01.11.2012 - 13.11.2012
Since my last update, we sped up our activities in Thailand as we got closer to our 30 day visa running out. Things got pretty hectic as we got up close and personal with the vagaries of the Thai transport system and lack of air conditioning on the buses. Rainy season may be at an end, but it's still mostly been hot, especially before midday, and after midday, and then in the evening... After leaving Chiang Rai, we headed for Phayao. It's a town that is possibly up and coming tourism-wise, but really is more down and not there yet, which was nice but also difficult. The tourism authorities have tried amping it up with tales of it being the 'Venice of Thailand' but apart from a pleasant lake and a pretty looking temple, there's not much to see.
Being more off the tourist trail also meant that the level of English isn't great, and we've both been hideously bad at picking up the lingo, so miming and pointing has been our core communication tool so far. This proves hard when you're trying to find out whether the hotel breakfast will be vegetarian or not, so we've had to resort to Google Translate, which is handy when you've got wifi access. What did make Phayao special was the beautiful sunset on the afore-mentioned lake. After taking a walk by the water after it got properly dark, we were pleased to see locals picnicking on the lakeside grass and lighting paper lanterns which floated up into the night sky, reaching effortless heights. So pretty. We had hoped to be in the Chiang Mai area for the paper lantern festival (I forget the name in Thai), but unfortunately it's in late November so we had to move on before that. I can't imagine how amazing the city would look all lit up with candles and lanterns.
After Phayao, we moved on to Nakon Ratchasima, otherwise known as Khorat. Big transport hub, but not much else to see or do there. We wearily turned up after many hours on a stuffy and uncomfortable bus at 9pm. The hotel we booked had given our room away, so we spent the best part of our first hour in the city looking for a hotel room in the stifling heat with our heavy backpacks on. Seeing as we had not eaten all day, food was our next priority. Fancying a bit of stodge after finally having had enough of curries and spice, we wandered into a cafe nearby which was thankfully still open. Not having much hope of being able to communicate with the cafe owner, we were surprised to be greeted by the Thai owner in a broad Nottingham accent. He'd lived in the UK for years but decided to move back to his non-touristy hometown to sell delicacies such as macaroons, chocolate cake, steak and kidney pies, pizzas and veggie samosas. Pizzas were fab, really hit the spot. I think Thailand is bringing the worst of 'The Brits abroad' in us, must have got conditioned to the months of pasta and pizza in South America.
The best of our recent adventures was a trip to Phanom Rung, in North Eastern Thailand. This is sympathetic restoration of a very old Khmer Hindu temple, in the style of what we hear Angkhor Wat will be like. It is made of brick red stone and every inch seems to be covered in stunningly intricate carvings of Hindu folklore, with 5 headed snakes bridging the steps and walkways to more carvings of gods and goddesses everywhere. Incredible that such a structure still existed and the museum beside it demonstrated how the original temple from the 10th century was built, but also how the restoration was conducted. Each stone and section of the temple was labelled and taken apart, restored and then put back together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Amazing work.
We then made our way to the Laos border, via Ubon Ratchathani. Having had a busy few days scuttling around the Northeast, we finally figured it would be good to slow down a little. So now, we're on the island of Don Det, one of the 4000 islands of Si Phan Don. We found a lovely bungalow by the river side on the South end of the island, and can't quite motivate ourselves to leave. Life is slow, easy and pretty cheap. $6 a night for our bungalow with a balcony, 2 hammocks facing the old French bridge, it's not a shabby place to chill out.
We're making plans for the rest of our Laos time though. In the next day or so, we'll shake off our lethargy and have some motorbike adventures in Tha Khaek and Kong Lo. The plan is to then move north via Vientiane and Luang Prabang, before crossing the border over to Vietnam. But for now, the hammock is calling and it's nice to be lazy for a while.