On the Issan Trail...

Discussion in 'North-East Thailand Road Trip Reports' started by Blue Max, Jan 10, 2009.

  1. Blue Max

    Blue Max Ol'Timer

    Bangkok (Krung Thep)

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    The planes just landed and I make it out of the shambolic and lackluster Suvarnabhumi Airport without any of the reported rogue customs entanglements or trickery. My cash is good to go from the ATM and I'm just leaving when I see two smartly dressed farangs hanging around outside. They aren't tourists as they have no baggage and look to be either missionary types or ajarn ankrit(english teachers). Thinking it's time for some advice on where the departure level taxis hang out to get around the dreaded taxi mafia (who lurk at arrivals) I ask them if they know. It's no good though as they either play they don't know what I'm saying or enjoy winding up expats. I'm tired and jet-lagged so set out to find it myself.
    I find it after five minutes scouting, it's on the upper floor (2 escalator flights above the arrivals level). Give me Don Muang any day of the week though!
    A twenty minute taxi ride to where the ever-benevolent 'Patrician' has been storing my bike. The key fits and a quick check of the tyres, fluids sees all is well. One bump start later and she's good to go.
    Lets hit the road! It's good to be back in the land of smiles!

    On The Road

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    It's just gone 0800 hrs and I cut from Highway 7 west to Highway 9 north. I might be the Watch-Rider but I'm not on full-on photographic mode for this one (sorry readers). I've got a tight schedule to keep and I'm nowhere near my home base, also I've heavily loaded the bike which makes start-stop photographing longer and more dangerous.
    The roads are quiet and the traffic's light so the goings good, I make good time and reach the intersection with Highway 1. A quick blast north-east and its onto Highway 2 no problems. Fuel prices are up from when I was last in-country, but what you have to spend more on you just cut back on something else, so it's all even and square in the big picture.

    Highway 2 is the primary highway for all of Isaan and passes through some of the biggest cities in the north-east. For over three hundred miles until I reach the border town of Nong Khai it's where I'll be riding,
    it's time to take a ride on the 'Isaan Trail.'

    On The Isaan Trail

    Ubon Ratchasima ( Korat)
    'The trailblazing in Isaan is in full swing by the time I've reached the first city on the chart. But its rammed with morning traffic, Thailand's oppressive heat is, as usual, bearing down relentlessly and the familiar stench of diesel fumes mixed in with all the other traffic filth is souring my usual fanatical enthusiasm for the road. My visor was down and I was wearing a filter but still some always creeped through. The weather can only get hotter but it's no sweat as long as this bike of mine doesn't give in on me...'
    WR's 11th October 2007 - Korat, Thailand

    So there I was, fifty miles north-east of my starting point in Bangkok cruising through Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) wondering what the blazes to expect from the fabled lands of Isaan. Although not quite on the border of 'Isaan' Korat is somewhat higher above the sea-level than the surrounding

    Well I'd heard all about Isaan (which makes up north-eastern Thailand) the place years earlier as every expat has from the usual sources, the bars, the gossip, the local media and so on.
    'It's a poor place but full of beautiful women!' Exclaimed one love-struck and enthusiastic writer for Farang Magazine.
    'Don't go there, the people are very (expletive removed) bad and will try and cheat you!' Some farangs and interestingly some thais also exclaimed.
    One thing was for certain, north-eastern and eastern Thailand do have some of the poorest quality land in Thailand, no port for commerce and shipping (Chonburi province excluded) and a majority of the women working in the 'ahem' entertainment industry usually hail from these regions.
    I was visiting in October, still low-season for the tourists in Thailand although that won't count for much in Isaan as it's not a tourist destination that can even compete with the likes of Hua Hin, but still I'm expecting it to be quiet.
    I roll into Korat, expecting it to be different somehow from a typical provincial city, but I don't feel anything very 'thai' about it other than it's busy, the locals are typical city thais; all on the move and a non-stop pace. It's quite a big city, and situated close-by to the capital so for some it's a handy place to live.
    I'm the kind of person that when I get the feeling or 'vibe' a place isn't for me I just move on damn quick and find the next place to explore. Korat doesn't have that feeling so it's back on the bike and off to the next city. To be fair Korat isn't technically even in 'Isaan' so I don't lose sleep over leaving the place behind in a hurry.

    Back On The Road...

    Next place on the chart is Khon Kaen, it's nearly 200 kilometers northwards from Korat and I know I'll have to put in for the night there. Jet lag is a funny thing for me, I don't get it until I stop doing what I'm doing. As long as I keep on the move I'm usually alright.

    I don't travel with a guide to a place when I get there, it spoils the fun of the adventure. I speak (but can't read) a good amount of thai to be able to find my way about Thailand so on I rode wondering what to expect.

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    The countryside of Thailand really has to experienced from a bikers point of view. I know car touring is all good but being in the open is better. It's fresh and friendly for the most part and Isaan is no exception. By the time I was half-way to Khon Kaen rice paddy after rice paddy, farm after farm became the typical sight. I began to realize that although the country folks are not the richest in the land it must be a rare time when they ever go hungry. The other thing I like about being out in the countryside is the people are so much friendlier. You might be the high and mighty farang to them and riding a big bike they can never afford, but they'll not resent you for it and give a nice friendly smile and wave! Humbling stuff I can tell you.

    Khon Kaen

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    I've stopped three times on the way for food and drink but still I'm totally ravenous and ready to hit the sack. I pass through the city center on the main road to the north side of khon Kaen city. I have a better feeling about this place than of Korat, the feel and pace is slower than Korat, more relaxed even.

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    By the time the main road passes the main bus station I start asking around for a cheap hotel. I'm in luck, they point me in the direction of The Roma Hotel just up the road from it. Outside the hotel I ask a grizzled old farang expat what the place is like.
    'Not bad' He chirps in a quirky US accent. 'It's about 250 baht a night and pretty clean!'
    Sounds good to me so I book in for a few nights...
    First night in Khon Kaen passes without much incident. I find a few bars and a discotheque full of thais to kick back and relax in. I get a lift back to my hotel with this thai girl who has ideas above herself along with big dreams of marrying a farang. I make an move and test the waters on her outside but she doesn't want to stay at the hotel with me. Her brother will get angry (or so she says). It's no problem for me babe see you whenever. So off she rides home, she takes my number before she leaves though.
    Following morning I wake up, the jet lag might be gone but I've slept in and half the days been wasted. I grab lunch and decide to make a day of it writing my report and photographing what I can. I've just got back in at one in the afternoon and finalizing my report when there is a knock at my door. It's the thai girl from last night.
    With the daylight on her and without the nights illusionary effects she's looks like a regular plain jane. I'm don't hold this against her but something I've learned about thai women especially is that they are very fickle and money minded, which is ok as TIT/TIA.
    A really good test I have is to make out you're not a rich guy. If the girl still likes you for who you are, not what money you have you've got a great girl, otherwise they are just after fleecing you.
    This chick is a fleecer, I can tell, she makes it obvious by the way she's looking around the room and my radar is telling me to keep well away. But she doesn't flaunt herself but moodily suggests that we go out for something to eat. I've already eaten so I tell her. Still she wants to go out, adding that she's hungry. I compromise saying I can order some food up from reception. Still she sulks about. Jeez! I'm glad I never slept with this girl! I give her the silent treatment and just pretend to carry on with my report.
    She gets the message and leaves, saying she's just going to the shop. It's bullshit but it's a face-saving way of her not loosing face and trying to take mine a bit by suprise when I wonder where she is after 2 hours. 2 hours passes and she doesn't come back, I'm not suprised.
    Glad that she's gone for good I hit the nightspots on the thai side of the tracks this time. These are places where no tourist ever goes unless they blunder across them. I know it sounds funny me saying this when I've only been in Khon Kaen for a night and a day but after spending 7 years in Thailand you 'know the score.'
    In provincial thai cities you have to know the signs and what to look for if you wanna hang with the thais. You can't just wander in like a tourist either with no command of the lingo and expect to be looked after like a lord either. That's just a plain easy way to get ripped off and fleeced. Seen it happen too many times.
    I hit a few of the thai karaoke bars and speakeasy fish-tank bars. Meet some decent enough folk and go home feeling a whole lot better than I did the previous night. :D

    I've not done much exploring south of the northern part of Khon Kaen, But I've managed to get out and about, the night spots are few and far between. Some of the hotels have a half-decent disco but that's about it if you're a tourist looking for the nightlife. In the center of the city there are a few expat bars but I never had time to go an see them.
    The TAT guide I perused through lists the sights and landmarks that are in and around Khon Kaen so for the expat with free time on his hands or the roaming traveler they might be worth a look. When I trail blaze again through Khon Kaen I might give them a whirl but right now Udon Thani beckons so farewell Khon Kaen! See you next time!.

    For the full story follow on to:

    http://www.ontheroadthailand.com/RT_Isaan_Trail.htm
     
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  3. Marco

    Marco Ol'Timer

    Hi

    Nice story and pictures, parently for some news paper?
    but no picture of your trasportation unit at all....

    you might wanna correct that small error in the begining..

    Ubon Ratchasima(Korat),, maybe Nakhon Ratchasima would be more closer,, i mean i live in Ubon and we have nothing to do with Korat... or Korat with Ubon wink: Sorry Korat lads

    Question? where you get your facts, as you saying thaat Isaan has Quote"Poorest quality of land in Thailand"?
    Isaan is one of the largest rice producer area in thailand, so it cant be so poor quality,,,

    Looking forward your next story...... :wink:
     
  4. Blue Max

    Blue Max Ol'Timer

    Whoops, somebodies cage has been rattled!

    A few typos here and there are nothing. Get a grip before you play GT Rider Cop.

    Land Quality:

    It's not MY opinion about the land quality of Isaan, its other peoples.
    Here are some more :
    Compared to other parts of Thailand their land quality is often considered to be good for rice but not other cash crops.
    Some expats who live in Thailand don't always have the Isaan way rammed down their throat :)

    Biker Pics:

    Nope my bike ain't on the pictures so the biker snob attitude isn't really called for.
    The trip is about whats around the traveller and what I experience and I didn't feel there was any point for biker pics on this one.
    If you want them just search around on the bikes section on OTRT, there's plenty their.

    Don't worry marco I'll pm my next trip to you so you get it before everyone else ;)
     
  5. Marco

    Marco Ol'Timer

  6. Blue Max

    Blue Max Ol'Timer

  7. ray23

    ray23 Ol'Timer

    Next time let us know when your coming this way and we will show you the real Issan. Certainly isn't in the cities as you probaly saw. Speaking a bit of Thai really helps. Most of the really good stuff you won't find on a map.

    Good Article thanks
     
  8. Blue Max

    Blue Max Ol'Timer

    Ray,

    You're bang to rights mate on most of what you say, this foray was more of a recon trip and rove than an actual expedition per sa.
    I know that the three cities I passed through are but a taste of what the real Isaan has to offer.
    The next field exped. trip to Isaan is gonna be sometime either late 2009 or early 2010.
    On that one I'll definately be spending more time visiting more cities and smaller towns.
    As I'm not locked-in tight with an Isaan family like a lot of you folks are I'll never be 'on the inside looking out' so to speak but it'll be a mission nonetheless.

    I actually now speak very good thai, I don't know where you get the impression I only speak a little?
    Maybe I give a low-thai impression of language???
    Speaking the Isaan dialect... Now that would be truely cracking the 'enigma' code :D
    Cheers 8)

    Here's a pic of me on the bike too:

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  9. ray23

    ray23 Ol'Timer

    A little or lot doesn't matter you will have fun.
     
  10. Marco

    Marco Ol'Timer

    Hi BM

    You finally made it,, good on you matey,,nice self shot..

    one you are back in here,,drop by,let's have cold one... :wink:
     

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