The Land of Smiles

Trip Start Oct 01, 2002
Trip End Aug 08, 2005

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Saturday, January 31, 2004

Welcome to Thailand, the so called 'Land of Smiles' where even the local brand of toilet paper is called 'Sit and Smile'!!!!

We left you last with news of our engagement but for all of you at home, don't worry you're not about to receive news that it's all done and dusted without you! It wont be for a while yet!!

Anyway, way back to Nepal, God it seems ages ago already. Kathmandu was getting cold....very cold, and each time the sun dipped behind a cloud or a building, out came the gloves and hats. Most of the evenings were spent searching for a warm restaurant in which to relax. Unfortunately, we didn't actually succeed until the last night but nevermind. Kathmandu itself was a fascinating place with hundreds of ancient temples strewn about the city often surrounded by more modern ugly buildings. The city's history is amazing and it's hard to believe that just 20 years ago it was only a collection of ramshackle buildings and temples that were only important because of the salt trade route from Tibet. After visiting Durbur Square and the house of an actual living goddess, Kumari, a 6 year old local girl chosen after completing many sacred rituals and treated as a God (her feet are not allowed to ever touch the ground) until puberty, when the spirit of the goddess leaves her for someone else, so she is retired on a meagre pension to a life of normality. All a bit bizarre really. We walked along the infamous 'Freak Street' and climbed high to a 2000 year old Golden Stupa, where monkeys played around the shrines, gobbling up the daily rice offerings and generally misbehaving.

Our departing flight was scheduled for 8.30am on Wed 7th Jan, check in was a sleepy 6am but turned out even earlier as Kev wanted to ensure a window seat with a view of the Himalayas as we left Nepal. Unfortunately, our departure was to be delayed firstly by 4 hours, then by a further 2 and we didn't actually leave until 3.30pm. But this is of course routine for Royal Nepal airlines, formally the most corrupt company in Nepal that would (as we heard from a fellow traveller Terry) think nothing of selling your ticket in front of your eyes to the highest bidder just as you were about to check in. And this was happening not that long ago! However, our delay wasn't too bad and as we were all transported to a flash hotel for a big buffet breakfast we thought little of it. The flight was good and we saw the Everest mountain range (we think!!) with the plane arriving in Thailand at 7pm local time. We breezed through customs and then the heat and humidity of Bangkok hit us like a hot wave as we stepped out the airport doors. Sian was happy, at last a decent temperature until her 1 degree equilibrium swings the other way and she's too hot! Well she would have been happy had the breakfast at the 'flash hotel' that morning not given her and Terry food poisioning. Kev felt a bit strange too so it was likely the whole flight was affected.

We spent a few days laying low, enjoying the relaxing atmoshere around backpacker central and slowly getting used to the hoards of tourists we weren't used to, along with neon lights, restaurants, roadside bars and street food stalls, oh and the occasional lady boy wheeling around a trolley full of deep fried bugs for dessert!! It has a nice atmosphere here, the streets are clean and the sights and markets are fabulous but it's all a bit too civilised for us after what we're used to. Sian aided her recovery with a Thai massage, where a youny Thai woman pushed, pulled, prodded and generally manhandled her until she left feeling not sure if it had been a good experience or not. We also had a wander around the Bankgok weekend market where just about anything is available at ridiculous prices from designer clothes to antiques to squirrels (not sure about the price of squirrels though).

Over the next few days we visited the city museum, the marble palace and the King's Grand palace, home of a famed Emerald Buddha (actually jade) which even has a variety of outfits depending on the season. We've seen more Buddhist temples than you can imagine, as they are all over the city, all so impressively decorated in gold paint, coloured and mirrored tiles and ornate mother of pearl decoration. All contained numerous golden Buddhas that the locals give offerings to by sticking small squares of gold leaf to the statues, sometimes covering it completely. One gold plated reclining Buddha (they come in a variety of poses) is over 46m long with mother of pearl inlaid feet! Another 3.5 tonne solid gold buddha was covered in plaster for 500 years until they accidentally discovered the gold underneath. If we're not careful we're going to be 'templed out' before we even leave Bangkok, despite the amazing sights!!

A strange concidence occurred before we left Bangkok, as we wandered down the street to our guest house we bumped into Chris and Lori, the Canadian couple we hitched a ride with to South Luangwa National Park In Zambia!! They weren't even supposed to be in Thailand now so what are the chances of that? Once again, what a small world it is.

We decided to have a break from temples and so we moved on to Kanchanaburi, sight of the infamous 'Bridge over the river Kwai'. Some of the guest houses are actually rafts sitting in the river but ours was on the riverside in a peaceful (if a little mozzie infested) spot. Peaceful that was until the evening's disco boats do their rounds. These are massive barges that float down the river pumping out dodgy pop music which makes the ground shudder and full of Thais who seem to love it. They dance frenetically until the late hour of about 9pm when it suddenly all stops. Very bizarre.

We visited the local museum dedicated to the 60000 POWs who were sent here during WW2 to construct a railway to Burma. There were some pretty horrific tales and the conditions were obviously appalling. It was a very sobering experience although surprisingly
the museum didn't mention the 750000 Asians who were also forced to work, of which many also perished. The next day we took the train across the actual bridge which has been repaired, along the line through gorgeous scenery and over some very rickety sections. We expected to get to Hellfire pass (a particular section of solid rock which had to be cut through by hand over many months) but that turned out to be a bit farther on which would have left us stranded so we didn't go that far. We took the train back and reached the bridge where we stopped in time for sunset.

Whilst in Kanchanaburi we decided to hire a moped and tour around a bit to see what we would find. We headed back up towards Hellfire Pass to a place called Tiger Temple, a rescue centre run by Buddhist monks for a variety of animals including many tigers which have since bred, and being domesticated, you can play with the cubs. Actually they weren't that small and were pretty powerful but great fun even if they did bite a little! Obviously Sian especially was in her element playing with them for ages. We also got a chance to see the adults who wander freely in a limestone quarry area being monitored by the monks. You can even stroke these ones too!! They really were huge and incredibly beautiful.

On the way back to Kanchanaburi we stoppped off at a place called Nakhon Pathom which has a huge golden chedi where we ate in an open air food market with a point and pray attitude to the food as we hadn't a clue what it was! We got up extra early the next day to go to a less touristed floating market where women pack the canals in their boats each selling a variety of fruit, vegetables, hats or serving meals. The weather was a bit dodgy, actually it started to chuck it down but shortly after the waterways were packed again with a sea of pointy hats and wooden boats. We wandered until the coaches started rolling in a little while later so we made a sharp exit.

Back in Bangkok, we took a boat down the river to visit Chinatown which was especially busy with Chinese New Year and everybody was out on the streets but not a lot was actually happening. The streets were jam packed as the Queen was due a visit there any second and everyone was getting a bit overexcited, but as we dont have the same affection for Thai royalty we ducked down a back alley and escaped.

Ayutthaya was our next stop, a few hours train ride north and the ancient capital that we thought would be a sleepy town with intersting ruins. We found it was a big, built up city with a KFC and McD's and guest houses and restaurants charging Bangkok prices. We wandered off to some ruined wats at sunset and found a nice place to stay in a big old teak house then planned which of the dozens of ruined and restored wats to visit the next day. We ended up doing a long day on foot in the oppressive heat around the ruins where the Burmese army had smashed apart hundreds of stone Buddha statues, their remains now draped with orange and yellow robes. The highlight was a dismembered head of a Buddha that has been caught up in the roots of an old tree for hundreds of years. Most of the sights however have been cleaned up for the tourists and although interesting to see, they weren't especially dramatic. We cycled round a few more the next day, a bit further out of town but it was really too hot and we needed many ice cream stops just to make it through the day!! It's a hard life out here you know! We also met a wappy English couple that evening and got invited to their self styled wedding in the southern Thai island of Krabi by a waterfall with blessings by Buddhist monks and elephant rides. It sounded very unique!

So now we're back in Bangkok where we met up with Winston and Jen, our Canadian friends from Mount Abu in India, we were swapping stories and sharing a few beers, eating at a street food stall when another very strange coincidence occurred. Eating at the same restaurant, at the same time and place was our other friend from Mount Abu, Shani, it was a complete surpise and very strange. Again, a small world it is!

So now we're heading for Cambodia tomorrow, and we're really looking forward to Angkor Wat, our first stop. We'll be doing a quick-ish flit around Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos before we come back to Thailand.

Anyway, time to go, see the pics attached courtesy of our new camera.

K & S
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