Not Quite Northern Thailand

This five day Road Trip was to ‘fill in’ a portion of the map (Provinces not visited) and also to make use of my remaining time in this beautiful country (expensive to get here, value add).

Another few days of ‘This is Thailand’. Government institutions are the worst, mainly the Fine Arts Department and the National Parks Authority. In the past it was easy to shrug off the imposition of dual pricing because of the small sums involved.  Lately, however, entry fees for farangs (in absolute terms) into some national parks exceed those for entry to Australian National Parks. Compare world-class Karijini National Park with nothing-to-see Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park that is double the price. And the fee is directed to a private entity.

Khon Kaen to Kamphaeng Phet

We left Khon Kaen reasonably early on the first day of February 2024 and drove straight to Kampaeng Phet. Sightseeing wasn’t on the agenda – just drive. We arrived in this ancient town fairly late in the day, found somewhere to stay, ate, and retired early knowing that the morrow would be a ‘big day’.

Kampaeng Phet Historical Park

Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park consists of the Rampart area on the Ping River and the out of town Aranyik area.

The racist policy of the Fine Arts Department is evidenced once again. Jf only it was worded a bit better – “Entry Fee ฿100. Discounts for seniors and holders of Thai ID Card”.

Along with neighbouring Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai, Kamphaeng Phet was declared a World Heritage Site in 1991.

More photographs and information.

Kampaeng Phet to Thoein

Leaving Kampaeng Phet we needed to head north to catch up with friends in Lampang. Tak was too short a journey to stop and Lampang too far. We stopped at Thoein, a small town where Route 106 to Chiang Mai leaves Highway 1 (AH2), the major road north.

Cabin style accommodation at a converted servo on the highway was cheap and cheap.

Thoen to Phrae

Our first project for the day was to visit an OTOP (One Tambon, One Product) village that we were told made jewellery from scratch – that is, they sourced the silver and precious stones in their village. On investigation I found out the silver came from Bangkok and the OTOP was essentially just a lapidary operation. Pity, it would have been nice to investigate another Baan Bo Lek Nam Phi.

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang is a Lanna-style Buddhist temple dating to the 13th century. It is certainly not a ruin (the main feature sought on our visits to religious sites) but it is ancient and it is spectacular.

A more complete description of the Prathat is here.

Mae Moh Lignite Mine Machinery Display and Museum

Putting aside the political/environmental aspects of coal mining and use, this facility is a fantastic presentation of the EGAT (Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand) operation at Mae Moh.

Botanic Gardens

The Mae Moh Mine Museum and display of machinery is set in a beautifully maintained, hillside botanic gardens.

Lignite was discovered at Mae Moh in 1917. In 1927 it was reserved for State use only.

Moh Mine commenced production in 1978 and is the largest coal mine in Thailand. It is owned by EGAT.

Mae Moh Mine has production capacity of 16 million tonnes per year, a miniscule amount compared to global production of 6 billion tonnes. The coal is used by Mae Moh Power Plant. In 2019 EGAT announced that it was preparing for closure of the mine.

Display of Machinery

The outdoor, hillside machinery display includes an Off Highway Dump Truck, a Mobile Crusher, a number of Wire Rope Shovels, a Rotary Drill, two Bottom Dump Trucks, a Percussion Drill, an Auger Drill, an Excavator, a Dragline, a Belt Loader, a Feeding Hopper, numerous Rail Trucks of various sizes, three Locomotives, a couple of Crawler Tractors, Hopper Trucks, a Roller, a Water Pump, a Portable Fire Extinguisher, and a Scraper.

I have visited only one other coal mine (Collie, WA) and their public display and explanation of their operations is pathetic in comparison to this extensive display/exhibition and quality museum.

None of the display items is under cover. This is sure to degrade them over time. Even now the effects of the weather can be seen on some of the exhibits.

More photographs

Power Station

The Mae Moh Power Station is seven kilometres downhill from the Mine.

Phrae

Phrae, our overnight destination, was 120 kilometres to the east, through the Doi Pha Klong National Park.

Our hotel in Phrae was very quiet – in the business area away from the market/restaurant precinct.

It’s Very Quiet in Phrae on a Sunday

Seeking some local attractions/highlights in and around Phrae we searched online. Of the 25 items listed on Trip Advisor, 13 were Wats (which is about par for the course for most towns/villages), four were museums, three were shops and two were national parks. We selected Khum Chao Leung, a moderately interesting house of the last king of Phrae, which was fortunate because it was there that we found out about the ancient wall around the city.

Leaving Chao Leung Palace we went in search of the town’s ancient wall, an easy task.

Ancient Wall of Phrae

Signage near the remains of Phrae’s wall and moat indicates that the city was founded in 848. A wall and moat was built around the town to keep invaders and flood waters out of the town. However, this comprehensive treatise by InThailand suggests that the wall and its gates were constructed in the 13th century.

Phae Mueang Phi Forest Park

Just out of Phrae is a geological oddity – mini sand buttes. The soil in this area is about two million years old, indicating it is from the Quarternary Period. However, it is believed that these hard top sand pillars are much younger, being formed 10-30,000 years ago. Their hard ‘cap’ resists erosion, allowing a pillar to form.

Back roads from the sand pillars connected with Route 101 (AH13), the major road heading south. Along the way, in the ‘back blocks’ on Rural Road 4018, we came across an exquisite traditional house built in the northern style that was a simply stunning, standout structure.

Knife and Sword Making Village

In January we visited Baan Bo Lek Nam Phi, a knife making village, perhaps unique in the world. After that visit I had questions about whether or not mining of iron ore did actually occur in the village. There was no question about the existence of bloomeries, blacksmiths, forges, finishing shops or even the existence of iron ore. But where was it mined? No-one could/would tell me.

On our first visit to the village we did the usual tourist thing, visiting the museum and the two historic ‘wells’ (mines, sort of). On the tourist soi a artisanal blacksmith has strategically located his operation adjacent to the road allowing anyone driving past to easily see him ply his trade. We stopped and he generously gave us a tour of his operation but was unable to sell me a knife as he was too far behind with his orders. He showed us his small iron ore stocks, advised that he ‘bought it in’ but was unable to tell us from where.

The sales people at the numerous other premises selling knives and buddha figures were equally reticent about from where the iron ore was sourced. It was from this conundrum that we started our ‘investigations’ on our second visit.

There was little activity along the tourist soi where the museum and historical ‘wells’ are located.

We stopped at a small shop and got into conversation with the woman who owned it, asking her about the source of the iron ore. She kept pointing to the historical wells. I kept laughing (out of incredulity) and shaking my head. Although it took a while, eventually her demeanour and attitude changed, perhaps as she understood what I was seeking and that I wasn’t going to accept the usual BS fed to tourists. She got on her scooter and said, “follow me”. We stopped 100 metres along the road at her cousin’s premises, walked into the mango orchard and were immediately presented with an iron ore ‘mine’. It was a simple, shallow costean-like trench being hand worked.

Hand tools lay where they had been dropped. There was no telling when the last time the ‘mine’ was worked (it could have been yesterday), however, the ore was definitely magnetic.

Satisfied that all components of the iron making process were in evidence and thankful for the help this lady had given us I determined to purchase a knife from her. Instead of returning to her small shop she directed us to their ‘factory’ further along the road. It was here that further questions arose.

The girl with whom we spoke at the ‘factory’ (daughter) gave us a tour of the premises.

When I asked about the forge I was directed to an area that clearly was not a forge. More than likely an area to heat and work with resin handles and bases.

This factory appeared to be a ‘finishing operation’ – fitting of handles to blades fashioned elsewhere, cleaning/painting of buddha figures, working of resin – but no forging or smithing of knives. Completed (shaped, sharpened and engraved) blades were in evidence – without handles. No problem – this is an OTOP operation. Production of the knives, buddhas and other items could be a two-, three- or even a four-stage process. But why the obfuscation? A less charitable observation could be ‘lying by omission’.

So while I got answers some questions still remain. Specifically the production of handles for the knives. Nowhere did we see any specific evidence of this process. It is a such a simple task that I accept that it would be done in the village, however, it was not on show. Perhaps a third visit?

Towards Khao Kho

Having achieved the main aims of this short trip we headed towards Khao Kho, enroute to Khon Kaen. It was cool in the mountains. Our experience of accommodation tariffs in Khao Kho over numerous visits is that they are 20% to 100% more than other parts of country Thailand. A licence derived from the favourable climate and proximity to Bangkok. Coupled with restaurants that overcharge and under-deliver, Khao Kho is your typical tourist trap.

Khao Kho to Khon Kaen

We visited some markets in the morning, seeking strawberries and tamarind, and then made a beeline to Khon Kaen.

A five day, 1599 kilometre Road Trip through 10 Provinces (Khon Kaen, Chaiyaphum, Petchabun, Nakhon Sawan, Kamphaeng Phet, Tak, Lamphun, Phrae, Uttaradit, Phitsanulok).

11032- Not Quite Northern Thailand

 

© Kim Epton 2024
1999 words, 45 photographs, one image.

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