Archive for December, 2010

Hello TempleNuteers!

Writing from Lopburi City, prime city of Lopburi Province in Central Thailand. Since we completed our ‘gringo trail’ loop through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia we have jigsawed across the southern part of the country, dropping in on various points of historical interest. Lopburi definitely ranks high on that ladder. Lopburi was (and is, ruins included) the home of a prominent Ayuthaya period palace (which I’m sitting across the street from.) The Old Town area is dotted with Sukhothai- and Ayuthaya-style temple ruins. Being as nuts for Temples as we are, we’ve spent the last couple days checking out the local sights, interspersed with healthy bouts of reading (I’m about to finish my second cheesy detective novel in 4 days). We locked in a good place to stay (with a laundry machine!) on the first night, and were also treated to the Lopburi weekly night market right outside our front door. We’ve also successfully charted the locations of the local Chiang Mai-style sausage vendor cart, so we can’t really think of any other items on our list to accomplish!

A note about the Chiang Mai sausage: it’s not really sausage, but mostly a minced blend of pork (moo, confusingly enough,  in Thai), rice, seasonings such as cilantro, baby celery leaves and white pepper, and red beans wrapped up neatly in a pork sausage casing. They’re quite delicious, 10 Baht (30 cents) a pop and I maintain a habit of at least one a day, if not 3, when I have a steady supply.

Enough about my gluttony.

Tomorrow we’re headed back southwards, towards Koh Chang, our rendezvous point with Katie’s family for Christmas. We’ve got to make a small stop along the way to grab some extra-special presents for all you kiddo’s back home.

Keeping it short because I need to meet up with Katie back at the guesthouse soon.

Our love and best wishes to you all.

Jack and Katie

Picture Time:

So, we finally got off our lazy behinds and left Kanchanaburi. It was a great vacation from our vacation, and we emerged from our riverside bungalow rejuvenated and ravenous.

Our first stop back on the road has been Korat, the capitol of Nakon Ratchasima province in North-Eastern Thailand. Korat itself is somewhat unremarkable, though it is nice to be off the tourist trail (Kanchanaburi is a big draw for touristas) and back into the Thai side of Thailand. The city is midsized, and the region is home to thriving handicraft trade/production centers specializing in silk and ceramics, and Khao Yai National Park, considered the prize gem of Thailand’s preserved wilds.

Unable to pass up that kind of reputation, we made the park our first port of call in this province.  It’s funny, because once you get this direction out of Bangkok, the English level drop off precipitously (its easy to forget not everyone speaks it in more touristed places), and you’re suddenly back on your feet, using every drop of Thai in you to get yourself to the bus station.  The reason that’s funny is because as soon as we got off the bus from Korat to Pak Chong, the ‘gateway’ city to the park, we were accosted by two 20-something American girls asking if we wanted to share a taxi to the park with them. Then a dude from Ohio with one of the biggest camera’s I’ve seen pops along and begins discussing sharing his friends car on the way into the park. Turns out that the weekend we decide to visit the park, Khao Yai is hosting a large music festival called Bonanza, or something like that. The ticket cost about $60, and not really being there for a festival we opted out and took the more traditional camping route.

A 45 minute sorngteaw ride down Th Thanarat takes you to the gate, but beyond that there isn’t much in the way of transportation if you’re not bringing your own. We paid our entrance fee (400 Baht for foreigners/40 Baht for Thai), and started walking into the park. On some level we realized that Khao Yai covers some 2,800 sq/km of jungle, but it didn’t really sink in at first and we merrily began what would have been a 14 km hike to the nearest campground. Fortunately we hadn’t gone 100 yards when a truck with 6 early-20’s Bangkokian guys in the back pulled up and a middle aged woman with great English incredulously asked if we needed a ride. We hopped in and 30 minutes of beautiful scenery (and one significant 4 km climb that would have killed us), and she dropped us neatly at the entrance to Lam Takong campground.

When we travel we often lose track of the days of the week, and this had happened until we walked into the campground and were greeted by a few hundred Thai families, off camping for the weekend (it was Friday evening). There was, thankfully, space, and still plenty of gear to rent (tent, mat, blankets), so we weren’t really put out. Our first night we only spotted two other farangs in the park, but we think they were French and they seemed very earnestly engaged with their pad thai so we let them be. Other than that we spent a very strangely isolated yet un-lonely couple of days.

We went hiking, and saw some really beautiful waterfalls, and I got a great sunburn on my dome. We almost saw some crocodiles but I think that once the trail began to be lined with “Beware of Crocodiles” signs we just ducked down our heads and booked it too hard to have any wildlife viewing encounters.Re: viewing wildlife, we spent one evening sitting on an overlook earnestly staring at a hillside, waiting for the reputed ‘millions of bats’ that it would disgorge at dusk as they went off in search of dinner. Only once the light had totally faded, and we had already seen some scattered bats about, did we give up and hitch back to the campsite. I guess you really need to have the mouth of the cave where the bats live in direct view in order to be able to appreciate their slightly creepy, swarming majesty. Kate and I are both convinced we’ve already seen great footage of the event on some nature documentary anyways, so bah humbug!

After our first good experience with hitchhiking in the park, we used it as our main mode of transportation. We must have stuck out pretty considerably, because we never had trouble getting a ride, and people would stop and ask us if we needed a ride even if we were taking an honest to goodness walk around. The family that took us back to our campsite from the bat-cave misadventure threw in a soda and plate of really dank grilled chicken as well. We felt horrible though, because they actually asked us if we’d like to join them for their evening sightseeing in the park-looking for elephants at salt licks and climbing up the highest peak for the view, but we were so bushed from a day’s hiking that we had to turn them down. A choice opportunity missed, we’re sure.

All in all it was a fantastic park-going experience, from the crocodiles to the family camping, Thai style (which is identical to how it’s done in the states except the campground doesn’t have individual sites, people just set up their camps in long, compacted rows similar to the camping field at a music festival, and party. Hearty.).

Now we’re recovering from a couple nights bumpy-lawn sleeping in Korat, contemplating our next move.

Love, best wishes,

Jack and Katie

Pam, our tent.

Katie's happy to be camping.

...and so is Jack.

Playing cards by candlelight.

Katie at some falls.

Jack. On the rocks.

Pretty waterfalls.

We were wary. Probably to the detriment of enjoying the scenery.

We went down this trail for about a kilometer before deciding it was waay too overgrown to proceed. Kate found a nice swing instead.

This is where we waited for the bats to emerge. We entertained ourselves with portraiture.

Monkeys raiding a pickup. Macaques, I believe.

Cute monkey.

That fine view. The clouds were stunning.

A nice Thai couple bequeathed us this massive candle when they saw our ornate setup. We played many hands of cards by its bountiful light.

Riding out of the park this morning.

And now for something completely different:

Celebrating Loi Kratong, November 21st.

Loi Kratong.

Three styles of architecture at the Royal Palace Temple, Bangkok.

And with architectural styles even closer together, the celebration hall at the Royal Palace Bangkok. We found the hybrid of Thai and European styles strikingly well done.

Kanchanaburi, revisted

I’ve decided that a new post is in order, despite the fact that I have little to write. We have spent the last two weeks in Kanchanaburi. Mostly we read, sometimes we skype, often we drink. We’ve recently taken to destroying the internet for everyone else by torrenting movies.

We’ve had the opportunity to read many excellent books, although unfortunately despite our great amount of time the book stores here carry mainly John Grisham and Jodi Picoult. We have discovered a wonderful writer named Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum.  He’s a professor of philosophy and semiotics and the University of Milan, and he has the rare gift of writing genuinely interesting and intellectually dense novels that are still exciting page-turners. I highly recommend looking them up.

Yesterday was King Bhumibol’s 83rd birthday, making him the longest serving monarch in history. We didn’t really go to any celebrations but watched the Bangkok festivities on TV.  It was also the last night of the River Kwai festival which has been going on the whole time we’ve been here. Its a celebration of the end of World War II that takes place at the base of the River Kwai Bridge. The second night we went to an interpretive light and sound show depicting the war. It was basically a lot of booms and explosions, fancy light work and badass fireworks. Unlike in the US they have no qualms about shooting off fireworks right over the audiences heads, which is great because having burning paper, ash and sparks landing on you really adds to the excitement of the thing.

We have really good access to the internet here so we are free to skype throughout most of the day. Since we can’t remember the password to our shared skype account, we are now using Jpmckeon as our username. We’re happy to talk always.

Bye Bye