Sisaket, Thailand – Isaan Through and Through

Young boy monk in Sisaket, ThailandI’ve not spent a lot of time in Sisaket, Thailand, maybe a 4-5 months or so, in total. Sisaket is a province and a town. The town is located west of Ubon Ratchathani in the Isaan area of Thailand. “Isaan” is what the northeast area of the Thailand is known as.

In the summers the temperature is blistering hot. The Songkran Water Throwing festival is seriously appreciated during this time. They should throw water for all of April, May and June because it is like a desert during these months. Even on into July and August you don’t want to leave your flip-flop sandals at the outside of a temple you’re visiting because if you need to walk across the ground that has been brightly lit by the sun for a couple hours you’re going to be dancing your way towards some shade in a hurry! In the winters it can be COLD. Riding the motorbike in Isaan after 10pm on a winter’s night can get below the freezing point with the windchill. Frequently during the winters at night it’s possible to breath out fog.

Sisaket town is smaller than Ubon Ratchathani and doesn’t have near as many shopping outlets available. There is one small mall in town called, “Soon Heng” with a supermarket, theaters, bookstore, KFC chicken, and MD’s Sukiyaki (like MK’s), a coffee shop and a donut shop, plenty of karaoke booths, a place for kids to play and a small food court.

All around Sisaket seems to be a market. The entire town is like one big market. You can find tents and small shops selling fruit and every kind of food and clothes. But, uhm, no farang food like pizza and spaghetti. One would need to go an hour east to Ubon’s “Risotto” restaurant to find the closest quality pizza and spaghetti.

Sisaket has a train station and a bus station. The train will get you anywhere in Thailand as it goes through Nakhon Ratchisma (Korat) as well as Bangkok. There are air conditioned and fan-cooled coaches. Overnight trains to Bangkok are comfortable as you can sleep for 10 hours and when you wake up, you’re there! Cost of an air-conditioned sleeper seat would be around 600 baht (in 2007).

Everyone seems to know each other in Sisaket. I remember a couple years ago I was at an outdoor market with my friend who is from Sisaket (born there) and she had her back turned to traffic, but someone KNEW it was her as they drove by in a truck and stopped to chat with her. How they knew it was her we haven’t the slightest idea except that everyone knows everyone.

As a foreigner in Sisaket I was treated really well. There are many Thai people that want to practice their English with me and laugh when they see me. Some stare. Some point. Some say, “Mommy, farang!”. There’s no ill-intention, just curious people. A long time ago during the Vietnam war they saw quite a few soldiers from America around, but we’re scarce now. As I said in the review of Ubon Ratchathani, there are about 1% of Thailand’s visitors having a look at Isaan. Isaan is a big place covering many provinces. Ubon is the largest province. If 1/20th out of the 1% of visitors to Thailand are going to Ubon, then about 1/500th of 1% are visiting Sisaket.

Last time I was in Sisaket I don’t remember seeing any farang (western) tourists or residents. I was there for almost a week – and it was just me and the lovely Isaan people.

Sisaket towns people really enjoy having foreigners around. Some think we bring them good luck. Others, that we bring money. Others still, that we will marry their daughter or other relations! There’s no shortage of beautiful girls here, but most that are of working age have moved on to Bangkok or somewhere else to earn money. Girls in high school can be frequently seen, but those of college age are pretty rare. There is a Rajabhat University in Sisaket, though I think it must be much smaller than the one in Ubon Ratchathani. Ubon is kind of a college town considering they have Rajabhat, Ubon Ratchathani University, Polytechnic, and a lot of technical schools.

Young Buddhist monks at temple in Sisaket

There are many elephants walking around at night. Here is a short video of a very small baby elephant that is paraded through the street. The owners take the food with them and get people to pay to feed the elephant. Kind of sad I guess, but elephants like to walk I think. This one I saw a month ago is really cute, but when the guy realized I wasn’t paying to feed it, he quickly moved on.

On the road going towards Surin is a golf driving range, though I’m not sure there is a place to play golf since I’m not a player.

There are 4 public parks that can be seen. One very large park is very special and was built in honor of the present King’s mother. The name of this park is, “Soowan Som Det”. It is a BEAUTIFUL park with many lakes filled with large catfish and Tilapia (Nile Perch) that can be fed for 10 baht for a bag of fish-food pellets.

During March and April the yellow trees called in Thai, “Dok Koon”, are blooming along with some purple flowered trees. There is another tree with flowers called, “Lum Duan” that suffuses great areas of the park with the most incredible smell – like a woman’s perfume. The first few times I smelled it as I ran around I thought that a woman must have just ridden through on her motorbike or something. I never imagined that the smell could be a flower because it is exactly like a perfume someone might purchase in a beauty store. The people of Sisaket have a big festival during the time these flowers are blooming in March. The park at that time is filled with hundreds (thousands?) of people dancing, eating, playing sports, selling their products and showing their artwork.

There is a small zoo in this park where you will find deer, hippos, alliagators, birds of every sort, peacocks, turtles, a vulture, snakes, lizards and water monitors. There is one group of animals with genetical anomalies here which is sad to see. One was a cow with another cow growing out of it’s right shoulder area. Three or four legs can be plainly seen coming out of the shoulder region and there are other bones under the skin that give the cow a distorted appearance. Next to the cow is a buffalo with a malformed jaw and another buffalo missing a leg. It’s quite sad to see. Especially sad was that the cow with the deformity was a male and seemed to be horny for the female cow that was in the same pen. I kept telling him not to mate, it’s going to be nothing but bad news, but I think eventually he’s going to be able to pull it off successfully. There will be another addition to the zoo’s genetic wonders section if that happens.

The other parks are very small and don’t have many trees for shade. The weather during summer is very hot in Sisaket, I can’t stress that enough! Bring a hat and water with you wherever you go, you’ll need it.

There are a couple hotels in the city that tourists should have a look at. The best one, is probably “The NorthEast Hotel” which is located on Sisumung Road near Wat Luang. The rate is about 600 baht per night and there is no discount for multiple days or weeks staying. It’s a new hotel with a coffee shop and free internet broadband place close to it. The rooms are all air-conditioned and clean. I didn’t stay there, but went and had a look at the room. I stayed at a hotel that is near the train station called, “Prompeeman Hotel” for 500 baht per night for a fan room. The sheets were incredibly disgusting and so I took some from the maids cart which were brand new and I re-did my bed with those. Maybe better to stay at the “NorthEast Hotel” for the cleanliness factor. There are numerous nightclub type establishments off the lobby area of the Prompeeman hotel and it seems like the one happening spot for night time activities if you are into that.

There is a bus station that can get you anywhere with air-conditioned or fan buses. Across the street is a night club – the largest in Sisaket, and called, “Nona”. I’ve not been there, but a friend said it resembles “The Rock” nightclub in the base of the “Nevada Hotel” in Ubon Ratchathani.

Sisaket has many temples in the area of the city and surrounding. There is a temple right outside the city about 5 kilometers called, “Wat Prathat Ruang”. If you visit there you can ring many of the bells and gongs in the temple for good luck. Great fun! Other temples are on the way to Surin and some have ancient ruins that are part of the Khmer dynasty. I have some photos here of an old brown-stoned temple on the way to Surin that was really nice.

This will sound funny, but when I was at that temple I went in to look at the Buddhist amulets for necklaces and other things they were selling. There was an odd man behind the counter whose eyes were wide and hazy, almost like he was blind, but he got around the office OK. He was missing his front two teeth. When he saw me said, “Florida” about 8 times until I understood what he was saying. I’m from Florida. I told him. He just shook his head and said, “child”. Then he said, “boy”. It was so strange. I’d never met him and he’d never have met anyone that I knew. I have a son in Florida that I think about everyday and that I miss a lot. He’s always on my mind. This guy picked it up immediately. Very odd.

Khmer Buddhist temple, Sisaket, Thailand

Anyway… so, Sisaket is a very quiet town that is safe and a great place to relax if you want to unwind from Pattaya, Bangkok, or some other high-energy area of Thailand.

Don’t forget to try the ant-eggs. Women carry them around the city in clear plastic bags – they appear to be queen ants by the hundred that they chilled to stop the development. They are big, juicy, and a unique taste that you’ve likely not found elsewhere.

Sisaket, Thailand… is Isaan personified.

Air Asia Queue to Buy Tickets – Online!

Welcome to my private hell…

Been trying to book tickets on this Air Asia site for the last hour. I’ve had this countdown going over and over and over.

Last night at 11pm they kicked off this massive airline ticket sale – and apparently people are eager to travel in Thailand. Go figure.

Update – 5 minutes later – just went from bad to worse. Now I get the following screen (and no links work):

Air Asia Thailand booked solid

Fly Phuket to London on Air Asia – 9,600 THB

I was just cruising around AirAsia and found these killer specials on flights from Thailand (Phuket airport) to London, England…

9.600 THB.

The dates are 12/25, 12/27, 12/28. More might be available, but, since I’m not going, I wasn’t that concerned. Some of your UK friends might be though.

Here’s a screen shot of Air Asia’s prices on this flight:

So, it’s before taxes and fees, but still, how much could it go up from there?

Bangkok Floods – Flooding is Devastating Bangkok & Thailand

We’re having trouble getting certain items of food. Gasoline – 91 Octane, is in short supply often. What we’re experiencing as a result of the Bangkok floods is literally “nothing” compared to what those that are there – and going through it.

Many people say foreigners don’t care about Thais and Thailand – but, I think it’s QUITE wrong. I think foreign expats living in Thailand love the country on the whole – and want only the best for Thais. It’s hard to see why the Thai government expends a lot of effort to make living here more difficult for us year after year.

Here is a video – a story about something that happened yesterday to a local expat. He’s Australian and has been living in Thailand about 7 years now. He speaks fluent Thai. He obviously loves Thailand and the Thai people quite a bit. He evacuated from his condo and has found a place to go. There are many people in Bangkok that don’t even know where to go.

The national parks that are not affected by the floodwaters, are offering free places to stay for those that need to escape the floodwaters. Tell anyone you know to help spread the word.

Bangkok, Thailand Flood 2011 – Video

An overview about why the flood happened in Thailand. Really simplifies it without laying blame on anyone for what has happened. At the moment the flood is threatening to put Bangkok under up to 1.5m (about 5 feet) of water as long as the levees in place are able to hold back the water and authorities can release it gradually.

If the levees break – there will be a flash flood, a true worst-case scenario.

Here’s the flood video:

Flooding Above Bangkok, Thailand – NASA Satellite Photos

Current water situation - 2011 north of Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok and north - current water situation, October 19, 2011. Water is blue.
2008 water in Thailand.
Same area of Bangkok and north on November 12, 2008.

These are shots from NASA using infrared and regular shots of the same area of Thailand – north of Bangkok where the current flooding is. The water is colored blue, while the trees and other plant life are green. The city – concrete, is earth toned. I’ve been looking for a while for a decent satellite photo to show the flooding problem in Bangkok – and this sums up what the city is facing. Looks like lakes north of Bangkok.

Some people have written me about what to do with the snake problem where there are floods. Stay away from all snakes, it is impossible for me to tell you what to look for to identify venomous snakes in Thailand because there are just too many. Some guess 100+ species. Venomous snakes come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Just avoid all snakes as much as possible. Sorry I can’t give you anything better to go on.

Looks like a serious problem in Thailand with these floods. Nikon is reporting new camera delays. Locally we are running out of baby powder for food. Some stores are low on water because most of it comes from up Bangkok way apparently.

Bangkok Flooding

There are conflicting statements coming out of many different mouths regarding the Bangkok flooding that will or won’t take place. It’s safe to say, we cannot take anything heard as fact – and it won’t all the sudden clear up and we’ll start getting good information.

I know little about flooding in the north – haven’t really been there. We said we’d go see Chiang Mai, Tak, Ayuddya and other places north of Bangkok someday – and we will, but now we are sure it won’t be during the rainy season. Every year the north floods to some degree and yet this year it appears to be different.

Was there that much more rain?

We’re only in mid-October. I don’t know if anybody remembers last year, but it rained through November and most of December here in the south anyway. What did it do in the north last year, I can’t say. I didn’t pay any attention.

Will it rain for a couple more months north of Bangkok? You could consider Bangkok to be in serious trouble if that happened.

While hoping for the best, I’m not optimistic that Bangkok won’t be totally devastated by the flood waters in the next couple of hours, days, or weeks.

If you have a dry place – offer your Bangkokian friends a dry place to stay for a few weeks until the major threat passes. If you live in Bangkok – the south is a nice place to be this time of year… few tourists and cool weather. We’ve had about half dry and half wet days here over the past 2 weeks. Really hoping the rain is about done here too.

Good luck to those of you in Bangkok that choose to stay and get through it.

Check out Twitter if you are interested in some of the latest updates coming out about the state of the Bangkok floods.

People to follow on Twitter are:

TAN_Network
bangkokpundit
RichardBarrow

Thailand Mountain Hikes

Hang Nak mountain summit in Krabi, Thailand

This will be a list of mountain hikes in Thailand, and I’ll embed a Google map below with the hikes that I know about. If you know about any hikes up mountains or hills – leave a comment or zap me and email and I’ll add it to the list.

Southern Thailand

Krabi

Hang Nak (Hang Norn) Mountain – Tub Kaak, near Ao Nang in Krabi Province. This is a 3.7km hike up a mountain through dense forest, but the trail is well defined. There is an option for a waterfall, but it isn’t anything to see. The top of the mountain gives stunning views and straight down drops of 500 meters. Highly recommended.

Wat Tum Sua Buddhist Temple – Krabi, Thailand, near Krabi town. This is a set of steps up a mountain, leading to a great view of Krabi town, Ko Phi Phi, and Khao Phanom, the 1,400 meter high mountain in the same mountain chain. There are 1,257 steps (they added 20) and there is cold water at the top. I’ve seen 5 year olds climb it, and 80 year olds. Go slow, you can make it. More info ->

Ko Phi Phi Viewpoint – Ko Phi Phi, Krabi Province. Excellent view of the islands and surrounding ocean. Video link ->

Railay Beach Viewpoint – 10 minute boat ride from Ao Nang Beach, Krabi. Short, steep hike with a nice view.

Khao Phanom Mountain – Krabi province, district of Khao Phanom. Highest mountain in the area at 1,397m vertical elevation. There were landslides with the flooding in 2011, so the hiking has been postponed until they clear another way up the mountain. This is one I’m going to go on as soon as there is a route. Will report later. More information on Khao Phanom Bencha Mountain here.

Google Map for Thailand Hikes


View Thailand Mountain Hikes in a larger map

Fly Manila to Honolulu, Hawaii on Hawaiian Air – $728

I got a notice from a travel company about west coast USA flights to Hawaii and so I started looking through HawaiianAir.com to see what other flights were available from southeast Asia to Hawaii.

It didn’t take long to find a $364 fare from Manila to Honolulu – one way. That is really cheap. At least to me it is, I don’t ever scan these trips to see what the cheapest rate I can find is – but that has to be a good rate. 21,630 THB round-trip.

I checked Bangkok to Honolulu and the prices were much higher. I couldn’t find anything better than $900 USD each way.

In the past I’ve checked China Air and they had some cheap flights to Honolulu from Bangkok even – I think. Been a while since I looked, I hope I’m remembering that correctly.

So, if you have time to travel from Thailand to Honolulu the flights from BKK to Philippines are not expensive at all – you could probably do the whole trip for $1,000 USD.

 

 

Satun and Khun Don, Malaysia Border Checkpoint – For Visa Runs

It is possible to do a visa run on your motorbike, car, van, whatever you’ve got – by going to Satun and then heading toward the Malaysian border called the “Khundon” border crossing.

It must be the least crowded border crossing to any foreign country I’ve ever seen, where you can still get an exit / entry stamp from Thailand and the other country.

Satun is nothing really to speak of. They do have ferries to Langkawi Island running 3 times a day to and from, and they have Koh Lipe – which is supposed to be gorgeous. I’ve not taken the ferry anywhere. I decided to skip any rain and just get in and get out as fast as possible.

Note, there is a 20 kilometer stretch of mostly dirt road leading to the Khun Don border checkpoint. Be careful on your motorbike, it’s slippery. Be careful in a car – it’s slippery. LOL.

The other alternative Thailand visa runners have is to take the 75 minute ferry across to Langkawi and stamp out, stamp in and take the ferry back. The ferry runs every couple of hours and not all day either.

In total, during my 20 minutes at the border I saw about 6 foreigners, 4 from the same van visa run and 2 guys that look like they came on their own in their own SUV.