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Royal Project in Esarn & Laos, Part IV

We arrived in sleepy Loei on a chilly Sunday mid afternoon. Our friends took us to a motel, Good Veiw (their spelling, not ours). We eagerly set off for a drive to see the sights.

An outstanding “believe it or not” sight is the evening flight of the bats. Within two hours arrival in Loei province just before sunset, we were viewing thousands and thousands of bats streaming out of the cave high over the Wat Thampaya temple, Na Duang district about 20 kilometers from the city. The GPS in the car noted we were standing about 400 msl and the temperature was a cool 19C. The stream was ballet-like: a long single path then dividing in two paths, then forming a spiral and rejoining as one stream again. The flight lasted 40 minutes as we were informed and at 5.40 pm bats were not visible in the air.

The next day, we headed for the hilly outskirts of Loei to the first established turkey farm in Thailand. It was easy to find because The Forral Hill Resort is located opposite the entrance. Turkeys, geese, deer and ostrich are raised on the 70 rai farm. Meal fed turkeys lay eggs in the winter. The turkeys must be 8 to 9 months old before producing eggs. Fertilized eggs hatch after 27 days either in incubator or by natural method. Only about 60% of the hatchlings survive because the young turkeys cannot tolerate mosquito bites. The breeding farm does not have slaughter facilities. Many cute little “gai jae” or bantam roosters add color when strutting around the farm.

A viewpoint at a height of 850 meters shows the way to Laos. A sign announces the distance to Luang Prabang is 400 kilometers. That’s 20 kilometers of good road within Thailand and another 380 kilometers of nearly impassable road from the Thai border into Laos.

We continued the drive for 27 kilometers in the Super Fresh weather!! -- Clean air, freshest flowers, fruits and vegetables were all over Loei’s up-country in late November. The panoramic view of yellow sunflowers swaying in the strong breeze was unforgettable. A girl selling fruit was one of the many hard workers in the countryside. She offered large sized “poodza” or jujube, a very popular fruit.

We came to Wat Pa Huay Laad at Km 43-44 at a height 700 meters. Members of the royal family are great supporters of the nearly completed vipassana meditation center. Farther on we saw resorts: Phu Ruea Resort, Pha Peu and Butsaba on our drive. Vendors excitedly told us about the annual New Year flower festival held at the intersection “samyaek poo reua” when it is transformed into a riot of color with thousands of flowers on display.

Another popular attraction is the Phupaek Arboretum at the TSA Seed Company. The guide who greeted us was from the Mae Jo, Sansai, Chiang Mai area. She had worked at TSA only seven months. She enjoyed the cool weather and breezy daily winds of this high altitude. This TSA nursery produced an enormous “great pumpkin” (well known from Peanuts cartoon strip) that was exhibited at Dreamworld theme park in Bangkok. The seed company exports 70% of its seed production. Along the drive many roadside stalls displayed plants and seeds to amateur gardeners who had wishful hopes of successfully raising cool season plants in their home gardens.

In the late afternoon we arrived at the Chateau de Loei. Amid the fields of green grapes was a small airfield still in use and the “Fye Orn Aim” reservoir provided needed water supply for the acreage. In the production center, we observed rows of casks holding the aged 5 year brandy. This yeaer being the first the VSOP was bottled and sold within Thailand. At the moment wine is squeezed from Shiraz and Chen Blanc varieties. The wines produced at Chateau de Loie have been critiqued and praised in Wine Spectator magazine, Wine Today and the Bangkok Post

We had a late lunch in the restaurant and greatly enjoyed the shopping for food products and souvenirs in the mini store of the chateau.

Later, back in the city we met a colorful personality who is the owner of “Khun Ahr” open air restaurant. He worked in Japan and Canada for many years in Thai restaurants returning to Loei to start up his family eatery. He only serves food during the day and enjoys being with his young children in the evening.

On another drive we rook route 201 where the Kam Langer golf course is located at Km 16-17. On the way to the Mae Khong river, we stopped to see the Tai Daam ethnic group who were one of the original Tai people that migrated from South China to Southeast Asia. The model village in Kao Kaw subdistrict is 12 kilometers from the main road. Two very senior women came out to greet us and were anxious for us to buy their handmade wind wheels. It seemed to be stingy if we did not buy a few pieces at only Baht 25 per piece from each Grandma. The potholed road and views of the rural area reminded us of the impoverished remote dirt fields and plain wooden shanties we saw in Laos.

A huge sign read, “Hong Naam Horm” (or, Toilet is Fragrant). This is the only gas station in all of Thailand that wants to convince customers that their wonderful toilet is fragrant!! (Yes, it was sweet scented and clean).

The stunning peaceful town of Chiang Kaan, on Mae Khong river, less than one hour drive from the Loei city always welcomes Thai and foreign tourists. The narrow two lane avenue led us to a temple decorated in white with colorful blue glass reminded me of an Indian jewelry box. Sitting on a bench were two Dutch travellers who were taking two leisurely months to visit every corner in Thailand. They were also taken with Wat Thak Hok in this lovely spot on the Mae Khong River

Chiang Kaan is regarded as a unique town accommodating travellers because of its reasonable choice of guest houses, resorts, restaurants, and adventure challenges. While admiring the wild view of Kaeng Koot Kao, we met teachers leading Thai students from Pattani who had participated in sports event in this small hamlet. It was a thrill for the youngsters to know that on opposite shore was Sonakan, Laos. Far in the distance on the Thai side, we saw the early stage of a Buddhist meditation center under construction.

Inside the Chiang Kaan Hill Hotel at the curve of the river, the outdoor restaurant area was being set up for the theme night dinner to welcome the large group of students and teachers from Pattani. Adjacent to the hotel, a market filled with interesting OTOP selections and low cost souvenirs was a magnet for travellers wanting novel reminders of the area.

As we were driving away, we viewed a temple in the shadows sitting on a pond. It was a poetic sight in the dusk. It was too dark to get a clear photo and using the flash would not capture the fantasy mood. We will have to return one day soon to find out more about this spot.

Back in the city, we travelled on our own to get our bus tickets and have a late meal. We stopped in a restaurant with a Shell Chern Chim sign. It was “kao gaeng” or rice with curry shop and the central Thai food was delicious.

We got in a ‘skylab’ or motor tricycle to get to the bus arcade. Finding the arcade was easy, but getting back to the motel was another adventure. As with most locals no one knew the name of the street. Everyone we met knew the location of the bankrupt “Buddharaksa Housing Estate” located nearby the motel. It was a short, but chilly ride in the open air vehicle. We managed to get much inside information from the good natured driver in short sleeves.

Our final day, we visited the cultural museum at the Loei Rajabhat University. We had stopped by the day before and the office was closed. We left a note asking the museum staff to open the museum especially for us on Sunday. The history of the Loei area is so fascinating and ranks up with the enthralling history of Chiang Mai. The museum ground floor is the administrative office and where to view the fascinating documentaries. The second floor is the well laid out exhibition area. A documented very old Buddha head with gentle face, estimated to be 1,500 years old, was rescued from the muddy depths of the Mae Khong River, is the highlight of the exhibition. For more information on Loei, visit the website: www.loei.go.th and www.gotoloei.com

In the afternoon we went to the municipal park near the Loei Palace Hotel. Both children and adults have areas to relax. The children’s side is an amusement park with rides while the adults section has plenty of open space for jogging and exercising. We crossed a swinging bridge to see the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Loei office.

Before we knew our lovely holiday in Loei was coming to an end. After a quick bowl of noodles before getting on the bus, we said good bye to our young friends who had taken such good care of us by driving us all around. (Travellers who do not have local contacts can rent a local car for about Baht 2,000 per day.) The bus came on time with clean interior and spacious seats. We snuggled in the seat covered with a blanket and were soon in happily dreaming. When our eyes opened, it was 7.00 am and we had arrived in Chiang Mai.r

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