It was our second annual four day tour of remoter parts of Northern Thailand.
My travel partner was Dennis – my oldest friend from Reuters days and best man at Tai and my wedding. We get on well; we bicker; we take pot-shots at eachother; if someone made a movie of our trip it would look like four days of verbal jousting.
But we both enjoy driving around the remoter parts of Thailand well away from the typical tourist trail.
Last year’s trip was a circular route from Chiang Mai to Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son, Pai and back to Chiang Mai.
This year was a little more ambitious. We flew into Phitsanulok; drove to Khampaeng Phet and on for the first night in Sukhothai; a long drive to Loei; onwards to Chiang Khan and finally to Khon Kaen. Two flights and about 1,000kms of driving in four days.
The old city of Sukhothai is a UNESCO site – popular with foreign and local tourists. Some twenty ruined temples lie is well-maintained lawns and lakes. The grounds are easy to bike around. Staying in the old city adds to the charm but finding a decent dinner proved to be a challenge.
A bike trip around the grounds of Sukhothai at dusk and into the early evening is recommended as some of the temples are floodlit.
Khamphaeng Phet’s temples are in less formal grounds over a larger area. But again the UNESCO designation ensures that the are is well maintained.
Our drive to Loei included a lunch stop at Dan Sai (well off the travel route of most foreigners). We also had an unscheduled 45 minute stop when all traffic was halted at the side of the road so that a convoy of some twenty cars could take the Crown Prince’s long divorced first wife and her entourage along the road. They following day the same group arrived in Chiang Khan; were they following us.
Loei is another small town that gets few foreign visitors. But it is a pleasant enough little town other than the barking dogs. We hiked over 800 steps/stairs up the nearby mountain/hill for fine views back to the town.
Chiang Khan is a village transformed by local tourism. It has one road in from Loei and one main road that runs parallel to the Mekong. This road has 7-11. Tesco-Lotus, gas station, and banks. The small parallel street by the river is where old wooden homes have been converted into guest houses, coffee-shops, and small stores that come alive for the night market. There is a boardwalk along the riverfront. But there is little evidence of any remaining river traffic or river based industry and that is a shame.
Outside of the night market activity it is a very quiet village. But it is hugely popular with Thai tourists; it was busy on a weekday – it must be packed at weekends. And with a number of flights coming into Loei (about 50kms south) it is a popular spot for well-to-do Bangkokers!
Khon Kaen felt like a return to civilization. Like much of the North East there is a lot of new money coming into the area and it is evident from the new hotels, condo-blocks, shopping malls and entertainment areas that are being built.
The flights into and from Phitsanulok and Khon Kaen were both full. Domestic tourism is doing very well.
Another fun trip. There is a full album of pictures here.