Bangkok to the border
22.10.2013 - 25.10.2013
I had already planned to head in to Northern Thailand and Laos and by coincidence David (see previous post) works for a travel company that do hop-on-hop-off tours of that route so kindly organised for me to join one.
We left Bangkok and first headed for Ayutthaya, formally a Royal capital and stuffed full with monasteries and reliquaries that are best seen from the river.
Somehow I'd avoided sleeper buses since starting my travels. This one, to Chiang mai, was pretty luxurious, although none of us appreciated being rudely awoken at midnight to be given a probiotic tropical fruit yoghurt drink. Chiang Mai is north Thailand's biggest city but its old quarter, surrounded by moats and the remains of walls, makes it feels much smaller and has a very relaxed atmosphere. Having arrived at 7am and made ourselves more human we took a tuk tuk truck to Doi Suthep, a monastery on a hill over the city with views to confirm just how large the city is.
In the evening we went to watch Muay Thai boxing, a traditional martial art that is popular all over the world. I'd never been to a live fight before and surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it. The fighters were respectful and you could tell how much the spiritual component meant to them.
The next day a few of us went to have massages at the Women's Correctional Institute, where inmates are trained in traditional Thai massage as part of their rehabilitation. For 180 baht (about $5) I had an hours full body massage that left me so relaxed we had to cancel our plans to rent bikes for fear of falling off. Instead we walked around the old city, ate street noodles and had hearty dinners at my first Irish pub of the trip.
As I had limited time for this leg of my adventure I wasn't hopping off anywhere, so only a few of us headed on the next bus north. On the way we stopped at the bizarre White Temple in Chiang Rai, where a Thai sculptor and painter is constructing a Buddhist monument of his own design. Only one part is finished (the complex has been under construction since 1997) but the shiny wedding cake exterior is dazzling and the interior, decorated with contemporary figures such as Spider-Man and Angry Birds, is meant to illustrate how modern life has corrupted our spirituality.
After a quiet night in the border town of Chiang Khong, it was time to make the short trip across the Mekong to Laos.