Monday, April 9, 2012
A hot season ride through Ratchaburi and southern Kanchanaburi is a lesson in contrasts. The deep flowing Mae Khlong River is the source of life for a number of towns and cities that cling to it's banks. River culture is rich with commerce and religion. Ornately decorated temples sit on the hills overlooking the river. Gaudy weekend holiday homes of Bangkok celebrities and business folk dot the shore. Just a kilometer or two from the river, however, life is starkly different. Trees are few and far between, and farmers living in simple homes eke out an existence growing corn, tapioca and sugar cane in dusty fields.
Ratchaburi is big enough for a three-day triangle tour. We left the truck in a hotel parking lot in Ratchaburi Town and headed north along the Mae Khlong River and west to Kanchanaburi Town, a 120 km. ride. The second day, we headed west along the Kwai Noi River. then headed south to Chom Bung through rolling hills and vast areas of farmland, an 80 km. ride. The final day was a 50 km. ride northwest back to the Mae Khlong River and back to Ratchaburi Town.
It sounds cliche, but the highlights of this tour were the discoveries we happened across and the kind people we met along the way.
On our approach to Kanchanaburi, Wat Tam Suea appeared on the horizon, hovering over the rice fields like a mirage. At first we could hardly believe our eyes as we approached along a canal that looked like it was flowing straight out of the base of the temple. We were hot and tired, but couldn't resist making the short detour. When we reached the parking lot, we realized that to see the temple up close we would need to climb 159 steps. Hoping for a place to drop our bags, we stopped in at the Pilog Coffee Shop to get out of the shade and enjoy a tall iced coffee. The woman who ran the shop gave us some of the history of the temple and offered to watch our bags for us. When we returned after our climb, she even filled out water bottles with ice. It was one of many pleasant encounters with the kind, generous folks along the way.
The first night, we stayed 13 kilometers south of Kanchanaburi Town, along the Kwai Noi River. After 120 kms. of riding, we were famished. Unfortunately, the resort we had chosen was not serving food in their restaurant, so as the sun was setting we walked a couple kilometers down the street to a small family run restaurant. The owners made us some delicious food from what they had left in the kitchen, but they were running out of ingredients. We really wanted to go into town for a real meal. Unfortunately, Kanchanburi Town doesn't have a local bus service or public songthaews like most cities, so the owner offered to drive us into town and then pick us up whenever we were ready. On the way, he told us about how he had moved his restaurant out of town so he didn't have to commute and about his belief that his customers were his friends. I couldn't help but think that he was a perfect example of His Majesty's sufficiency economy principle. He also told us about his plan to celebrate his daughter's 5 birthday the next day. Of course, they would start at the temple and make merit. But after that she wanted to go to KFC for friend chicken and then go to the Erawan Falls and swim. He didn't really ask us for any money, but in the end, we wanted to contribute to his daughter's birthday celebration, like any friend would.