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 on 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 10 pm on a winter’s night can get below the freezing point with the windchill. Frequently during the winters at night, it’s possible to breathe out the fog.

Sisaket town is smaller than Ubon Ratchathani and doesn’t have near as many shopping outlets available. There is one small mall in the 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 townspeople 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, alligators, 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 its 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 maid’s cart which was 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 nightclub – 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 every day 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.

Thailand’s Northeast – Some Notes…

We’ve been on what started out as a home-hunting trip in Isaan, but it has ended and we’ll be heading out in a couple of days.

It has been about 5 years since I’ve been back to places like Khon Kaen, Nong Khai, Ubon, Sisaket, Korat… and I noticed some things that I wanted to jot down. Your experience may be different, but these are just my impressions.

DUST – it’s the dry season, and few have planted rice yet – so there are thousands of square kilometers of dirt at the farms… there is dirt everywhere. Some days it’s windy – and it’s like a dust storm.

DRY AIR – the air is extraordinarily dry. I wake up once/twice a night with cotton mouth. My breathing – asthma is affecting me sometimes – because of the cold, dry, and dust-filled air.

ALLERGIES – I have allergies here in the northeast that are nonexistent in Thailand’s other areas.

DRIVING – is a helluva lot more dangerous. There are 2 stoplights in Sisaket where people don’t stop for the lights – just blow through them at 80+ kph. If you don’t know where these two lights are – you could be killed going through your green light and thinking traffic coming from your left will stop. They won’t. Likewise, if you DO stop at the stoplight – some jackass behind you might plow right through you – thinking you KNOW – this light we don’t stop at.

Roads are very narrow – in general – in the northeast.

FOOD POISONING – happens more often. We’ve all been sick (6 of us), and baby has been on a 5 night hospital stay because of it. We’ve heard many stories from friends here of it.

SEAFOOD – is horrible in the northeast. It’s old. It’s small (shrimp), and I wouldn’t recommend it.

PEOPLE – are lovely… just like always. I love the level of respect people have for each other here. I love the simple way of life. I love the helpful attitude.  I love the smiles. People are focused more on PEOPLE here – not business, not world events.

POLITICS – they want Thaksin back REAL bad. Thaksin was their saviour, and they want him back regardless what he was said to have done negative in the country.

WAR – SISAKET and CAMBODIA – you’d never know there was artillery fire just 60km away from here with Cambodia… nobody changed the way they live… nobody is talking about it much, knowing it will blow over.

KHON KAEN is fricking HUGE. I don’t remember it like that 5 years ago. I must not have been in the main city area much.

BUDDHIST TEMPLES – are so much better here. There are many Khmer ruins.

SNAKES – there are few. I’ve found just one juvenile python here, and I’ve looked hard a few nights.

FOREIGNERS – there are MANY. Did everyone move out of Bangkok and hit the suburbs? I saw many (<50) in Ubon, about 10 in Sisaket, 100 in Nong Khai, and about 100 in Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima).

FOREIGN RESTAURANTS – there are more.

FOREST WATS – Wat Nong Pah Phong, Wat Pah Nanachat are as cool as ever. Beautiful places… both with foreign monks.

HIS MAJESTY THE KING and ROYAL FAMILY – they love them to death. They make regular visits to Bangkok to pay respects to HM.

Overall – a really nice visit to the northeast. I’d not live here. I was sure I would, having loved it the first time I came. I think I’ve been spoiled by living in the south – there are so many amazing natural wonders and opportunities for exercise and adventure that I think I see the northeast as barren and having too little to keep me happy anymore.

We thought for sure we’d move to Khon Kaen – but, after seeing it – it’s like a little Chiang Mai – it’s huge. Way too big. Too much traffic, pollution, big buildings, bad streets.

How about you – you enjoy the northeast – Isaan region – or no?