Kanchanaburi is a small town, 130 km west of Bangkok, and most famous for the fact that the infamous bridge over the River Kwai was built here during World War II. In and around the town are large graveyards for the thousands of Allied soldiers who perished in this region during the war.
Today, it’s a touristy town, especially along the River Kwai (or Mae Nam Khwae Yai), where lots of guesthouses offer bungalows or rooms on the river itself or on its banks, next to cafes and restaurants catering to western tastes (banana pancakes for breakfast, for instance). I chose a nice bungalow in a quieter area, with a view of the bridge in the distance, and spent some time on the veranda, enjoying the silence, after loud and busy Bangkok.
I rented a motorbike for a day, and visited the Erawan waterfalls (Nam Tok Erawan), some 70 km out of town. Along a 2 km track leading up through occasional thick vegetation, there were seven waterfalls with cool, clear water cascading down rocks. Shoals of fish, clearly visible in the clear water, were swimming among the Thais and farangs who were taking a refreshing dip. Some monkeys were playing around the waterfalls and in the trees, with some begging the visitors for food.
Five kilometers north of the Erawan waterfalls, the huge Sri Nakharin Dam is located, functioning as a hydroelectric power plant. There is a small park on top of the dam, with a monument dedicated to the completion of the project, two Buddha statues in front of it, and the view of the enormous lake is stunning. Small boats ferry passengers across, a lone fishing boat navigates the lake in the distance.
After a couple of days in Kanchanaburi, I traveled further up north to Sukhothai. It was Thailand’s first capital in the 13th century, before it was superseded by Ayuthaya after a little over 100 years. The great accomplishments in art and architecture during this short period are most visible in Sukhothai’s old town, or Muang Kao, 12 km from the new town. Here, over 130 Wats are scattered in and around the area, and although some have been renovated, most are in ruins. Some striking examples of Sukhothai-era art remain though, and the intruiging Ramkamhaeng Museum provides a good and interesting introduction into this style, while explaining about the area’s early history. On display is a stunning collection of Buddha statues and images, earthenware pots, and stone tablets with inscriptions in the Pallava, Khmer and Thai languages, all in various styles and with different influences. After a visit to the museum, I went to Wat Si Chum on my rented bicycle, just outside the city walls, or the earthen mounds that are all that have remained of them. As I approached the temple, an instant feeling of deja-vu came over me, although I had never been here before. I walked quickly towards the giant seated Buddha, squeezed into an open, walled building, and the closer I approached it, the more I recognised. There, its two meter long hand, with the golden fingernails. The enormous head, high above me, the face frozen in a peaceful expression, staring forward through the slight opening in the wall. I suddenly realised the reason for my sense of deja-vu: I had recognised this temple and the Buddha statue from the many postcards on which they feature, which are sold all over Thailand.
A couple of kilometers away, Wat Saphan Hin is located on a hilltop, and steps made out of rocks and boulders lead to the top of the hill, where a large Buddha stands, facing the old city. It was quiet on top of the hill, only the sound of birds could be heard in the beginning of what was going to be a very hot afternoon. I went to have lunch nearby, a spicy green chicken curry with white rice, and when I was just about to leave, two police officers who were also having lunch, invited me to their table. After the seemingly mandatory process of mentioning my country’s most famous football stars, we talked a little about Holland and Thailand, and about their work in the police force. They weren’t particularly fond of their work, but I couldn’t ascertain why, although perhaps it had something to do with the fact that there wasn’t that much crime at all in and around new and old Sukhothai. After having consumed nearly the entire content of a 500 ml bottle of whiskey, the two policemen wished me good luck with my explorations, and stepped in their unmarked sedan, and drove off. I too took off, on my bicycle, a little merrier than before, as I had thought it impolite to refuse their offers to share the whiskey.
I visited several temples, some beautifully preserved or partially restored, with large Buddha statues, including the fascinating walking-posture Buddha, typical Sukhothai style, beautiful and graceful. One of the most interesting temples was Wat Mahathat. It was the principle Buddhist temple next to the Royal Palace, located in the centre of the old town, and it features two enormous standing Buddhas, and dozens of large, seated ones. There was so much to see, so many interesting details, such beauty in what had remained of the buildings, that I suddenly felt a little panicky about the fact I had space for only 200 photos left on the memory card of my digital camera. Rows of small Buddha statues along the walls, faded and eroded by the influences of the weather but still intruiging, the remains of pillars that used to be part of the main temple, reflections of the chedis in the pond in front of the temple, a Japanese tourist bowing in front of one of the seated Buddhas. The enormous centuries-old trees around the temple are wrapped in brightly coloured silk, in reference to the Bodhi tree, where, according to the Buddhist religion, Buddha attained enlightenment.
A 30 minute ride on a song thaew taxi (literally meaning “two rows", being the two benches found in the rear passenger area, it’s a pickup truck converted for carrying passengers and some cargo) brought me back to new Sukhothai, where I would leave the following morning for the northern city of Chiang Mai, which I have visited two years ago.
Among with many other countries in South East Asia, Thailand is currently suffering from a drought that is affecting most of its provinces, leaving communities living off agriculture struggling to get by. The effects were quite visible on the way to Chiang Mai, the landscape extremely dry, rivers now turned into dried-out river beds. The government has even gone as far as spraying chemicals on clouds to invoke rain, which hasn’t been very succesful, leaving many eagerly awaiting the start of the rain season.
Although still familiar, a lot in Chiang Mai has changed, and it can be very touristy in places. Its city walls reconstructed, the old city center is small and charming, and there are many beautiful Buddhist temples in a relatively small area. The famous night bazaar sells everything from handicraft to fake watches, cd’s and DVDs, incense, clothes and food. It’s mostly visited by tourists, however, and you need to bargain hard to get a good price. Nearby is the more authentic Warorot Day Market, selling basically everything you can think of, where especially in the weekends it can be very busy with Thais stocking up for the following week.
I will spend a couple of days here in Chiang Mai, before I will leave Thailand by crossing the Mekhong River into Laos, a country I don’t know that much about, and which I’m quite eager to explore.
The URI to TrackBack this entry is: http://blog.fmkworld.org/wp-trackback.php/45
No comments yet.
Leave a comment
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.