26 February 2015

Charming Chanthaburi province

Facebook and then a very detailed report on Christian’s blog had drawn my attention to a tourist attraction very popular among thais and looking rather spectacular : Khao Khitchakut in Chantaburi province. So when my boyfriend suggested we could go there, I accepted immediately. 

Khao Khitchakut is technically the name of a district and of a National Park ; its main attraction is located on a mountaintop and is the site of a Buddha footprint, and also offers many rock formations in all shapes. It is open only for two months in the year (grossly from mid January to mid March), so it attracts a lot of people – mainly thai. Moreover it is open day and night, and requires some physical effort.

Going there from Pattaya, logistics were rather easy to arrange : rent a car for two days, reserve a room in downtown Chantaburi and here we are, leaving Pattaya at 3 in the morning (the witching hour …), the boyfriend driving under the shrewd guidance of this sleepy farang. 

Way up towards Buddha footprint on Khao Khitchakut
Up to Buddha footprint
Two hours and a half of rather quiet roads later, we arrive at Wat Pluang, where the pilgrimage begins. In the middle of the mountains, we land in a small village brimming with touts, restaurants, souvenir shops, people going and coming back … business seems to be good there ! We then have to sit on a four-wheeled car, and then another, which climb very steep and bumpy trails where we mostly try to keep seated without pressing our neighbours or falling on the side … great fun, reminding af an amusement park. From then it is still a 1 or 2 km walk along well-maintained stairs, lined with bells, rocks sprinkled with yellow flowers left by pilgrims, and small shrines .. in the morning mist, all this combine to provide a very poetic backdrop. 

We finally reach the holy print, at the food of a huge boulder perched atop the mountain, where we join the huge mass of pilgrims of all ages, chanting, praying, making offerings in the middle of nowhere ; we can only be impressed by an atmosphere tinged with sharing, faith and mystery.

Khao Khitchakut boulder
Masses of pilgrims near Buddha footprint

Some more kilometers of rather slippery trails lead us to Pha Deng, where we write our wishes on a red piece of cloth that we then attach to a tree. And then it is the way back, with the trip down on the 4D pick-ups, still more spectacular in daylight. 

We spend the rest of the day in downtown Chanthaburi, resting in our hotel (World Travel Lodge, excellent), visiting the delightful old town and the massive catholic cathedral, and having a meal along the river where local students like to gather after school.

The following day sees us in the Phliu waterfall wich is another famous attraction for thai tourists, as they love splurging in fresh water and offering food to the fat fishes living in the stream. Finally we come back to Pattaya along the little-known and quiet Chantaburi beaches, not forgetting a seafood meal on Suan Son Beach (Rayong province) where tourists are really few and far between despite the hot sun and nice landscapes. 

Real Thailand (facing Koh Samet)
All in all a worthwhile trip in what some call the real Thailand (an expression that I do not like, is not Soi Sunee real Thailand too ? ), allowing me to log another province on my lifelong mission to sleep – local boy alongside not required - in each one of the 77 thai provinces (now 36 and counting). 

Further information on Christian's blog

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