2001 - Backpacking to North Thailand

Backpacking Adventure
16 days to Northern & Western Thailand
18 Nov <> 03 Dec 2001

Rotarian Lau Youn Chong & Rotarian Ching Neng Bin @ Long Neck Village, Mae Hong Son



President, Distinguish Guest, Rotary Anns & fellow Rotarians, Sawadeekap.

This is another lonely planet episode. Our recent travel to Exotic Thailand is in substitution of our earlier planned trip to Nepal, which was canceled owing to the uncertain political situation over there.

The talk by both of us this evening is to share with you our own experiences based on our backpacking travel to Thailand. In all, Pres. Youn Chong traveled for over 11 days and me, over 16 days.

We would now like to present our talk on Exotic Thailand through PowerPoint. Our talk is based on our daily activities during the trip with the accompaniment of more than 200 picture slides. There will also be some short history on the places that we had visited together with our own commentaries. I hope you will enjoy it, so, please sit back and relax. Rotarian, please also listen very carefully as there will be prizes given away for our “Thailand Treasure Hunt”.

We would like to start off with our preparations. Thailand can be divided into 3 parts: -

(1) Northern Thailand or the top; Bordered by Burma & Laos, characterized by forested mountains and fertile river valleys, northern Thailand encompasses part of the fabled Golden Triangle. Diverse elements, including crisp mountain scenery exotic hill tribes, forests worked by elephants, colorful festivals, cool season weather, ancient cities, exquisite northern Thai and Burmese-style temples, and friendly people contribute to northern Thailand’s enduring charm.

(2) Central Thailand in the middle; the Central Region is extremely rich in historical sites. These include Nakhon Pathom, Kanchanaburi, Bang Pa-In, Ayutthaya, Saraburi, Lopburi and most important of all, Bangkok, Thailand’s capital and major point-of-entry.

(3) Southern Thailand at the bottom. Lush tropical islands, beaches, coral reefs, fishing villages, remote national parks, rubber estates, wildlife sanctuaries and mosques clearly define the region’s visual appeal. It extends through the Kra Isthmus from Chumphon, to the Thai-Malaysian border, and is bordered in the east by the Gulf of Thailand, to the west by Indian Ocean. Hua Hin & Had Yai.

DAY 01 (18-11-01) Sitiawan to Bangkok

Distance traveled – 1,430 km
9.30am Sitiawan to Butterworth by bus
2.20pm Butterworth to Bangkok by train
6.20pm Arrived at Padang Besar for custom & immigration check
7.10pm Arrived at Hat Yai and continued to Bangkok


At 9.30am, we departed Sitiawan by bus to Butterworth. The fare is RM10.50. We arrived at Butterworth bus station at about 1.00 pm. We met Mr. Mohan to collect his digital camera and he taught us how to operate it. We had lunch at a nearby stall.
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at the Butterworth Railway Station





At 2.20pm we departed Butterworth for Bangkok by train. The fare is RM88.00 with sleeper. 6.20pm. we arrived at Padang Besar for the custom and immigration check and had to alight from the train for our passport endorsements. There we met one Mr. Khoo, a guy traveling alone from KL and who requested that we let him join our company. 7.10pm. Stopped over at Hat Yai station for 15 minutes and then proceeded on our journey to Bangkok.

We had a very good dinner on board the train, which was catered by J.M. Food Bogie Restaurant. The restaurant menu displayed its varied selection of food with photographs. The food available was “Special Set, Special Dishes, Vegetarian Food, Ice Cream and Beverage”.

After dinner, we discussed our plans for the next few days. At about 9.00 pm, the train attendance started to prepare sleepers for us. The sleepers were clean and very comfortable. The train ride was smooth and we had enjoyed the view during the daytime. In the evening, we had no problem sleeping as we had cool air-conditioning and also the fan.5. I had the unusual experience of using an incredibly tiny toilet (had my big business done as well as my shower in there). It was a 3’ by 4’ cubicle with very little space for movement. It was the smallest toilet cum bathroom I have ever used.
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the train attendance started to prepare sleepers

Rotarian Lau Youn Chong getting ready to sleep

I was reading some notes and looking at the map of Northern Thailand





DAY 02 (19-11-01) Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Distance traveled – 751 km
At 1.20pm arrived at Bangkok (after 23 hrs train journey)
We walked around China Town and had lunch there
We had dinner at Railway Station food court
9.30pm Bangkok to Chiang Mai by bus

We had breakfast in the morning on board the train. The scenic view along the countryside in Thailand was fantastic. There were many lily and lotus ponds, fish and prawn farms and miles and miles of rice fields. We could see hundreds of migratory birds flying above us.

We walked around the 20 cars and met many people. There were a number of backpackers (from Germany, England, Switzerland, Holland and New Zealand).

We met a Thai girl returning to Bangkok with her little dog. She is married to a Penang guy







There was a Korean, named Kim. He is a negotiator and middleman, dealing in everything from firearms to finance and properties. As his base is in China he shared with us his experiences and the life in China.

Renowned artists from China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. They are attending a seminar cum workshop along the Mekong River and rivers in Laos. After their 8-day tour up the rivers, they planned to exhibit their paintings in Bangkok and to raise funds for charity. The group leader was Mr. Tai Keik Hock, founder of Galeri Seni Lukis Moden Daiichi, from Sungai Petani, Malaysia. Incidentally, he was a good friend of our ex Rotarian, Tan Kee Kiat.
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Artist from Sungai Patani



We finally arrived at Bangkok railway station at 1.20pm the next day (after 23 hrs). At the station, we checked with a number of tourist information counters. They were very helpful in giving us information. We finally bought our VIP bus tickets from a travel agency. The fare was 700B (RM60.86) leaving for Chiang Mai at 8.30pm. We kept our backpacks at the travel office while we walked around.
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Hua Lampong Railway Station

Hua Lampong Railway Station

Hua Lampong Railway Station







We then walked to China Town and had lunch. For 50B (RM4.34) each I had very good chicken rice and suki (steamboat). We walked to a big shopping complex 2 to 3km away.

Along the way, YC enjoyed eating the BBQ by the roadside. We noted that the streets in China Town are very specialized in their business activities. You find that in one street all shops sell the same products like auto parts, in another street building materials, iron pipes, stationery, hardware and etc.
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Bangkok China Town





We had our dinner at Railway Station (hot bread and coffee). We also met a young Chinese couple from America. They booked their tour package through Internet. YC e-mailed home at a cafe.

We left Bangkok at 9.30pm for Chiang Mai by VIP bus. This double-decked bus was special; well lighted with beautiful decorative colored bulbs. Also provided were pillows, blankets and good music. On board the bus, we were given finger-food (a packet of soft drink, biscuits and cakes).

At about 12.00 midnight, the bus stopped at one of the petrol kiosks. There, we exchanged our tickets for a free supper – a bowl of pork porridge, which tasted very good.
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Bus to Chiang Mai



DAY 03 (20-11-01) Chiang Mai city tour

Distance traveled – 50 km
Arrived at Chiang Mai at 6.30am (after 9 hrs)
9.00am a one day city tour
Doi Suthep mountain temple
Handicrafts Industries
Laitong laquerware
Louis silverware
Sudalax teak work
Saa paper umbrella
Night bazaar
Kalare hawker centre

CHIANG MAI - ‘Rose of the North’ Chiang Mai is a city built on the roots of a traditional heritage that dig deep into the soil of time. Named ‘Rose of the North’ for the abundance of flowers that thrive in the cooler mountain climate, it has grown from its origins as a small northern Lanna capital to become a city representative of modern Thai culture – with a beautiful cultural personality of its own. In addition, it has been blessed with much majestic beauty in nature!

We arrived at Chiang Mai at 6.30 in the morning (after 9 hrs on the bus). We were given a cup of hot coffee before we left the bus. The temperature at night was 14C and by day was 19C.

The well-dressed dog at the travel agent’s office.





We checked in at a Family Guest House situated in the old city for B200 a night (MR17). A room with 2 single beds, attached bathroom with hot shower.

At 8.00am, we walked to a market nearby for breakfast. We had a cup of hot soya-bean milk with egg and “hungchinpean” followed by a bowl of hot ginger-pork porridge.

At 9.00am, we booked a one-day city tour costing B1000 per person (RM86). We had a tourist guide named Tom, a driver and a van for both of us.

We droved round the old city first. A canal surrounded the city wall. The guide told us that there are 5 gates (Pratu) namely: Pratu Chiang Mai, Pratu Suan Proong, Pratu Tapae, Pratu Chang Puak and Pratu Suan Dorg. The living can use any of the 5 gates, but the dead can only use the Chiangmai Gate to come out of the old city for burial.

In the evening, back at the Family Guest House, we had good fellowship with the guesthouse proprietor. It was an experience to drink cold beer during winter. Northern Thailand has 3 seasons: summer (July to October), winter (November to February) and rainy (March to June).


Wat Chiang Mai
We visited a big temple nearby known as Wat Chiang Mai. This is Chiang Mai’s oldest temple and probably dates back from 1296.

The temple was the residence of King Mengrai, who founded Chiang Mai, and is noteworthy for a chedi supported by rows of elephantine buttresses, and an ancient Buddha image, Phra Kaeo Khao.

Wat Chiang Mai


Doi Suthep mountain temple
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. No visit to Chiang Mai would be complete without a climb up the 3,520 feet Doi Suthep to see the temple and the amazing view over Chiang Mai from the top. The 'chedi' at the summit is one of the holiest in Thailand. This temple is considered to be one of the most revered and famous Buddhist shrines in the region and attracts visitors all year round. For the many Buddhist pilgrims who come from all over the world to visit the area, it has become a “must see” on the list of places on their travel itinerary.
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Doi Suthep overlooking Chiang Mai.

Entrance to Wat Doi Suthep. The temple is then approached on foot by climbing some 290 steps up the steep `naga` stairway. The less energetic may ascend by railcars. The view across Chiang Mai City and the Ping river valley is breathtaking and makes the exhausting climb worthwhile.

Wat Doi Suthep situated at the peak of Doi Suthep is also Chiang Mai's most important and visible landmark and overlooks the entire city from its forested mountain backdrop. It can also be seen from almost everywhere within Chiang Mai city itself, approximately 16 km away. Getting there is just a short drive from the city up a road that was first built in 1935.

Wat Doi Suthep

Wat Doi Suthep

Wat Doi Suthep


Legend has it that an especially holy relic was brought to Chiang Mai in 1371. To decide where it should be enshrined, it was placed on the back of an elephant, which promptly set out to climb the mountain. The elephant finally came to rest and there the relic was buried. The first chedi was built over it and the temple has been continually expanded ever since.



The original temple built by King Gue-Na dates back from 1383 and the present building is believed to be 16th century. Over the years it has been expanded and restored considerably by various Chiang Mai rulers.


The gold covered chedi is surrounded with a railing and at the four points of the compass are places where people can offer flowers, light joss sticks and apply small squares of gold leaf.

The temple's glorious golden chedi (pagoda) contains and enshrines many sacred Buddhist relics. The walkways are painted with bright murals depicting the previous lives of the Buddha and the marble floored area in the middle (that rises to the chedi) is filled with Buddha statues.



San Kamphaeng Silk Weaving 
A staff on the process of making silk briefed us. You could select ready-made garments or arrange for tailoring. Hand-woven and ethnic textile designs were also offered.

San Kamphaeng Silk Weaving




Laitong Lacquer ware
The company staff on the making process again briefed us. Striking black and gold designs give lacqueware its visual appeal. The decorative art enhances items made of wood, bamboo, metal, paper and backed clay, in the form of ornaments and various souvenirs. YC bought a pair of shooting ducks.

Laitong Lacquer ware



Louis Silverware 
We were briefed on the making process. The finest Thai silverware is exquisite. There, certain families have practiced their art for several generations. Traditional skills and a guaranteed content of at least 92.5% pure silver invest bowls and decorative items with authentic value. Silver shops are concentrated on Wua Lai Road, where silverware artisans and their families live. YC bought a ½ dozen forks and spoons.



Sudalax Teak Work
Teak and rosewood, artfully carved in traditional or modern designs. Woodcarving is a traditional northern Thai art featured in numerous temples. In recent years, woodcarving has increasingly been used in furniture, gracing screens, chairs, tables, beds, indeed anything bearing a wooden surface large enough to be carved. Carved elephants, figurines and tableware number among other popular purchases. We did not buy anything, as it was difficult to carry.

Sudalax Teak Work




















Saa Paper Umbrella

We were briefed on the making process. Raw materials used, which were locally found, comprise of SA paper (manufactured from the bark of the mulberry tree) and bamboo.



The umbrellas were in hundreds of designs and sizes ranging from the miniature to the gigantic.




Night bazaar
It’s the city's most famous shopping location and is a must for all visitors interested in antiques, paintings, textiles, silverware and crafts. This very large complex of shops and street vendors begins to come to life in the early evening till past midnight.

Antiques, paintings, textiles, silverware and numerous woodcrafts are displayed in stylish up-market shops as well as in back-street stalls. With the thousands of items on sale, most visitors will find something to take home - but do not take all products at face value, many are excellent imitations and are sold at imitation prices! From designer handbags (some real but most were fake), fine Thai silk, quality and fake antiques, silver, clothes, handicrafts, arts, toys, tapes, videos, perfume, watches, hill tribe wear to novel T-shirts. The Night Bazaar is a testament to Thai craftsmanship and entrepreneurship. There are also a number of restaurants and bars such as American fast food joints, noodle vendors and beer gardens where you can relax and recuperate after a spree of spending.

The Night Bazaar is a fun and lively shopping venue. Skill in bargaining is the name of the game; both sellers and buyers alike enjoy the friendly bargain as prices go up and come down. Check the quality of your souvenirs before paying your agreed price and do not get upset if someone who comes after you buys it for half the price. You tend to end up paying what you consider the worth of the item is and if you are contented with your asking price, you should not be overly upset over being cheated of merely one or two dollars.

Kalare Hawker Centre


Kalare Hawker Centre. We had our dinner here at a spacious beer garden with an open-air stage where lovely Chiang Mai maidens perform traditional dances every night.












DAY 04 (21-11-01) Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son

Distance travelled – 280 km
9.00am Pong Yang Elephant Camp
11.00am Proceed to Pai
1.30pm Lunch at Pai
3.30pm At Cave Lodge
4.30pm At Mae Hong Son
5.00pm Pra That Doi Kung Mu Temple

Mae Hong Son is sheltered by several high mountains and enjoys a cool climate almost all year round. The province borders Myanmar and a strong influence can be seen in the capital's temples and buildings.

Prince’s guest house (US3.50 per night) is situated in the centre of Maehongson over looking the central lake and temples. It has a large balcony and at night when the temples are lit up guests can enjoy a stunning view. ed by a bowl of hot ginger pork porridge.

Princes’ guest house has recently been totally refurnished to a very high standard; there are 12 rooms available at present 8 off which have new private bathrooms. We also have a new internet cafe. We offer laundry service, motor cycle rental and advice on trekking tours.
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Early morning, the monks would walk along the streets for food.  At 8.00am we walked to a nearby market for breakfast - a cup of hot soya-bean milk with egg and “hungchinpean”.

Devotees offering food to monks in the early morning.





At 9.00am, we engaged a guide cum driver to take us in his car to Pong Yang Elephant Camp. Along the way (Highway 107) we passed by the Lanna Golf Course, Chiang Mai Green Valley Golf Course, Orchid and Butterfly farms, Jungle Bungee Jump, Mae Sa Waterfall and some elephant training centres.

The camp is located about 30km from Chiang Mai among natural surroundings with cool green hills and waterfalls. The fee per hour is 500B (RM43.47) per person. As you can see, both of us were enjoying our ride on the elephant.

We were very overwhelmed by the breathtaking view of the plantations on the hill slopes. We stopped at Nalew Waterfall for some photographs. For the return journey, we walked back along the river.
Elephant Camps and Shows: As the national animal of Thailand, the elephant has a very special place in Thai lore. In fact, Thailand has been associated with elephants for hundreds of years. The national flag was previously a white elephant on a red background and elephants - in particular white ones, were an essential part of royal customs. Unlike African elephants, Asian elephants can easily be tamed. In the past, not only were they used for ceremonial purposes, but they were also used in warfare as battering rams, tanks, fighting platforms and as a general source of terror. Elephants were also used to transport people and goods during the 19th and early 20th centuries and were used extensively in the teak industry.
Elephants have always been part of the culture and way of life in Chiang Mai also. The first time a Thai king ever visited Chiang Mai was in 1927 when he rode into the city in a grand parade of eighty-four elephants that included four consular elephants belonging to King George V. On that occasion His Majesty was presented with a baby white elephant that had recently been born in a teak logging camp. Unfortunately, there are very few elephants left in the wild anymore and their very existence is thought to be in considerable danger. Nowadays, elephants are mainly used as tourist attractions in camps and shows up and down the country.

At 10.30am we left the elephant camp and headed for our destination, Mae Hong Son. There are 2 roads leading to Mae Hong Son. The Southern road, which is 365km long, has 1684 curves and the Northern road, which is 250km long, has 2264 curves. The fare by air is 800B from Chiang Mai with 2 flights a day. We decided to take the Northern road (Highway 107).

At 1.30pm we arrived at Pai, which is 145km away, and had lunch comprising of DoySoy – beef noodles. We saw many foreigners there. After lunch we proceed to Cave Lodge.

Trekking and white-water rafting in Pai. The district of Pai is the most suitable destination for tourists interested in eco-tourism. Many of the travel agents headquartered here offer fabulous trekking and white-water rafting packages.

The town of Pai is a small town located between Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai, and boasts some of the most pristine nature in the region. Tourists are normally recommended to arrive at least a day before trekking so that they can talk to people who have just returned from the treks in order to gain valuable information.

There are many reliable agencies in Pai, which provide three-day/two-night treks. However, visitors are advised to ask around for the best prices and the best guides. Pai is also a well-known destination for white-water rafters. The main spot for this activity can be reached by a three-hour bus trip that normally operates between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son.
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Northern road, which is 250km long, has 2264 curves to Mae Hong Son. We are on the NamCup mountain range joining Burma.

Along the way to Mae Hong Son, we stopped at several rest places where hill tribe people (Lisu & Lahu) were selling souvenirs and dried food.





There were also many military posts checking for drugs and weapons



Cave Lodge. There are all together 5 interconnected caves. A river runs through all the caves. The entrance fee is B200 (RM17) per person. We also have to pay the cave guide who is carrying a lamp for B100


On the 5th cave, one can come back by bamboo rafts.







At a rest area. Here we noticed a number of lorries transporting cows from Burma.

Another rest place to admire the mountaintop scenery and hill tribes. We distributed some sweets and biscuits to the children.






The best time to visit Mae Hong Son is during the cold misty periods (between November and December) when “Buatong” (the famous yellow flower of Mae Hong Son) blooms and provides its visitors with the sight of an amazing coloured carpet covering the hillsides for miles and miles. Only 11 km away is the deep virgin forest of Mae Surin National Park in which stands the spectacular Nam Tok Mae Surin, one of Thailand’s highest cascades. For vacationers who are infatuated with adventures such as rafting and trekking, Pai district is definitely the right destination making your experience of Mae Hong Son a memory never to be forgotten.


A hill tribe village in the mist of the mountain - Shangri-La.



Wild-Sunflower Field at Doi Mae U-Kho “Buatong” (the famous yellow flower of Mae Hong Son) blooms in winter and provides its visitors with a wonderful view as it carpets the surrounding hillsides. This field is by far the most visited place at Doi Mae U-Kho, especially during November and December when wild-sunflowers bloom, blanketing the surrounding fields for as far as the eye can see.

It is believed that Christian missionaries, who entered the area about 70 years ago, were the first to plant these magnificent flowers, as they are actually native to Central and South America, where they are known as the 'Mexican Sunflower'.


It has 2 stupas or pagodas. Holy remains of Buddhist monks are kept in these stupas. The large pagoda was built in 1860. It houses the remains of Pra Maha Mok Khallana Thera, brought from Burma by the builder named Chong Tong Su and his wife Lek. Phaya Sihanat Racha, the first ruler of Mai Hong Son, built the small pagoda in 1874.


The city of Mae Hong Son with the airport in the centre from Doi Kong Mu hill

Doi Kong Mu hill at about 1300m above sea level. We actually saw the plane taking off from the airport and flying towards Chiang Mai.

Pra That Doi Kong Mu Temple overlooks Mae Hong Son city.


At Mae Hong Son, we visited the Pra That Doi Kong Mu Temple. This temple is situated atop the Doi Kong Mu hill at about 1300m above sea level. It is considered as the most important temple in Mae Hong Son.


Question: Can you spot the treasure?









Accommodation was at Baiyoke Chalet Hotel charging B1200 per room.

Dinner was at Fern Restaurant at B300 per person. All whites patronized the Restaurant; in particular French and both of us were the only Asians.

In the evening we walked around the town to look at Northern Thai, Burmese and hill tribe handicrafts. We watched the colorful Lisu, Lahu, Hmong, Meo, Karen, Luo passed by. Time in this place really stood still.


DAY 05 (22-11-01) Mae Hong Son to Chiang Mai

Distance traveled – 280 km
Breakfast at hotel
Visit to the market
Visit to the “Longneck Village”
Visit to the fish cave
Lunch at Pai
Accommodation was at Felix City Inn in Chiang Mai at B700 per night.
After breakfast we walked around the morning market and observed the exotic things that were put up for sale.


We walked around the lake and visited a few guesthouses nearby.

A big Burmese temple by the lake.

The farm land along the way to the “Longneck Village”

Along the way we saw farmers attending to their rice fields. We stopped by to give a helping hand to the farmers.

We stopped and did our community service by helping them.



We drove to Nai Soi Longneck Village - 33km away from Mae Hong Son. There is a village for refugees fighting the Burmese govt. We saw those fighters without limbs walking around. The Thai govt. is giving them temporary shelters.

The entrance fee to Longneck Village is B500 per person and the money goes towards the village maintenance. There are 3 hill tribes staying in the village.



Long Neck is known as Ka Yan








Long Ear is known as Ka Yar

The village beauty queen.

Big Ear is known as Ka Your.



Christian missionaries support the village. There is a church and a school. The tribes sell souvenirs to raise funds for themselves.



We then drove to Fish Cave 17km from Mae SA Long. We walked along the river, which ended up in a cave. There you see plenty of fish weighing 3kg each. We fed them with hard-boiled eggs.

The guide told us that the fish there are very smart. They won’t swim beyond a waterfall downstream as they can be caught and as long as they stay near the cave they are safe.


In the evening, the hotel provides free transport to the Night Bazaar. Dinner at Kalare Hawker Centre.




DAY 06 (23-11-01) Chiang Mai to Doi Mai Sa Long

Distance traveled – 346 km
Western breakfast at the hotel.
Mae Kachang hot spring
Chiang Saen
Sop Ruak
Mae Sai
Mae Chan – Pasang
Doi Mae Sa Long
We stayed at Mae Sa Long Villa chalet at B400 a night.
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Mae Kachang hot spring

After breakfast visited the Mae Kachang Hot Spring about 70km from Chiang Mai. There are 3 wells beside a river. We could see people boiling eggs in the well. The guide told us that the residents there enjoy free hot water by digging wells in their compound.



Along the way we stopped at Wat Jajeelong, which is 700 years old. Restoration work was in progress. There are many old teak trees there.

Wat Jajeelong












We drove another 160km to reach Chiang Saen. Chiang Saen town, situated on the banks of the Mekong River about 60 km from Chiang Rai city center, is home to a number of interesting archeological sites and historical attractions. The small historical town founded in 1328 by the nephew of the illustrious King Mengrai was once a minor northern kingdom in itself - as well as formerly being a principality of the famous Kingdom of Lanna. 


Opposite the river is Laos. These days Chiang Sean is a sleepy town that has not noticeably changed in spite of the recent commercialization of the Golden Triangle area in nearby Sop Ruak. Chiang Saen appears to just sit silently staring across the mighty Mekong River into the even sleepier and deserted looking Laos.
Opposite the river is Burma on the left.
The golden triangle - From where I am standing is Thailand, across the river is Laos on the right and Burma on the left.
Here we could see Chinese boats going up river to Laos, Burma and Thailand. There also boats unloading apples.

Today, the surviving architecture from its celebrated past includes some WATS, chedis, Buddha images peculiar to the town. Some of the older monuments still standing are even thought to pre-date the Chiang Saen kingdom by two or possibly three centuries. According to popular legend, the pre-Chiang Saen kingdom was known as Yonok - which over the years was affiliated with other northern Thai kingdoms and Burma.

In fact, the Burmese captured Chiang Saen in the 16th century only to be captured back by Rama I in the early 1800's. The king ordered that the town be completely abandoned and sent the populace to inhabit Chiang Mai - fearing that if they stayed; history might repeat itself with another Burmese attack. The town remained deserted for nearly a century before Chiang Saen finally became a part of Thailand (then Siam) in the late 1880's.

A hand-drawn map of the Golden Triangle by the road.


We bought Chinese apples & pears (B30 kg RM2.60) from a shop by the Mekong River.





9km away is Sop Ruak, the Golden Triangle. This famed border location where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet on the Mekong River was once supposed to be the center of all the opium poppy growing in Thailand. The infamous area generally described, as the Golden Triangle has no definite borders - as different information sources have differing views and opinions on where these actually are.

Sop Ruak covers just a few hectares and is actually the name of the small river that merges into the mighty Mekong River, at the point where the three neighboring countries of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos all converge. The 'real' Golden Triangle is believed to cover a much larger and wider area, probably tens of thousands of square kilometers, reaching far into Myanmar and Laos.

Whatever the true area size, the Golden Triangle encompasses the whole region traditionally producing opium as its main cash crop - and obviously, opium is not just grown within a few hectares of the meeting point of the three countries' natural borders. It is just too prominent, visited by too many tourists for any opium poppies to be found there these days. Even so, travel agents, hoteliers, tour operators and the like, have done much to cash-in on the familiar Golden Triangle name. In fact, this much-frequented official center has over recent years become the most well known of all attractions in Chiang Rai province - in spite of the fact that there really is very little to actually see here. A possible exception being the fine, near panoramic, views that can be seen from the hilltop where Wat Phra That Phukhao stands and peers across the Mekong looking into Laos and Myanmar. We stood here for photographs.

Obviously the Golden Triangle has been cleverly marketed as a tourist destination during the last few years, but with utter disregard for any ambiguities. On the one hand, the Thai government regards drugs and anything, or anyone, associated with them as illegal and immoral and regularly conducts poppy eradication campaigns. On the other hand, the promotion of the Golden Triangle as a tourist destination relies heavily on the reputation of the Golden Triangle as an opium-growing region. While Thai law enforcement agencies claim the opium problem has basically been eradicated on Thai territory, tourism promoters still subtly suggest that indeed, the 'Thai' Golden Triangle is the world's main source of opium. Without the allure of the opium poppies there would be no tourists!

11. (P158) Long tail boats. (P159-160) On the right is Mekong River and on the left is Nam Rouk River. And on the far end you can see the casino owned by Thai. The right is Laos and the left is Burma.

Chiang Saen National Museum. This interesting museum is situated in the historical town of Chiang Saen and features some fine displays of local artifacts, as well as various handicrafts from the surrounding area. It is best known for its exquisite collection of bronze Buddha images in typical Chiang Saen style (featuring oval faces and slender bodies), as well as other Lanna art objects. Many art historians believe that these particular collections are perhaps the first true ‘Thai’ works-of-art. There are some fine displays of folk art, handicrafts and musical instruments produced by the hill tribes indigenous to the area.
We also visited the House of Opium. The famous opium king, Kun SA fighting for the independence of Shan State. The war on drugs is a ceaseless merry-go-round, as the history of the kings of opium reveals over and over again to the immense profit of everyone on board and to the intense suffering of the addicts and the Shan people. Khun Sa was an intelligent man who had the courage to use power and he may have used it wrongfully, but, he was someone who came from more or less nowhere, saw that the secret to this guerrilla war was to build up the economic resources to put into a major army, and he did that. What he betrayed, of course, was the thousands of young men who joined his army and got paid very little for it and who fought for him all those years and the thousands who got killed, as well. And that was what many Shan people cannot forgive him for.



Khun SA lives comfortably in Rangoon and is looking for business opportunities. Lo Hsin Han remains one of the richest men in Burma. His businesses include a hotel, a contract to own and operate a new port in Rangoon and a new toll road that runs into the heart of Burma's opium fields.







We traveled another 34km to Mae Sai the northernmost boarder town of Thailand to Burma. Both sides of the main road are shops and stalls. We spent an hour walking and I bought a fruit knife here.

The Mai Sai River divides the town and as well as the country between Burma and Thailand. Across the bridge is Burma.

Mae Sai town

There is a new temple behind the town.

The guide Mr. Tom dropped us at Pasang in Mae Chan about 37km from Mae Sai. Here we took a blue songtel and traveled 40 km to Mae SA Long.


Before coming to Thailand, my customer has given me Rotarian name-card and 2 photos taken with them 2 years ago. My customer requested me to look for him and pass the photos to them. So when we reached the town, I showed the photos to the driver and he dropped us right in front of his shop. The Thai Rotarians were very happy to meet us. He invited us to their rotary meeting in the evening and booked a room at Mae Sa Long Resort.

We went to Mae SA Long Villa for dinner and later had our Rotary make-up there together with 5 visiting clubs from Taiwan. YC gave a thank-you speech in Hokkien.




DAY 07 (24-11-01) Mai SA Long

Distance traveled – 10km
Breakfast was at Mae SA Long Resort Restaurant. Hot pork porridge.
YC went for iron-horse trekking
Lunch at Akha Guest House
YC left for home after lunch
Stayed at Akha Mae SA Long Guest House for B100 a night.


A number of hotels and guesthouses are available. The one shown here, dating back to 1970, claims to be the oldest. If offers rooms and bungalows which cost from 100-400 baht per night.

YC went for his iron horse trekking (motorbike) on the Southern trek.
After lunch, YC left for Chiang Rai, Bangkok and then home. And I have to travel alone for the rest of the journey.

I walked through the southern trek, visiting 2 Akha villages, 2 Buddhist temples; Wat Phra Borom That Chedi and a smaller temple. I later visited a mountaintop settlement known as Santi Khiri, home to descendants of Chinese Nationalist soldiers who fled to, and settled in Thailand in 1940. There were many former solders that were without limbs and were sitting outside sunbathing.



The mountain-top view of Mae Sa Long and the plantations of coffee, tea and fruit orchards provide scenic variety. I was told that this area is particularly picturesque in December and January when Thai cherry trees are in full blossom.











DAY 08 (25-11-01) Mai Sa Long 

Distance travelled – 16km
Breakfast at market
4 hours of horse-riding trekking
4 apples for lunch
Slept in the afternoon
Fellowship with an Australian couple
Acting doctor for the night
Stayed at Mae Sa Long Akha guest house

Apple for lunch. I slept in the afternoon, as I was tired. Besides, my bum was a bit sore after the horse-ride.

In the evening, I had dinner and good fellow-ship with an old Australian couple that was staying next to my room. That evening, when his wife was down with a high fever, I the acting doctor prescribed Tylenol fever tablets for her.

Stayed another night at the guesthouse.

Sunrise scene taken from my room.  Very good breakfast at the market. A cup of hot Soya bean milk with egg and “hungchinpean” followed by a bowl of hot ginger-pork porridge.

There were also some mountain buffaloes.

Horses and mules used to play a big role in the lives of the people here. These days, pickup trucks and motorcycles have replaced them as the preferred modes of transportation. However, these animals are still around in the community and their new task is to ride tourists around.

At 9.00am I went for a 4 hours horse-riding trekking of the northern track – about 14km. The fee is B400 (RM35.) The guide would ride a horse together with me. I learnt 2 things about horses. Firstly, when a horse wants to defecate, it would not walk. At first I did not know that my horse wanted to shit, until I realized that later. Secondly, a horse can fart along with a tune when it walks. So when a horse walks and farts at the same time, it goes like this.

Drying of soya bean.



In one of the Akha villages I had the opportunity to see the drying of chicken, duck and dog meat tied high up on a pole. Akha tribesmen eat dog meat.


It was all the way on dirt road, passing several hill-tribe villages - Akha, Lahu, Lisu and a Chinese village.





DAY 09 (26-11-01) Destination: Tha Ton 

Distance travelled – 41km
Breakfast at market
Went to Tha Ton by taxi
Apple for lunch
Walked around the town
Visit temples
Stay at Thip Travel guest house

Good breakfast at the market. A cup of hot Soya bean milk with egg and “hungchinpean” followed by a bowl of hot ginger-pork porridge.
.
Took a yellow Songtel to Thaton 41 km from Mae Sa Long for B50.

At Thaton, I walked on the bridge over the Nam Kok River overlooking the River Taxi jetty. You can see the long tail boat.

I went up the hill where a huge white Buddha statue stood and explored a small cave below. Beside it is the Buddhist Missionary School.







I had good fellowship with a young Belgium couple at the guesthouse.
Had DoySoi for dinner and spent the night at Thip Travelers House for B100 a night.
The temperature here is at 6c at night and 15c during the day.


DAY 10 (27-11-01) Destination: Chiang Rai City
Distance traveled – 65km
Visit the morning market of Thaton
Walked around the Thaton Chalet
Boat ride to Chiang Rai City at 1.30pm
Stopped at elephant station on Kok River
Ruammitr Karen village on Kok River
Chiang Rai City
Stayed at Boonbundan Guest House

As usual in the morning, I walked round the small Thaton makeshift market and the Thaton Chalet beside the river.

The boat ride to Chiang Rai was at 1.30pm. It takes approximately 4 hours, on a speeding long-tail boat along the Mae Kok River. The boat fare is 250 Baht per person or 1,800 Baht per boat with 16 people to a boat.


The ride was exciting as there were many rapids with the water level lowest during winter. Many a time, our bums felt the knock when the boat hit the river bottom.


Stopped at elephant station (Ruammitr). There is also a Karen village.


The boat then continued until we reached Chiang Rai. From the boat jetty, I walked to the City, which was about 2 km. away. I had chicken rice for dinner. I walked around the town and spent the evening at the Chiang Rai Bazaar, near the central bus station.
The province of Chiang Rai covering some 11,678 sq km is at an average elevation of 580 metres above sea level. Chiang Rai is a Vacationer’s paradise, offering a broad range of activities among stunning mountain scenery where exotic hill tribes, historic Buddhist shrines, riverine adventures and elephant treks number among its major attractions.

Chiang Rai has a wealth of historical interest that goes back to the late 13th century. It was the first capital of the Lanna Tai kingdom that ruled the whole of the north of Thailand, parts of Burma, Laos and southern China. It also has many natural attractions for visitors to enjoy and explore.

The bus station in Chiang Rai city is located on Prasopsuk Road. Buses depart and arrive here regularly from many of the major towns throughout Thailand, as well as daily departures to and from Bangkok's Mor Chit 2 (Northern) Bus station.
.
There are cultural dances at two Hawker Centres beside the Bazaar.

I stayed at Boonbundan Guest House for B120. Bars and restaurants surrounded the guesthouse. There was a jamming pub where there were musical instruments for guests to play with.










DAY 11 (28-11-01) Destination: Sukhothai 
Distance travelled – 490 km
Breakfast at Chiang Rai bus office
8.30 am Win Tour Bus to Sukhothai
Passing through many cities
Checked in at Somprasong Guest House
Visit the ancient city & historical sites Visit the night market

I got up early at 6 and walked to the Chiang Rai bus office to buy a ticket to Sukhothai. There were 5 bus companies operating. I bought the Win Tour bus for B190 with air-con. Had breakfast at the bus station. The bus to Sukhothai took 6 and half hours for the 490km. Journey. The drive was very pleasant with good scenery. The first 100km out of town was rice fields and temples. The 2nd 100km was through a range of mountains. Surprisingly there were no bridges and the roads have to go round the mountains.
The bus passed through many towns and stopped for short breaks. I got to see towns like Phayao, Phrae and Si Satchanalai. Si Satchanalai is the ancient sister city of Sukhothai and also contains magnificent ruins.

When I arrived at the Sukhothai bus station, there were many touts recommending guesthouses to back-packers. A young boy approached me and recommended Somprasong Guest House as it is near to the night market. I agreed and he took me on his motorbike and I checked into the guesthouse, which charged B80 per night. Well-located by the Nam River beside the bridge. (See Map) Met many back-packers from different countries.

Sukhothai - Wat Mahathat
Sukhothai Historical Park.


Sukothai - Wat Cahang Lom

Sukothai - Wat Mahathat1

Sukothai - Wat Mahathat

Sukothai - Wat Si Chum

I rented a motorbike for 3 hours at a charge of B120 to go to the Historical Park or the old city, which was located 14km away. The entrance fee was B50. I rode round and spent about 2 hours in the old city. I actually got lost but later found my way out.

Had dinner at the market (PadThai – Cha Kwai Teow) and spent the evening walking round the town. I then e-mailed to Rotarians informing them of my whereabouts in Thailand.

Sukhothai literally means "the Dawn of Happiness”. It has an area of 6,596 sq.kms. and is about 427 km. (267 miles) north of Bangkok. Founded in the year 1238 A.D. Sukhothai was capital of Thailand for approximately 120 years. Historic “Town of Sukhothai" was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1991.

Sukhothai was the capital of the first Kingdom of Siam in the 13th and 14th centuries. It was built by the Khmers and taken over by the Thais in 1230. The Thai language and alphabet originated here, the last was invented in 1283 by the famous King Ramkhamhaeng as a revision of various forms of Khmer alphabets into a system suitable for the writing of Thai words.

The same king made Sukhothai a powerful kingdom, which included many parts of what are today neighbouring countries. A number of ancient cities paid him tribute. King Ramkhamhaeng also opened direct political relations with China and made two trips to China (the first in 1282 to visit the Emperor Kublai Khan).

Within the walls of Sukhothai are the ruins of twenty Wats (temples) and monuments, the greatest of which is Wat Mahathat. The beauty of water, for example via pools with lotuses, was also used to enhance the spiritual aspect of the WATS.

14 km from the old town on Sukhothai-Tak highway, Sukhothai Historical Site is one of Thailand's national symbols and offers many fine examples of the regions cultural heritage. With a restoration plan launched by the Fine Arts Department of Thailand in 1960, together with cooperation from UNESCO, the ruins of Sukhothai have been carefully preserved, restored and rebuilt.

In addition, many artifacts from the site have been moved to an exhibit in Ramkhamhaeng National Museum. The whole 70 sq km complex consists of 193 ruined sites, including: the walls of the old city, the Royal Palace and Wat Mahathat, the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, the Ramkhamhaeng Monument, Wat Si Sawai, Wat Traphang Ngoen, Wat Traphang Thong, Wat Chana Songkhram, Wat Sa Si, Wat Mai and San Ta Pha Daeng (Deity Shrine).

The Walls of the Old CityThe city walls are located in the centre of the historical park in Tambon Muang Kao and surrounded by earthern ramparts. The north and the south walls are each 1,600 metres long. The walls contain four main gates: Sanluang on the north, Namo on the south, Kamphaenghak on the east, and Oar on the west. A stone inscription mentions that King Ramkhaenghang set up a bell at one of the gates. If his subjects needed help they could ring the bell.

The Royal Palace and Wat Mahathat The royal palace lies in the centre of the town and covers an area of 160,000 sq.km. This area is surrounded by a moat and contains two main compounds; the royal building and the sanctuary in the palace. In the royal compound exist the ruins of the royal building called Noen Phrasat, which might be Sala Phramat or Buddha Sala mentioned in a Sukhothai stone inscription. Here, the famous stone inscription of King Ramkhamhaeng was found by King Mongkut in the 19th century together with a piece of the stone called "Manangkhasila Asana" King Ramkhamhaeng set up the stone throne in the midst of a sugar palm grove where, at his request, a monk preached on Buddhist Sabbath days and the king conducted the affairs of state on other days. This throne was later installed in Bangkok's Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

King Ramkhamhaeng MonumentSituated on the north of Wat Mahathat is the King Ramkhamhaneg Monument. The Bronze statue of King Ramkhamhaeng sits on a throne named Phra Thaen Manangkasila Asana with a base of relief recording his life.

Wat Chana SongKhramSituated to the north of Wat Mahathat is Wat Chana Songkhram. Its main sanctuary is round Singhalese style chedi. In front of the chedi exists the base of a viharn and behind the former stands an ubosot. Bases of twelve small chedis are also visible. Near the Charot within Thong Road is a strange chedi having three bases, one on top of the other.

Wat Chang LomLocated to the north of Chotwithithong Road with a bell-shaped chedi of Ceylonese influence standing as the centre. The chedi is situated on a 3 tired-square base on which a platform decorated with a row of elephants seen by their front halves supporting the round chedi. This type of elephant decorated chedi is to be seen in many ancient towns of Sukhothai period, for example, Kamphaeng Phet and Si Satchanalai.

DAY 12 (29-11-01) Destination: Ayutthaya 
Distance travelled – 358 km
Got up at 5 am and walked to bus station
Breakfast at bus station
6 hours bus ride to Ayutthaya
Checked in at Tony’s Place Guest House
Night visit to temple & historical sites
Visit the night market

I got up early at 5 am and washed-up. Outside the guesthouse there were some 100 to 200 people exercising Tai Chi at an open space next to the river. I then walked to the bus station, which was about 2km away and had breakfast. I took a government bus at 8.50 am for B169 to Ayutthaya. I was given 6 bus tickets meaning passing through 6 towns along the way. (See tickets)

Canals like sitting on an island surround this bus station. Along the route to Ayutthaya were miles of rice fields with many ponds. There were also many signboards indicating tourist attractions. I noticed a big signboard that read “Oil Field”. But it turned out to be a petrol station. Teak trees planted along the road. On the bus driver’s side is a compartment for smokers. If one needs to smoke, he has to get into the compartment. Stopped for lunch in one of the towns. Had DoySoy for lunch.

The bus dropped me outside the City along the highway. I had to take a motorbike taxi to the city for B40. I walked around the market place. I got a motorcycle taxi and paid him B50 to take me round the whole of the city. There were many Japanese tourists in this town. The reason I later found out was that there is a Japanese Settlement in Ayutthaya. Left over during the 2nd world war.
As the king’s birthday was on 5th December, I could see lots of preparation in town e.g. lighting decorations on lamppost, govt. buildings and public places. I later found out that the City was on an island with the Chao Phraya River going round the city. I then checked in at Tony’s Place guesthouse at B80 dormitory style with 3 beds. I was lucky that the 2 roommates were 2 Dutch girls. Very good fellowship with the girls and sharing their travel experiences. As for their next stop it was Laos and Cambodia.

I went on a night temple tour by Tutu organized by the Guest House for B100. It was a magnificent sight with the lighting effect.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Ayutthaya's most important and outstanding temple, is located within the compound of the Grand (Ancient) Palace. It is comparable in importance to Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaeo, located in the present capital's Grand Palace.

King Borom Trai Lokanat (1448-1488) founded the temple in the 15th century. Initially used as a residential palace, it became a monastery during the reign of King Ramathibodi I. In 1500, King Ramathibodi II cast a 16-meter tall standing Buddha, covering the image with 170 kg of gold. When the Burmese ransacked Ayutthaya in 1767, the image was melted down and the gold plundered.

The ruins of the three hollow pagodas, built in the typical Ayutthaya style, are all that remained of the once magnificent temple. Each of the three pagodas enshrines the ashes of a King (Borom Trai Lokanat, Borommaracha III and Ramathibodi II), together with royal regalia and precious Buddha images. Other elements of the temple, including the Prasat Phra Narai and the Viharn Phra Si Sanphet were completely razed and only the foundations can be seen today. Some of the original treasures found at the site are housed in various museums, including Ayutthaya's Chao Sam Phraya Museum


DAY 13 (30-11-01) Destination: Hua Hin 
Distance travelled – 199 km
Breakfast at the market
Crossing river by boat for 2B
Bought train ticket to Bangkok for 35B (76km from Ayutthaya to Bangkok)
Bought train ticket to Hua Hin for 142B (200km from Bangkok to Hua Hin)
Stayed at Maple Leave guest house

Got up early to pack my things and say goodbye to the Dutch girls. We exchanged e-mail addresses.
After breakfast at the market, I walked to the jetty beside the Chao Phrom market and took a ferry for 2B to get across the river. The train ticket was 35B to Bangkok (76km), very cheap. The train here leaves every half hour. The journey was slow and stopped at every town. Food vendors would come in and sell food and drinks.

Arrived at Bangkok at 10.30am. I quickly book another train ticket to Hua Hin for 142B and left at 1.25pm. I was prepared to sleep in the railway station in the event there was no ticket to Hua Hin. In Bangkok, I walked to China Town for chicken rice. I paid a Tutu B100 and asked him to drive me round the city. The city was congested, hot, smoky and quite dirty.

Arrived at Hua Hin at 6.40pm. Walked around the town for a while and checked in at Maple Leave Guest House for B100 a night. After dinner I had a good rest at the Guest House, as I was quite tired after the long travelling.


DAY 14 (1-12-01) Destination: Had Yai 
Distance travelled – 750 km
Breakfast at guest house
Walked to Chatchai Market
Visit to the Chinese temple
A good swim at Hua Hin Beach
Window shopping in the evening
10 pm by train for Had Yai

Had set breakfast in the guesthouse. Walked to the Chatchai Market on Dechanuchit Road. Visit the Hua-Hin Buddhist Temple in the heart of the City on Poolsuk Road. After lunch walked to a Chinese Temple by the beach.  Had a good swim at the beach in the afternoon.

By night the city was very bright. It was the most beautiful modern city I have ever seen. The city was very Italian, having Italian decorations and names in the many shops and restaurants.
10.00 pm. Left Hua Hin by train for Had Yai.
Royal Waiting Room at Hua Hin Railway Station
Hua Hin is situated 200 km south of Bangkok and is a coastal resort town, set on the west coast of the Gulf of Thailand, Hua Hin has a population of around 60,000 people, the King of Thailand has his summer palace adjoining the beach and almost every year spends a few months in Hua Hin.

Hua Hin is very much a family resort town and offers great shopping, fantastic sea food, fresh from the Gulf, Thai, German, French, Italian, Austrian, Indian, British and American restaurants, great selection of accommodation ranging from 100 baht for a fan room, mid range accommodation air-con, TV, mini-bar, swimming pool, around 700-800 baht can be found in hotels and guest houses all around town, or you can pay up to 6000 baht for a room in a 5-star hotel.

Hua Hin has one of the lowest rain falls in Thailand and being a coastal town gets that lovely sea breeze, so Hua Hin can be visited all year round.

Hua Hin is unlike any other beach resort in Thailand. If you're looking for bright lights and the frantic all-night action of cabarets and discos, you may be disappointed here. However, if you enjoy walks through the quiet winding streets of a friendly coastal village, sampling delicious seafood in restaurants overlooking the brightly lit fishing boats on the Gulf of Thailand or a round of golf on one of the several international standard links, Hua Hin could very well be what you're looking for; Hua Hin has a special character of its own.

Hua Hin became popular as a rainy season retreat in the 1920's with the construction of the railway line from Bangkok. The beautiful, colonial style Railway Hotel was built near Hua Hin's famous rocks in 1923 by the State Railway Authority, which also built Thailand's first public golf course in Hua Hin in 1924. In 1926, King Rama VII built the Klai Kangwon (Far From Worries) Palace on the beach a few km north of the Railway Hotel and the Royal Family still frequently uses this palace. This set the stage for Hua Hin's popularity and unique ambiance, which remains to this day.

BEACHES The white sand goes for miles from the Sofitel at the end of Damnoenkasem Rd. At the main beach there are umbrellas for lounging and vendors will satisfy your needs for drinks and snacks, and even pony rides, jet skis and a Thai traditional massage. Many beachfront hotels have concessions for windsurfing and sailing needs and powerboats can be hired. A walk down the beach will take you to temples and fishing villages.

GOLF The first golf course in Thailand was built in Hua Hin in 1924 and there are now 8 courses within 30km of the town and more are under construction. These courses are world class and green fees and caddy charges are very reasonable. Electric carts are available at several courses, though a walk in the beautiful climate of Hua Hin is a pleasure in itself. Whether a pro on a break or a family on a holiday, golfers will enjoy the professional facilities here.


DAY 15 (2-12-01) Destination: Had Yai 
Distance traveled – km
12 noon arrived at Had Yai
Stayed in Had Yai Guest House

DAY 16 (3-12-01) Destination: HOME 
Distance traveled – 380 km
5.00 pm bus to Butterworth
9.00 pm bus to Taiping


Note:
Police station is known Police Box
Fire station is known Fire Box
Mini van taxi is known as Songtel
Lorry taxi is known as Songtel
Bus station is known as bus office
Bank is known as Exchange

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