Monthly Archives: November 2014

Sukothai – A Beautiful World Heritage Site

The ruins are in very good shape and are surrounded by nice brick paths, crystal clear moats, and large old trees.
The ruins are in very good shape and are surrounded by nice brick paths, crystal clear moats, and large old trees.

The past six days and 420 kilometers were all made worth it with today’s visit to Sukothai. Everyone said we should see Sukothai. I plotted our route to include Sukothai. But, and I’m almost ashamed to admit it, I really didn’t know what we were coming to see. I’ve been so busy trying to avoid camping and find “resorts” a comfortable 75 km apart from each other, that I didn’t know why we were coming here. But, yesterday at 4:00 pm we finally “arrived.”

After a cooling and relaxing swim in our hotel pool, finishing my book Peony by Pearl S. Buck, which, by the way, is a great read about some Jewish Chinese of which I never knew there were any, uploading recent pictures to my laptop, and sharing a Chiang beer with Eric, I finally got around to reading some background and history of Sukothani.

Here are some key facts:
It was founded around the middle of the 13th century A.D. The ruler at that time was very intelligent and a good city planner because he constructed some great canals for irrigation and water for the citizens. It has some amazing temples with some great big Buddahs. There were some great kilns that could glaze pottery very high temperatures (900-1200C). It was the capital of Thailand (then called Siam) 700 years ago. It was the original start of Sukothai architecture. It is a World Heritage Site.

On the canal path between the new Sukothai and the ancient city of Sukothai.
On the canal path between the new Sukothai and the ancient city of Sukothai.

I read all the information aloud to Eric, plus about five pages more. I also perused though the pictures on the web site which you can do, too, and save me the uploading time. Then, I checked out the Cycling Sukothani website I’d seen advertised on a poster in the bar of our “hostel” and memorized the cycling tour’s route thus feeling all smug that I’d save the $25 tour fee but also had a good plan. In other words, I felt prepared and informed.

This morning everything worked as planned. As a matter of fact, while cycling along one of the ancient canal roads we came upon the cycle tour group that, according to the website, departed at 8:00 am. Go us…we got an extra hour of sleep.

What I wasn’t prepared for the how amazing, how big, how well-preserved, and how beautiful Sukothai Historic Park really is. I was awestruck. Ancient trees, calm moats, fragrant jasmine, blue skies, red brick against green foliage making for great photos…Apparently, Eric was to because he took over 300 pictures of the park.

Well preserved stupas.
Well preserved stupas.

There were many parts of the ancient city that I liked but my favorite had to be the Buddah statue called “Subduing Mara.” I was thinking that I was subdued by the beauty, I should be more subdued and relaxed and patient with my cycling buddy, and I will work on being more subdued in the future.

This was may favorite statue called Subduing Mara.
This was may favorite statue called Subduing Mara.

In a nutshell, Sukothani is worth the visit. It’s fantastic.

Oh, Thank Heaven for 7-11

The rice paddies behind our resort in the middle of nowhere.
The rice paddies behind our resort in the middle of nowhere on the way to Sukothai.

I’m sitting here in the middle of lush green rice paddies, 90 km from where we started this morning, but still another 50 km from anything interesting. I chose this tiny “resort”, because I knew 140 km was more than Eric and I could handle in one day and this was the only place I could find…(remember my goal of NOT camping in a temple). The reviews on Agoda read something like this:

Review #1 -“Surprisingly quiet even though it backs to the freeway.”
Review #2 -“They don’t speak English. Don’t stay here unless you are Thai.”
Review #3 – “Good location.”

Thailand has generally been a noisy country – chatty birds, bullfrogs, fireworks, loud music, traffic, trains – so a little freeway noise didn’t scare me.

Pantomime, charades, and folded hands with a very gracious “saw-wa-di-ka” has been good so far, so the fact that they don’t speak English also did not scare me off.

But, review #3…Bingo! Location…Not to mention that there’s not another hotel within 30 km of Unfortunately this resort is NOT close to any towns or restaurants.

However, lucky for us there is a 7-11 about 2 km down the highway. And, even though our legs were numb from the long ride, a junk food dinner at 7-11 seemed better than the other option..not eating. And, lest you feel sad for me, I’ve, once again, become a huge fan of 7-11. The last time I was a fan was when my mom would give my brothers and me money to ride our bikes to the local 7-11 for a Coke Slurpy. Notice a theme here…bicycles and 7-11. But here’s why I like 7-11 today.

1.They are easy to spot. Their trademark green and yellow stripes stand out among all the other pink, lime green, and bright blue signs with curlicue letters cluttering the shop lots and billboards selling anything from motor oil to beauty contests to a cup of noodles for all I can tell. But, seeing the red and green stripes means I can find food, toothpaste, and motor oil degreaser in one place and know I bought these things because I can read the labels.
2. They feel like home. I can browse the aisles and find foods I recognize and brands I know. For example Eric’s favorite raisin bread, or my current snack of Oreo cookies. Or, I can dream of experimenting. For example, I’ve got my eye on the dried seaweed that kids here gobble up like American teenage boys take to beef jerky. And one day I may be hungry enough to try the lonely bacon-wrapped weeny rolling away on the hot-dog cooker since the store opened. Pork on pork…bring it on.
3.They have air-conditioning. Walking in to the almost refrigerator-like box of the convenience store coupled with the evaporative cooling effect from tour sweat soaked cycling shirts makes for a mini vacation from our journey.
4.They have the makings for three square meal per day: grilled cheese sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, cup-o-noodles, dim sum, sushi, microwaveable hamburgers, spaghetti and meat balls – a decent cup of instant coffee. After eating noodles and/or rice three times a day for 5 weeks, a fake-cheese sandwich warmed on a panini styles grill is very appealing.

Tonight's booty from 7-11 - snacks, degreaser, and breakfast.
Tonight’s booty from 7-11 – snacks, degreaser, and breakfast.

To those purist backpacker/cyclist types who say, “I’m looking for the real Thailand – the Thailand without 7-11’s on each corner, ” I reply with gusto, “This is the real Thailand of 2014. And, I’m sure the Thai family sitting beside us this evening munching away on their microwaved fast-food dinner was thanking heaven for 7-11, too.”

 

 

A Different Kind of Job

Today while cycling through miles and miles of rice paddies with a slight headwind whenever the compass pointed west and a bright blue Thailand sky without a cloud to mute the blazing hot sun, I had plenty of time to think about the past five weeks of our “journey” into retirement. I concluded that cycling is a lot like work. Here’s a typical day:
6:30 am – Wake up – (Feel extra happy if our room has a hot water pot and I can make a cup of coffee)
7:30 – Leave the hotel with our bags fully packed, our bikes loaded, and breakfast already eaten. (Just kidding…7:30 is always our goal but our record for leaving is 8:20 when the sun is already baking hot, and we still need to stop for breakfast.)
9:30 – or earlier depending upon the sun – Coffee Break at one of the cute Thai coffee huts on the side of the road. Check emails – the wifi is usually good here – or make a phone call to America.
10:00 – ride for as long as our bodies can take the heat.
11:30 – Lunch time and rest (hide) from the sun. I usually read.
1:30 – 2:30 ish – Ride until our bodies scream for shade. (Sometimes we’ll get caught in a refreshing rain)
2:30 – Coffee Break – Today we split an Italian soda and then poured three more cups of water over the remaining ice so, in effect, we drank a liter of water. (Our 4th liter of the day.) Then, Eric took a nap and I read a book.
3:30 – Ride to our final destination. One advantage to riding north is the shade from the trees falls across the road.
4:30 – 5:30 – Shower and do laundry – I never anticipated the quantity of soaked, sweaty clothes nor the time to get them ready for the next day.
5:30 – Plan tomorrow’s route – This also takes much longer than I’d anticipated. It involves lots of maps, calculating distances, locating possible hotels…(I’m trying so hard NOT to camp in a temple.)
6:00 – Find some dinner – Tonight was a simple walk to the only restaurant in town, but sometimes the food search means hopping back on our bikes, navigating, and looking for food at the same time.
7:30 – Read, watch TV which means American television dubbed into Thai, or,when we’re lucky with wifi like tonight when our room is located 10 feet from the modem and download speed is fast enough, watch a movie.
9:30 – Bed time – except in my case where I slept though tonight’s movie and now I’m wide awake and writing a blog.

So we’re traded one full-time job for another. As I see it, the main difference between cycling for a living and getting paid for a living is that with cycling, we don’t need a gym membership.

A Handy Guide to Choosing Public Transport in Bangkok

(For calculation purposes, today 1Bhat = $0.03 USD or $1.00 USD = 32 Thai Bhat)

As novices but no longer beginners at Bangkok public transport, I’ll share what we have learned to help you avoid the same mistakes. This handy guide will evaluate motorcycle taxis, tuk tuks, car taxis, the MRT (subway), the BTS (skytrain), and the Thailand railroad intercity train by speed, comfort, cost and fun. The modes of transport are arranged smallest to largest.

Motorcycle Taxis – These “taxis” can be spotted because the drivers are wearing a bright colored vest either orange or purple. They are fast but not cheap…at least for tourists like Eric and me with a big sticker on our forehead that reads “sucker.” We used two of these taxis to get from Victory Monument to the US Embassy, a distance of perhaps 5 km. For an exorbitant 200 bhat ($6 USD) which was more than we paid for any other kind of transport including the 20 km ride to the Bureau of Immigration, we had more thrill than a roller coaster ride at 6 Flags AND we were able to pick up a new passport before the embassy closed for lunch. That is, the motorcycle taxis are fast…..and scary.

Tuk Tuks – These look-like-a-motorcycle-with-the-bed-of-a-tiny-pickup-truck welded to the back are a tourist trap. (Actually, the locals use them, too, but I’m sure get a much cheaper rate.) Tuk tuks are not metered so if the driver quotes you a nice, reasonable price of 40 bhat (about $1.50) he will then make lots of unwanted stops at jewelry and handicraft stores and beg you to go inside with the gut wrenching sob story, “You don’t have to buy anything, but if you just go inside, I’ll just get a stamp for some free gas.” Then, because you forgot to remove your “sucker” sticker, you go inside and buy a sapphire ring. Actually, we didn’t buy a ring. We just replaced the two tiny missing diamonds from the last ring we bought in Bangkok when we fell for the same story. It would be cheaper to just buy the whole tuk tuk.

Car Taxis – These appear to be the least expensive mode of transportation in Bangkok for two people. Most of our rides seemed to be between 50 -75 bhat (about $1.50). These taxis are often new, comfortable Toyotas with superior air-conditioning. And, at first glance, they seem like the way to go. But, there are two problems:
1) the Bangkok traffic which is always a “jam” (their word, not mine)
2)our drivers couldn’t read a map or speak English. (our solution was to open Google Maps with the Thai translation)
Although the taxis are slow, they do make great place to cool off and rest your tired walking legs.

The MRT and the BTS – Don’t worry if you can’t remember the acronyms. Just remember that one is a subway and takes plastic tokens, and the other is a sky train and takes a ticket. And, you can’t transfer from one to the other without paying again. They are fast, convenient, and comfortable (except at rush hour which is from about 11:30 am until 12 midnight). They work well for most of the touristy places but they are not close to bicycle shops, one reason we needed other options. A ride on the Sky train for two people is about the same cost at a taxi ride, but with more reliability, comfort, speed, and efficiency. It also gives you a good view of all the glitzy shopping malls.

The train – If nostalgia for the 1930s is your thing, then the train is your “go to”. It’s not fast or comfortable or efficient, but it’s very cheap and, to those who enjoy hanging their head out the window for “fresh” air, watching water slosh in squatty potties, and having their bare arms touch the unbathed sweaty guy next to you, fun.

For the sheer fun/thrill factor and when money is no object, then the motorcycle taxis are the way to go. But, if you value your life and want to save a buck or two, then use the MRT or BTS.

For me, however, the experience of riding through Bangkok on my bicycle is still priceless.

Good Lodging Makes Me Happy

I’m smiling right now.
I’m in the ancient city of Ayuttuya,

at a great, modern, inexpensive hotel,

sitting on an actual couch (red love seat to be exact)

in a miniature living room,

with a flat screen tv,

and a table with two chairs,

and an electric hot water heater so I can make a “pour over” with the remains of our Starbucks coffee,

NOT looking at or sitting on a bed,

slightly buzzed from a beer that was enjoyed from chairs on our front patio,

thinking aaaahhhh

life is good.

It’s amazing what a nice “space” can actually do for the psyche.
Cheers to architects of small spaces everywhere..