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Month September 2015

Sukhothai to Chiang Mai

Sukhothai to Lampang
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Lampang to Chiang Mai
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Firstly, Thai road are excellent. Not a pothole yet. (I was just reading Steph Jeavon’s update and she’s just encountered the worst: Honduras).

Fantastic relaxed riding, and can get some speed up to ventilate the suit
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Egrets, as they’ve been on both sides of the Pacific in tropical fields
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Another one of these
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We went for a 30 minute ride alongside a stream that followed the road
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Through a town, can’t remember
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And up into a forest
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There were few cars, maybe one every 5 minutes. So I could park the bike in the middle and take a nice avenue shot
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Later, lunch. The only street-side stop we saw that day
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There were some unusual reptiles, insects, small mammals and fish in the bags. I know a few people who would be bothered by some of this, so I’ve left out everything except for the things in the bottles at the end here
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Stag beetles. Wow!
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The prize, biggest ones were loosely tied to pieces of wood. Expensive, about the price of 3 lunches
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Example, a monster at about 2 inches long
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I was so fascinated by these, the fellow pointed at his scooter down the road and off we went. No secret what’s coming up
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A box a beetles. Not giants, like on the wooden displays
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So he showed me what they did, which was fight. Possibly a male territory instinct. They made a large popping sound of gas to frighten the rival. At one point I had a decent war going on my hands. These are his
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Really hot, as you can feel from this river shot
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The greenest country we’ve seen until now was Costa Rica. This is a tie
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Then into Lampang. We were really disappointed we’d made a commitment in Chiang Mai the following evening because Lampang looked like the most beautiful town yet. Plus I had my best Thai dinner yet here. So I guess I’ll be back, and I have a opportunity to do that. Unless it continues this way…
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A ‘bikes only’ bridge
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Another of the great bridges here
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Roughly in the middle of town there’s a largish compound of temples, a monastery and things we’d never seen before. I’m sure there are incredible things to follow, but this was lush with beauty, all tightly packed.

Wat Pong Sanuk Tai temple. One of the several entries. Wow!
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And a sign on the wal
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Back on topic. I don’t understand yet much about what I’m seeing (although I’m reading as we go) so until I do, just images, lots of time for that
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The building below had a reclining Buddha inside for its entire length
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Here. Hard to express how extraordinary this appears
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An avenue roughly through the middle of the grounds
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The temple on the left seemed to be the main event
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Spot the Sidis
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A riot of visual activity inside
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Some young kids were building the flower structures that donations are attached to. I sat and helped with 2. The ladies thought I was very strange suffering in full gear. We had a major photo session, it was fun
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This was one of the most exceptional things we’ve ever seen. I walked by this ‘sculpture’ as I thought, a few times in the temple. Yes, he was motionless, not a blink, not any movement, nothing. I studied his face, his hands, not even a microscopic waver. Been thinking about this…
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Sukhothai

Long post, epic place.

The mini track from Phitsanulok, just 45 miles away
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A truck-load of young monks beside us at a stop light, cheery
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Founded in 1238, Sukhothai was the capital of the Thai empire for approximately 140 years. It was 1) the spiritual center of the kingdom 2) militarily fortified against foreign intruders and 3) a ‘safe zone’ protecting traders.

It’s a UNESCO site. From their web page:

Under royal patronage, Buddhism flourished and many impressive monasteries were constructed of brick covered with carved stucco, illustrating the idealized beauty and the superhuman characteristics (mahapurisalakkhana) of the Lord Buddha and His Teachings. It is from the remains of these religious monuments that today we best know and appreciate the achievements of the people of the Historic Town of Sukhothai

LInk to sukhothai wiki

‘Old Sukhothai’ looks like this
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From a temple self-tour point of view, we read it’s best to divide touring it into two groups, those inside the walls/moats and those outside.

The first day, outside. We could ride the small roads conveniently built through them. The first temple, Wat Saphan Hin was on a hilltop. The path was on elevated stones. We’d just arrive into town in full gear, were overheating as usual and weren’t going up there, forget it
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This unmarked one a little further
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Then Wat Phra Bat Noi. The temples have individual significance and a separate story. But until we understand more about them, we’ll leave the posts just images for a while, no explanations
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Not as steep or as far, so up we went. At the top there was a helpful plaque showing the original temple
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Which now looks like this
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Close by, in the rock, a large snake had shed its skin
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The head
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There were attendants at the bottom of the path to each temple. Sawa deee
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Wat Chedi Ngarm
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Another view
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A large beautiful mushroom here
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Wat Mangkon
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These are terrible photographs, and they get worse. Something went wacky with the color, contrast and focus and we didn’t notice for two days, so picking the best of a bad bunch.

There are figures in tress regularly. Not only here, but around most of the temples we’ve visited
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Time for lunch
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Wat Phra Yun
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Couldn’t see the name of this one (on a concrete path just exited by scooters)
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It was beside a pond
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Looking it for fish, we found thousands of little glass fish about an inch long, almost completely transparent except for white dots for eyes, and another dot in the dorsal area
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Afternoon rain coming, so headed back for the day
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That evening at dinner, this bug landed on my table. The waiter had a little freak out when I tried to keep it there. Apparently it jets a stream of acidic fluid which burns and leaves permanent scars. I tried to Google image it unsuccessfully
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All the above temples are outside of the moated and fortified town. The following are inside. A sat image
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The first thing was figuring out whether we were going to walk it or bicycle it, which is what most people do. But we’re in luck, it turns out that you can purchase a scooter permit for the day, or if you say sawa deee nicely a HP2 permit. There’s a great path through the park, so we bro’d with the scooters and rode around the sweaty pedallers
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The moats had huge quantities of lilies, which I guess were night-blooming. Must be a beautiful sight, but the park is closed at night…
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At Mahathat
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The grounds are immaculate
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Accidental selfie. Not ATGATT
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Wat Si Sawai
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Plaque estimate of the original, with glare
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Wat Sa Si
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Oh oh, rain coming
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Wat Sorasak
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A net caster at one of the ponds. He was ok with my watching
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Yay!
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Then he did a strange thing: he swam around the perimeter of the net, diving down to do something. It took him maybe 10 minutes to do whatever he was doing
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At the end, after he’d brought his net in, he was dissapointed he hadn’t caught anything. Not for himself, but because I’d been there and had invested the time in his activity. How do I know that? Had a parallel discussion with a knowledgable friend about this, more later
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Fish from earlier in his day
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Phitsanulok 2

Definately feeling better. So a longer post.

We need some basic Thai urgently. Normally we go to Google translate, key in a few words and away we go. Not so easy with Thai. Neither the written form or the phonetic is helpful, so we have to use the little speaker icon, listen to it a few times, write it down. Some examples. ‘Hello’ is sawa deee
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This one, the most important of all, is really tricky. ‘Thank you’ is cop koon kaaap. Doing this well is fun because the Thais don’t seem to expect it so much out here in the country, so in response they place their hands in a praying position, bow and slowly say kaaaaa. If you say it in front of several people they all slowly say kaaaaa and the effect is strong. I’m not sure if I should but I slowly bow back. This all takes awhile and is really nice. It’s not long out of Bangkok that thing’s take a turn for the different
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Phitsanulok sees few white people. It’s a few hundred miles from either Bangkok or Chiang Mai and on the plains. In 4 days, maybe 100,000 people, I saw one old man who may have been white, and just before I left a middle-aged man with a Thai wife his own age. He looked like he’d been here for decades. I spoke to neither. We appreciated being culturally alone here in the throngs of a big chaotic festival. It does remind us of rule #56 of round the world riding: non-whites are twice as observant as whites, so there’s no melting into the crowds, lol.

Two things were going on. Firstly a huge regatta, although they don’t call it that. It’s one of the two biggest long boat festivals in Thailand. It happens on this weekend every year on the river Nan and attracts the best rowers from 13 Thai provinces. Rowing is extremely important to Thais and they’ve been racing boats for 600 years. It’s been the principal test of whether young Thai men have the strength, courage and endurance, and are ready to defend their country in war. Awesome, no better reason to row. Go Shawnigan!

We crossed the bridge in the morning, hours before the start
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Looking at the finish line area. Perhaps 500 Thai girls dance on that pad on the far shore
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Looking downriver at the start. Out in the country very few people speak any english so I had to get my facts piecemeal. So I’m guessing the course was about 500 yards because I never found out
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The dancing-girls. I got some amazing video of this
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And the streets behind the river. Packed as you’d expect. Booths with everything you could imagine, but about 1/2 food
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The monks had their own seating area with a little table in front of each of them. On the tables were ceremonial objects I didn’t understand
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When monks cross the street, police or event organizers stop foot traffic. As you can see here they’re a cheerful bunch, always having a good time. They pull themselves together in the temples, but still have a big smile when you go sawa deee
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A Royal Barge offloaded about 50 dignitaries. If you look carefully at the fan on the left of the picture, you’ll notice it’s condensing the humid air and appears to be blowing smoke. It’s also blowing small water droplets and will be in a pool of water. That’s how hot and humid it is here
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A couple of hours before the 2-day regatta start. The Royal Barge and some of the boats gather at the finish line. Far more impressive that the picture suggests
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Boats holding. Everyone once in a while the crew will softly sing a small chant, rocking backwards and forwards rhythmically. Stunning
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The extraordinary bowsprits, perhaps 20 feet long on the biggest boats. So beautiful
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So, a race, from various race shots. The start. You can see 4 boats holding behind
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They’re off. Slowly at first, not trying for speed or advantage, just being in sync with the other boat, measuring each other. The pink boat is going the other way into holding
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Racing, the blue boat ahead. This is the second to maximum size crew, possibly maximum. It was confusing. There’s one simply enormous boat, later
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Passing, in perfect sync with the other boat. Mind blowing, but impossible to show here
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To the finish, the crowds surprisingly calm about the whole thing
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A picture taken from the bridge of a small boat finish
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Here’s the badass boat from Pichit below, in blue. They’re feared and (as this story goes) the men most ready to defend Thailand. It’s very difficult getting a head count because sometimes they’re two abreast, sometimes staggered, and at the ends single file. But in my best pics I counted 54 in the biggest boat, including the potato at the back
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Time for lunch!
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Rowers taking a break. I was struck by how young they were, some just kids
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Yum, seafood. But because this is such a full-on Thai day, we’re headed for the real deal
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But not squid
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A word of warning. Robusta Birdy is a strong coffee drink. I won’t estimate how many equivalent espresso shots, but quite a few, maybe a half-dozen
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Lotus
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And here it is. This seemed to be best of the bug stalls
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Roasted grasshoppers are easy, not very strong-tasting, and quite nice
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These sound gross but are the best. Toasted small frogs, all crunch, no soft bits. Really good, two bites each
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This is where it gets harder because now the bugs have soft guts. These beetles weren’t so bad
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But these I wouldn’t touch. I squeezed one and it felt completely raw, so no way
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A lady had just ordered a bag of these, had poured some hot sauce and was eating them a couple at a time with a wooden skewer, looking fine about it. They’re grubs and not so bad despite being about 50% soft guts. I have video of me hoovering them. Well, very very slowly hoovering one at a time with breaks
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These huge cockroaches were a bridge far too far. They were monsters
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Another boat crew on a ciggy break
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Kids selecting goldfish carefully
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The second thing in Phitsanulok, and the most important is the Phra Phuttha Chinnarat in Wat Yai. Wat, from the Sanskrit vata, means monastery/temple.

King Li Thai in the 14th century commissioned sculptors and priests to cast the Chinnarat Buddha, now the second most important Buddha in Thailand. We’ve heard it’s breathtaking.

First we go to Wat Rat Burana to see the 700 year old Buddha and the murals. Walking through the grounds
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To the temple. Small, elegant and partially in the shade of two huge trees
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Spot the Reefs
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The temple is entirely painted with stories and scenes. Strangely, you can touch them, which of course I didn’t
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And the one shot of the Buddha didn’t work out. Let’s hope we don’t have a similar problem with the Chinnarat Buddha. You have to be on the floor to take photographs in the main hall. The one english instruction I’ve seen in 4 days. Plus there’s a diagram of clothes you mustn’t wear
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Mural
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about 18 inches across
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a foot across
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about a foot tall
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about 6 inches square
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about a foot across
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There are shrines like this everywhere in Thailand
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There were red and blue felt pens, rows of marble balls and a collection box. I didn’t understand the meaning but guessed it was for writing a wish to Buddha
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A girl waits while her husband writes something
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So I did
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The last Buddha before we went to Wat Yai
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A very old Thai lady and a games board in this temple
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Glimpses of magic on the walls
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To Wat Yai
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The Temple was magnificent. Quite small, as they all are
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And the Chinnarat Buddha. I didn’t want to get close and Buddhists were coming in regularly and praying in the area directly in front
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A crop of this incredible work, standing maybe 20 feet high, flawless in its beauty. Click on it for a much better view
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Bangkok to Phitsanulok

Out of Bangkok, feeling better
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The lanes are narrow in Bangkok, splitting traffic is usually done down the middle, less comfortable
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And the OSM map for the city was poor and we ended up on a cars-only toll road and were pulled over. Nice guys, but wouldn’t let me continue. It took two hours to get out of town
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We made a mistake taking the main road out. We decided to take the highway out as our destination was direct and all the cool stuff is further up. Mistake. But we saw a few things the first day, like this Buddha, at least 40 feet tall
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The road followed the river. When the GPS showed we were closest, we headed off to see it. Through a small town
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And got blocked by a wall. We rode up and down a mile or so each way
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And saw an opportunity for a peek over
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The other bank had been built up. They must have significant floods
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And over the wall popped this guy with his fishing gear. Scout salute
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Showed me his fish
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We explored the town a bit
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The tuk tuks were specially ragged
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Further along we saw a series of these stalls. Bats for lunch we thought
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So we stopped  to check it out. Small bats
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But looking inside, no
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So I gave her a few baht for one and she broke it open for me
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It was very mild, almost tasteless. I later showed this picture to someone and they translated it to water chestnut. Not like I’ve seen before, but there you have it
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Also rats or something similar. I passed
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Really bored on this road I took the truck lane off to the weigh station to see where we’re at, but none of the numbers made sense. We couldn’t figure it out with the attendant, he just smiled
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The next day we took a side road off into the country rather than a horrible highway repeat
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Much better
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Another river, higher. I’ve been wondering if it’s always muddy, or only during rainy season. We’ll find out another time
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Newly planted rice
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We pass through a busy village
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And find the market. Always an important and fun thing to do
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People are setting up, we’re early
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Fish and fish heads. Smells really good
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Little crabs in a very strong-smelling broth. Not sure about trying this one
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Reminds me of all the smiling heads at the market in Ecuador. I still eat crispy bacon, but nothing else from a pig anymore, been about 2 years since I quit
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Yummy fish. I stop here for lunch. Catfish again
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Another riverside market
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The field workers cover up their heads and faces completely. Probably the mosquitos
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An interesting very old bridge
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A monastery up-stream
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This crossed while we watched the water go by
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Miles and miles of this
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Then our destination, Phitsanulok. We’ve been planning this for a while, based on something we read about boats back in Bangkok. Time to get serious about Thailand now we’re feeling better
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Stop at the river’s edge in anticipation of the following days
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A strange fish vendor
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Little eels, possibly for the aquarium trade
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Little frogs and turtles
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Cichlids and catfish
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And a fancier lunch. Normally I prefer street food at noon, but here’s how it happens. The place on the right
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Spot the Reefs
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We sit with our feet hanging over the edge. Really nice
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Then match the order slips with the pictures. But this is super difficult because of the script. So I ask my neighbour what he’s eating, by holding the slips, pointing gently at his meal and looking like a white guy with a big smile. He takes a pen and enthusiastically ticks off the boxes
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It arrives and we settle in to enjoy the view
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