the several temples differ from each other, but since we don't have the necessary know-how, it's often hard to see the differences - this stuff is partially missing in our "Lonely Planet" guide.

For reasons of time we'll end this chapter here, so we can go to the south. After all the sight-seeing we deserve a few beaches.

© Martin O., 2002
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The trip
 
Description:
Winter 2002 - we didn't have a good start: after a little accident with a drunken dancer one day before our departure my finger has to get sewed with five stitches. The stitches I gonna have to take out by myself. And although it is clear to us that the risk of malaria is existent in Thailand, ... ... it wasn't maybe clear enough.
Details:
Start of journey: Feb 17, 2002
Duration: 5 weeks
End of journey: Mar 25, 2002
Travelled countries: Thailand
The Author
 
Martin O. is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 16 years.
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