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ABOUT THIS BLOG

In the summer of 2009, Nicolas Rapp decided to take a break from his Art Director job at The Associated Press to attempt a one-year overland travel around the world in a 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser. He was back in New York in February 2011 after traveling 15 months and 37,000 miles.

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  • Visiting Thailand ancient capitals and many Buddhas

    Posted on November 26th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    Leaving after camping in the Sukhothai ruins.

    Leaving after camping in the Sukhothai ruins.

    We leave Phnom Penh and go south-west toward the coast and the Bokor national Park. The hope is to camp up there. The roads are OK, but some portions are still under construction and we have to drive on gravels for long stretches.

    Some kind of ceremony in a town we cross. Giants asking for money.

    Some kind of ceremony in a town we cross. Giants asking for money.

    When we arrive at the entrance of the park, the authorities deny us entry, the road being unfinished. After repairing a puncture due to a sharp rock, we decide to find a place on the coast to stay for the night. We are welcomed by friendly inhabitants of Kep, only 25 miles to the Vietnam border.

    Fixing the tire. As long as it is not raining, we are OK.

    Fixing the tire. As long as it is not raining, we are OK. (Photo: Vikas)

    Vikas cook us some Thai food and we are able to eat before the rain comes. In the morning, we follow the coast due north-west which will eventually bring us back to Thailand in a few days.

    Life is centered on the river in this coastal town.

    Life is centered on the river in this coastal town.

    Bread is delivered to our host in Kep. (Photo: Vikas)

    Bread is delivered to our host in Kep. (Photo: Vikas)

    We make another stop in Sihanoukville where we spend the night in a guest house (Seabreeze Guest house, recommended). The landscape along the road is not as interesting as in the center of the country where we could witness the work of farmers. We try the local food several times during this trip, which is less spicy and sweeter than the Thai food but still quite interesting. One dish I enjoyed was the Loc Lac, stir fried cubed beef with red onions dipped in a sauce consisting of lime juice and black pepper.

    Vehicle of this type we will see a lot in Cambodia. Basically it is an engine on a wooden frame.

    Vehicle of this type we will see a lot in Cambodia. Basically it is an engine on a wooden frame.

    Finally, after crossing some low mountains, we are back at the border with Thailand. Everything goes smoothly there, and after one hour we are on the other side, trying to find a place to stay on the beach.

    Arguing about some paper I don’t think I need. And yes, I do need it. (Photo: Vikas)

    Arguing about some paper I don’t think I need. And yes, I do need it. (Photo: Vikas)

    Somewhere around Laem Klat we find the perfect spot, and we take advantage of the few shacks dotting the beach to have food and enjoy a shower in the morning.

    Camping on the beach. No rain and a good night of sleep. (Photo: Vikas)

    Camping on the beach. No rain and a good night of sleep. (Photo: Vikas)

    A long day of driving brings us back to Bangkok, and the following day Vikas is flying back to Mumbai. The routine continues for me, and I replenish my food reserves in the city. Later in the day, I go pick up Kathryn, who I used to work with in New York few years back. As Vikas, she will spend a week with me while I am travelling in northern Thailand. I go get her at the Bangkok airport, and leave immediately for Ayuthaya, a city one hundred kilometers north of Bangkok.

    Buddha head embedded in roots at Wat Phra Mahathat, Ayuthaya.

    Buddha head embedded in roots at Wat Phra Mahathat, Ayuthaya.

    The former royal capital has many temples and palaces, and even if the place is quite popular among tourists, it does not feel overcrowded when you visit the many sites. The city grew around the ruins, so unlike Angkor Wat, the landscape you experience when walking from location to location is quite urban. The old city enclosing most of the ruins is an island located at the confluence of three rivers.

    The largest temple in Ayuthaya - Wat Phra Si Sanphet – features three towers (chedi) build in the 14 century.

    The largest temple in Ayuthaya - Wat Phra Si Sanphet – features three towers (chedi) build in the 14th century.

    In the last few weeks, I saw a lot of Buddhas, but it was only the beginning, as I was about to discover. In a sanctuary hall, we discovered one of Thailand’s biggest bronze specimens, 56-feet high.

    A giant Buddha in Wihaan Mongkhon Bophit.

    A giant Buddha in Wihaan Mongkhon Bophit.

    What is interesting about the hall housing the Buddha is that the Burmese government donated a huge amount of money in the ‘50s for its restoration. In fact, they were trying to repair the damage caused by the country army when the city was sacked 200 years earlier. Still, you don’t see such gesture frequently.

    A Thai "Chedi" is a kind of pagoda. It has always the form of a lotus which symbolizes the enlightenment.

    A Thai "Chedi" is a kind of pagoda. It has always the form of a lotus which symbolizes the enlightenment.

    Also worth noticing is the Wat Phanan Choeng, a modern temple on the other side of the river. You take a small boat to get there, and can observe people feeding the fishes around the temple.

    Taking the boat to the Wat Phanan Choeng.

    Taking the boat to the Wat Phanan Choeng.

    We stay two nights in town, on the front yard of the Baan Lotus guest house (US$6 a night, recommended). It is nice there, and there are showers. I am sure Kathryn appreciates the comfort…

    Inside the Wat Phanan Choeng.

    Inside the Wat Phanan Choeng.

    We leave the city and I have a long day of driving to reach Sukhothai, another ancient capital of Thailand.

    Kathryn is having food in a riverside restaurant.

    Kathryn is having food in a riverside restaurant.

    Guess what. ANOTHER BUDDHA!

    Guess what. ANOTHER BUDDHA!

    There, we arrive as night falls, and we are lucky enough to camp in the middle of the ruins. It is kind of cool to wake up in the middle of this park filled with old temples (Wat) and statues. An interesting detail differentiates the ruins I see here and the one in Angkor, Cambodia. Here, they used bricks almost everywhere, as in Angkor I remember the structures to be built out of sandstone. Also, Hindu temples in Angkor were altered to display images of the Buddha, but with a Hindu revival later on, Buddha imagery were destroyed. Eventually, Buddhism made its return in the 14th century…

    Buddha in one of the largest temple of Sukhothai.

    Buddha in one of the largest temple of Sukhothai.

    All of that is very nice, but we are ready to change thematic after seeing dozens of “Wats”. So we decide we will go in the Lang San natural park next, where we will be able to get a little bit of nature and a cold night. The park is only seventy kilometers from the Myanmar (Burma) border, so an incursion may be possible…

    Locals feeding fishes at a temple. Very spectacular.

    Locals feeding fishes at a temple. Very spectacular.