We’re now in Ayutthaya – about a 100km north of Bangkok, where we stopped for the night. Ayutthaya was Siam’s old capital before Bangkok (the capital was moved to Thunburi – now part of Bangkok at 1767 when it was destroyed by the Burmese army). As the city was destroyed, they probably hadn’t updated their computers in the last 240 or so years, and all the internet shops are still running Windows 98 or ME – which aren’t unicode and do not come preinstalled with hebrew. Sucks to be me 🙂
Here is a summary of our journy so far:
We checked out of the guest house and picked up the rented car from Budget. We got a Toyota Hilux pickup, double-cab with closed back. Not the SUV that I though we’d get, but it was cheaper then what we were promised so I’m not complaining. A few notes about the car:
- Its HUGE! it is almost as wide as the drive lanes on the local roads, which makes it very scary to drive around on Thai roads, which are packed with trucks and other pickups.
- It has a diesel engine: driving it feels totally different from normal petrol powered cars – the engine growls instead of whirring.
- Regardless of the right side wheel, it really is an american car, which means its ungainly, heavy and not a lot of fun to drive, but I’m getting used to it.
- The automatic shift is slow and doesn’t feel like a good match to the powerful engine
We got the car near the airport, which saved us driving through Chiang-Mai inner city trafic, and drove to San Kampaeng which is a small town which is part of the Chiang-Mai metropolis. It supposed to have good silk shops, which we were hoping to peruse. Instead, once we got there and parked the car (its the one big down-side for having a car: you need to find some place to park it, and then worry for it to get stolen) we barely managed to get something to drink from the local 7-eleven before it started raining heavily. We escaped mostly unscathed but scraped our silk shopping.
Instead we drove to other side of town (going through Chiang-Mai inner moat road, which was a bit tricky but we managed) to the Phra That Doi Suthep – Its a wat (temple) built on top of Doi Suthep which is the highest mountain around. Accoroing to legend, The local kind at the time (can’t remember right now who and when, but NM) looked for a new place to build a wat to shrine some relic of Budha, so he put the relic on the back of an elephant and set it free. The elephant climbed to the top of the mountain where he died, so they built the temple there. The road up to the temple is very hard: its mostly up a steep slope and with many tight turns. Not quite the Machtesh Ramon road, and better built, but not far from that. Except that its all green. It also has been raining recently (the rain let up once we got to Chiang-Mai) and the scenery was amazing. The Wat itself was interesting and quite big (they even have a coffee shop on the premisses) though we didn’t get into the inner temple (didn’t feel like leaving our shoes and going barefoot on the rain slick floor) we looked around, checked out the view point (great view of all Chiang-Mai valley), the local meuseum (which has, among other things, a very large collection of currency from all over the world including from Israel. They have some bills which also include a 1 NIS bill and 100 old Shekels bill), the gong house, the local internet shop (which doesn’t actually charge although the monk in charge is quite vocal if he think you forgot to donate) but sadly not the coffee shop.
After admiring the budahist architecture (including the 306 steps up to the wat from the parking, which we skipped going up – taking the cable car instead – but carefully inspected going down) we got ourself and started driving north. Locating the highway wasn’t an easy task and by the time we got on the actuall road it was getting late. We got about an hour and half driving before we decided to call it a day at a small city just 80km south of Chiang-Mai, by the name of Lampang. Lampang is not much of a tourist attraction (they don’t even have internet shops – not that we could find anyway and we circled the city center several times before finding the hotel), but it seems that it sees some trade. They also have an interesting gimmick – they have horse drawn carts roaming the streets, which you can hire for a tour. Karen was quite excited seeing them, but we decided not to charter one. Instead we got a hotel room (nothing fancy) and in the morning got ourself back on the road.
We drove most of the way down to Bangkok. You might think that getting a rented car just to do the drive from Chaing-Mai to Bangkok (or wherever we end up at) was a waste of money as we can get a bus or a train, but it was a lot of fun. The highway road itself is not something to write home about – kind of remind me of some of the mediocre american highways – but the views around, especially at the northern parts, are just amazing.
We also happend on an interesting place called Khoa No. We saw, from the road, a pair of very high and narrow rock hills – like two jagged knife blades jutting from the plain. After taking a couple of pictures, we continued to drive and found a side road that leads to the location. Apparently it some sort of local tourist attraction – they hills are populated by a lot of monkeys and there is a small park just between the two hills, which features a lot of monkey motifs – mainly several 5 meter high monkey statues. We utilised the car’s 4 wheels drive and took a tour around the southern (and smaller) of the two hills on a pretty bad dirt road. We didn’t see an easy way to climb the hill (it is mostly just jagged cliffs anyway), but we did managed to glimpse several monkeys and tons of butterflys – some of them large as small birds. Having a car, especiall a 4×4 is handy :-). This nice place wasn’t even mentioned in the Lonely Planet though it does mention a cuirously similar place called Khoa Noi which (accroding to the planet) also features two rocky hills with a lot of monkeys, but according to the guide this is located at the southern part of the coast of the gulf of Thailand. Weird.
We continued down south and come 8pm we found ourself in Ayutthaya (not entirely by accident – we kind of planned to land there). We put our sites on an interesting sounding guest house called “Tony’s Place”, but once we got there (and indeed it looks really nice) we found out they have no vacancies. We should have called ahead. But the people there are really nice and they pointed us to a new place a few meters down the road. That Natchaya guest house is actually a nice big fenced house which was turned to a guest house. The place is brand spanking new including floors so polished that you can see your face in them. You also need to leave your shoes outside the house itself. We got an internal room with a good air-con, but no window. Still, it is very clean and looks nice.
Tomorrow I think we’ll look around in Ayutthaya to see if there is anything interesting in here: The new city was rebuilt (don’t know exactly when) to the east of the old capital and the ruins of the old city are not a historical park – it might be interesting to go see it. Then we’ll head south again. We still don’t know exactly where we’ll go, but we’ll probably start down the southern peninsula, aiming for eaither the Samui archipelgo or Phuket. We can either go only where we can bring the car, leave the car somewhere safe and catch a boat to one of the smaller islands, or return the car – both Phuket and Samui has Budget agencies.