It was late December when we decided to drive up to Phetchabun. My then girlfriend and I drove up to Khao Kho with the hope of doing some cycle touring in and among the mountains up there.
Phetchabun City is called a city of sweet tamarind, Phetchabun has an exotic landscape whose climate is more temperate than anything else. Khao Kho is known as the ‘Switzerland of Thailand’. Phetchabun lies in the lower northern region of Thailand with layer after layer of mountains in the north, surrounded by mountains in the east and west. These mountains include Khao Kho range and Nam Nao National Park, both of which are famous national attractions.
We stayed at the ‘Roses on the Hill Resort.’
After having dinner, we decided on going for a short walk if only to explore our new horizons, but for the most, we ended up gazing into the night sky trying to work our way through the constellations, before retiring to bed.
Sunday, December 28th 2014
I got up and peeped through the curtains. Across the ridge, in the distance, I could see the beautiful white looking Khanchangphisek Temple with a spire. To the right was the main road and beyond that, the mountainous backdrop, which had trees peppered all across it.
After breakfast, we decided to go off cycling. The terrain was wonderful, but not for cycling. I was hoping that the roads might just trek along the valley bottoms, but how wrong I was to be.
We decided to head out to the local waterfalls, believing that this would be a scenic route, but we never considered what we’d encounter, there was some real lung-busting, breath panting slopes to contend with.
The roads were challenging for even the most advanced mountain biker, but certainly not the place for a novice cyclist like Annie. For the first downhill, which must have gone on for the best part of nearly 2km if not longer; but it was fantastic. It had two sharp bends, so you had to be careful, otherwise, you’d have to contend with the crashed barrier. Even so, I managed to clock speeds of up to 75km/h. Thankfully the traffic wasn’t that bad and at the bottom, there was the Natural Yurt Resort near to the Lanoni Reservoir.
We cycled over 46km in total, but it took us the best part of 7 hours to complete it, which included stops along the way if only so Annie could keep up.
At one point, I stopped to allow Annie to catch up. But to my shock and horror, I couldn’t see her anywhere, I expected to see her within minutes if not seconds, but she never came into view; I wondered if she’d sustained a puncture. I decided to freewheel back to where I had last seen her. When I got around the corner I noticed her bike laying down on a grass verge and she’d decided to call into a strawberry farm, in the pursuit of filling her belly with fruit.
Later, we came across more fruit farms growing strawberries and passion fruit.
After lunch, we continued, but Annie struggle with the gradients, yes, they were steep at 8%. Late mid-afternoon, we called into a cafe. Annie, by now had had enough of the fun and games of this terrain in attempting to scale these crazy mountain roads, but for me, the fun was just about to begin.
At the cafe, Annie requested me to cycle back to collect the car. I told her that with my knowledge of the area, I was sure to get lost and anyway the exercise would do her the world of good. Annie then slipped in the belief that she thought that she was going to die and that she couldn’t continue, in fact, she commented that she couldn’t even move. I hadn’t the slightest bit of sympathy for her, as far as I was concerned she was doing nothing more than attention seeking.
‘I’m dying. She said.
‘Yes, we all are slowly.’
‘Don’t worry, it happens to all of us eventually.’
‘I’m dying,’ she said again as if I’d not heard her the first time.
‘Don’t die here, die when I’m not with you then I won’t have any explaining to do to the authorities.’ At least I got a laugh out of her.
Annie didn’t die, in fact once back she made a miraculous recovery after having a shower and getting some sleep. However, while Annie went to indulge in having a shower I took it on myself to cycle down the first fast slope, where this morning I had recorded a speed of over 75km/h.
Monday, December 29th 2014
Today, we moved on to another resort. Outside, Annie thought it was quite chilly. The locals were wearing: bobble hats, scarves and gloves not to mention thick coats, but what made it even funnier was that they still insisted on wearing shorts and flip-flops. It wasn’t even cold. It was only around 20C with a wind chill factor of around 18 degrees.
The way they dressed made you think that you were at a Ski resort. The Thais looked rather amusing believing that they were in a deep freeze. I concluded that the resort should have been promoted as ‘Phetchabun the Tropical Alpine Ski Resort,’ however, it was called the Kaokor Swiss Resort. All that was missing were the ski lifts, apre ski, and the artificial ski slopes.
There were stalls at the side of the road that were all geared up to ensure that you didn’t suffer from the chill. Hats looking like: strawberries, reindeer, elephants and birds were all on display and by the look of things business was rather brisk. There must have been at least thirty stalls selling similar items.
We drove from the ski resort straight into Thailand’s Giza resort, talk about contrast. As at the side of the road was a huge statue of the Sphinx. It was quite colourfully painted in dayglo blue and yellow and plus Napoleon’s armies hadn’t blown half of its nose off yet.
We stayed at the ‘Forest Hills 2.’ Once we located it we went to visit a local farm, where they grew: strawberries, cabbages and other vegetables.
Outside this farm was what they called nipple fruit or tit fruit, or cows udder or even the Apple of Sodom, Soanum mammosum. According to research, it was a poisonous fruit and not native to Thailand, but it certainly looked strange.
The farm had numerous fruit trees growing, anything from enormous: jackfruits, lychee to oranges to name but a few. It was very well laid out and most interesting to venture around even if it was just to see how it was all laid out. Most of the fruit had either been picked or had not matured yet, but it was still very interesting.
Afterwards, we drove on to a strawberry farm. Well, the thought of strawberries just got Annie’s saliva glands working overtime.
Annie was determined to get her punnet of strawberries, but for me, the memories of fruit picking when I was a child came flooding back, being a backbreaking ritual, so I decided to pen my diary instead.
Back at our resort and after a rest, we decided that we would set off in the hope that we’d see the sunset, but when we reached a suitable plateau, wed just missed it.
Tuesday, December 30th 2014
Today, we went to visit the Wat Pha Sorn Kaew, ‘Temple of Glass Cliff.’ Which was a magnificent, glistening, Buddhist monastery and temple, worth all the weight in gold.
The Wat (temple) was set on a peak of over 830 metres near the town of Khaew Son. Surrounded by mountainous rugged peaks of enchanting scenery.
It was claimed that the temple uniqueness and spectacular construction was significant to rival that of Notre Dame in Paris, Sistine Chapel in Rome and the Taj Mahal in India, yet it was said that it was almost unknown by the outside world and many Thais didn’t even know of its existence.
The main pagoda and surrounding buildings, walls and staircases were decorated in vibrant coloured mosaic tiles and ceramic pieces of pottery. It was suggested that between 5 – 6 million pieces had been used in the decoration. We discovered that superstition ran high here, as the steps up to the top ran in sequences of 12.5 steps not quite thirteen.
On the top of the pagoda was three domes on top of each other, all shaped like golden lotus flowers. From a distance, it looked like a three-tiered wedding cake with the domes acting as decorations. Immensely impressive, the entire site was a marvel to see. A visual feast of colour and mirrored light, as the complete structure sparkled against the mountainous backdrop and the crystal blue skies; seeing it was the thing to do.
Another structure nearby was the white five sitting Buddha statue. The brothers were all sitting in order of size, the smallest at the front, the tallest at the back.
Further up the mountain on rather a tricky trackway was the Himmaphan (Heaven Gardens of Buddhism). This was about 2km away from the Wat Pha Sorn Kaew complex and still situated in and among the fantastic rocky Phetchabun mountain range. Why this area had not yet been discovered by the tourist trade was anybody’s guess.
Some nearby gardens were decorated with mythical creatures that resembled half lion and half elephant, a phenix looking creature and many more.
A local chedi was wonderful both inside and out. Painted in white, looking again like three lotus flowers sitting on top of each other, getting smaller in size the higher you went and then on top was a golden structure.
The chedi itself was designed in an octagon shape and once you ventured in you were confronted by a glass-domed ceiling that was decorated with zodiacal signs and below them the surrounding constellations.
Below the ceiling, there were pictures of places of interest connected to Buddhism, places mainly in India. Below the ceiling, there were 24 golden positions of Buddha with the meaning all written in Thai. Below that were more paintings, these now depicted the ten lives of Buddha.
Outside, there was a bell, which Annie couldn’t resist in ringing. In the surrounding gardens, visitors were requested to respect the silence and tranquillity of the place. The only thing that spoilt it was the fact that the gardener had his radio on quite loud and only a stone throw away from the chedi.
Near the chedi there was a magical tree, so Annie told me called a makkali tree which according to her, it produced nareepol or nareephol, which literally means fruit women, or in Buddhist mythical terms, fruit maidens are grown from this tree, these develop into beautiful sixteen-year-olds as described in Triphum Phra Ruang Scriptures and other local religious text.
Annie seemed to believe this fable. Then there at the edge of the garden was a tree, and hanging from it were green coloured females, not just one but many of them. What confused me was the tree stalks were attached to their heads, but they all had well-developed navels.
The fact that Annie graduated in medical sciences at the then top university in Thailand, somewhat began to worry me, as I pointed out that these were nothing but plastic dolls. Then she started to stop and think as she questioned her own intelligence and my wisecracks.
‘The tree is made out of concrete and no doubt the females are nothing more than green plastic moulded dolls, probably with ‘Made in China, stamped on them.’ I said not wanting to disappoint her.
Once Annie realised that she’d fallen for the joke she seemed very disappointed. ‘I’ll kill that lady for lying to me,’ she said. I just saw the funny side to it all.
To try and dismiss, the whole situation we moved on to another location. Obviously, I wasn’t going to let the subject drop, Annie just laughed at her own embarrassment.
We drove on further and ended up in what looked like a secluded area. There I said, just what we wanted, somewhere nice, quiet, romantic and cheap. We both laughed at my comment, knowing exactly how that comment started.
I asked her if she would have come here on her own, she said, “No way because the roads are too steep and narrow in places.”
“Oh.” I said, “So I’m good for something” hahaha
“Yes,” she responded, “Nice, romantic and cheap.”
Again, we both laughed at her gesture.
Today had certainly been an interesting, if not amusing, even if it was at Annie’s expense.