Pattaya Memoires 10
10. Emerald Tour (3)
The bus took us from the jungle raft hotel to the mountains where we met the Mon tribe. Ruud and Joe, our tour guides, entertained us in the bus with all kinds of Thailand related games. Ruud, who spoke Thai very well, created a software program to learn the Thai language from Dutch which was for sale in Holland. He organized a language game on the bus and the winner would win a free copy of his program. Guess who won the game … yes, yours truly! He gave me a CD with the software, but I had to contact him when I was back in Europe to get the password so I could install the it. This was of course for copyright reasons. I am good at languages but unfortunately I do not speak Thai (yet?). I bought a couple of books though and I understand how the language works. I just need to invest a lot more time in it. Unfortunately Thai courses are unavailable here, which is a pity because I believe a Thai native speaking teacher could help an awful lot to get the tones right.
Anyway, back to the story. The Mon are Burmese people. The moment we got out of the bus we were surrounded by Mon children trying to sell us all kinds of self-made products like hats, purses, necklaces, etc. Dirk, one of my travel companions, could not say no when children tried to sell him something so he ended up with all kinds of useless crap. Moreover, the Mon and later the Karen and all other tribes we visited, noticed very quickly he was a buyer so he was an easy victim and got all the people around him all the time. I also bought something from each tribe, but I bought only 1 item. I did this to support these "poor" people. That was Ruud's advice : buy an item to help them, but there is no reason to spoil them as they have enough tourists visiting them to get by. He was right because later, when visiting another tribe in the area of the Golden Triangle, although the tourists see nothing but crappy huts and poverty and villagers who try to sell you small goods, I noticed that they had a car! At least this is what I think. It was an Isuzu pick-up nicely put away out of sight behind a barn when I saw one of the tribe people in traditional outfit getting some stuff out of the car. Ruud also told us never to give money to people who carry animals around together with a camera in order to sell photographs of tourists with the animal. We all know the guy with the python and the lady with the small cute bear (or whatever it is). In the past we saw more baby elephants used for this too but this is prohibited now. Ruud was completely against this, he called it abuse of animals and was convinced that at least some of these animals were drugged. I understood so I don't have any photos of myself with a python hanging around my neck. I prefer bargirls in that position anyway.
After visiting the Mon we drove to the Burma Railway and Hellfire Pass and museum. Actually it could have been the other way round, I don't remember that exactly. It isn't that important. I enjoyed the ride along the rocks on the train and the wonderful landscapes encountered. This is a must-see if you visit Thailand. The museum at the Hellfire Pass was modern, beautiful and interesting. There is also a war museum near the river Kwai bridge, but that looked more like a bunch of old rusty stuff they dug out of the ground and piled up. It looked unprofessional and was messy. Not here!
Next, a short visit to the Erawan waterfalls was programmed. We visited this national park on a Sunday and Ruud told us the waterfalls were also popular with the locals. Thais could be found lying around the lowest level of the waterfalls drinking Mekong whiskey, Joe informed us with a big smile as if he was talking with experience on the matter. He also said Thais are a friendly bunch and that they would try to communicate with us, but that this would be difficult considering their level of knowledge of the English language. "No problem", I said jokingly, "I am the Thai language expert!", referring to the game I won earlier in the bus.
Once there, we got out of the bus and Ruud told us to go straight ahead and then at the crossing to the right, that path would take us to the waterfalls. When we got to the crossing there was an old wooden sign that pointed to the right but as the text on it was in Thai, we had no clue whatsoever about what it said or was about. We supposed that was the way to go because our guide told us so, so we went right and followed a small path. We were walking in the sun and it was very very hot with no wind at all. We were about 10 people in our group. We somehow lost the others. We thought they were behind us and were following us. Little did we know they were together with the guides and so they took the path to the left. After some time the path went up and the walk got a lot harder. As we had to climb all the time, we were sweating like hell. Hey, I must have lost a couple of pounds during that walk. The path was difficult, it was sandy, stony and very uneven. As I was wearing flip-flops, I really had to watch out where I put my feet. I wasn't prepared to walk through the jungle at all. We started to get pissed off because Ruud did not tell us that the walk would be so long and difficult and because he did not advise us to wear good walking shoes.
Before we knew it we were walking for over an hour and a half. A couple of women started complaining which was understandable. We were in the middle of the jungle and the path we were taking got narrower and narrower and even more difficult, but at least there were trees so we weren't walking in the direct sun anymore. After about two hours there was no path at all anymore, just bush. At this point we were sure we were not on the right track. It was just our group and we were alone. We didn't see anybody else since we had taken the right at the crossing, and now there wasn't even a path anymore. It was clear nobody had been where we were at that moment in a very long time. This track must have been abandoned for years.
Some people of the group started panicking and wanted to go all the way back. Everybody was extremely thirsty. Frank and I however did not fancy walking back for another 2 hours without water. As we encountered no crossing nor side-paths along the way, we considered that the patch may lead somewhere. It is just that it is not used that often anymore. The others decided to turn around and go back the way we came from. Frank and I didn't join them but we took the risk to try to go a little bit further. We could turn around later if necessary. We did not have machetes, but we managed to make our way through the bush using wooden sticks we found along the way. But we advanced very slowly. At a given moment, not so much later, we heard a rumbling sound in the distance. It sounded like water. That must be the waterfall we assumed. That gave us courage to go on on the difficult path. The sound got louder and louder so we knew we were approaching the waterfalls. Some time later we finally got out of the bush onto an open space and saw the waterfall. At last!! We were very happy that we didn't have to return all the way. In fact we were at the seventh and top level of the Erawan waterfalls, but we didn't realize that back then. Near the parking lot at the bottom, the path to the left went to the lowest waterfall and was only a couple of hundreds of meters away, while the path to the right went up the mountain and made a big curve to end at the top waterfall and was a couple of kilometers. Clearly nobody ever used that path, especially not the Thais because they hate walking. It was long and hard and difficult, moreover you could get to the top waterfalls via the path to the left too and that was way shorter as you were next to the waterfalls.
Frank however was not at all happy with the fact that Ruud made us take the wrong road and he was about to confront him with this. He was even considering filing a complaint with the travel agency once we got back to Europe. We went down and met the others of the group. While we were sweating our ass off and did not have any idea where we would come out, they were enjoying themselves swimming in the waterfalls and drinking beer. However, they told us they were worried about us because we were nowhere to be found and missing for over a couple hours. Nobody knew where we were and Ruud also was very worried because he was responsible for us. We should have left the waterfalls hours ago but half the group was missing. We told Ruud that the other people decided to go back the way we came when we were close to the top and that they were walking all the way back so we could do nothing but wait for them. We were to have lunch in some roadside restaurant, but Ruud had to cancel that and we decided to have a meal in one of the restaurants near the waterfall once everybody was back together. We were all starving.
In all I found Kanchanaburi a very interesting and very beautiful province to visit, at least if you manage not to drink river Kwai water and your guide does not send you through the jungle on flip-flops. I would have loved to visit the temple where monks take care of tigers like I saw before on TV, but unfortunately that was not on our program. That is on my wish list for my next trip to Kanchanaburi. Also, next time I'm there I'd like to take some more time to do some rafting and stuff like that.
The next part of the trip would take us to Phitsanulok and Sukhothai. On our way to Phitsanulok we stopped to visit a traditional rice mill. This was quite an interesting thing to see, but we were more impressed by the wall decorations of the local mill workers.
These nice people had a complete photo collection of (half) nude Thai models hanging on the wall!! Impressive. It made me want to go straight back to Nana and Cowboy The posters you see on the picture above were not the only ones! There were pictures of ladies everywhere. We even got one of the workers to proudly pose next to a wall with dozens of pictures of nude models, but I chose not to publish this photo. It also looked like some of these posters were hanging there since Sukhothai was the capital of Siam, as some of them were completely faded.
When we got to our hotel in Phitsanulok it was already dark. We checked in and had time to shower after which we would go to the city centre as a group. We would be taken there by bike-taxis which were waiting outside the hotel. Those taxis were in fact rickshaws. Every rickshaw could transport two people. Our driver was a sympathetic but rather old man. I was sharing the taxi with Frank. I am not that heavy, but Frank is a very big man, I guess he weighs at least 250 lbs. The driver was sweating heavily while pedalling us to the city centre. We gave him a hard time but also a, by Thai standards, generous tip of 50 baht. The man was very happy with this and thanked us extensively.
The centre was very lively, we arrived at a big square where people were eating. Music was playing and there was some kind of weird show going on. It was called the "Flying vegetable show" (or something like that). The moment we arrived the commentator was looking for a volunteer. Shit, I saw that guy coming right up to me. I tried to hide behind Frank but I was chosen anyway. Damn! Later I heard that this was not a coincidence but set up by Ruud and Frank (the bloody bastards!). OK, so I, the "Chinese volunteer" as we call it, had to go up on the stage. Some locals dressed me up in some kind of plastic red dress with multi-coloured ribbons to decorate it. I looked like I was wearing a Hawaiian skirt! Also, they gave me a headband and they put a stalk of some vegetable that resembled leek at each side between my head and the headband. So there a stood on the stage, in sight of everybody present on the square, looking like a complete moron in a skirt with vegetables on my head. Needless to say the rest of the group, especially Frank and Ruud, were laughing their asses of. I was looking extremely ridiculous. After everybody had the chance to laugh with me and take pictures of me looking like a fruitcake, the commentator put a big pan in my hands. He told me stay put and not move at all. About 20 metres away there was a mobile kitchen where a cook was preparing food in a wok. The commentator was saying something in Thai through the microphone and then the cook threw the contents of the wok, all kinds of ready to eat cooked vegetables, high in the air. I saw the food coming my way down but, as told to, I did not move. The vegetables landed right in the pan I was holding. The crowd could appreciate this and a big applause could be heard. I was quite spectacular, especially when the cook turned around and threw another wok of vegetables my way, but then with his back to me so he couldn't see where he was throwing. Applause again. After the show we had a meal there (including the stuff thrown in my pan). The relationship between Frank plus myself and the rest of the group was getting better as the days passed by. Everybody talked to each other and joked about almost everything. Our escapades with the 2 hookers in Bangkok were forgotten and nobody ever mentioned them anymore.
However, on our way back to the hotel Frank and were desperately looking for girly bars but we couldn't find any. We ended up in a bar where a couple of pretty girls served us beers. We tried to get somewhat familiar with these girls to find out if they were interested in offering "other" services but they didn't seem interested at all in talking to us. We finished our beers and went to bed, alone. Phitsanulok didn't seem like a place to have a lot of fun at night. <There is a bar area with perhaps 20 beer bars about 1 km from downtown, west of the river I seem to recall – Stick>
The next day we visited the famous temple of Phitsanulok, Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat. It is the seat of Thailand's most beautiful Buddha, Phra Buddha Chinnarat, an imposing gold-plated image. The Folklore Museum has a large and impressive collection of local arts and crafts as well as displays depicting local life through the centuries. Worth the while!
From Phitsanulok it went to Sukhothai. On the way we stopped to grab a beer and a bite and also a couple of pictures, as I was really impressed by the wonderful view of the sunset by a lake. Unfortunately I don't remember the name of the place, but maybe some of you will recognize it, although the picture doesn't reveal that much. Feel free to mail me the name of this place, I would appreciate it!
Again, it is possible that in this trip report I mess up the order in which we visited places, this does not affect the outcome of the story itself, nevertheless I apologize for this inefficiency.
Sukhothai is one of those must-see sites in Thailand. The ruins of the ancient city are most beautiful. I listened with great interest when Joe told us about the history of this place. I loved exploring the site on a bicycle too. After the visit we had a beer at a small bar next to the bike rental stall. It was clear that one of the waitresses was interested in Frank. She was in her mid-twenties and quite pretty. I saw here look at him as if she couldn't believe a man could ever be that tall. When Frank looked her way however, she became all smile. Frank tried to talk to her but it was impossible as she didn't speak any word in any language but Thai. We didn't have much time to flirt anyway because the bus was waiting to take us to another interesting location in the Land of Smiles.
We were going to head North to visit the Golden Triangle and Chiang Mai.
To be continued …