I had initially planned on staying in Suphanburi this past weekend to relax and recover from lots of traveling, but when I found out on Thursday afternoon I had Monday off, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to travel somewhere new. After Googling "best places for backpackers in Thailand", Nell and I settled on Sangkhlaburi, a city that is in the Kanchanaburi province but way up in the mountains and right on the Thai/Burma border. Perhaps due to the fact that we didn't have time to do much research on our destination, we were slightly unprepared for our trek and didn't know what to expect. In the midst of this adventure, Nell and I decided that we must have 9 lives...and we went through most of them in rapid succession in our 2 days in Sangkhlaburi.
Near death experiences in Sangkhlaburi (only slightly exaggerating)...
- The van ride to get there: I've never had an issue with carsickness until I moved to Thailand. Maybe that has something to do with my Midwest upbringing and road trips across Missouri/Kansas/Iowa/etc. where it's all flat-land and I entertained myself with games of "guess the crop" with my dad and siblings, but I seem to be unable to handle the crazy way these van drivers move along the roads, along with the quality of the roads and the ways in which they seem to define "hairpin turns." The ride up to Sangkhla was easily the worst I've ever been on - I was sure I was not going to make it out of the van alive. There were, of course, no seat belts to be found, so for two hours I was gripping on to the seat back in front of me with both hands to keep from flying back and forth in the van, with my eyes clenched shut, as I prayed and tried to put myself in the best position to survive should the car fly off the cliff and down the ravines. It was my nightmare, but we made it to the top and back down again two days later.
- The mosquitoes: Due to the lack of preparation and our quick decision to head to Sangkhla, we didn't even think about malaria pills before we left - and the mosquitoes were vicious! Our hostel was located on a lake, and the first night there I counted 16 new bites. Luckily, we were smart enough to bring our 100% DEET bug spray - but I'm not sure it made much difference after the fact. Of course, malaria takes a few days to settle in...so I guess I'll have to keep you updated if I suddenly come down with the disease.
- Saphan Mon: One of the few tourist attractions in Sangkhla is this bridge, the longest handmade wooden bridge in Thailand. It looks like it hasn't been touched in centuries, and in many places seems to be totally falling apart. After assurance from a local woman - "Oy, mai pen rai" that we would make it across we bravely and nervously walked across the bridge to take a few photos of the beautiful scenery. Nell and I gingerly watched each and every step much to the amusement of a child who was jumping across the beams with absolutely no fear.
- Three Pagodas Pass and Burma/Myanmar border: On the second day we hopped in a songatow to check out Three Pagodas Pass, a small monument right on the border of the two countries. At several points along the way we were stopped by border police and asked to show our passports and greeted in the few English words they could say, "Happy New Year" was a popular choice. At certain points due to lack of signage and our inability to communicate we thought we had crossed the border and might not be allowed to re-enter Thailand. Thankfully, that was not the case and we were able to check out the Burmese goods on the border and take a few photos before catching the songatow back into town.
- Canoe ride: Our amazing hostel, P GuestHouse, rented out canoes to its guests, so one morning Nell and I hopped in a canoe and started paddling. The people of Sangkhla mainly live on houseboats that sit in the lake, and we happened to be in the canoe when everyone else decided it would be a good time to switch up their neighbors and move their houses along the lake, creating some waves that we were sure were going to tip us into the murky lake. Luckily, we somehow managed to ride out the waves and safely steer our canoe back to the dock without sinking ourselves.
While the trip had many nervous moments and had me contemplating my time left on earth, it was also a well worth it trip to a place well off the beaten path. I'm tempted to say it was the most beautiful place I've visited so far in Southeast Asia. I went on my first motorbike ride, sampled some Burmese curry, saw some beautiful sunsets, read my book on a bamboo dock, and bought more bracelets! I don't think I'll be back due to the van ride up - but I'm glad I made the trip and got to experience Sangkhla.
Many more pics here on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2321109&id=1606236&l=a795bb50cb