In Isaan - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

January 2, 2024

In Isaan

Sangkha to Kap Choeng

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In Isaan

When we decided to cut our trip short on January 23, 2020 in Ubon Ratchathani we didn't exactly know where we were going to ride next anyway.  We had nearly six more weeks of our trip left.  I was leaning for our route to be pretty much what it has been this time from Ubon Ratchathani.  So, again, we are tying up loose ends on this trip.  We linked together all the missing links of the Mekong and now we are seeing a part of Thailand we have never seen before but have always wondered about.  We are taking the route we probably would have taken had we continued with our trip in 2020.

Isaan is a huge piece of Thailand, maybe around 30% of Thailand's territory or, half the size of Germany,   Not many tourists ever go to Issan largely because it's not as interesting geographically as other parts of Thailand (quite flat) nor are there fun and exciting cities such as Chiang Mai and there certainly are no beaches in Isaan.  Throughout history Isaan has been an in-between sort of area where peoples from Laos and Cambodia have come and gone and come back, where empires took control and then lost control.  The soil isn't very good which probably accounts for Isaan never becoming a really important part of Thailand.  The majority of the population are ethnically Lao but they actually don't want to be associated with Laos but be their own people, Lao Isaan or Khon Isaan which means the people of Isaan.  The Mekong River makes up the border to the north and east, Cambodia is its southern border.  For more than a hundred years Thailand has incorporated Isaan into greater Thailand.

Since the coffee shop near our guest house wasn't open at 6:30 when we left, we found this place just five miles down the road. It was also great.
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I've never had coffee on bricks before.
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Like other tourists, we too have never spent much time in Isaan except along the Mekong River.  I've always been curious about what goes on in Isaan and I guess that's why we are here, exploring.  It's a large flat area - the Korat Plateau -  easy for us to ride.  I've been pleasantly surprised by how peaceful it is and how full of birds Isaan is.  Apparently the soil contains a lot of salt which is why crops don't do well, that is except tapioca/cassava root.  (Thailand is the second largest producer of tapioca in the world!)  Sugar cane seems to do all right as well as do rubber and eucalyptus trees. Sticky rice is the type of rice the people of Isaan prefer, so of course, they grow lots of sticky rice too.    

Tapioca stalks after harvesting the roots. The stalks are cut into foot long pieces and stuck in the ground where, after a few days or weeks, they miraculously start getting leaves.
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The unusual thing about the fields or rice paddies is that the farmers have left a great many big trees when they cleared the land.  They are beautiful, old trees and they make for a more interesting landscape than just rice paddies as far as one can see.  I can't stop taking photos of them, just ask Andrea how many times I've had to stop.  I seem to remember a similar landscape in Cambodia which now it dawns on me that that would make sense since we are getting so close to Cambodia.  In fact, where we have ended up today is only a handful of miles from Cambodia.  Behind our guest house is a forest/jungle that extends well into Cambodia.  A lot of the people down here also have Khmer facial features.  

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See the little sticks stuck in the rows. Those are tapioca plants which will grow to be four or five feet tall.
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The most quiet and wonderful small road we were on today was Cow Poop Road.  I'm pretty sure that was the name.  It sure wasn't Fish Poop Road because it wasn't exactly swimming in poop, just plops here and there that we could easily avoid because there were no vehicles to watch out for.  I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when they had entered new, unfamiliar territory.  It was very quiet except for a lot of different kinds of birds, some of which we had never heard before in our lives.  The fields were dotted with tall trees and most had very interesting Dr. Seus-like shapes.  I did hesitate to mention Dr. Seus in one sentence and The Wizard of Oz in another for fear of mixing you up, like mixing metaphors but there you have it to figure out.  We slowed down and our heads swiveled every which way as we waited for something to happen that we had not experienced ever in our lives.  Nothing ever did happen but that was the feeling we had.  It was absolutely magical, except for all the cow poop.  Cow poop is specifically NOT magical.  But I wonder if that's why no one was on that road.

Obviously Cow Poop Road.
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Along Cow Poop Road. Don't they look suspicious!
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Rich FrasierThey have guilty looks on their faces, I'd say...
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6 months ago
This is not Cow Poop Road.
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Then we had to go on a large and busy road like a freeway where everyone drove too fast.  It drove us nuts for a few miles until we stumbled on the trifecta of wonderfulness: nice looking guest house, great looking restaurant and even greater looking coffee shop, all in a group.  What could be more wonderful than that, you might ask.  But there was the big road right next to it all and the noise from it kind of put a damper on our excitement.  

We were very early to be looking for a room, something like 10AM.  The owner of the guest house told us we could wait over at the coffee shop which we did.  A Swiss man who was staying at the guest house with his Thai wife and little boy came over to talk with us.  It was fun talking with him.  He teaches in Switzerland but has, get this, fourteen weeks off this time of year!  They were visiting his wife's family nearby for New Year's and were about to drive back to Bangkok.  We then met his wife who was very nice also.  She owns an Isaan and Thai food restaurant in Bangkok called, Tamnak Isan.  I, for one, would like to go eat at her restaurant when we are in Bangkok.  We sort of know where it is, which is amazing since Bangkok is a behemoth when it comes to city size. 

The sweet coffee shop next to our guest house. The owner of the guest house is on the right.
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I wanted this chair but it weighed a ton. I could barely lift it! And you know that if I can't lift something it is massively heavy.
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Ron SuchanekUse your back. Also, can you go back and get it? My birthday is coming up in October and I like that chair.
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6 months ago
Lisa LeslieTo Ron SuchanekWhen I read this post I swear I was hearing Ron's voice saying your words, Bruce. Then of course it WAS Ron who had commented. Brothers in humor!
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6 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Lisa LeslieI channel Ron often. And sometimes I just don't have to. I guess you are right Lisa; Brothers in Humor.
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5 months ago

We settled in our room and then went to eat at the great looking restaurant.  It was some of the best food we have eaten in a long time, and the owner was funny.  You had to go up to him where he sat at a counter that separated the dining area from the cooks.  He wrote down what you wanted in a ledger and called out your table number when the food was ready and then you had to go get it from him.  He nodded to us when ours was ready.  He was super orderly and I figured maybe he had been in the military and that's where he got his regimentation.  He also cracked open a coconut I had bought on the way at a coconut OTOP on the road.  Super nice man.

The food was so delicious and cheap that we wanted to get dinner there as well but we had heard that it closed at 4PM.  We went over at 3:30 but he had already wrapped things up!  We were so sad because, like I said, we have not had much in the way of a good meal in days.  When you find a restaurant as good as his, you eat there even if you're not hungry.  That's my motto anyway.  

The great restaurant. It was packed at lunch time, always a good sign especially since it was on a big highway with nothing else around for miles.
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Here's a tip: When in Thailand look for this outside a restaurant and you will be assured of having very clean food. Although, we never get sick from anything in Thailand, even rough looking food on the street.
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There were no other restaurants anywhere near so we went to bed.  But we did have in our possession a papaya, muesli, bananas and milk for breakfast in our room and that is also a great thing to look forward to.

This may look like a humdrum guest house but inside it nice with everything we need. And being on the ground floor we can always pull our bikes inside.
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The grounds of most of the guest houses we stay at are always full of nice plants. The restaurant is behind.
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lovebruce

Today's ride: 26 miles (42 km)
Total: 684 miles (1,101 km)

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