From central Thailand the long way to the east. Entering south Laos to visit the 4000 Islands in the Mekong River and the Bolaven Plateau. Finally, in the small town of Pakse we discover in front of a bar the ultimate X-mas tree. Many thanx to the Heineken brewery to have produced all these beer bottles.
Ayutthaya, 18th December
Kamphaeng Phet. All about its old stones is already history of our trip. We’re on the way to Ayutthaya. Just a few km north of Bangkok. We’d love to visit the proud capital of Thailand. Unfortunately another rather crackbrained regulation doesn’t allow Prado to enter the city. It’s not because Prado might fall in love with a much younger Thai registered car – the equivalent to grandpa’s relationship to his Thai niece. No, not at all. As far as we know, it’s all about the alarming results of a very expensive study made by some friends of Bangkok’s mayor. By now it’s proofed that the road traffic in the town would collapse immediately and definitely should the cars of yearly 10 or 20 overlanders be allowed to drive in. Consequently any car with a foreign number plate is confiscated immediately – if discovered by the police. And of course no overlander wants to be without his car or take responsibility for the collapse of Thailand’s proud capital.
… and a huge center for pilgrims.
A few km later a real surprise: We arrive at a river. No bridge, but a small ferry. Looks exactly like the 1s in Africa. Maybe with the slight difference that you just drive on it and cross. No discussions, no crush when driving on it and much cheaper.
Ayutthaya, for many centuries the proud capital of the eponymous kingdom; some 200 years ago the most important metropolis in South East Asia. Nowadays remain the heaps of bricks forming more or less carefully restored buildings surrounded by ugly 3rd world architecture. The whole thing declared a World Heritage Site – a honour Ayutthaya permanently risks to have it withdrawn due to uncontrolled settlement within the historic area.
Or maybe we just misunderstand. Could be that we just should not be aware of Thai gangs; only of others. Whatever; who knows.
Famous for its steep stairs inside the Chedi down to a small chamber with frescoes. Visibly also a place of pretty unprofessional restoration.
The services offered here make tourists extremely happy: instead of the always same selfie on the cell phone – they get it printed on a plate. And every morning you can admire your pic while munching your fried eggs. How interesting life can be.
Of course there’s also Buddha’s head overgrown be a tree and some other things to be digitized.
Another: Wat Thammikarat: somehow a little strange. Full of roosters. Whatever, you can buy them outside (small 3$, medium 6$, large – depends on size) and place them somewhere among the 10 000 others. – It seems it’s all about a cock fight deciding about Ayutthaya’s destiny, google it here.
They’re all about sunset.
Khao Yai, 20th December
On to the east of Thailand. Now to famous Khao Yai National Park. Another World Heritage Site. 1 of the last primary rain forests in the area. And just being 100km from Bangkok a place receiving 1000s of visitors each weekend – all learning that trees and flowers are not made out of plastic and not imported from China. And getting an opportunity to later show their beautiful selfies to their jealous friends.
As today’s Sunday huge traffic on the double lined expressway. Mostly Bangkokies on their way home to be ready for Monday’s salary slavery. So it takes a little longer to drive the few km to the national park.
We drive the few km to the Park HQ. Excellent road. Nevertheless, taking the signs seriously the road must be incredibly dangerous.
Being fully aware of this situation we drive on.
So few animals. And the only 1s we see had to change their usual diet to muffins due to high demand for banana for pancakes in the backpacker hotspots.
Consequently we concentrate on waterfalls, trees and landscape.
Back. Time for dinner. On the roadside we discover a rather distinguished Italian restaurant: Te Amo – definitely Te Amo; must be Thaitalien for ti amo. Whatever. Great menu, quite some folks munching all kind of delicacies. We start dreaming of scaloppini al limone, spaghetti putinesca and pizza with ruccola’n’berlusconi. Observing the clientele we state they’re all on some Thai stuff. Quickly we rethink our dreams and order gleen cully and fish. And get Thai food at its best. Need the same? – look for Te Amo, not ti amo. And the most sophisticated of this place is not what you eat, but going to the bathroom.
Ubon Ratchathani, 22nd December
The next day on to the small town of Nang Rong. Never heard of it? – no wonder – It’s known in the world as much as Laufenburg. Despite that it’s a good base to visit the ancient Khmer temples of Phanom Rung.
Still on an expressway, some 250 km to Nang Rong. Fortunately, traffic becomes much less. And slightly more rural.
On the way Prado starts to complain about its wheel alignment. No idea why it starts now. In Nang Rong we quickly discover a modern, well equipped garage. Quite a number of experts make the necessary diagnoses. Quickly we learn that the tie rods have to be replaced. Well, we’ve already known it more or less. Unfortunately they have no spares; so we just align all wheels for 8$.
Then on to the next heaps of Khmer stones: Prasat Muang Tam. Seems to be absolute non-tourist-land.
Pakse, 24th December
Today some 300km eastwards to Ubon Rathachani. No longer an expressway. Now we share the road with all trucks, tuck tucks, cows and goats.
The town: very laid back, a real feeling to be far off any city. Nothing to see, except ugly houses and a rather strange monument …
… and an excellent Korean Barbecue for dinner.
The next day out of Thailand. Prado’s permit to drive in Thailand is about to expire. So we drive to the nearby border. An hour later we already approach the Thai border post. Of course we’re extremely curious to experience how they will handle the whole issue with Prado’s permit from the beloved Department of Land Transport and our very special Thai driving licences.
Well, as usual we go to immigration, stamp out. Then on to customs. They want the Temporary Import Permit, check its validity and tell us that everything is ok; wish us a nice journey in Laos. And we’re out of Thailand.
Having left Thailand without any hassle, we take the opportunity to thank the all – admired’n’beloved Department of Land Transportation (DLT) for having introduced this gorgeous system to limit foreign cars entering Thailand.
A kind of tribute to DLT.
We believe you used the hell a lot of energy to create this bureaucratic monster and even more to optimize it to perfection. Probably you sacrificed many weekends to provide such a system where every foreign car gets a piece of paper stating that all provinces mentioned are permitted to visit, that the car has to use a specific entry and exit point and even more specific dates to arrive and to leave the country. Great work. And even greater, the driver receives even a temporary Thai driving license. Of course only after having submitted quite a number of different documents he can buy on the roadside – eg medic certificates – or his travel agent has to send to him. Having accomplished all these requirements you’re told by DLT that now you may drive wherever you want (within above mentioned area restrictions). By now your new documents are the most important possession in your life. So all ok.
We sincerely hope this huge additional work doesn’t lead to significant negligence of other important tasks due to the extremely excessive importance of these regulations. Even more sincerely we hope due to these new requirements you were not forced to postpone a minimal training for children driving bikes without any knowledge about traffic rules. Should this be the case we would feel terribly guilty because of the numerous accidents of children with scooters every day.
Then the trip thru Thailand. A kind of reality check. Nobody is interested in the important DLT monster – probably even does not know about it. Nobody wants to see the permit, if ever stopped by the police they’re happy with your national driving licence – as they’re used to see with everybody renting a car in Thailand. And finally even when leaving the country nobody cares about DLT’s newest bureaucratic achievements.
Sorry guys of DLT. Kindly accept, we think you’re kidding us. At least you could inform the police to control us every 2km or so. Then we would have the feeling that your paper stuff has some importance and it’s not just a pain in the ass.
In the very unlikely case we should ever drive our car in Thailand again; we would probably just take the risk to ignore beloved DLT.
You think it’s slightly cynical – maybe the only way to survive things like that.
Anyway, back to the real world.
We enter Laos. Pay a few $ for the visa. Discuss quite a while to get our Carnet de Passage stamped. Prado plans to spend his hibernation in Laos. So a little more than the usual month granted with a normal Temporary Import Permit is needed.
Having succeeded at the border, 1 hour later we’re in Pakse. The most important urban center in South Laos. Rather a village than the 3rd largest town in the country. Very small CBD, still some colonial houses between the famous modern architecture imported from Thailand.
And an opportunity to go to the Toyota garage to have Prado rejuvenated. They make an in-depth diagnosis – and as already known the tie rods have to be replaced and some more signs of wear have to be treated – nothing too serious. The next day is also dedicated to Prado’s face-lifting. A whole basket of spares and finally a bill over 250$. Reasonable if we consider all these parts they have changed.
We state a certain affinity of some shops to X-Mas products. Maybe resulting from former French influence or simply from some Chinese traders trying to introduce new product lines. Anyway, Nikolausi doesn’t seem to sell too quickly.
Don Khone, 28th December
Some 100km to Nakasang the jump off point for the 4000 Islands. The area is an inner delta of the Mekong River; due to the many beaches on the islands and the availability of pancakes it developed to an important backpacker hotspot. So many reasons for us to go there even if we have no idea where we may leave Prado during our island holiday. Arriving in the tiny village of Nakasang we find everything prepared for the car: a video surveyed parking with many other cars for Prado to socialize.
So perfect for dolce far niente (Italian expression for hard work), only disrupted by the need to eat some pancakes, to sip a few beers, or …
Then we’re tired of all this hanging around. As real backpackers we rent bicycles to explore the island. Not an easy task on the rough gravel roads with nice bridges, at 35 degrees heat and 367% humidity. But feasible.
At the southern end of the island we should see some dolphins. We don’t – probably they have their diving day.
During colonial period the Frenchies built a railway on the 4000 Islands to bypass the nearby rapids in the Mekong River. Even if considered a technical masterpiece it may not be a highlight of French knowledge about the world’s geography. Even with the railway connection their ships never reached the mighty Lena River in Central Siberia. All because they forgot the mountain range called Himalaya further upstream. Nowadays we can still admire some remains of this great plan.
Then to the rapids – the reason for the French railway. 1st to the Kone Pa Soi Falls, …
… then on to the much more impressive Somphamit Waterfall.
Champasak, 30th December
After a few days dolce far niente and eating banana pancakes we have to move on. Of course the main reason is banana pancake: they’re so ugly – after 1 trial we have to have something else. Of course in a backpacker paradise you don’t have a huge choice. They only eat pancakes with or without banana and flyly (fried rice) in all variations. Well, there are a few other options: pizza, pasta and of course Lao food specially prepared for westerner’s taste: deprived of all spices, all chillies and many other ingredients – but upgraded with the hell a lot of Maggi’s good-for-everything-spicy-sauce. A mix you would even not offer your mother in law.
Of course there’s also another reason to leave. We’ve never seen so many backpackies getting sick after 1 of these delicious meals. They’re munching some of this flyly and little time later they’re as sick as a dog. Fortunately this didn’t happen to us. For many backpackies getting a real diarrhoea is an honour; later they impress their fellow travellers by the number of days spent on a loo. We as overlanders prefer to impress by the number of oil changes we forgot to do and Prado’s still running. Whatever.
So we drive on. We visit another waterfall: Kone Pha Pheng. Still on Mekong River, but now the biggest in South East Asia, …
… then we head towards Champasak on the other side of the Mekong. An opportunity to cross the river on a ferry. Unfortunately the ferry is rather a very lousy barge supposed to be able to transport cars. Prado is strictly against this adventure; we too once the boatman tells us the prize for a simple crossing. So we take a slight detour and drive on to Pakse. A night there, an opportunity to admire the panorama on the top of the Pakse Hotel with a beer, …
Nevertheless, the village is the starting point for Wat Phou.
Inside a lot of worshippers in the smoke of 100s of incense sticks.
Back down, a beautiful sunset at the pools of the temple – and that’s it.
Savannaket, 3rd January
We move on. To the highlands; to Bolaven – Plateau east of Pakse. An area known for its cool climate, different ethnic minorities living there, jungle, waterfalls and coffee. Driving up we’re slightly astonished. The road climbs slightly higher: from 120 to 230m. A few hills somewhere, all farm land densely cultivated but not what we expect a plateau to be. But the plateau is divided by a number of deep valleys – and there are the waterfalls hidden in the deep jungle. There you’ll find these villages with the minorities. Younger 1s and slightly more senior 1s.
The next: Tad Lo. We spend the night here. Nice accommodation next to the river …
And there’s even a 2nd 1 a few 100m downstream.
But that all isn’t the real sensation. No, it’s about elephants. Not the lonely angry old bull elephant chasing lions you see by chance when sneaking in the African savannah. Here elephants are kept for work. Well, in this case probably just to transport tourists too lazy to walk for a few meters.
We spend a few days in town, pass from 1 year to the other, enjoy a kind of city lifestyle and finally on 2nd January we move on to Savannakhet some 250 km to the north.
And that’s it. More stuff to get jealous – or not soon in our next post.
Cheeeers and happy New Year – and most important: remain jealous.