Friday morning one week ago I rented a bicycle in order to drive around Ayutthaya and visiting some of the old Buddhism temples. First I went to Wat Phra Mahathat, its famous because of its Buddha head in the roots of a tree. From there I could also glimpse to Wat Ratchaburana with its high tower, but I declined to pay another entrance fee to it. Instead I moved on to Wat Phra Si Sanphet, as I was told I could go upstairs the towers, but that might have been an outdated information, as all access to them was closed. Hence, I just walked around, but in essence could have saved the money, as the three towers are also clearly visible across the fence. After a short visit of the Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit with its golden Buddha I passed by the elephants, where old fat tourists can ride on them, before I shortly stopped at Wat Lokayasutharam, where only the 50 m long laying Buddha remained. Well not really remained, it was rebuild with concrete in the 1950’s as much other remaining site. If there seems to be something intact, it might be suspicious and just rebuilt 60 years, and be far away from being original. After crossing the Chao Phraya river, yes it’s the same as in Bangkok, I went to Wat Chaiwatthanaram. Even it’s only partially preserved it was the most beautiful temple I visited in Ayutthaya. Afterwards I drove back and further on to Wat Phanan Choeng. In order to get there, I needed to take another, but cheap, ferry. This temple is still in operation and receives lots of visitors, who are worshipping the large golden Buddha. The temples are more or less same, same after Chiang Mai, Sukhothai and Luang Prabang, except for some unique highlights as the Buddha head or the Wat Chaiwatthanaram.
After finishing my temple circle I took the evening ordinary train back to Bangkok, which was pretty packed with tourists, which have made a day excursion to Ayutthaya. But luckily I got a seat for this almost two hours drive. At the main railway station I took the MRT for about half an hour. At the MRT station my host Ekkasit picked me up. His place is located much more convenient in Bangkok. He’s a very kind guy and even it was already pretty late, we had a very nice conversation until the early morning, where we could exchange a lot of our travel experiences. He told me also a lot of Thai people and culture, which surprised me in some details 😅. In essence I had only 2 hours sleep until, I needed to wake up and head back to the railway station. In my planning I didn’t want to stay another night in Bangkok, but due to the schedule, there was almost no other option. But I would have definitely regret it, if I wouldn’t had met Ek.
Thursday early morning one week ago I headed back south and took the earliest train in the morning. The short drive to the railway station with the songthaew was the real price and the driver didn’t try to scam me. As this train is just a “rapid” one I got a ticket without any problems. Nevertheless it stopped quit often, so in essence it took almost 13 hours to get south to Ayutthaya. The landscape was the same, as just on the way up, so nothing new here. But the drive was pretty dusty, as the whole time all windows are open and due to the dry season, all the dust, small leafs and ashes from burning the dry grass gets inside. No, there is for sure no air conditioning, other than some fan’s on the roof and open window in the 3rd class. In Ayutthaya I took a short ferry across the Pa Sak river, as all the hostels were on the other side of the river.
Two weeks ago after I got a small breakfast, which was not served before half past seven, I drove back to Chiang Mai, but now taking the larger road via Khun Klang. This one was more busy and the way is longer, but it’s supposed to be faster. As I had only paid for 48 hours, I need to be in Chiang Mai at noon. Hence, I had only 4 hours left to get there. In Khun Klang I shortly stopped at the Siribhume waterfall. But unfortunately this was nothing special, as it looked more spectacular from the distance. Also the large road done was not as scenic as the other road up to Khun Wang. In Chiang Mai I first drove up to Wat Pha Lat, which is supposed to have a nice lookout, but the temple itself seemed to be closed for renovation, and I was also short on time. So I drove back to the rental shop and walked afterwards to Wat Suan Dok which was just nearby. But as there was also an entrance fee, I just had a look from the outside.
Tuesday morning two weeks ago I woke up very early. One of the students in Agricultural Research Centre prepared some hot water for me, so that I could have some instant noodles for breakfast and a very tasty fresh coffee. First I thought it’s instant coffee, but then it turned out that there is a whole device in the small bag for brewing one cup of coffee. At about 6:20 I started my hike along the road I discovered the afternoon before. When I was walking up the farmers were already on the fields in order to pick the strawberries, but I could enjoy the beautiful sunrise. One of them waved to me, and I interpreted it as positive gesture. After I found the start of the path it was pretty easy to follow them. Hence, a lot of people seem to use it in order to hike up to Pha Ngaem. It took about 90 minutes to get to the crest, where there was a wide path. As I already did most of the altitude now I thought it’s easy just to follow the path along the crest…well it was easy up until the peak of Pha Ngaem. Then on top the path suddenly stopped, and when I was hiking down the short southern crest, I ended up at a ridge which was not wider than 50 cm and was pretty exposed to both sides. Furthermore, I could only see the southern peak of Pha Ngaem but not how to get down to the col afterwards. When I checked the map, then I realised that the path is bypassing the mountain on the west side. Hence, I drew the decision to go back and find that way…not an easy decision, but the savest one. After hiking down the northern ridge of Pha Ngaem I discovered after a few hundred metres the path. It was pretty hidden and only detectable by some kinked blades of grass. I’ve seen this several times ago by all the other guides and rangers that they’re kiniking from time to time some small branches or blades. I’m not quit sure why, either to mark the path for others, or just to mark that they were here, and due to the decay some people would know when, in case they were looking for them. The path condition stay as bad or got even worse the remaining three kilometres. Hence, a good sense of orientation was needed, even if you “just” need to stay on the crest. Mainly I was walking to high undergrowth, which could be higher than two metres and the visibility ranged from 5 cm to 5 m, depending if I had leafs in my face or not. I crossed the remainings of a camp directly in the jungle and afterwards hardly found the ongoing way, and further on the path suddenly disappeared, until it came back after 20 m through high undergrowth. Shortly before the end of the path I needed to bypass a military station at which communication devices are installed, and finally needed to go through some barbed wire until I reached the parking place were all tour minivans stopped, with all the tourists from Chiang Mai. Now I was suddenly back in the civilisation and out from the jungle. I passed the large sign, no it’s not the peak, even as all people are doing pictures there, and headed on to the real peak. But as the whole mountain is covered by trees nothing else could be seen.
As I entered the national park technically from an unofficial entry, I was happy that no ranger has saw me, when I suddenly dropped off from the jungle. Hence, I opted to walk down the road. This was with 18 kilometres to the next village Khun Klang pretty long and borinh, but therefore pretty save. After about 5 km I stopped at the two pagodas for King and Queen and at a food stall I got my lunch. Here I met Phong, which was very communicative and surprised that I walked all the way to the top – I’ve for sure not told him, which way I came. After lunch I visited the two pagodas and enjoyed the view, before I headed further down. On the road I’ve seen at least two dead snakes, but luckily I didn’t had any contact with them on my way up. When I was passing the ranger station, it was also not a problem at all. I’m not sure about entrance fees, but maybe you’ve only to pay for cars, minivans and scooters. Yes, there’re a lot of white minivans from Toyota, filled with all the tourists, driving up and down pretty fast, but still not as worse that I would have been scared.
When I arrived in Khun Klang my plan was to hitchhike back the 17 km to Khun Wang. But suddenly a scooter stopped next to me, and surprisingly it was Phong. He offered to drive me, but I told him that I need to go to Khun Wang and not down the road directly. I convinced him that he could also drive from Khun Wang back to Chiang Mai that this route is pretty scenic. So we started our drive, but unfortunately he had only a small scooter with automatic shift, and somehow I didn’t shifted in the lowest gear, when we drove up. Hence, unfortunately, I needed to walk about five times the highest sections of that drive. But after all, we managed o drive the whole distance in one hour. Therefore, I was already back after 9.5 h, much earlier than I ever expected. Phong really saved my day. Luckily he could charged his iPhone at the centre and during this time, we still had time to watch the blooming cherry trees.
Monday I rented a scooter for 48 hours and went out of Chiang Mai after I crashed in accidentally to the flower festival, and was not heading to this electric music festival outside the city. Furthermore, except all the temples, there’s not really much to see inside the city. Hence, after I got my small semi-automatic scooter (again from Honda) I went south along a large canal. After a few traffic lights I already left the city and the traffic was gone. After about one hour, yeah the maximum speed is maybe 60 km/h just for safety reasons I turned into the Wae Mang valley. It’s a very scenic route, but in the beginning there’re a lot of tourist attractions like multiple elephant sanctuaries, zip-lining and kayaking. Hence, all the tourists who book an expensive (if you would ask them, they tell you cheap) got carted up in the songthaew to their tourist attraction and got back in the evening. After a few kilometres the traffic was almost completely gone and I just enjoyed my drive uphill. I arrived at the Chiang Mai Royal Agricultural Research Center (Khun Wang) in late afternoon and booked a serviced tent, which included mattress and sleeping bag for me. The Café and the accommodations are served by young students from a university, which made some kind of internship here. I was served by a very friendly and young student. And even her English was limited, but she told me that her friend is studying in Germany and already visited the Zugspitze. Afterwards, I went to the local market next to it and bought my first fresh strawberries this year from the local Hmong women. I walked a bit in the vicinity and uphill along a small road at the base of Pha Ngaem, as I wanted to see the starting of the hiking path. By chance I was just walking across all the strawberry fields which where located at the hillside. After about 1 hour I returned to the research centre and walked through their flower garden. A lot of local (at least I guess, as it seems to be a hidden gem for all western tourists) where here and did plenty of photos. In the evening I just drove down the two kilometres to the village centre to get some water and my dinner.