18 February 2007

Thailand and Cambodia, February 2007

Family Trip, February 2007

Day 1/2

Thai Airways to Bangkok (about 10 hours, assisted by strong tail wind) then on to Chiang Rai. One hour transfer to Anantara Golden Triangle Resort, overlooking Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Hotel just west of Chiang Saen, the ancient Lanna capital. At dusk, observed thousands of white egret roosting in the water meadows below us. Very atmospheric views down to the Ruak river as it joins the Mekong.

Day 3

Golden Buddha, Chiang Saen
Visit to the large Golden Buddha donated by the Malaysian President just west of Chiang Saen, located at the ‘Golden Triangle’. Uncomfortable one hour long tail boat trip down the Mekong to Chiang Khong – now a filthy river, mainly polluted by the Chinese who also vary river levels through their hydro-electric projects upstream. Walk through local villages and stop at a Hmong village, with a school supported by the Royal Princess. Agricultural focus here is rice, soy bean, cabbage and maize. Attractive, relatively flat countryside and very hazy – a combination of heat haze and smoke from burning off in Laos. Temple visits in Chiang Saen, both located in teak woodland. Back at the hotel we visited the elephants rescued from unhealthy city work in Bangkok.

Day 4

Visited northern Thai tribes people around Chiang Rai – Hmong, Padong, Akha, longneck Karen and Shan women mainly, all selling assorted handicrafts. Very touristy!

Long Neck Karen tribeswoman
Northern Thai tribeswoman
Great views from the temple of Wat Thaton, high above the Mae Nam Kok River, with a big stupa and huge brilliant white Buddha. The area to the west of Chiang Rai is hillier and less populated, with tangerine, lychee and mango trees in abundance.

Wat Thaton, near Chiang Rai
Further south we stopped at the cave complex of Than Chiang Dao, situated in attractive karst limestone landscape.
Finally, on busier roads, we reached Chiang Mai and enjoyed the minimalist surroundings of The Chedi, situated on the banks of the Mae Ping river. Visited the famous Night Bazaar nearby…loads of fake tat for sale.

Day 5

An early start for the drive up to see Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a splendid temple with gleaming copper plated stupa situated high on a hill overlooking Chiang Mai.

Copper plated stupa at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai
Then flight to Bangkok and quick late afternoon visit to Wat Pho, home of the huge Reclining Buddha, up river from our hotel on the banks of the Mae Nam Chao Phraya. Water taxis are cheap and very efficient.

Reclining Buddha at Wat Phoi, Bangkok 
Wat Pho, Bangkok
Day 6

Return to Wat Pho for more pictures, then a short walk alongside the Grand Palace perimeter to visit the huge temple complex within the walls, including the revered Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaew. A fantastic collection of the most ornate and stunning architecture but extremely difficult to photograph due to a profusion of perspectives! Time only permitted a quick external viewing of the splendid Grand Palace building, beautifully kept in manicured gardens.

Wat Phra Kaew, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok
Grand Palace, Bangkok
Then back to the new Bangkok airport for the one hour flight to Siem Riep in Cambodia. Stayed at the Victoria Angkor Hotel, colonial style buildings just north of the town. A big contrast to Thailand … many more people on bicycles and mopeds, reflecting the higher level of poverty in this previously butchered nation. The landscape around Siem Riep also very different, very flat and often waterlogged with rice paddies and stands of sugar palms.

Day 7

Up sharp to get the early morning light at the red sandstone temple complex at Banteay Srei. Well presented and many intricate carvings. Passed an Exodus group-sponsored well in one of the villages just south of Bataey Srei.

Banteay Srei, Cambodia
Then on to Ta Phrom, a temple complex which is completely unrestored and is slowly being taken over by the jungle. Most notable are the banyan and kapak trees which have rooted themselves into the temple walls and are now reaching great heights. A very atmospheric spot, only compromised by narcissistic S Korean visitors!

Ta Phrom, Cambodia
A pre-lunch visit to Angkor Wat, accessing it via the quieter East Gate before climbing the very steep temple steps to get the views from the top. A grand spectacle and the awe inspiring scale leaves you lost for words. Exit via the ‘Kings Road’ to the west and good local lunch nearby. People very friendly and lower hassle factor than expected.
After lunch we visited the Bayon, my personal favourite temple, comprising 37 towers, most sporting four carved faces, plus bas relief on the lower walls.

The Bayon
A quick walk through the city of Angkor Thom, the walled and moated Royal city of the Khmers, but now getting very hot indeed, about 35 degrees.
A short hotel break, then back to Angkor Wat for sunset from a nearby hill temple.

Day 8

Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Early morning at Angkor Wat
Stumpy at Angkor Wat
Dawn visit to Angkor Wat before flight back to Bangkok and onward flight to Krabi. Joined at our hotel with daughter Anna and son Kevin (now well into his second year of backpacking the world) - this was the start of the ‘big chill’.

Day 9 to Day 14

Visits to Ao Nang, and the islands of Ko Hong, Pakbia and Lading. Snorkelling and photography.

Ko Hong
Ko Phi Phi Leh
Maya Bay ('The Beach')
Hat Pha Nang
Speed boat trip to Ko Phi Phi Don (very crowded and being ruined by overdevelopment) and the quieter Ko Phi Phi Leh, with the famous Maya Beach (of ‘The Beach’ fame). Some good snorkelling in very clear water.
Visit to Railay and Hat Phra Nang by long tail boat from Ao Nang. Beaches, caves and good rock-climbing.
Rainforest trip to the Emerald Pools and the Tiger Temple complex near Krabi.

Tiger Temple, near Krabi 
Swamp forest near Krabi, Thailand
Day 15

Fond farewell to Kevin, now off to Myanmar, China, Tibet, Nepal and northern India on the next leg of his journey, before our long flight home from Bangkok.