Ko Tao, Bangkok and Sukhothai15/05/2011
The diving course in Ko Tao was a great success. I was the only one on the course which meant dedicated attention from my great instructor, and also meant that Seth could join us on as many of the 5 dives as he wanted to. In the end he joined us on 4 of them leaving out only the navigation dive which involved me swimming up and down in a straight line and square. Of these 5 dives the night dive was the most memorable for me - terrify as I had no idea where I was most of the time (even unexpectably poping up to the surface at one stage) but it was amazing to swim in the dark with just the moon light and phosphoresce for guidance (once we turned our touches off, we didn't do the whole thing in the dark!)
The course took up two days so after that we decided to hire a motorbike and explore the island a bit with a view to may be going to a different beach for a night or two. In the end we decided we were happy enough where we were but the tour of the island was fun. The roads where in a terrible state, particularly following the recent storms which had washed away huge sections of the road meaning that we had to turn back on a number of occasions, and for one beach (Mango Bay) we abandoned the bike and walked over broken road to reach the hotel which had clearly closed a few years before. The hotel complex didn't actually go to the beach itself so we swam the short distance off the crumberling pier to the beach where Seth had been many years before. Then there had been nothing on the beach at all but now there was a second (open but not very busy) hotel as well as the one we had walked to. We then took the bike to a view point where you could see across most of the island which gave us a better idea of the size and landscape of the island. The beach we were staying on, Hat Sai Ri, is the biggest and most populated beach on the island and this was clear to see from the view point.
So after dives and motorbikes on Ko Tao we headed back to Bangkok with a view to going north for a short while before our visas ran out. Being back in Bangkok was nothing exciting but we managed to get a massage, hair cut for Seth (£2 - the most expensive one of the trip so far) and various other bits and pieces, including running shoes for Seth who is missing the discipline of exercise slightly more then I am! We then caught a train up to Phitsanulok. With typically bad timing it turned out to be the one day of the year that all Thai people are given free travel on the trains so it was crowded and hot, and sat in Bangkok station for an hour after it was due to leave. It was not the most pleasent journey to say the least with both of us getting biten by all sorts of different bugs on the train but we arrived safely 2 hours late, checked into a simple hotel where we were able to get a good shower and an even better nights sleep.
Bright and early the next morning we headed for the bus to Sukhothai, arriving by lunchtime. Sukhothai is made up of both old and new towns. We stayed in the new town where we were able to enjoy wonderful Thai curry, Thai massages, cheap beer and gin and tonic (just to keep the mosquitoes away you understand!). Old Sukhothai (Sukhothai Historical Park - a World Heritage site) is an ancient city built in around 1200 when it was the capital of Thailand. The city is just a collection of ruins now, mostly Buddist and Hundu temples. There are around 21 temples so we decided to split the tour over two days, doing the central part on the day we arrived by hiring bicycles, then on the second day (actually the third as we took a day off to enjoy the peace and quiet of Sukhothai town) we explored the outer temples by scooter hired from our hotel. The ruins were impressive with some very large buddha figures to be admired, including one standing Buddha at the top of a hill looking down over the whole province, and a large seated Buddha in the old centre.
After a few days exploring the old and new Thai worlds in Sukhothai it was time to head for Laos so we caught a bus to a very dull town called Khon Kaen where we spent one night before catching the train up to the Thailand-Laos border at Nong Khai (which we have since been told is a lovely little place to visit so if we were replanning our route we would have stayed there rather then Khon Kaen). From Nong Khai it was a simple task to cross the border over the Friendship Bridge, fill in the paper work etc for the visa and into Laos, first stop Vientiane just 23km from the bridge.