A Young Person’s Guide To Isaan
1 A small fairy tale to start with
Before you start reading, please go to your CD Player and program it to play Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’ 3 times (without playing any other song in between), each time the song starts again, you should increase your volume by 20%).
Imagine the following : in the morning in BKK you missed the A.C. bus you planned to take to go to Surin, because you couldn’t get out of your bed. Lucky enough someone told you that, if you hurried, you could take the next bus, which would leave in only 2 minutes. So you decided to take a non A.C. bus. Unfortunately you didn’t have time to buy some cold water. Two minutes after you entered the bus, the driver of ‘your’ bus started the engine (God only knows why). Twenty minutes later your bus left the Northern bus terminal. Hell, you were very thirsty. After 37 minutes, just as you passed Thammasat (Rangsit Campus) your legs started to hurt. As the bus made its 4th stop at an unknown location, the last empty place got occupied. At the 5th stop 15 people entered the bus and went sitting on a plastic picnic baby seat in the middle of the bus and yes you were still thirsty.
… … …
It’s clear that it could be that you had some stress when you arrived 9 hours later in Surin. Then when you left the bus, you started to look for a tuktuk. Strangely you couldn’t find one. Then the bus continued its journey and even though you had a better sight then, you still couldn’t find a tuktuk. Then you started to remember and feel that 20 minutes ago you got some early warning signals of a terrible ‘tourist's surprise’ which was about to explode. Hell, why wasn’t there a map of Surin in Lonely Planet !!!.
Yep, you got nervous and then you saw an old chap sleeping in a 3 wheel bicycle taxi (Samlor). When he finally woke up after you rang his bicycle bell 4 times, your girlfriend entered his vehicle. Luckily enough you just managed to get in too. Now this old chap tried to put your suitcase in it too. No way, impossible. Then you tried again, but now you went in first (+ your suitcase and no girlfriend). It still hurt too much.
After some shaking and sweating and after a small earthquake you left the bicycle. You were faced with the famous big dilemma. Were you going to send your girlfriend with your suitcase first, were you going to send the samlor driver to look for a second samlor taxi, were you going to put your suitcase in the samlor and walk with your girlfriend to your hotel, or were you going to walk with your suitcase and your girlfriend to the hotel ????
And yep here it finally came, your girlfriend started nagging you because she was getting some dark tint from the sun. Out of the blue you noticed a second samlor coming in your direction. Now you really needed to hurry due to ‘tourist's’. Your ass was already getting warm so you started to use a lot of your energy to press and keep everything closed. Since your LP was already in your suitcase, you decided to ask your girlfriend which hotel she would recommend. After she informed you she didn’t have a clue since she never stayed in a hotel in her home province, you regretted you had come to Isan.
It is for this reason I started to write my compact guide with recommendations.
2 General Introduction
2.1 Information about the author
Now you should change your music to Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish you were here’ album and play ‘Shine on you crazy diamond’.
I lived in Bangkok in 1994 for 4.5 months and later returned a lot to Thailand; my last visit was in December 2001. I used to come to Thailand 2 or 3 times a year (unfortunately I had to pay for all those trips myself), but after 1998 my priorities changed. Maybe the fact that I got married to a ‘good and normal’ Thai girl in 1997 and the fact that we got 3 children in 2 years and 10 months has got something to do with it.
By accident, while playing on the net, I arrived on Stickman’s naughty nightlife guide. I must admit I read it with great interest. After having finished this, I also started to read the expat guide, the tourist guide, the weekly updates and the reader submissions (…). In total it took me 6 weeks to go through it completely. Reading this site I became addicted to it (I still miss BKK so much), almost in the same way as some people become addicted to BGs. Probably some memories in my mind are winning the battle with common sense.
What I noticed in all guides and submissions was that everybody is saying this and that about Isan girls. Some people even write about their first visit to their BG’s province, but never on the site is mentioned a lot of travel and tourist information about Isan provinces. I got the impression that almost nobody had gone to Isan before they got seriously involved with a BG.
I have traveled a lot to (and within) Isan; first as an innocent student (at a local international university) with a very low budget and now as a farang with a medium budget and I must say that travelling in Isan is not as easy as travelling in Bangkok or Phuket or Chiang Mai.
The first 2 times I traveled alone in Isan, without knowing Thai and without a lot of cash. The 3rd, 4th and 5th I traveled with my Thai girlfriend (+ her brother) and I knew some Thai. The 6th time I got married in Si Saket. At that time I could speak and read Thai. The 7th, 8th and 9th time I traveled with my Thai wife (= the same person as my girlfriend). The 10th time I traveled over there, was with 2 children and a pregnant wife (5 months). In almost every important city I’ve been 3 or 4 times. In Si Saket 9 times, and in Khorat 7 times.
I admit some things have already improved (probably due to the fact that 77% of the farangs marrying an Isan BG, first visit her family before the marriage), but not to the same extend as travelling in the rest of Thailand has improved. Especially if you have children or are carrying big suitcases with you or if you are on your own, getting around is not always easy. Even Lonely Planet does not spend the same amount of energy to this region as it does for instance to Bangkok or Chiang Mai province. Choosing an acceptable hotel for instance is not always easy because LP’s information sometimes is very much outdated, sometimes LP even lacks a map of the particular province.
Let me also say that I like LP books quite a lot. I owe it to them that I could go alone in 1994 to Isan, without knowing any Thai at all and without having a lot of money to survive an emergency. They provide very good information about Phuket, Chiang Mai, River Khwae (I hate it if people write Kwai), Bangkok, … and they are a good starter to Isan, but, I can’t explain, I feel that something is missing in LP if I think about my Isan journeys.
To illustrate the lack of importance in LP : in the 5th edition (1992), the first one I bought and intensively used while travelling in Thailand, 66 pages dealt with Isan. This is 10.6% of the total of 623 pages. In the 6th edition (1995), 93 pages dealt with Isan. This is 12.3% of the total of 758 pages. In the 9th edition (2001), 93 pages dealt with Isan. This is 10.4% of the total of 895 pages. (don’t assume I don’t have the 7th and 8th edition, cause I have, but I don’t want to spend too much time on this issue). I admit that this is a biased comparison, since a significant portion of the books treats general stuff, but the conclusion remains valid that this biggest region in Thailand does not get the attention it deserves. In other travel guides this is even worse.
This article is not a complete travel guide; I don’t intend to discuss every one of the 14,235 temples in detail. I may mention a few if they should be visited though.
In this article I also write my personal opinion about 2 or 3 hotels in every city, which I recommend. I don’t intend to discuss every hotel that is available in detail, since this is a waste of time. If you may have another opinion, that’s fine too. However if one hotel is better than the other I’ll mention it here, in this way helping future visitors with their choice. I only use my own experience and don’t get any commission from anybody.
If possible I’ll also mention if the hotel is extra equipped for children. Remember it may happen to you someday. To top it off, I try to mention some entertainment for children nearby.
If you are hoping to find some information about BG’s or other similar services, then please stop reading because you ain’t gonna find it in this text. (at least I was able to keep you for a while, wasn’t I ?) This does not necessarily mean that I deserve the ‘statue for the holy tourist’, but I believe that the services of BG’s are perfectly being dealt with by Stickman. I hope he realizes that 89.2% of this earth’s white population is waiting for him to write an extensive guide (70 pages plus) on Burma as well.
2.2 Information about Isan
I am not going to waste my (and your) time by giving you the standard ‘Isan is the poorest region of Thailand; its most important source of income is farming’ kind of information. What I do want to do is give you the name of 3 good books written by real Isan people, since they explain everything much better than I will ever be able to. Read them if you really want to learn something about Isan and the way your girlfriend lived 20 years ago. Of course there are a lot of other good books too.
2.2.1 A child of the North East (Kampoon Boontawee 1976)
– Edition Duang Kamol
– Translated by Susan Fulop Kepner
Probably one of the best books excellently describing how people lived and managed to survive in a village close to Ubon. I recommend you to read this book in a sauna or while sitting in the hot sun to get in the mood (no joke). Don’t do anything else before you have finished this book (protect you once in a while for the sun though). This book really tells you so much about daily life.
If you have any respect for your Isan girlfriend, then you must read it.
2.2.2 Behind the smile – voices of Thailand (Sanitsuda Ekachai 1990)
– published by the Thai Development Support Committee (with help from The Post
Publishing Co., Ltd)
The 3rd chapter ‘Voices from Isan’ (page 17-81) has several articles about various issues regarding Isan problems. Look at the picture of the boy on page 70 (small child eating dirty sand to survive), never forget him when you are discussing the ‘Tobin Tax issue’ or when you tell your newly arrived friends that giving some money to a Thai beggar is always stupid.
2.2.3 People of Esarn (= Isan) (Pira Sudham 1987)
– can be bought in France as ‘Enfances Thailandaises’ – Fayard and Hachette Group)
– Shire Books
Pira Sudham is definitely the best Isan writer. This book tackles a lot of controversial issues (I don’t understand why it is not forbidden in Thailand). Personally I don’t think it should be forbidden (because to western standards there is nothing really shocking in it), but other things have been forbidden much easier in the past in Thailand. Especially read the chapter ’Remembering the massacres’ and take a look at the pictures. I always remember these pictures and this is probably why I don’t want to buy a house in Thailand. You can never be sure here in Asia that this will never return.
This book for instance also deals in depth with (the risk of) contract killers. Also the killer has a chance to give his arguments.
If you want to respect your Isan girlfriend and want to know more than the average BG monger, then you must read it.
2.2.4 A bonus
I am very liberal minded. So as long as someone doesn’t misbehave with an underage BG I have respect for almost everybody. I believe that one should always try something if he is curious. On the other hand I don’t recommend you to smoke in Thailand what you would try on your first trip to Amsterdam. I also think people should be conscious about the effects of sex tourism on Thailand.
A must to read is ‘The rape of the Innocent’ (‘sometimes published as ‘Shame’) from Ron O’Grady (available at ECPAT (= End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism), which also tackles some interesting issues.
I think it is necessary that every tourist should read this book before going to Thailand. No I am not a prude, again you should try your luck if you want to and try again if you liked it too, and try again and again (and be proud that you have tried it), but please don’t misbehave with underage girls and don’t force an unwilling BG (if she doesn’t like you, then leave her alone).
3 Leaving BKK for Isan
Now you should change your music to Pongsit Khumpee‘s ‘Samer’ from the album M-16.
There a six ways to go to Isan : by plane, by train, by car, by bus, by motorcycle and by foot. The last 2 transportation methods are not recommended though.
I believe choosing a convenient transportation method is influenced by 3 things : money, time and the location you would like to go to. For instance going from BKK to Khorat by plane is stupid : the amount of time gained does not justify its price. Flying to Ubon Ratchathani can be justified by time pressure.
This is rather expensive and you miss the beautiful scenery and therefore flying can only be recommended if you need to save time. However if I have to go to Ubon, I prefer to go there with a one way plane ticket and come back to BKK by other transportation methods (while making several stops). The same applies to Udon Thani.
You have to go to the domestic terminal. You can go there with a shuttle bus from the international terminal in case you just arrived. You can also walk. I did this once but even though my suitcase had small wheels under it, I am not going to do this once more. If you plan to participate in a drinking contest, then this is a good preparation to get a very big thirst.
Please also note that the restaurant in the domestic airport provides good Thai food, which is not cheap, but much cheaper than in the international airport.
Even though you are on a low budget, do NOT, I repeat do NOT take a third Class train. I made this mistake once and I still regret it. It is way too slow and there is absolutely no comfort. It is also much to crowded.
Determining whether you should travel first or second class depends on your budget, the time of the day and …. the train. The train ??? Yep the train.
Trains back and from Ubon to BKK and back and from Udon to BKK can differ significantly. In some trains there is not much difference between first class and second class. For instance there is one train in which both first and second class do not have airconditioning, there is one train in which both first and second class have airconditioning, there is one train in which there is only 1 class : the second class, however this diesel train (called sprinter and leaving Ubon at +/- 14.30 heading for BKK) is one of the best.
It is important to remember that normally each day at the same time, you can take the same train (at the same place), in this way you know beforehand what type of train you can expect and which seats are the best.
I personally recommend to travel second class (to save some money) unless you take the night train. If there is a night train with private rooms with 2 beds available, then I prefer to choose first class (of course only if I am travelling with 2 persons, because you have to pay for 2 beds).
If you don’t mind the money, the best train to take is the Sprinter which leaves Ubon (heading to BKK) at around 14.30. You get a service (including food) which is very similar to the service you receive in an aeroplane (economy class). The Sprinter back to Ubon leaves BKK at around 11.00 in Hualampong Station (but sometimes also at around 06.15, so you need to check this out in advance). You can also use this train to go to (or come back from) Buriram, Si Saket, Korat or Surin. Please note that this train normally only stops in big train stations. It will stand still for 3 minutes and then starts to ride again. So you have to get in or out in a hurry.
There is also an excellent diesel train back and from Udon, but I don’t know at what time it leaves BKK (I only took it once and have forgotten when it left BKK).
As mentioned above, you have to go to Hualampong station to take a train in the direction of Ubon (also if you want to go in the direction of Udon).
I almost immediately become sick if I sit in the wrong direction (i.e. with my back in the direction of the locomotive), so I order a ‘good’ seat in advance.
If you plan to travel second class in a non A.C. train, then you’d better choose the good side of the train. Don’t choose the side of the sun, because sometimes Thai people may prefer to close the window because of the noise and then your fun of getting a nice brown color is over, but so is the nice breeze too. When can you choose the preferred side of the train ? When you buy your ticket.
I don’t recommend that you drive a car yourself to go to Isan, since you probably don’t speak Thai and are not able to read a lot of the road signs. Thai people drive in a crazy way, so you better don’t drive yourself. In case of an accident it usually turns out to be your fault (even if it isn’t).
If you have the money, you may rent a car with a driver for a few days, but this can be expensive. Don’t forget to discuss every details beforehand (put it down on paper) and ask a copy of their insurance policy in English. This is very important. If the insurance is lousy then don’t use this company and look for another. Hiring a car + driver with lousy insurance is worse than trying to rape a monkey with a condom on, as far as I am concerned. If you are interested I can recommend a very good company at your request. I don’t get any commission from them, but I know they are very good and cheap and have good Isan drivers.
Some people take a taxi in BKK to go to Korat or Buriram. This is a waste of money.
If it is your first trip to Isan I strongly recommend you not to go by car, because in this way you loose the opportunity to meet some interesting people.
If you travel with children, it may be best to hire a car. I did that last year and it really was very convenient.
A lot of people end up with going by bus to Isan. Without discussing every bus or bus company, I ‘d like to mention that there are normally 2 different types of buses : with A.C. and without A.C. (no ‘Phuket V.I.P. buses’).
Taking a bus without A.C. (usually orange, however this is sometimes changing) is fun, sometimes they even have good music and in every small city there are people jumping on (and off) the bus selling some food (cans of coke, barbecued chicken …).
You get a very good opportunity to meet some interesting (usually poor) people who all would like to practice their 8 words of English with you, without really opening their mouth. If you get lucky someone with live animals will sit next to you, so you may have a good opportunity to start a conversation.
The disadvantages of this type of bus are that the bus is slow (stops everywhere) and is being driven dangerously by a Thai Nicky Lauda. The fact that this bus is slow is a little bit compensated by the fact that there are more non A.C. buses going to Isan, so you may save some time by taking a non A.C. bus instead of waiting for an A.C. bus.
I recommend you to buy 2 tickets (in order to have more place), because 1 seat is not enough (usually there is not a lot of place for your legs so you need to spread them or spread your whole body over 2 seats).
Finally I recommend you to bring a bicycle lock from your country. In this way you can attach your bag or suitcase to the seats. Also check your bag once in a while. Don’t put your suitcase under the bus.
Taking a bus with A.C. is also fun because of the nice cold atmosphere in the bus. The buses usually drive faster and a little bit safer (some drivers also are a big Nicky Lauda fan though), but they are also more expensive. Usually they play a movie in the bus but chances are high that you won’t understand a word of it. However having a western movie in Thai language is still better than having a ‘funny’ Thai talk show movie in your bus.
You can give your suitcase to the driver who normally will give you a receipt with a number. Theft could happen, but I have never experienced any problem, nor have all my friends.
However during the week of Chinese New Year, the week of European Christmas and New Year and during the week of Thai New Year (Songkhran), I don’t recommend to put your suitcase under the bus, because some dubious (drunk) characters may be sitting in your bus and they may take your suitcase too if they leave the bus earlier.
Personally, if you prefer travelling by bus, then I recommend you to take an A.C. bus, but only if you are going to travel a long distance (minimum 2 provinces). If you plan to make a short travel (from one provincial capital to the next one) then I recommend to take a non A.C. bus.
Buses going to Isan all leave the Northern bus terminal (Morchit). It is best to buy your bus ticket before you enter the bus !!!
I strongly prefer to travel by train (usually in 2nd class, except during the night) : it is not (extremely) expensive, it is fast and it is SAFE. Someone with a low budget better takes a non A.C. bus (instead of taking a third class train). Sometimes (yes only sometimes) travelling be plane can be recommended.
Since a lot of traffic accidents (read hundreds, sometimes even thousands of very serious accidents) and thefts occur during the week of Chinese New Year, the week of European Christmas and New Year and during the week of Thai New Year (Songkhran), I don’t recommend you to travel anywhere by bus (or by car); especially not to Isan. The worst week is the week of Songkhran.
Repeat don’t make your first or second trip to Isan during those 3 weeks of continuous drinking (and lots of bar fighting and rape, yes rape). Don’t even go by train, because there is also some theft. Lots of drunk people (and drug addicts) can become dangerous in the evening. If you are the only foreigner on the bus or train, people may hassle you, disturb you or steal your suitcase. Buses and trains are also too crowded and hotels may be full.
Now, I don’t want to scare you, chances are high that if you don’t misbehave or go out alone in the evening, nothing dangerous like this will happen to you, so don’t have to be afraid too much. If you go, then don’t worry too much, just watch your back and don’t go out alone in the night. Also don’t go alone to a disco.
But remember that these things do happen and quite a lot too (also to Thai people). Unfortunately, these horrible stories are not sufficiently mentioned in the Bangkok Post (sometimes not even covered in the local Thai newspapers) as they should be.
To illustrate this : if you have a good friend from Isan, ask him if he carries a knife or a gun when he goes out in the evening in Isan for instance to go to a Songkhran party. If he is honest (or not shy) there is a big chance he (or she) will answer “Yes.” I don’t need to explain you why. Unfortunately Isan people don’t like to talk about this.
4 Arriving in Isan
This is when everything can go wrong. Always remember that generally speaking, with the exception of Korat, Ubon, Nong Khai and Udon, in other provincial capitals in Isan there are not a lot of tuktuk taxis at your service. Only a bicycle taxi with 3 wheels (Samlor) may service you and your girlfriend and your giant suitcase + big fake Louis Vuitton bag (unless you were that stupid to buy an original).
Before you arrive in Isan, you should already have chosen which hotel you were going to sleep in and how you planned to go there.
Here below I am going to give an overview of some good hotels + a lot of provincial capitals + how to get there from the bus stop and from the train station. For every provincial capital I shall also mention why I recommend you to visit this city + a small overview of some attractions.
The most important things to visit are (no 1 being the most important) :
1 Phrasat Panom Rung (Buriram province)
2 Sala Kaew Ku (Nong Khai province)
3 Khmer Temple complex at Phimai (Korat Province)
4 Khao Phra Wihan (Si Saket province)
5 ‘Boat temple complex’ + Wat Phra That Nong Bua (Ubon province)
6 Wat Burapha (Roi Et province)
I am sure there are many other important things to be seen (like the elephant festival in Surin and That Panom in Nakhon Phanom province), but I believe the ones mentioned above are the most interesting ones to visit.
4.1 Si Saket
Now you should listen to Carabao’s ‘Phra Wihan’ song twice (ask your girlfriend to translate it).
4.1.1 Why should you go to Si Saket ?
It is a small low profile and especially typical Isan city. You need to stay here overnight and then go in the morning to visit Khao Phra Wihan.
Please realize that this impressive hill with old Khmer ruins (same style as Prasat Phanom Rung, but in a worse state) is +/- 100 kms out of Si Saket and it is not easy to go there by yourself. I recommend you to hire a car + driver from a local. Unfortunately this is without insurance (don’t start looking for a monkey). Price : probably +/- 1,400 THB : this includes car + petrol + driver waiting for +/- 2 hours. You can also go by a local bus, but this is not very easy. Another important advice : make sure you have had a decent breakfast in the morning.
These temple ruins are 2,000 meters in Cambodia. (it once was a border dispute, settled by a dubious The Hague verdict). Some things have changed since LP’s 9th edition : when you leave Thailand you don’t need to give your passport to the Thai customs office. And when you enter Cambodia, you don’t have to deposit your passport either (I crossed the border in December 2001).
When you leave Thailand you need to pay 200 THB. Then your ‘taxi’ or a local bus has to stop at a car park, where people are selling hats. Do yourself a favour : buy a big ‘farmer’s hat’ for 20 THB (yep that’s only 20 THB). Not buying this hat is very, very stupid. Don’t underestimate the walk up the hill in full sun. It is a serious climb for people aged 45+ or for people with weak legs. This is because there is no decent road going up and the sun is burning there like it does in the Sahara.
So after you have bought this hat, you have to follow the other people. After 1 km in full sun, you arrive at a Cambodian army post where there are some soldiers doing nothing and a lot of beggars and some 5 year old children selling postcards and coke cans. I really pity them. Do yourself another favour : eat something and rest for a while at the food stalls and buy a bottle of cold water.
Then you have to buy entrance tickets +/- 250 THB for everything. There is a scam which pisses me off : (yep Stick) Thai people only have to pay 50 THB and Cambodian locals : 0. (Someone told me the price for Thais is changing). I think this is probably the most expensive temple in ‘Thailand’ (+/- 450 THB in total). After this you can start your climb.
This hill has several places of ruins. Each are linked by a steep ‘road’ full of big stones. The higher you are the more expensive postcards are. A good price is +/- 70 THB for 1 packet of +/- 10 post cards. At level 3 it is +/- 150 THB.
After 100 meter of your first climb you will see a middle aged guy with 1 leg. Please, I don’t ask anything for my travel guide, but please buy a packet of postcards from him. Pay him 150 THB. Imagine what he had to do to get there. As far I can remember he is the only one legged person on this hill.
After 200 meter, you can see a helicopter, shot down +/- 5 years ago. It’s probably not booby trapped anymore.
4.1.2 Where should you sleep in Si Saket ?
Prices in Si Saket are a bit higher than in some other Isan provinces.
Until 1996, I used to stay in Phrom Phiman. I was never satisfied with this hotel (every year more dirty and expensive for a low budget, a lot of noise from the train, extremely unfriendly staff looking down on you with your Thai girlfriend, and it is located in the middle of nowhere and a there is a risk of theft). Why did I always choose this hotel ? Because at that time it was the best one available. On the other hand, the restaurant of this hotel is quite good. You should try an extensive dinner over there. If you cross the railway (very close too the hotel) and walk for about 50 meter further, there is a good pub with life music (Carabao style).
Lucky enough a new hotel was built : Kessiri Hotel : a 10 floor hotel with only aircon rooms. Prices (latest update December 2001) were :
– 750 THB for a room with a double bed or 2 single beds for 2 persons without breakfast.
– 850 THB for a room with a double bed or 2 single beds for 2 persons with breakfast for 2 people children under 4 can eat free).
– 650 THB for a room with a double bed or 2 single beds for 1 person without breakfast.
– 1,650 THB for a suite (breakfast included): this is highly recommended because of the view (all suites are on the 10th floor) and certainly if you travel with children.
This hotel has got good Thai food and an acceptable Pepper steak with Belgian fries. It is located in the center of the city. Massages are also available.
Conclusion : take a room without breakfast at 750 THB or a suite if you are travelling with children. If you ever want to eat an American breakfast tell the people at the reception of the hotel that you want a room with breakfast for that day. Why ? If you do this you only pay 100 THB for 2 breakfast coupons. If you don’t and order in the restaurant right away it will cost you 2 x 80 = 160 THB.
I must admit that some rooms are already suffering from wear and tear, which I regret, but it is still the best hotel available and if possible, you can always change your room (just ask these nice girls at the reception).
Please also make sure to book your room in advance. I’ve experienced twice already that the hotel was completely full, so I had to stay for 1 night at the other hotel.
For people on a very limited budget, you can find a room for +/- 100 THB in the hotels close to the train station. They are all dirty and have no western toilet.
4.1.3 How to get to your hotel
Either by foot or by bicycle taxi (both from the bus stop as from the train station).
4.1.4 other things to see
A other temples
There is nothing else to see in the town center. However there is a big temple complex located +/- 4 kms outside the town center, named Wat That Reuang Rong : You need to hire a car + driver to go there. It is worth going there even though it’s quite new.
There are some other Khmer temple ruins along the train rails (some in good state), +/- 5 km in the direction of Surin. You can get there by train (a 3rd class train to Surin).
B Children entertainment
There is a shopping mall, which has a Kentucky Fried Chicken. In this KFC there is a play garden for small children (1.5-7 years). At the ground floor there is a big supermarket where you can buy pampers and baby food and a lot of European and Thai stuff. At the top floor of this mall, there is also a movie theater and a place similar to Foodland in Robinsons.
After leaving Kessiri Hotel, turn right. At the first traffic light turn right again. After 50 meter there is a disco on the left.
D a festival with mor lam music
I never recommend people to go to Dumnern Saduak (the most famous floating market in Thailand) because it is not genuine anymore. It has been changed by tourism in a very negative way. I also don’t recommend people to go and see traditional Thai dancing in a restaurant with 400 tourists with only menus in English language. For the same reason I don’t recommend people to watch a mor lam performing typical Isan music in Bangkok since it is not authentic.
What I do recommend you to do is to go and watch a festival with mor lam music in the weekend of Songkhran (Thai New Year) in Si Saket. It is worth going over there, however only if you are open for this kind of authentic type of entertainment and if you are able to widen the boundaries of your taste. Cfr. some chapters above, there may be a security risk : a lot of people get drunk and sometimes some serious fighting between people, groups or small villages can break out. Rape is also possible.
Now please don’t let me stop you from going over there. If you dress like a plain back packer, chances are low something may happen.
Rule number one : never show anyone you can speak Thai (to keep beggars and dubious persons away. Rule number two : always bring a Thai hat with you (I’ll explain later why). Rule number three : keep everything valuable in your hotel. Rule number four : don’t behave like a lot of those Janks and cowboys from the West : there is no reason telling everybody what you make a year !!
A mor lam festival is very popular during Songkhran. The first 20 minutes you are listening to it, it may bore you and may not satisfy all your needs of entertainment. If you are open for it, however, you may start to like it after some time (certainly after some boozing. At such a mor lam festival there are some special people singing on a stage. There may be up to 600 people at such an open air party and a lot of them (even the oldest woman of the village) will be drunk. One thing can lead to another and sometimes fights can break out. If such a thing occurs, rule number five : flee the scene and rule number six : leave the village and return to your hotel as soon as possible, because things can get a little bit nasty.
At my first mor lam festival some drunk beggars kept bothering me. When they started to push me slowly and even started to tell my Thai friends they should tell me I need to give them some money, my Thai friends (who had their own car and knife) decided to move and go to a festival of a bigger village. After +/- 1 hour after arriving at the other festival a stampede of tens of people (maybe 100) started and came in our direction. Very, very soon my friends and me knew why : some people were firing guns and a huge crowd was fighting. Strangely, out of the blue, a lot of police men started to intervene; however since a lot of people were still panicking, one of my Thai friends gave me his (big farmers) hat and told me I should wear it to prevent others from seeing a farang face. What the hell was all of this !?! Before this evening I had never felt unsafe before in Thailand and now this ‘Hollywood movie scene’.
Then I had to lay with another friend in the back of a pick up truck with my hat still covering my face. My friends recommended me, in case someone would stop their car on a dark road, to pretend I was a plain normal drunk Thai sleeping in a pick up truck with a hat on my face preventing them to see I was a farang. They told me they were taking a short cut to my hotel (still +/- 20 kms), but nicely informed me they knew some friends who were robbed over there. My Thai friends were more afraid than me, which made me frightened too. We had to drive from village to village on very small roads made of sand. Believe me it was very dark and it made me feel uncomfortable (I couldn’t help not following my friends’ advice all the time so I watched the ‘dark’ scenery). Luckily enough I arrived at my hotel without any hassle and my Thai friends returned safely too. But it was an evening to never forget. So was my toilet behavior afterwards.
It may sound strange, but I recommend all of you to have such an experience. If requested I can explain you how to go to such a big festival.
When leaving the Kessiri Hotel, turn left. At the traffic lights turn right. After +/- 20 meter to the right there is a very good restaurant with excellent food, nicely decorated leading to a romantic atmosphere. Another 30 meters further along this street, there is a small night market selling som tum.
Deal of the week : +/- in front for Kessiri Hotel, there is (only in the evening) a small food stall on the pavement selling chicken satay. You can buy 1 set (choot called in Si Saket) : 10 satays + pinda sauce for only 20 THB.
F Si Saket Zoo
There is a park + a big play garden for children + a zoo behind a technical (or agriculture ??) college. It is very nice to go there with children or have a romantic ride on a ‘water bicycle’ (how do you call this in English Stick ??). Ask your hotel to take you there (or ask them to hire a local taxi). Remember the way and you can walk back (it is only +/- 1.2 km from Kessiri Hotel).
Don’t give your laundry to a hotel in Si Saket, they overcharge you 300%. Don’t forget that a maid in an average Si Saket Hotel earns only 2,000 THB for a 6-days-a-week work schedule (update DEC01). Salaries are very low in Isan so go to a local laundry shop where everything is cheap (don’t forget to agree on the price beforehand though).
I recommend 1 shop because they are rather cheap (not the cheapest ones available) and offer quality and speediness. How to get there : leave the Kessiri Hotel and turn left. After +/- 35 meter at the traffic lights : turn left. At the first crossing with a major street turn left again. The laundry shop is then +/- 50 m at your left (it is actually 400 meter behind the hotel, but you have to follow the streets).
Now you should listen to Carabao’s ‘Ganja’ song twice (ask your girlfriend to translate it).
4.2.1 Why should you go to Korat ?
When people in Belgium tell me they are considering going to Asia, I always recommend to them that, since it is their first time, they should go to Thailand, because the culture shock there would be less than, for instance, in Calcutta.
For the same reason I always recommend people wanting to travel in Isan, to go to Korat. This city is almost perfectly covered by Lonely Planet. There is almost nothing to see in this city, however it can be used to go to Prasat Panom Rung and Prasat Meuang Tam in Buriram Province (there is no use in going to stay in Buriram (city) only for the reason to visit this Khmer temple complex) and to visit the Khmer temple ruins in Phimai. Each of the 2 trips can be made in 1 day.
The bus that goes from Korat straight to Phimai (it stops +/- 100 meter from the big temple complex) can be taken very close to the Thao Suranari Memorial. I’ve taken this bus 3 times already but the bus stops changed a few meters. Last time it stopped very close to the Pho Thong Hotel. Price +/- 42 THB. There is no use to take a taxi from Korat to Phimai because the bus service is excellent.
It is also nice to walk around in this city at night.
4.2.2 Where should you sleep in Korat. ?
(repeat) I stayed in all the hotels I recommend here below. Other hotels may be fine too. I’ve stayed in others too, but they weren’t as good as the one below.
Budget : Fah Thai hotel : +/- 250 THB for a room. Centrally located and rooms are acceptable.
Mid range : Sripattana has good average rooms and a nice swimming pool. Another advantage is that it can be reached by foot from the train station. Disadvantages are that it is far from the town center and that some of the people staying over there can make a lot of noises in the night. Prices : +- 600 THB.
The best value for money hotel is K Star Hotel. This hotel is very centrally located. It is a very big complex including a hairdresser + traditional massage service, a nightclub and a coffee shop. Even though it was built 25 years ago, it still is in a good condition. There is also an excellent restaurant serving delicious European and Thai food. You have to enter this restaurant from the street; there is no direct entrance from the hotel (even though it is part of the hotel). An A.C. room with a double bed costs 500 THB. A very big suite (2 bedrooms with double beds + televisions, 2 big bathrooms + 1 big living room with armchair + television between the 2 bedrooms) only costs 1,000 THB; 2 welcome drinks are included. This is the perfect suite for people with children.
The girls at the reception can provide some tourist advice and assistance if you are looking for a hospital, a shopping center, a town map …
4.2.3 How to get to your hotel ?
By foot, by TUK TUK or by samlor, both from the bus station as from the train station. A TUK TUK is the easiest thing to use and much cheaper than in BKK.
4.2.4 other things to see
If you just cross the street (when leaving through the main exit of the hotel) : you can walk into a shopping mall. On the ground floor there are some nice clothes on sale. ON the 1st floor (European numbering) there is a middle sized super market where you can buy cheap fresh food and (if necessary) pampers. For people with children : there is a nice (and safe) play garden for children on the top floor (4th or 5fth floor, I can’t remember exactly)..
There is a night market (a street with access only for pedestrians) with many food stalls. It is called Thanon Manat Night Bazaar. When you leave K Star hotel, turn left. At the traffic light turn right. At the second (big) crossing turn right. After 1 minute you’ll see the street. I recommend you to take at least one (evening) meal over there; food is plenty, cheap and delicious.
There is also a restaurant + life pop music + a Thai disco in Thanon Jomsurangyat. (When coming from the night bazaar, continue in the direction of the big train station (not Chum Thang train station). Almost before this street reaches Thanon Mukkhamontri, you’ll see (and hear) it on your left. Especially ‘yum plah dook foo’ is very delicious over there. Strangely this dish is not on the menu. But when you ask (and tip) the waiter, he’ll get it for you from somewhere else. Don’t be surprised when one moment a train disturbs the romantic atmosphere. The disco is right behind the restaurant.
Now you should listen to Carabao’s ‘Mae Saai’ song twice (ask your girlfriend to translate it). What a sad song, isn’t it. Could you sell your daughter ??
4.3.1 Why should you go to Buriram ?
In case you want to visit Phrasat Panom Rung and don’t want to do this while staying overnight in Korat. Personally (cfr. above) I recommend you to spend the night in Korat, but if you can’t control your curiosity then go to Buriram.
If you want to see Phrasat Panom Rung, then you should also see Phrasat Meuang Tam, which is very close to Phanom Rung. There are some other nice ruins in its proximity but Meuang Tam is the second best (and probably after 2 you may get bored. Be careful, there are some snakes over there (I saw one myself).
You can take a bus to Panom Rung at the bus station. It is a +/- 80 minute drive in a non A.C. bus (cost +/- 40 THB), so bring along the necessary bottle of cold water. The bus will drop you off (tell the driver you want to see Prasat Panom Rung) at the crossing with another street (a T crossing). So your only choice is go to the left.
You can see there is a small restaurant and a drink vendor at the corner of the big road you are coming from and the road to the left. I recommend you to eat something over there and wait for a Songtaew (pick up truck taxi) to get full before it will leave. Another method is to hire a motor cycle taxi (there are plenty over there). Cfr above tell them you want to see both the Prasats and they have to wait for you twice +/- 30 minutes and bring you back to this restaurant. Price : between 200 and 250 THB. You almost have no bargaining power over there. You can also walk the 8 kms in the sun if you really are that Dutch, but I don’t recommend this at all. Don’t pay them until you get back at the restaurant where you can take the bus back. Panom Rung probably is the most beautiful thing to be seen in Isan (even better that Phimai and Phra Wihan). If you have the money, hire a taxi + local driver in Buriram city. The bus connection isn’t that good and it takes a lot of time, because most of the busses don’t stop close to Panom Rung.
It is also nice to go out in the evening to the ‘entertainment square’ at night. There are many pubs and karaoke bars and … and there is also a disco.
4.3.2 Where should you sleep in Buriram ?
I have been 3 times in Buriram and I spent a total of 5 nights in this city. It stayed in 3 hotels but I checked out 6. My main conclusion for Buriram was (same applies to Nong Khai) : less quality rooms for a higher price. Rooms are old and a bit dirty. The ants are offered free of charge. Almost a rip off. This is why I prefer to sleep in Korat.
Grand Hotel : offers big rooms with a European toilet for +/- 400 THB. 250 THB for a room with a Thai hole in the ground. I was disappointed by this hotel (when comparing with what 400 THB gives you in Chiang Mai or Lampang) but it is still the best for that budget.
The Thai Hotel is a little bit cheaper but also in a worse state, however for the budget tourist it is still acceptable. Rooms are charged at +/- 300 THB.
There is also a western style Hotel (like +/- Novotel in Europe) very close to the Bus station and Highway 24. Unfortunately I have forgotten its name. Price +/- 1,200 THB. For people travelling with children this is recommended. Rooms are clear and there is a restaurant with A.C.
4.3.3 How to get to your hotel ?
By TUK TUK, by samlor or by foot. I recommend by foot if you arrive by train and want to stay in the Thai Hotel or the Grand Hotel. Otherwise I recommend a TUK TUK.
4.3.4 other things to see
Take a TUK TUK to go to Tayp Nakorn. A pub with Carabao style music. Good atmosphere. Tell the TUK TUK driver to pick you up after 2 hours (ask his price first).
Another nice way to spent your evening is to go to ‘entertainment square’ very close to entertainment music hall. In that area there are a lot of pubs, bars and BG’s, if necessary.
Treat yourself for a nice dinner at Porn Phen Restaurant, where excellent food is served.
Recommended is the following (all together) for 2 persons :
– tort mun plah (fisk cookie)
– plah grapong sahm rot (a barbecued fish in 3 sauces)
– gai hor bai toey (chicken fried in toey leaves)
– plah meuk neung manao (very delicious octopus)
– goong pow (barbecued tiger gambas)
– gai put met ma-mooang (fried chicken + cashew nuts in a birds nest)
– yum plah dook foo (very spicy fish cooky salad)
– tom yum goong as a starter
I know it is too much, but you should really try this altogether. Don’t be the fried-rice- only-expert on Thailand. Price (all together : +/- 800 HB). Not that expensive is it ? In your home country this would probably cost 4,000 THB all together. If necessary skip the starter.
4.4 Roi Et
Now you should listen to Loso’s ‘Mai taai rork ter’ song (acoustic version) twice (ask your girlfriend to translate it).
4.4.1 Why should you go to Roi Et ?
For me Roi Et is the perfect example for a medium-sized, quite, non-touristic Thai provincial capital. However it does have something to offer for the tourist who has time to travel around in Isan. It is a nice stop to rest one day and night when you are coming from Ubon, Si Saket, Surin or Buriram and don’t want to travel until Khon Kaen.
At the peak of the hot season, there sometimes is a shortage of water in this city, so you better go from November until March.
In the middle of the city, there is a very beautiful park, well kept and with a play garden for children. I recommend you to spend a few hours in this park (maybe you can feed the fish).
There is a very high (68 meter) Buddha statue at Wat Burapha. You can climb +/- 50% of it and have a nice view over the city. This small temple complex should be visited (= the main reason for going to Roi Et).
4.4.2 Where should you sleep in Roi Et ?
The price for a room In Roi Et is the same as in Buriram, however, you get more value for your money. I have been twice to Roi Et : once as a bachelor and once with 2 children and a pregnant wife. For this reason I have only stayed in 2 hotels.
Phetcharat Hotel has standard rooms (not new but ok) with A.C. for 400 THB. They also have bigger rooms with 1 double bed and 1 single bed which cost 450 THB. I recommend this hotel for people who are on a budget.
A little bit more up market is the Mai Thai Hotel where a little bit bigger and cleaner rooms with A.C. costs +/- 550 THB. They have also bigger and more luxurious rooms for +/- 800 THB. I preferred this hotel for my children.
People without children can stick to the Phetcharat Hotel. There are probably also other good value for money hotels.
4.4.3 How to get to your hotel ?
By walking or by hiring a local taxi (= plain car + local driver)
4.4.4 other things to see
Besides the park and Wat Burapha, there is not much to be seen. Use this stop as a day to take things easy.
There is almost nothing happening during the night.
At the Phetcharat Hotel affordable laundry services are available (but you have to negotiate a little bit beforehand about the price).
4.5 Ubon Rachathani
Now you should listen to Carabao’s ‘‘Tup Lung’ song twice (ask your girlfriend to translate it and read about this song in LP). It is a very good summary of the real thoughts of thousands of Isan youngsters.
4.5.1 Why should you go to Ubon ?
Ubon is (together with Korat and Udon Thani) more western than the rest of Isan. It can easily reached by plane (and by bus and by train). It is the last major city in the South East of Isan (not taking into account Chong Mek). I recommend you to start your Isan trip here (come by plane and then switch to a train or a non A.C. bus to continue your journey to Si Saket, Surin …).
There are some nice temples in the center and close to the center of the city. The one in the center can be covered by foot, for the other 4 main attractions you need to hire a TUK TUK for half a day (price +/- 400 THB).
This city is well covered by LP, so I am not going to mention every little Wat or clock tower. The most important things to be seen (and explained in LP) are Wat Thung Si Meuang, Wat Phra That Nong Bua, Wat Supatanaram, Wat Nong Pa Phong and Wat Pa Nanachat Bung Wai. The only important itinerary (not covered in LP) that I think you should not miss is a rather new temple complex. It was built in 1996, 1997 and finished in 1998. It is very big. Before you enter the main square, you have to walk under a big gate with a giant elephant with 3 heads. In the main square there is a big barge (boat), very nicely decorated. There is also a tower and a temple of course called Wat Bannamuang.
Ubon province also has some very beautiful scenery. Therefore a trip to the emerald triangle is recommended. Before going to this place, check out the latest information on the situation at the Lao side of the frontier.
4.5.2 Where should you sleep in Ubon ?
I have checked out 3 hotels and stayed in 2, but I am 100% sure that there are plenty of others which offer acceptable (or even better) value for money. I recommend a hotel in the North of the city because all the important night life is over there.
Racha Hotel : is a rather cheap medium quality hotel. Rooms have seen their better days, however some are still acceptable. Check the bath room and the A.C. beforehand though. A normal room costs +/- 350 THB and a room with 1 double and 1 single bed (important for those with children) costs 450 THB. There is a naughty massage parlour at +/- 600 meter to the North-West of this hotel.
A very good value for money hotel is the Regent Palace Hotel (tel 24.40.31) +/- 25 meter to the North of Racha Hotel . Strangely not mentioned anymore in the latest LP (however it is still there). This is a western hotel in the same style of Kessiri in Si Saket (but a little bit better). The price for a room is +/- 650 THB without breakfast and +/- 750 THB with breakfast for 2 persons. Also bigger rooms are available at an interesting price. There is an average nightclub on the ground floor with very delicious yum plah dook foo to be eaten with plenty of Mai Tai.
Normally you get a free pick up from the airport.
4.5.3 How to get to your hotel ?
By (free) taxi from the airport or by TUK TUK from the bus stop or the train station.
4.5.4 other things to see
Walk +/- 50 meter further North (from the Regent Palace Hotel) on Tanon Chayangkhun and then turn left. After +/- 60 meter you arrive at a big square with pubs, bars, go go bars, karaoke, ….
The best seafood in town is available at Andaman Sea Food restaurant (this restaurant has changed its location already 3 times since 1996 so you have to ask a TUK TUK driver (or the staff at your hotel) where it is.
There is also a very clean elite Vietnamese restaurant where Vietnamese and French food is available at a high price (when compared to local food).
A nice pub : Swing Cafe
(not mentioned in LP)
When you leave the Regent Palace Hotel, cross the street and turn right. After walking +/- 250 meter, you have arrived at Swing Cafe, where nice modern music (English covers or Thai covers) are played life. This is a popular cafe for university students.
There is also an open air cafe + life music +/- in front of the Regent Palace Hotel (at the other side of the big road). Probably the best barbecued giant Tiger Prawns (goong Pow) in Thailand can be bought over there at 150 THB for 5 pieces (very expensive though). Especially the sauce is fabulous.
4.6 Nong Khai
Now you should listen to Pongsit Khumpee ’s ‘dtalort waylah’ song twice (ask your girlfriend).
4.6.1 Why should you go to Nong Khai ?
3 main reasons :
– to visit Sala Kaew Ku.
– as a last stop to cross the river to make a short visit to Vientiane.
– to have a romantic dinner at sun set at the Mekhong River (while watching the Friendship Bridge.
(of course the main reason is number 1)
I’ll try to describe Sala Kaew Ku : you can compare it with a park full of very, very big mistic (sometimes Indian inspired) statues. It is very beautiful over there. The first time I went there, I thought it was the best thing to visit in Isan. After I found out that the bulk of the statues are only 25 years old (they look much older), I decided to put it on number 2 (after Phanom Rung).
You should take a TUK TUK from to city to go there (it is located +/- 5 km out of the town center). It is important to remember that there is also a park called Xieng Khuan, often called Buddha Park (Suan Phut) with similar (but even bigger) statues, designed and built by the same artist Luang Pu, 24 km south of Vientiane (in Laos). Therefore I recommend to visit both temples in the same week.
4.6.2 Where should you sleep in Nong Khai ?
I have been 3 times to Nong Khai and have stayed in total in 4 hotels (but I checked out 7). Personally I was always very disappointed by the value for money. You better are prepared for the worst : either you have a dirty or noisy room and stay in the town center or you stay in an expensive (when compared to other Isan provinces) hotel far away from the town center. For a medium budget traveler there is not much choice. Personally I prefer the dirty noisy ones to the ones far away from the city center, but with children this is not always recommended. Now don’t expect very, very dirty rooms, I only want to say that the quality is not the same as in other provinces and that a compromise solution is not widely available (BTW medium budget for me is between 400 and 800 THB). You can find nice hotels but they are further away (it all depends where in the city you want to spend your time).
The only medium budget hotel which is still a bit in the town center and which has rather clean rooms (but sometimes without hot water due to shortage) is Phanthavee Hotel (they also have some bungalows available). The bathroom is ok for western standards. Rooms are priced at around 500 THB. This hotel is sometimes fully booked, so make your reservation in advance.
4.6.3 How to get to your hotel ?
By TUK TUK or by samlor (or by foot, but remember it is far away from the bus station)
4.6.4 other things to see
There are some other nice temples in the town center, but nothing really special to mention. Vientiane is the place to visit after Nong Khai.
It is worth walking to the pier (Tha Sadet) where ferries to Laos depart. There is a nice market (starting in the afternoon) parallel to the river (beginning +/- 400 m before the pier). Also a dinner at the big restaurant just before the pier is recommended; the view at sun set is very romantic (especially if you watch the boats in the water and when you are looking in the direction of the Friendship Bridge); unfortunately the quality of the food is only average.
Last but not least : it is worth going to Wat Phra That Bang Phuan, +/- 24 km South West of Nong Khai. Take a TUK TUK (price +/- 400 THB back and forth) or use LP’s advice if you want to go by bus. I took the bus, but given the fact that I had to wait 1.5 hour for the connecting bus, I recommend to take a TUK TUK.
4.6.5 a small trip to Vientiane
Do yourself a favour : buy LP’ guide book on Laos and continue your journey over there (don’t forget to obtain a visa in Bangkok first).
4.7 Udon Thani
Now you should listen to Asani & Wasan’s ‘Lakorn’ song twice (ask your girlfriend to teach you this song; because it is very slow, it can be easily learned).
4.7.1 Why should you go to Udon Thani ?
I honestly can’t come up with one reason. Unless you want to rest (after having arrived by train) and spend the night over here before continuing the next morning your journey to Nong Khai or because the value for money in Udon’s hotels is much better than in Nong Khai and therefore you want to visit Nong Khai only as a day trip from Udon. I don’t have anything against Udon, but there is nothing major to be seen.
People taking a train in f.i. Korat to go to Nong Khai, should realize that the majority of the A.C. trains have their final stop in Udon. So you may need to wait a very long time for the next (non A.C.) train to Nong Khai to arrive. A lot of people, tired of the train trip, therefore prefer to spend the night in Udon. I believe you may as well make a little effort and continue your journey from Udon train station to Udon bus station (by TUK TUK, since it is +/- 2 km) and then take a non A.C. bus to Nong Khai.
4.7.2 Where should you sleep in Udon Thani ?
No idea, you better sleep in Nong Khai (even though the average quality of the hotels is worse in Nong Khai, since this is mitigated by the romantic Mekhong view between 17.30 and 19.30).
4.8 Khon Kaen
Now you should listen to Carabao’s ‘Cheewit Sumphun’ song twice (again ask your girlfriend to translate it).
4.8.1 Why should you go to Khon Kaen ?
As a place to rest 1 night, after you have started your journey in Ubon and have already visited Si Saket, Surin, Buriram, Korat and Roi Et.
There is not much special to see in this province. So you may spend your time socializing with the students; remember Khon Kaen university is very big and famous (for Isan people at least). Together with Ubon and Udon, there are a lot of western comforts available in this city so you may as well enjoy yourself over there.
You can also apply for (and obtain) a visa for Laos in this city.
4.8.2 Where should you sleep in Khon Kaen ?
A lot of good value for money hotels are available. I have only tried one of them, but I have heard from others that other hotels are also fine and cheap.
Khon Kaen Hotel has clean rooms for 500 THB. It is a western style hotel (+/- twice the size of Sisaket’s Kessiri). They have 2 very big suites : 1 big living room + 2 bed rooms + 3 (yes 3) bathrooms at a price of 2,000 THB. I know it is not cheap, but if you are travelling with some people (children, your parents …) it’s worth treating yourself with some extra.
In front of the hotel (in Thanon Phimphaseut) there is a big pub which has live music in the evenings. It is also a nice place to meet students.
4.8.3 How to get to your hotel ?
By TUK TUK or by foot (but remember it’s a big city).
4.8.4 other things to see
Khon Kaen University : go there alone and eat there and talk with students and ask them to buy some good Thai music with you.
When leaving Khon Kaen Hotel, turn right in the small soi (Thanon Phimphaseut). +/- 20 meter on your right there is a cheap laundry shop, so this is your chance. Again negotiate on the price beforehand.
Now you should listen to Carabao’s ‘Duen Pen’ song twice (the live version; I know this ‘full moon’ song is a leaper, but it’s probably the best version ever made in Thailand).
4.9.1 Why should you go to Surin ?
To see the elephant festival at the end of November (if you get horny from seeing elephants, otherwise don’t bother) or to visit Prasat Ta Meuan (Khmer temple ruins).
4.9.2 Where should you sleep in Surin ?
Don’t take a hotel close to the train station because of the noise. I have stayed in 2 hotels : 1 budget and 1 medium budget hotel. Probably others are acceptable too, but don’t expect the value for money like in Lampang or Chiang Mai.
Krung Si Nai Hotel has cheap, rather clean rooms (but unfortunately sometimes with ants) for 300 THB. No use in taking a room with A.C. (since it either doesn’t work properly or makes a lot of noise). What I like about this hotel is its location, it is in the town center and all temples are within walking distance from the hotel. Also the night market, where I recommend you to eat, is only 50 meter away from this hotel.
Thong Tarin Hotel is a western style hotel with nice rooms, including breakfast for 850 THB. There are also bigger rooms available (this family room’s price depends on availability but is around 1.300 THB). What is good about this hotel is that it is close to an A.C. restaurant ‘Big Bite’ (personally I prefer to eat cheap food at those typical Thai food stalls, but for my little children I had to change my lifestyle) where plenty of western food is available.
4.9.3 How to get to your hotel ?
By foot or by samlor.
4.9.4 other things to see
There is a nice pub featuring Carabao style live music called Old West Country Pub.
4.10 Nakhon Panom
Now you should listen to Carabao’s ‘Mah Hah Laai’ song twice (ask your girlfriend to translate it).
4.10.1 Why should you go to Nakhon Panom ?
To visit Wat Phra That Panom (a Lao-style jedi), 53 kms out of Nakhon Panom town center. It is very beautiful, but not too special to be your only reason to make a journey from Bangkok to this place (combine it with Nong Khai for instance).
Don’t go there at the end of October because all hotels are fully booked due to a local festival.
To go there (= That Panom) either hire a TUK TUK (price +/- 700 THB back and forth) or go by a non A.C. bus.
4.10.2 Where should you sleep in Nakhon Panom ?
I personally recommend you not to sleep in That Panom, but to sleep in Nakhon Panom (even though this implies that you have to travel the 53 km to That Panom twice).
Just like in Nong Khai, you are faced with a dilemma : either stay in the town center and give in on quality (and cleanness) or stay 2 km from the places to be and have very nice (more expensive rooms). A lot of useful information is available in LP.
I only stayed in the town center at the Windsor Hotel, when rejuvenation was being done. For me this was acceptable (because I was travelling alone, and the price and the location of the hotel were the most important criteria). With children I probably would prefer to stay in a better hotel at the southern end of town. Probably the Mae Nam Khong Grand View Hotel is a very good value for money hotel. One of my friends stayed over there and showed me some photos. Quite nice and not too expensive either.
4.10.3 How to get to your hotel ?
By TUK TUK or by samlor.
4.10.4 other things to see
You can have a romantic dinner overlooking the Mekhong river.
4.11 an example of a first trip to Isan
I don’t like it if my vacation has been planned in detail beforehand, but below I give you a model example of how to travel in Isan. Of course everything can be changed. I just give this example to illustrate the importance (or the less importance) of every province (cfr. every chapter for specific details) :
4.11.1 for people with no tight time schedule
1. fly to Ubon (leaving Don Meuang at around 18.00) DAY 1
2. stay in Ubon the next day and visit some temples DAY 2
3. the next day go to Si Saket and visit the local temples DAY 3
4. visit Khao Phra Wihan (leave your hotel at dawn) DAY 4
5. go to Surin and visit the local temples DAY 5
6. go to Korat and visit the local temples DAY 6
7. (from Korat) visit Phimai DAY 7
8. (from Korat) visit Phrasat Panom Rung + others in Buriram DAY 8
9. go to Roi Et and visit the local temples DAY 9
10. go to Khon Kaen and rest (+ university walk) DAY 10
11. go to Nakhon Panom and visit the local temples DAY 11
12. go to Wat Phra That Panom in the morning and then go back; in the afternoon go to Nong Khai DAY 12
13. rest in Nong Khai + visit the local temples DAY 13
14. visit Sala Kaew Ku in Nong Khai continue your journey to the North of Thailand (via Pisanuloke) or go back to Bangkok with the DAY 14 night bus
4.11.2 for people with a tight time schedule
1. leave Bangkok bus station or train station and take the night bus or night train to Si Saket DAY 1 (make sure you sleep well in the bus/train)
2. at the train station, immediately hire a car to visit Phra Wihan at 15.35 take a special SPRINTER train to Korat and check in a hotel in Korat (at around 20.15) DAY 2
3. the next day go to Buriram and visit Panom Rung + others (while spending the night again in Korat) DAY 3
4. in the morning (from Korat) visit Phimai at noon take an A.C. train to Udon and then switch to the non A.C. bus terminal in Udon to take a non A.C. bus to Nong Khai, where you’ll sleep DAY 4
5. in the morning rest in Nong Khai + visit the local temples in the afternoon : visit Sala Kaew Ku DAY 5
6. in the morning : go to Khon Kaen and rest (+ university walk) DAY 6
7. in the morning : go to Roi Et and visit the local temples in the afternoon rest in the big park DAY 7
8. in the morning : go back to Bangkok with the DAY 8 08.00 bus
4.12 the North of Thailand
Now you should listen to Amphon’s ‘Ter poo mai pei’ song once (ask your girlfriend to teach you this leaper which was popular amongst students NOT passing their entrance exam at a Thai university approx. 4 years ago).
Many people from Europe (and probably from the U.S.A. too), go to Thailand for the first time on a package tour. Usually a part of these package tours spend 2 days in Chiang Mai and then spend 1 day (or 2 days) to Chiang Rai and/or the Golden Triangle and then 1 day to Mae Hong Song (or something similar).
I personally believe that instead of ‘loosing’ 3 days by going to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle and Mae Hong Song, you better go to Lamphun and Lampang (and Prae and Nan). If you have time enough, of course I also recommend going to Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Song. But I never, REPEAT, never recommend going to the Golden Triangle; because there is not much to be seen (unless you want to buy illegal guns, illegal alcohol or drugs, which I don’t approve off).
I am going away for a 3-week holiday so I shall continue this chapter on Northern Thailand later (only Lampang is finished now, so I put a preview below). ? It also depends on the positive or negative feedback I get on this present article.
Cities I intend to tackle are : Lampang, Lamphun, Phrae, Nan, Pisanuloke, Lopburi, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Sukothai and maybe some others as well (Golden Triangle, Mae Hong Song, Kamphaeng Phet, …).
Now you should listen to Carabao’s ‘Num nah kon kee kohng’ song twice (ask your girlfriend to teach you this balad).
4.13.1 Why should you go to Lampang ?
2 major reasons :
– to visit Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao
– to visit Wat Phra That Lampang Luang
Of course Wat Phra That Lampang Luang is the most important reason to go to Lampang.
I think that Wat Phra That Lampang Luang together with Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (= Chiang Mai) and Wat Phra That Chor Hae (= Phrae) is the most beautiful temple complex in the North of Thailand.
To visit Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, which is +/- 15 km outside Lampang town center, you should hire a songthaew taxi (which stops in front of the Asia Lampang Hotel) for 3 hours at +/- 350 THB. You can also wait for a ‘public’ songthaew to go there, but you may have to wait a long time since it only leaves after it is full.
Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao can be visited by foot (it is +/- 1.6 km away from the Asia Lampang Hotel). It is also nice to walk around and visit the other beautiful temples in this city.
Strangely there is also a ‘Riverside bar and restaurant’ (from the same owner as the all times famous restaurant in Chiang Mai) at the banks of the Wang river. Of course at least one romantic dinner should be had over there (go early if you want to sit close to the water, in this way avoiding the loud music too).
4.13.2 Where should you sleep in Lampang ?
I have always enjoyed my stays at Lampang : there are not too many tourists, there is still a provincial atmosphere and good and cheap hotels are widely available. I have been in Lampang in 1995, 1996, 1998 and 2001 and I still go to the same hotel : it was love at the first sight. Strangely enough the price has never changed (I am so curious why).
The hotel I recommend going to (but I realize that there are many other good ones available) is Asia Lampang Hotel (sometimes also known as Asia Hotel). Good and clean rooms only cost 350 or 400 THB a night. A suite (I always took a suite) was 500 THB a night in 1995 and it still costs 500 THB a night (update DEC01). This suite is a very nice and big room, worth taking when travelling with children or when you want to have some space. Choose your suite first (there are 4 suites with a bath and 1 suite with a shower only all at the same price). You better book your suite in advance too.
What I also like about this hotel is its restaurant where excellent food is served all day.
Also its central location is excellent.
4.13.3 How to get to your hotel ?
By car taxi (from the airport), by songthaew taxi from the train station or by foot from the bus station.
4.13.4 other things to see
– Old West : a pub with Carabao style live music in Thanon Thakhrao Noi
– River side : cfr. above
– food stalls : after leaving the Asia Lampang Hotel turn right; after 300 meter on your
right, there is a night market with a lot of food stalls
to be continued
If you have any questions or want to give negative or positive feedback, please send it to : [email protected]
Sometimes I get a submission that makes me think how wonderful this part of the site is, a submission that moves me, or a submission that someone wrote with real passion. This is such a piece. Give it time, and you will see people walking around Isaan with this printed out, using it as their guide. This is quite simply a fantastic guide and I'll be using it on my next venture up into Isaan.