We set out on our journey on Saturday, only to find trains to Buriram not leaving for hours and being very slow. So instead, we went into Bangkok and got a bus, which we thought was going to Buriram. Turns out, the bus went to Korat, and then we would have to change buses to Buriram from there. By the time we arrived in Korat, it was already early evening and we decided to stay the night. So we walked to my now-familiar cheap Thai hotel. It's my third different time staying here this year, Anna's first. We got a really crummy room (they keep giving me worse and worse rooms every time I come), but it was suitable for the night. Welcome to my way of travel, Anna!
The gloomy halls of our cheap hotel, which Anna remarks look like a prison, complete with chain-link fence covering the space in the ceiling! Anna takes a prison-yard pose as I snap the photo!
I've been to Korat so many times, but it's Anna's first time here. So it was a lot of fun taking her to the nearby moat around the old city, only a few metres from our cheap hotel. We first check out the most famous sight of Korat, the statue of Lady Mo, one of the most famous women of Thailand's history. Legend has it she almost single-handedly stopped one of the Lao invasions of the region, while her husband, the governor of the province, was away. It is kind of a holy sight for Issan people, and just like the last few times I was here, there are crowds of Thais worshiping at the statue.
There is a lovely little market right along the side of the moat! Me and Anna stop for a delicious dinner of som tam and their local version of pad thai, sitting on the floor right next to the canal! A few curious local boys photo-bomb as I snap the pic!
som tam stall that we ate at....
Outside, near the gate into the old city, there is a section set up for roller bladers, just like last time I visited. Many of the children skating around have glowing or flashing wheels on their skates! The big difference is a big mural of the recently deceased King, along with the now-familiar black and white ribbons which have popped up everywhere around Thailand, towers over the skating rink.
wandering alongside the moat, and the sections of the old city wall, we find some interesting places for photos!
Last time I visited this part of the wall, on the northwest corner of the moat, all the doors were opened. I remember that I went inside and wandered around the spooky, abandoned city walls building, which is multi-level. I wondered at the time why I couldn't see any signs of squatters living there, as it would be a perfect place for a bum to lay his/her head. Well... This time I led Anna up the stairs. The doors were still open, but now there were clear signs that it has been turned into a squatter camp. There were mattresses on the floors, string strung up and clothes hanging there to dry, belongings scattered around. So we didn't go inside this time, not wanting to be unwelcome 'guests' to the residents of the ol' city wall....
After a surprisingly comfortable night at the cheap hotel, we set off in the morning for the Korat bus station, several km away. We walk through this street market, which is already busy.
Near the bus station, they are building an enormous mega-mall called Terminal 21. This mall, still under construction, has a built-in huge observation tower, which looks quite cool and will obviously be Korat's tallest building, by far, when it is finished. Fun to see the progress made on it since it was only a big concrete husk on my last visit here a few months ago.
well... wow! We take the bus into Buriram and right near the bus station, we find this gem. It's over my usual budget, but at 450 baht a night it's one of the nicest hotels i've ever stayed in. Awesome double bed, flat-screen TV, air-con and super clean hot water shower, balcony, fridge, etc, for about 13 US dollars. We'll take it for a night!!
Our wonderful hotel in Buriram, the 'S' Hotel... if you ever visit this lovely Issan city, I strongly recommend it.
We only rest at the delightful hotel briefly, because we will probably only be here in Buriram for one night. So soon we hit the streets. After an unbelievably good lunch of pad prick gaeng and cow pad at some nearby street stalls, we take the ol' walking tour. Like much of the rest of Thailand, Buriram is heavily decorated with black and white ribbons and banners mourning the loss of King Bumibol.
At this roundabout there is a famous monument to King Rama I. But an enormous picture of the most recent king, Rama IX, has been put up as well, along with the black and white ribbons.
The monument seems to be dedicated to elephants, with hundreds of small elephant statues around this huge one. Buriram province is famous as one of the provinces with the best elephant tamer farms.
Ewww. This is what I think of Hillary Clinton. Amazingly, as terrible as she is, she would be the only logical choice in the upcoming US election, which tells the state of things over there. Glad i'm not in that mess! I found this picture among a line of photos of the recently deceased King Bumibol, Rama IX (to my right) meeting with various world leaders.
Near Buriram city, only a few km away, is the Khao Kradong Forest Park, which is built on an extinct volcano, one of the few volcanos known to have existed in Thailand. We tried to wait for a bus or songthaew here from around that roundabout, but none stopped for us. So we eventually began trying to hitch-hike, and after only a few minutes a nice lady, traveling with her boy, picked us up and took us all the way here! Unbeknownst to me at the time, but it was Anna's first time hitch-hiking, and she loved it! The car dropped us off right at the entrance to the volcano-park, and we quickly got our bearings and began the climb up....
It is a tiny volcano by any standards, and took only a few minutes to climb, but still has a great bird's eye view of Buriram city below, only about 6km away.
The big Buddha at the top of Khao Kradong volcano. There were a lot of Thai people visiting here today, but very few foreigners.
We spotted an insane amount of tomboys (manly lesbians) in Buriram, but this one takes the cake. She was with not one, but two girls, both oogling her and desperate for her attention. It was entertaining as hell to watch this tomboy pimp in action!
After checking out the big Buddha at the top, we have to go down these stairs to get to the crater of the volcano....
there is a fun slide going down a good portion of the way, that these boys are having a blast on!
nearing the crater, volcanic rocks all around, many of them stacked into neat little piles...
Here we are at the very bland crater, nothing more than a circular grass pit with a little pond in the middle of it. I still thought it was pretty awesome, but Anna was a big disappointed with her first volcano visit being so small-time. Haha!
There is a nice pathway going around the crater, and even a wobbly bridge going right over it!
About to cross the bridge over the mouth of Khao Kradong volcano...
On the wobbly bridge, which was filled with fun-having Thai people...
view of the crater from the bridge... and in the distance you can see the big Buddha, built on the highest point of the rim.
Funny volcano signs on the roads leading up the volcano!!
While we had been at the top of the volcano, a few Thai people came up to us and wanted us to pose for them to take photos with us! Down at the bottom, we were about to go back to the road and try to hitch-hike, but the same Thai people drove up in a car and said hello to us. I asked if they could take us to the football stadium and they said sure, and we hopped right in without wasting any time or effort trying to hitch. Good times!!!!!
We are both feeling quite good after successful and effortless hitches, and after hitting our goals of the day... get a good and cheap hotel near bus station? A BIG check. Make it somehow to the volcano and climb it? check. Make it to the stadium in time for tonight's game? check. Good times!
We get to the i-mobile stadium, home of the Buriram United football team, historically the most famous team in Thailand. You can see people all over the country, even down in Pattaya or Bangkok, wearing the Buriram United shirts and jerseys. They are like the Manchester United of Thailand, basically, and although we've already seen them this year (they throttled the Pattaya football team in Pattaya), I was very excited to be able to see them in their own home stadium, amongst the purported craziest fans in all of Southeast Asia. We enter the stadium and there is the now-familiar memorial to the king set up, with books for people to sign their names and condolences in.
In here is displayed the major trophies the highly successful football team has won over the years. It's really amazing that a football powerhouse developed in this relatively small (even by Thai standards) and out-of-the-way city. But... dam. Turns out, because of the King's recent death, this game, and the ENTIRE rest of the season for every Thai football team, has been totally cancelled. Which as a HUUUUGE bummer. Turns out, the people who are all around the stadium on this night were only there to get refunds for their tickets. Oh well 🙁
So... we head back into Buriram, again by hitch-hiking. A woman on a motorbike stops for us and we both pile on. She takes us right into the center of old town, which is also surrounded by a moat. We then walk to this very impressive temple in time to witness the beginnings of an unbelievably beautiful sunset.
Amazing sunset at Wat Klang Phra Aram Luang, in historical part of Buriram.
Enjoying an amazing sunset at the temple!
They are having a big ceremony, apparently dedicated to King Bumibol... there are a lot of government people and others dressed in black and white, paying their last respects...
A ton of chairs have been set up all around the entire temple, must be thousands of them. Not many people have arrived by this time, but presumably a ton more will come.
We finally begin the long walk back from the old part of town to the area near our hotel, a walk of about 3km. Darm storm clouds begin to move in, and we are tired from a long day of walking and climbing, but are having a nice chat and, WAIT.... CHANG! We spot an elephant walking down the street!!!!!
We quickly catch up to the baby chang, and its' caretakers, these two teenagers, let Anna feed it some treats!
Anna in heaven after spotting the baby elephant in the middle of Buriram city!
Baby Buriram Chang!!!!!!!!!!
And then.... the baby chang and its caretakers head off into the sunset.
After a way-too-fast stop in wonderful Buriram, we hit the road again and onto our third hotel in 3 days. This time, we get a bus south to the nearby small town of Nang Rong. We quickly find a hotel which is cheap and very nice by my usual standards, but a step down from our palatial suite in Buriram. Oh well. We settle in and take a brief rest, but soon are off again. So much to see and so little time!
Our next stop, the famous Khmer ruins of Phnom Rung, the most impressive Khmer (ancient Cambodian empire) temples in present-day Thailand. We resist the hecklers at the Nang Rong bus station, who try to get us to agree to a brutal rip-off ride to the ruins. Instead, we wait for the next Surin-bound bus. We have to wait for a good 40 minutes, but have some nice Thai iced tea and relax. Finally, the Surin bus shows up and we hop on....
And our journey to Phnom Rung begins!....
... we get off the bus in the small village of Ban Tako (like 'Taco village!!!') and are immediately surrounded by mototaxi hecklers, offering prices even more ridiculous than the bozos had been offering at Nang Rong! We try to bargain with them, but they won't go under 300 baht per person. So.... we simply walk a few metres away from the hecklers, and flag down the first car that passes, a dude in this truck. He takes us to the crossroads of the ruins, about halfway there, for free! The greedy hecklers look on dejectedly as we hop into the truck and speed off. The joys of hitch-hiking!!!
After the truck dropped us off literally in the middle of nowhere, we begin walking towards the ruins, still about 8km away. But after only a few minutes, we flag down another car, this one driven by some army dudes. They take us the rest of the ride, up a steep, curving road ascending the volcano, and right to the entrance of the ruins!!!! The people at the entrance deem Anna to be dressed inappropriately for the ruins, but they lend her a black jacket to wear (which was kind of hard, as it is quite hot out). Good news was, because of the recent King's death, all of the ruins sights and museums throughout the country are free, so in addition to saving all that money by not getting ripped off by the mototaxi hecklers, we saved 300 more baht by not having to pay admission. Good times!! Anyway.... We finally head into Phnom Rung.
At the entrance to the famous Khmer ruins, stand Singha (so that's where the Thai beer got it's name) protecting the temple grounds...
Preparing to explore Phnom Rung.... the impressive ruins also sit on the summit of an extinct volcano, like the one we visited yesterday in Buriram. This volcano, though still small by normal standards, is quite a bit bigger than the one from yesterday.