No sleep on our overnight flight from Kathmandu to Bangkok (through Kuala Lumpur again). We just can’t do it. Luckily, there are lots of movies and we were entertained on both flights. So when we got to Bangkok we checked into our usual place (weird that we have stayed here at least three different occasions already) and slept for the rest of the afternoon. Our two favorite street food places on Rambuttri were closed because it was Monday so we opted for one of the touristy places nearby. Which was a great find, not for the prices, but because I discovered baked bananas in coconut milk. Delicious, like dessert soup. Must find a recipe. The next day we sent out all of our laundry (except socks, which are never leaving our sight again) and tried to get the Nepal pictures saved and then blogged. We have spent a lot of time in Bangkok by now and are less impressed each time we come back. It has so much to offer, but it is SO big and can be quite frustrating and/or expensive getting from one place to another. We were glad to hop on a bus on Wednesday for a 7 hour trip to Sukhothai, another ancient capital.
We arrived after dark, took a tuk tuk to our hostel in New Sukhothai and then explored the night market area. While there were lots of street food vendors, there wasn’t much else to do. The tuk tuks here are different. Instead of a bike pulling some sort of cart, the cart is in the front, completely blocking the view of the driver. And then the passengers get all the wind and dust in their faces and totally ruin their hair.
The next morning we got up incredibly early (Riki’s idea, I was not pleased) to rent bikes in Old Sukhothai and explore the ruins. We arrived by tuk tuk at the entrance, where we were given our 30 baht (about $1) bikes, pink and blue of course. I got pink, not by choice. Incredibly uncomfortable bikes, except for the extra seat in the back of mine, but they had brakes, which is more than we can say about some other bikes we’ve rented.
Old Sukhothai is very spread out and it was pretty hot. The first Wat we visited was the most central one and the largest. I pretty quickly discovered some wildlife and Riki wandered off take pictures. A lot of the wats are pretty similar, but there are a few different styles here, with Sri Lanka and Khmer influences. I will spare you the nitty gritty, but there are loads of pictures (shocking).
The next day we went back to the bus station and caught a bus north to Chiang Mai. You don’t normally have to book the buses ahead of time, just show up at the station and they will put you on the next available bus. We have been pretty lucky and haven’t had to wait very long so far. Six hours later we arrived and took another tuk tuk to the Old City. We checked into a guesthouse named after me and meandered to the city walls to check out the food stalls. We have been able to eat very well and very cheaply in Thailand. The street food is really good and there are many options. I discovered a dessert stall and sampled a few bright colored squares. Still not sure what they were, but they were kind of a cross between hard jello and pudding. Unfortunately, not a good combo.
Chiang Mai is a hub for trekking, outdoor adventure and cooking classes. Having no desire to go trekking Thai style as we feel a bit spoiled by Nepal’s real trekking, we spent two days wandering the city, checking out the various markets and wats. We also got our first massage, after being tempted by so many vendors in Bangkok, we gave in and got 30 minute foot massages for the equivalent of about $5 total.
This is where the parents should probably skip ahead, or at least be thankful that we sometimes do things without telling you first for a reason. Having exhausted the sights of the Old City in Chiang Mai, we had the grand idea to rent a motorbike and go on an adventure around a commonly travelled loop just outside the city. This 100+ km loop goes by some incredible waterfalls, various flora and fauna sites, including an elephant camp, and through some incredible scenery. Having rented scooters in New Orleans one time, we were pros, and showed up at the bike shop ready for anything. Except semi-automatic motorbikes and hills. And Thai police officers (more later). But for the equivalent of $10 we were given helmets, a bike and a map and sent off on our way. Having only ever ridden a scooter, an automatic one, this was, well, a bit of a learning process. Oh and the traffic (not to mention they drive on the left). The beginning of the loop goes for about 30 minutes through the city and its suburbs. In one word, nerve-racking. Riki thought it best that I start out driving. You know, because I know gears better (?). So by the time we see the police check point, I’m pretty mentally drained from dodging buses and cars and other crazy motorbike drivers. When the cop motions us to stop, I’m thinking, “Well, this has been fun, all 30 minutes of it.” He asks for my international driver’s license and I hand over my Louisiana license. Of course, getting our driver’s license translated had been on our list of things to do before we left Louisiana, but it didn’t happen. At this point, Riki and I are both thinking that we are going to have to park the bike and get a taxi back to town because they won’t let us drive. Well, not the case. The cop writes me up a ticket, and motions me to cross the highway to the guy sitting under a tree with a wad of cash. 200 baht (about $6.50) later and we are off, with me free to drive for the rest of the day. I’d like to point out here that getting an international driver’s license in the U.S. costs at least $25. So I’m still ahead.
Onward we went. Eventually, we turned onto a smaller road and the traffic subsided. We stopped at Mae Sa Waterfalls and hiked up the 10 falls. This place has been neglected some, especially the higher you go, but the scenery is lush and the falls were decent.
Riki decided to risk another $6.50 fine and took over the driving. We continued on the Samoeng Valley loop to the Queen Sirikrit Botanical Gardens. It is set up on a very steep hill and there were times when I didn’t think our little 125cc bike would make it. But we made it to the top, ate lunch and explored the greenhouses. They have a great display of cacti and water plants, as well as a very large rainforest house.
We continued on through windy roads which at times were very steep (uphill and down) and saw some beautiful views along the way. When Riki got tired of driving, I took over and continued producing terrible noises from the motorbike as I chugged up and down hills. Towards the end, it was so steep that the fuel gauge hit empty and I was pretty sure we were going to be stranded. It wasn’t empty just yet, but by the time we neared the end of the loop we were running on fumes with no gas station in sight. I started coasting whenever possible and we passed plenty of LPG (liquid petro) stations, but not a single regular station. Finally, at a stop light, I pulled up to a lady on a similar bike and pointed down at my bright red fuel gauge. She chuckled a little and motioned just up the street. Sure enough, there it was, but on the wrong side of the road. I can’t exactly explain why that u-turn was so stressful, but I think the combo of already being low on gas, having to drive 5 minutes down the road to the next intersection to turn around and then trying to figure out which side of the intersection to go on when everyone is going every which way, all combined to make an eventful end of our trip. We returned the bike and headed straight for John’s Bar, where we got two draft beers and tried to unwind.
The next morning, we got a tuk tuk back to the bus station and caught the bus to Chiang Rai.