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Skeezix's JBRs - Part 5 - Chiang Khan

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Skeezix's JBRs - Part 5 - Chiang Khan

Feb.14th - (Thursday) - Valentines Day! I hired a driver to get me from Loei to Chiang Khan. Better for me than taking a local bus or a songthaew that gets me to some unknown part of the town and drops me off, and then I'd have had to walk around with a heavy backpack and no map, trying to find my guesthouse... It took about 1 1/2 hours of driving on a paved secondary road with very little traffic, and we stopped at some interesting places along the way... The hotel in Loei arranged the driver and charged me 1200 baht ($35 approx) which I thought was way too expensive, but they told me, in broken Engish, that there were no other options.... I wondered about that. I felt there was a little bit of price gouging going on there. (but it was not to be the last or the least I would experience on my trip...)

I was up around 6:30 am - my "senior" bones don't like hard beds! Had everything all packed up by 8 and sent some emails and posted, and then went out to have some breakfast. Headed for Ban Thai Restaurant but it was closed, so kept walking and finally found a food cart and had some BBQ Pork and some pineapple - it was delicious. Bought some water and found a bench on the sidewalk and just sat down and ate it there, and watched the early morning life in Loei happening...

The driver who spoke barely a word of English arrived at 10:30 am, and as we were leaving the city, he indicated there was a special temple he'd like to show me if tht was okay, so I said yes and we went to a place on the outskirts of town with a long drive into forested area. There was a very large gold sitting Buddha against the backdrop of a very high rock cliff, and a cave down below with Holy Water... there were rough steps going down steeply, but no hand rail so I didn't try it. There were also steps going way up the side of the cliff to the top. It was very quiet and peaceful there, and no one else around. There was also a bird calling and I had never heard such an unusual bird song - tried to find him in the trees but no dice. Loved the song he was singing though! There were some other buildings around but in much disrepair... The Buddha was amazing. Cant remember the name of the place, but it had an atmosphere of unusual peacefulness...

We left and continued on Route 203 towards Chiang Khan. I was surprised by the mountainous scenery. I had expected it to be flat, the closer we got to the Mekong River... It did flatten out as we came into the town. Very nice architecture of the guesthouses - some on stilts, many lovely wooden teak houses, a lot with nice carved designs. It was very quiet and very hot when I arrived at my guesthouse. Hardly any people around. It was 11:30 am and when I went in to register at the G.H., a young Thai girl just looked at my hotel voucher and then took my pack and carried it up a set of steep stairs to the 2nd floor where I had booked a "River View" room, and then left.

When I saw the view from my room, it was perfect... There was the Mekong River stretching out in front of me, with Laos a couple of hundred yards across the water... There were lots of tiny islands close by. My room was terrific - had a little balcony with chairs and table, and the windows of the bedroom that overlooked the river were floor to ceiling French door type with wooden beams every 18 inches so that whole wall was windows and the view was amazing, and of course, curtains to close in the evenings for privacy. I could lie in bed and look out and see the Mekong River and the mist rising over Laos in the mornings and the sunrise.... If you ever stay in Chiang Khan, at this g.h., (Muiphang), ask for the "River View" room on the second floor. It was the best thing about the whole guesthouse. The bed was very hard, but there was a "Rain Shower" which was nice.

I sat on the balcony of my guesthouse for awhile after I unpacked and just savoured the peacefulness and the view! I had a great feeling of accomplishment to have travelled so far, on my own, with a cane, and reached the places I wanted to see. I felt AWE just to be here, and I also felt it during the drive here from Loei, being in a car, on a road trip, travelling to Chiang Khan and the Mekong River.... and to be now seeing places I'd only dreamed of... It was a lovely feeling. But it also made me realize that most of the time, I'm not in the moment... I'm only thinking of moments. When I'm actually IN the moment, there is no thinking...

Unfortunately, the minimal (and I do mean minimal) Thai staff did not speak English... and once the girl had handed over my backpack and the key, she disappeared and I didn't see her again until late on the 2nd day...! There were no other guests. Just me! More about that later... There is a long Promenade running along by the river, and you can walk along here and watch the sunset, and there are several restaurants abutting this promenade and you can just walk in and sit down. They are all open, front and back. Some had small tables outside on the Promenade area... a great spot for dinner... Being so close to the Mekong River, it was an ideal place to watch river life, as there were children swimming in the river, some fishermen in long canoes in among the small islands fishing, other locals walking among deep tall reeds on these small islands following paths for what reason, I don't know. There were also some crops growing on the hillsides between the promenade and the water. Two or three wooden passenger boats were tied up here and there on the river as well, and I often saw boats either coming over from Laos or going in the other direction. I could see people riding their motorbikes along the coast road in Laos, that's how close it was... I was thrilled to see the mighty Mekong River with all its power and mysterious currents; I had read that there are 800 lb Catfish and the occasional Manta Ray swimming in its murky depths! Don't think I'd want to swim in it! I was also thrilled to see Laos so close at hand. My guesthouse was in a great location! I can't remember what I paid, but it was cheap.

i was warned by someone that the Mekong is heavily polluted with Mercury and other things, and not to eat too much fish taken from the river. Don't know if this is true or not. I did eat in a restaurant along the promenade the first night, and had Thai rice with seafood and it was the most delicious, exquisite rice I've ever had..... really good. Prices were very cheap - about 80 baht for the rice dish and a Singha beer... When I arrived, there were a lot of Chinese and Lao tourists walking around and eating in restaurants and out on the streets at night. It was the tail end of Chinese New Year and I figured that was why there were so many ethnic tourists, a lot with families, in Chiang Khan at this time.

On my second morning, I woke up about 6:30 am to catch the sunrise and looked over my balcony, and below me on the Promenade a little bit further along were a Chinese family having breakfast, sitting on overturned plastic milk crates, and enjoying the early morning freshness and birdsong, and whatever type of food they were eating. There were a lot of families and couples out walking, taking pictures and enjoying a peaceful morning... I thought I was an early riser, but there were people out even earlier.

Eventually, on the first day, I went out to explore the street a bit. It was very hot and very quiet and the few locals I saw, were sitting in shade and tending to their work. I was surprised so few people were out and about, and saw no other tourists at all. Went for a long walk, and saw some beautiful temples and spent time in some of them and in the grounds full of flowers... Found a food cart eventually and had a delicious Iced Cuppachino - I am addicted to them now... I think they add condensed milk to give it richness and a bit of sweetness. Really good! When I went out of the g,.h., there were no staff anywhere so couldn't get a map to get my bearings of the town. I did find one in another open guesthouse,, but it was all in Thai... Most of the guest houses are very open on the ground floor with rooms on the second and third floors mostly. No doors at the entrance - just open space and you walk right in and can walk completely through to the back of it and onto the Promendade that runs along the riverside. There are many different styles of guesthouses - interesting to walk around and go into some and have a look. Some have small restaurants - most of the ones I saw didn't. Temperature averaged around 35 degrees Celsius or higher during the day,, but not so humid as there was a breeze off the Mekong.

There were some small shops with touristy souvenir type things - I didn't see anything that grabbed me enough to buy... except for a pretty scarf that cost me 30 baht. I did say hello in Thai to many of the locals wherever I went, and it was funny to watch their look of surprise initially, and then to see their faces light up in big smiles...

Lunch was from a food cart - some dried pork rinds (delicious) and a couple of breaded balls with rice and mild spices inside. Sat down beside some locals on a small bench, and ate my lunch with them. I then walked about 16 blocks or sois to find an internet cafe so I could post and send some necessary emails. That was a very long and hot walk, but I eventually found it and did my thing and then had another very long walk back to the guesthouse. I found out late on the 2nd day there, that there are no tuktuks or taxis of any kind that run along that road,. There is apparently another road running paralel to this one, about 3 blocks over, that has transport. Of course, since I couldn't find any English speaking staff at my guesthouse for most of the time I was there, and no one on the street could understand my question, for the 2 full days I was there, I didn't know where the transport was or even if there was any,... Not so great.

The countryside on the way to Chiang Khan was very dry and I heard that it is very lush, of course, during and after the rainy season, with many more flowers and much greenery. Right now, its getting very hot - March and April will be even more so. The air quality is okay - some smoke in the air occasionally but it hasn't affected me.

At nights here in Chiang Khan, the town comes alive - there is a golden glow from guesthouse lights, and lots of street carts and the atmosphere is very festive, with lots of people on the streets and more shops open with their wares - it is like a fairlyland in the evnings, and a great time to be out and about. I ate dinner at the same riverfront restaurant both evenings I was there. Saw lovely sunsets and watches the lights come on in Laos... Loved my evenings.

The bizarre thing about where I stayed is that I was the only guest in the place the whole time I was there, and all the other rooms (there were only 7) had their doors open, so I went and looked at the different styles of rooms. The other thing is that the desk clerk disappeared on the first day, after she helped me upstairs with my backpack and didn't reappear until late on the second day, so I was the only person in the guesthouse during my stay there,. That was a weird feeling,. I found out the next day that she was in the hospital with a fever... There was a Thai lady working at the guesthouse next door who spoke English (hallelullya!!!) and she filled me in. She also told me there was a laptop that customers could use at the front desk, but I was never told this, so had walked several miles each day to find one...

I had been trying to find fruit again in this town and didn't know where the market was, and was starting to feel a bit ill, so the lady working at the next g,.h., went and bought some fruit for me - mangos, bananas, and pineapple and watermelon - a feast! Very nice of her to do that. Cost about 50 baht, about $2.

I had a bit of trouble on the 2nd day, walking too far and knees wanting to quit on me, and couldn't find transport anywhere; finally wrote a note saying "need a ride" and held it up against the window of a car stopped at a red light (one of the only traffic signals I saw in the town), and silently asked the driver for a ride. When the light changed, she ignored me and just drove off. I was pretty upset for awhile after that, as I had a cane and obviously needed some help and this person seemed quite indifferent... Who knows. She was Thai so probably couldn't read my note, or I might have frightened her... but I had a bit of a hard time getting back to the guesthouse. One of those moments that aren't fun.,

On the whole, I loved being in Chiang Khan, and my room in the guesthouse was delightful. Great location. Evenings were wonderful, wandering around and sampling street food and eating outdoors and enjoying the ambience and the music played by street musicians who'd set up anywhere and just play. Lots of fun. During the days, I walked down streets and saw Thai life in many different ways. At the internet cafe that was so far away, I asked to use a toilet, and the girl led me through a door and into the living quarters of her family's house! This shocked me as I never expected that. The toilet was a closet type thing outside - quite filthy... The house was in total squalor, and I tried not to look at my surroundings as I passed through - this was their home I was passing through - a total stranger in their midst! I felt embarrassed... but the lady didn't seem to think anything of it and just pointed out side... the parents were both lounging in beds with dirty sheets, watching TV.. in the middle of the day. It was an eye opener...

I had many great experiences in Chiang Khan. A monk called to me while I was exploring the grounds of a temple and enjoying the beautiful flowers everywhere. He spoke excellent English and had learned at University and we had an interesting conversation...

All in all, I recommend a trip to Chiang Khan. There was much I did not see, because I didn't know it was there, but what I did see and experience was great, with a few bumps in the road... Be prepared to be dealing with a lack of English.

Tomorrow, after two days here, I'll be travelling to Nong Khai - about a 5 hour road trip along the Mekong, through Pak Chom, Sangkom and other small towns along the river. Nong Khai is right at the Thai/Laos border where the Friendship Bridge links the two countries. A Trip Advisor fellow who lives in Nong Khai, and has corresponded with me a lot over the past months about travelling in the Isan region, said he knew of a reputable Thai driver and offered to arrange transport for me to Nong Khai. The driver quoted him a price and I agreed to that prior to my trip, and the driver will pick me up at my guesthouse and drive me to NK tomorrow. My journey continues... Nothing has been as I expected, but that is not a bad thing. It just wakes me up a little more...

Edited: 11 March 2013, 02:05
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1. Re: Skeezix's JBRs - Part 5 - Chiang Khan

Loved this one Skeez...wanted to give you a big hug when I read the part about you being stuck and not being able to get a ride...adding Chiang Khan to my bucket list, had not heard of it before now! :0)

2. Re: Skeezix's JBRs - Part 5 - Chiang Khan

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