A Travellerspoint blog

Thailand

Venturing North

Bangkok to the border


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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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After a quiet night in the border town of Chiang Khong, it was time to make the short trip across the Mekong to Laos.

Posted by arianemeena 03:17 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

BKK


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If I'd been dumped on the infamous Khao San Road (elephant trousers, McDonalds, gap year students drinking out of buckets) by myself I'd have left Bangkok on the next bus anywhere. As it happens, Elaine who I was at Durham with and David, her boyfriend, have been living in the city since earlier this year and we had arranged to meet on the Saturday night.

In the meantime I visited the Royal Palace, still in use by the much loved king of Thailand and his wife, whose most well known outfits are on display in a lovely museum showcasing the sustainable Thai textiles that her foundation supports. As ever, the palace was overrun with Chinese and Korean tour groups but I fought through the crowds and saw the famed Emerald Buddha (actually made of jade), which has a different bling outfit for each of the seasons.
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I met Elaine and David that evening to get the skytrain out to a vintage market complete with beer, snacks, retro cars, vinyl and creepy Seven Dwarves dolls. This is where hipster Thais come to hang out and it was great to see the non-tourist side of Bangkok.
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After a considerable lie-in I spent Sunday visiting the Vimanmek Mansion and the museums in its grounds, the entrance for which was included with the ticket for the palace. The mansion is the largest teak building in the world and was constructed without a single nail. The highlight was the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, which houses the Arts of the Kingdom exhibition and is itself fabulously decorated with no expense spared. Sadly cameras are banned in all of the buildings.
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That evening Elaine and David took me to Soi 38, a streetfood night market. After satay skewers, noodles, pork and more I was introduced to the bizarre dessert of sarim, which is a surprisingly tasty bowl of shaved ice in coconut milk with neon green jelly vermicelli, candid coconut and some unidentified crispy pink thing.

Having been dubious about Bangkok's merits I now have huge affection for the place and I owe this almost entirely to Elaine and David for showing me that there is life beyond the Khao San Road and can't thank them enough for adopting me. However, it was time to venture north to Chiang Mai, from where I will enter Laos and use the Mekong River to slowly make my through the countryside.

Posted by arianemeena 08:51 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

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