We had decided the previous day that we would spend the morning exploring the town a bit and then try and be on our way by around 11:00, as we didn’t have that far to travel today. Shan and Kath were keen to spend some time relaxing at the boat house, and maybe take a walk into town a bit later. John was keen to visit some more of the sites, and Dad and I wanted to drive to the Erawan National Park, which contained the Erawan Falls, said to be the most beautiful in all of Thailand. It wasn’t clear who exactly it was that was saying this, presumably the tour guides in the area, but we decided to take a chance. The series of pools there were the home of the same fish that were used in the foot massage, so actually swimming in the pools promised to be an experience to remember.
Although the park was only 65 km away, we were not certain of the road conditions, and so by 6:30, we were both awake and ready to go. I had forgotten, though, that the bike had been struggling to get into first gear, so we had a look at the bike, and it turned out that the gear shift lever was hitting the bash plate for some reason. We decided to adjust it, a relatively simple task. We popped down to pick up the tools, and then wheeled the bike into the shade. Now, my foot has up until this point been a very unmemorable part of this trip, and clearly tired of this state of affairs, chose this time to intercept the side stand of the bike, ripping most of my big toenail off. The following is a rough transcription of my words and thoughts :
“Aaargh!” (What just happened?)
“Aaaargh!” (Oh hells, it’s just taken off most of my toenail)
“Aaaaargh!” (Oh, the agony. Wait, all this moaning isn’t helping at all.)
“Ok, well that sucks, let’s start fixing this wretched bike”
And so we set to work on the pedal. It took a bit of wiggling, but after a few minutes we managed to get it off. And just to make sure that we got today’s bike problems over with nice and early, we saw that the pedal was cracked most of the way through. Well, that’s the end of our plan. Although it would be a fairly simple thing to weld back together, it was still very early, and now with the waterfall plan out the window, I just headed straight back to sleep.
The others emerged at various intervals over the next hour, and John was soon off to go exploring, and the girls set about reading and relaxing. Dad had also gone back to sleep, and at about 9:00, he went up to the road to see if he could find a mechanic. Very fortuitously, as he got up there, a guy on a motorbike pulled out of a nearby driveway, and when Dad flagged him down to ask about a workshop to get the pedal fixed, the guy said that he would be able to do it right now, and disappeared with the pedal back into his house. A few minutes later he had brought the pedal, completely fixed back to our guesthouse. With that now out of the way, Dad decided to make the most of our time here and went into town to visit the museum.
By this time I was up and about, and so the girls and I decided to look into breakfast. Although breakfast was advertised at the entrance, it seemed that the chef’s wife had given birth to a daughter a few days before, and so was off for the week. We were told that the baby had been born early and so was “in a box”, which we hoped meant an incubator. Undaunted, we asked if we could cook for ourselves, and when we asked where we could buy some eggs, the ever-smiling manager sent a friend of his off to buy some. As he was leaving, enquiries were made about getting mangoes, which was summarily delegated to the friend again. Shan and Kath got to work cooking the breakfast and twenty minutes later, we were sitting down to a great feast of eggs, toast, mangoes and yoghurt. The one surprise was that he then brought us the bill which was actually more per person than it would have been if the chef had made us breakfast himself. A bit of a cheek considering that we had cooked the food ourselves, and then did the washing up afterwards! His laugh was great though, so we’re still ok with him.
As we were finishing, Dad returned from the museum, and we set about putting the pedal back on the bike. Within no time it was back on, and we were ready to start packing. Half an hour later, we were waving goodbye, and started on our way. We were soon heading South along some fantastic highways, chalk and cheese compared to the roads in Nepal and India. We sped along, and a couple of hours later, we had arrived in Phetcharburi, famous for a series of caves, as well as the palace of one of the past kings situated on the top of a hill, accessible by funicular and offering unrivalled views of the area. Due to the delays caused by our repairs, we were a bit short and had to choose one of the two. Dad and John were content to wait by the bikes, guarding our stuff from the local simian thieves, while Kath, Shan and I took a guided tour of the caves. There are five different caves, all connected to each other by narrow corridors, and they have become something of a religious experience for the locals. Several of the caves had opening to the sunlight above, and at the right time of day, shafts of sunlight, one in the shape of a heart, would stream down onto the seated golden Buddhas in depths below. The story is that when the king at the time discovered these caves, they were already filled with many Buddha statues, the makers of which vanished without a trace over a century before. Even down here, under the earth, trinket sellers did a brisk trade amongst those coming to pray. We were told with some pride that Nicholas Cage had been here to film the movie Bangkok Dangerous. In the corner of one room, we were asked to take turns facing a seemingly random section of wall while our guide took a photo using the flash. When we looked at the photos, we saw to our amazement that the flash had illuminated a section of wall that made it seem as if we were staring right into the face of Buddha, a very optical illusion. Right at the back of the last cave, we were greeted by a statue of a Hindu God, adorned with flowers and surrounded by offerings. Both religions being very syncretic, the locals had decided to just pray to Buddha and this Hindu deity.
Back in the daylight, we were soon loaded up, minus one water bottle that a monkey had made off with, and hit the road, now just 60 km from our destination. As we travelled along the highway, we realised that we had never passed a section of road that did not have continuous building on either side of the road since leaving Bangkok, essentially making this town feel like an outer suburb of that massive city. This was clearly a holiday town, with resorts packed on top of each other on all sides. We were keen to find a place close to the ocean, as Thailand is famous for its beaches. After searching around town for fifteen minutes, we managed to find a reasonably priced place close to the beach, and lugged our bags inside. After a quick shower, Shan, Kath and I took a stroll down to the beach. Most of the beach was covered in umbrellas, but we managed to find a spot for ourselves and grab a quick swim in the tepid water. There was very little difference between the air temp and the water, and in fact all you could say for the water is that it was…wet. Still a nice change though from the cloying heat, and in fact this was the first time we had seen the ocean since Turkey.
We spent the next hour or two chatting, then with the stars starting to emerge, we took a walk back to the hotel to shower and change. We then went out to find some food. This is very clearly a tourist town, as most of the places we saw were proudly advertising their Irish/Italian/USA/French themes, and eventually we settled for an interesting Norwegian restaurant right by the hotel. Although the menu was filled with wonderful photos of exotic food, all they were actually offering was an All-Day Breakfast, burgers or toasted sandwiches. Breakfast seemed like the best value for money, and soon we were tucking into bacon, eggs, sausage and toast. The next four hours were spent in the most wonderful conversation. Having someone else to talk to gave us a real chance to really process some of our experiences, and be quite frank about things that we had done well, and areas were we still needed to grow. It’s also just nice to have a new perspective on events, and be able to share all of the stories. When the restaurant started closing their doors at around 12:30, we took that as a hint to be on our way. I went back to the room to get to work on the blog, while the girls took a walk around town. As they walked, they began to notice that almost all of the bars and clubs were 90% full of young (and some not so young) Thai women, while the remaining 10% was pretty much old white men. While Shan and Kath were keen to find a place to party a bit, the sight of some of the women having amorous encounters with poles and beckoning them to join the fun was enough to keep them moving on their way. The one advantage of the situation was that for once, there was no chance of being hit on by young Thai swains. In the end, they settled on the beach, and sat for almost an hour on the edge of the world. Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves to make sure that we are not just dreaming that we have travelled halfway around the world in just four months. As the stars turned above them, they made their way back through streets as the practitioners of the world’s oldest profession made their final twirls for the night.