Touring The Khorat Plateau - first part : Down The Central Plains

Jurgen

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Oct 23, 2009
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Excerpt: Driving down the Central Plains, toward the Khorat Plateau, I stopped in the old cities of Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet, and I visited temples in Nakhon Sawan.

The complete photo story can be found at : https://picasaweb.google.com/campusadvise/Isan3CentralPlains#

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“Navigare necesse est ...”, this pushes me on the road, in search of new places or to visit friends. This time, I had no precise itinerary, but, as my last trips went North, I headed South, the direction of old capitals, historic “stones” and, eventually, of cheerful Isan.

At seven o' clock, in a late February morning, a huge sun ball pierced the fog on the highway to Lampang. The air was still cool and keeping the linen under my mesh jacket was a wise choice. Till Lampun, a heavy traffic squeezed me, but afterwards, as many vehicles drive toward this city, route 11 becomes a “freeway”. With an increased speed, I appreciated the comfort of the new windshield, smoothly deflecting the airflow.

My usual coffee stop, at Yonok intersection, is out of business and I had to drive on, without breakfast. Whilst climbing the hill, the sky became menacing. I was bewildered and not prepared for a shower, probably being overconfident in the dry winter season. Finally the darkness remained hooked to the mountain, whilst I escaped on a side road.

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Old Cities


Just before Dansai, I took leave from highway 11 and cruised up and down route 101, toward Sukhothai. It is an agreeable forest road with a good pavement. The burning season was on and an acre smell covered all bucolic scents.

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Along the road, I spotted trees wearing orange „life saving“ (monk) robes, as well as an amazing sign promoting „a tourist“ as an attraction. I also came across a handful of „seven“, a fun place to take a shot of my bike.

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After crossing the Yom river and stopping at a large Buddha image in Sam Ruean, I reached Sukhothai's Historical Park (Old Sukhothai) through the ring road.

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It takes time to properly visit this world heritage site and I limited my stop-over to Wat Sri Chum. This temple is located outside the main compound and host the famous Phra Atchana image.

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Back on my bike I passed the city of new Sukhothai, who seemed busy with tourists. Then route 101 becomes just a link, loaded with traffic and punctuated with potholes, particularly in the last sector, nothing really fancy.

I had not researched the lodging possibilities in Kamphaeng Phet and asked a passerby for advise. On his bike, he directed me to a brand new shack called “Friends House”. It is on the periphery, just hundred meters after “Big C” which makes it easy to localize. The rooms are at 300 THB with aircon, wifi and TV. Bikes can be parked under the windows, motel style. For breakfast, rice soup or Nescafé are complimentary.

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As the Ping river also traveled all the way down from the North, I went to greet it and explore a small island, with a huge abandoned Chinese style building. People were splashing in the water but there was no much activity.

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My next destination was the Historical Park, a site linked to Sukhothai's Unesco World Heritage. It was already late afternoon and the garden, draped in winter mood, was nearly deserted, despite a forfeited entrance fee, to celebrate some neighbor temple.

Wat Chang Rop, with elephants sculptures around his base and Wat Phra Kaew are some of the hilights of the numerous religious buildings.

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Bleak sunlight, filtrated by naked trees carved the stones in a mystical low key scenery. The old Buddha images appeared serene on a backdrop worn out by time and natural elements. In sleepy winter afternoons, filled with solitude and quietness it is difficult to imagine a bustling life and the former splendor of this capital.

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Drive from Maerim (Chiangmai) to Kampheng Paet (with side loops) = 476 km

Sugar on the Road

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A rising sun struggled to pierce the foggy horizon, whilst, high in the sky, vaporous cumulus reflected the early colors of an ideal biker's day. I was not keen on “Kao Tom” (rice soup) and struggled to find an European breakfast. In town, “Phayao Bakery” seemed promising but, unfortunately, their coffee service begins only at ten o'clock. Seeing my desperation, a compassionate lady brew some black liquid that I used to wash down a couple of cookies and sausage rolls.

Various restaurants and guesthouses are located on the West bank of the Ping River, making it a tourist destination. I crossed the bridge, on road 101, to have a look at it and to shoot a picture from the other perspective.

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The distance to Nakhon Sawan is only 120 kilometers, but I did not fancy a ride on „Highway 1“ and returned to my starting point. From there, I followed route 1082, a secondary path on the East shore of the Ping river. It is a sweet link, not that I tasted the asphalt, but, in the harvest season, a steady flow of vehicles, overloaded with sugar cane, cover the tarmac with loose crops.

These monster trucks are important hindrances, often difficult to overtake, before a empty lorry fills the opposite lane. The localization of the sugar mill seems easy to guess, when observing the trash on the roadside and the load of the vehicles. Nevertheless, I was suddenly puzzled to find litter cluttered and loaded transports on both sides. I reckoned that competition might go on somewhere, and that this was the „break-even“ sector between two factories.

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Nakornphet Sugar mill is an interesting place to take a break and have a closer look at the lorries and at the people behind the steering wheels.

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Not much is going on, to help drivers to cope with the waiting list. Some have organized themselves for a nap, some are chatting or phoning, others are just hanging around, waiting for their numbers to be called through the loudspeaker.

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On the map, route 1082 follows the Ping river. In reality there are few opportunities to peek at the flowing water. As for the road, the quality of the pavement is already worn out, particularly in the last sector. It is not worth to drive this „parallel“ itinerary, unless one has a specific interest in sugar plantations or in the fertile rice fields of the Central Plain.

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Nakhon Sawan

In Nakhon Sawan, I checked in to Pimarn hotel, as I had used this provincial accommodation, more than ten years ago. There are no big changes, the price (with ABF) is at 850 THB but I heard that the city has now better value options.

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After the short morning drive, enough time was available and I climbed the Khiriwong temple hill, to enjoy the view from the new observation tower (32 meters high). The horizon was slightly blurred, but the panorama, with the foreground of the golden chedi is impressive.

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I did not fully recognize the place at the hill's summit. It has changed a lot in ten years, with new or enlarged buildings, gold paintings and a better accessibility. My recollection was about a remote forest place, with a worn out trail, leading to a small temple and a large Buddha image. The view toward the city is still the same, even so Nakhon Sawan has a couple more hypermarket buildings. In the past, “Fairy Land” was the main hangout for air-con and ice cream lovers.

(picture 10 years old)
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Down the hill again, I stopped at Sawan Park, an enjoyable place with a former swamp transformed in an handsome lake. In the late afternoon it becomes a jogger's paradise. People of all ages like to run, walk, play games or just sit in the garden.

Nakon Sawan is home to a large Chinese community. At the entrance of the playground big dragon statues watch over their wellbeing. Many restaurants and bars are located on the ring-road, around the park, this is were I had diner later in the evening.

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Another highlight of Nakhon Sawan is the Chao Pharya, the river of Kings, the spine of Thailand's largest watershed. His roots are the confluence of the Ping and Nan rivers, just inside the city. In the evening, a lively market and food stalls, specializing in grilled softwater shrimps animate the promenade on the border of the waterway.

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A motivation to stopover in the “heavenly city”, was to return to a place where I did a retreat, ten years ago, and to meet my former teacher.

I walked around the compound of Wat Woranat Banphot, the temple where I was ordained. To my disappointment the atmosphere had totally changed. New buildings were erected, but others completely abandoned. This was the case of the small temple, hosting a large “Luang Phor To” Buddha image, that had been my kuty.

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Picture of my kuti, 10 years ago (now totally desolated)
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In the evening I was the guest of my former adjarn (teacher) Peter Robinson, also known as Phra Peter Pannapadipo, the author of the book Phra Farang (1). Three temple boys, who had helped during my monkhood, joined us. They are now grown up youngsters, entering successful carriers. Spending a good moment with these friends brought a lot more satisfaction than my visit to the temple and I did not regret the trip through Nakon Sawan.

Drive from Kamphen Paet to Nakhon Sawan, with local tours = 166 km

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Note (1)

Peter Robison, the author of the book “Phra Farang” is also known under his monastic name of Phra Peter Pannapadipo. He has disrobed, a couple of years ago, in order to devote all his time to his charity foundation, helping impoverished children to get access to education (SET – Student Education Thrust) www.thaistudentcharity.org

In addition to his well known publications, Mr. Robinson recently co-authored a book, with one of the temple boys, that I had known. Under the title “In Grandmother's House” they recollect “Thai folklore, traditions and rural village life”. It is written like a novel but provides a mine of knowledge about traditional life in this country.
I will place an excerpt, about this publication, in the GTR chapter dedicated to books.

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The complete story (next chapters to be published later):

Touring The Khorat Plateau

1. Down The Central Plains
Old Cities
Sugar on the Road
Nakhon Sawan - my retreat


2. A Silk Road
Climbing to Chayaphum
Napo, back to”Monsoon Country”
Korat Silk and earthware
Sri Saketh
Roi Et
Khon Kaen
Loei

3. Back to Northern Mountains
Farewell to Isan (Loei to Phrae)
A Northern hook (Phrae – Mae Kachan – Chiangmai)
 

Jurgen

Moderator
Oct 23, 2009
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This post : « Down the Central Plains », is a sort of « place marker » for the full story. All pictures are « in the box » but as another Isan trip, several North Thailand and two Laos stories are already in the warehouse … I have to beg for patience. My writing is as slow as my riding, but as I am often on the saddle ... :oops:
 

Changnoi1

Ol'Timer
Nov 21, 2010
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Thanks Jurgen for this great report, very nice pic's. I did more as 300k (by car) in Thailand I have been on most all the places seeing in your tour but you showed my some other viewing points. Thanks. Makes me wanting to jump on the bike right now (it is bloody well raining) and just follow my front-wheel.

Chang Noi

And of course ... waiting for the rest of the trip reports .... I love the Isaan!
 

oldbloke

Ol'Timer
Feb 15, 2009
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Nice write-up Jurgen - waiting for the rest now to see if Isaan is worth a ride around next time I visit...
I see you found the big Gold Buddha on 101 - looks all finished now.
 

Jurgen

Moderator
Oct 23, 2009
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Thank you friends for reading and posting comments.
@oldbloke ... yes, Isan is definitively worth a promenade. I have some previous reports on GTR (and of course a lot of friends have posted good material for the region, particularly Captainslash who has scouted every single side road). Unfortunately I will not finish this story before quite a time, I have still Laos, North Thailand and a former Isan trip to write about. I will try hard :)