Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lake Phayao

My time in Phayao was made extra special by finding a small road that hugs the west shore of this fairly large lake. We knew there was a road from a conversation we had with an American expat we ran into at a Phayao restaurant but he didn't know exactly how to get there and consequently couldn't give us directions. Hell, next day was a nice day for a ride (aren't they all?) so Nut and I piled onto the old thumper and headed south on Route 1, the main drag, hung a right onto Rte 1193 heading east and drove slowly for a mile or so until I spotted a small side road leading toward the lake. It was a pleasant little side road. The little towns we passed through were so peaceful on this sublime day, the flowers gorgeous, the people so friendly, that we ambled along in third gear rarely exceeding 15 mph. Finally we reached a junction with another larger highway but during the whole time on the small road I hadn't sighted an obvious lake shore road. Bummer.

Yet the ride had been so pleasant I decided to retrace our route and return to Phayao the same way we'd come. When I stopped to photograph some flowers Nut struck up a conversation with a lady who had crossed the road to ask her what the big falang was doing with that camera. "Oh, photographing flowers? I have many flowers at my house. Come along." And she did.

Nut and she were talking all the while I was photographing and sure enough, she knew exactly how to get to the lake and explained it to Nut in a flurry of Thai directions, comments, ooohs and aaahs. It turns out that many roads lead to the lake shore. It's just that they all look like driveways -- tiny, one-lane concrete driveways. We went down the "main" road a few hundred yards, hung a left and proceeded down a narrow, shady lane to the lake. It seemed a completely different lake from the crowded scene in Phayao -- green and serene, the air filled with birdsong, fishermen paddling longboats here and there, and the whole shoreline lush with lotus plants.

I had not seen these huge, (6-10" in circumference), lotuses before so they really caught my attention. The fruit, actually the seed pod, is sold in markets all over SE Asia but I had never seen the flower. And it is a gorgeous thing to behold. I tried to get close to one for a good shot but of course they grow in bogs so unless you're willing to wade in mud and water up to your waist, you can't very in tight. Here are my first efforts:

We followed the road north as it meandered back and forth hugging the lake shore until it hit the main east west highway on its northern side, the same highway that we had turned back from earlier. This point offers the easiest access to the lakeshore drive and below I show our GPS track with its coordinates for any of you lucky enough to attempt the same drive someday. We turned around and did the entire road again, this time going all the way back to the south

I was so taken with the scene over there that we returned towards evening hoping to catch some nicer lighting conditions. The sunset was obscured by clouds but I got a couple of shots I liked. Just beyond the lake to the west are rice paddies and mountains -- I liked the clouds well enough to show these two samples... (click on them to see full size)

I returned to the lake shore early next morning. Nut uncharacteristically said, "You go alone. I want to sleep more." Off I went. The northern part of the lake was shrouded in mist but as I made my way south the sun began to burn it off. I caught this fisherman making his way out for the day's work.

Lake Phayao fields just after sunrise

Just as I was about the head back to the hotel I spied a lotus flower in a small drainage ditch next to the roadway. It was mostly closed when I first spotted it but after a few minutes in the direct rays of the sun it gradually opened to reveal its beautiful interior. You can still see the morning dew on the petals and leaves if you look closely. (I included this one as a full size photo.)

Below is a screen shot of our Lake Phayao circuit. The northern part of the route is unfortunately obscured somewhat by the light color of the Google Earth (GE) satellite imagery in that area but if you happen to have a GPS or want to explore the area yourself with GE, the coordinates of the north junction of the lake shore road with Rte 1001 are N 19.20176 E 99.86291.The screen shot below doesn't really do our drive justice because I've zoomed out far enough to show the entire circuit so plugging those coordinates into GE is a much better way to see it.