Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Buriram to Udon Thani.

Journey so far

Since Buriram a lot has happened. Unfortunately not all of it good. Regrettably, I appear to have succumbed to the evil booze and tabs again. I blame the expats of Ubon and Udon for this.

I am currently sitting by the Mekong River in laid-back Nong Khai watching the sunset. The Mekong is a huge river even when the volume of water is low. Across this vein of fresh water I can see sleepy Laos. The first of 3 bridges linking Thailand to Laos across the Mekong is about 6km west of me. This river is a vitally important source of food and transport in these parts. There are some pretty big catfish being dragged out of here which the locals love to feast on - they call catfish 'bla duc'. This river also forms an international border between Thailand and Laos for almost 1000km.


Thinking of home

On certain stretches of this journey (as my thoughts listlessly drift) I have been comparing Isaan and Geordieland. I have come up with the following similarities:

Geographical: Even though Isaan is slightly larger than England and Wales combined, Isaan and Geordieland are located in the North-east of their respective countries.

Culturally: Both regions maintain distinct dialects/accents within their countries.

Economically: Unfortunately both regions are the most deprived within their respective states.

Sport: Isaan boasts Thailand's best football team (Buriram) as does Geordieland (NUFC).

Eye candy: Some people consider Isaan women to be the best looking in Thailand. Geordie lasses are the undisputed goddesses of England. (Cheryl Cole?)

Gastronomic: Isaan has nuclear-powered somtam and insects whereas Geordieland has pease-pudding stotties.

This has been my winding route so far.

This is the actual Thai Premier League trophy!! I went to the stadium as I was keen to compare the TPL with the Thai southern second division. To watch Phuket or Trang will set you back 50bt. To watch Buriram will cost you a whopping 120bt. A season ticket for Buriram is 2500bt (£50). However, Buriram's stadium is a top-class all-seater. Phuket's and Trang's are not.

The 'Grand Hotel'. My first Isaan hotel near Buriram's train station.

An elephant roundabout in Buriram.

Ubon

Then onto Ubon Ratchatani via Surin and Si Saket. This large dragon statue is in the center of the main park in town.
As I was walking around the park I got talking to this Indian lad who was the only other foreigner around. We had to speak in Thai as he had no English. This freaks me out. Two foreigners speaking Thai to each other?? He's been exporting clothes to India for the last 18years. Like many Indians he had quite an abrasive manner.

Ubon airport near the bar where I found some Farangs to get drunk with for two whole days. Martin from Wakefield was a class act. I had only been talking to him for about one hour when his mental Thai girlfriend came in and poured a drink over him, threw plates at him and slapped him about somewhat. I told him to 'ditch immediately' as I have seen quite a few psychotic Thai lasses during the last three years in this country. I also came off my bike again here, I still have the scars on my left leg.

Kalasin

After three great nights in Ubon, I went to Kalasin via Yasothon and Roi Et. I actually went here in 2007 with Koy, a girl who worked in Chiang Mai, but I could barely remember anything about the place. I did remember a nightclub called HICLASS. However, this has now changed its name to DAWANDAENG. I include this information incase anyone is thinking of going to Kalasin's one and only nightspot. You'd only end up confusing the taxi drivers if you asked for HICLASS.

I took the above pic not for the jeans randomly strewn across the marker, but for mathematical purposes. It just so happens that I'm 49km from both Kalasin and Mahasarakam. I'm going to get the kids to figure out exactly where I was in some maths class next month!! They'll need maps, rulers and compasses!! I'm such a geek.

Rice as far as the eye can see in every direction.

I thought Jurassic park was Hawaii way. Well I was wrong. It's in Isaan. There's many fossils at a site in Kalasin province.
And here's the proof. I spotted these two T-Rexs chasing that little tuk-tuk. There's not much going on in Kalasin but I did meet some Ghanians. I big dark fellow named Mustafa sat near me in KFC. We got chatting and he's an English teacher in Kalasin. We ended up hanging out and he introduced me to his mates who play for Kalasin FC. They're also from Ghana. I was surprised to learn that as professional footballers they earn 15,000bt/month (£300). Is Thailand the only country in the World where teachers earn more than footballers?

Mukdahan

I only spent one night in Kalasin as there really is not that much going on there. I headed to Mukdahan. On the way I stopped for a drink and a map-check. The policeman above noticed my number plate originates from the south (as does he). He invited me into the cop-shop for a coffee and a chat. He is from Nakkon Si Tammarat, the two ladies are from Pattalung and Trang. I have just spent three years in the south so this is quite a coincidence. Four southerners randomly meeting in a tiny village 30km west of Mukdahan!

The number 12 highway goes all the way from Burma to Laos.

You can see Savanaket in Laos on the other side of the Mekong. This brought a flood of nostalgia since in May 2007 I ran out of money in Savanaket and had to live on fresh air for three days! I remember sitting in Savanaket watching the sunset over Mukdahan.

This is the Indo-China market by the Mukdahan riverfront.

This is the second bridge linking Thailand and Laos. The first is in Nong Khai. The third is in Nakon Panom.

A protective shrine near the bridge.

This pic is to show how low the water is presently. This river must be an awesome sight when it's in full flow. It has another 8m to rise. This is something like 1000km from the estuary!

Nakon Panom

I didn't linger too long in Mukdahan. It was only 100km further to Nakon Panom so I just went for it. I stayed in Nakon Panom four nights for reasons that fail me. This clock tower was built by the Vietnamese. At night, the cool kids do breakdancing here.

I simply could not believe my eyes when I saw this place. 'Lolitas' is a famous sex-industry type establishment in Pattaya and Hua Hin. To see a branch in Nakon Panom is jaw-dropping. I went in for a beer and got talking to the staff. Apparantly, they use the same price structure as their more (in)famous cousins? At 90bt for a small Leo I just had the one. There was myself and two scruffy looking Thai lads in there talking to two lasses who had seen better days!

There must be a local election happening soon. These mugshots were everywhere as were the ubiquitous pick-up trucks loaded with speakers screaming inane political nonsense all day. This often destroyed the relaxed atmosphere NP normally has.

This is the third Thai/Laos bridge just North of NP.

I'm not massively into bridges so I got talking to this lad for a while. He spoke excellent English and served great coffee.

Sometimes Thais make me chuckle. They think completely differently to Westerners. A big bus pulls up. They all get off. They all sit on the floor under a bridge to eat a picnic. Back on bus. End of. Top day out.

There's nothing wrong with a picnic but look at this location??? The other thing is: "Thou shalt not let the sun's UV rays contaminate any part of your body.......ever."

On the way back to NP, the flags of all the ASEAN countries were displayed to demonstrate ASEAN unity (just like the massively disjointed EU?). This is Myanmar's new flag. I thought this was a mistake as I remember the Burmese flag from my time there. I thought this was some African country's flag. However, after a little research, this is Myanmar's new flag??

This says 'Doo duang'. You see these signs all over Thailand advertising the services of fortune tellers. I sat with one once and it did spook me how accurate he was. However, he was also vague enough to remain inconclusive. I left scratching my head but the upshot was the guy was 100bt better off then me!

These big ugly signs mean WE ARE CHINESE, WE BUY AND SELL GOLD. I wish I'd bought some three years ago!
This sickly green/orange/pink school building is one of the most minging paint jobs I've ever seen. Was Damien Hirst or Jeremy Beadle involved? I could be on LSD and still choose better colours than those.

This lad Nat was ace. He is a school teacher I met in NP's disco. He invited me for after-disco drinks in his village 90km north of NP. Drunkenly, I agreed and he drove us there in his car. We sat in hovels as the sun came up. We continued through the whole of the next day.
Here we are still going strong at dusk the next day. It was excellent crack but I had a massive two-day hangover after this!!

Once I'd recovered I went to this restaurant Nat recommended to eat Gung Daen. It is an Isaan delicacy with live fresh water shrimp jumping around in spicy dressing. Gung Daen means Dancing Shrimp! I found this 5 star establishment only to discover they had ran out. So, after two weeks in Isaan I still haven't eating Gung Daen. Arse.

Udon

After four nights in NP I went to Udon Thani via Sakon Nakon. I stayed 3 nights in this delightful room. The better hotels were all full! Udon is hardly Las Vegas but it's popular with Farangs for reasons I didn't know.

So, I went for an exploratory walk and was pleased to see that elephants are not allowed into the bar. Phew! It's vexing when drunk elephants turn up uninvited.

Is there anywhere on Earth that doesn't have an Irish bar? Unlike O'Malley's in Phuket (my ex-local) this one doees have Irish beers available. I met some canny expats here. Shrewsbury Steve runs a sports bar where I watched The Toon destroy Liverpool. haway the lads. Ian from Crewe is into his rock music and he showed me around the bars of 'Nutty Park'. Good crack.
A massive brand-new shopping center in Udon. This place sells 60" flat screen LED TVs for £2000. Wow. I just stared at it for 5 minutes in awe. After my 10 day temple stint I found the in-ya-face materialistic consumerism hard to take. It's like a societal mass sickness. I'm glad I dropped out of it all those years ago.

The WILLPOWER INSTITUTE? I know a few of us who could do with a visit.

Next? MMmmmm. Not sure. Nong Khai for now. Chiang Kan 200km west along the river. Then I don't know. The plan is there is no plan.

Lingo

I don't think I've learnt any new lingo other than a few Isaan words. So these are Isaan/Thai/Eng:

Seb/Aroi/Lush
bi si/bi nai/where ee gaan like?

By the way, I wouldn't want to be doing this bike trip alone with no Thai language skills!!!

1 comment:

  1. I recommend going to Loei, then checking Petchabun and going mountainous in Nan province. Easily 7 weeks spend. Oh yeah, I'd advise to stay out of Walking street, while teaching in Pattaya. After the drinking romp across the country, teaching in this place would be like staying in Bangla Rd. in Phuket. For a whole year!

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