Sukhothai – day 346

Sukhothai is typically regarded as the first capital of Siam, although this is not entirely accurate. (The kingdom of Chiang Saen had already been established 500 years earlier). The area was previously the site of a Khmer empire until 1138, when two Thai rulers decided to unite and form a new Thai kingdom. Sukhothai’s dynasty lasted 200 years and spanned nine kings. The most famous was King Ramkhamhaeng, who reigned from c. 1275 to 1317 (Lonely Planet say 1275-1317, UNESCO say 1280- 1318) and is credited with developing the first Thai script – his inscriptions are also considered the first Thai literature. Ramkhamhaeng was one of the most important Thai sovereigns, as he brought Sukhothai extensive territory through his military victories. He invented the Siamese alphabet (Khmer script), as mentioned already, imposed strict observance of the Buddhist religion and instituted a military and social organization copied from his vanquished neighbours, the Khmers. But, before we saw the bronze statue of this legendary King we did the usual morning routine and grabbed a bus to the historical parks. 
The ‘night’ market was busier this morning than it had ever been and they were selling bags full of chillies and trucks full of pumpkins. An assortment of green veg, that would have made for an incredible jigsaw puzzle photo, was piled up a few stalls down from some slivers of very smelly fish. The patrons waiting for the doctor joined in the prayers led by the monks already inside the surgery and we took shelter in our little bus station until the joining others for the trip down the main road. Some jumped off at random places, but the monk, in his crisp saffron robes, and the three girls all got out at the big supermarket. We went all the way with a lady that must have been from France based on the text on her guide book. All three of us rented a bicycle to zip us around the grounds and between the various significant sites. Starting at the main temple of the central historical park, Wat Mahathat, we were starting our day at UNESCO World Heritage Site #55. We were looking for the atypical characteristics of the area with classic lotus-bud chedi, featuring a conical spire topping a square-sided structure on a three-tiered base. Obviously! Of course, I for one didn’t notice any of this. It was hot. At almost 28*C before 10:00 and the humidity to kill, we just wandered casually. This temple, completed in the 13th century, is surrounded by brick walls (206m long and 200m wide) (clearly the architect didn’t have OCD!) and a moat that is believed to represent the outer wall of the universe and the cosmic ocean. The original Buddha figures still sit among the the ruined columns of the old wí•hâhn (sanctuary) and the base of the main chedi is decorated with the relief-stuccoes of 168 Buddhist disciples. Just south of this impressive complex is Wat Si Sawai, dating from the 12th and 13th century, this ancient temple still retains it three Khmer-style towers and a picturesque moat. It was originally built as a Hindu temple but the sign describing all the evidence of it being such, with lingas, carved lintel depicting Vishnu and other designs were not obvious or no longer present. They were very nice and worth a visit before heading over to Wat Traphang Ngoen. Not mentioned in the guidebook, but recommended on our free map from the kind bike shop lady, the sign on the road describes its uniqueness as one without a boundary wall, with a main chedi, assembly hall (vihãra) and ordination hall (Ubosatha) in the middle of a reservoir. Continuing our culture tour of the park, we visited Wat Sa Si. The prevalence (and finally very obvious) Sri-Lankan style bell-style stupa – sometimes referred to as a chedi as well – is evidence of Sinhalese Buddhism in the area. The temple had a road going through it until 1978 and we sat away from the tree with dozens of smelly herons, looking at the new road next to the reservoir, as we had a break in the shade. We then carried on a bit and walked around the bronze statue of the King before thinking about lunch. A small distance from the main gate was the ever reliable 7-Eleven. A new big bottle of water, an isotonic drink and two ice lollies were in order to help cool down. The heat had probably reached it’s zenith of 33*C and we were feeling it. We cycled towards the North Historical park and got distracted by the Wat Sorasan/Sorasak (it’s hard to get reliable info these days). The main bell-shaped chedi sits on a base of elelephant structures. This concept is based on a belief that the elephant is regarded as a beast of burden for the emperor, and is a suitable animal to firmly uphold Buddhism through a period of 5,000 years. We took shade under a tree at Wat Mae Chon and took a breather and lunch. It can’t be said it was enjoyable as it can’t be said what it was we ate. We bought little tuna snack packs, but I don’t think there was any fish in it and the ingredients list was only for the crackers and a chilli mayo sauce. With limited time left to us before we turned into puddles we visited Wat Si Chum. An impressive mon•dòp with a 15m, brick-and-stucco seated Buddha. This Buddha’s elegant tapered fingers are coated with gold leaf from visitors and the effect was quite beautiful. No longer able to visit the tunnels of the structure to see the jataka inscriptions we made our way to Wat Phra Phai Luang. This 12th century temple is quite isolated to other sites in the area. It didn’t stop the Thai lady charging us an additional small fee to enter with our bikes. The Khmer-style towers are much bigger than Wat Si Sawai, but here only one of them looked to be in a good condition. It is thought to be the centre of Sukhothai when it was ruled by the Khmers of Angkor prior to the 13th century. The large site was the last we visited before throwing the towel in. Back we went!Dropping off the bikes we managed to get a bus immediately and the half hour in to town seemed much quicker than that morning. We probably should have rested inside and cooled down with several showers. Even though we weren’t burned we knew we had been in the sun far too long. We went to the pool to splash about. The idea was sound, except retrospectively it probably drained and dehydrated us more – we should have been drinking more and lying down. So it was that Katherine lay down with a headache and paracetamol and I stayed awake to keep track of time. Waking sleeping beauty we bought more isotonic drinks, collected our washing and had an early dinner/feast. Back to the guesthouse to pack we finally rested with some tv series on the iPad and sleep. 

Saturday 17th September 2016

Sukhothai – day 345

Not the most energetic of mornings. In fact, I slept on and off until about 10am which never happens. Had to remind myself that we have been traveling for 11 months now and not a week. I think that Australia was so ‘easy’ that it felt like being back at home whereas, in reality, we have done so much that it won’t kill either of us to have a lie in! 
The town we are in flourished from the mid-13th century to the late 14th century. Known as the ‘Sukhothai (Rising of Happiness) Kingdom’, that period is often viewed as the golden age of Thai civilisation, and the religious art and architecture of the era are considered to be the most classic of Thai styles. The remains of the kingdom, today known as meu-ang gów (old city) features around 45 sq km of partially rebuilt ruins, which are one of the most visited ancient sites in Thailand. However, we decided to skip the ancient city for today as neither of us had the energy or attention levels to visit our 55th UNESCO site and really appreciate it so we decided to visit the new town instead. 
Slowly getting ready, we walked into town past the river with its banks almost at bursting point. The water was about a foot away from the top of the wall and there were sand bags placed at certain sections were the wall was clearly slightly compromised… As water started trickling out behind it! 
Stopped by the tourist information centre to ask if there was a laundry nearby for us to do some washing only to find that it was closed and they were pumping river water out from their garden back into the river as quickly as the river was depositing more water back into the garden…

Decided that we weren’t going to get very far with all the flooded roads so we opted for an early lunch (or late second breakfast) in Poo. The lady in the restaurant pointed us in the direction of a laundry so, as Jayne ordered our food, I went and dropped off our clothes. Walking through the town after lunch we watched men fishing in the relief rivers and people going about their everyday business. For a tourist town, they clearly aren’t used to tourists walking around the new section! Our walk brought us out near the bus station so we decided to buy our tickets back to Bangkok for Sunday before continuing our walk. 

Found a temple, but we have no idea what the name is as its not mentioned in the guidebook or on any map, which was a beautifully decorated Chinese style temple complete with dragons. Even though it was deserted, there was a chimney full of burning offerings and incense burning from sand pots. Around the corner and over the bridge we stopped at another temple, Wat Ratchathani, which was clearly also having issues with flooding as the monks looked like they were walking on water as they crossed the site. Even the chickens were using the planks of wood that had been placed down to make the path accessible. Another beautiful temple, we found a quiet seat to sit and admire it in the quiet and calm. The only other thing to do in town was visit the museum which was 3km away – deciding that it was getting too late in the day to walk there and neither of us wanted to begin negotiations with a TukTuk, we made the hard decision to go back to the guesthouse and use the swimming pool instead – it was a really tough decision!! We messed around in the water until the sun set before going back to our room to get dressed and head out for dinner. Tried to find the night market to get something to eat. Think we walked past it – it was a handful of stalls, nothing like what was described in the Lonely Planet. Not sure whether it has moved as our MapsMe app said we were in the right place, we decided to cut our losses and went back to ‘Poo’. A couple of curries and a game of monopoly later, we stopped by 7-Eleven to grab some ice creams and headed back to our room for some ‘Modern Family’. 

Friday 16th September 2016

Kakadu – day 313/3

The name ‘Kakadu’ comes from the Gagudju language, spoken by Aboriginal people in the north of the park. Today, the three main languages spoken in the park are Gundjeihmi, Kunwinjku and Jawoyn. Rock shelters, stone tools, grindstones and ochre quarries in Kakadu are reminders that Aboriginal people have lived in this area for over 50,000 years. We don’t speak any of these languages and we only stayed one night at an Aboriginal-owned park. But, what a tough night it was! Woken at 03:00 by the bats in the trees above our ‘tent’, we were exhausted and a bit grumpy when we finally gave up the pretence of sleep and had our first coffee of the morning. The Rangers were out and about washing down cars from all the bat guano and piss and the smell was pretty horrific. Second coffee in our systems, we filled up with petrol, chose the biggest pastries at the bakery and headed down the highway to the first stop. 

Arriving at Nourlangie the sight of this looming outlier of the Arnhem Land escarpment makes it easy to understand its ancient importance to Aboriginal people. Its long red-sandstone bulk, striped in places with orange, white and black, slopes up from surrounding woodland to fall away at one end in stepped cliffs. I planned a walk around the billabong for us before going over to the main site. However, in the car park we saw a trail map that led up the hill to Nawurlandja Lookout so we decided to break up the morning with lookout, lake walk and then main site. Wow, what a view!Sitting on an outcrop of sandstone, finding some unmarked paintings on the way to this viewpoint, we sat as long as possible in the morning sun gazing out at the impressive views. The shade in the trees around the Anbangbang Billabong Walk were lovely and provided a perfect spot to enjoy the pastries from the bakery. The track circles the receding water, with signs showing how close the crocs can get to tourists along the route without them realising. We passed through the paperbark swamp with no hassle and enjoyed the multitude of birds, both native and migratory, that habituate this picturesque area.The name Nourlangie is a corruption of nawulandja, an Aboriginal word that refers to an area bigger than the rock itself. The 2km looped walking track takes you past some of Kakadu’s best-known collection of rock art. With the majority of sites off limits or inaccessible we started at the Anbangbang Shelter, used for 20,000 years as a refuge and canvas. Next was the Anbangbang Gallery, featuring Dreaming characters repainted in the 1960s. The information board at this gallery made it incredibly easy to locate Nabulwinjbulwinj, a dangerous spirit who likes to eat females after banging them on the head with a yam. From there it was a short walk around the base of the cliff and up the hill to Gunwarddehwarde Lookout. Spoiled once again for incredible views of the Arnhem Land escarpment we had to leave again due to the blistering heat. We didn’t see any signs of the wandering buffalo bull that lurks in the area… we like to live dangerously. Tracey at the wheel, we were down to Cooinda and Yellow Water before long, i.e. – blink and we were there. But, it didn’t seem like anyone else was having a picnic in the area so we asked some bus drivers who were waiting for a cruise boat to return. They must have thought us mad for thinking to eat in the area, it is apparently littered with crocs, not just the shy freshies, but the big salties. So, food in the bag, we went looking for ’em. Katherine spotted one off the end of the jetty hanging around for the boat too, possibly for an unruly brat that may be easy pickings (or thrown overboard). The end of the walkway was bloody noisy with a massive flock of Little Corrolla’s perched in every single branch of about three trees (not thirty trees, just three trees). Down the road a bit further we enjoyed lunch in the picnic area of the campground and an ice cream from the shop.  We’re not sure if we were meant to bring our own sheets, they had forgotten to leave them in the dorm room or perhaps a combination of the above. We forgot to ask and went for a swim in the pool instead. Complete nonsense, hysterics and good fun for maybe half an hour and we we cooled off and refreshed. Plus, it washed the feet for the two ninjas who continue to walk in the bush with flip-flops. With little choice available for dinner options in the shop, we treated ourselves to Chicken Snitty. A lovely meal in the bar area, with the Olympics on in the background, the two amigos enjoyed buckets of white wine and I topped up on electrolytes. In the end I payed the piper for needing the loo and traversing the camp ground to pee, praying that I didn’t spot a snake. Anyway, we enjoyed our evening, teased the baby croc in the aquarium with a wooden replica of itself and headed to bed. An assortment of clothes, nod-pods, taking the fourth mattress, sheet and pillow and we tried to get some sleep as we were frozen but exhausted. Monday 15th August 2016

Brisbane – day 297

A lovely lazy morning enjoying the view of the city from the rooftop terrace and soaking up some sun! Having decided to skip the Lone Pine Koala sanctuary for three main reasons – it was expensive, we had seen loads of wild koalas, and it was the weekend so was going to be incredibly busy – we had to decide on a plan of action for our one day in Brisbane. Decided to head for a walk around the CBD and along the riverfront towards South Bank. I was in charge of navigation today and got us lost within the first ten minutes of walking… Oops! A quick map check and we were back on track for Central Station. Our first stop was the sobering Shrine of Remembrance which is located above the edge of Anzac Square. The shrine itself was beautiful with its ‘Eternal Flame’, the Shrine is a war memorial dedicated to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The whole area was calm and peaceful and the gardens surrounding it were full of bulbous boab trees, which Jayne impersonated, and some wandering ibises. We continued down the street, using the pedestrian subway to cross the road to get to Post Office Square where we went down an alley to visit the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The 19th Century, neo-Gothic building with a modern extension built in 1989. The cathedral houses sculptures and has a beautiful collection of nineteenth century stained glass windows from Germany, France, England and Ireland.We walked through the grassy courtyard, stopping to peek inside the adjacent chapel, before sneaking through the Eagle Side Pier shopping complex to get to the river. Another slight bit of mis-direction on my part(!) which meant we were able to enjoy the views of the river for that much longer… Also got to see where the 2011 flood waters came up to – must have had such a devastating impact on the restaurants and businesses down on the riverfront. Having corrected myself, we were down heading in the right direction for the City Botanical Gardens which is the city’s oldest park, originally planted by convicts in 1825 with food crops to feed the prison colony. The gardens include ancient trees, rainforest glades, exotic species, a bamboo grove, weeping fig avenue, mangrove boardwalk and ornamental ponds. We even saw a giant lizard lazing around by the pond which we pointed out to some, very grateful, Italian tourists. Walking around the gardens, we spotted some people abseiling at Kangaroo Point across the river, before crossing the Goodwill Bridge, a dedicated footbridge that links the Brisbane River’s north and south banks, connecting South Bank with the city at Gardens Point. It is just under 500 metres long but the brief walk along this structure gave us a whole new perspective on South Bank, the Brisbane River and the city. At the end of the bridge was The Queensland Maritime Museum which features the historic warship Diamantina. Berthed in a dry dock, the Diamantina has been restored to her 1945 condition and she is the only one of her kind left in the world. We didn’t go into the museum as it was too sunny to be inside, but it was great to see the Diamantina, the steam tug and the lightship from the walk way. From here, we headed north into the South Bank Parklands. Nothing at all like the South Bank back in London, this beautiful green strip is home to performance spaces, sculpture, buskers, restaurants, cafes, bars, pockets of rainforest, barbecue areas, pagodas, an epicurious garden and hidden lawns. The best attraction by far was the Streets Beach, a kitsch artificial swimming beach that resembled a tropical lagoon… If only we had brought our swimmers!!Crossing back over the river on Victoria Bridge, coming off just outside the gorgeous Treasury Building before going down an alley to walk along the shops on the Queen Street Mall. Found a tourist shop to try on a typical Australian hat…We finished off by admiring the towering City Hall and it’s attached clock tower which was built between 1920 and 1930, and has recently undergone a $215 million restoration. Headed back to the hostel via Coles to pick up some food for our dinner with Dennis. So good to catch up with him over dinner and wine on the roof top. He tried to explain ‘Pokemon Go’ to me and even managed to catch one of them on the roof of the hostel, although (sorry Dennis!) I still have no idea what is going on!! He then, very kindly, drove us to Mount Coot-tha lookout. Mount Coot-tha, which is 287 metres above sea level, has the highest peak in Brisbane and the lookout gave breathtaking panoramic views of Brisbane City and as far out as Moreton Bay. Back at the hostel for a quick scan of FaceBook and check of emails before heading to bed, Jayne reading a trashy magazine whilst I read a trashy novel…

Saturday 30th July 2016