When I set out to explore Isan I looked for a guide book, but found none. The few mainstream ones had a remarkably short section on the place, missing out half the provinces and barely covering the others. It was as if they were acknowledging that it wasn’t a place for tourists. After a month here I’m convinced of that too, it’s a place for people that want to visit Thailand.
Part 1 – Templed out in Khorat (Nakhon Ratchasima)
Part 2 – Khorat to Phimai
Part 3 – Buriram to Nang Rong and Phanom Rung
Part 4 – Around Phanom Rung
Part 5 – Kalasin to Roi Et
Part 6 – Mukdahan
Part 7 – The Ban Song Khan Catholic Massacre Monument
Part 8 – Nakhon Phanom (City of Mountains)
Part 9 – Ho Chi Mihn’s House in Thailand
Part 10 – Buddha Park and Nong Khai
Part 11 – Nong Khai to Udon Thani & Ban Chiang
Part 12 – Chaiyaphum in my Tardis
I called my travels Darkest Isan, where decent Thai’s fear to tread, rather jokingly for the Thai stereotype of this Lao speaking region is as a rundown backwater populated by peasants completely unThai. In reality the traditional Thailand these stereotypers are talking about no-longer exists and hasn’t for a decade. After a month in Lao the previous year, my favourite place on earth, where I travelled to the unspoilt east, I embarked on my trip the Isan half hoping the stereotype was true and I would recapture the Lao experience. What I discovered should have disappointed but didn’t, Isan is like in the stereotype not unThai backwater but rather the lost old Thailand instead. Isan has become not so much what Thailand used to be, but what it could have become if it had gone another direction. What would Chiang Mai or Phuket could be like had not one tourist set foot there, and not an undeveloped backwater, but a place that has retained its identity and is designed for locals.
Never having really taken to the north and south of Thailand, I’ve always been an east, centre and west sort of person. What my Isan trip did was make me an Isan or Nakhon Nowhere as many ex-pats like to call it, sort of person. In fact in April 2011 I moved here. I’m not sure whether anyone has used the term before but from now on when I talk of the people and place it’s, we Isanites.
Posted in Buriram, Chaiyaphum, Isaan, Kalasin, Khon Kaen, Mukdahan, Nakhon Phanom, Nakhon Ratchasima, North East, Roi Et, Travel Blogs, Udon Thani
In July 2010 I went with my friends Aod and Chai to visit Aod’s family in Roi Et province. On the 10 and 11 July they celebrated the Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival in the village of Ban Kang Pla (Nong Phai) which is on the road no 2043 a few km outside of Roi Et.
On the first day they held a parade through the village with beautifully decorated floats, marching bands, and dancing groups. The parade started and ended at the village temple (Wat Charoenphol Ban Kang Pla). In the temple grounds a bouncy castle and a few trampolines were set up for the children to enjoy. All over the village were stalls with food and drinks and guys on motorbikes were selling ice cream from their side-car. Vendors would sell balloons and other souvenirs. From some little stall you could buy small rockets. We bought a couple for ourselves and in the evening we fired them into the sky in our village. These rockets don’t go “boom” nor do they burst into colourful displays. Their only purpose is to rise as high as possible into the sky to appease some goddess and ensure a good rainfall.
The parade was opened by some official in the temple were they had some reserved seating for guests of honour. Hundreds of people lined the village roads and all had a jolly good time (and some too much to drink). Quite a few people were walking around with their umbrella opened, not because they were expecting a sudden downpour, but to protect themselves from the burning sun, which was rather strong on this day. Apart from myself there were only one or two more farang at the parade. This didn’t bother me at all. I don’t mind the odd foreigner.
Occasionally the parade would come to a halt. Usually the reason was that one of the big floats got itself entangled in the power cables, which were hanging fairly low across the streets throughout the village. When this happened men with long bamboo sticks would lift up the cables to allow the float to pass underneath. Sometimes they had to climb on top of the float and fold the decorations down so that the float could pass – a bit like the mast of a sailing vessel that is passing under a low bridge.
On the second day the big rockets were sent skywards. For this purpose a rocket launcher had been erected in a meadow opposite the village on the other side of the road No 2043. This contraption looked probably not dissimilar from what the Americans used for the early Apollo missions. As is customary in space exploration each rocket launch began with a countdown. Since there were not too many clouds in the sky it was easy to follow the path of each rocket with the naked eye. Some monks were also in attendance – I assume to give a blessing for each rocket.
Again there were a few stalls with food and drink, and also some souvenirs. People would just walk about, stand to watch the launch of a rocket or sit down in the grass to have a family picnic. On the opposite end of the meadow from the launch pad was a big stage with live music. Anybody who felt like they needed to shake the hokey cokey out of their legs was to be found here.