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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cycling in Thailand

Our latest adventure was a cycling trip to Thailand. A friend and I started out the trip on a Central Thailand outing with SpiceRoads, an Asian cycling tour company. We met up in Bangkok where our guide picked us up and we headed out to the floating markets. Here everything is sold on the water, even including food they have made on the boats. Although there seemed to be more tourists than locals, the sights and smells were unique. I sampled the coconut ice cream (my favorite) and here it came in a coconut shell with pieces of fresh coconut in the bottom. We boarded one of the long tail boats and cruised through the canals, along floating houses; kids bathing in the water and low hanging bridges. We got on our bikes and started riding through the countryside, lots of rice fields all around. The lunch stop was near a 200 year old temple that had been taken over by a Banyan Tree. Hoping back on the bikes we continued on our journey, discovering that part of the trail was actually a narrow sidewalk in front on the houses with the canal on the other side. Apart from a few scares with barking dogs, no one fell in. The hotel that evening was in Kanchanaburi and the pool was a welcoming sight.
Cycling path along the canal

200 year old temple

Temple covered in Banyan Tree roots

Bike path up and over the stairs

Coconut ice cream in a shell

Hotel pool

Floating market

Tourists at the floating market

Cooking on the boats

Houses along the canal

Lots of flowers along the canal

Day 2 was a visit to the war museum, cemetery and the “Bridge over the River Kwai.” We actually took the train along the tracks built by the POWs during WWII, beautiful scenery along the river with lots of flowers in bloom. It was an open air train, but the breeze kept it cool. The wooden seats did get hard after a while, but luckily the lunch stop arrived just in time. Lunch was along the river and then back on the bikes riding onto our next stop. We got into the hotel just before the lightning and thunder started, so much for swimming. We listened to the pouring rain and finally braved our way through the river that had formed in the parking lot to dinner.
Bridge over the River Kwai

Floating restaurants on River Kwai

Hotel on the River Kwai

Hanging out of the train taking photos

Temple in Khmer architecture style from Cambodia

The next morning’s ride started from the hotel and continued into the country side. We rode along dirt roads that were primarily rice fields, taro plants, banana trees and rubber plants. It was so peaceful to not have to worry about cars anywhere. We came upon two large Buddhas, hard to believe enough people would be in this area to see them. At the end of the ride the van picked us up and drove us to Ayutthaya, the early capital of Thailand where we spent the night. Dinner was at a great place on the river, hard to believe that only a few months earlier the river had been up over the roof of all the places along there.
Gold and Silver Buddhas

The next morning we got up early to go to the local market; food and flowers everywhere. The flowers are for temple offerings both at home and at the village temples. After a tuk-tuk ride back to the hotel, we rode through the town and toured numerous temples before going on to the summer palace of the king. The architecture is completely European as an earlier king had studied in England and brought back ideas from his time there. Some of the buildings are open to the public and you can tour the grounds. The king and royal family still use some of the residences to get away from Bangkok. It is cooler here and much less congestion and noise. That night they returned us to Bangkok and we met up with our husbands for our weekend tour. The hotel on the river was fantastic and we could have easily spent the weekend there, but the next morning we were picked up for our tour of the wine country.
Vegetables at the market

Flowers for temple offerings

Making temple offerings

Tuk-Tuk ride back from the market

Reclining Buddha

Buddhas around the temple grounds

Buddha face taken over by Banyan Tree

Largest gold Buddha in Thailand

Elephant topiary at summer palace

Building at the summer palace
Yes, it is true; two hours north of Bangkok is a wine country. They grow mostly Chenin Blanc and Syrah grapes, so it is warm, but drier than most of Thailand. The houses and terrain reminded me more of Napa than Thailand. Many wealthy people have second homes in the area, which are large and modern. The wine was actually very good, but not a bargain price wise as most of Thailand is. The winemakers are trained in Germany and New Zealand and they had all the latest equipment including wine barrels from France. It is similar to Napa in that the owners have made their money in other areas and then start a winery. We spent the weekend cycling through the area, tasting wine and touring temples. As with every trip we have to have a point at which Bob is sure I am trying to do him in. This trip was no exception as we climbed the 650 stairs up to the large Buddha. Once we got there he did agree the view was worth it, but in the heat it is slow process. All in all a great trip!
View from Bangkok hotel room on the river

Rooster temple

House in the wine country

More wine country houses

Cycling through the vineyards

Bob cycling to the winery

Khao Yai Winery

Lunch at the winery

Hiking up to a temple in a cave

Buddha on the hill

15 story tall Buddha

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