Getting Around, North Easterly Direction, Late February 2012
I've been rambling around Thailand during my annual trip, this year 3 months. While renting an apartment in Korat as a base (6900 baht/month ++, fairly expensive but nice), I've been getting around on public transport. I'm
reporting on three trips here, this first one is up north and north east from my base.
I wanted to check out a couple of places on the Mekong River so bussed it up north via Udon Thani and then Loei, from there directly north to Chiang Khan. This is a small town right on the Mekong. First stop along the way was Udon Thani.
Since being there 2 years ago the farang population seems to have exploded and development of associated facilities is also exploding accordingly. Was able to re-acquaint myself with the excellent and well organised eatery section of the market
located down towards the train station.
Onto the bus and . . . and experience I didn't need on that bus Udon to Loei – it stopped at a bus station along the way and my travelling companion suggested that my sore backside could benefit from a walk around, I had about
5 minutes based on her previous experience. Hopped out and a couple of minutes later she appeared urging immediate return to the bus. Hot footed it back and . . . the bloody driver had taken off, with our bags inside! Jesus wept! Not happy
at all! Turned out she had a relative living in Loei, and thanks to the marvel of modern telephony and to my absolute relief when we finally got to Loei (by taxi, having been unable to get onto the next bus because it was filled with red-shirts
going to a rally) the relative had the bags complete with all contents including my computer safely in the boot of her car. Phew, amazing stuff.
Good to see many teak plantations along the way in Loei province. Maybe in a few years they'll help reduce the poaching and illegal timber trading extant in Thailand and Myanmar currently. Also these days there is plenty of rubber
is being grown in Loei province.
Loei is a nice looking prosperous city but I didn't hang around. Pic below – this place was on sale recently for 500,000 baht, possibly not a bargain but in a nice location looking across the Loei R on the outskirts of the
About 2 years ago the townsfolk in Chiang Khan on the Mekong realised that the stream of foreigners was on the up and up and decided to upgrade their facilities. The result is that there are many fine guesthouses with river views – it's nice to sit gazing across to Laos at night, downing a BiaLao or three, quiet too because there is only a walking track between the balconies and the river bank. Typical guesthouse style see below.
Not much else to do in the town so far. The river in the area was flowing fast even though very low (February), with a lot of eddies from the many rocky outcrops. The locals assert that if you get sucked into those swirling waters it's good bye, nobody is going to help you (one reason for that is most Thais can't swim effectively). It's a free trip to Vietnam then apparently, but you may not be in any condition to enjoy it! Pic – rocky outcrops in the Mekong, they effectively stop large river boat traffic around here.
Pic below shows sand mining on the bank of the Mekong across in Laos, used for concrete making so I was told.
I was hoping to get some kind of public transport from ChiangKhan and follow the river east to Nongkhai but no such luck, so it was back to Loei (in the back of a truck) and thence Nongkhai by bus. Maybe that's a reason to change my self-imposed ban on driving in Thailand, I expect such a drive would be rewarding. Nongkhai has moved on somewhat from 2 years ago, but I didn't hang around. It does have a very good Vietnamese food restaurant on the river. Recommended without qualification.
From Nongkhai took a bus to my second planned destination – BungKan, again on the river and some way east. A recent article in the BKK Post triggered my interest. It is a largish town and has a way to go in terms of abundance of accommodation, but has plenty of potential as a good spot to chill out a few years down the track. I didn’t get to see the several touristy points in the province (the province only proclaimed in 2011, being carved off Nongkhai province) due to the lack of organised transport in the area . . . another reason for a car.
I was told that the actual border line between Thailand and Laos is not as one might expect on a line which is equidistant between the banks, but instead on a line which follows the deepest course of the river. Also the islands in the river belong to Laos. This idea was apparently dreamed up by the French when they were lords of the manor. I wonder if that’s true? The river is very wide here and tomatoes are grown extensively in the river bed in the dry season, see pic. There exists a local processing industry making tomato relish, paste, sauces etc.
Lots of rubber being newly planted in this area as well. A typical nursery is shown below – don't come here if you want to buy seedlings of anything but rubber trees! Such is the rush to plant rubber in Thailand right now there are many nurseries like this in the area. The 'sticks' in the foreground are cuttings – these 'seedlings' are all grown from cuttings. Check out those gorgeous buildings in the background.
Another pic worth showing – this is exactly the same pic as you saw in your geography text book all those years ago, right? (in my case in the late 50's). I'll qualify that – the scene looks the same but in this case that bowl is made of plastic, it's not half a coconut shell (why?).
Another unpleasant experience, this time at BungKan. An ATM ate my debit card. I did get to speak on the phone to someone at the relevant bank, actually quite good service with a competent English speaker, but of course to no avail, once a card disappears into the bowels of an ATM it's never to be seen again. I was nearly as far from Bangkok as you can get. This was an experience I've not had before in 7 years of visits to Thailand. I always travel with a spare, so it was not the nightmare it could have been. Turned out the card had passed its use-by date, so no fault of the Thai bank. At fault was my lack of vigilance before leaving home. This heavily underlines the need for at least one spare card while travelling, maybe bring three is a sensible thing.
I don't like buses in Thailand, so decided to take a train back to Korat from Nongkhai. First time on a long distance train in Thailand for me, an interesting experience and recommended but with reservations. If you choose a sleeper, make sure you get a 'lower' berth. Reason is that the 'upper' berth is a pull down bunk, and you have nowhere to sit (not enough vertical height for a farang). The lower berth can seat two people comfortably before the attendant (officious attendant in this journey) makes the bed, he seems to think that since you reserved a sleeper, then bloody well get in it and sleep, it's not relevant that the time is only 7 PM. You can put him off, but if you've got an upper, then it's bedtime for you. In the upper berth once the curtain is drawn there's no contact with the outside world, no window, no announcements, you rely on him totally to wake you at the correct station. I'm sure he would, but I did see him sleeping (mouth open) as I passed on a toilet visit. On that train there is no food service, so take some eats and water (Nongkhai to Korat is 6 – 7 hours, to Bangkok is a 12 – 13 hour trip). Don't expect to get a berth on the day, you should try to buy your berths at least a day in advance. Pic shows a view up the aisle, all beds made, bedded down and sealed up! It's air-conditioned, fans just for decoration.
Go to railway.co.th to see more about what's on offer.
Nice, and yeah, those far flung parts of the country are developing at rapid pace!