Once our month-long visa for Laos was up, we had three weeks to fill before meeting family on Thailand’s eastern coast. We took a look at the map and did a few searches around the main trunk line that runs from the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge border crossing down towards Bangkok.
We wanted about three casual stops for a bit of relaxing and finishing up the boy’s schoolwork for the year before making our way to Pattaya for Christmas. With Udon Thani the first main city, just 75kms from Vientiane, we looked at this location but decided on travelling a little further south to Khon Kaen, another 120kms on. We left Vientiane and travelled by bus to the border crossing (just 20kms), crossed back over into Thailand very quickly and seemlessly and continued another 55kms to Udon Thani. Here we walked from the bus station to the train station to pick up the train as it passed through and take us to our destination. After purchasing train tickets, (and then getting them corrected) we found a nearby KFC to get some lunch and use their free wi-fi while we waited the 90 or so minutes for the train’s scheduled arrival. Back at the train station just before the train was due and we ended up waiting another hour before it actually pulled into the station. Glad to finally be on board our third class carriage (a total cost of 78 THB/$3.12 NZD for the family), we settled back into the pretty comfortable seats and took in the scenery through the open windows for our two-hour train journey.Khon Kaen is the commercial, administrative and educational center of Thailand’s northeast and our Airbnb townhouse was not far from the very large and grand-looking university. The city seems to be a trial as a smart city of the future, they’re pre-planning well with infrastructure, large 8-12 lane major roads as well as having a very high-tech city bus system. The fares are a good price, the buses have free WiFi, onboard CCTV cameras and also GPS positioning so you can download a free app to view live updates of the nearest buses and what route they are taking. Something a lot of places around the world should take a look at for their public transport systems.
On arrival we learnt that the 2017 International Silk Festival and Red Cross Fair was being held in Khon Kaen this year, so one day we decided to head along and check it out. We first walked through a very large area that was crammed with market stalls, food stands and numerous carnival games and rides.After a few snacks and rides we headed into the silk area and found a large indoor hall with an amazing array of silk products from countries all over Southeast Asia. Outdoors there were people demonstrating different parts of the silk process as well as one woman on a loom effortlessly working away on this complicated looking contraption. Through Laos we saw firsthand a few examples of this technique and it always amazes me at how easy these women make it look but I know that it takes many years of training and practice to get to their level with many of them starting out as young teenagers.One of the reasons we choose Khon Kaen was because it was home to the ‘Dino Water Park’ and this ticked a couple of boxes for the boys – water parks and dinosaurs. As usual, we headed along during the week to avoid the crowds and arrived just on the opening time of 10am to maximise our day. We did think ticket prices were a little high; 600 THB/$24 NZD for anyone over 120cm (so for us that was three of our family) and 300 THB/$12 NZD for those between 90-120cm. Although we could have easily thought that our $84 NZD had been well spent by basically hiring out the whole park, as we spent the first few hours without seeing anyone else except for a few staff; the boys certainly believed us anyway when we told them this is what we had done.
While there are many benefits to being at these sorts of attractions without many others, such as small lines and short wait times, the downside is the lack of atmosphere and having feelings of being in an abandoned space or possibly just surviving an apocalypse. The park had plenty to keep us occupied though; the usual wave pool, a good variety of different slides and a large water playground with plenty of smaller slides that suited Braxton as well. We saw a couple of small groups in the afternoon but this certainly didn’t impact on us and while staff said it was busy during the weekends, we just don’t know how they manage to turn a profit. Nonetheless, we had another wonderful day of family fun in the sun and water.After seeing many dinosaur statues around Khon Kaen, and that the water park was named as such, we learnt that dinosaurs once roamed the plateau around Khon Kaen. In fact, the first dinosaur discovery of Thailand was uncovered in this area in the 1970’s and from then on the Department of Mineral Resources and The Thai-French Paleontological Project have continuously identified further fossils in the Phu Wiang Mountains. There is also now a dinosaur museum located in the Phu Wiang National Park, 87kms west of Khon Kaen, but unfortunately we didn’t manage to make a visit to it.
During our time in Khon Kaen, we mostly ate at a couple of local stalls just around the corner from our accommodation and even with the very limited English spoken by the locals we enjoyed some very tasty meals. This included a lovely lady who cooked a few items over her little charcoal grill, namely Mu Ping (pork on a skewer and one of Lincoln’s favourites), chicken wings and spicy sausages. She loved the boys and Lincoln would easily pop around the corner and place our order, often coming back with a couple of free items.We also checked out the Ton Tann night markets during our stay and were surprised at the large layout of both merchandise and food stands. A pleasant mix between traditional Thai markets and some of the more up-market ones that are beginning to appear to appeal more to the younger generations and tourists, such as the ones we went to in Surat Thani (Wonderland) and Hua Hin (Cicada). We enjoy frequenting the local markets, particularly night ones, as they are usually pretty interesting to wander around and experience the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of different parts of a country.Next stop in our Thailand 2.0 adventure was a rural location, about 25kms from the closest main town, and getting there was looking like being a bit harder than usual without using two or three different modes of transport (some of which weren’t guaranteed); so we decided to hire a rental car and hope that we wouldn’t run into the same type of Thai Police as we did when we last had a rental car in Thailand!!
Average Daily Spend – $133.60 NZD ($38.90 NZD under budget per day)