Above and Below

In the Clouds

Sunday 23 April

Luoping – Xingyi – Guanling

Motoring long the vast freeway infrastructure is amazing. Long concrete bridges spanning deep and wide valleys and long tunnels burrow through the limestone rock, bringing the tops of the karst landforms up close to us. Karst land forms are dissolved limestone deposits with sinkholes and caves in abundance – tomorrow we visit the biggest limestone cave network in China.

We are up quite high about 1800mt to 2000mts and the freeways snake their way between the mountain plateau, tiny villages of white rendered two or three storey houses with red/brown terracotta tiles cling to merge plots of land. In some places we were touching the cloud base and mist swirled around the cars. We are dirving from Yunnan province to Guanling province and the towards the Yangtze river and flatter land but that won’t happen for a few more days.

Massive bridges some over 2kms long span deep valleys.

We visited the Xingyi gorges  with its waterfall but the most impressive sight was the glass elevator which you could use to transport you down and up at least 8-9 storeys to the bottom of the gorge. Otherwise you can walk down and up  along the steep narrow steps. They are building a new bridge over the gorge and a super highway and the height of the cranes working on the concrete supports and pylons are staggeringly tall.

Next stop was the Huangguoshu Waterfalls. Part one, the falls cascaded over rounded boulders and you could spend quite some time wandering around a circuit admiring the lake, rapids and gardens. It is famous for being one of the place the famous Monkey King passed through on his way from India to China. We all know it by its name of Monkey Magic a famous TV series in the 80’s, and adventure of Monkey, Pigsy, Fishman, talking Horse and the monk ontheir road to enlightenment. There were a few statutes commemorating their journey. Part two involved the major waterfall at nearly 80 mts drop the way down leads you through a beautiful landscape of ponds and ancient bonsai trees and plants. The descent is equivalent to walking down 50 flights of stairs. – there are steps everywhere here in China.

Huangguoshu Part 1 waterfall
Do you remember Monkey Magic?
China’s Nigara falls -Part 2

The water is a beautiful emerald green as it tumbles over the limestone rocks – it is said to be the Nigara Falls of China – and the largest falls in China. The very steep ascent can be walked or you can take 2 enormously long and steep escalators to a station from which you need to walk up at least another kilometre to the car park.

People everywhere we go are bery welcoming and friendly and eager to hear about our trip and cars.

Monday 24  April

Guanliong – Zhijin Caves – Jinsha

We have taken many provincial roads and have been confronted by slow moving transports, pot holes and animals so travelling on the super freeway is a faster way of reaching a destination. Once again we motored through the limestone mountain tops- feeling if we were on top of the world.

Karst Limestone peaks

We arrived at the famous Zhijin Caves- the biggest network in China caves possibly the world, After driving through the roughest unmade road and vista of huge front end loaders and hundreds of people building a new road ( by hand with women lugging baskets of rocks in the misty rain,) we found ourselves walking about 1 kilometre up hill to the mouth of the caves. We were greeted with a long slippery windy descent into the bowels of the earth. The Halls, Rooms, Palaces of limestone formations were breathtaking- possibly the biggest and best we have ever seen.
One Hall was at least three times the size of the MCG and had the most amazing columns which reached up to the ceiling and were nearly 40 mts in diameter. Some rock formations looked like jelly fish and haven’t been seen anywhere else in the world. The wonderful part is that some of this cave system, the stalagmites and stalamites etc are still growing. The coloured electric lights were spectacular and highlighted the formations, casting shadows across pools of water so still you would swear they were mirrors. The walk from one end of the cave system to the other is about 6kms and there were thousands of steps leading right up to ceiling height through tunnels into other rooms and halls.

Zhijin Caves

If you are into caves this is a MUST SEE even if you have to fly to Kunming to get there. The photos I took don’t do justice to the sheer size and beauty of the caves.

Driving into Jinsha we were surprised to see the after effects of the coal burning electic power stations. The cars, roads and buildings were coated with thick black dust which clung onto everything. Huge coal trucks were digging up the roads creating massive potholes. Mixed with the misty rain it turned the roads into greasy streams of black mud which did coat our cars. Fortunately, after buying petrol we were all treated to a box of tissues and a free car wash with a powerful hose. Pity that tomorrow the cars will be dirty again as we drive to Chongqing.

The Mighty Dragon continues

Hani Ethic people and The famous Rice Terraces at Yuan yang

On the way to Puér we stopped for petrol and these vast service stations had huge supermarkets and this one had a store filled with 6 stalls full to the brim with TEA. Yunnan is the world capital for every type of tea imaginable. The displays, presentations and packaging of each tea is particular to what it is made from. While waiting we were inundated with people wanting photos with us and we have never seen so many Porsche Cayenne, Panamaras, Range Rovers in one carpark as we did here.

Before arriving at our hostel in the Rice Terraces we were treated to our first views of these ancient rice fields which have existed like this since the 1300’s. The steep mountain sides are dotted with clusters of cream coloured houses with thatched pitched roofs, clinging precariously to the side of the mountains – we are up at around 2100mts and the climb was long, windy and littered with water buffalos, dogs, children and ethic Hani People returning slowly from either work in the fields or school , most of the women dressed in stunning traditional embroidered clothes, headdresses dripping with silver.

As we arrived at our delightful hostel the heavens opened in a tropical deluge. This passed quickly leaving the roads awash with rocks, waterfalls and debris. We left again to visit the famous Dragon’s Mouth a viewing platform of the Rice Terraces and we awaited the sunset. No-one told us that the 15 minute or so walk was down hundreds of steps.- 406 to be precise- Peter counted them. After the sunset we had to walk up them again in the growing twilight and then drive 17kms back to our hostel along more cobbled, and impossibly windy roads. Not to worry the views were well worth the effort.

We arrived in the dark and went straight to dinner at a local restaurant and were treated to some local delicacies such as deep fried river shrimps, pork dishes, tree flowers – kapok(used to stuff pillows) which tasted like chewy seaweed and look like a type of garden moss and the piece de resistance were water critters that were alive when we entered but were cooked especially for us they looked like giant termites with 6 legs and big body and head with pincers. – yummy when stirfried… bit crunchy but full of protein.

Another table of very friendly Chinese treated us to many toasts and a special song and dance routine. It was so noisy we didn’t hear the torrents of rain falling on the roof. A quick dash to the car and brief drive to the hostel which had fabulous accommodation.

Up early in the morning to view the sunrise didn’t happen because the clouds were so thick and low we couldn’t even see our car in the car park.

Umbrellas over a bridge at the Tropic Gardens

The 90km journey back to the main highway on cobbled, steeply descending roads (no safety barriers), blanketed in such thick fog and clouds visibility was no more than 10mts, if that. Peter was the leader and he inched his way down, once again avoiding the herds of water buffalo, ducks, chickens, dogs, cows, workers venturing off for the day. The mountains have many different varieties of conifer growing on them along with banana plantations and other tropical/alpine plants such as azaleas and rhododendrons.

After reaching the bottom the clouds disappeared and we were on our way North to Luo Ping.

 We have masses of photos but each one takes so long to download  when I can I will put together a gallery for you all to have a look.

China – The Mighty Dragon

Wednesday 19 April – Sunday 22 April

The last few days have been long and fast paced. After an efficient and relatively quick driving license process we had our provisional Chinese Driving licenses. The next step was to register the cars, this was done professionally and quickly, focusing on our brakes and lights. The officials were very helpful and soon we had our new number plates.

The striking first impression of this frontier SW region is the rapid expansion of the road network and the fast train. They are building enormous  freeways and rail links to all parts of this huge nation of 1.6 billion people. On our way to Puér the tea capital of Yunnan the scenery is dramatic with towering mountains, swaying clumps of giant bamboo and even conifers. We are going quite high in altitude for the next few days. 2000+ mts to where most of the towns are situated. We passed the Red River which winds it way to Vietnam and the Pacific Ocean, it is a red oxide colour due to the colour of the soil here. The mountains are slashed with super highways, inclines that stretch for 25kms along massive roads and through long tunnels up to 3 kms long. In China they don’t go around a mountain but through it. Long trucks lumber laboriously up the inclines into the mountains. They know how to drive and stay in one lane there are lanes for max 120kms and others for trucks. On the descents which are very long the trucks have to apply water cooled brakes which leave the roads constantly wet so you can imagine the state of the cars!

Freeways

We stopped off at China’s largest Botanic Gardens which consisted on many different gardens and forests, such as the fig forest, orchids of every variety hang from baskets and trees and containers, flower gardens and pavilions, cacti, aromatic garden and medicinal gardens, are sign posted. Ponds and lakes are filled with waterlilies. It is huge and you are driven from one part to the other in electric cars, get out and walk around until you want to go to another area. It is about 11.0 sq kilometres of gardens to explore.

 

 

Luang Prabang-Elephant Heaven

Luang Prabang- Lao

16 April – 18 April 2017

Driving to Luang Prabang, celebrations of Pi Mai Lao continued in the small villages and hamlets we passed through. We were constantly winding up our windows to avoid being drenched by enthusiastic adults and children. Unfortunately, these celebrations didn’t make our journey easy. The roads deteriorated. As we drove into the rugged mountains the constant climbs up inclines of between 12 – 14% put a strain on the engines causing overheating. When we reached the top of the climb the brakes and clutch were tested on the way down. We wondered how some of the heavily overloaded trucks managed to complete this journey on a regular basis.

Luang Prabang is a peaceful town, once the ancient capital of Lao and surrounded by mist covered mountains. Our hotel had the most magnificent views overlooking the town. With golden Buddhas and Stupas shining in the sunlight.

The night market was buzzing with stalls filled with wonderful fabrics woven in traditional patterns and colours. You could buy just about anything here.

The highlight of the stay was a visit to the Elephant Sanctuary where elephants are rescued from a life of drudgery, dragging logs through forests. They have an elephant hospital for treating them. Most of us enjoyed a bare-back ride – one person per elephant and its mahout. No howdows or sharp hooks are used to urge the elephants on, only the feet of the driver and you just hang onto the head of the head as they lumbered down to the river. The big thrill is wading down the river on the elephant! After this adventure we visited Tad Sae a “dry waterfall’’ in a Lao longboat. Its dry because the rainy season hasn’t started yet – that’s what Pi Mai Lao is about – hoping for the rains so rice can be planted, and water tanks filled.

The drive to Luang Namtha from Luang Prabang was another long and bumpy one, with many long trucks we had to pass on the way. This is the main road to China and we leave Lao for China near Botan. The Chinese are building many power stations here as well as building fast train links between Singapore, Bangkok, Vientiane and the China.

Tomorrow we enter China and maybe our of reach of internet.

 

 

V 

Pi Mai LAO

PI MAI LAO everyone

BAlloons for sale

Vientiane Lao 14 April to 16 April 2017

During the long drive from Thakhet to Vientiane the flat scenery was punctuated by jagged mountains and outcrops of stone. The hamlets along the way were clearly in Pi Mai Lao mode or Preparing for New Year celebrations. Still we encountered more livestock on the way and even more frequently herds of water buffalo wandering by the side of the road. With happy revellers riding motorbikes quite carelessly we needed to be on the alert form waterbombs, buckets of water, and hosing. This was topped off by talcum powder and food dye.

Golden Rain Trees everywhere
100 Buddha Park

WE arrived at the Buddha Park about 20kms from Vientiane to a multitude of stalls and a park filled with a 100 different depictions of Buddha – this is situated on the banks of the Mekong. The national flower is of Lao is the frangipani and the other flower which is blooming everywhere is the Golden Rain tree. Blooms of this are draped over cars and used to sprinkle jasmine scented water over the Buddhas and temples.

We arrived in Vientiane to a thorough soaking from super soakers and water bombs and talc and very loud music which we could feel the  pounding beat in our chests as we drove down the streets.

We had a traditional meal of sticky rice in banana tubes and char grilled chicken and papaya salad. Most of the cafes and restaurants were closed all in preparations for the next few big days. We went to bed with ear plugs because the music was so loud from across the road.

15 April 2017

This morning started tamely with an early morning visit via tuk tuk to a temple, museum and a stupa. The temple once housed the famous Emerald Buddha which is now in Bangkok. The Golden Stupa is being restored and glistened in the early morning sun. One of our group bought a cage of 2 finches which she released in the grounds of the temple. This temple housed hundreds of tiny Buddhas in small niches around the walls. The walls were slowly being restored to their original brilliant colours. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take photographs inside.

Upon returning to the hotel we heard that a parade was due to start so we wander over to the main street to witness massive mosh pits of people dancing under plumes of water. We didn’t escape a soaking either  -as we walked we were bombarded with ice water and super soakers and buckets of water. Even eating our lunch in a café didn’t protect us as utes filled with brightly coloured people slowly drove by throwing water at all .

Everyone was so happy and dancing everywhere-a wonderful time to be in Vientiane. Tomorrow we are off to the ancient capital Luang Prabang.

Happy Songran

Cars at Thakhek Lao

Wednesday 12 April

Typical hamlet stalls in Lao
Paske at sunset on the banks of the Mekong

Kratie to Paske Lao
Another long and very hot day on the road. We start at 8.00am and shamroack continues to do us proud. By travelling over numerous pot holes and dirt roads we managed to cut off 250kms. Towards the Lao border the roads were just dirt and couldn’t be called a highway at all. As we drove along you can hear the loud chorus of the cicadas through our open car windows as we drive along. Once again we played chicken with more cows, calves and chickens. We even saw a few large pigs hogtied to the back of motor bikes. We passed many old trucks packed to overflowing with furniture and gifts and people – everyone was going home for Songran – New Year. The Lao border crossing was very quick and efficient, the offices were quite regal looking.
Paske is on the banks of the Mekong and quite an exotic looking town, where we could watch a magnificent sunset from our room. We are finding it difficult to write our blog daily because we get in so late to our destination and leave early. We have a team meeting between 6 or 7.00pm then dinner and time for bed.

Thursday 13 April
Beginning of Songran
Paske to Thakhek Lao on the Mekong
Leaving Paske we were leaders for the day and again our drive is taking us further into to Lao to Vientienne. We are following the course of the Mekong. As we drove we could see the preparations for the Water Festival and the family get to gethers, music blaring everywhere and children were gathering by the side of the road with their supersoakers and buckets of water, ready to throw it at everyone who passed by either on bikes, trucks or cars. We even got a soaking!. Lots of fun! This time we have been avoiding not only wayward cows, chickens and dogs but we now have goats and there have been hundreds. It started to rain in the afternoon as we drove into Thakhek but it has cleared and we can see the rugged mountains in the distance. Tomorrow is Songran for the next few days and we are off to another city which will be wonderful. The celebrations have started with VERY loud music and people splashing water and covering themselves with coloured pastes.

Angkor Wat to Paske

Sunrise at Angkor Wat – Siem Reap
Monday 10 April
After exploring Ta Phrom, The Bayon and the stunning Ta Prohm made famous by the Movie Lara Croft tomb raider yesterday, we were up VERY early to get to Angkor Wat to view the sunrise. Carrying little woven baskets with individual tiffin tins which contained our breakfast we positioned ourselves to view the sun come over the ancient buildings which were built from the 1100’s then lost to the jungle until the 1850’s. It is hard to imagine that the moat which surrounds Angkor Wat was hand dug and measures nearly 2kms by 1.6kms surrounding the site. The buildings have been rebuilt by various countries and the bas reliefs have also been restored.
What luck! Yesterday we finished the day with a sunset long boat ride on Tonle Sap lake over to the floating villages situated in one of the largest lakes in SE Asia. This village contains everything from temples, a Catholic church, a hospital and schools. All floating together. So we had a sunset and a sunrise in two totally different locations.

The team at Ta Prohn
The Mighty Mekong

Mighty Mekong – Siem Reap to Kratie Koh Trong Island Cambodia
Tuesday 11 April
Off we go travelling through many villages and bumpy potholed roads to the mighty Mekong, which begins its long journey from Nepal to the sea in Vietnam. The land is very flat and obviously prone to flooding as the road reflects by it poor condition. We spend most of our trip dodging motorbikes, chickens, dogs and cows which run or wander into our path. The travelling is quite slow no more than 70-90kmsp/hr but mainly around 80. After a very hot and sweaty drive we arrived and were taken across the Mekong in a little longboat and then by motorbike to our eco friendly cluster of wooden village like houses where we stayed the night. The river is home to the famous pink Kampi Dolphins which live here in the fresh water of the Mekong. The next day on our way to Paske we have an opportunity to see them lazily swimming around. But it was difficult to get a photo because they surfaced only for a moment.

Ingenuity and Beauty

Bang Saen, Khao Yai to Siem Reap – Ingenuity, Beauty and Resourcefulness

7 April – 9 April 2017

 

Ready for our trip to Cambodia.

After lining up to have our team photo taken the Mgs set off in earnest with escorts front and back – as required by the Thai Government. We did attract a spectacle as we drove in convey to Khao Yai National Park. The scenery varied from villages, hamlets to bustling towns as we motored towards our destination in Cambodia.

The inside of Shamrock did heat up quite considerably despite having all windows open. The heat from the gearbox radiated throughout the cabin. We had come well prepared and consumed litres of water. We were very thankful to have sheepskin seat covers which provided us with some comfort. Shamrock has been performing very well as have the other cars despite the heat.

As we drove to Khao Yai NP the scenery changed as did the traffic density. We stopped at the Dasada Resort Gallery which had the most magnificent displays of tropical plants and flowers under cover – similar to walking into a giant hothouse. The floral tribute display to the king was breathtakingly beautiful.

Floral Tribute to Late King

We drove on to the national park and immediately noticed signs and warnings about elephants crossing the road. We saw evidence of their passing on the roads but no elephants. The temperature dropped a little but the humidity was high and as we drove through the lush jungle we heard the calls and yowls of the various monkeys and gibbons. The NP is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the largest forest areas in SE Asia, supporting 4 different vegetation zones from altitudes of 100mt to 1400mts.

Amazon water lilies big enough to hold a baby on at Dasada Resort

While eating Lunch at the NP the heavens opened – at least we closed the windows of Shamrock- even a family of mum, dad and baby porcupines thought it was too wet to be out in the open and were quickly scurrying for shelter. We saw at least 3 different species of deer and a hornbill bird, and passed numerous monkeys on the road. The walk through the jungle and the drive the Haew Suwat waterfall in the rain and thunder was magical.

Swing bridge into the NP jungle

The Dasada Resort where we stayed was so vast we were driven around in golf carts. Another site which was picturesque with mountains as backdrops, ponds filled with amazon lily pads and pools to relax in.

Driving the next day to the border of Thailand and Cambodia and onto Siem Reap was an experience in having the right people to help us through the border control. Our guides and official made our border crossing painfree. The border at Aranyaprathet was a frentic border outpost where trucks lined the road side waiting their turn to be cleared by customs – around 5-6 days waiting. The traffic was bumper to bumper, the roads threw up clouds of red dust as we made our way through the traffic jumble.

Trucks lining up for customs at the border
In No Man’s land at the border – Passport control Cambodia
2 wheel drays pulled by one or tow people at border crossing

 

 The topography of the land changed as we entered Cambodia as did the vehicles which used their horns prolifically to warn others. In Bangkok the drivers were noticeably quieter and more restrained with their honking. Now we are driving on the right side of the road but someone needed to tell that to the motor scooters and hand pushed drays. The land was flat and aided the people as they strained to push drays and wagons loaded to overflowing with bags of rice, pineapples, melons and other produce along through the border crossing and on the road.

The vehicles are obviously multi-purpose – ploughing fields, providing transport and driving produce to market. Innovative designs which looked like bits of various motor parts welded together with a mix master engine which propelled the load and occupants along at about 40 km/hour looked more like works of metal art than vehicles. This area was flat and swampy, suitable for rice growing. The contrast in buildings was striking as was the types of cars – from ancient Camrys, held together with cables to up to date Lexus (i?).

Finally we arrived in Siem Reap, a busy hectic city which has grown rapidly since we were last here in 2008, when there were only 2 or 3 hotels and one main street. The rate of tourist development here is extraordinary. The hotel we are staying at is the Shinta Mani and quite luxurious as have all the hotels we have stayed in so far. But we are expecting abit of variety in accommodation so we better make the most of it here. Stunning pool and service – cool towels as you return from exploring the town.

 

 

 

 

 

Contrasts

Peter getting ready for his fast lap at MG experience.
Reclining Buddha

Contrasts         

April 4 2017

Contrasts was the name of the game here in Bangkok. After driving from Baen Saen through the legendary peak hour traffic to busy Bangkok, we passed ramshackle tin sheds, with mangy dogs scratching in the dust, high rise buildings, factories and newly built little condos with green and blue roofs. Giving you the feeling this city never sleeps.

Grand Palace

Everywhere we drove or walked, hundreds of photographs of the beloved late King Rama IX were on display. The King passed away last October, plunging Thailand into a state of yearlong mourning, confronted us everywhere. Buildings, houses, shops and fences are decked with swathes of black and white rosettes and garlands of fabric. Out of respect many people are wearing Black. We saw this during our visit to the Royal Grand Palace. I think we were privileged to witness this historic occasion – the King was the longest reigning monarch in the world having reigned for over 70 years. At the Grand Palace thousands of people were milling around. Many coming to pay their respects, having to wait for up to 6 hours to file passed him as he lay in state in the Dusit Maha Prasat Hall.

We were able to visit the Outer and Middle Palaces which were built from 1782 by various Kings, each successive King was required to build a new palace or complex before taking up the throne. The development of different styles is evident. The detailed glazed ceramic tiled pagodas are scattered everywhere. The Golden Pagoda, housing relics of Buddha gleams like a golden beacon above the surrounding brightly mosaic covered pavilions. Eight differently coloured towers or Prangs compose the Phra Asadha Maha Chedi which are dedicated to certain Buddhist concepts. Chinese stone statutes guard the entrances to many gates, trading with China as ballast in exchange for silk, rice, teak and porcelain.

Other highlights were the Emerald Buddha a small Jasper/Jade statue which is housed in one the most prominent buildings – a Chapel built in 1782. The outside is decorated with gold gilt, mosaic coloured stones and tiles and heavy thick inlaid mother of pearl doors and six pairs of fierce Demon Guardians face the Emerald Buddha chapel, guarding it from evil spirits. 

Throughout the complex you have the multiple views of the Prangs and differently shaped stupas and the winged garudas perched on the coloured tiled roofs. So much to see and learn! Making this a breath-taking experience.

Wat Pho

Wat Pho or the famous Reclining Buddha was quite sublime. Apart from the hundreds of people silently filing passed, you couldn’t help but wonder how it was constructed. Made from brick and stucco and covered with gold gilt, the feet are intricately patterned with inlaid mother of pearl, which represent a great man. The world famous icon is worshipped by Buddhists, who believe the image will bring them happiness and peace. Who wouldn’t want those things?

 Wat Pho is a royal monastery and temple which housed contemplative and artistic monks and taught traditional Thai massage. Statues of Buddha abound in various Halls, pagodas, galleries and temples, in one of the four aspects of meditation  sitting, reclining, standing and walking.

We arrived in style at the Royal Naval Club for lunch, after a hair raising trip in a tuk-tuk from the Grand Palace. The Tuk-Tuk driver made Lewis Hamilton look like he was driving a pedal car!

Our day was complete with a ride in a long boat across the river and into the klongs in Bangkok. Some tin shacks clung onto the banks of the canals on rotting wooden piers, muddy banks littered with rubbish and plastic bags, were guarded by goanna like monster lizards up to 2 to 3 metres long.

Common Water Monitor Lizard hanging around the Klongs of Bangkok


Other houses, made from teak and shingles rose majestically from lush tropical gardens. In between rose small faded concrete structures and houses containing various cottage industries. Children sat on the rickety verandas feeding a frenzy of catfish. Then the heavens opened as they do in a tropical climate and we saw another face of the klong. Water cascaded off the roofs creating waterfall like effects. Some people even took advantage of the rain and had a wash.

Wednesday brought us the MG experience – from the sublime to the ridiculous….A car test track for customers of MG in the middle of the city. What a treat! We were given an introduction to the concept and then invited to test drive a MG 3, MG 5, MG 6 and MG GS and a couple of other options of engine size. We were encouraged to drive as fast as possible, test out the cornering and brakes – I’ve never made car tires squeal!! We then had a timed lap and this became a hotly contested race between the girls and guys. Pat was the fastest lady and I was second fastest! Peter timed .04 faster than me! The girls did really well despite a persistent black and white dog which insisted on either chasing the accelerating car or even managed to lie down in front of one of the starting cars. MG took us to lunch after presenting each of us with a Tee-shirt and a picnic rug. Everyone had a fabulous time – this certainly put us into a suitable frame of mind for our final preparation of our cars.

 

Bangkok and Thailand is certainly a land of contrasts and contradictions.

Klongs of Bangkok

 

Early start

Thursday 06/04/2017

6.00AM start!! Win our guide informed us. This lengthy bus trip of 3 ½ hours took us across the outskirts of Bangkok, down south towards Hua Hin. Fortunately, a light breakfast had been arranged but everyone was hanging out for a coffee which we all enjoyed when we had a rest stop at the 1 ½ hour mark. Good old Macs…

Dangerous Market or Folding Umbrella Market

Further on in the bus … ‘Do you want to go to the Dangerous Market?” Win asked us ”Sure why not” we responded not knowing what we were getting ourselves into. We promptly found ourselves walking on a narrow rail tracks which ran through houses and market stalls selling everyday bric a brac, fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood, eggs, fish – many still alive and soon to be dead. Even neatly skewered field chicken more commonly known as frog was available to the consumer. Suddenly a blaring announcement shrieks over a PA system -3 Minutes. Everyone starts scurrying to the sides, stall owners casually pull in their goods and promptly at 9.00am the train departs the quaint station. As you look down the track you can see all the awnings and umbrellas folding back like guards coming to attention as the train approaches and chuggs it way straight through the market stalls. Most food has either been moved or covered or simply left where it is because it fits neatly under the undercarriage of the train. When the train has passed the awnings and umbrellas fold back into place – hence the name Folding Umbrella market or Dangerous market. And this happens four times a day. A worthwhile and authentic experience of everyday small town life.

We stopped off at centre which gave demonstrations of how coconut milk and palm sugar were made. Coconuts and Palm sugar are essential ingredients in Thai cookery. They balance the taste of the Hot, Sour, and Salty ingredients. The amazing thing is palm sugar is extracted from the inside of the closed flower of the palm tree, boiled down to a syrup and cooled before packaging. Not as sweet as normal sugar, having a delicate caramel flavour.

 After more travelling we were dropped off at a small wharf where long narrow boats collected us for our tour of the klongs a series of canals designed for Rama IV to cruise around. Rama IV is better known from King and I fame – having many wives and over 70 children.

Floating Market

The long boats were skilfully manoeuvred through the klongs and canals to the floating market site. Wow what a crowd of tourists! Old women in long narrow boats plying their trade of mango sticky rice, black sesame waffles, neatly folded into petal shapes or dried fish and squid was slightly reminiscent of days gone by. But this way of life is slowly being overwhelmed by boats and stalls selling cheap imitation bags, clothes and kewpie dolls. Definitely catering for the increasing tourist trade from Europe.

Last stop – organic buffet lunch at the famous Rose Gardens which are situated on the banks of a wide river which swiftly carries rafts of bobbing water hyacinth and reeds downstream to the sea. There is also a golf course, hotel, elephant and cultural centre and various restaurants, a large lake and Chinese style pavilion which is popular for weddings. This area is not far from Hua Hin which is a more quiet holiday destination near the sea and where the late King’s summer Palace was situated.

Everyone was eager to return to the hotel now to organise the cars before we leave tomorrow for the north -east of Thailand. The MG experience people are coming to farewell us along with a photo shoot.

Our Silk Road adventure will begin in earnest on Friday.

Wonderful Bangkok

Wonderful Bangkok!

Sunday 2 April 2017

The bustle, smells and sounds hit you immediately you exit the plane. This is Bangkok! We are finally here and ready for our big adventure.

We were quickly through the formalities and into our bus on our way to Baen Saen a town about 1 hour out of the main city and close to Pattaya and the Port where we were picking up our cars from.

Unfortunately, because we arrived so early – 8.00am – our rooms weren’t ready. We were invited to have breakfast. What a revelation! Hoards of people milling around the buffet tables laden with everything from croissants to spaghetti bolognaise and fried rice. But wait something didn’t look quite right – most of them were wearing their PJs. Now that’s a lazy Sunday breakfast….Baen Saen beach

 

After breakfast to clear the cobwebs we took a stroll along the beach the sand was covered with neat colourful rows of deckchairs huddled together under a mass of umbrellas looking out to sea. Piles of inner tubes were stacked up and children and adults were enjoying floating around on them while dodging the jet skis and hang-gliders. What impressed us was the sense of family that was displayed with everyone cooking and eating under the umbrellas on the beach in little groups. The hawkers stalls stretched for over 5 kms selling enormous prawns, horseshoe crabs, mussels, calamari and squid which they grilled over charcoal braziers. The aromas were delightful. Its Durian season as well so the fruit stalls groaned with durians, jack fruits, rambutans and tiny bananas. We enjoyed a refreshing walk along the promenade while we waited for our rooms to be cleaned and prepared. As time wore on the sun and the humidity rose.

Finally at 3.30pm we were in our room. A hot shower was really great.

The Sydney crew arrived around 7.30pm and we all enjoyed drinks and nibbles before venturing off to a Thai restaurant where we feasted on traditional Thai food of rice, pork mince salad with betel leaves, and yellow prawn curry ….today has been largely a waiting game.  We were all up bright and early ready for the Thai Customs authorities to clear our cars. The drive from our hotel to the Port took about 40 minutes and all the guys quickly signed the necessary mountain of papers. Now we had to wait for the powers to be to check and approve all the signed paper work. To while away the time we went to Pattaya and explored the Central Festival centre which had everything in it from a Sunglass Hut to a Marks and Spencer. This place is on the beach and now extremely popular with tourists such as the Russians even the signs are in Russian along with Thai. A very busy and buzzing place and this is a regular Monday – during holiday time it must be so crowded!

At the moment we are still waiting in Starbucks for a phone call to inform us our paper work has been approved…hopefully we will get the cars before it gets dark for our journey back to Baen Saen.

We just got the go ahead!! We have the cars. Escorted by Thai Customs officials, we raced to the Customs clearance centre. There were the cars waiting for us in an enormous hanger. Keys were handed out and Shamrock needed a little choke and sprung into action.

We had an escorted drive to fuel up, then it was an escorted trip back to the hotel  – in the dark. A couple of things about driving in Thailand. On the 4 lane highways all trucks and buses travel at 80kph in the 2 left lanes only and regular cars drive at a 120kph in the 2 right hand lanes and small vans can travel at 100kph. Seems to work seamlessly. The traffic light cycle is very long but automatically changes according to the amount of traffic flow.