Saturday, December 15, 2012

The land before time: Sukhothai

We made full recoveries from our leech bites last case you were wondering. And neither of us got sick! Hooray! It was a pretty easy week in terms of school. We had Wednesday off for Father's Day (the King's birthday). Tuesday night we went to Pua to eat dinner and hang out with the Pua gang. We stayed pretty late, which ended up changing our plans for our day off.

We were going to go to Nanthaburi National Park for the whole day, which is 25 km from Thawangpha. But we didn't get around to doing anything until about 1 o'clock. We decided we needed a day to relax anyway and it felt pretty good just to be lazy most of the day. After we finally got ourselves together we headed out to the park just to check it out. We wanted to see how hilly the road was, how long it took to get there, and if it would be worth a return trip. It seemed like it took forever to get there even though it wasn't as far as Doi Phu Kha. The road was very winding, but not as steep or high as the road to Doi Phu Kha. After we had gone about 25 km we decided if we didn't find it in 3km we would turn back, but it was only one more kilometer away. The road into the park was the worst part of the whole ride. It was muddy and pretty hilly, which isn't a good combo on a motorbike. I had to get off the bike once so Ethan could get it up the steep hill leading into the parks headquarters. The park was really pretty and perched fairly close to the very top of the mountain. There is supposedly a trail that you can walk that will take you all the way to the top. We tried to figure out if you can motorbike up, but I don't think we got our point across. We tried to take the bike up the road anyway, but ended up getting stuck on a particularly steep/slippery hill. We parked the bike and tried to walk, but decided to try again another time. We really didn't know how far it was from where we were and I was in no mood for exploring. We headed back down the mountain and called it a night. (E- We also didn't even know if we were for sure on the right mountain or if we needed to motorbike down the main road some more to get to Doi Wow. That's Thailand for you. You never have the information you need/want.)

Friday afternoon we left school a little early to catch a bus to Sukhothai. Our friends, Shannon and Alexis, decided not to make the trip as the bus schedule wouldn't give them enough time in the city. We were pretty bummed about it, but are hopeful that we can see them over a different long weekend or maybe even in March. Anywho, we boarded the bus around 4:30 and were slightly surprised when we got on. There was a motorbike parked in the very back in front of the last row of 5 seats. We didn't quite know what it was doing there or whose it was, but we didn't really have a choice but to go around it and sit in the last row. There were no pairs of seats available... I guess everyone wanted two seats to themselves. The ride was a bit uncomfortable because we could only lean one way (against the window) and we were positioned right above the rear tires so it was probably the bumpiest bus ride I've ever taken. There was also the motorbike right in front of us so we couldn't really stretch out our legs. (E- People used the motorbike as a seat and literally rode their entire journey perched on the motorbike. I used the front basket as a foot rest for a while as well.) No one was snoring though, so we were thankful for that. Along the journey we stopped at random places on the side of the road and at bus stations to pick up/drop people off. It was a bit unorthodox and made the journey go fairly slow, but eventually we made it to Phitsanoluk. From here we needed to catch a bus going to Sukothai. Here's where things get interesting....(as if they weren't already!)

waiting. waiting. waiting
We hopped off the bus, hoping beyond hope that we could get a ride to Sukhothai. We asked one guy who told us to go to another window, that person directed us elsewhere, and those people directed us back to the first guy. Finally, we asked information and they directed us to the first guy. One of the people we talked to said there was a bus, but not until maybe 1am. I was not willing to work with 'maybe', so we ended up at the first guy. He said there was a bus at 12am. Phew! We're saved! So 12am rolls right on bus. 1am. Still no bus. At 1:30 I asked him again what time the bus would come. He says (nonchalantly) "Oh bus late! Maybe 2am!" LORD HAVE MERCY! So 2am rolls on by and at 2:30 I was almost (key word here) in tears. Ethan decided to take matters into his own hands. He sees a bus that says Bangkok to Sukhothai Historical Park on the side pull into the station. A few minutes later a Thai boy who was sitting in front of us, and had followed Ethan, came back to tell his girlfriend they were going to Sukhothai. I looked up at him and said "Sukhothai??" He nodded and I bolted for the bus. Ethan was just coming back for me when I got over there and said we could take this bus to Sukhothai. There are two parts to the town, new and old Sukhothai, which are about 9km apart. We had no idea which part we were going to, but decided we could figure that out later. So after being at the bus station for 4 hours, we were finally headed to Sukhothai. Thankfully, we put Phitsanoluk to our backs.

We rolled into Sukhothai at about 4am and got off the bus. We didn't actually know what part we were in but luckily (or maybe not so lucky?) there were "taxis'' there waiting to take sleepy passengers to their hotels and guesthouses as well as make them overpay for a ride. Ethan was convinced we could walk, so when a driver told us it was 80baht for a ride we promptly said no and started walking. He relented though and gave us a ride to a guesthouse for 50baht. It actually turned out to be a good thing that we got a ride because the driver woke up the owner for us so we could get a room. Thank Jesus. They only had a room with two twin beds, but seriously we didn't care one bit. It was hot anyway. We jumped in bed and went right to sleep. It was glorious.

UNESCO World Heritage Site
In the morning, Ethan woke up and couldn't go back to sleep, so he tried to figure out how to walk to the bus station, while I continued snoozing. He ended up figuring out that our guesthouse was really only a 5 minute walk down some side streets and a dirt road from the bus station. He's so good at finding ways to save money! When he got back, we got ready for the day and headed out to find some breakfast. The place we had in mind wasn't open yet, so we headed to old Sukhothai where the ruins of old temples are hoping to find a place that served some American breakfast food. Lucky for us there were about 6 or 7 "Thai/European" restaurants within walking distance of the historical park where we were dropped off. Whoop Whoop! They seemed to be relatively the same so we arbitrarily picked one. After breakfast we rented bicycles to get around the park and got our tickets to get in They were 100baht each plus 10baht for each bike! Yowzas! (E- That's under $4 a person to see a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not too bad, but it also translates to 7 plates of pad thai. Hmm.)

one of the many beautiful ruins
The Sukhothai Historical Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which means it's pretty cool. If you want to know what it "really" means then Google it. (E- Sukhothai calls it a "Memory of the World," which is yet another great Thai translation.) Anyway, we were super excited because the ruins are really super dooper old (some of them have been reconstructed to a certain degree, but we don't know when it was done or what ruins have been reconstructed) and supposedly really beautiful. So we rode our bikes into the park and the ruins really were very cool. The only thing we didn't like was that it was so out in the open. We were kind of expecting them to be more in the forest and and have like vines on them, but they were really out in the open and made for tourists. There were some trees and a few motes and ponds, which added to the ambiance. We walked around a few of the bigger temples in the central section (the park is divided into 3 sections, central, north and west). (E- All 3 sections require a different 100 baht + 10 baht bike fee) We ended up taking a break at one of these larger temples and actually ended up falling asleep under the pagoda. It wasn't a very long nap, but it was just what we needed to finish exploring the park. We stayed at the central part for a bit longer, then decided it was time for lunch. We grabbed some food and headed out to the western part. We only ended up exploring one temple on account of the fact it was a longer bike ride than the map made it look and to get to that temple we had to climb this strange rock wall path up a big hill. So by the time we got back down I was pooped and we headed back. The bike ride back was much more enjoyable because we took a different route that took us by some more temples and through the woods. We were super drained when we got back so we had dinner at a place called Poo Restaurant (Thai people have the best names for places. So creative!) and called it a night.

Ruin at Si Satchanalai 
In the morning we weren't really sure what we wanted to do, but ended up catching a bus to another historical park about an hour from Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai. The "bus" was actually a mini-van that was taking other people to the park. I was a little nervous that we might not actually be going to the park, but there were also several other people with us so that made me feel better. We did make it to the park eventually after the driver stopped about 6 times for various reasons. We were super hungry so we got some lunch that ended up being not very good, after which we rented bikes to tour the park. There were only two parts to the park and we only explored the second, bigger one. We ended up exploring it with a Canadian named Kate. We got to talking with her at the bike rental place and she asked if she could tag along. Of course!! The more the merrier!! So the three of us biked around and looked at the various temples for a few hours. We really enjoyed this park...even more than the one in Old Sukhothai (they are actually part of the same park). It was in a more natural setting and there were a lot less people. It was just really pretty and serene, which made for a very relaxing afternoon.

The bus that goes back to Sukhothai was supposed to pick us up at 4, but didn't get there until around 5:15. Slightly annoying, but not nearly as annoying as where we had to sit. There were no seats left and all the standing room in the usual seating area was full, so we (and several others) were forced to sit in the luggage hold. I get motion sickness from sitting in the back seat of a comfortable, air-conditioned car. So this was about to be the worst ride ever. Luckily, Ethan was asked to stand in the stairwell and the ride wasn't that long, so I switched places with him. Like I said, the ride was short, but it still wasn't very fun having to stand. We also had to stop and let people off and on, so I was constantly in the way. Ethan made friends in the luggage hold though - two girls who were in the same program as us, but had been here since May and Fabian from Germany. (E- One of the girls was a former die-hard Avalanche fan of the late 90s. We relived the glory years of the Aves-Wings rivalry and were able to keep our gloves on. This is by far the BEST RIVALRY in the history of sports. I enjoyed pointing out that the rivalry died because the Aves suck now and the Wings are still thriving.) When we arrived Kate, Fabian, Ethan and I decided to meet up for dinner later. And later we met up at the Chopper Bar - a place that supposedly had good food and a rooftop deck. The deck was full, but we got a seat kind of outside. Anyway, we had a really great time chatting with Kate and Fabian and talking about life in Thailand as well as our home countries. After dinner Fabian took us to the Night Market (that was closed), we got some roti, and finally ended up chatting for a while on the porch of Fabian's hotel. It was a really great night and we really enjoyed hearing about their experiences in life. (E- We got tore up from the floor up by mosquitoes. Quite literally, our ankles were destroyed.)
riding in the luggage hold. normal

We went to bed as soon as we got home - so tired, so sleepy! In the morning we got some breakfast at our guesthouse and caught a bus to Phitsonoluk. We had really hoped to not have to return to this dreadful place, but hoped the experience would be better given that it wouldn't be the middle of the night this time. When we arrived we figured out that the next bus back home wasn't until 2:30. It was around 12 so we decided to try and find a place to get an infamous Thai massage. We walked around the bus station until we finally found (on the last street we checked) a place that did Thai massages and foot massages. Ethan had been wanting a massage for a while so that's what he went with, but I chickened out and only got a foot massage. I can't say it was the best foot massage I've ever had, but it did feel good after having been on my feet for two days. (E- for an hour long full body massage and an hour long foot massage the grand total came to be.. dun dun dun dunnnn... $10 USD) When we stepped out of the massage place I looked up at a passing bus and saw Kate looking out the window at us - what a crazy coincidence.

Anyway, we grabbed some "lunch" from 7/11 before we headed back to the bus station, which consisted of a microwaved mini-pizza and a ham and cheese croissant (which were both strangely delicious). The bus actually arrived early, which made us really happy we were there early to snag seats because there were a ton of people standing on this bus. Unfortunately, we chose seats behind a guy with THE WORST dandruff I have ever seen. Just huge flakes everywhere and his hair was greasy and he kept scratching his head. Why?!? Why does this always happen to us?? Ugh. I tried my best to ignore him and when I finally had all but forgotten about him...he started snoring so loud. And it wasn't normal snoring, it was nasty, head congested snoring with all sorts of snorts and gurgles. My stomach was lurching for an hour. Fortunately, he got off the bus like half way to Thawangpha. Thank Jesus. (E- He looked like a thumb. The worst thumb you could imagine. Like slamming your thumb in a car door and then immersing it into a pot of boiling water. That bad. No joke.)

We got back home around 8:30, grabbed some dinner and headed to our apartment. It was a great weekend and although getting there was a bit rough we really enjoyed the parks and whatever we had to endure on the journey was well worth it (except for dandruff guy...that was too much for me).

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