Thursday, February 22, 2007

Northern Thailand - Jan 22, 07 - Feb 5, 07

The first couple of weeks I spent in Northern Thailand: Bangkok, Ayuthuya, Sukhothai, Chaing Mai and my favorite, Pai. Major highlights from Thailand were the Grand Palace in Bangkok, the ruins in Ayuthuya/Sukhothai and chilling by the river in Pai.

Grand Palace/Royal Family
The Grand Palace in Bangkok is really worth a visit. It is covered in gold and priceless art. It is immaculately kept and continually renovated. What is even better is that it is actually functional and houses many government offices there. Around the courtyard, there are pictures that tell the story of Ramayana (the Thai version... which is still pretty similar to the Indian version which I'm used to). For those who don't know what Ramayana is, its one of the great epics from India... given that its an epic you can imagine how long and complex the story is... and the fact that all major events are drawn out makes it really cool.

One of the truly cool things about Thailand is love and respect for the King and Queen shared by all locals. All over the country there are huge posters/monuments of the royal family which people walk by and drop money in. They are often bigger than the Buddha statues (and there are some ridiculously big Buddha statues made of gold, bronze and emeralds) and you never hear anything bad being said about them. This attitude towards the royal family is truly unique and very much in contrast to the its neighbors. For example, the royal family in Laos had to go into hiding after the revolution and no one has seen or heard from them in 20 years... What makes this situation even more peculiar is that the current king doesn't seem to have any outrageously great accomplishments under his belt... he's not a conquering hero or a brave charismatic leader... and yet, people love him... a real mystery for me.

Ruins in Ayuthuya/Sukhothai
I really enjoyed visiting all the old ruins in the two ancient capitals of Thailand: Ayuthuya and Sukhothai. They have palaces and temples that date back to the 1100s... and they were gorgeous. I need to work in some pictures here...

Chillin in Pai
Pai is a fantastic place north of Chiang Mai. It is a little quiet place by the river and I loved it from the minute I got there. I had an excellent bungalow by the river... and there was a hammock! I spent days just sitting by the river, drinking beer :) and chatting with fellow tourists. During the day time, I rented a motorcycle ... well, it was really a moped, and yes, it was pink... but it was awesome. We biked 47 km to go see some caves which were absolutely huge! They had a column (formed when a stalactite and stalagmite meets) which was 20 m (60 ft) long!! This must have taken centuries to build. The next day we went to a spa and chilled in the hot springs for a couple of hours.

After that.. I did a 3 day hike through the jungle... having done my Nepal hike, I figured that this would be pretty easy compared to the mighty Himalayas.. but I was wrong! This was hiking right through the jungle.. we were bushwhacking for the first day and I must have slipped and fell at least 20 times... fun times :) That day we stayed with the Lisu people (hill tribe). It was especially cool cause someone in the tribe had just had a son and so they were all celebrating (drinking rice whiskey and slaughtering a pig). No I didn't see the pig get slaughtered, but there was definately lots of pork to go around. After this feast we left for a relatively easy day of hiking.. the funniest thing was that our guide had taken one too many shots of whiskey and after about an hour, he stopped.. said "break time" and just passed out on the ground... we started walking again 30 mins later... that night, we stayed in a bamboo forest... our "hut" was made of bamboo, we ate in bamboo dishes.. we cooked rice in bamboo.. used bamboo for fire .. you get the picture... The third day was a short hike and then in the back of the truck for a lift back to the village.
-- Jay Akkad

1 comment:

di said...

sounds like you are having an awesome adventure so far. good idea on skipping the speed boat from loas to thailand -- going that fast on the back of what looks like a jetski w/a helmut for 8 hours sounded like torture.

about southern thailand -- highly recommend koh phangan island (thong nai pan beach). there are two sides of it, i've stayed at both. prefer the one that has a reggae bar & vegetarian restaurant (if it's still there. (look it up on the LP). there are a set of bungalows on the cliff at the end of the left side of the beach that are nice -- has a great restaurant and beach side bar.