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Loei


"Loei as a town and as a province is so untouched, you'll feel like you have no hands."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic


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. 

Phu Rua National Park

Before the 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 foot. 

Hotels here don't break the bank.  I stayed at the very centrally located Kings Hotel for USD 16, a sizeable Thai-style abode with plentiful amenities 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 note. 

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. 

Huay Nam ReservorNational 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 tourism?

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.





 

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