Road Trip Roundup

On the bank of the River Kwai is an ancient city, Muang Sing, known for its Khmer temples.

I found it most notable for the caretakers’ sense of humor. There are fields of bee-attracting flowers and biting insect-seducing plants all around so you’re careful not to touch anything or step off the path. The “library” truly did make me chuckle.

I had intended to turn back after Kanchanaburi but found myself continuing on.

My final southernmost stop, Hua Hin. Notice, there is no “koh” in front, so my expectations were low for this Bangkokian weekend spot. I haven’t yet been to Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui, Koh Chang, Koh Lanta, or well, any Thai beaches so it was well past time.

 To make this a successful trip, I figured it should start with food. Well prepared fresh seafood always makes me happy and Hua Hin did not disappoint. Whether served on a pier or on the sand, steamed or grilled fishy delights kept me satisfied.

To work off some of those meals and give back to the sea, I painstakingly “rescued” dozens of stranded starfish.

 On my way back to my room, I discovered a bit of street art.

Hua Hin Beach

On off-season weekdays, this beach is practically abandoned. Two nights turned into four, as there were starfish to save and a local economy to support.

My hope was that Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya would ease my departure from beach life.

Unfortunately, there was a worker rappelling off one of the prangs as I arrived so all I could think about was climbing.

Even the “why”s of Thailand highways and my own personal bungalow couldn’t bring me back into touring mode.

Phra Prang Sam Yod

I had high hopes that Phra Prang Sam Yod would win me but…

its terrorist monkeys almost ruined my whole trip. They might look cute while perched on someone else’s scooter but don’t be fooled. One jumped on and bit my hydration pack when I tried to enter the temple while another extorted food from me after tearing holes in the seat of my scooter.

I’ve enjoyed exploring Thailand over the past two weeks and would have liked to continue further south but another adventure beckons.

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Bridging the Gap

Mon Bridge Sunset 2

While walking back across Saphan Mon on the Song Kalia River, I caught a glimpse of sunset.

Also known as Uttamanusorn Bridge, it is the longest wooden bridge in Thailand. It helps connect the Mon and Karen of Sangkhlaburi.

Other places of interest in the area include the Three Pagodas Pass, Wat Somdet, and a resort I would have stayed at had I another night.

I actually started my day crossing another bridge.

The impetus for this road trip was to see the Bridge over the River Kwai.

And so I did… well, technically, this bridge is over Mae Klong but the gist is that it was part of the “Death Railway” and represents the horrors of war. For me, it symbolizes the horrors of middle school English class. Seriously, you won’t find it on any reading list today.

I did continue on to Hellfire Pass. Under the best conditions, it was uncomfortably humid and buggy. I can’t fathom how the railway was built under the worst.

 One survivor spoke of the natural beauty of the area and how he hoped to return someday under more auspicious circumstances. Upon hearing that, I looked up from the tracks and spied a small window in the overgrowth.

On a Lark, Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park

Wat Phra Kaeo

Various poses at Wat Phra Kaeo.

Standing,

squatting,

leaning,

Wat Avasa Yai

and leaping all around Kamphaeng Phet.

Kamphaeng Phet was a garrison town to protect first, the Sukhothai Kingdom, then later, Ayutthaya. The ruins are now a small but charming archaeological park with about 40 to 50 wats. While I saw most of them in passing, and walked to about a dozen, the ones pictured above include Phra Kaeo, Chang Gate Fortress, Singha, Pekaram, and Avasa Yai. As considerably less restoration takes place here, all that remains at some sites are just the brick and laterite cores.

Bagan & Beyond

Bagan P

It’s impossible to capture the magnitude and magnificence of Bagan. 

Upon arriving in the Bagan Archaeological Zone, I was asked where I was staying so the driver could drop me off at a hotel. Having not made a reservation, I glanced around,  spotted the only other Westerner and pointed at him. This is how I met my travel buddy for this trip, Kevin.

With more than 2,200 structures still remaining it would take more than a New Orleans’ minute to see all that Bagan has to offer.

Same, same but different.

Kevin and I took in as much as we could from the saddles of our ebikes.

Clouds killed any chance of catching a good sunset so I gave dawn my best effort.

Irrawaddy River Sunset

A sunset cruise on the Irrawaddy yielded one fair result.

 While I spent most of this trip in Bagan, I did get a glimpse of Mandalay as it was my entry/exit airport. Here are the highlights…

U Bein Bridge

I walked across the world’s longest teak footbridge, the U Bein Bridge, which spans the Taungthaman Lake near Amarapura.

I walked to the top of the tower at Mandalay Palace, around the Su Taung Pyae Pagoda, Kyauktawgyi Pagoda, and Mahamuni Buddha Temple.

Maybe it’s the teak, but I found Shwenandaw Kyaung Monastery, or the Golden Palace Temple, to be the most charming.

I wouldn’t even mention Kuthodaw Pagoda but that’s where the world’s largest book resides. The entire text of the Tipitaka Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism is inscribed on huge stone slabs. All 730 “pages” are housed in individual shrines, called kyauksa gu. Most impressive.

Two-Wheeled Touring

Since my last post, I’ve been wandering on the weekends with either mountain biking or motoring buddies. In addition to this tuft-bearing longhorn beetle and the best tea in Chiang Mai, a few highlights follow below.

While taking a stream-side snack break, I couldn’t help but admire the view.

I’m not sure who picked this destination but it was fun despite my getting lost… twice.

I never seem to tire of rice fields or grow bored with the shelters in them.

Macbook-carrying hitchhiking monk on the way to Buddha’s footprints.

When climbing waterfalls in the rain, how wet do you get?

Twain in the Rain

Today’s ride took us through Mae Takhrai National Park. The cloud coverage was great for keeping me from burning and melting.

Hell is hilarious so I I had to laugh. Maybe I shouldn’t have…

Immediately afterwards, a downpour started.

Almost two hours later, we were finally back on track. While it can be a little inconvenient at times, I do love rainy season. The fields are lush, the falls are flush, and the trails go slush… ah, mud rides.

Iconic Kyoto

Despite soaking me like a drowned rat, the rain was kind enough to let up so I could visit the vermilion torii tunnels of the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine grounds and the famous forest at Arashiyama.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the maiko hide fish snacks in the folds of their obi. They do tend to congregate around the temizu water troughs.

Bamboo Grove

A designated soundscape… the sound of swaying stalks in the grove is recognized by the ministry.

The bulk of my time was spent riding along the Katsura and Kamo rivers or sampling mochi/people watching in cafes until a storm passed.

 I stole many glances at various temples from the seat of my rental bicycle as I wandered about the city but was often too wet or avoiding impending saturation to stop. Props to the Almont Hotel for providing dry towels, a blow dryer, and warm house clothes.