Darkest Isan (where decent thais fear to tread), Part Two
An 800 year old Khmer ruin, the most ferocious mosquitoes in Thailand, the friendliest of provincial towns, crazy coffee and drinking Lao Khao with Rickshaw Drivers till way past 10 o’clock bedtime. If this has you wetting your pants, Phimai is the place for you.
After passing through hilly Khao Yai and some of the prettiest scenery in Thailand, venturing onto the plains of southern Isan, drought, subsistence farmers, water buffalo, Morlam, Rot Tumada, Khao Niaw and all, then surviving the sprawling Lao speaking Metropolis of Korat partied out and verging on dipso, some R&R in the sleepy town of Phimai offers some more than welcome respite. A sort of Betty Ford for travellers.
The town is a surprisingly mis-touristy touristy town. Boasting the Phimai ruins (a small outlaying Cambodian Ankor temple), actually inside the town, travelling out of town to see stuff is for plebs, someone obviously thought this place would be a tourist Mecca, but who this someone is still not identified and he has most likely gone into hiding from the locals. The prima estate row of shop facing the ruin aren’t tourist shops at all and sell no souvenirs and look exactly like any Thai road, drug stores, food for monks, soft drinks at regular prices, except the shops selling coffee which have tripled their prices to 40 baht……… not only in the touristy bit of town but the whole town, and the outskirts of a town where a buffalo is more likely to wander by than a tourist and even in the country road way out of town. Why do you build and overpriced coffee shop on a road with no other buildings, in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rice fields. Do the farmhands pop in to spend their entire daily wage on a Mochachino and a blueberry muffin?
Phimai temple is nice and sedate, nice in a way sipping tea on a patio on a summer’s day is nice, if it was a boy it would be the kind of boy you would want your teenage daughter to date, it’s an unchallenging hedgerowed trimmed park, a smilingly polite visitors centre, Mormonly demure admission staff and Scandinavianly healthy tourists, it’s sooooo nice……. you just want to get an automatic rifle and run up and down between the bushes blowing away every muvva with a simperingly nice grin you see.
Maybe having been to Ankor Wat has jaded me. This small temple does pale beside it in my mind or maybe it’s just if your going to have a evocative ruin, it has to be clinging to the side of a mountain or buried deep in a jungle, somehow putting it in the local park doesn’t work. As I wondered between the walls I found myself wondering where the swings, roundabouts and the duck pond were. It’s like holding a barekuckle boxing match in a mother’s and toddler’s picnic area, location, location, location, it just doesn’t work. It was the reason why I hated Sukhothai.
The entry fee has recently gone up from 30 baht to 100 baht. With the Thai economy in a worse state than an England World Cup campaign and Newsweek Magazine saying there is more chance of Barack Obama fulfilling an election promise than it getting better in the foreseeable future, what solution does the Thai government have to solve this self inflicted economic suicide of a nation, more than triple tourist prices………………….
……….Then again, what’s the average IQ of tourists who visit Thailand? Perhaps they have a point, I tend to think if they raised the price to 300 baht there would still be a row of Gunthers and Gertrudes running around with their plastic Minoltas like they own the place and, their two anorexic impersonating unisex blond beast brats in dayglo orange t-shirts and asinine grins getting in the way of my every shot and making me think can’t we just neuter the entire population of Denmark and end the race.
If Saturday night is anything to go by, I wouldn’t give up your trip to the Full Moon Party to come here. There aren’t many nightlife options in town, depending upon really how you define the word ‘night’ that is. If you are of the school that considers night to be the time from 8pm to around 10pm then there is a plethora of exciting activities for you, including the opportunity to sit alone or among the odd tourist in the town’s tourist bar, eating fruit from the late night fruit stand or you could buy a bottle of Lao Khao (Rice Whiskey) from the 7/11 and venture round the corner and sit in the road with the night rickshaw drivers, the conversation can be surprisingly stimulating….. Incidentally from the fruitful evening I gleaned the wisdom that rickshaws in Thailand are called ‘Samlors’, (sam = 3, lor = wheels) because if you can count three wheels on your rickshaw you still haven’t drunk enough Lao Khao and shouldn’t be driving the thing. Just like their motorised counterparts pedal samlors require distilled fluid as fuel, only with pedal samlors you put the distilled fuel in the man not the machine. On the other hand if you are someone who regards nightlife something that occurs after 10pm sadly is this is somewhat of an alien concept in Phimai where the townsfolk as a rule race the cockerel to see who can wake up who first, the all night water stalls strangely dotted around town are your best option for that wild Ibiza time.