April in Thailand is Songkran, the water festival – the beginning of the New Year. It is hot, very hot. High 30s with the occasional 40 thrown in to remind you that it is hot!
Songkran day is 13 April, however, the festivities extend for the best part of a week. Traffic is horrendous as millions return to their home village for the holiday. In 2019, 46 people died on the first day of the holiday break – seven days of danger.
I stayed in Kamcha-I for a week, two weeks before Songkran. It is a village in the Kamcha-I District, Mukdahan Province. Asian Highway 16 (Mukdahan to Khon Kaen) runs through the village. It is a very busy, though still very rural, Isaan focal point.
Along the Mekong River from Nong Khai to Chiang Khan
After moving to the Khon Kaen house we travelled north through Udon Thani to the river town of Nong Khai – location of the Friendship Bridge thats links Thailand with Laos across the Mekong River.
From there we headed west along the river on Route 211 – a fantastic drive dotted with villages, lined with banana and other trees, and the constant view of one of the world’s great rivers.
Wat Tham Sri Mong Kol and Din Phiang Cave
Not far up the road from the Skywalk is the Tham Sri Mong Kol temple and Din Phiang cave.
The passages in the cave are fairly tight and low so we didn’t enter.
The signage along the path leading to the Wat (temple) seems to change. What doesn’t change is the inability to translate accurately.
The carpark at the Wat and Cave is surrounded by bamboo.
Chiang Khan is a popular destination for Thai tourists. The focus is the traditional wooden, home style accommodation along the river. Chai Khong Road, parallel wth the river, is a walking street on Saturday night.
The symbol of Chiang Khan is the bicycle. Coupled with wooden houses and a very strong traditional of making offerings to monks on Sunday morning gives Chiang Khan has an ‘olde world’ atmosphere.
Phu Ruea National Park
At 1365 meters above sea level the peak of Phu Ruea is regarded as the coldest location in Thailand. It is 40 kilometres west of Loei and 50 kilometres south-west of Chiang Khan..
It is a great drive up to the carpark near the summit. Narrow twisting, turning road only just wide enough for two vehicles.
South to Khao Kho
Route 21 is a great drive. From Khok Ngam to Na Sam the road winds it way through the mountains, weaving left and right on high speed sweeps, some tight, some not, all a thrill to drive.
Wat Phrathat Sonkaew
The loose translation for the name of this wat is ‘temple on a glass cliff’. It is situated on an 830m peak, a few hundred metres from the town of Kheam Son, on the main highway 12, in Khao Kor.
The main pagoda and surroundings buildings are reputed to be adorned with five million colourful mosaic tiles.
It has gained a reputation as a famous, ‘must visit’ temple for Thai Buddhists.
Pho Khun Pha Meung Bridge
Highway 12 from Petchabun to Khon Kaen winds through the mountains in Nam Nan National Park. Another great drive. The Pho Khun Pha Meung bridge is the tallest in Thailand.
Nam Phong National Park
The day after we returned to Khon Kaen we visited Nam Phong National Park, 35 km north-west of Khon Kaen. Cliff top viewpoints a short walk from the carpark at the summit offer great views over the huge Ubol Ratana Dam reservoir.
The drive to the summit is even better than Phu Ruea. Some motorcyclist arrived while we there. They didn’t even bother to take in the views. They just enthused about the ride up the mountain, jumped on their bikes and headed down the hill for another thrill ride.
There are series of 20 or so Interesting rocks 200-500 metres north-east of the carpark.
The park is named for the Nam Phong River, impounded by the dam.
South to Korat then Aranyaprathet
We forewent Khon Kaen’s Songkran celebrations in lieu of an early start for our adventure in the south.
As we headed south out of Khon Kaen there was a solid two lanes of traffic headed the opposite for 180 kilometres to Korat – and probably beyond. All heading home fo Songkran.