Touring Thailand

 
On The Isaan Trail

Part 2

Udon Thani

It's a city with purpose that's for sure. Traffic is intense and probably double that of its nearest neighbor-city, Khon Kaen. In the morning traveling is hectic and at night it seems to be even more chaotic. The smog and pollution really hangs in the air at evening rush-hour so make sure you've got a mask or be prepared to breath rough fumes. As far as tourists go there's not a single samsonite looking one in sight. Just the occasional jaded sugar daddy whose settled down with his woman and gets let out of the house now and again.

The bar scene here in Udon Thani is quite diverse. There is a small and sleazy bar arcade opposite the Chareonsri Shopping complex. This is usually full of the local sugar daddies who've been let loose to have a drink surrounded by the local loose women.
On the other hand there is a large open, patong-style beer-bar complex in the south-east side of the city. This places are not crammed with howling bar-girls and overt hookery though and is more sit-down-at-the-table thai-style.
It was at one of these places that a very indecent proposal to move in with me. This, for any farang who is young and on the move, is not common yet not unheard of. However what really stunned me was that the girls boyfriend was only four yards away with three of his whisky swilling buddies! But the girl was serious!

 

On The Road To Nong Khai

The following day I rode out on a short range blast to Nong Khai. Nong Khai is a key border town on the Mekong River where Laos and Thailand meet. A mighty bridge was constructed about six years ago called 'The Friendship Bridge' and ever since the town has been busier. With this as the goal I roared out of Udon Thani on the frugal scooter. The distance was not great but nor was it short either. Fifty kilometers on a small wheeled bike is never going to be a ride down to the market and back. But the tour was pretty enough and there were no danger points that threatened. Once I'd reached the friendship bridge the traffic was non-stop! It's car after car after truck here. Foot traffic just adds to the hustle and bustle. Tuk-tuks and sonthaews are in plentiful supply. My one gripe was that you can't actually see the bridge properly unless you commit to 'crossing' the border line. As it's not my time yet I gave it a pass. Exploring the town itself was quite interesting.
Semi-mythical river dragons called 'Nagas' are said to dwell in the Mekong and a statue of one is erected in the town center. A set of long and straight roads run across the town intersected by small soi's all the way.
Nong Khai Naga
I've stayed in some real shit-hole border towns in the past but as far as border towns go Nong Khai is a splendid little place to hang out and take it easy. The people are nice enough to talk to and seem to of kept with the friendly sanuk ways that Isaan is famous for.
Every year on a full moon in the eleventh lunar month (October) the locals set out to the river and launch a whole series of festivities in illuminated boats such as letting off fireworks to celebrate the end of the Buddhist Lent. It is believed that the mythical Naga emerge via these gateways to join in on the celebrations to commemorate the home-coming of Lord Buddha in his historical life. Strange balls of light, sometimes red or blue, rise out of the river and float upwards for up to several hundred feet. There is some speculation as to what actually causes it.

I headed back to Udon Thani later that day and was thinking of heading somewhere else the following day when the phone rang, it was the bike mechanics telling me the bike was ready for pick up. It had been three days since I'd left it there and I felt the roving urge to head back to Chiang Mai.

It was nearly five hundred miles to get there from Udon Thani and was going to be a good, long blast! But that, readers, is another story...

 

End of Part 2

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