Finally, after what seems like forever, we’ve come back to our Thai home! Our home, which I’ve written about a few times, is in the province of Bueng Kan, Thailand. The province borders the Mekhong river which splits Thailand and Laos. This is where our Thai family are based. It’s also where we’ve built our large family home.
We took a direct flight to Bangkok this time. Normally, to save a bit of cash, we would change in Dubai, Qatar, India or wherever offers the best time/cost saving benefit. Annoyingly, as I’m now a teacher, I have to travel during the school holidays which bumps the price up and reduces the number of cheap options. So, instead of our normally £500-ish return (with a change) ticket from London to Bangkok, we forked out a whopping £750 each on a direct return.
I think it’s the first time we’ve flown with EVA Air, for some reason I’d always assumed they were a carrier from South Africa. Turns out they’re Chinese.
Two points of note from an otherwise unnoteworthy flight. EVA is possibly the only airline I’ve flown with whose in-flight entertainment hardware is even close to acceptable. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it was ‘good’. The touch screen was clear with a decent resolution and colour spectrum. The touch capacitance was light, accurate and quick. Unlike most airlines where you require a chisel and a bucket-load of patience to press each button. The only letdown was the content. There simply wasn’t a huge amount of it. Missing a few new release blockbusters. Even the Chinese movies on offer were nearly a year old. Having said that, the content they did have was high resolution with and with good audio.
EVA also has, by far, the best in-flight blankets. So good in fact that, I slipped one into my wife’s carry-on bag. And I fully intend to grab more on the return flight.
As most people do, once we’d landed in Bangkok, we had an immediate desire to leave it. Bangkok, as much as we love it, is not what you want to experience after 14 hours of travelling. It was also monsoon season, which had the benefit of cooling everything down, but also made everything incredibly wet and miserable. We headed directly to Hualamphong train station to pick up our first-class sleeper tickets and get on our train to Udon Thani.
We’ve travelled first class the last few times we’ve been on Thai trains. The price is a bit more than second class, but you get a private cabin, a sink and room service. For two of us in one cabin, we paid about £85. You even get access to the stations first class lounge, which is an air conditioned room with a large CRT television and a selection of pink and beige 1980’s style sofas. There’s also a fridge full of chilled bottles of water. We always take as many as we can carry discreetly. We boarded at 19:30 and arrived in Udon at about 07:30 the following day. The trains have always had toilets and basic showers, but on the older trains, these were often seats with a hole down to the tracks and a hose for a shower. The new first-class carriages, which have been widely admired on Thai national news programmes, are a huge step forward. The toilets feel like those on an aeroplane, the showers are now a wet room with a proper power-shower. The cabins have screens with a live GPS feed of the train’s location, several TV channels and a room-service menu (provided by an onboard 7-Eleven). There are also LED lights and USB charging ports. The in-cabin screens even have a display in the corner showing which bathrooms/shower rooms are currently available. I’ve stayed in worse hotels.
Having showered and slept properly we both woke up nice and early to watch the sun rise out of our window. We ordered a couple of lattes and some Thai/Chinese breakfast items from the in-cabin screen. After carefully choosing what we wanted and submitting the order, we waited. Soon after, a man appeared at the door, with a menu and a notepad. We repeated our order, and it arrived about ten minutes later. Apparently, they have not figured out how to read the orders yet, only that a cabin wants to make an order. The screen-to-mouth 7-Eleven of the future was still clearly in its early stages.
Arriving in Udon Thani we were met at the station by the guy we normally hire our vehicles from. This time we’d gone for an older model Toyota Fortuner (4×4, 3-litre diesel). Although we own a selection of bikes and trucks at our home, we like to hire when we know we’re going to put loads of miles on the clock. And we had over 2,000 planned for the holiday. I’d already paid both the deposit and the full fee through PayPal over the free WiFi on the train. So we just had to sign the paperwork, jump in and drive off. We’ve always had great service with these guys.
From Udon, we headed north towards Nong Khai. This is also the final destination of the train, but we’ve yet to find a good car hire guy there, so we still hire in Udon Thani. As we raced the train north towards the Mekhong river I was reminded of just how mad Thailands roads are. People happily drive on the wrong side of the road, they will plough into roundabouts as if they’ve been invited to a destruction derby. Scooters are everywhere, not a single helmet in sight. The drivers are nervous and incapable yet incredibly confident that they’re right. There are often kids as young as eight driving scooters down major eight-lane highways. The wrong way. Dogs, chickens and more recently cows all scatter the road. Most notably are the ‘Salengs’, these are scooters with a rudimentary sidecar bolted on the side. You’ll often see entire families cruising around in these. I’ve once seen four adults, three children, a dog and two pigs in one. On the main road. At night. The sooner you accept the madness, the sooner you can enjoy it.
Reaching Nong Khai, we head east along the Mekhong river for about 160Km until we arrive in Bueng Kan town. Now it starts to feel like the end of our journey. Once in Bueng Kan, we take highway 212 until we see the familiar temple sign, about 20Km down the road, take a left and follow the dirt track for another twenty minutes until we’re home in Ba Na Kam village. As I write this, they are busily tarmacking the entire road through our tiny village to the main road. It’ll save us money on tires, but it takes away some of the charm.
A few dabs on of the horn, and the family pop out of the house to greet us. My wife’s mum, dad, brother and two of our nieces (daughters of my wife’s youngest sister). The youngest of which, Gor Khao, is seven months old and we’d not met before.
Talking, hugging, drinking and eating started and we immediately felt like we’d never left. Home.