Sunday, December 8, 2013

37. Nakhon Panom - Nakhon Ratchasima (also called: Korat)

480 km

I like the sleepy, non-tourist town on the fantastic Mekhong river a lot, however it is time to leave. It is a very "Thai" town, you won't find many Western food choices here, in fact, I only found a quasi-bakery style place where at least part of the menu was readable, however their food was mainly Vietnamese. You will also have a hard time finding anybody who speaks English at all. (Don't get me wrong: This is Thailand, people speak Thai here, however Thailand ranks very low internationally in English proficiency, although all kids have at least four years of English in school (?). I think out of 60 countries only people in Kazakhstan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia are ranked lower.

In a town such as this, you also have the typical Thai hotels, often named "Grand Hotel", "First Hotel", or similar who range between $3.00 and $8.00/night, some in this price range even have a/c, which is currently not necessary since the nights tend to be actually rather chilly.

My hotel, "The River View", is a little bit out of town, so I have to ride the motorcycle to get downtown. 

Something funny happened: 
When I stopped last night to take pictures of a beautifully illuminated Wat in town, a Thai woman came out of a stopped pick-up truck, and asked me in good English, the Farang!, for directions to the hotel they had reservations for. Her husband was looking out the window of the truck waiting for her. I looked up the name of the hotel on the GPS and escorted them to the hotel. Funny.

The director and the staff of my hotel gathered for a small candle light ceremony in front a tall picture of the King. How deeply in love people here are with the old monarch is very touching. The majority of people in the main procession honoring his birthday in Hua Hin the other day which I saw on TV were shedding tears when the King was driven past. Maybe people may also be anxious and afraid of the possibility of his death and the choices for succession. The daughter is clearly not interested in becoming Queen, and the son is not very liked, to put it mildly; there are rumors that his own palace guard is the only unit which isn't allowed to carry weapons in his presence in fear he could be assassinated. I don't know whether there is any truth to this.

Candle light celebration of the hotel staff.

The ride itself goes for the most part on 4-lane divided highways through the flat and dry Isaan countryside. Agriculture is limited due to the poor soil and dryness. It is an uneventful ride; I saw one accident of a pickup truck leaving the highway, on the opposite side. Besides that the 6.5 hour ride is only interrupted by two stops at the gas stations to get a bottle of water, and sometimes a hot-and-spicy Korean ramen soup, "Little Cook", yummy! (Just kiddin') ( Most major gas stations are mini-supermarkets and provide an automated water boiler for these instant soups, and a panini toasters for the seal-wrapped 7-11 snacks one can get. The ham-and cheese sandwiches grilled in the toaster oven are actually not too bad.

At one of the gas stations I met this Thai rider on a big bike (rarely seen in Thailand, outside of the big cities) who showed me his wireless helmet-mounted break-lights and turn signal unit. He opened the rear cowling and showed me that it needs just a small signal transmitter connected to the break-light cable, a third of the size of a matchbox. He told me that he bought it on Ebay from China. Of course.

We were riding together for about an hour before he had to change direction onto a different highway. I was not too impressed by his Chinese "helmet-lantern", or maybe I am just saying that, since it would be probably impossible to have this transmitter linked into the BMW's CAN-BUS.

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