North-Eastern Thailand Travel Journal
|This travel journal is part of a series of journals, which are all written during a long trip between november 2007 and may 2009.|
> Elephant Conservation Centre in lampang
19-12-2007 It's hard to get any rest during the night in guesthouse Riverside, as there's loud music coming from their restaurant untill late and around five in the morning the four roosters of the neighbours wake up. Altogether we're not yet awake when we try to collect our reserved motorbikes at the reception. When we completed the paperwork it turns out they want to keep our passports here, but we're not very keen on giving them out of hands, especially as we're out on the road with possible police checks. All of a sudden both granny and granddaughter seem to don't understanding English anymore and they call for their boss. When she arrives and starts barking at us we give up the idea of renting a motorbike here. Soon we find out that rental options in this area are limited and we decide to take the bus to the Elephant Conservation Centre.
We're dropped along the highway, only 200 metres further is a shuttlebus waiting, at the entrance of the park. In just a few minutes the bus takes us to the middle of the park, where you can take a look at the Elephant Hospital and the baby elephants. There's also the opportunity to go for a ride on an elephant through the woods, so we grab that opportunity with both hands. Neat how a mahout completely controls a big elephant like this.
In the afternoon it's time for the elephants to take a bath and they obviously love it, as does the audience watching. At the show following the bath we see the elephants and their mahouts, who have sometimes trained them for years, doing their tricks. Tree trunks are moved and put together in a pile, they balance on a tree trunk, make music and even paint.
When we return down at the highway we find there 2 other tourists who have been waiting for a bus for over an hour. Normally you can just make the bus stop... provided that you're standing near a bus shelter. That's how we manage to stop a bus in less than 5 minutes, unlike the other white people who are still waiting 100 metres back. At the highway-market, Thung Kwian, we get off again, but the market is rather a disappointment: not much is happening here by the end of the day. We can't find a bus shelter here, but according to some market saleswomen we can just try to catch a bus at the highway here. Unfortunately none of the 3 passing buses in the first 20 minutes stop, but a Thai tells us to wait a bit further down the highway where at least the green buses should stop. Another man, who just did some shopping at the market and, like many others here, is the owner of a large pick-up car asks where we are going and says: "I go", pointing at his car in the meanwhile.
Questionable he checks whether or not there is enough space in the small cabin, but Yvonne points at the cargo space. We have seen half of the population of Thailand passing us in the back of these things after all. It's okay! And that's how the two of us become thé sight of Highway 11 today: 2 white people with waving hair in the back of a truck. Our new friend refuses to accept a tip when we're back in town, he was going here anyway.
After a difficult start this day still gets better to the end, when we find a good restaurant at the nightmarket out in the street. The Thai families who eat here all are neatly dressed and the menu doesn't show any prices. It all smells delicious and we chose some things: several samll dishes and plates...the taste is truely amazing, but completely different from everything we ever had before. We expect a steep bill; all seems very exclusive after all. That's why we are in shock when we hear that we only need to pay 75 Baht (one Euro and a half) and for the second time today our tip is refused.
> On our way to the Mekong
20-12-2007 Around five hours we travel by train through a gorgeous hilly landscape with (sub-)tropical vegetation to Phitsanulok. We don't need to be bored: bridges and tunnels alternate, like rivers and brooks, cows and waterbuffalos and very many different species of plants, shrubs and trees. Back on the Central Plains the last part of the trip is dusty and arid, everything gets white/grey-ish, so we're glad to have a hot shower at Lithai guesthouse. As both of us don't feel to well we go to sleep early.
21-12-2007 It's still early when we get up to catch the first bus to Loei. The busride is great and leads us through hilly landscapes. However we're not able to fully appreciate it all, as the winding roads in combination with the seats in the back of the bus have no good effect on our sensitive stomachs.
Our guesthouse, more like a homestay actually, is very relaxed though and after we became friends with the family sausage-dog we hardly leave our room anymore.
> At the Mekong
22-12-2007 It's hard to say goodbye to the cute family dog, but a little later we're in the Songthaew to Chiang Khan, a ride of approximately one hour. The landscape is like we always imagined Thailand... only better. Green hills overgrown with lush plants, bush and trees, banana plantations and coconut palms and eventually the Mekong river. Very special to finally see this river with our own eyes. We always thought about it as "that brown muddy place", and in reality it definately is brown mud, but the people, the houses and the landscapes in the vicinity make it a beautiful.
Our room, the largest so far (when we speak with each other we hear 3 echos), is not yet ready at 10 a.m., so we first head out on our rented bicycles. We follow the Mekong along the pretty houses with shutters and on the other side we see Laos. When we're on the outskirts of the village we suddenly hear a loud psshht. In a few seconds Peter has a flat tire: glas! With a little help from some of the village people we find a cycle repairer who says he'll soon have a look at it. At least, that's what we think the first 10 minutes. But apparently this man has the best running shop of town and one customer after the other shows up. Thirty minutes later he finally has time to take a look at the tire, but only a minute later he drives away on a motorbike. To get some glue? When he returns there are new customers waiting and fifteen minutes later we try to get some info whether the tire will be fixed today or not. One of the customers comes sit with us and he also checks the tire...oh...no, this one is amortized, he gestures. Now the cycle repairer also dares to admit it, no, he can't fix this one anymore. Do we want to buy a new tire? Uhm... well, we don't really have any choice, do we? 5 Minutes later and only one Euro and a half poorer, we're back on the bike. Why the good man couldn't do this straight away? Probably because this is Asia we presume. Well...we're cycling again and we enjoy the landscapes along the river.
Our last destination for today is Phu Thok, a mountain from where you have a splendid view over the surroundings, acoording to our Rough Guide. Full of good courage we cycle the first 3 fairly plane kilometers in the right direction. Next to come, according to the book, are 2 steep kilometers, yeah, that we see. We leave the bikes at a hamlet and start with the ascend. Still not feeling too well Yvonne finds it hard and after a while we're standing in doubt whether we shall continue or go back when we hear the sound of a car. A black pick-up comes around the corner, thumbs up... and yes, we're allowed to hop in the back. In only a few minutes we're up on the top and the view is indeed very nice. When we're done enjoying the scenery the man in the pick-up is just about to leave and he gestures we can climb back in. We're back down at our bicycles very quickly and we paddle some 5 kilometers back to our lovely kingsize bed and nice shower.
23-12-2007 During the long waiting time at the cycle shop yesterday we'd seen a small bakery with all kind of tasty things, like cake and croissants. We find it time to treat ourselves this morning and we buy everything we like, to eat it in our garden at the Mekong as a breakfast. After a second large cup of tea we pack all our stuff again to travel further to Sang Khom. Normally we'd take a bus following the Mekong, but for some reason that bus is not running today. So we take the good advice of the lady from our guesthouse and get another bus back to halfway Loei, where we need to change on a "green minibus" which is supposed to pass around 11. We're just waiting briefly when a songthaew is turning around the corner instead of a minibus, and a helpful Thai advises us to catch that one. It's much slower than a minibus and only as far as Pak Chom, around 60 kilometers before our destination, but at least some transport running for sure and in the right direction too.
It takes some effort to squeeze ourselves and the bags into the songthaew and the big looking-circus starts. Fifteen minutes later the people in the van itself are pretty much used to us, but everywhere we pass people turn around their heads and we're examined with a big smile. A bit later a tamarind-farmer on his way to his field hops on and for minutes he stares at us. Peter is groped as well and he needs to shake hands and when we're at his field we leave him waving and still laughing unbelievingly.
When the songthaew gets a bit empty eberybody can sit a little more relaxed and another farmer starts a conversation with Peter. At first it's a pretty oneway 'happening', but someone knows a few English words and helps a bit and with lots of gestures and the little photobook they come a long way. When we're near Pak Chom both of us are invited to come home to visit the man in the mountains, 9 kilometers from the civilized world. There he will kill a chicken for us, so we can have a good lunch. Unfortunately we have a tight schedule, our visa expire in 4 days, so when our new friend and his wife get a ride on a tractor we're waiting for the bus to Sang Khom.
That bus leaves only 3 hours later, so we only arrive at Bouy Guesthouse in the late afternoon, a fabulous complex of bamboohuts at the Mekong, which can be reached by a wooden bridge and are surrounded by a lush garden. Each hut has it's own hammock and we get a few pets for free as a bonus. There's a Tokai and some geckos on the porch, 2 frogs in the shower/toilet and both outside and inside enough insects for considerable chills on the back. That last thing is not a real plus, but fortunately the hut is provided with a mosquito net!
24-12-2007 How lovely it is to wake up with the rising sun over the Mekong. This makes us quickly forget it's still very early, that we woke up by a mixture of crowing cocks and broadcasting noise of the election results and even that the shower here is a cold one again.
Our guesthouse has 3 bicycles for rent and we chose the 2 biggest ones. Unfortunately even with these ones our knees touch the handlebars and both of them almost fall apart. After a short visit to a courtyard full of playing kids in the nearest village we quickly turn around to exchange our bicycles for a motorbike. Immediately we're given the bike, without a single question about a passport or whatever. This owner probably trusts her guests, unlike the negative lady in Lampang.
Through a waterfall we reach a deserted road leading to Wat Pha Tak Sau. Soon the asphalt changes into a dusty dirt road, uphill, downhill, untill thirty minutes we appear to be on the top of a mountain. Here we find a brand new monastery with a temple and we enjoy the breathtaking view over the Mekong.
Back in the civilized world we make a quick stop at a shop at home, with a terrace, in a village. We're the only guests here, but we're watched strictly by the neighbours and some kids giggling dare to come check us out up close. Besides what we already bought in the shop and are now eating on the terrace the resident lady comes to bring us some of her own bananas. The hospitality of the people here is truely amazing, every time again. The average Dutchmen, with their lids on the cookie jar, could learn a lot here!
We continue our trip, as we would still like to visit the cave which is printed on the homemade map at our guesthouse. When we inquire in a village which should be near we find a boy who wants to take us there. On his motorbike he's showing us the right way, untill almost at the entrance. The cave happens to be some kind of underground temple, which you have to see from the inside by walking bent forward. At least that's what a Thai would have to do, but the two of us with our long legs would almost have to crawl and hope we don't get stuck somewhere. Much to the dismay of the present Thai we only see the Bhuddas on the outside to subsequently undertake our return journey on the motorbike, as the sun is already setting.
25-12-2007 Besides hiking through Sang Khan we don't do too much today. But we do eat baguettes with various healthy spreads, fresh fruit shakes and muesli-yogurt with fruit. This makes us happy and healthy, in case the food in Laos is disappointing.
> To Laos
26-12-2007 We don't feel like leaving at all, but tomorrow our Thai visa expire, so we really need to move on to Nong Khai to cross the Friendship Bridge to Laos. Even our bathroom-frog has trouble saying goodbye, at least he feels a bit moist, when we cross the wooden bridge for the last time with our bags on our back.
Already at 8 we're on the road to stop the bus when it is coming. There should be one around this time. There's a lot of traffic, especially for Sang Khom, but among all that traffic passing us: no bus. Two hours later we're still waiting, but a little less fanatically when there's a bus passing in the other direction. Yes, around 11 there should be one in our direction so we hear now, but when it's 11 this time is changed to 11.30. And finally, at quarter to 12 there's a bus coming, almost 4 hours late. When we arrive in Nong Khai at 2 we're rather tired and especially Yvonne is not very fit anymore. Still we fulfill a Treelo assignment for our charity project, which is only possible to succed here, so Paulien: be proud of us.
Lampang elephant conservation center Thailand videoThe Lampang elephant conservation center Thailand video will show here
Click on the film up here to look around in the Elephant Conservation Center near Lampang, almost live.
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