Khorat As The Base
Dicky could not stand still. He suffered from a mental
disorder which prevented him hanging out or chilling out. His
face was always buried in the guidebook and he pushed us to
explore some new place with every passing minute. In retrospect, I respect the
intensity of his desire to see it all, but were I to do it over
again, I'd have gone fewer places and spent more time in each. Dicky's
travels are about quantity.
One problem was that Dicky didn't know how to
drive. He couldn't drive a car, a motorbike, or even
ride a bicycle. I had to shuttle him the hundreds of
kilometers we drove.
We did an overnighter in Pak Thong Chai so we could explore
Khao Yai National Park. This is Thailand's second
largest national park and deserved more than an afternoon
following Thai tourist groups to the most popular spots.
We didn't rent a very powerful motorbike, and I had trouble
biking up the steep hills with another grown man gripping my
waist from the back. Dicky had to walk some of the way, and I waited
for him to catch up. Dicky ended up hitching a ride
back to Khorat, but left his helmet behind. I carried
it in the bike's basket, but when I hit a pothole, the
helmet popped out and as I slowed down to pull the bike over
to retrieve it, I hit another pot hole and was thrown off my
bike, breaking a toe.
Don't misunderstand. I had a great time with Dicky. Besides
Khao Yai, we visited the ruins of Phimai and Padomrung in the
neighboring province. I may not
have bothered to do these without Dicky breathing down my neck. We
stayed in touch for several years afterwards. At the time we met, I was on my way to
Australia, and Dicky, who also held
Australian citizenship via his mother, had been there many times and
questioned why I was even going. After I returned to Thailand from
Australia, Dicky passed back through Thailand almost two years later on
his way to Korea for a wedding, and I had him over to our house for a
I owe Dicky a lot, a lot more than he could ever comprehend. Not
only did we have a great 10 days together during that magical time for
me, just weeks out of the USA, the travel choices I made with Dicky
influenced my later travels in Thailand in 2007 which, in turn,
led me into the events, good and bad, which brought about my eventual
decision to relocate to Thailand.
Brief Revisit 6 Years Later
In February 2011, I passed through Khorat again on the
way to Nong Khai to do my final visa run to Laos.
It was shocking to think that over half a decade had
passed since I'd last walked these streets when I could
remember quite clearly the adventures Dicky and I had
shared. They didn't seem so long ago. The town looked more or less the
same. Within 10 minutes of getting dropped off, I was
able to re-orientate myself and find the very street I'd stayed
on in 2005. The same hotel was still in business, with
rates 20% cheaper, in baht terms, than 2005. Deflation
in light of greater competition.
The town had definitely become more foreign-tourist
friendly. Largely because of free wifi, I selected a
different hotel this time around located only minutes from
my previous one. In less than an hour,
just at his hotel, I saw more foreigners than I had in 10
days in Khorat in 2005. My memory served me correctly, and I had no trouble relocating the same
dining spot Dicky and I had frequented so many times before in 2005. The food was just as good and in light of having spent
the last several years in Hua Hin, quite cheap.
In March 2007, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)
launched a campaign to turn foreign expats married to Isaan
women into spokesmen for the local tourist attractions.
TAT was to "wow" the expats on a sublime tour to get the
expats talking about Isaan. "In the future, we hope
the foreigners, who are sons-in-law of Isaan people, will
volunteer themselves as spokesmen for our tourism campaign,"
said Nuan Sarnsorn, the director of TAT's Northeastern
Office Region 3. Nice try, especially when the TAT charged
each couple for the tour and then expected the foreigner
part of the couple to volunteer to be spokespeople, despite
Thailand's strict laws about not being able to work here,
even as a volunteer. These contradictions are actually
quite consistent when you've lived in Thailand long enough.
I didn't require a TAT tour or to be
married to an Isaan gal to see Khorat
more through the eyes of a foreigner living in Thailand
rather than as a tourist in Thailand. Khorat was no more or
less appealing in 2011 than it had been in 2005. It
was just that more foreigners had realized its innate appeal
of being a cosmopolitan town, by Isaan standards, near to
Bangkok and to plenty of natural attractions without being
blighted by overdevelopment. Khorat, never a bad choice, was now even better.
Are you coming?