Issan Thailand – Evrim and Elif Yiğit Tour Journals, April 23rd, 2012
Today is April 16th. We came to Thailand from Cambodia in April 1st, had a one day break to ride our bikes and we stayed only in our tents. At first we came to Aranya Prathet town near to the border of Cambodia. After this day we try not to stay in hotels as much as possible and try to be frugal in order to extend our journey. Because of this, we stayed in a temple in this town. The temple we stayed in was a bit out of town but on the way that we’d follow the next day. Besides it was away from the city centre and in the middle of a wide park so we spend the night as we’re not in a town but in a forest quietly and calmly.
The next day before leaving we take a short tour around the city. We fill our bottles from the water vending machines which you can encounter in most of the cities in Thailand. I can carry 4-5L on my bike and Elif can take 3-4L. Like this, it’s possible for us to carry the necessary amount of water for one day with us. After that I experience a nostalgia and we stop by the bike store where I had bought the bike pump which had been stolen in Cambodia 4 years before. We get our pictures taken together and chat.
Thanks to this, we get informed about an area called Lalu in the direction we’ll go. Lalu seems like small fairy chimneys. They’re just pretty miniature and you feel like you’re going through a scale model city as you go through it by bike. All figures that seem like high mountains near you are just a couple of spans higher than me. This is where we’ll spend the night and our camping zone becomes the mushroom farm of a mushroom producer.
Since we hadn’t ever seen a mushroom production and since the mushrooms in Thailand are much more different than ours, before setting up our tents, we go for an educational walk-around. As I can recall, they put a substance which’s a mix of shavings and volcanic ashes in bags and roast them for 3 hours at 100 degrees to grow the mushrooms. After that they add the mushroom spores in these bags. After this phase you can acquire mushrooms for 6 months after 28 days later from the bags which are kept in convenient conditions. Since some of the mushrooms like more moisture conditions and some warm conditions, different rooms are constructed for every mushroom type and they can be gathered twice a day. In the farm we stayed, there were 3 or 4 mushroom types. If we include the 3 other mushroom types that I like which are commonly produced in Thailand -since this area is too warm for these mushrooms, they aren’t produced in this farm- it means that you canoften encounter 6-7 mushroom types and one of the unique dishes of here is the mushroom soup which they mix 4-5 of these mushroom types and cook.
Next day we continue our journey until Buriram town. We meet the music teacher who I’ve told you about before and with his guidance we spend pretty pleasant time in the town. After that we listen to the recommendations of a cyclist and go to one of the most pleasant and memorable points of this tour Ban Chang which’s also known as Tha Klang. This place is mentioned as the elephant village in tour books because there’s a major elephant training centre here and the elephants here provided its identity to this village.
You begin to see the elephants kilometers before arriving in the town and as you enter the town, the elephants are staying in the gardens of the houses and they’re washing the elephants which are just a little smaller than the houses in order to cool them. Our settlement is the elephant training centre which resembles the Jurassic Park a little. Even if the elephants just beside me make noises like dinosaurs, the terrace we’re on is high above the ground and it’s so comfortable with its quality wooden ground that in no time we began not to hear the noises of elephants. I must say that spending the night in such a place is a quite different experience. Generally us humans feel stronger and greater than the nature. A living creature that we accidentally step on doesn’t matter much for us. It’s not important at all to set up our tent on an ant nest. But as we’re lodging here, us humans become inferior like ants near the elephants. We have to choose places that an elephant wouldn’t accidentally step on us to spend the night. Again we have to be careful wandering around our camp zone as we’re passing by the elephants. Or else as you’re going to the restroom it’s a matter of time that you can be flattened out by an elephant. Even if the elephants here seem trained, it’s important not to forget that this is a training area and there are semi-wild elephants that had just started their training. It may be a fatal mistake to be in the middle of a 1st graders’ fight.
We proceed our way from the backroads in the morning. This elephant farm is in a place that you only can reach from the backroads away from the main roads. As we’re passing through the small villages, we realize that Song Kran, the water festival began a little earlier. Thailand’s new year begins in April 13th and lasts 3 days. During these celebrations people perform a different ceremony to celebrate each other’s new year. They first greet each other then they put some powder in their hands and wipe it on the other one’s cheeks and sometimes to their foreheads and after that they pour a cup of water from above their shoulders. This is the traditional and pleasant version of the new year celebration. However it’s hard for you to see this in these days. Since we went through the backroads in the Issan region and passed through small villages, we had a chance to see these traditional celebrations and we greeted each other with the people, pouring water from above each other’s shoulders. If you ask what happens in general nowadays, the answer is “Water Wars 2555”. 2555 is this year according to the Thailand calendar. Water Wars is Thailand people who start drinking at 8:30am (at 8:44am I saw beer and whiskey bottles wandering around hand to hand being drunk, one time I recall that I passed by tipsy people at 9:30am), dancing, water pranks which lasts until nine in the evening which means a soaked Thailand. Unfortunately this festival began 6 days ago and this means we’re going to get wet for 9 days. Today these are written in Nam Yeun village on the last day of the festival. Until today, Thailand soaked and got us cold as it never had done before. I’ve seen the roads blocked by the dancing wet people for these last 3 days. We felt lucky if we could ride for 40km a day. Everyday I had water in my ears, nose, more than 200 buckets of water per day was emptied on our heads, I had hard time to see the road because of the powder in my eyes and the worst part was that they poured buckets of water over our heads chilled with ice which can be found as easy as water in Thailand. After a while when they pour icy water to your already chilled and numbed body, it hurts like a knife and you begin to hate water. Feeling lucky for not being in a big town like Bangkok, we cut our trip short on the last day and join the water wars. The only solution to the cold here is as Thai people do; drink lots of whiskey and dance. According to what they told, they’re not going to soak us anymore tomorrow. I don’t tend to believe them but despite all its fun, it gets so dangerous and annoying that with all my heart I want to believe that it’ll end.