04 June 2012

Bus to Chiang Dao
Walk around town

Today was a travel day.  We couldn’t decide on if we wanted to head north or return south.
This resulted in a flip of a coin at BMP.  Heads we go north, Tails, south.  It came up heads.  We go north.  The place we were after had some caves.  As it is a hilly region full of limestone and water there are some good caves up here.

We walked to old Chiang Mai and asked a tuktuk to take us out to the bus station to take us to Chiang Dao.  He thought his Christmases had come at once, although a bit worried that we expected him to take us there himself.  No just to the bus station.  This still cost 80 baht.  At the station it was easy enough to find the ticket office and get our tickets.  80 baht to go 1.5km, and 80 baht to go 80km to Chiang Dao!  Finding the bus was also easy.  We were a bit worried that it would be an oversized tuktuk, but it turned out to be a real bus!  It was also fairly full, but we did have a seat allocation (I think the woman in the ticket office took pity on us)  The seats are numbered at the back, and we thought we were the last row at the back.  No we were one forward from this.  The seats are standard bench seats that are supposed to be 2.5 people wide, but in reality are two.  Here you are expected to fit three people per seat.  We were wondering how you did this, but found that you could pull the seat out a bit and have a person perch on the end with their feet in the aisle.  We were lucky that there was no one beside us.  Like I said.  Pity the poor tourists.

The trip itself was about 2 hours.  It was not air-conditioned and the entry to the bus was at the back of the bus.  After about 5 min the bus stopped to fit more people in.  It periodically did this and was getting rather cramped.  Andrew had the aisle side and a guy with a backpack was standing there.  Every time he moved to adjust for the people or swayed with the bus, the backpack would knock the side of Andrew’s head.  Going up the hills was interesting.  At one point the bus was struggling and eventually stalled.  The guy in the doorway (that was permanently open) checking people on and off the bus jumped out.  I joked that it was to give the bus a push start.  No, he placed chocks under the wheels to stop the bus rolling backwards!  We are not sure which is worse.  The brakes not working or needing the push start?

In this way we made it to Chiang Dao.  A small town that has nothing other than being rural Thailand.  At the bus station we stopped for a rest, and a lot of people got out.  So we went to stretch our legs.  This was Chiang Dao.

There was a helpful woman at the station that gave us a tourist map of the region, and told us that the tuktuk prices were set for tourists.  She also let us know where there were some guest houses.  These were mainly 5 km out of town up near the caves.  Deciding against the tuktuk out there as we didn’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with the prices to get in and out, we walked back into the town itself.  There was a guesthouse there opposite the one hotel in town.  unfortunately it was closed on Mondays.  Over to the hotel.  This at least was open, and we booked a room.  It was comparable to the guest house at 400 baht for a fan room, and was clean (It has great shower pressure as well.  Just working out the hot water was an issue.)  Throwing our bags down, we unpacked looking for our torches for the caves.  We then noticed that a few items were missing.  Nothing important, a cd, the torches etc.  I know that the rooms at BMP were empty when we checked out, as they were searched a couple of times before we locked the door.  I take after dad in this, so we don’t know what happened.  It’s just that the CD was the editing program for our photos!

Man grinding ice at the market

Having settled in, it was time to take a walk around town.  This isn’t that big a deal, as the town itself is mainly along the main road.  There are a few side streets but not much.  The usual shops everywhere, selling everything from bandaids (which we now needed) through to dried fish heads (which we didn’t)

We started looking for a place to rent a scooter so we could drive ourselves around for the day.  There was only one place and it was offering a scooter for 300 a day,  no insurance. No deal.  If there is a problem I need to be covered.  In Chiang Mai it was 150 a day with third party (Just in case I hurt someone else)  However they had a monopoly.
On the way back to the hotel we met Thon. A tuktuk/taxi driver.  As we already knew, the prices around town were set, so we didn’t worry too much and enjoyed talking to him.  However he did end up taking us out to the cave and temple with a return for 300.  The set price.  Wait a sec, was that the same price as a bike for the day?

Chiang Dao Cave entrance

Tham Chiang Dao Cave is about 5km out of town, so really isn’t far.  As it is Buddhas birthday today there were a lot of celebrations going on at the cave complex.  Almost like a country fair without the rides and showbags (although you could get a pigs ear wrapped up if you wanted).  The cave is at the base of Thailand’s 3rd largest hill, and extends in a maze for kilometres.  On paying our 40 baht to get in, we walked up the steps and into the gloom.  On our eyes adjusting, the first thing you see are buddhas.  Some of these are up high and quite discrete,  other newer ones are very garish and in your face.  As Anna said, Buddhas’ are more important than the cave.

Walking about ten metres into the cave we heard a lot of voices.  These were people at a large shrine inside.  They turned out to be tour guides, and if want to see the real cave complex you needed to hire one of these guides at 100 baht each!  We are both a bit sick of paying to get in somewhere to find that the entrance fee doesn’t cover anything inside.  This is a common thing in Thailand.  Refusing this “service” we took the standard path through the cave of about 4oom.  This is lit by TL lights with the cables strung overhead.  It didn’t matter if there were beautiful formations there, they were just snapped off to make room for the cables.  However most of the formations in this section had been vandalised already anyway.  There were fantastic long shawls that were ruined, and someone had carted cart loads of sand in to create the walking track.  The formations would have been a sight to see before all this destruction.

What would you put in a cave?

Microbats at the back of the cave

There was a Buddha carved out of it in a reclining position, and this was probably the least offensive.  At the end of the lit section there was another shrine.  This jarred with the tone of the cave, and there was a stage before another set of garish buddhas.  I don’t see why the Thais had to go into the natural beauty of a place and ruin it with all this kitschy rubbish that Buddha himself would have disapproved of.  Getting our one remaining torch out we went a little further into the dark.  Here there was less damage, and looking up into the curtains of shawls there were micro bats.  Unlike others we had seen in Australia, these little guys liked to sleep individually out of the light.  Leaving them in peace and realising that our torch was not up to the task we returned and left the cave.  I don’t think I need to see another cave in a buddhist country.  At least the Koreans had a bit of style with their caves.  Korean style, but still the neon lights and flashing colours made it an experience.  Here is was just, well, just.

Outside we walked back to where our tuktuk was, only to find he wasnt there.  5min later we were starting to worry.  However he turned up.  He had another fair, and wanted to drop them back into town.  As we had nothing planned now this wasnt a problem, so we sat down to wait.  When he returned he took us up to the sacred cave.  Tham Pha Plong.  This is where a buddhist monk decided to become a hermit.  He lived here for 60 years praying, giving sermons and the like (I thought hermits lived by themselves?)  He set up a monastery, and when he was 84 he got awarded the highest accolade of buddhism.  Only to die two days later.

Just what Anna wanted to hear when going up 506 steps…

The temple hidden in the valley

There are over 500 steps from where we were dropped off to the monastery.  On our way we didn’t realise it was a monastery so anna had a sleeveless shirt.  When we got there we asked a monk about this.  He was stoked that we were paying this respect, and got Anna a sarong that she could wear over her shoulders.  It was a heavy one.  Still, we made it up the steps, through the jungle path, with bits of wisdom spaced throughout.  The first one was basically “Dont complain about the steps”  Anna loved that one.
At the top of the path there is a little grotto filled with buddhas and a shrine.  It was nicely done, and gave a great view out over the mountains.

Back at the entrance we caught our tuktuk back home, found a quick dinner of Pad-Thai and retired to our room with a bottle of coke and Hong Thong.  Local whiskey.  Half a bottle later I was swearing at WordPress trying to catch up on our updates.  At it till 1am and wasnt that successful!  We need more practice.



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