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Eastern Thailand

Eastern Thailand
Eastern Thailand
Eastern Thailand

Eastern Thailand contains 7 provinces, situated to the south of Isan and east of the Central Thailand, between Bangkok and Cambodia.

This region of Thailand is particularly popular with visitors who wish to enjoy all the natural beauty and golden beaches of Southern Thailand whilst avoiding the crowds.

For many, the tourist destination of Pattaya provides an interesting diversion, whilst others head straight to the beautiful island of Koh Samet to enjoy all the benefits of an island holiday with less of the hassles.

The large island of Koh Chang is a great place to spend a few days and there are many areas of natural beauty located on the island as well as several smaller islands close by. This is a great place to go snorkeling and diving as there is plenty of pristine coral and colourful fish to see.

The town of Si Racha is well known for its deliciously spicy sauce and seafood, and while there visitors can visit the Sri Racha Tiger Zoo for the opportunity to cuddle the tiny tiger cubs.

For travelers who really want to get away from it all, the peaceful island of Koh Si Chang makes a great destination as it is virtually ignored by tourists.

Although the region is easily reachable by bus, there is are also small airports at U-Tapao and Trat.

Narathiwat, Thailand

Narathiwat, Thailand
Narathiwat, Thailand
Narathiwat, Thailand
Narathiwat, Thailand

Situated on the banks of the Bang Nara River, this friendly province can be found approximately 1,149 kilometres south of Bangkok near the Malaysian border. Malaysia can be reached from Narathiwat though a ninety-minute bus trip, and this is a good place to rest for a day or two before making the crossing.

75 percent of this beautiful province consists of jungles and mountains, and there is a lot for the nature lover to explore. There are also pretty beaches on which to top up your tan and magnificent temples to discover.

The name Narathiwat literally means “the residence of good people” in the Thai language, and visitors will soon find that the area lives up to its name as hospitality is as warm as the weather. The city of Narathiwat has preserved its traditional culture and authenticity and has a feel of village-like tranquillity. The residents of Narathiwat are mainly farmers and fishermen and the majority are Muslim.

If you love nature, a visit to Hala-Bala Wildlife Reserve should be top of the list. Established in 1996, the reserve covers the Sankala Khiri mountain range, Hala forest and Bala forest and is a good place to see a large selection of wildlife. Lucky visitors have the chance to see hornbills, gibbons, the large Thut frogs, and rhinoceroses.

Another area of great natural beauty is the Sirindhorn Peat Swamp Forest Nature Reserve, and you can combine a visit with a trip to the Khao Kong Buddhist Park, which is situated about 9 kilometres from town. Here you will find Wat Khao Kong and the golden Phra Phuttha Thaksin Ming Mongkhon Buddha image sitting in the lotus position atop a mountain. And the park offers spectacular views over the province.

Other interesting temples to explore include Wat Chon Thara Singhe, Wat Choeng Khao, the Old Central Mosque and Taloh-manoh Mosque, while Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace is situated on Tanyongmat Mountain, and contains throne halls decorated with an assortment of trees.

Back to nature; don’t miss the stunning Ao Manao Park, which features a 4 kilometre sandy bay lined with pine forest to explore when you tire of soaking up the sun. Other beaches include Hat Narathat, Kubu Beach-Ban Khlong Tan and the small, peaceful island of Ko Yao.

Visitors arriving during one of the area’s lively festivals are treated to displays of traditional song and dance, combined with much laughter.

The Narathiwat Products Fair showcases the highlights of the province, such as special arts and crafts.

The Kolae-Long Boat Races are held on Bang Nara River opposite Sala Prachakhom (community pavilion). This is an annual event held when the Royal Family is in residence at Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace.

Krachut Sedge Day is held around the same time as the boat races in order to promote hemp products. Activities include an exhibition on production from the preparation of raw materials that are the Krachut sedge trees that grow in peat swamp forests or waterlogged areas of the province, to weaving the sedge into beautiful mats or transforming it into other unusual products such as hats, handbags, letter holders, food covers, and lamp shades. There are also Krachut contests and stalls selling Krachut sedge products.

Nakhon Phanom, Thailand

Nakhon Phanom, Thailand
Nakhon Phanom, Thailand
Nakhon Phanom, Thailand
Nakhon Phanom, Thailand

The name Nakhon Phanom means ‘city of hills’ in the Thai language, and this ancient city located on the right bank of the Mekong River in Nakhon Phanom Province in northeast Thailand gets its name from the striking jungle covered mountains which surround it. Nakhon Phanom is situated 580 kilometers northeast of Bangkok, across the Mekong River from the Laotian town of Thakhek. Nakhon Phanom is well known as a place of great beauty and a gentle pace of life which immediately enchants visitors and stays with them throughout the rest of their journey.

The culture, art, music and customs of the Lao people have a strong influence on this area, and it is blended well with the elements of Thai culture as well as the faint traces of other cultures which still linger in the background.

It is well worth taking the time to explore the town’s temples, especially as many of them embrace both Thai and Lao temple design features. Wat Si Thep is a good place to start as it is covered with a collection of beautiful murals. Other interesting temples include Wat Okat Si Bua Ban, Wat Maha That and Wat Noi Pho Kham.

Located 50 kilometres from Nakhon Phanom town, Phra That Phanom is the most celebrated temple in the area and makes a good day trip. The temple features a magnificent 53 metre high five-tiered golden umbrella inlaid with a plethora of precious gems.

Just 4 kilometres west of Nakhon Phanom town, Ban Na Chok offers a rare opportunity to visit a Vietnamese community in Thailand and learn about their unique culture and traditional way of life.

There are many other appealing villages around Nakhon Phanom town that make good day trips. Hire a bicycle and head 45 kilometres north to Nam Song Si. Another great day trip is the cotton weaving village of Renu Nakhon, 52 kilometres south. Whilst there, pay a visit to the attractive Wat Phra That Renu Nakhon.

The Riverside Promenade follows the banks of the mighty Mekong River, and there are dozens of food stalls dotted along the banks from which to buy a cheap meal and watch the world go by.

Nestled in the Langka Mountain Range, the Phu Langka National Park is a great place of natural beauty and stunning vistas. There are two sparkling waterfalls to swim in and many places to enjoy a picnic in the sunshine.

Interestingly, the beach of Hat Sai Thong – Golden Sand Beach – only appears between February to April, when the river is at its lowest. If you happen to be in the area at the time, this is a good opportunity to slap on some suntan lotion and soak up some rays.

Lamphun, Thailand

Lamphun, Thailand
Lamphun, Thailand
Lamphun, Thailand
lamphun_4

Situated to the south east of Chiang Mai, Lamphun Province is steeped in history and culture. The province capital is the quiet town of Lamphun, which can be found 670 kilometres from Bangkok. The town is located on the bank of the Kuang River and contains many interesting attractions including ancient sites and relics, forests, mountains and pretty lakes. Lamphun is also well known as a producer of longans, the extremely sweet and delicious Thai fruit with its hard, yellow shell.

Lamphun is an area of great natural beauty. Particularly picturesque is the Mae Ping National Park, with its lush forests and the Ping River running through it. The park is also home to the seven-tiered Namtok Ko Luang and a limestone cave full of stalactites and stalagmites.

Another area of intense natural beauty is the Doi Khun Tan National Park, with its pretty orchids and lilies as well as impressive bamboo and pine forests. Namtok Tat Moei is an imposing waterfall in this park and an interesting feature is that it can be reached directly by train from Chiang Mai.

Lamphun is blessed with a large number of sites of highly respected historical and cultural importance. Wat Phra That Hariphunchai was built during the reign of King Arthitayarat, a descendant of Queen Chamthewi, around 800 years ago. Principal features of this temple include the 46-metre tall golden chedi and the Khmer-style Buddha statue. Other interesting temples in this area include Wat Phra Yuen, Wat Mahawan, Wat Chamthewi and the highly revered Wat Phra Phutthabat Tak Pha, where according to legend the Lord Buddha once stayed, leaving a likeness of monk’s saffron robe and his footprint imprinted in the stone ground.

The impressive Hariphunchai National Museum is a good place to discover the area’s rich and interesting history. The museum features displays of prehistoric human skeletons and objects of arts from the Dvaravati, Hariphunchai, Lanna and Rattanakosin periods. There also some interesting displays of temple art, which has been carefully collected and displayed over a period of several years.

Another way to get an idea of the area’s history and culture is by visiting Ban Hong, which is the site of a warm and welcoming 1,400-year-old community dating back to the Hariphunchai Kingdom.

If you are interested in handicrafts, the cotton weaving village of Pasong makes a good day trip. Whilst there, pay a visit to Wat Chang Khao No and the bustling market places, where you can buy a wide range of cotton products.

There are a large number of interesting celebrations in Lamphun Province. Particularly vibrant is the Lam Yai Festival, which takes place in the second week of August. Also known as the Longan Fair, the objective is to promote the area’s sweet and succulent the fruit. The festival features a parade of floats made from longan fruit and the Miss Lam Yai contest.

Another popular event is the Song Nam Phra That Hariphunchai which is held to celebrate the province’s principal religious site and takes place in May.

Isaan Life – Graduation

issan_graduation_1
Isaan Life Graduation
Isaan Life Graduation
Isaan Life Graduation
Isaan Life Graduation
Isaan Life Graduation
issan_graduation_8
Isaan Life Graduation

Graduation is a time when family and friends come together collectively to celebrate individual achievement and the passage from one phase of life to the next. Graduations are a time to reflect on the past, to smile, relax, enjoy the moment and feel optimistic about the future. A week ago a dear friend Jaruwan Supolrai received her diploma from Ubon Ratchathani University, a college with about 5,000 students some 15 kilometers south of the city. It was indeed a celebration but hardly a spontaneous or stress-free one!

This graduation was an explosion of color. Reds bled to crimson, baby blue and shimmering golden hues! Nervous, smiling students dressed in their most fancy uniforms, shirts and skirts for the young women and tight white suits for the boys. Each graduate wore a lacy, baby-blue gown. The graduates carried multi-colored flowers carefully cradled in the arms of teddy bears.

This colorful scene was hardly serene. The crowd was noisy and boisterous. Thai people love to take pictures and there was a constant whirring and clicking coming from every direction. Proud parents, happy students, smiling brothers and sisters, confused babies masked the underlying tension the graduates felt. Jaruwan explained that the preparation that went into the event was “exhausting and formal.” Rehearsals were rigorous, lasting for hours for two days before the actual ceremony. Also Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn was there to hand out the diplomas. This was nerve wracking; there is no room for error in the face of royalty. Jaruwan explained, everything had to be perfect. The princess is a scholar having earned a doctorate in Development Education from Srinakharinwirot University in Bangkok in 1987.

Next there was time pressure. Some 1,140 students had to collect their diplomas in around 1 minute meaning that 35 students had to march to the front and receive their diplomas each and every minute. The graduates worked on their timing in practice, even counting the number of steps they had to take every second!

The day of the ceremony was so stressful that Jaruwan said there was “no time for sleep.” Wake-up time on graduation day was promptly at 3 a.m. for a pre-dawn hair and make up call. The scene was hysterical. Imagine a queue of half-awake girls standing in the glow of a dimly lit convenience store dressed only in their nightgowns waiting to get into a nearby salon just outside the University gates. Soon there was a second line, the same girls parading out of the salon, still in their nightgowns, but with made-up faces aglow and freshly coifed hair carefully arranged into swirls atop their heads.

Jaruwan dressed for the day at 4 a.m., a quick and simple task; first slip into the neatly ironed shirt and dress, then the gown. Next a quick breakfast; there would be no time for more food until much later that afternoon. Exhausted and not yet dawn, Jaruwan headed out to meet her classmates. Soon she would parade formally into the gymnasium where the Princess waited.

The gymnasium was graduates and students only. The processional and the ceremony were worth the frenetic middle-of-the-night effort. The graduates, identified by their flowing blue gowns, marched in first. First and second year students stood on either side solemnly singing the school song. Jaruwan said she was, “nervous because everything was so formal.” Later she said that when the 52-year-old Princess entered the gymnasium and the Royal Song played she “got goose bumps all down” her arms.

An hour later the ceremony complete the students emerged clearly relieved the formalities were over. “I did it!” was a common exclamation. Now, the celebration, the graduation party could begin! First year students honored graduates from different faculties surrounding them singing or dancing to show respect. There were flowers everywhere. Thousands, every color of the rainbow, purchased from street vendors that morning were showered upon the graduates. I felt like a beast of burden carrying more bouquets than I could handle; so many had been given to Jaruwan.

The formal party began to wind down. Families that have traveled far distances get back in their cars or vans and headed go home. The graduates headed out for food and a moment of relaxation. Everyone was exhausted but there was one more celebration, one final party. The graduates headed out to the bars for a last college bash before taking that next step into the “real world.”

About the author:
Eli Sherman is a graduate of Montpelier High School in Montpelier, the capital of the state of Vermont, USA, and a “young blood writer” living in Ubon Ratchathani, Isaan – Northeastern Thailand. He’s been to Isaan four times in his short life. Once on a cross cultural exchange with Montpelier to Thailand Project; once coming for five months as an exchange student at Benchama Maharat school in Ubon; and again coming as a guide for Montpelier to Thailand Project. He now works as a volunteer at the Institute of Nutrition Research Field Station, Mahidol University in Ubon Ratchathani and is writing to present Isaan Life to the world, and especially KhaoSanRoad.com visitors.