May 11, 2010
Sukhothai means “the dawn of happiness” and holds a unique place in Thailand’s history. Until the 13th century most of Thailand consisted of many small vassal states under the thumb of the Khmer Empire based in Angkor Wat. But the princes of two Thai states combined forces and in 1238 marched on Sukhothai where one of them defeated the Khmer garrison commander in an elephant duel. Installed as the new king of the region he founded a dynasty that ruled Sukhotai for nearly 150 years. Through military and diplomatic victories they expanded their kingdom to include most of the present-day Thailand and the Malay peninsula.
By the mid -14th century Sukhotai’s power and influence had waned, and Ayutthaya, once a vasal state, became the capital of Thai kingdom. Sukhotai was gradually abandoned to the jungle. If it wasn’t for a 10-year restoration project, started in 1978 and costing more than $10 mln., there wouldn’t have been the Sukhothai Historical Park:
We took a regular bus from Chang Mai city Arcade Bus station and it took us about 6 h to reach destination. If Bangkok is 700 km from Chang Mai, Sukhotai is 427 km north of Bangkok, almost in the middle of our return way to BKK. Which means that it takes 6h in a bus to cover 270 km…Pretty slow drive…Though the roads are not bad but sitting there on the second floor of that double bus you feel like you are hardly moving. The tickets cost around 300bt each. It is two times more than the price of the tickets you buy in Khao-San road. But in that case you can buy only for certain destinations and keep contact with them in order to know where are their buses leaving from. The prices for transportation there don’t bite at all, wherever you buy them. And you get better rides for more expensive tickets. lets say – the trip from BKK to Chang Mai was in a bus without shocks…12 hours of bumping…
This particular bus entered the area just through the Old town Sukhothai – where the history was. Once of a sudden the old stupas appeared here and there close to the road side. That was it, we left the bus and went to look for the hotel tat our Canadian friend recommended: Old City Guest house. It was worth staying there. The guest house rooms were built around a cozy square:
with the little altar in the middle – in case someone wants to please the Gods, the room was big, clean, comfortable bathroom and shower. After spending a week with a shower poring directly onto you toilet and having the floors wet for a while there – it was wonderful to have a spacious bathroom with a separate shower place. It was like a little center – with several hotels, restaurants, shops and bike rental places (the main city is 9 mi away):
Bicycles are especially popular there while trying to see all parts of the Historical capital. It is a pity we didn’t experience them and left it for the next time. It was a very pleasant stay, very good meals in the nearby restaurant Coffee Cup, nice people, good atmosphere. The park entrance was close by that little town center. Although the sun was setting I still eagerly went to see the ruins that were spread wide in the vast parks – I wouldn’t call them jungle, would you?:
Maybe that is what the restoration effort turned the jungle into -a spacious park.
The weather there was clearly more humid than in Chang Mai and it was hard to breathe or move fast even in the very late evening. But there were almost no people, one miserable pregnant and very hungry cat – she had only one eye…, lots of hungry but peaceful dogs and the darkness setting onto the trees and temple ruins:
It is hard to imagine the grandeur of the city in its golden age…Harder to understand why people abandon so many already built buildings and go somewhere else to strive for survival and build again…Still they don’t quite abandon those temples here – there are fresh candles and offerings.
A new temple surrounding an old stupa in the town center – there is a Buddha’s foot print under glass in it:
The hardest part in Sukhothai was to find a bus stop to go to BKK…Funny, isn’t it? I asked everyone, then checked a little map of the town on a building that looked like a bus station -we waited there because the map said that this is the bus stop. it never stopped. It was evidently a block down – by some shop – no logical reason to understand – why was it in such a place? So we missed our bus, had to take their songthaew – that crazy “animal wagon” to get to the New City Sukhothai to a real and big bus station and from there we tried to reach Ayutthaya, but the bus stopped some 6 km from the city and it was our last evening, so we decided to stay on the bus and reach BKK, our belloved Khao San road and feel a little more of its atmosphere. Actually it is not the Khao San Road that we liked, but other roads in that area, that I even don’t remember their names. There is like a cirkle of them behind a temple, that faces Khao San road, towards Phra Artit road – a very lively, cozy, backpackers’ area:
You don’t have the big city feel there. So the next morning I walked a little towards the Kings palace in the streets I already know buying still some presents and nice things and off we left to the BKK airport which is very modern:
but also has Thai decors:
beautiful modern spaces:
And flew back home via Taipey in Taiwan:
Los Angeles, and believe it or not – Salt Lake city…:
Once we reached LA – the plane was late by half hour, then we had to take our bags. check through customs and run like crazy to another terminal. So we ran…like crazy…Over there after going through their security we found out that our seats to Las Vegas were sold…Big disappointment after 3 hours flight to Taipey and 12 hours to LA…Luckily they gave a a hotel room, so we rested and early morning rushed for a flight to SLC, then another flight to Las Vegas. which was also delayed…A very long and not easy trip home…But in a week I recovered and already wanted to go back .
April 17, 2010
While in Chang Mai I decided to buy another trip – to hill tribes. We visited one Hmong tribe on our way from Golden triangle and it was too short for me. The villages are very poor, but they had some good atmosphere that I liked to experience more. So this trip was as if to visit 5 hill tribes, the Chiang Dao cave and the Orchid farm. It was a short trip in comparison with the previous one (only 7h), the cost being the same -900bt. As always – the mini bus came to pick me from our guest house. So here we were taken to a back road, not far from Chang Mai, with a view of some separate hills or mountains that reminded me our Zion NP:
Except that those rocks or mountains were all covered with greens, unlike our dry desert Zion. By the way -during our 24 day stay – there was not a single rain…not a single overcast day, though there were occasional clouds and the skies are not very blue there because of pollution and humidity in the air.
So here we were driven to the end of that dirt road to the very last village of three. It was a White Karen tribe. The women traders from all those three villages saw our bus and just ran to the end stop, or asked their fellows to drive them on motorbikes- so that they could literally “attack” us with their goodies. Which were mostly hand made and embroidered purses, jewelry, hats. I was “the weakest link” in our group, so I couldn’t even follow the guide and group – they surrounded me like hens, little decorated women and were doing a pushy sale of their beautiful stuff:
Shortly I could catch a glimpse of their houses:
and their kitchen with some soup boiling:
The guide said that hill tribe people eat only black pigs, never the white ones…
Their fresh crop of beans:
And they had monkeys, poor creatures, attached to chains for good luck…:
They were ready to put anything they had on me, just to make a sale…:
and when I ran out of money, they directed their attention towards the others from our group:
So we walked down that main street that was a home to three tribes: White Karen, Lisu and Akha. There is a big difference in their cloths, decorations, customs and even their houses. But we couldn’t notice much – those same women were all over begging for a sale. At the very end – I don’t even know which tribe they belong to – with their very distinct bells on their head boxes. There were some quiet ones sitting on their porches with their crafts, but they were almost unnoticeable because of the aggressive ones. But to be completely honest – they were selling rather nice crafts in those villages, except that the silver was not silver at all.
The next stop was at Chiang Dao cave, here is the entrance:
and once you enter – the cave itself is nothing special. I have seen several more impressive caves as for the stalactites. but this cave is sacred to natives and as usual – is full of Buddhas in different poses:
As usual sacred places there are surrounded with old and new temples:
We had a group lunch in one of the restaurants by the cave, it wasn’t as good as the previous buffet lunch but it was still good. Thais have a good taste for cooking.
The surrounding “jungle” where even tigers live – I wouldn’t call it a jungle… , looks more like a park:
The next stop was at a Long Neck – Karen village. The Long necks and Big ears are not Thailanders. They come from Burma (Myanmar) as refuges and are not legal in Thailand, have almost no rights, are even more poor than other tribes. This is how their village looks:
it is mostly stalls with scarfs and my guess is they live their simple lives in the back:
The little girls already have their rings on necks based on how old they are, poor babies…The rings press very hard on their collar bones and also on chins. I guess they loose their appetites so they are all slim:
Big Ears have rings only on their knees - to make it hard for them to run from their husbands, but they have things in their ear lobes:
And they sti there and weave. The things they weave didn’t impress me at all in comparison with what the other tribes had…Maybe their creativity is bounded by those terrible rings…
As you can see – I had no money in my pockets left. So I could spend my time admiring their beauty and taking pictures:
They are so soft and pleasant, that my heart was very saddened by their situation in this world:
The oldest one sang a song with her guitar:
So those were Long Neck Karens. By the side of their stalls another tribe had their stalls -a Palong tribe, a very colorful one:
So that was it, as if we saw 5 tribes, just very superficially. And it is enough, for they are people with their own traditions,own styles, what is the point of getting to a closer encounter – it makes you feel more weird about how unfair life is for their women…or at least it seems to us, westerners.
We finished the trip in an Orchid Farm:
Orchids everywhere in Thailand, not only in farms, grow hanging in the air. The little pots just hold the root bundles. So they are sprayed often with water and fertilizers constantly. Not so very healthy to walk around that farm…And for the last note – Ginger flowers:
(there will be more)
April 10, 2010
The owners of hotels, guest houses usually have a folder with a selection of trips, which pictures of happy tourists while on trips. It is a good way of advertising. You buy a trip from your owner and make him happy – they get a commission, and then the next day the mini bus comes directly to your door and picks you. So we picked a trip to Golden Triangle via hot springs and Chang Rai. The price was very right – 900 bt each, a whole day trip lunch included. We were picked rather early and drove out of Chang Mai, a rather spread out city, through hilly landscapes with their so called jungle being very spacious, not crowded with trees, full of calm light that reminded me of our Lithuanian forests in September, if not to notice some banana trees here and there. The first stop was Hot Springs, I don’t even know which ones :
We had only a half an hour, only to immerse our feet in a specially done pool by bus stop. No time to go and take a real bath…but there were woman, as always, selling a basket of 10 quail eggs or two regular ones so that tourists can put the basket into a hot spring and gettheir eggs boiled:
Yes, couple of minutes and the eggs were done. A good snack.
The White Temple of Chang Rai was the next stop. Is is being built now, not finished yes, one wall inside still to be decorated. But from the outside it looked amazing. It is not particularly my style of architecture, but it still looked amazing…
I particularly liked the two sculptures or “icicles’” by the entrance to its grounds:
On the left there was a devil with several faces with a whiskey bottle!!!
The other one on the right also had devil faces and lots of hands around the sign, with real cigarettes, cigarette boxes, matches holding them!!!
We asked the guide whether it is considered bad to smoke and drink alcohol in Buddhism. Yes, it is , that is what the warning signs meant. But…their Buddhism is very “user friendly”, everything is is upon you. Your afterlife is your business, your responsibility and nobody would ever despise the ones who don’t follow the rules in order to enjoy this life more.
Going to the entrance of the Temple you cross a bridge over a small “pond-hell” with the hands sticking from the depths of it with desperation…temples are supposed to remind us sinners about the hell’s existence and the architect did a good job to show us that. For good luck – toss a coin into a prepared jar…
And then there is this long white path to the entrance, with symbolic nagas -snakes on the sides. They start with two sculptures – a male and a female:
This comes from the hill tribe’s tradition to have a male and a female signs on both sides of their gates to the village. Only those in villages are super primitive, here they are more elaborate:
You can spend a lot of time in this Temple, analyzing each sculpture or painting. But we had only half an hour…The most astonishing part was once we entered the Temple itself and turned towards the back wall. They don’t permit to take pictures there, so sorry, only my interpretation of what we saw. First of all you see the front – the altar as we call it. there is a wax monk sitting there and the wall behind him is the description of Heaven. Just as one can imagine – everything is romantic, forms, colors, shades, but this is the most uninteresting wall and who can remember what it was depicting…The side walls show people in boats swimming towards Heaven, also nothing particular. But the back wall, as you already guessed, is Hell – and what a Hell it is…Painted in surrealistic style there are very decorative heads of devils, on the background, but still prominent. And on the foreground in brighter colors are some main characters of American popular animation movies, some bad heroes, police cars, lots of rocket-bombs and the main point – 9-11 in New York! Yes, the twin towers collapsing, one airplane already stuck, another approaching and the juices that fall from all this are in gasoline pipes dripping straight into the mouths of devils…The artist gave a lot of thought while doing it…
In and hour or so we reached the Golden Triangle where two rivers and three countries meet -Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. The main river is Mekong, looked very wide to me, but the guide said it is at its lowest level because of the dry season. And you can see that – the water line is very low down the slopes or steps, depends on where you look. Our group took a boat ride to Laos market, we stayed. Too short to enjoy. 1 hour total, 300 bt. There was enough to see on this side, the place where opium trade once flourished. The markets are everywhere, wherever the bus stops and there are always beautiful things to buy that you can’t resist… That is their way of life, I guess, to sell, sell, sell. And temples are also everywhere. So during that hour we managed to see only one temple on the edge of the bank – made into a boat with Buddhas sitting on top and elephants posing, too:
Then a stop in Mae Sai -for a buffet type lunch, boy, it was good! Under those bougainvilleas:
And here is the border with Myanmar (Burma):
The whole street leading to the border is a humongous market, as usual…
They say there is a lot of Chinese goods sold there, but to my eyes they were all the same, too much to even distinguish.
At the end of the trip we visited one hill tribe village, if i remember correctly it was Hmong tribe:
The visit was too short to make more pictures. In short – it was very poor…people living with pigs almost together…but some of them had even motorcycles and among this poverty – there were tables with things for sale – arts, crafts, silver…
The whole trip was long, it took us maybe 3 hours to return and it was late in their standards, around 8 pm. Totally – it was a 12 hour trip.
(to be continued…)
March 24, 2010
I have to admit – I didn’t walk enough in Chang Mai. It was hot, though not as hot as in Bangkok. But maybe the inconvenient streets for walking were the main reason. The sidewalks are not always there, but if they are- they are crowded with either stuff for sale, or motorcycles, or restaurant tables, in other words – none of Thai cities are walker friendly. And it is a hazard to cross the street – sometimes I would stand for a long time until I dare to just go straight into the stream of cars and expect them to slow down or stop to let me through. Those who live longer there- they get used to it and sometimes don’t even bother walking on the sidewalk – they pretend they are a car or a tuk -tuk and walk on the street. It is at least more even than side walks -which have steps, holes, slush, whatever that can make you fall badly if you decide to look around instead of looking down while walking.
As I mentioned earlier – I would walk for 20 min almost every day we were there to the other side of the river to do Chi -gong with Chinese people. But on this side of the river very close to the pedestrian bridge there was a different temple – built in a very crowded with buildings and a dirty corner among several streets. Too beautiful to be stuck over there…
It seemed to be a Chinese temple, only the papers that I got there were telling me a strange story. Yes, it is adorned mostly by Chinese people, but the saint they are worshiping there was an Indian and he had a bad temper and character:
To tell the truth – in that heat my brain didn’t accept information so I mostly forgot what I read in those papers…Evidently Buddha story is not enough for people to worship, they need a variety.
As usual with Chinese – they had a beautiful tiger image on one of the walls:
The mountains or rocks that Chinese paint in their watercolors or in this panel – they are usually very specific, and I thought it is a creation of their imaginations. But no, we saw some 3 rocks that looked exactly the same sticking out of the plains of Thailand while crossing the country on a bus. But I didn’t take my camera in time to take a picture – in awe…
(to be continued…)
March 23, 2010
I think I have to show something else besides temples in Chang Mai. But it is not easy – we still get to them , on every step. But here how one of the main streets looked where the flower market is located on one evening supposed to be that street’s celebration evening (they have those celebrations or fairs on every bigger street in a sequence on every day of a week):
And here we come to the main point -bugs! It is commonly known that Thais eat bugs and they don’t deny it. But as a big walker as I am and as curious as I am -I saw a fried selection of bugs only twice: I could recognize grasshoppers, worms and cockroaches of different calibers…the travel book said you have to take off the wings of cockroaches before eating…As you can see – they are spiced with herbs, I bet they are tasty, but somehow – there were so many other things to eat…and also – I never saw anyone buying them.
Beside the Flower market, which is very crowded with counters with very scarce place for walkers to walk – there is the Ping river :
The shores don’t look anything but boring and full of trash, so you must be very bored and have no sensitivity in your nose to take a river boat trip…
And this canal is a disaster -but you have to see, for the full picture. It is in the middle of downtown and you have to clip your nostrils while passing one of the numerous bridges, decorated with lions of elephants on both sides of the canal:
But in between there are very modern buildings, much nicer that the ones I saw in BKK. Most of them are businesses, dental or just medical clinics, for obvious reasons. I didn’t check myself, but the Canadian girls said a regular filling costs 500bt. Next time I will save one for a trial. The price seems to be better than in Lithuania already.
And here we come back to temples. This chedi is the one you bump into once you enter a tempple garden just immediately on the other side of the river:
the Temple garden is very cozy, the meeting halls are elaborate, lots of flowers in pots, but one little thing was kind of different – there was a sign on the steps of this chedi, it said No women allowed further. Women there are considered too dirty to climb certain steps…
But luckily – women were allowed to enter the temple garden with freshly painted tiles and do chi-gong together with a bunch of Chinese people with such temple views around us:
The Chinese people had music and their movements were rather easy. So I could join them, no problem. If someone want to do chi-gong with them -it starts at 5 pm every day, in Wat gate temple immediately after you cross the pedestrian bridge across the Ping River.
(to be continued)