Diary - Thailand

Tuesday 18th June 2002 - DAY 139

Starting point: Vientiane, Laos
Ending point: Phu Pan National Park, Thailand
Distanced travelled: 252 miles

Leaving Laos and crossing into Thailand was a very straightforward process. We were waved through the 'diplomatic and official lane' which sped things up a bit, but were surprised how efficient the Thai customs officials were in a) recognising the Carnet and knowing what to do (Thailand isn't actually a part of the Carnet system) and b) filling it out without hesitation. As an extra guarantee we had to sign a piece of paper saying that if we didn't remove the car within 30 days we would be liable to pay 600,000 baht (about £10,000) import duty. For the first time in ages we were able to find insurance easily and cheaply (from a stall next to the Pepsi stand at customs) and set off on a 3-lane paved highway - on the left again. Found our way through some beautiful scenery to a national park where we were able to camp. We had to pay to enter the park, but we did at least have the whole place to ourselves (apart from the mosquitoes).

Wednesday 19th June 2002 - DAY 140

Elephant Temple

Starting point: Phu Pan National Park
Ending point: Sukothai
Distanced travelled: 205 miles

After briefly searching for a waterfall in Phu Pan that we eventually discovered had dried up (you'd think we would have learnt by now), we set off towards Sukothai through another National Park, the Nam Nao, so again the scenery was that of tree covered, oddly shaped mountains. The roads are the best we've encountered since Europe, actually they're better than Europe as there is a lot less traffic and they're free - the only thing to watch out for are the U-turns from the outside lane. So we arrived at the city in good time but consequently failed to find our chosen bamboo-huts-on-stilts guest house and had to ask a tuktuk driver to show us the way. In the evening when we were invited to join a 'family meal' where we were able to sample a variety of authentic Thai cuisine.

Wat Si Chum

Visited the nearby pre-Khmer ruins

Friday 21st June 2002 - DAY 142

Starting point: Sukothai
Ending point: Chiang Mai
Distanced travelled: 237 miles

On the way to Chiang Mai we passed sign for an 'elephant hospital' so took a detour. As it happened we arrived just in time to catch the Brazil-England match. The locals are football crazy and Robin has been greeted with 'ah, David Beckham' on more than one occasion. Most of the elephants are landmine victims and have bandaged feet - by way of a donation we bought some 'elephant art' (the type painted by the elephants with their trunks). One very small and hairy 3 month old elephant was allowed out to see us, although he was pretty wobbly on his legs and uncoordinated (elephants develop at a similar rate to humans) and accidentally head butted me and knocked me over, at which point the keepers decided he was getting too excited and put him back inside. Found a guest house in Chiang Mai where we could park the car and went out to commiserate the football (at least we can forget about it now).

baby elephant

Spent Saturday in and around the city seeing the obligatory sights, although being the weekend everything was pretty crowded and we weren't feeling very inspired.

Sunday 23rd June 2002 - DAY 144

Starting point: Chiang Mai
Ending point: Mae Sot
Distanced travelled: 239 miles

Thought about heading further up north to see the various hill tribes, but figured it would be better to let these 'virtually untouched' people stay that way (or were we just too lazy to do any trekking?). Also the call to the beach is becoming stronger and our enthusiasm for sightseeing is seriously waning. So we headed south to the small town of Mae Sot - just a few kilometers from the border with Myanmar (Burma). The fact that this area is well-known for it's drug/gun smuggling became obvious as the number of armed checkpoints increased and cars were being searched (although in our case they just wanted to talk about the football and/or Robin's apparent likeness to David Beckham). We wandered around a market which was surprisingly full of very fresh (i.e. still moving about) seafood most of it still wriggling around as well as other delicacies like terrapins, eels, cockroaches and maggots. Some of the people were dressed in their traditional tribal outfits and looked at us quite strangely - we thought at the time that they were trying to work out which tribe we were from, but have since found out that people are being relocated out of the area because of the danger, so they were probably just wondering what on earth we were doing there. That would also explain the lack of other tourists.

Monday 24th June 2002 - DAY 145

Starting point: Mae Sot
Ending point: Ayuthuya
Distanced travelled: 292 miles

Buddha head at Ayuthuya

It was raining heavily when we awoke so it seemed like a good day to cover some distance towards Bangkok. While we were in the area we drove out to the border which was completely barricaded up. The road from Myawadi on the other side of the bridge is where the Pan-Asian Highway (Asia Route 1) starts and continues all the way to Istanbul - if only you were allowed to follow it. It seemed sensible to drive as far as Ayuthuya (aboput 50 miles north of the capital) and give ourselves a fresh start for driving around Bangkok in the morning - the roads are already beginning to get a lot more crowded. Although brief, we enjoyed our time here - some interesting ruins, friendly people and a relaxed atmosphere.

Tuesday 25th June 2002 - DAY 146

Starting point: Ayuthuya
Ending point: Bangkok
Distanced travelled: 68 miles

The drive into Bangkok wasn't nearly as bad as were had been anticipating - the new elevated expressway takes you right into the centre. We soon realised that the biggest problem with Bangkok wasn't the traffic but the parking. In the 3 hours of driving round the Banglamphu area that it took us to find somewhere to park, we met a fair selection of what have to be the rudest and most unhelpful guest house owners in the world. Even those that blatantly had parking wouldn't let us park there even if we stayed as guests - although a posh hotel (the kind we can't afford to stay in) did kindly offer to let us use one of their parking spaces for a bargain 1760 baht per day (approximately £28) - apparently the public carparks are just as expensive. We came very close to giving up on Bangkok and driving straight back out again, but eventually found a highly sought after space on the street after a car had just left.

Spent a fairly hectic but entertaining (some might say educational) couple of days in the city - visited the Australian Embassy to find out about shipping and disinfectant requirements (see shipping section for more info) and did the normal things that people do in Bangkok (shopping, sightseeing, nightlife etc.).

Friday 28th June 2002 - DAY 149

Starting point: Bangkok
Ending point: Kanchanarburi
Distanced travelled: 82 miles

Quite a relief to leave the big city and head west to Kanchanaburi where the infamous 'bridge on the river kwai' was built in WW2. We stayed on the river in a raft house which would have been really relaxing had it not been for the 'disco duck' moored opposite - a large floating disco that blares out music from 7 am to 2am each day, and not the sort of music that inspires you to the 'if you can't beat them join them' attitude. So the ear plugs came in useful again. We also visited the Erawan waterfalls, but these ones were really spectacular with some large pools for swimming (the picture is just one of the 7 levels) - you win some you lose some I guess.

Sunday 30th June 2002 - DAY 151

Starting point: Kanchanaburi
Ending point: Prachuap Khiri Khan
Distanced travelled: 220 miles

Driving down to the coast really was a breath of fresh air. It was a relief to see the sea again after having been landlocked for so long. Wandering around the town we came across a large 'monkey pool' with a statue of a monkey in the middle. Unsurprisingly the area was a popular hangout for real monkeys that were having a great time climbing up to great heights on the surrounding rocks and trees and dive bombing into the water. Not only could these monkeys swim, they were doing entire lengths underwater - should we tell David Attenborough?

Monday 1st July 2002 - DAY 152

Starting point: Prachuap Khiri Khan
Ending point: Ko Phangan
Distanced travelled: 307 miles

We followed the coast down to the little port of Dan Sok (near Surat Thani) where we were able to book ourselves on a small small car ferry that was leaving for the island of Ko Phangan an hour later. The journey took just under 2 1/2 hours and the sun was setting as we arrived in the port of Thong Sala. Found ourselves some cheap accommodation of the beach bungalow variety and enjoyed our first of many fresh seafood meals.

Tuesday 2nd July 2002 - DAY 153

driving around Ko Phangan

The island itself is only 6 miles long and not particularly developed, so despite the roads being little more than dirt tracks with near vertical inclines, it didn't take us long to drive up to the north west coast and base ourselves at Haad Yao beach. Our main motivations for this were simple: we could have a cheap bungalow with hammock right on the beach, the beach itself was almost empty and there is a coral reef and dive school situated there. Initially we thought we would stay for a few days then drive to another part of the island, but this didn't quite happen. 7 of the 10 days were spent being entirely lazy, the other 3 were spent diving.

Nic in the sea

Friday 12th July 2002 - DAY 163

Starting point: Ko Phangan
Ending point: Ao Nang beach, near Krabi
Distanced travelled: 187 miles

The policy of the Haad Yao bungalows of 'never leave never pay' was very tempting, but the thought of a £10,000 fine eventually motivated us to struggle out of our hammocks and back on the ferry to the mainland. The boat we were aiming for was full so it was late afternoon by the time we set off driving towards Krabi. We arrived at Ao Nang beach in darkness - complete darkness as they were having a power cut - and had to use our torch to find somewhere to stay.

James Bond island, Au Phang-Nga National Park

Spent a couple of days in the area - took a boat trip to the Ao Phang-Nga National Park (does this island look familiar?) and climbed some of the 'world famous' limestone rock faces at Raileh beach.

We also met some other overlanders - Paul and Pia from Denmark www.worldtour.dk and a German guy with a huge truck, who had driven a similar route to us but shipped from Bangladesh to Malaysia rather than paying out for China. Paul and Pia seem to think that it will be possible to get a ferry to Indonesia and then ship to Australia from Bali, so we will look into that.

Tuesday 16th July 2002 - DAY 167

Starting point: Ao Nang
Ending point: Songkhla
Distanced travelled: 219 miles

The drive to towards the border was fairly uneventful (actually have been a bit slack with the diary writing lately and can't remember much about that day, so assume it was uneventful!). We stayed at the Amsterdam Hostel in Songkhla which is apparently popular with overlanders - a Dutch couple had passed through with a landrover a few months before, presumably doing a similar trip to us. Some backpackers told us that there was now an outbreak of Dengue fever on Ko Phangan and Ko Tao so it looks as though we left just in time.