The final part of our romp through Southeast Asia is taking place in lovely Thailand. We have been looking forward to this leg of the journey for two reasons. First, we both love Thai food, and the food did not disappoint. Second, and more importantly, Courtney’s parents are joining us, and her brother and his partner are also coming out for a portion of it. After a year plus of basically not seeing any one we know (my sister and her best friend did come visit us in Perth for a week), it has been wonderful to have a few familiar faces around, especially with it being Christmas time. They are also paying for pretty much the entirety of this part of the journey, which we would have had to skip otherwise as our funds are rather limited.
After Siem Reap, we took a bus across the border to Bangok. If you are making that journey in either direction and you don’t want to spend the money on a flight, there is a company that runs a single bus service. What this means is that the same bus takes you all the way without having to change at the border. Not only did this make things simpler, the bus was by far the nicest and newest bus we have encountered in the nearly two months we have been in Asia. The seats were leather and extremely comfortable, and most importantly, they didn’t sell more tickets then there were seats. It was by far the best ride we had. Despite what we have read about the border, the crossing was painless. There were no “processing fees” or other types of scams to deprive us of our money, and the whole crossing took no more then an hour. Easy peasy.
Now, for any of you who have read a lot of my posts, you will know that we are not city folk. It will come as no surprise to you then that Bankok, a city of more then 12 million people, was not exactly our favorite place. Despite that, we did our best to enjoy. The first two nights we stayed in the expat district, which is essentially full of huge, fancy, western style shopping malls and western pubs and restaurants. Not the best area to be in when trying to explore a foreign city. We talked about checking out the sex tourism area one evening, seeing as it is partly what Bangkok is known for, but in the end we chose not to. We did take the sky train down to the river and took a riverboat up to China town where we got a good dose of culture shock walking through the intensely crowded markets and endless streets of shops and street food. We also checked out Lumpini park, which is basically Bangkok’s version of Central Park in NYC. It was one of my favorite places in Bangkok and well worth a visit.
The parentals booked a hotel down in the old royal quarter, which was a whole different scene. The hotel, Sala Arun, was lovely and our rooms had balconies that looked out west across the river. Sunsets were a magical time as the sun set directly over one of the many gorgeous temple complexes that dominate the area. One particular Wat is home to the giant reclining Buddha, which lives up to its name. There are also numerous Government and military complexes in the area, all of which sprawl behind ten foot high white stucco walls. It is a lovely area to walk through. The highlight of our time there was our long tail boat trip through a small part of the canal system. We spent two hours enjoying this unique taste of the city, including a stop at an orchid farm. It was quite wonderful.
From Bangkok we drove our rented CRV North and West to a town called Kanchanaburi on the famous river Kwai. The town is near the border with Burma (now Myanmar) and is known partly for its railway, which has been blown up and rebuilt during previous wars. You can walk across the bridge and it has safety platforms from which you can watch the train go by. There are also numerous war museums in the area if you are into that kind of thing. We didn’t check any of them out. The other thing the town is known for is its karaoke barges. These are covered barges pulled by tugs, which drive up and down the river. People rent them out for parties, often involving karaoke. They can be quite loud, but they are fun to watch go by.
Next we visited Erawan national park. It lies an hour or two outside of town and has a wonderful tiered waterfall with travertine pools, which are perfect for swimming. It is a short two Km walk through the jungle to get to the top, but be prepared to spend a few hours there so you can stop and swim in some of the fantastic pools. The water was lovely, and full of little fish. Be warned though, these are the fish that like to eat dead skin, so they will mob your feet when you are sitting still. Many places in SE Asia have these fish as part of a spa, so it’s a cool way to do it for free, but it does feel rather weird if you are not ready for it. The park was well worth the visit.
From there we went south. Our next stop was at a lovely little beach near Chumphon, and it was entirely by accident that we found this place. It is a small strip of lovely beach and beautiful resorts a bit outside of town called Thung Wua Lean Beach. This happened to be the first time I have touched salt water since we left Cat Ba, and I was utterly shocked by how warm the water was. It feels like bathwater. Since it was so warm, I talked Courtney into a midnight skinny dip, and we discovered a most magical occurrence. The water contains something with green bioluminescence. Every time we moved a trail of sparkling green stars would follow our limbs. It was beautiful and wonderful and we thoroughly enjoyed are swim. The restaurant at the Nana Beach Resort, a wonderful little resort with beautiful bungalows and a sweet infinity pool, was arguably the best place we have eaten on the entire trip as well.
Our actual destination was another national park, Khao Sok. We spent two nights at a wonderful hotel a few Kms off the main drag called Arts River Lodge. The rooms were nice, but the best part was the little river that ran right by the property. It was a great place to swim and hang out. We rented tubes and went tubing down a part of the river one day, and went into town, had dinner, and played some pool the next. The third day we paid for a long tail boat to take us out on the big manmade Cheow Lan lake to a lovely little set of raft houses. Here we went and looked at a cave, did a night time and morning animal watching ride, and kayaked and swam in the pristine, and rather warm, lake water. It was a wonderful overnight adventure and we all enjoyed ourselves. The Thais get up rather early; so don’t be surprised if you start hearing people around 4:30 am.
From Khao Sok we made our way down to Phuket for the final bit of our time in SE Asia. I will get into that in part two.