Here are the next couple of days.
Day four – Mon – 8th June:
The group I met last night consists of James our tour guide, native to Thailand and comes from Chiang Mai, an Australian couple, a Scottish couple from Glasgow and five girls one each from, Aberdeen, Birmingham, Italy, Portugal and Texas USA. So we have quite a multicultural group which is nice.
Today is my first full day on my Geckos tour. We had a reasonably early start, checking out and leaving by 7am. I had to pay for my mini bar food. This was amusing to me as the same amount of snacks and drinks from a mini bar would cost over £15 GBP at home but it only came to 200 baht (£4 GBP approx).
We took an air con van to the bus station, had to pay three baht to use the toilet (six pence in GBP). We then got on a public long distance bus to Sukhothai, where we were provided with complimentary water and snacks. I read one of two books that I bought in Koi San Road the night before.
We stopped for a break half way and were given a voucher for a small lunch that was included in the bus ticket. We were on the bus for a very long 6 1/2 hours. When we finally arrived we only had 5 mins to drop our stuff in our room and then meet in the lobby for the cycling tour. We took a Songthaew (song-taile) taxi to the bike hire shop. It was a very similar set up to how I hired bikes in Africa and I think I would try and do it again during my time here in Asia.
I had to get them to pump the tires up which was a bit of a struggle, luckily we had our guide to translate. One thing I have constantly been surprised about is how often a Thai working in tourism doesn’t speak any English. Now I definitely think that the English (and native English speaking people) are guilty of not learning a second language. Partly because there is no drive to do so but also because it is so badly taught in schools. But I would have thought that if you have ended up working in a hotel or tour place over here one of the reasons would be because you speak English? Or maybe they are mostly family run.
Anyway, we adjusted our helmets and set off cycling to the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum. Where our guide taught us more about the Buddha and showed us round. There were some really interesting looking statues but the museum air con wasn’t working and it was just too hot and I was eager to get cycling and we were all tired after the long drive so we didn’t really make the most of it. We left the museum and me and another person requested a stop at 7-11 after the museum as we were starving.
We cycled on to the Sukhothai National Park and saw the King Ramkhamhaeng Monument, the Wat Mahathat temple ruin, Wat Si Sawai and Wat Tra Rhang Ngoen. Also a few walking Buddha’s and other statues.
Here are some pictures of the National Park.
I filled my Water-to-Go bottle (which has been fab so far, I will review it soon), from the stagnant water in one of the pond/mini-lakes in the park. It was very green but came back out of the filter beautifully clear. Finally we saw an elephant themed temple, Wat Sorasak and had our first group photo.
After returning the bikes and having a shower at the hotel, we met at 8pm for dinner. James took us to a semi-outdoor restaurant (made from scaffolding poles and tarpaulins). Like last night, this was a locals hangout. My meal and drink cost a grand total of 45 baht which is approx £1 GBP! This place made Bangkok seem expensive in comparison.
Then we had a wander round the small night market, and had smoothies and pancakes for pudding. James had a birds nest drink which is made from real birds nest! Apparently it is an expensive delicacy in Thailand at 8,000 baht per kg! It is also very popular with the Chinese.
Day five – Tues -9th June:
Another prompt start in the morning, checking out and leaving at 7am (although I was a few minutes late :/). We took a couple of air con vans to a nearby place (a small guesthouse), to have breakfast. There was a great menu with foods from around the world. I ordered a vegetable omelette and a milkshake. The food was fantastic when it finally arrived (maybe it was extra tasty because we were so hungry) but it took ages…. The Thai way is not to rush and everything comes out when it is ready and not in any order.
The drinks don’t come out first either which is what I’m used to. It’s different to home because if your drinks haven’t arrived in England by the time your food arrives then the drinks have normally been forgotten or missed off the order.
Another long drive in the air con van to Chiang Mai, via Lampang where there the Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital is based. Geckos tours are big on responsible tourism and this hospital is supposed to to be ethically well run. However the animals were all in chains and in tiny pens, it was really sad and they were all nodding their heads which is a recognised sign of boredom. A few had a half lost legs to land mines (of course not the hospital fault) and had sterile bandages around the stump, in those cases we would understand why they were chained but the others were orphaned babies and otherwise healthy but still chained. Also there was very little in English, I think it would benefit them to have a sign or guidebook in English so we could learn more about the work they do.
We then ate lunch next door at a separate the establishment called the Elephant Conservation Centre. This is no longer visited by Geckos as they make the elephants do tricks and they chain both their legs together. However the fact that we ate there means we did contribute to the running costs of the place which possibly defeats the objective of not using them?
On our arrival to our hotel in Chiang Mai we had a quick shower and headed out again to visit Phrathat Doi Suthep temple which is a beautiful gold with terracotta tiles. It took a good 40 mins to get there in a Songthaew. When we arrived there was a short burst of much welcomed rain, my first in Thailand. We saw some monks praying and tried the numbered Chinese fortune sticks which you shake out of pot onto the ground and then read your fortune off a slip with the corresponding number. We had string tied round our wrists that have been blessed by a monk. We all had to kneel down in front of a monk and he blessed us and then tied string round our wrists one by one, right hand for men and left for women. We also wrote our names on a piece of gold cloth which I think the monks will wrap round a Buddha image in the the next ceremony but it wasn’t clear. James our guide talked us through the story of the Buddha using the mural that runs all the way round the temple.
We saw a double rainbow and got a great group picture underneath it.
We ate in another local restaurant and spent some time in the night market in Chaing Mai.
Here are some pictures of the temple.
Next up: days six and seven.
Previously: days two and three.