Elsa and I had a day in Bangkok to recover from our respective flights before setting off again on the next section of the trip. We spent a quiet and relaxed day visiting the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (which was excellent) and the Siam Museum (which was not).
We rounded the day off with a visit to The Animal Cafe, where one can enjoy a light meal in the company of a multitude of cats, chinchillas, a possum, a raccoon, and even a skunk.
August in Thailand is deep within the rainy season, so we elected to set off early to try and beat any afternoon storms. It was a 90 minute taxi ride back the Thai Flying Club, who had kindly opened the airport on a Monday just for us. They had really been extremely friendly and helpful overall; I can strongly recommend them to anybody flying in the area.
Planey was sitting safely under the overhang of the office building, exactly as I had left him. I paid the very reasonable flying club fees for the month’s parking, and airport opening, and we loaded up the aircraft to head north. After a thorough pre-flight I hopped in and turned the key; and he fired straight up without a moment’s hesitation. Very pleasing! The club staff marshaled us through the gate and out of the club parking area, and then took up positions at the roads that cross the runway, to ensure no traffic got in the way of take-off. We completed the engine run-up, waited for the GPS to finally locate its position (it takes much longer than usual after a month off), and away we went, out over the coast.
The friendly ATC man at Bang Phra had given us the frequency for Bangkok Control, so we switched over to them straight after departure. They turned us straight onto a north-easterly heading, far off our planned route, and kept us well clear of the Bangkok area on a wide detour around the city. Eventually we were allowed to resume our planned route. It never became entirely clear whether we were being treated as a VFR or IFR flight (I had filed IFR), and we were asked to nominate our own squawk code rather than being assigned one, which was a first for me!
We headed north across flooded agricultural land and swollen rivers. ATC handed us from approach controller to approach controller as we headed up the country at 8,000ft, and were always very helpful when I needed a deviation left or right to avoid a particularly large and bumpy looking cumulus cloud. As we continued north, the wide flat country north of Bangkok started to merge into imposing hills and mountains, studded with villages and divided by rivers. After a few hours we received our final hand-off to Chiang Mai approach, who cleared us to descend straight to Nok airfield, where we were to be hosted by the lovely Mike (we’d been put in touch by the equally helpful Eduardo!)
Nok airfield is located directly next to another airfield; Nok has a north-south runway and the other an east-west. Apparently they used to be combined, until some kind of disagreement led to the present situation. We landed at the correct airport and were met by Mike, as well as the local gentleman who takes care of the airfield (I believe his name was “Soi”), and Mike’s friendly black Labrador. They set straight to work and we refilled the tanks to the brim with a barrel of AVGAS, before spending a little time with Mike and his wife before Soi drove us into town.
After a long day, and fighting jet leg, we had an early dinner and a short walk through the night market before calling it a night and heading back to the hotel.
The next day was relaxed, and spent seeing a little of Chiang Mai. The hotel minibus took us first to the temple of Doi Suthep. Our driver fought his way through stop-and-start traffic out of the city, and we then ground our way up a tightly winding mountain road, west of Chiang Mai. It was obvious when we’d arrived at the temple; the lush greenery suddenly gave way to food and souvenir stalls, hordes of taxis and other vehicles, and a throng of Chinese tourists!
We chose to forgo the elevator up to the temple, and instead took the 300+ stairs. Entry was $1 each. We spent an hour exploring the temple and surroundings; it is perched on top of one of the highest mountains in Thailand, but we were in “solid IMC” and could see nothing but cloud and the very occasional glimpse of the valley floor through gaps! We made our way back down the steps, and the driver took us back into town, dropping us off in the middle of the old walled city at the temple of Wat Phra Singh.
Wat Phra Singh dates back to the 1300s, and houses one of the most famous Buddha statues in Thailand. It’s co-located with a school and hospital. The main hall was unfortunately closed for a year for renovation, but there was still plenty to see. We were, by this stage, getting a little overdosed on temples so we headed for lunch at the beautiful Fern Forest Cafe, and then wandered back through the city to the hotel.
On our last day in Chiang Mai, we headed 90 minutes north of town to the Asian Elephant Projects, a collection of more than 30 elephant sanctuaries. Our chosen destination was the Karen Elephant Project, with 4 adult females and one baby. We were given Karen clothes to wear on arrival; I initially thought this was for rather tacky tourist purposes, but apparently it also helps the elephants feel more at ease because they’re used to the clothes; and it keeps your own clothes clean, particularly important in the elephant mud bathing at the end of the day!
We started off feeding the elephants bananas and sugar cane, before accompanying them on their morning walk out into the forest to graze. We left them eating and returned for a vegetarian lunch, before making “Sticky rice balls” for their afternoon treat, and heading down to the ponds to help bathe them in mud. This is apparently good for their skin and also helps keep the insects away! It’s also incredibly messy, as you might imagine. We ended the day by feeding them the rice balls, along with plenty more sugar cane and banana, before being dropped back to our hotel in Chiang Mai.
I filed both the flight plans for the following day, printed Gen-Decs, and prepared everything else I could think of. The next day we’d arrive in Laos, the 25th country of the trip so far.
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