It was late December when we decided to drive up to Phetchabun. My 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 set off at 09:25, and broke our journey down by visiting places along the way, like sun flower farms. We took pictures of the delightful scenery as we went. We eventually arrived at our destination at 20:30. Our accommodation was called ‘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 the most scenic route, but we never considered what we’d encounter, there were 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, behind me, but she never came into view; I wondered if she’d sustained a possible 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, I told her. 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 being an 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.
I knew it was late afternoon, but the point of cycling it now was to get it all on film, but the date on my camera had defaulted to 28 of April 2012 and we couldn’t change it.
When I got back, Annie had gone to sleep, obviously the day’s cycling had got the better of her.
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 in 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 going to freeze to death as they posed for photos shivering away. 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 in to Thailand’s Giza resort, talk about a 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, here 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 memories of fruit picking when I was a child reminded me that this was a backbreaking job, so instead I sat down and penned my diary.
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 plateaux, the sun had already dipped behind the mountains, leaving the sky looking more of a greyish yellowy colour than anything else.
In the evening, we had dinner and then retired to bed, too tired to do anything else except sleep.
Tuesday December 30th 2014
We got up at around seven o’clock, went for a walk and then had breakfast. The walk that we trudged, was like the one that we had done last night. The scenery here was absolutely breath taking. Why this area had not been developed into a tourist spot was any body’s guess.
Outside there was a chill in the air. It felt more like a March morning in the UK rather than a December one in the tropics. Even the grass had produced a dew droplets over night, but there was no sign of any frost, well not yet.
We’d missed the mist lifting off the nearby lake, now there were only the remnant traces of it. After our walk, we went back for our American breakfast.
After breakfast, we set off to find the Wat Pha Sorn Kaew, ‘Temple of Glass Cliff.’ Which was a magnificent glistening Buddhist monastery and temple, worth all the weight in gold in see it.
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 brother’s 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 track way 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.
At one o’clock we arrived at this place. The nearby gardens were decorated with mythical creatures that resembled half lion and half elephant, a phoenix looking creature and many more.
According to Annie was a 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, it 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 tranquility 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.
Soon, Annie got chatting to the gardener and then we set off looking for a specific tree at the far side of the complex. Annie told me that it was a magical tree 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 grow from this tree, these develop into beautiful sixteen-year-old maidens as described in Triphum Phra Ruang Scriptures and other local religious text.
Annie believed in the fable, being a person that can be easily led. 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, she should have realized that this couldn’t have been possible. I was getting concerned of where she was actually come from. Then she started to stop and think as she questioned her own intelligence and my wise cracks.
‘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 simply saw the funny side to it all, not really sure to what extent she believed in what she’d been told.
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 through 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 my gesture, but I think Annie had won me to the comment.
In the mid-afternoon, we tried to locate the local Hmong village, but what we saw didn’t look as interesting as we imagined it would have done. Probably because they’d now integrated into the Thai society.
Today had certainly been an interesting day, if not amusing at times, even if it was at Annie’s expense.