This morning we are moving from Hat Yai to Trang to cross to the islands in the Andaman Sea.
From the hotel we came by tuk-tuk (60 baths) to the bus station in the southern part of the city. This is where the buses to Phuket depart from. It was early in the morning and it was not hard to find the minibuses going to Trang. In fact, we were literally conduced to them after saying just “Trang”.
We both slept very well last night so it happened that this morning we didn’t have 100 bath face but 170 bath.
That was the price the minivan drivers offer us, per person. Plus an additional 170 bath for the luggage though we knew that the price was just 100 bath.
Besides considering whether it was a fair price or not, the 70 bath difference wouldn’t be significant if you covert it to euros (around 2,50€) but here came the discovery (that we haven’t found in our travel guides):
There are also regular buses between Trang and Hat Yai, much more spacious than a minivan and with airco.
The price is only 209 bath per person (luggage included) and tu don’t need to travel tightly packed in a full minivan.
So here we are, on our way to Trang and then to the islands in the Andaman sea. And the sun is shining.
- Don’t panic if everything around you is in Thai language and you cannot understand
- Be cautious with free-lance people in the bus/train stations
- Use the tourist information desks when you are in doubt
- Check other alternatives before accepting what seems “non-negotiable” conditions
We started to drive very early in the morning heading west along the Mekong. We wanted to have some time to visit some some of the interesting points in the Far North.
It was impressive to me seeing how things have changed in this area the last 20 years (that’s the last time I travelled around here) and how some of the mystic is gone to give way to a more massive-global-electronic vibe.
In Mae Sai we bought some breakfast and we could see the early trade traffic between Myanmar and Thailand.
We tried to park our car in a public place (no signs indicating otherwise) by a temple and one guy came to ask us 40 baths for parking there, in a free parking place.
After Mae Sai we drove to Doi Tung to visit the royal project and Wat Phra That Doi Tung, a sacred place in the summit with stunning views over the Mekong and the lowlands. This are has historically been the site of opium production but now is the focus for rural development projects.
The roads to the village are narrow but quite ok though when we drove up to the top we found some places were the slope had collapsed on the road (photo) Anyway we could drive pass them with some care and braveness. 🤔
(keep reading after the photo)
Though weather was not accompanying us, we took some time to visit the top and it was very rewarding, the views and the temple were worth the visit.
Last stop was Mae Salong, (Santikhiree) and it keeps being very scenic but also very developed, full of resorts and buildings ruining the fantastic views. Be aware that there are to ways to get to the village. One was in a very bad condition due to the rains and that was the one we took following the gps. Believe me, it’s a very bad one. Next time I would rather take the longer way option…
We arrived at the busy Chiang Mai in the early evening and dropped the car in the parking ready to go trekking in the hills for a few days.
- Don’t trust your gps a 100%
- Tourism, greed and development not always improve the places and bring wealth to locals
Another long day driving to the northernmost point of Thailand.
Tonight we will stay in Chian Saen.
From Phayao we drove our way to Chiang Rai, where we stopped briefly to visit the center and specially Wat Phra Kaew.
We also made a short stop to have a look at the modern White Temple – Wat Rong Kuhn (1997), that could have been the perfect scenario for the wedding of Disney’s princess Li Shang from Mulan.
After Chiang Rai, we decided to take the long road to Chiang Saen along the Laotian border to the north, taking a combination of the roads 1020, 1055 and 1093 (a suggestion from Lonely Planet Thailand travel guide – check “The long road to Phayao”, we followed it northbound from Chiang Rai.
It was a unique experience indeed but we wouldn’t do it again.
At least not in one day and certainly not in the rainy season though it has nothing to do with the rain.
I will explain myself.
The trip is long and tiring and stressful. Mountain roads with great views and dramatic scenery. Some parts in very good condition, some parts not. You can find big holes, and sections where one lane or part of one lane has been affected by the rains and collapsed. Google maps also took us through smart shortcuts that were small abandoned roads downhill or uphill. That was the most stressful part.
We also found out that some of the most recommended viewpoints were not reachable or that once there climbing up to the viewpoint and back would taken too long. And we definitely didn’t want to drive those roads at dark.
Therefore, we both agreed that it would be ok to do it in two days and during the dry season when the roads are repaired.
- Travel guides suggestions are not always the best thing
- Do not trust completely in Google Maps or similar
- We are very brave drivers
In general, the roads are in good condition and it was an easy drive.
The trip is 310 km long and it takes you from the flat central plains to the forestry hills. When we started to drive early this morning our fuel tank was a quarter full.
We took route 101 (picture below) that runs through a green hilly landscape. The road is windy and bordered with thick forests. And there are no tank stations, at least for very long distances.
When we reached the first tank station on this road we were driving with the reserve tank.
- Check your fuel before start driving.
- Fill up your tank if it happens to be half full
- Phrae is worth to visit
The drive between Chiang Khai and Sukhothai (almost 350 km) was long but interesting, going from the riverside village through the mountains and into the plain.
We stopped a couple of times, once to have breakfast and then visit Loei and Phu Rua national park. At the park the weather was not good but at the peak the light was interesting to take some shots of the landscape.
Phu Rua is a small park, with a couple of waterfalls that you can also visit.
The world, walking:
At lunch time we stopped for a break and grabbed some food at 7-Eleven.
It caught our attention a suitcase attached to a sort of cart and topped with a solar panel parked next to us.
It was Rico's. Rico is a German young man who has been walking for two years, from his native Germany to this place in the middle of Thailand where we met. He only flew once, he told us, to avoid Afghanistan.
A nice story I will try to describe it in a separate post.
In the meanwhile, this is his website if you want to know more about his motivation and support this long long walk: www.ricoslongwalk.de and on Facebook: rico's long walk
- Roads in Thailand can hide many surprises
We spent this day in Chiang Khan and its surroundings enjoying fantastic views over the Mekong and mountains of Laos on the other side of the river.
We found a complete list of activities to do "in and around" Chiang Khan in an article published by Travelfish.
The views from Phra Yai were stunning. The picture featured in this article is one we took from there.
Then we drove through the rural roads to Phu Tok. These more than 20 km can be a heavy task if it is raining hard but is more local and interesting than the main road along the Mekong.
In the afternoon we head to Khaeng Kut Ku to have a drink and a boat trip in the Mekong.
- Local roads can be a little more difficult but far more rewarding. In our experience small roads are quite ok in a 90 per cent of the cases. If it rains you need to be alert.
We left Nong Khai and took the route 211 in direction to Chiang Khan in the west. The idea was driving the 190 km along the Mekong visiting some villages and temples on the way.
The morning was rainy as the tropical depression was affecting the area besides the usual monsoon season.
As you travel west, the landscape turns more hilly and rural.
We stopped in Si Chiangmai and Wat Hin Mak Peng with nice views over the Mekong. Then visited the waterfalls at Than Thip, Bang Muang and Pak Chom.
We arrived in Chiang Khan when it was dark. Then by some reason all our systems went offline at the same time. No wifi, no gps, no mobiles. We thought that there will be no way that we could find our hotel being all the signs in Thai and without a GPS. Then we stopped at a local small shop in a corner. Even though the people there spoke nearly no English they understood our situation and called to our guesthouse to explain exactly where we were. Our hosts picked us up some 15 minutes later (by the way our hosts didn’t speak much English either).
Tip of today
- Locals can be very friendly and helpful if you are friendly too 😊