Archive | November, 2011

19th November – Surin

20 Nov

In the morning we set off to buy tickets for the Elephant Round Up show. This is held only once a year and has been held every year without a break since 1960. We got there shortly after 8.00am to find that it was all sold out for the day. At this point we had met up with Aree and her son, Chris and Mary, who had come down from Mukdahan for the show. We decided to book for Sunday show and go down to Phanom Rung Historical Park to see the temples built from volcanic rock on the site of an old volcano.






The rock used for the main structure is like giant blocks of Aero chocolate. Even the roofs are made from solid stone.





A few kilometers down the road is another temple called Prasat Hin Mueang Tam. This one was different in so much that the original roof was supported on a timber structure rather than being solid stone.





You can see that the windows in the structure above have windows with turned stone pillars to provide a person proof barrier, but still providing ventilation. One of the windows had been filled. Maybe there was a window tax like in the UK?





In the evening we decided to stay in a cabin in the same little resort as the others. Normally the aircon rooms with en-suite are 400 baht, but as the show was on it was up to 650 baht. Still good value.





Elephant show tomorrow!

18th November – Surin

20 Nov

We had not expected to see little Austin in the morning as we had said our goodbyes to the family the night before. Unfortunately Austin had other ideas and made his way over to the temple at around 6.30 in the morning closely followed by his mum. He climbed in the camper and pointed to some porridge. We took the hint and served him a portion.



As we started packing up we realised that he thought he was coming with us in the ‘boomboom’ as he called Troopy. We thought this might end in tears ……. and it did!


A little way further down the road we had a chance to stop at one of the many charcoal burners that we had seen.



In this area most people cook with charcoal and make it themselves. Some people don’t re-use the charcoal burner, they simply pile a dome of clay over the wood and rice grass, and then when the burn has finished, they break open the clay case to remove the charcoal. Maybe another project for Graham when he gets home!

When we arrived in Surin we found another temple which was only a short walk from the elephant stadium. We parked the camper in a shady spot and found that there were toilets and showers just a few meters away.

There was supposed to be an elephant buffet somewhere in the town, and although we were not sure where it was, we soon saw signs that we were going in the right direction.




We were almost too late, and only saw the elephants eating the last scraps of food.



The night at the temple was not quite as quiet as we expected as we were camped right between two live bands …. It was also still 30 degrees C at 10.00 pm …… Finally drifted off to sleep wearing only ear plugs!


17th November – Tamnop

17 Nov

We had said that we would go to the farm and have a go at cutting rice today, so headed off on the scooters to the field. It was already hot at 8.45 am when we finally got started.




It was really hot and we only managed about 1.5 hours before we gave up, already feeling our backs! Nangs mother and father go a straight 8 hours, seven days a week, without complaining and they are over 60 years old. I think you need to build up to that sort of work in this climate …. that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

The average wage at the moment for a days rice cutting is 200 baht. Some Thais close to the border employ Laos workers as they cost a bit less.

When we got back to the Troopy at the temple we had a visit from a class of ten year olds. Marjool explained the trip in her best sign language!




We had arranged with Nang to have something to eat at a really small restaurant nearby the village. We arrived Thai style!




We had a nice chicken fried rice with Nang and Austin ….. it is so great to spend time with them.




Earlier in the day we had talked about locals eating rats from the rice fields. They feed mainly on rice and are not like our sewer dwelling rats that eat all sorts. I had asked if they were nice. Nang said that there are not so many now, but if they caught one, would I like to try. It seemed pretty unlikely and I thought little of it when I said I would love to try, but maybe not a whole one!

Imagine our surprise when Nang’s brother told us what the dog had caught at the rice field today!!




My already shaky appetite reduced still further when I smelt a funny smell coming from the BBQ. It was the process of removing the fur!



Once the hair burns it can be rubbed off by hand leaving a clean skin. A few chops with a sharp cleaver and its ready to cook.



The meat was dipped in soya sauce before cooking and some large chunks of garlic were added for flavour. It actually tasted nice! It was nice and crispy, and both Marjool and I ate some. Funny, it really does taste just like chicken!!

After the unusual snack, which I’m sure they only cooked because I had asked what it tastes like, we took a family photograph. They are really lovely hospitable people and Nang’s father asked us to come back again one day when he was less busy, then he would take me fishing.





We said our goodbyes and headed back to the temple ready for an early start to Surin tomorrow for the start of the elephant festival.

16th September – Tamnop

17 Nov

In the morning we decided to move Troopy somewhere a bit more breezy. We did not want to offend the family but the way the camper is designed it relies on a bit of through draft to change the air and cool it down.

Before we left we watched Nang flip the rice so that she could remove any black bits.





The local temple ( opposite the school ) was the ideal spot. We had looked at them before and thought that they would make good overnight stops as they are large open areas with lots of trees and friendly looking people!





We spent the day looking after Austin so that Nang could do some work. We played football and pushed cars and trains around in the shade of the trees around the temple. Great fun!






The school that Austin goes to is just next to the temple. We were there just in time for the school home run.



Later in the afternoon we borrowed Nang’s scooter and explored the local area. It is lovely around here.



15th November – Tamnop

17 Nov

As planned we got up early and had a quick breakfast before leaving the campsite. We can strongly recommend the National Park campsites. Good value at 120 pence per night, and we were able to plug into a socket and give the batteries a rest! The visitors center is only about 2 km from the camping area and the car park for it is a big natural rock plateau. There is a circular walk of about 4.0km which takes in the rock walls and paintings dating back 3000 to 4000 years ago.




The path down to the rock paintings can get slippery when it is raining as the signs point out.




The paintings showed the life and the animals that were around at the time. The river was full of fish and tigers and elephants roamed the jungle.



All along the cliff were wild bees nests.




Even though it was only about 9.30 am it was already really hot when we got back to the car. We treated ourselves to a bit of icy cool aircon for half an hour as the car had been parked in the full sun. On the way out of the park we stopped of at another one of the rock formations for which the park is famous.




After leaving the park we tried out the Garmin South East Asia routing. It had not worked in Laos, but here in Thailand seems to work a treat. We were now on our way to see Nang and Austin in Tamnop, near Phu Sing. It looked as though, all going well, that we would be with them at 3.30pm. It feels strange to be visiting them in Thailand …. popping in on our way past!

After a few stops to ask the way to the village, we ended up at Tamnop school gates. The kids all came out of their class rooms, and when we mentioned Austin, they wanted to lead us to his house. They all had beaming smiles and were saying …” farang, farang, farang” which means foreigner and is in no way an insult …. its just what we are! As always in Thailand people were incredibly friendly.

Five minutes later Nang arrived on her scooter to lead us to her house. It was lovely to see them both.




Austin had certainly grown! He was a little unsure of us for a while, but was soon back to his normal happy smiling self!




Soon after we arrived we went off on the scooters to visit the family farm. It is about 3km along sandy roads.




It is a lovely place and quite a few acres. They grow various vegetables, rice and have 850 rubber trees. I think they produce about 30kg of rubber per day which they get 35 baht per kg for. Until recently they got 70 baht per kilo but costs have increased for pick up and transport to the processor. As often happens it seems that the farmer has to do most of the work and gets the smallest percentage of the profit. Once we had finished looking at the farm Nang picked up her mum, who had been cutting rice, and headed back to the village.





We had parked Troopy between the house and the rice store, which was handy, but there was no breeze. It was still 30 degrees C at 9.00pm ….. and hard to sleep!



14th November – Pha Taem National Park

14 Nov

It was a lovely cool night next to the river and very quiet. A quick breakfast and then set off for the National Park. On the way we called our friend Nang who lives close to the Cambodian border and arranged to see her and Austin (her son) on Wednesday. We are really looking forward to it!

We did not take many photos on the way but did chat to some Dutch ladies who were doing a one month cycle trip, most of it along the Mekong, taking in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. Apparently it is a popular route with lots to see, quiet roads and yummy Thai food on the way! We did see one large black snake crossing the road but were too slow to get a picture. It moved really fast.

One motorbike we saw was even more loaded than normal …..




We arrived at the National Park campsite in time for lunch, and then started catching up with the washing again. It was nice just putting the table and chairs out and relaxing. It was too hot to do the main walk and so we hid in the shade until it cooled down.

The campsite has only two others camping here and they arrived later on. We did meet a really nice French man and his Thai partner. They live in Chambery, and rent out apartments  in Val Thorens. Maybe we will become customers one day!






A bit of a walk, cooking and web updates and another day gone! The first four months of the trip have gone really fast. Then again places like Mongolia seem ages ago ….

Planning to get up early tomorrow to see cave paintings and waterfalls. There is not much shade on the walk and so you need to do it either early or late in the day.

13th November – Khema Rat

14 Nov

We travelled down the minor road that follows the Mekong towards Don Tan following Aree, Chris and Mary. On the way we stopped off at a small village, which was a point where ferries (long tailed boats) dropped off workers from Laos to work for the day. They then go back in the evening …. sort of commuting. Laos people accept lower wages than local Thais. It must be hard living in Laos as wages are lower but many things are more expensive there.




While we were walking around by the village a man came and wanted to show us the local temple. Every village has one, and the local people are very proud of them. This one had trees that were said to be over 700 years old and a more unusual reclining Buddha.




We carried on down the road and visited a fish farm on the Mekong. They had big problems this year as the Mekong rose over 6m and stayed there for 3 months! Many fish died as the high levels of silt blocked their gills.




They had an ingenious way of bringing the fish up to the top of the bank. There was a pulley system connected to an old motorcycle. I can think of a few gardens in our village which could do with a similar system!






We had coffee with Chris, Aree and Mary and then went our separate ways. We had great fun with them in Mukdahan and we will definitely try to stay in touch in England and maybe even in Thailand again! Lets hope so. Mukdahan was another place that we had never heard of, but will never forget. We also enjoyed meeting Tesco Mick, Edith, Sal, Noy and ‘Miss fix it’, Jang.

We drove on do to Khema Rat and stayed the night right next to the Mekong near the ferry terminal. Great place to stop, quiet and a short walk to shops if you need them (including 7 Eleven).

12th November – Mukdahan

13 Nov

Aree and Chris drove Mary, Marjool and I to the village where they live for a hair cut. Marjool was first given a head and hair massage followed by a short shoulder massage and then finally a trim.

Graham then had the same treatment and the bill came to 120 baht for the two. Chris then drove us all to Phu Pha Thoeb National Park where we stopped for a BBQ lunch. Just like British Airways the choice was chicken or fish.

The national parks cost around 100 baht each plus 30 baht for the day. The rock formations and the walk up to the falls were certainly worth the entry fee.





The first part of the walk is over a rock plateau and the second part through some tropical woods or jungle. The path then gets steeper up towards the waterfall.



The waterfall is not spectacular, but is in a nice setting and would be great for a quick shower if you had your swimming things. The path continues up the rock to a set of ladders that give access to a Buddah and  the top viewing point. It felt good to stretch our legs.





On the way back we saw beautiful but tiny flowers. Each flower was only a few mm across.





On the way home we saw a motorcycle with standing room only. Out of site on the other side of the pillion passenger is a gigantic basket. Unfortunately you cannot see it in the picture.



When we got back to Aree’s farm we all had a shower, then put up the tent for Mary. We then went back to Sal’s place in Mukdahan for a nice meal prepared by Jang … Thank you! Jang and Noy gave us gifts of tee shirts (for Graham) and silk scarfs for Mary and Marjool. Very kind!

We then had a busy time in the evening with a house warming party, a couple hours at the cowboy themed pub with the live rock band, and finally a dancing bar.




Graham had a slightly unnerving experience when a bloke started to give him a shoulder massage as he was using the urinal …. He politely told him “No thanks”, or words to that effect! Not sure if it is normal practice in Thai bars, or whether Graham is just lucky!! In any case he didn’t go again …..

11th November – Mukdahan

13 Nov

After breakfast we went for a swim in the pool with Mary (who is a friend/neighbour of Aree and Chris and is staying with them for a month).  The pool is right in front of the camper and just opposite Sal’s house. It seems to be very quiet and we pretty much had it to ourselves.



While we were waiting for Chris and Aree to arrive to take us to Phrathat Phanom, about 70km to the north, we took a couple of pictures of Sal and Jang’s niece Jenny.



The Thai school girls have to have hair cut in short bobs, to keep them cool. It always looks really nice.




When Aree and Chris arrived we headed off to Phrathat Phanom. Outside the temple there were some lovely trees to provide shade. Under the branches there were loads of really pretty flowers.




The temples are incredibly ornate and look lovely in the sunshine.







There are a series of stones laid out in one area, and as we understand it, you kneel in front of them, think of a project or action that you have planned. If the stone feels light and comes up easily, you are ready for the task. If it feels heavy, you are not prepared and should wait. Please tell us if that is correct!




The temple was built by ladies only, and it is said that they worked topless when it was very hot. The ladies finished the temple on time, but the one being built nearby by men was seriously delayed as the men kept finding reasons to visit the ladies site …. can’t think why!

On the way back we stopped to see one of Aree’s good friends. She was a lovely lady and was so excited to see us all. We also met her neighbour who had lovely plants in the garden.






Around the back of the house were a few of the neighbours’ kids who were happy to have their picture taken, as they like to look at the results.



That evening we ate at the night market in Mukdahan with Mary. We had two big platters of fresh pineapple and melon, and a stir fried noodle dish for 3 with vegetables and crab sticks. Total cost 75 baht, which is 150 pence. Great value and delicious!



10th November – Mukdahan

12 Nov

Edith had kindly offered to help us sort out our temporary motor insurance for Thailand and so we headed back there again. The insurance cost 162 baht to cover us on a third party basis for three months. While we were there we had our aircon checked as it had not been working properly. It was low on freon and once recharged worked perfectly! Edith’s son also suggested that we try an AIS net sim to give us data capability on our phone. Not full 3G but it works perfectly and again enables us to tether the phone to the computer for web updates. Thanks Toyota Mukdahan!

We cooked a stir fry in the camper using best Tesco pork and vegetables and then went with Aree and Chris  to see their farm and rubber plantation. Yet again the contacts here have all originated from our Russian teacher Liuba! She is great at bringing people together. Thank you!

First we met Aree’s aunt who is 84. She is a lovely lady and still shuts and locks the doors at 6.00pm to keep the tigers out! There used to be loads here and even Aree remembers when the last one in her area was shot.

After looking around the farm and the rice fields,  we went to check on the rubber trees which are just about ready to start producing rubber, which is currently in great demand.



The neighbouring farms were already producing and the trees were no bigger, so it looks like it is time to start tapping. It was interesting to see them cut the bark to release the rubber.


The rubber then drips out into the cups until the tree heals itself. The process is then repeated every day.

In the evening we went into Mukdahan town and ate in another riverside restaurant. It was full moon and so there were fireworks and lanterns to buy which you floated down the river with a candle after wishing the bad things in your life to float away with the lantern.

There was a strong wind blowing onshore and the lanterns gathered on the bank. It was also difficult to launch the sky lanterns, but quite a few got off the ground. When we got back to the camper by Sal and Jang’s place, we watched them float away ….. right over Tesco!