We leave Nepal, where we came on foot, by walking again; in the beginning of May. There are two days for our India visa to expire and we take the train from Raxaul to Kolkata to catch our flight to Bangkok.
We spent only one day in Kolkata in full thanks to Pankaj who hosted us via Couchsurfing. We meet Ganga River here again, after Varanasi, before she is washed to the sea. This city, the capital of West Bengal, is the cleanest and the most modern city in India we have ever seen. The city, where the British took their first step in India, is full of English architecture. One day is clearly not enough to explore.
We land to Bangkok on 5th of May. Now we are in a totally different culture, in Southeast Asia. The officer in the airport checks our passports, stamps and gives them back. That’s all. We step into Thailand for 30 days without visa, for free.
We watch outside through the window while going to the center by subway. Very tidy, very clean, exceedingly modern. Thai people are also very good looking. Beggars’ clothes are cleaner than ours. Everybody looks like they are living in prosperity. People are smiling, transportation is easy… It is also easy to hitch-hike on interprovincial roads. Most of the vehicles in traffic are pick-ups that make it great to travel with the wing in hot weather. Drivers are respectful for bikers, and in Bangkok, there are even bicycle roads.
We go to Banglamphu first, the touristic center of Bangkok, to find a place to stay. After finding a tiny room with shared bathroom for 300 Baht (9 $) and satisfying our need for shelter, we go out to the streets to find something to eat.
It is possible to find various kind of food from restaurants to street sellers. All kinds of sea creatures, chicken, pork, beef… There is grill on every street corner. But it is not that easy to find something vegetarian. Thus, one of the first words we learn in Thai is “mangsawirat” (vegetarian). In our first day, we eat some kind of vegetable spring roll for breakfast. Then we explore Pad Thai. Pad Thai, is one of the most delicious vegetarian options in Thailand (there is also one with shrimp). The main ingredient is noodle, it has a sweet-chili taste like many other Thai dishes because of the spices in it. Another vegetarian option is of course; rice. Fried rice with vegetable becomes our main dish for the rest of the day. For vegan travellers it is harder, because there is egg in most of the dishes. It is possible to get full for a couple of dollars in local restaurants or in street stalls.
As it is very easy to be a tourist in Thailand, it is one of the most touristic countries in Southeast Asia; there are tourists everywhere. Culturally it’s very open; you can wear what you want. The most important touristic activities are to visit Wat, a temple complex, and to have a Thai massage. Massage is really cheap; one hour for 200-250 Baht (6-8 $). You can see massage parlors everywhere; there are massage seats even on streets. Thai massage may be the biggest business in Thailand as it is also preferred by local Thai people.
Just walking aimlessly in Bangkok is enjoyable as there are many things to see around. If you want to visit museums, you can get a card called “Museum Pass” for 200 Baht (6 $) and enter a lot of places with it (except Grand Palace and Wat Pho where you can Reclining Buddha Statue; you should pay 3-15$ for each).
Also you can take a boat for 10-15 Baht on the river dividing the city in two and watch the scenery of skyscrapers and temples. For the same price, it is also possible to get on a boat sailing on the canals used for transportation to suburbs. Water in the canals smells a bit bad, but it is worth to see the buildings around as much as you can in the boat going too fast.
In Thailand, after the photographs of the King and the Queen, Thai massage seats and Wats, the most common and attractive thing is the night market. Wherever you are, just go to a night market around. You can have a dinner by tasting different things from each stall. We couldn’t go to the famous Chatuchak Market as we couldn’t wait until the weekend, but Chinatown doesn’t look like a Chinese settlement.
After spending a couple of days in Bangkok, we leave there and go to Ayutthata, famous for its ancient temple ruins, at the north of the city. It is a small settlement where you can explore in a couple of hours by bicycle. The most exciting of all the temples in the city is Wat Yai Chai Mongkoi, at the east of the railway.
We spent most of the hot noon time in the pool of the hotel we stay for 200 Baht (6 $) (Tony’s Place). In the evening, when it gets cool, we take our bicycles and go to the lake at the center of the city and ride among the ruins look amazing at the sunset.
Just after the sunset, while going back to hotel, we run into the night market of Ayutthaya at the corner of Bang Laen and Chikun Streets and have dinner.
From Ayutthaya, we take a train ticket to Chiang Mai on our way to Pai from the cheapest sleeper class with fan like we always did in India. Tickets are more expensive than India (540 Baht/16 $ per person). But there we see the punctiliousness of Thailand. While expecting simple beds like in India, we run into beds with pillows, white sheets and curtains. The only cheaper alternatives of Sleeper Class are the couches with comfortable seats (2nd Class) and uncomfortable seats (3rd Class). There is no cheap sleeper class. When we made out return trip in 3rd class couch, we realise that it is not possible to sleep but it is more economic (200 Baht).
As we will come back to Chiang Mai, we directly take a bus to Pai. Pai is a town running only with tourism. It is the meeting point of backpackers and the hippies. It is possible to stay and enjoy the social atmosphere, cheaper than Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
You can visit the villages around with a tour or try the trekking routes around in daytime. And every night, you can go to listen to live music in different places, join reggae parties and of course eat something in the night market. We choose rent bicycles and get away from to settlement to get closer to the nature as we don’t like to participate in a tour.
While hitchhiking after leaving Pai on the road to Mae Hong Son to explore the villages around, we find Lisu Lodhe thanks to Amee from Thailand who took us to her car. Lisu Lodge is owned by Amee and her German husband Rudi. We stay for 100 Baht (3 $) in a bungalow of this guesthouse, in a small village called Ban Namrin. We eat the great Lisu dinner prepared by Amee in the evening, and have breakfast with German style pancakes of Rudi. But the better thing is fruits of tens of tropical trees in the garden are delicious and free.
We walk to Mae U Mong, a Karen village, 2 hours from Lisu lodge and explore the hidden villages of Thailand, its nature and plants whose names are unknown to us.
We were expecting neglected and old houses in the villages, but we ran into beautiful and well-cared village houses with a designed landscape; even in non-touristic villages. All the cars on the roads are shining, everybody is clean and attentive, Thai people take care of how they look.
The following day, we explore the Coffin Cave in Pang Ma Pha area. We are also planning to swim in Lam Lang River. But we are suspicious of its depth and cleanliness. We find a way down to the river just at the opposite side of Coffin Cave. Luckily, we are at a point where the river is deep, and just jump in it.
Again, on the back of a pick-up, we go back to Chiang Mai for 2 weeks of Thai Massage Course. Old Medicine Hospital, where Ebru took her course is more experienced and cheaper compared to other places. Also it is easy to reach by bike or tuk tuk as it is easy to the center of Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is the second largest city of Thailand, old center of which is circled by a canal. It is also a center to go to the national parks around for trekking. The cheapest hotels are around Somphet Market. We stay in Giant Guesthouse for 280 Baht (8$) per day for two weeks. The night markets on Wua Lai Street on Saturday and the one on Ratchamanka Street on Sunday are the best places for shopping. After the temples in the city, Doi Suthep National Park is also worth seeing.
Monthathan Waterfalls, close to Doi Suthep, is a well preserved natural are with one hour trekking route in it. Entrance fee is 100 Baht (3 $), and it is possible to camp inside.
There are many places to explore in Thailand, especially the well-known southern beaches. But we take a train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet and pass to Cambodia on foot as we came to the end of our time in Thailand. After one month we will spend in Cambodia, we will come back to Thailand to explore the south. But we will not be able to take nice photographs like we did before as we lost our camera on our last days in Chiang Mai…