Like a prized Thai fighter we were back for round three…343 days in.
We arranged our shared taxi with a French couple over breakfast and then left our hotel, bound for Thailand. Five minutes into the journey the driver’s mobile rung, he answered (for the sake of his insurance renewal, lets assume it was hands free) and I almost joked out loud, “how many tv sets have we got to pick up now”. It was actually our hotel, letting us know they still had our passports! We’ll run out of luck some day, let’s hope it can last just a few more months!
Our good fortune with transport has certainly held out through Thailand. Two particularly long and tricky journeys that both looked like we may not make it in one day were overcome with some swift thinking by some determined station ladies (each bus station seems to have at least one lady who seeks out tourists and comes up with a plan to get them to where they want to go). Both involved rather convoluted routes, one involved a tuktuk ride from one bus station to another, only for the bus to swing via the former, but each time we got there, wherever there was to be that day! Thank you bus station ladies of Thailand!
Our first stop was the former capital of Sukhothai, another city with ancient ruins. We were clearly still in Myanmar budget mode when we chose our lodgings that first night, £12 a night is the most we’ve paid in Thailand, but unlike Myanmar this got us an air con bungalow in a lush garden filled with bonsais and koi carp! A day spent cycling around the ruins, fuelled once again by our favourite breakfast of fruit, yoghurt and muesli and topping up with the ubiquitous pad Thai was gentile, if rather a little hot. My attempts to access a Scout campsite that we had seen a sign for were a little more of a challenge as they happened to be in a conservation area that tourists had to pay to reach, but with a little persuasion from our cute teddy (Bear Thrylls) I wangled free access, only to be disappointed with the absence of anything other than a wooden totem denoting I was there.
Not everyone likes fruit, yoghurt and muesli for breakfast, and the following morning as we tucked in, a frog was whining away in the eves above our heads. It wouldn’t be my choice but then snakes generally prefer meat!
Wishing to see wildlife in its more natural environment we journeyed to Khao Yai national park, Thailand’s first, biggest and busiest! We journeyed passed huge manufacturing plants and scores of petrol stations vying for trade with the stream of trucks and lorries hurriedly making their way across the edge of this national park. As always, I had ‘pinned’ our guesthouse on google maps (other mapping apps are available, but my Apple one is useless) but could not believe it when we were dropped off the bus at a Tesco Lotus metropolis and were only three kilometres away – how could such a noisy, neon conurbation be habitable to hurds of wild elephants? The ten minute taxi ride certainly didn’t provide any clues either as we pulled across three oncoming lanes and straight into the open air dining area of our lodgings, this is not the national park experience I was expecting!
Our first outing into the park the following day did not begin until the afternoon, so I was able to take myself out for a jog along the back roads. For 14 kilometres the scene was mostly agricultural land dispersed in between resorts, hotels and a golf course, no elephants here (although I did come across two aggressive dogs and a snake, which was probably dead). Given my fears that this park had probably been turned into a wildlife desert, our outing in the afternoon restored my optimism. We travelled to a local spring and two caves, which sounds pretty mundane, but our guide could not have been more keen to hunt for animals and we saw plenty of the sort that you always hope to keep at a distance. Having already had to display my manly credentials by encouraging a large hairy spider to vacate our room, we then came across the largest golden web spider I have seen. This was followed by a tarantula and a scorpion spider (that Joe decided to pick up so we could get a better look at!) He then shone his torch light to the roof of the cave to illuminate bats (so we thought) but then all of a sudden it came into view, a python, fully five metres off the ground above our heads. We completed our fill of bats at another location at dusk as a million or so spiralled out in search of a meal; though uniquely there were no bars or touts trying to sell us punters beer as has been the case at every other place where we have witnessed this spectacle, serenity!
We swapped Joe for Lee the next day and in doing so lost a little bit of the magic. We also gained a bureaucracy of Belgiums who claimed they were keen to see the gibbons and elephants that roam the park, though clearly not keen enough to stop them jabbering on until I suggested that we might have a higher chance if they were quieter. I had to re-emphasis this to the brand of Americans in the afternoon, but by then I think we were all resigned to having missed out. We still passed some snakes, pig tailed macaques, deers in the car park and a crocodile as well as a spectacular hornbill making its way across the valley, but nothing that quite got the heart racing.
Breaking up our journey back to Bangkok we elected to spend the night in Lopburi. We had come through on the bus and I had spotted it’s running track and that was good enough for me, although we ended up staying a good four kilometres warm up away! Tell anyone in Thailand you are going to Lopburi and they will answer back the same, keep a tight hold on everything, and for good reason as Helen soon encountered a light fingered local trying to snatch her water bottle, cheeky monkey! Quite why the people in the city tolerate the macaques is beyond me, we saw them steeling flip flops, chewing on key rings and pulling people’s hair, but still the locals actively feed them.
And so our 24 hours in Lopburi winds to an end with us melting on the platform waiting for our delayed train ride into Bangkok for a brief sleep in an overpriced hostel before our early bird flight to Hanoi. Our overland adventures have clocked up well over 7000 kilometres since our flight brought us back to Southeast Asia from Nepal 120 days ago. Thailand has been pleasant, with good food, transport and lodgings at reasonable prices. The country feels modern and clean in comparison to many of it’s neighbours but an appetite for food and cars seems to be shaping the waist lines of many of it’s inhabitants, set against a growing interest in running and cycling. Eighteen million visitors a year can’t be wrong; we’ve enjoyed it and we didn’t even hit any of its beaches!