Wednesday 21 July 2010

Lamphang - Of Pots and Potholes

And so, readers, Phil and I saddled up for the long ride from Sukhothai to Lamphang. It felt longer as the day blazed 40+ degree heat down on us, and we didn't take the easy way north ...

We enjoyed the beautiful tree-lined roads down to historical Kamphaeng Pet, where the road actually winds around old ramparts and temples as you enter the town, and over the Ping River (the same one that flows through Chiang Mai). We joined the #1 Highway here, for the final blast north on the homeward leg, soon reaching Tak (which is only 85 kilometres east of the Burmese border).

A friend of mine, Major Roy Hudson (retired) has lived in Chiang Mai since the 1950s and he contends that physically and culturally everything north of Tak is 'God's Own Country'. Amen, to that Roy. But I think that should be adapted to 'Buddha's Own Country'.

Highway # 1 is patchy. Sometimes flat, smooth and brilliant. Other times just potholes held together with a bit of tar. However there are some nice petrol stations and coffee shops where you can rest your weary arse. Or you can do what Phil did. Suffering from heatstroke, he wandered into a small office, smiled, said hello, and promptly threw up on their floor. Jing jing!

Instead of the owner berating him for ruining her office and scaring away the clients, she fetched him water, and a cold cloth, sympathetically patting his back while he projectile vomited vital organs across her floor. Only in Thailand.

Lamphang was a revelation. I'd heard much about it, but never visited.In the gathering twilight, the temples along the river gave it a really spiritual feeling. Bars and restaurants, many very funky, others more earthy, readied themselves for their nightly trade. Ceramic shops, pedalling wares from some of the area's 200 ceramics factories, add character and history to what I call a 'temple town'.

You see, Lamphang was started in the 7th century, and has been under the Khmer and Burmese in intervening periods. At least six really significant temples adorn the town, one of the most significant being Kaeo Don Tao, where the original Emerald Buddha (the famous one now in the Grand Palace, Bangkok) was enshrined. Buddha himself was said to have visited this province.

Along the elm-tree lined river are any number of boutique hotels, backpacker joints, and coffee shops where travellers swapped tales from the road ... like, 'Did you see that Australian bloke throwing up in that woman's shop?!?'

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