Monthly Archives: March 2011

Nong Khai to Udon Thani & Ban Chiang

Darkest Isan (where decent thais fear to tread), Part Eleven

For some people a holiday means laying on white sand beaches, sipping umbrellared cocktails and ogling bronze flesh. For others it means being bounced to death in a suspension-less bus/sauna breathing three completely new varieties of pollution and sitting with your knees tucked under your chin watching the netted sacks of crickets by your feet writhe around the floor like some sort of mutant blob from planet X. However as the saying goes, in travel sometimes the journey is better than arriving, and certainly on some parts of the next leg of my journey, it was to prove true…………….

My circumnavigation of Isan continued and I was Udon and Ban Chieng bound. To get there from Nong Khai was pretty simple as I was in major highway territory now, a bus to Khon Kaen, then change to one to Udom. Khon Kaen was the one place in Isan I knew having lived there 10 years before, back then Isan’s second city was already more developed than any place I had visited on this trip, bar Korat. Arriving at Khon Kaen bus station I bought my next ticket for the onward journey for three hours later giving me time to explore my old home town.

Khon Kaen

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the Earth is demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass, similar has occurred in Khon Kaen , the city has truly become the temple to the great God Toyota and all buildings tremble and fall before its new super highway cutting sway through the city. I saw a book once called, The Cars That Ate Bangkok, Khon Kaen seems to have become dessert. To tell the truth I never really expected the small ugly city I had loathed and left to still be there and was half hoping it was gone. Instead the carbuncle has just become a 4by4buncle.

I did manage to find the single railway track and that led to my old home nestled in deep tundra and wilderness, surprisingly I found it little changed and learnt Khon Kaen is rather like Bangkok of the 90’s where the old still lives next to the new, being gradually shaken to death by the new development.

Udon Thani

Udon is Isan’s third most developed city and pretty similar to Khon Kaen 10 years ago. With a distinct Chinese flavour, huge street markets, both day and night and most of its architecture being that claustrophobic 30 year old tenement style, it has retained that choking, stifling, ugly, polluted, dirty, frantic, ill-planned, noisy, smelly, sweating, humid charm every city in Thailand once had, it’s wonderful.

There is quite a big expat scene in the city and one area is packed with foreign owned bars restaurants. The Chinese in the city also must be very prosperous as they seem to be attempting to build some of the largest and most overblown Chinese temples I’ve seen anywhere. The one by the railway is a definite must visit.

Udon Dancing Orchids

I’d heard legends of the Udon dancing orchids, yes flowers that dance, and have to confess they were even a reason for me being here, so I headed out to the Orchid farm. Not really a tourist site but a business, its on the outskirts of the city, the farm is allegedly the only place in the world to have worked out how to turn orchids into perfume and closely guards the secret of its breed, so don’t expect to be left alone on your visit. They speak no English there and when you come presume you have come to buy perfume and look at the rows of regular orchids growing, so it may be a good idea to plan how you’re going to convey to them it’s the dancing orchids you’ve come to visit. The employees are really friendly and throw in an excellent guided tour of the place explaining about the project and don’t pressure you to buy anything at the end, the perfume starts at about B300 a bottle.

Udom Dancing Orchids Video watch Here

Ban Chiang

Next day I headed to Ban Chiang, Thailand’s most famous archaeological site, occupied at least 5,000 years ago. Songtheaws apparently run to the site from the main road. Where on the main road this is is a guessing game as the dozens of Songtheaws on different routes that pass seem to stop at different places. I read the sign on the front of every one for an hour but none on the Ban Chiang route came along so I got decrepit local bus from the bus station along with several sacks of crickets that were also heading that way and was dropped off at a nearby Tuk Tuk stand that took me the last few kilometres. Great fun. So it’s not exactly on the backpackers trail yet, I guess most tourists go on organised tours or by taxi, though saying that I was the only tourist there.

A prehistoric archaeological site is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but then again I’m not everyone, having studied prehistoric field archaeology, been on many digs and visited many sites and museums worldwide I’m their ideal punter. Or perhaps their worst nightmare as I have some experience of judging how good an attraction like this is.

It’s a world heritage site, but this lofty status doesn’t always reflect how grandiose or visually stunning a site is, just how significant is, and that can be quite underwhelming to the average punter. The rather modest pottery finds have been put in a shining new museum to give them P’zazz and the centrepiece of the exhibition is, well dirt. I understand making an archaeology exhibit interesting is difficult but places like Hindaeng and the Plain of Jars across the border in Lao are naturally awe inspiring, trying to generate interesting where it doesn’t exist just doesn’t work.

The fee to get in is B150 for foreigners and B30 for Thais, someone obviously having the grandiose idea, we’ve got a hole in the ground and some lumps of broken pottery, I know lets tart it up and charge tourists B150 to go in and laugh all the way to the Cayman Islands bank account. If this site was in the UK most likely it would never be turned into an exhibition and if it was it would be free. However to be fair Thailand doesn’t have archaeological sites of the quality of the UK, or even neighbouring SE Asian countries, so this is the best you can get and if it were B30 I would say give it a go, but it’s five times more expensive, so I have five times the expectations when visiting there and I must be five times as harsh in my review.

Funnily enough after I left the museum after half and hour having planned half a day, it was the unscheduled walk around the surrounding villages that proved to be the highlight of the trip. Wandering between the paddies to some of the most beautifully preserved traditional villages I have seen.

Songkran 2011 is More than Just Water Fights

Songkran Water Fights at Ancient Siam in Samut Prakan

It is nearly time for the most popular Thai Festival, Songkran 2011, which takes place all over Thailand in mid April every year. This is the traditional Thai new year which is the most enjoyable of all festivals both for Thai people and foreign tourists. Songkran is widely known as the water festival as people have lots of fun splashing water over each other during the three day festival. However, Songkran is more than just waterfights. I took the following pictures in Samut Prakan Province of some more Songkran activities. Other provinces in Thailand will also have their own festivities similar to this for Songkran.

Merit Making during Songkran

Early on the morning of 13th April, I will be joining hundreds of local people in Samut Prakan to give alms to monks. Thai people do this to make merit which is a good way to start the new year [More Pictures].

Songkran Parades

Many cities around Thailand will have Songkran Parades to mark the start of the festival. I took the picture of this colourful float in a parade at Phra Pradaeng in Samut Prakan [More Pictures].

Miss Songkran Beauty Contest

During Songkran there are also beauty contests to find the most beautiful Thai woman and also the most handsome Thai man. The winners will take part in the parade.

Rod Nam Dam Hua - Pouring Water on Elders

During Songkran, it is traditional for Thai people to return to their ancestral homes and to pour water on the hands of their elders. They will also do this to anyone older than themselves that have been important in their lives like a teacher or other relative.

Song Nam Phra - Pouring Water on Monks

At the temples they also organize ceremonies where you can go and pour rose scented water onto Buddha images and onto the hands of monks. This monk is having some fun pouring cold water onto the backs of some novice monks [More Pictures].

Chedi Sai - Building Sand Pagodas

Another traditional activity for Songkran is making sand pagodas. This is a competition joined by local families to make the most beautiful pagoda made of sand. The original idea was for people to bring sand back to the temple which they may have inadvertently carried away on the sole of their shoes [More Pictures].

Releasing Fish and Birds

Another way of making merit during the Songkran Festival is by releasing fish and birds back into the wild. I took this picture at Wat Prodket in Phra Pradaeng which is probably the most beautiful place to see this [More Pictures].

Water Fights at Songkran

So, as you can see, there is plenty to see and do during Songkran Festival 2011. Although I took all of these pictures in my home province of Samut Prakan, similar events will be taking place all over Thailand. You can follow me on Twitter @RichardBarrow if you want to learn more. I will also be posting live pictures and photo albums on my Facebook page Richard.Thailand. Feel free to add me as a friend.

Where and When to Celebrate Songkran 2011

In less than two weeks we will be celebrating the biggest Thai Festival called Songkran 2011. This takes place all over Thailand in mid-April. The date used to vary but it is now fixed and takes place on 13-15 April every year. Although these are the dates for the public holiday in Thailand, Sonkgran itself will be celebrated over a wider period in different places around Thailand. If you feel up to it, you can play water fights for up to 12 days at various locations. However, in one location, water fights don’t usually go on for more than three days. But, having said that, this year the public holiday is Wednesday to Friday and it is possible some kids will want to continue the water fights over the weekend as well.

You can celebrate Songkran anywhere in Thailand. You don’t have to visit one of the following major events to enjoy the experience of Songkran. I don’t usually travel far during Songkran as I prefer celebrating it locally. Tomorrow I will give you a preview of some of the activities that take place in my home province of Samut Prakan during Songkran each year.


9-17 April 2011: Bangkok Songkran Splendours Festival. This year’s Bangkok Songkran Thai New Year celebrations features a combination of colourful festivities and activities being hosted by the various communities of Khao San Road, the districts of Banglumphu-Wisutkasat and Phra Artit Road under the theme, “Love Songkran in Your Home Town” [MORE].

13 April 2011: Ayutthaya Songkran Festival. Songkran celebrations will be held at various sites around the island city of Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya; the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. Songkran festivities will feature ancient customs and traditions of Songkran that have been observed through the centuries [MORE].

12-14 April 2011: Suphanburi Songkran Festival. The main event is a Songkran procession of the golden Luang Phor Toh Buddha image and also a Miss Songkran Beauty Contest [MORE].

22-24 April 2011: Mon Songkran Festival at Phra Phradaeng. Phra Pradaeng in Samut Prakan Province is one of the few places in Thailand that celebrates the Songkran Festival in the Thai-Mon style, featuring a magnificent parade. Visitors can learn how to play saba, enjoy a Mon folk play, plus many other forms of entertainment, and see a procession of swan and centipede flags [MORE].


13-18 April 2011: Koh Si Chang Songkran Festival. Witness a rarely seen traditional courtship tradition on the island of Koh Kaam Yai, approximately 1 km from the island of Koh Si Chang. The men of the village invite eligible young ladies to join them for water-splashing in the sea. If consent is granted, the man carries the young lady down the beach to the sea and then carries her back to shore again, after which the couples take part in the traditional ram wong circle dance [MORE].

16-17 April 2011: Wan Lai Sand Pagoda Building Festival. With no shortage of sand to build sand-stupas, the stupa building contest on Bangsaen Beach is a predominant element of the Songkran festivities in Chon Buri. [MORE].

18-19 April 2011: Pattaya Na Kleua Songkran Festival. A procession of the Buddha image along the Pattaya beachfront road offering local residents and visitors an opportunity to participate in the ritual bathing of a revered Buddha image [MORE].

19-21 April 2011: Sri Maharaja Songkran Festival in Chonburi Province. The observance of the ‘kong khao’ religious ritual and other customs related to the celebration of the Thai New Year [MORE].

22-23 April 2011: Songkran on Koh Chang. The islanders celebrate Songkran a week later than the rest of the country with alms giving, parades and water splashing [MORE].


7-19 April 2011: Sukhothai Songkran Festival. At Wat Traphang Thong temple in front of the Sukhothai Historical Park, Sukhothai [MORE].

7-19 April 2011: Si Satchanalai Songkran Festival. Journey back in time as local residents of the historic town of Sukhothai turn back the clock and revisit their glorious past as they celebrate the Songkran Thai New Year the traditional Thai way. Most will be dressed in traditional Thai costumes [MORE].

12-15 April 2011: Chiang Mai Songkran Festival. One of the best places to experience Songkran is in Chiang Mai, where it is celebrated on a grand scale with a flavour uniquely and entirely its own, attracting visitors from far and wide [MORE].


12-15 April 2011: Nong Khai I-San Songkran Festival. With the neighbouring country of Lao PDR on the opposite bank of the Mekong River, Songkran celebrations in the northeastern province of Nong Khai is a combined Thai-Lao Songkran festival, with rituals, cultural performances, folk games and cuisine, reflecting a shared heritage [MORE].

8-15 April 2011: Dok Khun Siang Khaen Festival. As part of the traditional Songkran Thai New Year merit-making ceremonies in Khon Kaen province, the locals perform bathing rituals to pay homage to revered Buddha images and shrines, present merit-making offerings to monks and pay respect to elders by making ritual offerings [MORE].

12-15 April 2011: Nakhon Phanom Lao Songkran Festival. Buddhist bathing rituals are performed in accordance with ancient customs and traditions. Scented lustral water is sprinkled over sacred sites such as the 2,000-year old Phra That Phanom stupa — the most sacred and ancient monument of the Northeast and the landmark of Nakhon Phanom, holy footprints of Lord Buddha, temples, Buddha images as well as monks [MORE].


9-15 April 2011: Hat Yai Midnight Songkran Festival. Miss Songkran pageant and Miss Songkran procession and the Midnight Songkran celebrations in Hat Yai [MORE].

10-13 April 2011: The Water Festival on the Beach in Phuket. Visitors to Phuket are invited to join local residents in Thai New Year merit-making activities and experience up close and personal the colourful local culture highlighting traditional Thai ways as well as contemporary pop culture. [MORE]

11-15 April 2011: Songkran Festival in Nakhon Si Thammarat. For hundreds of years, it has been the tradition to pour lustral water onto Phra Buddha Singh image during the fifth month of the Thai calendar. The present day Songkran Festival has evolved from this practice. A procession escorting the Phra Buddha Sihing Buddha image from the Provincial Hall to Tung Tha Lat where it is bathed with lustral waters [MORE].



Win a Guidebook for Elephant Holidays in Thailand

I am in the Northeast of Thailand for the launch of two new guidebooks. I already told you about the one called “The Mekong: Journeys along the River of Life”. Today I’m on my way to Surin Province for the launch of the second guidebook called “Elephant Holidays in Thailand”. Again I have several copies to giveaway in a competition and like last time you can choose either a Thai or English version. This book prepares you for a unique experience in Thailand with the elephants, the most important symbol of the Kingdom. This experience not only includes learning about elephants, but also touching, feeling, feeding, walking trunk-in-hand and even riding these magnificent creatures.

“Elephant Holidays in Thailand” introduces 17 elephant camps based on four different themes: The Legend of the Elephants, Live and Learn the Elephants’ Way of Life, A Unique Bond, and Amazing Elephant Shows. Each theme let’s you enjoy first-hand experiences with the elephants of Thailand and explore the beauty of the country from their perspective, discovering their charm, intelligence, and friendliness. This guidebook should prove to be useful to anyone who has an interest in elephants. By using this guidebook you will be able to get an elephant’s view of Thailand.

To win a copy of “Elephant Holidays in Thailand” all you have to do is post a comment below. Make sure that you let me know whether you want the Thai or English version. The competition ends on Wednesday 30th March 2011. You have another chance to win the guidebook on my Facebook page ( and on the Paknam Web Forums ( Feel free to add me as a friend on Facebook. Today I will be going to Surin which is one of the main centres for elephants in Thailand. You can follow me live on this trip as I will be posting pictures during the day on twitter @RichardBarrow.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Win a Guidebook for the Mekong River

This weekend I am in Isaan for the launch of two new guidebooks. This first one is called “The Mekong: Journeys along the River of Life”. I have several copies of this new guidebook (in English and Thai) which I will be giving away to a lucky reader of this blog. The guidebook should prove an inspiration for travellers who want to take a memorable journey along the course of the mighty Mekong. Running through Thailand in the provinces of Chiang Rai, Loei, Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan, and Ubon Ratchathani, the Mekong River creates life, culture, and friendship along it’s course from the instant it enters Thailand to the moment it departs to Laos.

The guidebook covers six major routes: The River of the Three Cultures (Chiang Rai), A Bond Between Two Cities (Nan Province), Pact of the River (Loei Province), Small Houses by the River (Loei and Nong Khai Provinces), Gateway to the Neighbour (Nong Khai and Nakhon Phanom Provinces), and Mystical Mix of Culture and Natural Phenomenon (Mukdahan Province and Ubon Ratchathani Provinces). The guidebook provides useful information and helpful tips for readers to plan an unforgettable journey. There are also listings for accommodation, dining and shopping.

To win a copy, all you have to do is post a comment below. Make sure you let me know whether you want an English or Thai version. The competition ends on Tuesday 29th March 2011. You have another chance to win the guidebook on my Facebook page ( and on the Paknam Web Forums ( Today I will be travelling along the Mekong River. I will be posting pictures live on Twitter which you can follow me on @RichardBarrow.