One morning on a small village street in Isaan
This may sound like the whining of a small child (that's whinging to some of you) but time and again as my days in Thailand dwindle I find myself lamenting that I didn't have enough time to visit as many of my friends as I'd wanted to. Over the years many have been willing to carve time out of their busy schedules to take me hither and yon throughout the kingdom but there simply aren't enough days, and that sometimes can cause hurt feelings; something I try my best to avoid.
One friend's family farm is in the far Northeast part of the country, an area known as Isaan, and since I hadn't seen them for years I decided to make the effort a couple of years ago to get my farang butt up there to visit. I'd used other modes of transportation for previous trips - with the train being the most interesting and flying the least satisfying because you really don't see anything - so after some thought I settled on finding a driver and trying an extended trip by car.
You've already seen pictures and stories of the Isaan area on the site here; the post "Out In The Rice Paddies" from last July continues to get a lot of visits, for example - although I'm not sure why. My latest guess is that it's been referenced on another site and people are landing on it by referral. It is a good bunch of photos, if you'll pardon my tooting my own horn here. The image to the left is from that series.
A farang friend's long time partner (who goes by the nickname of Pot) has for a few years operated his own tour/guide service; a one-man operation that keeps him busy during what's known as "High Season" in Thailand, which is roughly from November through February. My plans were in March - slightly outside of that time frame - so he was available for the dates I wanted to travel. As these were friends there wasn't a place for negotiations on the cost but I was given a more than fair rate and we settled on a time frame of a week, give or take.
At the time Pot had a standard sized pick-up truck with a cover over the back bed, much like a song taew / baht bus, but he's since replaced that with a "stretch" cab pick-up that has a back seat, which allows more seating or storage space. I pared down my junk and traveled a little lighter, so the two of us did just fine in the old truck; now you could comfortably fit in a few more.
I'd originally thought we'd take a more direct route to the Udonthani area (my intended destination), but when I found out that Pot's father at the family home in the Surin area was ill I suggested we detour so he could visit him and see how he was doing. From what I'd gathered his father was gravely ill, and if it were my father I might have canceled the offer to chauffer a relative stranger around altogether.
Being a gracious Thai man it was difficult for me to tell if Pot was truly OK with going or not, so to leave him an "out" I suggested we drive by his home and check on his father, and if Pot felt the need to stay he could put me on a train or a bus to Udonthani, with no penalty accrued, and we'd go from there. Maybe he'd follow along after and meet me there, maybe I'd return to Bangkok on my own - it really didn't matter. Family comes first.
After all, I was out to see the countryside so it didn't matter to me if we made a detour; it was all new territory to me. Besides, I wanted to see a little more of the "real" Thailand, and this was certainly an opportunity!
For reference: the lavender dot is Bangkok, the green is Udonthani and the blue is Surin
All in all, it was a win-win situation; so after meeting Pot and his partner for dinner the night before our scheduled departure to take a look at maps and hear a little of the route he planned to take, I bid them good night and went back to my room and my last night's sleep in Bangkok before heading out the next morning for points Northeast.
There's a lot to this journey and the story will take a while, so I'm going to break it up into pieces - meaning you won't see it finished in a week or two. If you're coming across this after the original posting dates, you can click on "Isaan Odyssey" in the labels column to the right and pull them up in a group. I hope you'll enjoy the ride.
Next up in Part 2 - The Summer Palace at Bang Pa-in