The north-east and the north of Thailand. Along Mekong River and steep mountain ranges covered with thick jungle. A journey thru a part of Thailand mostly untouched by any Western tourists. Of course still visible the Western uncles with their nieces in almost all places. And a lot of Thai tourists during the prolonged weekend of the National Day.
Phitsanulok, 28th November
What a relief: Being out of the beautiful building of the Thai Department of Land Transportation. And being the proud owner of a temporary Thai driving license valid for the whole journey in every village of this country – without any restrictions.
Still not fully believing that the smart lady issuing dlylyc – driving licenses – will not invent another nasty regulation, we quickly drive out of Nong Khai. We follow the Mekong River on our way to Loei. A few km to the north and we discover the really not absolutely impressing skyline of Vientiane, the proud capital of the People’s Democratic Republic of Lao.
On to the village of Chiang Khan at the shores of the river. A prime Thai tourist destination. As today is Saturday absolutely no chance to stay there; go to some of the awesome lounges above the river and observe the fishes passing by.
… late afternoon we arrive in Loei. A small town; not much to do except to recover from Thai bureaucracy. Later a kind of a real Western bar. Well suited to prepare our trip to the US. For others it seems to be the place where elderly men meet their nieces. Whatever, they don’t have cold beer, so we’re out after a short time.
Of course there are other places. And they serve even ice-cold beer – and definitely 1 of the best Thai dinners we ever had. And that all at the prize of a hamburger in the world’s worst fast-food chain.
Then on to Phitsanulok. The 1st stretch over the mountains on a little, curvy and bumpy road. Somehow Laos in Thailand.
Nevertheless, 2 quite impressive Wats not to be missed.
Then to Wat Ratchaburana, just across the street. 1 of the oldest in town, contrary to the former 1 very quiet, but full of beautiful paintings on the walls.
Time for a fat dinner. In Phitsanulok on a Sunday not that easy. Restaurants within walking distance not visible, the night market closed. Finally we find some food stalls in a side street. They all look slightly rundown, but have pretty good noodle soup, satay’n’wonton.
Sukhothai, 1st December
The next morning: we have to listen to Prado’s needs. Its continuous cry for new tyres. So we’re off, searching something decent, capable to drive outside the CBDs and fitting on the car’s extravagant 17” rims. For Thais tyres need to be very large. They even buy special rims to fit them in a way they can still drive their cars. Probably they think this kind of cars impress their girlfriends. After the 1st dozen of tyre shops we give up. Not the slightest chance to find what we need.
We drive the few km to Sukhothai. The old kingdom, somehow the heart of Thailand. Thus many old stones to admire.
Nevertheless, we couldn’t help asking the staff at our accommodation if they would know a tyre shop. And they did. So instead of admiring all these historical monuments, we googled the quality of the tyres they offered us in the shop. Maybe not perfect, maybe not exactly the brand we would buy if we could choose. Nevertheless, the correct size and Dunlop is an international brand even known outside China. No choice – we buy them.
We celebrate this enormous success at the bar 64 000 in the town center. It’s a little noisy – not due to the traffic but because of the millions of birds sitting on the electric power lines. But the bar has a bird shade, looks pretty cool and serves cold beer.
The next day time to visit all these historic treasures. Some 20 km to the historic park in Old Sukhotai.
To start with the Long fingered Buddha: Wat Si Chum.
On to the next.
To warm up a little (still 34°C) in the afternoon a visit to Wat Saphan Hin. A large Buddha on top of a hill.
Then we enter the historic park itself. A large area full of these monuments, old stones wherever you look. We expected hordes of all-inclusive tourists visiting this World Heritage Site to recover from Pattaya’s frenetic night life. Far wrong. Just a few guys wandering around. Some on bicycles, visibly many of them near a sunstroke.
Sunset of course we have to see nearby Wat Mahathat – as everybody else. 1 of the most digitized views in Thailand. So why not take a few more pics of exactly the same.
Another ancient city of the Sukhothai Kingdom; another UNESCO World Heritage. Much more of these old stones, but far less touristy. Actually, we’re more or less the only ones.
Mae Salong, 3rd December
After all this cultural, historic sensations back to real life. We move on to Phayao. Never heard about? Nor did we. It’s a small town at a lake some 300km northeast of Sukhothai; on the way to the Mekong River in the north. A good road thru very rural landscape.
… and having a beer in one of the cool bars along the nicely decorated seashore.
With its great view over Laos and the Mekong River.
On the way a visit to the famous Wat Phrathat Pha-Ngao
Then we arrive at the Golden Triangle. Definitely a tourist hotspot. Nevertheless, nowadays it’s very questionable why tourists pay such attention to this place. There’s a super kitsch Buddha statue, the opportunity to make some very short river cruises and the possibility to go to Laos for some gambling’n’shopping. And that’s it.
In the past it was somehow considered the center of south-east Asian opium production. Probably the only place where the agricultural extension services of each country were on a close cooperation to increase quality’n’production of the drug.
And maybe the only place in the world where the odd tourist could smoke his pipe with opium from 3 different countries. How exiting. Nowadays all has gone; all this local folklore has been swallowed up by US imposed boredom and Thai revenge to this external influence.
Whatever. To avoid deep depressions at that place we take comfort in a fat lunch. We find a small restaurant solely visited by tourists. Martin gets his noodle soup. It smells exactly like the Chinese instant soup we had sometimes in Tibet for breakfast. But at the prize of a real fat dinner in a high class restaurant.
Now we leave the main road, take a back road up the mountains. Very steep and narrow. It runs just a few meters from the border to Myanmar. Thus many check points; but also some quite spectacular views to this remote area of Burma.
Quite late in the afternoon we’re in Mae Salong. A small, but strange looking town. You feel being in China. Houses, restaurants, hotels and especially people – all original Chinese. The guys are descendants of dispersed troops of Kuomintang; the army fighting Mao’s Red Army a few generations ago. And they never had the problem to adapt to anything.
Chiang Dao, 7th December
… many people from the ethnic minorities in the surrounding villages come for a shopping tour or to sell their production – mainly Akha. To this add many Shan people; refugees from Myanmar’s civil war affected Shan state.
A visit to the few tea gardens in this area …
Until recently Thaton´s most famous tourist attraction was being the starting point of a boat trip to Chiang Rai on the Kok River. We did it long time ago. At that time it was travelling in Thailand as far north as possible. Further north was just opium and Shan rebels from Burma. River Kok was considered 1 of the last adventures in Thailand. Passing thru thick forests, meeting some ethnic minorities on the way and sometimes the boat being shelled by Shan insurgents. All that has gone. Nowadays all these adventures have disappeared. Few tourists take the boat anymore. But there’s an alternative: Wat Thaton – the Royal temple. Maybe not as adventurous as the boat trip, but still somehow exiting.
The complex contains a relic of Buddha; thus it is an important place of worship, …
… protected by some powerful dragons.
Then another opportunity to make a loop high up to a mountain at the border to Myanmar: Doi Angkhang. Nearly 2000m high; as today is Thai National Day a place crowded with tourists. A very steep road up. We can smell the over-heated brakes of all oncoming cars.
Great views at the top …
… and a little further another village directly on the border. We think we may sneak a few meters into Myanmar. Wishful thinking – the gate is carefully locked and fenced with highly efficient NATO wire.
Nevertheless, a village with some interesting folks – here Hmongs’n’Lahus.
… the other contains tunnels and caverns still waiting to be explored by the odd tourist. Of course, only with a guide. Without you eventually get lost and for sure get penalised immediately.
Anyway, anybody too much assigned to the world’s worst burger with its meat-free beef, its industrial non-milk cheese, its gluten-free bun, but a lot of super greasy mayo and 1 leaf of extremely healthy salad may not pass thru some of the very narrow passages.
After this rather wet’n’muddy adventure in the evening we go for a splurge. No flyly, no plehly, no gleen cully. No, we go for an exquisite European dinner at The Nest in Chiang Dao – the 1st 1 since we’ve entered Thailand.
So far this post. Much more extremely adventurous or simply boring experiences very soon in the next post.