|"Loei as a town and as a
province is so untouched, you'll feel like you have no hands."
Here's something amazingly simple to consider. It's become
almost cliche nowadays for tourists and even foreigners resident in
Thailand to complain how trampled with tourists the country is becoming.
And that's true to a point. Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, Phuket
-- come on, you know all the places as much as I do. And yet when you
suggest they visit a province as remote as Loei, they balk.
Okay, Loei is not right around the corner from anywhere most tourists
disembark or where they live. The mountainous capital is located 560 km
away from the Kok or about a 10-hr bus ride.
rains turned me into a sponge on the way to Phu Rua National Park
This little touristed province borders Laos along the
Mekong, and there's a bridge spanning the border, but it'll
take you to a very infrequently visited area of Laos where
ongoing transport links aren't easy to come by.
Loei town is a pleasant tiny place easy to get around by
Hotels here don't break the bank. I stayed at the very
Kings Hotel for USD 16, a sizeable Thai-style abode with
a lord-fearing man could ask for. Just around the
corner was the Loei Amari Palace, and they were only asking
USD 30 for a four-star hotel, but a loud concert was being
held in the park behind the Amari Palace and staying there
would've insured I heard every cheer, scream, brawl, and
The eating scene is local. Want sushi or cannelloni?
Stay in Bangkok. There is one European-style
restaurant called Ban Thai, the product of, I believe, a
German who married a Thai and set up base here. Other
than that, it's local eateries all the way apart from a KFC
on the outskirts. A
Tesco-Lotus was supposed to open
up in a complex next to the KFC. Evidently, bribes
weren't paid to the right individuals, and the building,
fully designed and ready to open with chain store regalia
filling the store space within, stayed closed.
National parks dot the area around Loei town, and on my
first full day in the province, I drove the 50+ km up well
paved but mountainous roads towards
Phu Rua National Park
and beyond to a local winery of Chateau de Loei. We all make mistakes and
this was one of them. As I ascended, the weather got
cloudier, and it started to rain. I avoided the first
downpour by parking my bike under a makeshift shelter.
The rain subsided and I resumed my drive. Just 6 km
short of the national park, the rain came down again in
buckets. I pulled into a gas station and avoided the
storm inside a Cafe Amazon.
The rain never stopped, however, and I was pumping up the
tires in my motorbike, a Thai lady from Phitsanalouk 6 hours
away and looking for a free English lesson, invited me to
lunch. She had a car, and we could drive around looking
for a restaurant without getting wet.
As I was sitting in an Isaan restaurant struggling to
understand what this woman was saying, the rain continued
its torrent, and I saw my opportunity to visit the national
park and the winery go down the drain. Another hour
under a shelter, without abatement in the storm, I was
forced to bike back to Loei town as if I were taking a
non-stop freezing cold shower.
The next day, had all gone well with the weather, I was to
bike out to Huay Nam Reservoir. There you can rent a
large private raft for the day (see above), usually in the
company of numerous friends, and a boat tows you out onto
the reservoir waters. You can order food and
alcohol from passing boats and it's rowed out to you.
In such an idyllic setting, no foreigners in sight, how can
any pessimist argue that all of Thailand is trampled by
It can get cold in Loei. Downright freezing cold.
In September, I required a jacket. But it's not the
Himalayas or the Andes here. The marigolds, the
nature parks, the hiking trails, and the lack of tourism
make it a veritable out-of-the-way and undeveloped paradise.
There are clubs here but nothing like the chic glamour dens
you are used to seeing in Bangkok. Come to Loei if you
want to get out of the way.