Ayutthaya – the ancient capital of the Siam Kingdom, ghosts and Chinese ship-wreck survivors, heavenly life on secluded beaches

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Buddha’s head intertwined in Banyan tree branches

18.01

A man in uniform takes us to the main highway connecting Chiang Rai with Bangkok. He is so overexcited he took hitchhikers that he is all the time chuckling and telling us the names of all the towns we were passing by. After 70 km we finally reach the long expected highway which will lead us to the beaches of the south. The mountains, tribes and small secluded roads are behind our back.

We get off the man’s car and 10 minutes later two young guys stop us – they are going directly to Bangkok which is 500 km away. They drive sport car and keep the speed at 120-140 km/h. (75-85 miles per hour). One of them is a policeman, the other military – very nice people. At lunch we stop at a gas station for lunch. Almost every big gas station in Thailand has a restaurant, cafe and 7 eleven. When we finished they don’t let us pay the bill and treat us.

MAP_AyutthayaBefore we continue south we want to visit Ayutthaya – the ancient capital of the Siam Kingdom. At our last year journey we spent five days in Bangkok so now we think we would skip it. But before we reach the beaches we want to indulge ourselves in history and religion. We can’t miss the ruins that are in the UNESCO list and are one of the biggest historical landmarks in Thailand.

The boys leave us at the fork for Ayutthaya which is 70 km before Bangkok (if you come from the north). We pass the 400 km without even noticing and when we get off there is still sun light. We enter a near-by mall to use the toilet. We are shocked by the hundreds of people shopping inside it and by the prices of the stuff here – ten times more than at the bazaars. I wondered where the pedestrians were and it turned out they are at the malls…

We head to the town on foot but it turns out it is 6-7 km away. While we walk it is starting to get dark, but luckily a tuk-tuk stops by us and offers to drive us for free. Even at this tourist place locals are so nice.

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Elephants for tourists

The old town is an island surrounded by rivers on all sides. We decide to look for a place to camp near the river as usual but there are houses everywhere. Then we catch a glimpse of a park with a lake. It is behind a high fence but we find a place where we can go over it. The night is hot and sticky and I enjoy the fact I can sleep without a sleeping bag. The cold freezing nights are over :).

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Flower

19.01

Several construction workers see us in the morning but they just ask if we need anything and one of them even brings us a bottle of water. Nobody cares about the tent. We prepare pan-cakes for breakfast, gather our stuff, take a shower in the bathrooms of the park (here one must take a shower twice a day or one becomes stinky and sticky from the sweat). We leave our rucksacks at the house the construction workers are remodelling. At the entrance of the park there are guards because there are government buildings inside. They look at us flabbergasted but don’t say anything. We take maps and brochures from the tourist centre and start our tour.

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Mahut

Ayutthaya had been the capital of the Siam Kingdom for several hundred years and then was occupied by the Burmese who destroyed everything. Before this Siam had been one of the most prosperous countries in the Far East. Maybe because Thailand (contrary to the other countries in the region) has never been someone’s colony and has never been devastated by wars and military regimes, nowadays is so economically developed. Sadly there are just ruins left by the tens of Buddhist temples and king’s palaces. The ones that are in better condition are really impressive.

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The temple of the old palace Wat Phra Sri Sanphet

Some of the temples had been functioning without interruption and were fully restored. Thai people obviously were, and still are, open to foreign cultures. During the middle ages the king allowed foreigners to inhabit the lands around the capital, so there were Japanese, Portugal and Dutch villages. We also saw painting of a Dutch painter who lived here that depicted the almightiness of Ayutthaya.

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The temple Wat Mahathat

The town is not so big and in 5-6 hours we manage to see everything. Most of the tourists hire bikes but one can see all of it on foot too. Luckily today is cloudy otherwise we would have died with the heat and the sun. The biggest and most preserved ruins have entrance fee of 50 bhats (1,25 euro) but one can easily find a way to enter for free. The smallest ruins and the functioning temples don’t have an entrance fee.

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Ruins at Ayutthaya

 

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More ruins

Around 4 p.m. with swollen by the walking on asphalt legs, we go back to our rucksacks. The guards at the entrance are not happy to see us and don’t want to let us in. Finally they do but one of them comes to see that we are really leaving. In the sunlight it is very easy to find a place to sleep so we don’t care much.

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The pavilion next you our bivouac behind which we cooked 

While we are walking on the bridge exiting the old town I almost stumble in a three-meter python lying dead on the side-walk. Some idiot have found it and hanged it. I am in rage.

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The python that was killed by the degenerates

We leave our luggage at a hotel and go to visit the local market. Here everything is three times more expensive than in the north. For example a kilo of onion is 2,5 euro so we buy nothing. While we walk we find a very beautiful temple that resembles a ship.

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The temple that resembles a ship

There are almost no people passing by and there is a big lawn in front of it so we decide this is the perfect place for us to camp. At dusk we go back to take our rucksacks and pitch our tent behind some trees. There are bathrooms and toilets close-by. We cook our already favorite meal: mushrooms with coconut milk, chilli paste and herbs and after dinner we go to bed.

20.01

As usually these days we don’t manage to leave early. Every morning we prepare breakfast, take a shower, pack our stuff long time and today Mr. Shushtari went to where we slept last night because we had forgotten the lid of our pot there which were 3 km.

So we manage to leave at 12 p.m. Today we have to do something not very pleasant, namely to go around Bangkok – the big Asian city, in order to exit on the highway, Bangkok is very modern and developed but the old part has kept its spirit and is quite nice for a walk. Anyway the outskirts of the city are very industrialized and I feel sick even thinking how we will pass through them.

It is already 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) and to walk 7 km to the highway will be unbearable. We walk for 2-3 km and start hitchhiking in the middle of the city. Soon a corpulent tattooed guy takes us and drives us to the highway. He also gives us a bottle of water. While we hitchhike a policeman comes by and asks why we hadn’t taken the bus to Bangkok that just passed by.

We tell him we are travelling hitchhiking and he starts waving instead of us. We barely manage to stop him and tell him we’ll manage by ourselves. He leaves and a man who is taking his kid from a school 20 km. away stops. He is so eager to drive us the furthest possible that he misses the fork for going out of Bangkok. But later a car stops and takes us back there in no time.

Then we stop a jeep. We are getting tired but we don’t know that the adventures are just about to start. The guy with the jeep leaves us on the circumvent. But it turns out the city has grown so much that everything here is shopping malls, neighborhoods and jammed roads. We even see a subway stop.

We are in the middle of the madness of the highway wondering will anyone ever stop here when a young family with a child inside the car stops. They don’t speak English and we start to gesticulate trying to understand each other. Then he calls a friend who speaks English and we manage to tell them where we want to go. But… at the first roundabout they take another direction.

The craziness continues. We get off, but they insist we go back in the car. Then we go back our way. In the meantime the baby laughs, cries and vomits. We slowly come to the conclusion they are going in totally another direction and just want to helps us. At the end they leave us where we wanted to go. We part ways with the amiable family. We are out of Bangkok now in the midst of industrial buildings. All is in colorful smoke, smell of fermented fish and shrimps and the like.

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The people who helped us cross Bangkok

A joyous man takes us right away. He is excited and speaking and gesticulates all the time. We speak with his girlfriend on the phone and tell her where we want to go. The guy is so excited that he misses the fork. When we get off his car he gives us two bottles of water.

Here I want to accentuate on the humanity, goodness and well manners of the local people. Thailand is a well known tourist destination and there is plenty of information in the Internet so I want to say how nice the people are and I am bewildered that is not so well described. Even the travelers we met here strangely were not impressed by the phenomenon.

While we wait in the dark a boy with a motor bike comes and asks if we need anything. Then he hands us out two boxes with food. While we explain where we are going he takes out money and gives it to us. It is very difficult to persuade him to take it back. Then another boy takes us for around 30 km. Riding at the back of a pick-up on the highway at night is not fun. The wind is blowing inside our ears painfully. Finally we manage to go out the industrial zone called Samut Sakhon and we are relieved – here we can sleep wherever we want.

Anyway the improbable events continue. A local bus stops by and the driver takes us even after telling him we travel hitchhiking. We travel with him 200 km. to Hua Nin – a big resort full of tourists. This is supposed to be the last stop of the bus but there are people in the bus coming home from work and the driver decides to take them and us 30 km further. So we get off in the middle of the city.

We start looking around for a place for our bivouac when we see a boy running our direction. He says that there is another bus that will takes us for free. When we go back we see the driver of the bus we just got off paying the other driver our tickets and the second driver refusing the money. This has never happened to us before and we feel uncomfortable. This brought tears to our eyes. So much goodness and kindness today… Finally we reach Sam Roi Yot where we want to visit the close-by national park. Today we passed 500 km. even though we left at noon and had to go around the enormous Bangkok.

We sit at the tables of a closed restaurant and eat the food that the boy gave us. Then we ask some young men where the national park is. They tell us and few minutes later come back and offer to take us. We refuse politely but then another guy stops and offers to take us at least to the station. This time we surrender. Like this our day ends at the station in the yard of a giant Buddhist monastery. There is a toilet and a small house with a dog in it. Tired by the long journey and the numerous experiences we had today we pitch the tent and fall asleep.

21.01

MAP_Khao Sam Roi YotIn the morning two businesswomen take us to the foot of the mountain at Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. Our plan is to cross the mountain and go to a secluded beach on the other side. There is an entrance fee of 5 euro so we decide to go around the mountain. What we didn’t expect is that it is not hilly but all is in limestone rocks that are so high it seems impossible to climb on.

There is a village on the road and we enter in order to ask someone if there is a path. Nobody speaks English. The inhabitants we see are an old lady chewing betel and a strange man covered with tattoos and wearing a lot of Buddhist amulets. He also has a scepter with a skull of a wild cat on top of it. We couldn’t understand if there is a path or not.

We continue walking on the asphalt road. Soon we reach a huge Chinese temple. Next to it we see a path in the forest and we enter. We pass by a ranger’s station but none said anything. The forest is very beautiful quite different than the dry forests of the north. Some monkeys run past us but are so fast we can’t even manage to see what species they belong to.

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Chinese monastery

Ghosts and Chinese ship-wreck survivors

The forest is silent. Soon the pathway leads us to strange places. We pass by a small altar with juice boxes and incense sticks on it as offerings. Next to it from the branch of a near-by tree hangs a silk dress. Later on we pass a wide wooden building that we conclude belongs to the forest rangers.

Then we come across an old Chinese grave yard with beautiful mounds and painted graves. In front of the two main mounds there is a small basin full of water. The place invokes feelings of peace and blissfulness. On one of the graves I manage to read a verse written in Chinese saying: “The snake enters the hole and the burden is taken off the shoulders”. 500 meters later the path ends in a small dry waterfall. Mr. Shushtari  climbs on it and finds another mysterious altar this time with make-up on it.

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Chinese graveyard

We go back and take another path that ends in a swamp with a secret quay with several boats tied. In the swamp grow two meter high reeds but there are paths inside them. We untie one of the boats and start sailing. We navigate with a bamboo stick and move very slowly. The boat is rocking terribly and soon we are covered in mud. We sail for mere 200 meters and decide to go back because we couldn’t go further. We are hungry and go back to the wooden house to cook something and take a rest.

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The secret quay

The ground floor is empty except a small Chinese altar, oven and a table with some very old chunk of bread on it. The second floor is much more scarier. In front of the windows there is an altar with a painting of a meditating woman. In front of here there are juice boxes and flowers. In one of the corners there is wardrobe with beautiful dresses and make up bottles.

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The dressing table and the dresses of the goddess

Obviously this is the house of the ghostly goddess. On the wall are hanging black and white photos of Chinese people dressed in old style clothes, one of them being a Taoist. On the rocks behind the house we see hanging pieces of a monk’s orange robe. The place is really weird.

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The mystical goddess

 

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The house of the goddess

 

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Houses for ghosts inside the forest

We cook inside the pavilion in the yard hoping that we won’t be surprised by some ghost, take a rest and go back. After a while we meet the rangers who followed us on their motor bikes in order to tell us that there is no path this way. Though in the book we have of all the parks in Thailand it says there is.

We go back on the asphalt road and a woman stops and offers us to take us to the beach of Sam Roi Yot which is next to the one of the National park but is free. We are tired so we say yes without thinking it over much. On the road the woman tells us that the name Sam Roi Yot actually means 300 peaks, but in this case it is related to 300 Chinese ship-wreck survivors who reached the coast here and stayed to live. That explained to us the giant Chinese ark and the Chinese temples. The ghost goddess also belongs to them but we couldn’t get more info on the topic.

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The beach of Sam Roi Yot

We reach the beach which is rocky with a concrete alley next to it and pavilions. The lady who is driving us leaves us at the next bay on a hill with many cactuses. The area looks calm, though we see some restaurants and villas, but we are 10 km away from Pran Buri so there are not much people, only locals drinking beer. The woman tells us we can sleep in our tent and leaves to her villa where her British boyfriend was waiting for her.

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Our bivouac at the monastery at Sam Roi Yot

We dip for the first time in the Thai bay. The water is warm but not clear, though it is clean. There is a sign: “Swimming prohibited due to jelly-fish”. This doesn’t stop us though. When it gets dark we pitch our tent. A group of locals pass by and give us a bottle of beer.

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The mountain of Sam Roi Yot

22.01

In the morning tourists start coming to the beach. Several Italian families sit around us. The beach is for tourists and even if they are few we decide to continue south. We start walking alongside the beach of Sam Roi Yot and after a while we sit to take a rest because the sun is very strong. Then a man stops by us and shouts in our direction: “Hey, hippies! Where are you going?” He says that he has headed to the highway and will be happy to take us for 15 km. On the road he speaks all the time he is hippie himself and listens to Bob Dylan. He also tells us how he stayed for 3 months in prison when he was in Saudi Arabia because the police caught them drinking alcohol at some private party.

He tells also he has an idea to build huts in his property and give it for free to hippies. Then he invites us to see them. So we go back almost 20 km to Hua Hin resort to see them and tell him what our opinion is. It results he has already built three bamboo huts, but we don’t know who will want to stay here – very far from the beach and next to the noisy highway. He asks us to tell all our friends (so we tell you friends) that they are invited to sleep there for free and he will drive them to the beach. He is a little bit crazy and look slightly like a former alcoholic but we encourage him in his endeavor. He also shows us his own brand of water with a picture of him on the label.

In a short time a friend of his comes wearing a bunch of Buddhist amulets. This turns out to be quite modern in Thailand. The amulets are handcrafted by monks and the old ones are very valuable and expensive. Most are engraved stone plates but there are also metal icons in transparent plastic boxes to protect them. We have met a dozen of people up to now who wear on their neck dozens of such boxes. Every amulet is believed to give the person who wears them different skills and protections – as in the computer games. They even show us specialized magazines for amulets – it reminded me of the collectors of antiques or medals or old coins. Some of the amulets cost 5000 euro and even more.

We part ways with the guy who gives us corn and some strange fruit from his garden. A family takes to Sam Roi Yot and stop us at the same place we arrived two days earlier. Today is the local market so we buy provisions for the next few days on the beach. We buy very delicious doughnuts – five for 50 eurocent.

While we walk to the exit of the town a colored man from USA catches up with us and is quite amused by our company. We don’t understand what is so funny about us but he keeps laughing wholeheartedly to every word we say. We are in the Parachaup Kiri Khan province which turns out to be the favorite place for expats from all over the world – this is the fifth one we see for the past two days who lives for years here .

MAP_SawiWe are lucky with the next hitchhike. Two very nice guys are traveling to Surat Thani which is 400 km north and they leave us at Sawi Town, Chumpon Province, 200 km south of Sam Roi Yot. When we arrive it is already dark and we start looking for a place for the tent because the beach we want to go to is 20 km away and there are not much cars passing by.

We see a young family unloading their car and they ask us where we are going. Then they invite us to pitch our tent in front of their house and we already feel so tired that we are happy to accept their offer. While we unpack the people bring us mineral water and hot noodles. We take a shower and go to bed.

23.01

In the morning the man comes with coffee and biscuits. Then they give us a notepad where they ask us to fill in some questions related to the journey we had. Very amiable people.

From Sawi another family takes us to Hat Sai Ri – the beach located in National Park Mu Ko Chumphon, but it is far from the headquarters of the guards of the park and some fishermen live around so there is no entrance fee.

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Hat Sai Ri welcomes us

We are finally at a secluded beach. On the first creek there are some houses and one or two fish restaurants that seem on the decline. It is very quiet here and there are no people. It is low tide so we go to the next creek. Here we see just palm tree forest and later we find a small luxurious looking house where an old man lives.

We pitch our tent inside the palm tree forest selecting carefully the place because sometimes big coconuts weighing several kilos fall down and can easily kill you. The sea is turbid again and is not very nice to swim in it but otherwise the place is heavenly.

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Our bivouac

24-25.01

We have dreamt for so long to just sit on a beach and do nothing. And our dream came true 🙂 From here on till the end of our stay in Thailand we plan to do mostly this. We spend the whole days relaxing, swimming, cooking, drinking coconut juice.

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The first coco-nut we managed to open

We acquaint ourselves with the old man who then gives us drinking water. In the evening we go to the restaurant at the other creek to drink soft drinks and write the blog post. People from the restaurant refuse us to pay them the soft drinks which flabbergastes us. To be treated by restaurant owners on the beach is something unheard of, well obviously not in Thailand. They even give us a bottle of mineral water.

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Yummy

In the evening strong wind starts blowing and at night it turns into a tropical storm. The gusts of the wind bend the palms strongly and we pray to not be hit by a coconut. There are also high waves that came very close to us – two meters. When we pitched the tent during the low tide the sea was 100 meters away. Sometimes during the night a branch fell on the tent and we had a small leak. In the morning the storm subsides but is still raining and we spend the day inside the tent.

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Tropical storm

Good that we have large anteroom and we can cook under a roof. In the late afternoon it stops raining but the weather is cool and dark. The sea brought tons of garbage – bottles, plastics and wooden logs. Seeing them we think that the ocean is very polluted. In the afternoon we dry our sleeping bags on the fire and we go to bed.

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What came out of the sea after the storm

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