Isaan is the northeast of Thailand. It’s bordered on the north and east by the Mekong river, on the south by Cambodia and on the west by Petcahbun mountains. That’s a big chunk of land. I’ll be looking at a small, well-trod part of it, following Highway 2 from Bangkok to Laos.
Why Isaan? Because I wanted to go to Angkor Wat until I started reading about it. Seems like everyone on the bus route between Bangkok and Siem Reap, Cambodia has long since figured out to fleece backpackers or at the very least make their trip an endurance test. But hey, it’s Angkor Wat! What a great place to watch the sunrise with 1000 strangers.
Then I found out about Phanom Rung in Isaan. It’s Angkor Lite. Built by the same people in the same era its a taste of Angkor Wat without the trip. But it’s trip is a pain. No lodging nearby. Deeply rural area. Can be done as a long day trip from Phimai, where I’m writing this. But Phimai also has a Khmer temple, well-preserved. Smack in the middle of town, it’s easy to get to. Most travel commenters say skip Phanom Rung if you’ve seen Phimai. So I’m in Phimai because I wanted to see Angkor Wat and am willing to substitute a second generation experience just because I get cranky on long bus rides, especially one with touts, rip offs, and border officials who are lining their pockets.
Next trip leg will be to Khon Kaen, Isaan’s commerce hub and home to its largest university. Seems like little more than a place to break up a bus ride with an overnight stop to me.
Leg three is to Udon Thani, a town that has attracted more than it’s share of expats. Figured I’d check that out in addition to the usual tourist stuff.
Last stop is Nong Khai where I expect to find a shady patio on the banks of the Mekong where I can watch it slip by and figure out what I want to do when I grow up.
No plans to enter Laos on the other side of the Mekong. Visas are not free nor is the reentry permit I need from Thai Immigration to prevent my current permission to stay from being voided by leaving the country. Besides, it took me enough time to research this trip, adding another country would mean I’d not get there for another month.
The trip so far.
Day 1. Eat, finish packing, minivan to Bangkok, eat, nap, eat, shop, sleep.
Day 2. Eat, pack, Skytrain to Mo Chit bus station, bus to Korat (3.5 hrs), bus to Phimai (2 hrs), recharge. Then wander shooting photos, snacking at the market, Dinner, Internet, followed by rest. Tomorrow I’ll rent a bicycle and do the highlights of this small town. Head for Khon Kaen on Day 4.
Below is one unedited shot from Phimai.