Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bus Trip In Thailand

After three weeks in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where there are over 300 amazing post and beam type temples, many hundreds of years old and mostly teak, I decided to take a bus trip to the smaller town of Lampang, about 120 kilometers to the south to see if I could find post and beam houses that people lived and worked in.
There are many types of taxi and public transportation here, beginning with the rickshaw, where a man cycles a two-person three-wheeled taxi. The next is the auto rickshaw, or what they call here a tuk tuk. This is a three wheeled motorcycle, an updated version of the rickshaw and is good for two or three people to ride in. The next step up is a pick-up truck, with a high top on the back, where people riding sit facing each other and can take up to a dozen people, and when really full, passengers can also stand on the back bumper. Not for the feint of heart. The pick-ups act as local busses with regular routes or can be hired as taxis.
Busses in Thailand come in different shapes and sizes. First there are the modern tourist ones, that don’t have any regular routes, but are for hire and carry tourists in air conditioned coaches with TV’s and tinted windows that pick you up at your air-conditioned hotel and usual drop you off at another. I don’t prefer them because a person really doesn’t get the benefit of experiencing a country this way. You might as well stay home, avoid all the costs and watch a documentary on that country on the Discovery channel. Enough said.
On my trip to Lampang I took all the above mentioned transportation, except the tourist one. First thing in the morning I stopped one of hundreds of tuk tuks in Chiang Mai, and got a ride to the Lamphun bus stop, another smaller town where I would look at buildings and spend my first night. The “bus” was a red pick-up where I sat facing a woman Buddha monk, all dressed in white and hair shaven. She was a university graduate who spoke some English. We travelled the 25 kilometers along a road that was lined most of the way with 30-meter high teak trees on either side. Just beautiful and great photography material.
When I arrived in Lamphun the only taxis were the rickshaws, and I hired one to drive me to a hotel I had found in a travel guide I carried with me. The driver was older, skinny, almost toothless, but with legs that were like small tree trunks. It was about noon, sunny and about 38 degrees Celsius. We drove out of town along narrow country roads for a while until we arrived at what seemed like palatial grounds, with lots of trees and lawns, not what I expected of the hotel from the travel guide. After I paid the rickshaw driver and he left, I discovered it was not a hotel at all but a Buddhist sanctuary!
There were some exceptional buildings there though so I took the opportunity to photograph them and then took to the dusty road walking with a backpack and soon found a busy highway. After about one-half hour of walking and sweating I spied a pick-up taxi, hailed him down, and through mostly sign language he took me finally to the hotel I was looking for, where I found a good shower and some rest.
The next day, after I photographed an exceptional 550 year old wooden timber frame temple, I found my way back to the bus station where I took a Thai public transport bus, running on diesel and painted with bright colours. It cost me 36 baht or about $1.20 to go to Lampang, some 100 kilometers away.
The bus was full-- older folks, teenagers going to a bigger city and lots of children who were all well behaved. Recessed into the ceiling of the bus were about six small fans, which quit working every time the bus slowed down and began to climb a hill. The windows all opened and you could stick your arm out like a car, which was nice as it was really hot. At the front of the bus there were all kinds of good luck charms dangling from the ceiling, including a disco ball, a stuffed tiger, keys, and rubber dolls. Pictures adorned the sides, with the king of Thailand most prominent (the people of Thailand adore their king), a monkey, photos of the driver’s family I presumed and a kitchen clock showing the right time with a picture of, what else, the king on the face.
Climbing the hills (the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains) was slow but barreling down the other side was scary, so I wasn’t sure what I preferred. But I did like travelling like this, as it showed the true human face of the country I was privileged to be visiting. Oh, and the wooden buildings in Lampang, where I stayed for four days, were definitely worth taking a Thai bus to.

1 comment:

ColeNi said...

Sounds like a great trip...I've been considering going to Thailand for some time now, and just recently have decided to finally go! Can you post any of the pictures that you took in Thailand on your blog so that I can see them?