549km Mae Sot to Kanchanaburi
After working our muscles on the many steep climbs near the Myanmar border, just one last hill stood between us in Mae Sot and the typical Thai town of Tak. We hoped for a cloudy day – the best conditions for climbing – but instead we got blue skies and intense sun. “Going to be a hot one,” we said to each other as we started the ascent.
Every bend revealed a new rise in the road and it took just a few kilometers before we were completely sweat covered and hoping for a fountain or roadside waterfall. One never materialised – you see very few in Thailand – but we did get the next best thing… an iced coffee stand! Bless those Thais and their love of frozen drinks, especially good coffee. We indulged in three coffees over the course of the day, each one relieving the humid temperatures for at least a few minutes.
As we climbed, we passed by a shrine with two elephant sculptures, each one decorated with garlands of flowers, and then a hilltribe market at the top. We expected tourist tat but instead found an amazing produce market, where we gleefully picked up fresh avocados and fresh asparagus – two of our favourite foods and ones we haven’t eaten since leaving Europe. We drooled the rest of the afternoon just thinking of the feast waiting for us that night.
Soon we were up and over the top and zipping down the other side into the very average town of Tak, where we found an above average hotel room. After four nights on slightly saggy, springy mattresses in Mae Sot it was pure luxury to crawl beneath the sheets of a huge king size bed, lay back and watch television in air conditioned comfort. Don’t think we’re blowing the budget here. This kind of indulgence goes for about $10 in Thailand. What a shock awaits us when we arrive in Australia in a few weeks!
With the last hill conquered, only flat farmland lay between us and Kanchanaburi, a town just west of Bangkok and famous as the site of the Bridge on the River Kwai. The railway was built by Allied POWs and Asian labourers forced to work by the Japanese during WWII.
To be honest, the ride south wasn’t the most exciting of our trip. Aside from Kamphaeng Phet, a provincial town with some interesting temple ruins and a great night market, we mostly cruised through tiny farming centres where the tractor dealerships were bigger and more popular than the car lots. The highlight was discovering an unexpected waterfall in our path one lunchtime and also stopping to inspect the many pineapple groves we passed. A huge pineapple goes for a meager $0.30 at the local fruit stalls.
Sometimes we had the distinct impression that we might have been the only foreign tourists to stop in the small villages, quite an achievement considering Thailand gets millions of visitors every year! While there wasn’t much to see for scenery, we did enjoy seeing four monks stop at a restaurant where we were having breakfast to collect their morning alms. As the monks approached, the silence of the street was broken by a woman who rushed from her home to the restaurant to buy some rice and sauce. She must have been a bit late! She made her purchase just in time and then went from excited to reverent as she made her offering and the monks chanted a blessing in return. It’s these little slices of everyday life that are so interesting for us.
After so much of the quiet life, it was a bit of a shock to arrive in bustling Kanchanburi, to the calls of the tuk tuk drivers and the patter of the tour guides. Now we just have to plan our route to Bangkok (with a train or bus – the motorway traffic doesn’t tempt us) and the next few days will be filled with bureaucratic tasks in the capital.