Cycling Thailand gave me a good opportunity to see a lot of places along the way – big cities, small town, tiny villages. Every night I stayed in a different place. There is no point to write a post about every single place I visited, so I’m just going to make a compilation about things, that impressed me most.
On my very first day of cycling I stayed in Lampong, 100 km away from Chiang Mai. I passed the Elephant hospital and Elephant rehabilitation centre, where for 1000 baht visitors could bathe and feed these thick-skinned giants. Lampong itself was just a small provincial town, with not much to do, but good enough as a stop-over for a day or two. I recommend heading straight to Talad Kao road in search of accommodation. It isn’t necessary to book anything in advance, as the street is full of charming cheap guest houses. I stayed at R-Lampang guest house at the very end of the street. It was one of these rare cases, when the hotel alone made me want to stay longer. It was such a beautiful, rustic place right on the river bank.
My single room, although small, was finished in a rural style, with white cotton curtains and crisp bed linen. The bathroom was shared, but very clean. It cost 250 baht. I couldn’t be happier with the quality I got for the price.
As it happens, they had a week-end market going on, as I arrived on Sunday. It was ho nestly one the best markets I’ve seen in Thailand, with a great choice of trinkets and food. Everything was cheap, as the crowd consisted of Thais only. Without a doubt I was the only foreigner there.
At 6pm the weirdest thing happened. Suddenly, the music started to pour from old loudspeakers, and everyone froze. Imagine an extremely busy street, full of people, who just stand still and quiet with their heads bowed. Sellers stopped selling, cooks stopped cooking. Even though I felt a little silly, I froze as well, as I didn’t want to be a white crow. I also didn’t was to disrespect anyone. When the music finished, everyone continued with their business. It took me a while to find someone, who could explain what just happened, as no one spoke English. Apparently, it was some sort of an anthem, that sounded everyday at 8am and 6pm. It wasn’t a nationwide thing, though, as I had never encountered it before or since.
Talad Kao road was a revelation in itself. Hundreds of years ago it was a very important place due its vicinity to the river. Rich merchants lived there, as it was a convenient place for docking trading ships. They were primarily Thai, Chinese and British. All this contributed to a mix in architecture, as different people built houses in their countries style. It was the most beautiful street I’ve seen in Thailand, with the most interesting buildings – colonial style concrete buildings neighbouring wooden Chinese great houses, dark with age.
The next day I woke up really late, as I was worn out by cycling the day before. I only managed to cycle 50 km. I was in the middle of the countryside with no accommodation options around me. It was already after 5pm, and I knew, that soon it would be dark. My plan was to cycle until I reached the nearest temple, and ask the monks to spend the night there. I was terrified of the prospect, as I didn’t know how they would take it. I couldn’t believe my luck, when I saw a house with a little sign saying “Room available”. I didn’t even know the name of the village. It was something small, with a handful of houses next to the rice fields and a little forest. For 280 baht I got my own little house on stilts at the back of the garden.
This house had the biggest insect population I experienced so far, I counted 5 different kinds of bugs crawling over me. They didn’t bite, but I found it extremely ticklish and annoying. The place was so remote, that the light In my house attracted all crawlies in the area. I didn’t sleep well, I had nightmares about the insects crawling into my nose and ears.
I woke up at 5.30 and entered Tak into google maps. It was the main town of Tak province. I had 120 km to cover. The morning welcomed me with the thickest fog. I hand washed my clothes the night before, and hanged them outside to dry. If anything, they became even wetter from the fog and were dripping.
I arrived in Tak after 5pm. I didn’t have rest for a while and it resulted in my cycling performance. As far as I know, there were very few hotels in Tak itself. I stayed at Domethong residence, which was more of a two-star hotel. It was the cheapest in Tak at 350 baht a night. The next morning I woke up and realised that I simply won’t survive another day of cycling. I had no choice, but to pay for another night at the hotel. As a tourist destination Tak wasn’t particularly interesting. It was an important administrative town, with all provincial bodies situated there. The province itself has a few attractions, including tribal villages and a national park with Thi Lo Su waterfall, arguably the tallest in Thailand. Muser market, run by the tribe of the same name is also a good place to stop by. In addition Tak is extremely close to Myanmar border. If you don’t have your own transport in Tak, than there is nothing you can do, really. I found that out, when I went to the centre of the town, with the hope to hire a taxi or a tuk-tuk for the day to take me to hill tribe villages. Taxis are simply non-existent there, as well as motorbike hire. Moreover, absolutely no one spoke English there, not even young people, and I stopped plenty. Same at my hotel, where staff couldn’t advise me on anything at all and we had to use google translate to no avail. Tourism didn’t affect that town in any way. What I did find interesting, while exploring the town, was a little network of streets, close to the river and a local market, consisting solely of ancient wooden houses, they took my breath away, they truly looked like an open-air museum. I felt like a character of some historical Chinese action film, something like “The house of flying daggers” or “Crouching tiger, hidden dragon”.
At the same time I felt sad, as I couldn’t imagine those fragile wooden houses resisting the destructive influence of time much longer. Since I couldn’t leave the town, I decided to stay in bed all day, have a rest, comfort-eat and read a book. There was a huge shopping centre across the road, that had a few restaurants in it. When I saw a hot-pot place, I went inside straight away. Hot pot is a popular Asian invention. They eat soups a lot, just like myself. There is a pot over a little electrical stove on every table. They pour stock inside and you choose a combination of ingredients you want in your soup. They bring the ingredients raw, and then you cook your own soup. I chose some veg, fish and slices of pork. There was just too much soup for one person, so I took the rest away. The price wasn’t cheap for Thailand, I paid 260 baht, for this money I could have bought 8 street food dishes, as in Tak they charged 30 baht for a bowl of rice with pork/chicken or a noodle soup.
At the mall I also bough the food I was craving for a while. I discovered a piece of mature New Zealand cheddar and a bottle of South African Shiraz. I didn’t have any wine for two months! Asian food tends to be very cheap, while imported goods are expensive. My treats cost me two times more, than what I would pay in London.
Meanwhile I was examining the map, looking for a place for the next day. Kampaeng Phet was an adequate distance away (70 km) and had a few accommodation choices. As usual I left at 6. I felt fully rested and full of beans. I covered 70km by midday! I still had plenty of time to roam the mysterious “Historical park”. But before that, I needed to find a hotel, where I could take shower and dump my bag. I had already looked up some hotels on Agoda. They were not cheap, these hotels. I was so used to paying 200-300 baht a night, that the idea of paying 700 was a bit annoying. That’s how much the cheapest hotel cost online. En route to the hotel, however, I noticed a queer looking long wooden house with a pretty garden and a sign in Thai. It turned out to be a guest house for 300 baht. That was the weirdest guesthouse I stayed at so far – the building itself was very old, the furniture seemed to be quite ancient as well. It also seemed like the owner collected vintage things, as they were scattered around the guesthouse and the reception area – old parasols, chandeliers, sewing machines, sets of drawers, coins and banknotes and other sorts of trinkets. That was a great place full of character, if a little dark and grim. I confess, that for the first time, since I was a child, I slept with a little light on. Was I afraid of ghosts?
Kamphaeng Phet Historical park is an archeological site in Kamphaeng Phet. Is is a part of Unesco World Heritage and features the ruins of structures dating back to the14th century. There are also remains of an ancient wall nearby that ran across the old part of the town.
I left my hotel at 4.30 as I thought it would be a good idea to combine sightseeing with dinner at the night market. I read somewhere, that the entrance fee was 100 baht, but when I cycled there at around 5pm the park gates were open and no one was to be seen, so I just walked inside, free to explore. At that hour the park was very peaceful. Setting sun only contribute to the atmosphere.
If you are into archeology, than there are other sites in Thailand that are grander and more well known, but I was really glad to have visited that one, forgotten and abandoned by tourists in favour of its bidder brothers, Sukhotai and Ayuthaya.
What stroke me about northern towns is a general feeling of well-being and prosperity- big schools, freshly mown lawns, atypically-Asian clean and tidy streets. Also they way they cared about the health of the nation. The parks were full of open-air gyms, where everyone, who wished so, could excersize after work or school.
Almost every supermarket had scales by the entrance, where for 1 baht one could weigh himself. I saw quite a few people jogging and cycling as well. I have to say, it’s a necessary measure, as I noticed quite a few plump Thais, especially kids. We had always had that idea, that Thais were diminutive people, but it seemed to me, that bad eating habits started spreading to that corner of the world as well. Everywhere I went street stalls were full of KFC-style fried chicken, sausages on a stick and doughnuts. Also Thais just love sugar, they add it to soups, salads, main dishes. Where we normally keep a salt shaker, they keep a sugar bowl. They even add sugar to freshly squeezed juices. I had to throw mine away a few times, as they were so sickly sweet, that I couldn’t drink them. Now I always ask, before buying. Iced teas and coffees are very popular, and again they are made with loads of sweet condensed milk. Motorbikes are so widely spread, that people forgot how to walk, even a short distance. Of course, if you compare Thailand to the USA or Britain the amount of obese people is much lower, but I think that a younger generation will grow into much bigger people, than their parents used to be.
Now, that I travelled down the country, I can see the devision between the north and the south, as is the case with loads of big states. I heard northerners mentioning “We are not like people from the south”. And the other way round, once I reached the south. Looking forward to discovering it for myself.