After spending so much time firmly on the tourist trail in southern Thailand and Bangkok, we decided to get off the beaten track a bit and so criss-crossed the country on our way up north.
Khao Yai National Park, just northeast of Bangkok, turned out to be a bust for elephants but was a great start to our cross country jaunt as there were already far fewer tourists around than we were getting used to. The market we visited was definitely a local market as surely no tourists would be interested in cooking up some lung for dinner…yummy!
We continued east to Phanom Rung Historical Park just north of the Cambodian border. This is the largest and and best restored Khmer monument in Thailand. Our Thai visas won’t allow us to cross into Cambodia and back so we are unable to visit Angkor Wat. These ruins, although nowhere near the scale of Angkor Wat, gave us some idea of the beauty and mystique of the Khmer era temples. And it was virtually empty of tourists, if fact, there was hardly anyone there at all and, when we visited the nearby Prasat Meuang Tam ruins, we were there with only one other group of people. It was nice and quiet.
From here we debated as to whether we should just return to Bangkok and take the train straight up to Chiang Mai or should we stay on the buses and take a more unconventional route. Deciding we had the time, we opted for the bus and headed to Kon Kaen, a small not-so-much-to-see city smack in the center of the northeast region. We didn’t like the feel of this place and found the housemade German beer at the fancy schmancy hotel (that we didn’t stay at) the best part of the city. We stayed only one night before heading on.
Our next stop was Sukhothai to visit more Khmer era ruins. This historical park is bigger than Phanum Rung with more ruins set among a much larger area. We rented bikes to get around and had as much fun on the bikes as we did seeing the ruins. Here, again, the ruins are stunning…I can only imagine how much more stunning Angkor Wat would be.
From Sukhothai we continued heading west until we hit the Myanmar border and the border town of Mae Sot. There’s not much in Mae Sot. We were pretty much the only travelers there…but we were not, by far, the only westerners there. Mae Sot is filled with western aide workers here to help the Myanmar and Karen refugees. So, it’s easy to find a cup of coffee here…and just as easy to feel a little guilty for not lending a hand.
The next leg had me a little worried. The only transportation between Mae Sot and Mae Sariang is by sorng-taa-ou….covered pickup trucks with bench seats in the back…and the winding road journey is 6 hours long!! It turned out to be not too bad though until about half way through…the driver pulled into a village and then stopped in front of a house…he asked if we would like to use the toilet and so in we went. We learned that the house was where he lived…how thoughtful of him we thought as we loaded ourselves in the back of the truck again. Soon a man came running out of the house and proceeded to get violently ill in the front yard…uh-oh, that looks like our driver! A man in the truck with us managed to get across to us that the truck would not be continuing. Now we wondered if he had driven us off the route in order to get home and further wondered where the heck we were and how were we going to continue…no problem, the driver lives on the route and, within half an hour, the next taxi-truck came by and picked us up.
Now, don’t be thinking I’m being terribly callous about the sick driver…I think it may have been a terrible hangover. No one at his house looked the slightest bit worried about him and we’re pretty sure some friends stopped by to point and laugh.
We stopped in Mae Sariang really just as a chance to get off the sorng-taa-ou and stretch our legs. It is a nice little riverside town that offers lots of trekking opportunities without the press of travelers but we stayed just long enough to catch a bus the next morning as we had Mae Hong Son on our minds.
Mae Hong Son was exactly what we were looking for…a pretty little town set in the mountains…nice and quiet. We spent our days on a scooter exploring the hills and villages, and our evenings playing backgammon on the patio of our lovely guesthouse. It was on the patio that we heard about the Cave Lodge…a fellow guest told us about this somewhat remote place to visit about two hours away, on the way to Chiang Mai.
And so, one tuk-tuk, one bus and one motorcycle taxi later, here we sit on the deck at the Cave Lodge, listening to the river below and the birds singing in the trees. It’s kind of like being at camp with everyone off doing ‘stuff’ during the day and then swapping stories and travel advice at night around the fire.
Soon enough we’ll continue on to Chiang Mai and complete our criss-cross journey. It may have taken us longer to get there than most, but we will have managed to see many different parts of the country.