Family Visit in Khon Kaen

Trip Start Oct 15, 2009
Trip End Dec 15, 2013

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Where I stayed
Pullman Khon Kaen Raja Orchid
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Thailand  ,
Tuesday, December 6, 2011

After leaving BLES, I had plans to meet Noah, Sumalai and Terran in Khon Kaen for a visit with Sumalai's family, for the holiday weekend of the King's Birthday, which is also Father's Day in Thailand. I asked how to get from Sukhothai Province to Khon Kaen. It is only about 350 kilometers. Rather than fly back to Bangkok to take a flight to Khon Kaen, I wanted to see some of the central part of Thailand. On the map it looked easy but I learned that it is not always easy to get from here to there. I always like to share information like this to help other travelers.

I had asked a few people for advice and also found a forum on the Internet that provided clues. But this was not an easy thing to figure out. It looked to me like the Chiang Mai to Khon Kaen bus line is run by Esan Tour. Their buses do not go through Sukhothai or Uttradit, the locations from where i could start the journey. The closest pass through point for those direct buses was Phitsanulok. From BLES, Pee Kam took me to the Uttradit bus station (1 hour). Indeed, I learned that only second class buses leave there for Khon Kaen and that the trip is long and arduous. I got on a bus to Phitsanulok (which leave frequently and only take about 2 hours.) When I got to Phitsanulok I learned that there are 2 first class buses (but no VIP buses) to Khon Kaen each day. They were both full but I could get a second class bus (no toilet) for the 6 to 8 hour ride. I asked why it takes so long to go not so many kilometers (about 310 km). Oh, you have to cross a big and high mountain range with steep and curvy roads? I didn't know that. From my experience in Thailand, t had no doubt that the bus could take 8 or 9 hours on roads like that. Even with my Seaband acupressure bracelets, which work well for motion sickness, I would certainly get sick in a bus.

There was a limo (private taxi) driver working with the bus station. (He likely had some sort of referral arrangement.) I negotiated a deal with him and we started the trip about 4:00PM. He told me it would take 3.5 hours and I figured I'd be lucky to get there in 5 hours. My driver was terrific! All business. His Toyota was comfortable and dependable on really challenging roads! I could not believe the scenery. Out of 310 km, about 150km went right through beautiful mountains. We passed through several National Parks, saw lots of signs for waterfalls, wildlife, including elephants, and enjoyed a stunning sunset around the beautiful Petchabon area. I did not know this area of Thailand. but I would recommend it as VERY off the beaten track. Foreigners do not go there often. It is as pretty if not lovelier than the mountains around Chiang Mai and Pai. I would certainly like to spend a weekend in Petchabon and explore the parks sometime!

We did not stop except for LPG, and we made good time. When we arrived in the outskirts of Khon Kaen, I could see that my driver intended to return to Phitsanulok the same night. We flagged a KK city taxi near the airport entrance to run me to the hotel, which was just 15 minutes more. 4.5 hours and that was some accomplishment! If you need a driver in or around Phitsanulok, or to take you to the National Parks or to Petchabon, you can call Kun Kreang Sak at 0873098820.

I checked into the Pullman Raja Orchid, the best place to stay in Khon Kaen city, for two nights to rest up before the kids arrive for the village home-stay. Our family stayed here 2 years ago when we came to Khon Kaen for Noah and Sumalai's wedding in nearby Ban Dorn Kaem. The Pullman, is one of the high end brands of the German Accor Hotels. The hotel has a spacious comfy lobby, lovely pool and pool bar with food available, a first rate fitness center with classes (and local members too), a spa, a great bakery & coffee shop, & several restaurants, free Wifi, and an airport shuttle too.. The rooms and bathrooms are huge and there is a tub and separate shower even in the standard room. I met some other travelers by the pool. They actually looked at the rooms at the Kosa down the street, and said, that the Pullman is by far the best place to stay in Khon Kaen. This year, I stayed two nights at the beginning of my visit, and came back for the last night to be near the airport for my flight back to Bangkok.

On Thursday, I walked around Khon Kaen a bit and checked out the preparations for the upcoming King's Birthday holiday weekend. My room had a great view of the Center of Khon Kaen and of the pretty Christmas decorations at the Central Shopping Mall. I got my laundry done just next to the hotel (exit to the right and look at the strip of stores there.) And I had a very nice and not expensive Thai massage in the hotel spa.

I had suggested that on Friday morning when Noah, Sumalai and my dear little Terran arrive from Bangkok, Sumalai's mother and sister, bring the children and swimsuits for a morning at the pool. Getting late checkout was no problem. We had a lovely time! We stopped at the Central Shopping Mall for a late lunch, and some grocery shopping I wanted to do before going out to Aor's village for a few days. At Robinson's I bought a lightweight stroller for Terran as he has gotten so big (like 18 pounds already) that I just can't hold him all of the time. And mostly, he loves to go for walks in the stroller and nap or look around.

We arrived in Ban Dorn Kaem. Sumalai/Aor's twin sister Sumalee/Aa has a beautiful new house completed since my last visit. Her darling girls, Jasmine and Airrin gave me their lovely room, Thanks girls! Life in this Thai village is different from life in New Hampshire. The weather is different; it's a lot warmer there:). The food is different. The stores and coffee shops are different, and the culture is different. Life is not better there and it is not worse either. It is just different. This is one of the gifts of the opportunity to travel. I always treasure invitations to visit local homes. A home-stay, that is even better!

I experienced and learned about life in an Isan rice farming village. There is only one rice crop each year and the proceeds from selling the rice must support the families all year. The rice had just been harvested. Most of the farmers had sent their rice to be milled. It comes back to them in large rice bags and each family stores what they will need for their family for the entire year. The rest gets trucked to markets to be sold and I saw every mode of transport imaginable stacked with rice bags.

Every day, Sumalai's family joins together at her grandfather and grandmother's home for the evening meal. This trip, I am able to speak and understand a little more Thai. Even though the Isan dialect is Lao, I enjoyed being able to talk with Sumalai's parents and grandparents, and with all of the children, her cousins. Her family is very close and her grandmother explained to me that family is like a sturdy tree. When all of the children and grandchildren (its branches) are around then the tree is strong and healthy. I just love Aor's grandmother, Yai Som Jai. She is a gifted weaver. She weaves silk, and also cotton. In the glass chest in her home, there are many beautiful blankets that she has woven. Aor's grandparents both wanted me to choose two, one for me and one for Mark, to bring home. I am so touched by this lovely gift. And I truly love each beautiful blanket! Thank you Yai Som Jai!

During the day, we went to the coffee shop that Noah likes, in the town 7 kilometers away. I ordered some vegetarian noodles that were good. One day we went to the nearby market and I bought fresh vegetables and lentils. I tasted some of the local food and cooked ratatouille and lentil soup for the family to share also. One day a fellow with a roti cart came by and we all had rotis. Rotis are sweet crepes and I was very surprised to find them on the quiet street in the village.

We walked over to the local Wat/Temple and Aor and Aa showed me around. Their great- grandparents each have a monument in their memory. There are two beautiful old trees on the temple grounds and the Temple buildings are pretty also. On Father's Day we visited another temple. This famous Wat is at the base of the mountain and going there is very good luck, especially on the holiday of The King's Birthday. The family prayed at the Buddha shrines. Donations were made, and afterwards, there was a special audience with a Monk. The Monk bestowed a blessing on baby Terran and tied a lucky white string around his wrist. Then, Aor's mother tied a yarn bracelet the color of a monk's robe on each of the children from the family, and she tied one on me also. These bracelets from the temple are very good luck. You wear them until they break and fall off on their own. I still have mine!

I had heard that the Khon Kean Silk Festival is not to be missed. It is a 12 day festival, once a year, and while it is a like a fair with rides and entertainment and a food market and general market, the famous Khon Kaen silk is displayed and sold there. I really wanted to go. One afternoon, most of the family climbed onto Aor's father's Song Thaew truck and we headed into Khon Kaen. We were riding in the back of an open truck, Terran in his stroller, no car seat, the young children no seat belts, Aor driving. I am used to seeing this in Thailand and to seeing babies and young kids on motorcycles with no helmets also. But "my baby" oy vey; this made me really nervous.

First we had an errand to run at Global. Noah and Aor wanted to arrange to have some work done on Aor's parent's home and Global (like Home Depot) could give a quote and materials could be purchased. It took a long time and we were a group of 12 with children among us. I saw how well behaved all of the children were in the store. They stayed together, were patient beyond patient, and the older kids helped take care of the younger ones while the adults did their shopping and talking.

By then it was already getting dark and we headed to the Silk Festival. It was a huge campus and was very crowded. I especially enjoyed the informative displays about how silkworms are grown and how the silk is made. Also there were several beautiful tributes to the King and some stunning King genre artwork too. After a while, the family left to go out for dinner. I still wanted to see the silk fabric in the market (if I could find it) and stayed behind. Cell phones come in very handy at times like this. Noah called and told me where they were. I enjoyed wandering by myself and took a taxi to the mall to meet the family at The Pizza Company before they finished a yummy dinner.

I was so happy to meet Aor's teenage first cousins, Yean and Por and At. Yean has a laptop and is on Facebook. At is also very interested in computers. I showed the teens and XO-1 that I brought with me. I told them that if they were interested in learning how to use it, so that they could teach Jasmine, Oak and Bank, (the 6 year olds) XO laptop skills and how to use some of the Activities, that I would leave the XO with them and send them a second one. I am hoping that perhaps they will use them to teach the younger children, but also show them to other teens interested in computers, and to the schoolteachers in the village also. Perhaps the Primary School will be interested. I thought it is a good idea to "plant some seeds" in a rural location where I am sure to have reliable follow up. I'll be watching with interest to see what the kids do with the 2 XOs.

I had a memorable visit to Khon Kaen and the village. I was so happy to see Aor's father and mother with their new grandson, Terran, and to be able to share this time with "my baby," my first grandchild too. I'll be returning to Bangkok for the last 6 days of my trip. I am tired and missing Mark, my home, (and especially my shower:), it's been a great trip. But it will be so hard to leave little Terran!

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