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Monday, August 29, 2011

Back to Bangkok - posted from Yacht Haven, Phuket

The bus from Ayutthaya to Bangkok is airconditioned and takes about 1 1/2 hours.  You end up at the northern bus station from where you must take a tuk-tuk or taxi to the Skytrain station some 2 km away.  The tuk-tuk fare for this 2 km is, after haggling, the same as the bus fare for the previous 80 km.
We are in plenty of time to check into the hotel and to get to the Myanmar embassy at 1530 to pick up passports, which we have by 1531.  The rest of the day is spent relaxing after the travelling exertions.

Pak Khlong flower market
Our last day was OMCTG's day off and what to  visit on our last day is solved by a couple we meet in the Eat Me restaurant where we dined.  They suggest the vast weekend market at Chutuchak, followed by the flower market at Pak Khlong.
These suggestions are taken up and despite the size of the place we meet our advisors by chance at one of the coffee houses in Chatuchak market. 

Ayutthaya - posted from Yacht Haven, Phuket

Here the OMCTG (Oh mighty chief tour guide,S,) earned her brownie points. The route from Kanchanaburi to Ayutthaya involves two local buses - non-aircon and little legroom - with a lunch stop in Saphanaburi with all staff fussing to ensure that the farangs have eaten and gotton on the right bus even if found in the toilet!.  We were fortunate that they were not full so we both had two seats to ourselves - the locals generally seem to prefer not to crowd up against a farang - possibly because we are generally larger! Unfortunately on the way to Kanchanaburi bus station R had lost our new (April) smartphone, which was clipped to his belt.  Fortunately it only had the balance of 100 baht phone credit and 5 days data left on the local prepaid SIM card.  The password for our email account was rapidly changed. Continuing the losing streak R then managed to leave his sunglasses on the lunch table in Saphanaburi! On arrival at the chaotic bus station in Ayutthaya a tuk-tuk completed the journey to our "homestay" just inside the UNESCO historical park where we walked in the evenings.
Buddhas, Wat Na Phra Man
Tuk- tuk rates are 200 baht an hour, a bicycle 50 baht per day. The park is a fairly compact  7 km around island ( nicknamed the Venice of the east) to the side the town.  Between tuk-tuk and shank's pony we covered what the OMCTG considered the main sites starting at one of the buddhist monasteries that is still operating, where there is a large buddha image and some smaller ones covered in gold leaf applied by devotees. 

Wat Phra Si Samphet
The ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanphet were next, the audio guide was worth the 100 baht.  This temple was adjacent to the royal palace which was the base of the kings of Siam up to the late 18th century, when it was sacked by the Burmese.

The tuk-tuk left us at the museum in the historical park which, as well as many buddha images, has impressive golden objects retrieved from the crypts of some of the temples - after robbers had removed an estimated 75 kg of gold.
Wat Ratchaburana
The main treasures were found in the crypt of  Wat Ratchaburani but access is closed off.

Garuda - Wat Ratchaburana

Captured Buddha - Wat Matha That
Wat Matha That's main attraction is a buddha's head totally enclosed in tree roots.
While the ruins are many and impressive in their own way there are few of the impressive bas-reliefs that adorn the temples at Angkor or to a lesser extent Borobudur.
The site is well marked out and has what the other two sites lacked - many signs telling the locals not to climb on their heritage!

Kanchanaburi - Death Railwway and Bridge over the River Kwae

They used to do this on the Southern Region!

The train arrived in Kanchanaburi about and hour and a half late - as is apparently usual.  There seems to be a choice in 3rd class between slightly cushioned seats and wooden benches - we chose the slightly cushioned ones fo the four hour trip particularly as the superb scenery promised by Lonely Planet did not materialise.  The route is through flat intensely farmed land  - though not a palm oil plantation in sight, light industrial areas and towns. The beautiful mountainous scenery started at Kanchanaburi.

Ploy Guest House pool

At Kanchanaburi we were met by a motorcycle and sidecar from our guesthouse. The Ploy Guesthouse was a very pleasant surprise.  Set on the river, the room interiors are decorated in a traditional Thai style, despite being housed in a concrete building.  Our fully air-conditioned room had a small garden at the back and a communal garden in front.  The shower room was separated from the small garden by a screen door, so one effectively showered in the garden.  There is a pleasant bar area and a small swimming pool overlooking the river.  A light breakfast is included and there are more substantial options at additional cost.  Built and run by a very helpful brother and sister it was superb value. In the evening we ate at the Apple Guesthouse and cookery school - superb.
Hellfire Pass
As we only had one full day in Kanchanaburi and did not want to do most of the activities on the organised tours we got the guesthouse to organise a taxi for us and to explain to the driver (who had little English) what we wanted to do.  First we went to Hellfire Pass, about 80 km from Kanchanaburi - the site where the most difficult conditions were met during the construction of the Burma-Siam railway during WWII.  The concept of the horrendous conditions endured by the Allied POWs and Asian forced labour in excavating the Hellfire Pass and other cuttings on the route by hand in jungle conditions and on near-starvation diet is almost unimaginable.  The museum, established and run by the Office of Australian War Graves has moving descriptions and the audio/ two way radio /2.5 km walk, along the route of the railwaythrough a beautiful valley, brings it all home.
Wampo Viaduct - the train goes very slowly!
After picking us up at the end of the trail our driver took us to Namtok Station - the present end of the line - where we had lunch at a stall before catching the train back towards Kanchanaburi.  This is clearly the section Lonely Planet refer to as spectacular.  For some of the route the track is high above the river and passes over the sole remaining trestle bridge at the Wampo Viaduct.

The modern bridge
Next to the Bridge on the River Kwae of film fame.  This is accessed by a plethora of tourist sprawl and actually in Kanchanaburi town. Although in 1943 is was probably some way outside it. It is still used and there is no fee to walk across.

War cemetery
Our final stop was at the Death Railway Museum - there are two this one is beside one of the war cemeteries in the centre of town and we highly recommend it for more sobering displays.

Off to Bangkok - posted from Yacht Haven, Phuket

As we are planning a short trip to Myanmar (Burma) in September we had to get visas.  This can only be done in person at an embassy and takes 3 days, unless your departure is imminent when it may be possible to pay extra for a same-day service.  We therefore had a choice of going up to Bangkok while we are at Yacht Haven or to KL when back in Langkawi.  As we prefer Bangkok, we opted to do it  there and to bring forward a trip to other sites close to there - Kanchanaburi and Ayutthaya which we had planned as part of a later trip.

Last Sunday therefore saw us on Air Asia to Bangkok and Monday morning, bright and early, at the Visa Section of the Myanmar Embassy.  We had read on another traveller's blog that a copy shop 200 m down the road has the forms and will copy your passport and take your photograph in a form that is acceptable.  Armed with these we got from about 10th in the queue to third, as those before us had to get the forms and fill them in before being issued with a ticket.  After having our departure date checked, as the visa is only valid for entry within 28 days, we were told we could pick our passports up on Wednesday.  All very efficient.

Off then to HSBC - "the world's local bank".  Despite being the first commercial bank in Thailand HSBC has only one branch.  We had hoped that, as HSBC customers in the UK, we would be able to obtain the necessary pristine US dollar notes and pay for them directly from our UK account without incurring a double exchange rate hit.  No such luck - we would have to put our card into the ATM - draw out as much in Thai baht as the machinge would give us, take it to the counter and exchange to baht into USD.  This we could do at the airport.

Check out of the hotel, Skytrain to the river, river boat up to near the royal palace and tuk-tuk to Thonburi station for a 3rd class train to Kanchanaburi at 1355.

Back to Thailand - posted from Yacht Haven, Phuket

At the end of July we headed up to Phuket to arrange some woodwork, painting and cleaning.

The trip, via Turatao, Ko Lanta and Phi Phi Don was uneventful - motoring all the way but one 25-knot squall on the way up to Ko Lanta - it was, of course on the nose.  A few problems arose with the new electronics but were reasonably easily resolved on arrival.  Anchorage notes will appear on the website in the fullness of time (there is a shortage of "Round To-its").

We checked into Ao Chalong - the new marina by the long pier (replacing the one that had been destroyed by weather) looks about a year from completion so there is a choice of taking the dinghy to the beach or using one of the landing stages on the pier used by tour boats.  We chose the latter.

After a day organising new phone and data access,  we headed up to Yacht Haven at the north of the island.  Still no wind but we got the tides right so made good time.

Our chosen contractors - Gig for woodwork and Oh for polishing and a small paint job could start the next week.

Rolly Tasker's sail loft (pictured Dec 2006)
When we were rigging the genoa before departure from Rebak we had noticed several splits.  These we had fixed with repair tape but it was clear that it had reached the end of its useful life and would probably not survive a "Sumatran" (SW squall) let alone a trip across the Indian Ocean.  We therefore headed to Rolly Tasker's sail loft and commissioned a new one.  We were disappointed that the sail (tape-drive cruising laminate) had given up the ghost after only 4 years but Rolly put us right on this - 1-2 years is common for this type of sail.  The new one will be polyester!