Thursday, February 9, 2012

Kanchanaburi and Erawan Falls

The River Kwai at sunset
The next morning, after a late start (we stayed up late to watch “Scott Pilgrim vs The World”), we set a course for Kanchanaburi. But first, we had to get out of Bangkok. The international airport is east of Bangkok by many miles, and there is a ring road around the city which we planned to take to bypass the snarl of Bangkok traffic and get to the west of Bangkok. Unfortunately, as we sat waiting to turn right onto the ring road, we noticed the “No Motorbikes” sign posted on the entrance ramp. Thankfully, we did see it before we got on. Instead, we made our way through the city streets, which were much less chaotic that either of us expected and a pleasant introduction to Thailand's roads. They have traffic signals with lights that work. The pavement is mostly smooth and has well demarcated lanes. The roads are signed. Drivers look and signal and don't lay on their horns. It's nice.

We made it through Bangkok in, maybe, an hour, without issue, and got to Kanchanaburi by mid-afternoon. When we backpacked in southeast Asia two years ago, we spent several days in Kanchanaburi and had an idea where we were going. We found a comfortable room at Sam's House, settled in, and spent some time planning our stay. For dinner, we tried a restaurant called Mangosteen that was highly recommended (deservedly so, as it turns out). Colin opted for a bowl of tom kha gai (coconut curry chicken soup) and rice, while I went for my favorite odd combo of tom yam soup (sort of a hot and sour curry soup with chicken) and a plate of french fries to dunk in it. It sounds weird and probably gross, but it sounded good to me the last time we were here and ended up becoming a standby if I couldn't decide on anything else. It was as good a combination as I remembered!

part of the "path" at Erawan Falls
The following morning, we took a ride to Erawan Falls. It's a gorgeous, seven-tiered waterfall with pools where you can swim at most of the levels. We rented a motorbike and rode there last time and thoroughly enjoyed everything about it- the ride, the hike up and down the trail, the views, soaking in the pools, and...the fish. Since it was such a good time last time, we decided to revisit the falls, and we weren't disappointed. The ride was pleasant, and we arrived at the park entrance at lunchtime, so we stopped at the market for some stupendously good sticky rice with grilled pork and fresh fruit shakes before we continued to the park.

Erawan Falls
We parked the bikes, paid our fees, and decided to hike all the way to the top of the falls, first thing. The trail is an easy stroll for the first couple of tiers, but as you climb, the more you have to actually climb. Parts of the path take you over boulders, pulling yourself up by roots and branches, across logs, and through shallow water at the edge of the pools. It's a good workout, and you work up a sweat so you're ready to sit in the pool at the top.

My favorite thing about soaking at Erawan Falls is the fish. They're some variety of bottom feeder that nibble on dead skin when it presents itself. As soon as you walk into the water, you feel them giving your feet and ankles hickeys. If you sit still, which can be quite a challenge, they'll swarm your feet and lower legs, and sometimes your hands to eat all the dead callus and hangnails. The fish seem to find my gnarly calluses especially tasty, and at one time, I had upwards of thirty fish feasting on my feet. It's pretty amusing to watch the variety of reactions people have when they first step into the water. We heard shrieks, nervous giggling, witnessed strange jerking movements, and some awkward falls into the water. 

When we'd had enough (and I was afraid my pescatary friends would hit and develop a taste for live flesh) we made our way back down the path. As we walked, we heard the distinct sound of thunder in the distance. Since we were in pretty thick forest, it was hard to see the sky above, but it seemed awfully dark for 4:00 pm. When we got back to the bikes and looked up, it was dark. We geared up and soon after we exited the park, the first raindrops plopped on our visors. And it rained, on and off, lightly and warmly, for most of the return trip to Kanchanaburi. Even the rain is nice here (yes, I realize I would be saying something radically different during the monsoons).  Since we didn't get wet enough from our soak in the pools, then the rains, we showered before heading out to grab some dinner at our fave spot from last time, the Jolly Frog. Colin has been dreaming of their chicken “gordon blue” (alas, they changed the menu, now it's cordon bleu) for months, and I had a repeat of last night's dinner, tom yam soup and fries. Mmm, delicious.

The photos are recycled from the last time we were here.  We didn't bring the camera with us.

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