Day 03 – Nakhon Sawan to Mae Sot

Thailand, Travel No Comments

Elevation Profile

We all slept well, having enjoyed the little cottages we stayed in – we rented all three in this photo.

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We had breakfast at a hotel in town, and Judy’s boiled eggs were presented in a coffee cup – only lightly boiled.

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The area we travelled through this day was all flat, except for the last hour or so. It was beautiful scenery, despite the flat landscape.

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Needless to say, we didn’t eat here. Some people have the most unfortunate names – and if you don’t speak English, how would you ever know?

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After a great lunch, we looked at some of the ruins of the former Thai capital – Sukhothai.

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On our drive through the mountain range to Mae Sot, we saw this truck that used the emergency lane to stop – I guess his brakes failed. The system works.

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A quick look across the border into Myanmar at sunset – Myanmar is on the far side of the bridge. For the past few months, Myanmar residents have not been able to come across the river (compare our prior trip to this location), due to political issues. It is rumoured that the agreement allowing this to happen wasn’t negotiated before the recent elections, and therefore it is now not permitted.

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We had dinner in the same place as three years ago, and nothing much had changed in this restaurant, which is surprising, given that so much else has changed. There are so many new building on the road where this restaurant is located.

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This is the provincial government building. Looks very pretty at night – though I can’t help but think that most Australian politicians wouldn’t support a purple building.

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Day 02 – Bangkok to Nakhon Sawan

Thailand, Travel No Comments

Elevation Profile

After a great breakfast, our first stop was the Rose Garden Riverside, where the Orchid Show was hosted the previous six days (pity we couldn’t be there a day earlier). Orchids from Papua New Guinea were also displayed during those days.

The river had breached the banks during the heavy rain the previous couple of weeks, and so there were lots of sandbags around.

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The orchids growing in the Orchid Garden.

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The gardens are absolutely stunning.

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The buildings are magnificent.

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As we were leaving, I noticed this huge barge making its way along the river towed by two tug boats.

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And then it was off to the river Kwai, where the Japanese used POW labour to build the railway and bridge. Something like 30,000 people died working in the difficult conditions.

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You will notice that there are two types of spans – round and square. Where the square spans are, these were bombed out during WWII, and later replaced with the square spans.

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It is quite a spectacular view from the bridge. When we were here in 2007 (see other blog), we saw a huge python swimming in the river. That seems much less likely now, as this place is getting much more commercialised. I can’t believe how many new buildings there are.P1010895 Stitch

We had lunch at  one of the new floating restaurants with a direct view of the bridge.

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A tourist train still uses the tracks.

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And then we went to the Tiger Temple – a park run by one of the monasteries. While they claim that the entry fee is to support the feeding of the tigers, there is a lot of development going on. The entry fee is quite expensive, and I am sure is funding more building than food for tigers.

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There are lots of different animals roaming the park. The park itself is very rocky and dry. Some of the wildlife can scarcely be seen.

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And then, of course, there are the tigers!

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And we also watched them play as evening came. This was the most spectacular part of the visit. They played non-stop for over half an hour, much of it in the water.

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We had dinner just after the sun set, in a place with the following restrictions:

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I’m not sure what the “no weapons” implies, but I certainly don’t think that carrying weapons is a big problem in Thailand. Total kilometers travelled that day was over 450. Yes, I am a slave driver when it comes to holidays.

Day 01 – Arrival in Bangkok

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Elevation Profile

We arrived at the Brisbane airport nice and early (around 7:30pm), and enjoyed a relaxing time before boarding our flight at 11:25pm. The flight from Brisbane to Singapore was uneventful.

We arrived in Singapore around 5:30am, and were welcomed by the most beautiful orchid displays in the terminal.

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When it was time to go to our gate, we headed off and somehow I made a mistake. When we arrived from Brisbane, I checked out the gate: F33. But when we went to the gate, it had SilkAir displayed, not Singapore Airlines. I wasn’t quite with it, and thought I had gone to the wrong gate. When we got to the transfer counter to identify the correct gate, we were told the flight had now closed and we would have to make alternate arrangements. It turns out that we were at the right gate, but that it was a codeshare flight. I should have known this, as this always happens. However, I can’t explain why I was confused on this occasion.

It took about an hour for us to rebook a later flight at a cost of about AU$30 and 25,000 air miles – we had to upgrade to business class, as all economy seats were taken. But that turned out a blessing in disguise, as it allowed us to sit in the Business class lounge all day – so we didn’t spend any money on food and got to use the internet in comfort.

When we arrived in Bangkok, the queue for immigration was huge.

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Once we cleared immigration and customs, Helena was already waiting for us. I left Helena and Rebecca, and went to find a rental car and to get a local SIM card for my phone.

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I had booked a Toyota Fortuner through an on-line service, but was told that they had not been able to get the car, despite me ringing them up 4 hours before our arrival. They didn’t have any large cars.

So I went to Avis, and after about 40 mins of slow and relaxed negotiation, was able to get a Toyota Fortuner at approximately half the price that Avis advertised on their web site. It is a beautiful car, and I am very happy with it. It has full time 4WD and is very economical. It also has plenty of room, which we need for travelling with five adults.

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About 30 minutes after I got the rental, Mirja and Judy arrived.

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We drove straight to our hotel, and after a quick walk to the closest 7-eleven store, got some sleep.

Day42 Ubon Ratchathani to Nang Rong, Thailand

Motorbike/Motorcycle, SDA Church, Thailand, Travel No Comments
Departure Time 12:32pm
Departure Location Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Arrival Time 6:01pm
Arrival Location Nang Rong, Thailand
Distance Travelled 289km

Day42

We slept in, recovering from the 1000km travelled over the past two days. Here is a photo of our hotel room.

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After a late breakfast, we checked out and were on our way by 12:32pm – but our first stop was just around the corner. We wanted to visit the Adventist Language School, but when we arrived, we found that it was closed due to the public holiday. It was the King’s Birthday, which is also father’s day in Thailand.

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Then it was time to pick up our laundry.

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The road was very good, with very little traffic. We averaged 121km/h for about the first 50kms. It is easy to how!

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A quick stop for lunch at one of the many 7-Eleven stores.

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The whole day was just flat terrain, much like the previous days, but as we weren’t following the Mekong any more, the roads were also fairly straight.

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We checked into a small room in a large motel complex – it was cheap, but run down. We walked down the road for a nice dinner to finish of the day.

Day41 Nakhon Phanom to Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand

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Departure Time 8:17am
Departure Location Nakhon Phanom, Thailand
Arrival Time 6:28pm
Arrival Location Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Distance Travelled 463km

Day41

We started the day pretty early, heading into town for breakfast at 8:17am, but then we took it easy. We finally left at 10:30am, by which time the city was well and truly alive. Here you see the trucks lined up for the ferry to Laos. A Friendship bridge has been approved for this location, and is expected to go into service in 2011.

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The scaffolding from which lights are hung at night to make the scene look beautiful.

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This is a photo another ancient temple in Nakhon Phanom.

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A police motorbike – here every police officer is able to choose their own style!

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In the small border town of Mukdahan, across the Mekong River from Savannakhet, Laos. This town has a Friendship Bridge already.

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Time to have lunch, and a little rest! What a beautiful spot from which to watch some of the small rapids of the Mekong River.

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And then some photos of the various things along the way.

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Rebecca was starting to get tired, so we took some side roads to see if there was any nice accommodation near the river. We ended up seeing lots of interesting village life, but no easily identifiably accommodation.

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These kids are on their way home from school – wouldn’t life be different in the developed world if children were allowed to sit on the roof of the school bus.

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We spotted the building of a new Bhudda in the distance, so we decided to check it out.

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These interesting rock formations were by the side of one of the main roads.

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As we pulled into Ban Dan, the sun was just starting to set – and as there was no accommodation, we decided to ride to the next major town – Ubon Ratchathani and stay in a proper hotel for the night. A treat for covering 1000km in two days.

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As were came into town, it was already fairly dark – and I was riding pretty fast. We nearly had an accident on a four lane road, as a car coming out of a side street underestimated my speed. I had to break hard to avoid an accident. As we entered town, we saw a laundry service, so we dropped off our dirty clothes, marked our GPS for the location (you can see the word ‘sak’ on the map above, because that is the Thai word for Laundry – I forgot to remove it from the map). We then continued to find a hotel. We found a nice place very close to the where the Adventist Language School is located. After we checked in, we rode down to the river (not the Mekong, as we left that near Ban Dan), to find some food.

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Day40 Chiang Khan to Nakhon Phanom, Thailand

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Departure Time 9:31am
Departure Location Chiang Mai, Thailand
Arrival Time 6:40pm
Arrival Location Nakhon Phanom, Thailand
Distance Travelled 533km

Day40

We woke up relatively early, enjoyed our view over the Mekong river (the following two photos were taken from our room), had a nice breakfast, and then made our way towards Nong Khai, following the Mekong River all the way. We didn’t realise this at the time, but this was going to be one of the days we cover the most distance!

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The Mekong River – all that stands between us and Laos. The riverbed makes a great garden during the dry season.

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This is Vientiane from across the Mekong – we stood on the other side of the river less than a year before, when we did our trip through Cambodia and Laos.

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This area is the home of many small farms.

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The road we followed is famous for the way shrubs are shaped into the form of animals. There were lots and lots of these, but we couldn’t afford the time to take a picture of them all. So here is a small selection.

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As we were coming into Nong Khai, the border town to Vientian in Laos, we made good time. The road was so good for the last 15 minutes, that we averaged 118km/h.

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We had lunch in Nong Khai, and then continued on to Nakhon Phanom. The procession of vehicles you see here is typical of electioneering. Loudspeakers broadcast the messages, and music is played too. There were about 12 vehicles in procession, all with loudspeakers and posters.

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At 3:15pm, we were tired, so we had a rest at Buddhist monastery overlooking the Mekong. On the other side was another monastery – I wonder how much they have interacted with each other over the past few hundred years?

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The monastery was built in a very beautiful spot, with lots of interestingly shaped rocks.

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The rocks actually feature in layout of the monastery, including the landscaping and buildings.

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Our bike.

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Monks working on the grounds.

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Along the way, we saw some interesting places where people live. I wonder how these people cope with Mosquitoes?

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This is how the fishermen bring their motors back home at night. That drive was very, very steep.

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Drinks are sold in plastic bags all over Thailand – cheaper than cups!

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And there was a camera here too, just overlooking the comings and goings – remember, the river is a border.

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An interesting Tuk Tuk.

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More gardens by the Mekong.

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We made good progress this day, because the roads were phenomenal. On one occasion we averaged 119km/h over a 32km stretch, and on another occasion we averaged 129km/h over a 49km stretch (yes, I know that is a lot of 9s, but the GPS doesn’t lie, right)?

As we entered Nakhon Phanom, I wanted to see a temple that was highlighted in our travel book.

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We found a nice, clean, and cheap place to stay … though the wiring was interesting.

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Many people park their cars in their house.

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We walked into town to find some dinner. It was a very pleasant evening, and well worth the 20 minute walk. It was very pretty, with the lights of Laos on the other side of the Mekong.

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Day39 Nam Pat to Chiang Khan, Thailand

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Departure Time 11:06am
Departure Location Nam Pat, Thailand
Arrival Time 6:56pm
Arrival Location Chiang Khan, Thailand
Distance Travelled 263km

Day39

The first 48km (about one hour’s ride due to the windy road) found us heading into the direction of the Laos border (Laos is grey in the map above). After that, we followed the border (at a distance of about 2-4 kms), until we hit the Mekong River near Na Haeo. As you can see by the picture below, this area is not frequented by foreigners, as most of the street signs are in Thai only. Fortunately we learnt to read the Thai script, so it was generally easy to follow. Notice the spelling for Border Patrol Police below.

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As it was Sunday, a worship service was being held at this church – a very rare sight in rural Thailand.

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Planting Rice.

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Some sections of the road were nice and straight.

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The following pictures were taken at a National Park which stretches to the Mekong river (Laos border). Lots of Thai youth were starting a hike into the National Park.

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Inside the headquarters of the National Park, with some pictures of the protected wildlife that can be found there.

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This map shows that the Thai people have a love for National Parks. They are all over the country (see blue/green areas).

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After we left the National Park, we proceeded further south. here are some pictures of the area we rode through.

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In the rural areas, few people wear helmets, and kids are riding bikes at a young age.

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We then entered the town of Na Haeo, which was unusual, because this tiny country town had a security camera at its main intersection.

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We stopped at a small place for lunch. I asked for a two Pad Thai, without shrimp, chicken, meat or fish, but with egg – all in my little knowledge of Thai, as no-one spoke any English. I wasn’t sure that the lady understood what completely, so I hovered around the kitchen. But she appeared to be bit annoyed at my hanging around and not trusting her, so I sat down. As she finished cooking, she held up a plastic bowl with red stuff in it, which I presumed to be chilly flakes. So I said that was ok, only to realise when our meals were served, that they were tiny little shrimp! We asked her to cook another one, after which she showed us how to eat little shrimp: you take one and place it in your mouth, chew it, and then swallow it. She was making the point:: this going to kill you – in fact, it is tasty! Well, she did cook another one, and we paid for four meals. But our first meals didn’t get wasted, the family soon tucked in. This baby was hanging next to our table and was being rocked by a rope from the next room.

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Beautiful roads to ride on.

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The border to Laos.

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We arrived at Chiang Khan at 6:00pm at night, but took another 55 minutes to find a suitable place to stay. There were lots of places, but some were too expensive, while others were too run down.  We really enjoyed the place where we stayed, as we had a windows overlooking the Mekong River.

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Day38 Nam Pat (with trip to Sirikit Reservoir), Thailand

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Distance Travelled 66km

Day38

The next morning I was not feeling well – my eczema was playing up again.So I slept in and then updated some of our blogs.

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We finally made our way to Sirikit Reservoir at 12:37pm, and arrived at 1:05pm, just in time to have slow, relaxing lunch in the sun.

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At 2:42pm we headed towards the main reservoir and walked around admiring the beauty of the place.

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These leaves are huge! They are like wood carvings, and when you ride over them, you can easily hear them crumple under your wheels despite the noise of the motor and wearing a helmet.

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These picture are from the upper side of the reservoir.

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By 3:37pm we were back at our accommodation again. We headed out to dinner at 7:27pm, and ate in one several small street stalls. We met one person who spoke reasonable English, a Finnish Citizen who has lived there for six months doing some computer related work. However, foreign tourists do not frequent Nam Pat, and this was obvious – we were treated even more special than is normally the case in Thailand.

Day37 Phayao to Nam Pat, Thailand

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Departure Time 8:16am
Departure Location Phayao, Thailand
Arrival Time 5:56pm
Arrival Location Nam Pat, Thailand
Distance Travelled 325km

Day37

We left our accommodation at 8:16am, and headed to the street on the lakefront to find breakfast. A school procession was in progress, and we watched it for a little while.

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Durian is a favourite fruit in South East Asia, but most people of western origin cannot stand it. However, in chip form, it is quite nice. For breakfast, we just bought some snacks from a 7Eleven store, and sat by the edge of the lake.

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By 9:25am, we were finally on the road. Little did we know the surprises this day would bring.

This part is truly the rural heartland of Thailand.

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There were sections of the road that were quite straight, and others were very windy. Notice the road in the distance in the next photo. The following three photos are of the same scenery, just zoomed in closer each time.

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More hills …

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Transferring produce.

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In this part of the country, all the street signs were in Thai script only. Not a problem, I learnt how to read the script. Even though I couldn’t understand it, I was able to read the names of the towns.

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The name of this national park would be much more sinister, if it didn’t have that ‘h’ in it. “Khun” means “respectful” (amongst other things) in Thai.

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And more stunning scenery.

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And other interesting sights.

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And then we slowly made our way to Sirkit Dam. The map we had, showed a road going across one of the narrow sections of the dam, which is why we took this road. An alternate route would have been a significant detour.

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Good to see that DTAC (one of the telecommunications companies) has great coverage here!!

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As we got closer to the dam, we started to look for the road across …

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… but this is where the road ended.

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We took a good look around, but nothing but water in the direction we wanted to go.

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As we were contemplating our options, we noticed the following contraption.

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And after making some enquires, were told of a house where we could ask for someone to take us across. And sure enough, we were told to go back down to the water, and that someone would meet us soon. After waiting about 15 minutes, a lady turned up with a small boat and offered to tow us across.

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You can see where the road ended.

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The ladies’ dog came along for the ride – but wasn’t too impressed with Rebecca and me. He sat at the furthest point on the barge.

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You can see the road markers half way up the hill as we approach the ramp at the other side.

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And soon the tar seal turned into dirt road, which is very rare in Thailand – Thailand has the highest percentage of sealed roads in South East Asia.

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When we arrived in Nam Pat around 5pm, but had trouble finding reasonable accommodation. Nam Pat is not a place tourists frequent, so it took us almost an hour to find a place to stay where we would be comfortable. Fortunately it wasn’t quite so difficult finding food, but even those choices were very limited – we only ate at one place for the time we were in Nam Pat.

Day36 Wiang Pa Pao to Phayao, Thailand

Motorbike/Motorcycle, Thailand, Travel No Comments
Departure Time 8:06am
Departure Location Wiang Pa Pao, Thailand
Arrival Time 4:10pm
Arrival Location Phayao, Thailand
Distance Travelled 146km

Day36

We left our accommodation just after 8:00am, and headed to the ADRA office for one last debrief. Along the way, we came across a group of travellers all on BMW motorbikes. The leader of the group was confused at first, because when he saw us, he thought we were one of his travellers, and was wondering how we were able to get past him and then come the other way. They had started their trip in Phuket, and this was their last stop before returning. Shame, I say, because they were so close to the Golden Triangle.

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When we arrived at the ADRA office, we noticed how deep culture goes. Although ADRA is a Christian organisation, someone had put a Buddhist shrine in a hidden location behind the gate.

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En route, we came across some stunning scenery, including this waterfall.

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We arrived in Phayao just after 4:00pm, and found a place to stay for the night. It was an Army motel and very clean. We didn’t understand why civilians were welcome to stay here, and we didn’t ask. It was comfortable, clean and economical. Notice the Army marking on the top of the TV.

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Then we rode around looking for a nice place to eat. The sun was starting to set as we made our way past the lake.

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The lake there makes this a stunning location to enjoy the mild evenings.

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After the sun set, we found a place to eat …

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… and watched the security team drive past in a unique vehicle.

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