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  1. #1
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    Mukdahan and Roi Et

    Mukdahan sits on the Mekhong opposite Savannakhet, the second biggest city in Laos, and they are now linked by a bridge, all of this being part of a road system that will ultimately link Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and southern China. The future, it would seem, looks exciting for Mukdahan, and I had been curious to check this place out for a while. Mukdahan itself is a fair sized town and the local Provincial capital.

    It's not far at all from Ubon Province and, having spent a few days checking our newly completed rural retreat out, we set off the scenic way- going up through Khemmarat and following the Mekhong up to Mukdahan. Or so we thought. Heres a view of the Mekhong at Khemmarat, looking across to Laos-



    Khemmarat is a slow, quite pleasant town, and the remaining old part of the town centre is still mainly wood which is nice to see. But our destination was Mukdahan, so we rolled on, following the Mekhong. Our next view of the Mekhong was actually at Mukdahan- the road may follow the river, but at a safe enough distance so that you can't see it. So a pretty uneventful drive, except for the nice man in a tight uniform that gave me a speeding fine of 100bht. He wasn't the least bit interested in seeing my driving license. If you head up from Ubon, save time and fuel and go up the fast way thru Amnat Charoen.



    And heres the mighty Mekhong at Mukda, looking across to Savannakhet. Lunch was had overlooking the river at this restaurant, standard river Thai fare, and it was interesting to see how high above the water line this pier was-

    Last edited by sabang; 05-06-2008 at 07:40 AM.
    probes Aliens

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    I use to live about 45 minutes from mukdahan. The market on the river there is cool. never was there in the evening, but was the closest pizza company until the one in sakon nakon opened, after i left the country.

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    Mukdahan

    Mukdahan was the first Isaan town or city I have visited with any sort of preconception as to what to expect- I knew there were a couple of 4 star Hotels there, the Mukdahan Tower, and the newish Bridge. Mukdahan- a town striding towards the future. Rolling in to town, sure enough there was the modernistic Tower on our right-



    This photo was actually taken shortly before sunset that day. And the Tower was already closed- it closes at 6pm. And that, to me, kinda illustrates Mukdahan. At heart, it remains a slow, albeit sizable, provincial town- investment money has gone in there, in anticipation of the Boom, land prices have rocketed, in anticipation of the Boom, the falangs you meet there are talking about tomorrow, in anticipation of the Boom. But the Boom has not reached the streets of Mukdahan, in which day to day life just rambles on as ever. It is a very likable place actually, and very different to a typical Isaan town- even though it is in Isaan.

    We never did make it up the Tower- there is an equally good view from the lounge bar at the top of the Ploy Palace (a quite nice, quite modern hotel all ready and waiting for the Boom). We spent a pleasant evening here on our second night- a piano player, surprisingly reasonably priced food, HiSo Thai clientele, and a large outdoor terrace to look over the lights of Mukda and Suv which from up here could be one city with a river running through. The nearby Mukdahan Grand probably also has a nice lounge on the top floor, it also stands tall and proud- waiting for the Boom. The only things these places lack, on visual evidence, is guests. Unsurprisingly, accomodation is cheap in Mukdahan- there are a lot more rooms than people, at least as of May 2008. Our hotel was called the SubMukda Grand, walking distance from most anywhere in town, and quite reasonable value at 400 bht- better located than the more imposing Ploy and Grand actually, that are a few blocks back from the river.

    Right behind the Tower is an area with a cluster of karaoke bars. This, I subsequently learnt, is also the low key red light area, for those so inclined. Do not come to Mukdahan expecting much nightlife though, by far the busiest place at night is the Night Markets (these are well worth a look, plenty of Vietnamese food & Laos veggies), and when these start to wind down about 9-9.30 pm, only a handful of places remain open.

    There is more to see at the night markets than the pleasant stalls with their snacks, produce and baubles- check out the beauty of the women! Now no shortage of beauties in Isaan I guess, but in this neck of Isaan the townspeople are mainly of Vietnamese/Chinese extraction, so quite different. H'mmm, made me think again of those Karaoke bars, maybe next time.
    No shortage of eye candy in Mukdahan.

    The town, surprisingly, has only one falang oriented bar, and here it is-



    Right next to it is a restaurant that serves western food too, which they will gladly deliver to you here. After a few days in village Ubon, a pork steak with chips n salad hit the spot. Mukdahan has a character all it's own, and the small falang community also has it's fair share of characters- some real long timers here, some interesting life stories. The owner- Ralph- is a cool Californian, straight from a Grateful Dead concert (but he's lived in Mukda a long time). When he plays music, it's either the Dead or some band called the Texas Tornadoes, which quite fits in with the eclectic nature of this town. We got chatting to an affable Aussie there, found out more about the town (yep, and the impending Boom ), it's interesting characters and so on.

    We decided to continue the good time by heading to a country and western type bar nearby with Aussie Mike. Now this was a nice place, it's not a falang bar but nicely done out, friendly, a decent band playing- and not at the ear splitting volumes they seem to fancy in so much of Thailand. I think this place was called the cowboy or country bar, anyway things aren't hard to find in Mukdahan- it's on the main street heading in to town from Ubon, Khon Kaen and so on, past the Ploy Palace, on your left. Ban cafe is the other side of the Ploy Palace, on a parrallel street. Theres one or two other places you can sit and listen to a band too, plus the two nice hotels have got upmarket karaoke Pubs- this ain't Pattaya or even Udon, with it's falang oriented bar scene, but you don't need to be in bed by 10pm either. We called it a night about 1am.

    The Ploy Palace The Mukdahan Grand
    Last edited by sabang; 05-06-2008 at 09:23 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sabang
    No shortage of eye candy in Mukdahan.
    You're not seriously going to post that comment and not back it up with any photos are you?

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    Heres what all the fuss is about, the Friendship Bridge, a gift from the Japanese.



    Border control, Thai side. Ready and waiting for the Boom, when no doubt there will be traffic lining up here-



    The Friendship Bridge is actually 5 km from Mukdahan, and the feeder roads do not pass through the town proper. So far, it would appear, the main action has been happening on the Savannakhet side. Will the much anticipated Boom hit Mukda anytime soon? Well, I wouldn't hold my breath. There is talk about the mothballed airport in Savannakhet being opened up- talks are in progress, the runway was long enough for B52's, so it's long enough for international commercial traffic. Laotian Generals are not exactly falling over themselves to open up the country to decadent western influence though. There is a big duty free type supermarket on the Laotian side of the bridge- but given duty free limits, plus the costs and hassle of going through thai and (worse) Laos border control it didn't justify the bother. I bet it sits mostly empty, like the other imposing edifices here.

    Apart from the general pleasant ambience of the town, there are a few more things to do in and around Mukdahan.

    Shop- Alongside the river, you have the Indochine market, which is loaded with various types of interesting stuff from Vietnam and Laos. Clothes, food, lots of chocolates and confectionaries, good Laotian bread, medicines, toiletries- all cheap, and all interesting 'cus it ain't Thai. Well worth a look- and doubtless the major reason people come to Mukdahan, although for many it's a day trip. I'm the worlds worst shopper, but even I bought some stuff there and quite enjoyed meself. Hassle free shoping too- a long way removed from those vile touristy markets you get in Pattaya and Phuket, and the sharks that inhabit them- absolutely no evidence of falang pricing here, and little point in bargaining unless you are buying a few items. It's enough to make an Israelite tear his hair out . Mr and Mrs Norton came down from Roi Et to join us for a spot of shopping, a nice bowl of noodles and a quiet beer. The markets get more busy on the weekend, when a couple of little bars open up by the river, and some vendors set up on the pavement to sell their stuff paddled over from Laos, heres some Laotian jungle veggies-


    The night markets and the weekend Indochine market are about as close as Mukdahan gets to busy in a normal week.



    National Parks- Theres a few interesting NP's around here, the nearest one just out of town, noted for it's strange shaped rock formations and elevated views. Mukdahan however is noticeably hotter and more humid than Ubon, at least at this time of year, and Norton and myself sensibly chose a beer at Ralphs Ban Cafe in preference to a hot sweaty nature experience. No hurry- I'll check out natural Mukdahan in the cool months, theres some nice mountains around, some Khmer ruins, the inevitable Wats- Mukdahan is known for it's natural beauty.



    Savannakhet- Cross the Mekhong, and there you are. A trip to Mukda quite often incorporates a jaunt into Laos.

    Eating- Heavily Vietnamese influenced, the eating scene is informal but certainly a welcome contrast to surrounding Isaan. Theres also a string of outdoor type riverside restaurants as you drive out of town by the river, heading towards the Bridge. River shrimps and river fish, although to be honest if eating Mekhong fishies is your thing, Ubon knocks spots off it in terms of choice of venue and variety of food. Further up the Mekhong we were also told of this well kept secret place that serves good quality Charolais beef by Aussie Mike- but thats for the next post. For the more exotically inclined, there is also a local indigenous cuisine quite well known within Isaan, that incorporates lots of Blood- my wife was keen to try it but I bloody wasn't.
    Last edited by sabang; 05-06-2008 at 01:54 PM.

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    The God Squad

    Day two (I'm not doing this in chronological order), I had a hankering to go check out this Charolais steak house, and see a bit more of the area. Just follow the main street that runs out of Mukda parralel to the river. After about 5km you go under the bridge, and you're in quite a different place really. The Viet/Chinese Townies are back in town- here it's mainly Lao, but not of the adulterated Isaan village variety- more like northern hilltribers, but without the hills and the opium. BTW, no point hurrying yourself in and around Mukdahan, I got the idea these people would find the acceleration of a buffalo cart startling. All part of the Charm. It's a pleasant drive.



    Those flame trees are everywhere, but still you don't really expect to come across SE Asia's largest Catholic church. Or so they say.

    First some history, to feed the Scholar in us.



    Martyrs of Thailand (called also Seven Blessed Martyrs of Songkhon) are seven Roman Catholics executed in Thailand in December 1940 by local police forces. They were beatified by Pope John Paul 2nd on October 22nd, 1989.

    Catholics love their Martyrs, and how about this for a Martyrs letter:-
    "We are asking you to carry out your order with us. Please do not delay any longer. Please carry out your order. Please open the door of heaven to us so that we can confirm that outside the Religion of Christ no none can go to heaven. Please do it. We are well prepared."
    Martyrs of Thailand - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    As was the local police chief, who had them executed shortly afterwards.

    You are out in the Boonies here, so it is quite an incongruous sight. This is Catholic country, a local wrinkly proudly assured my wife- Songkhon is indeed the only Catholic village in Thailand, and theres a 'Train the Priests and Convert the Heathen' type place just over the road from the nice, modern Church- a Seminary (?). A reminder that whilst Thailand has a history of religious tolerance that puts most of us to shame, that doesn't make it perfect.



    Now in these coffins are not Sarcophagi, but plastic dolls of the Blessed Martyrs. If you want to see real corpses, go Buddhist. Nevertheless, I thought it made a nice photo-



    Well nice inside too-



    And of course, it's right by the Mekhong.



    Why do Catholics complain about being poor?

    Anyway, you know what happens when you let Westerners into town to get involved with your life- Organisation follows . In this village there were nice gardens, no litter, and pictorial signs- with English writing (!!)- that assured us we were indeed on the way to a good steak. But thats for the next Post, and TIT. In lieu of confessing, I dropped 60 bht in the donations box for this rather unique slice of Thailand, and the civic pride on display.
    Last edited by sabang; 05-06-2008 at 02:09 PM.

  7. #7
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    Excellent Thread Sabers, about a place I have not been to and have previously had almost no knowledge about, keep it coming buddy

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marmite the Dog View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by sabang
    No shortage of eye candy in Mukdahan.
    You're not seriously going to post that comment and not back it up with any photos are you?

    Come on sabang, stop teasing.

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    Looks like alot of orchids in the pic.

    Very nice report, keep the pics coming. How about the the "Eye Candy"?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marmite the Dog
    You're not seriously going to post that comment and not back it up with any photos are you?
    Quote Originally Posted by astasinim
    Come on sabang, stop teasing.
    Quote Originally Posted by The_Dude
    How about the the "Eye Candy"?
    I'll definitely have to go back again with my roving lens.

    Now the steak place is only a couple of kilometres on from the Catholic church, but I shouldn't really dignify it with a picture- the chef wasn't there, and nobody knew when he would be back! The nearest thing I got to an answer was 'maybe next Tuesday'.







    What a let down, so there was to be no nice steak today. The steak is from an operation called Thai French, which has a Charolais ranch around Sakhon Nakhon, and puts out a good product. I had to wait to get to Roi Et to catch up with a good thai french steak- but I didn't know that yet.

    Suitably disgruntled, it was back into the car and onwards to an OTOP just a bit further up the road, known for it's suckling pig. The village is called 'KenKaBao'. Lord be praised, the place was open for business.



    It was rough and ready, but with rustic charm, and one of those poor little piggies was delicious with SomTam Thai, two dipping sauces, and some local veg. All washed down with beer. The little piggies were 500 bht each, with a couple of Leo and the SomTam 650 bht all up.



    They also sold this Chinese style rice wine if you wanted to get well plastered.



    Our view. The Mekhong here enters some rapids, and it is actually possible to wade across to Laos during the height of the dry deason, my trusty Spy informed me. My senses tell me however that most of the traffic would be in the other direction.





    KenKaBao has a claim to fame besides the appalling longevity of it's pigs- this place is also very popular during Songkhran and Loy Khrathong festivals, when people descend from miles around to celebrate, and bunk out in these rough structures (kinda longhouses without walls) that you see sitting empty as you drive into this pleasant, rustic village.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by sabang
    The little piggies were 500 bht each,
    Did they take it's eyeballs out? Not that would worry me like,I'm well 'ard, I can eat tomato seeds

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    ^ Mrs always devours the heads before I get the chance to find out. A marriage made in heaven really- she likes prawn heads, I like the tails, she loves a bit of fat, grizzle and unmentionable stuff, I just settle for real meat.

    Roi Et to follow, but i'm feeling lazy. Thai time.

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    It what way will the "Boom" manifest itself in Mukdahan?

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    Kinda like those tits in your Av Udon- prick it, and it might go Pop.

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    Great thread and pictures, looks good for a weekend trip.

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    On our last morning in Mukdahan before meeting the Nortons and later heading to Roi Et, we went to inspect some land for sale, 5 rai, planted with teak. It was a Thai experience through and through- waiting for our would be seller at the hotel lobby (late, of course) we got a call. She was at the wrong hotel. Turning up at the right hotel, we then set off. Heading out from Mukda, the owner then got lost, and could not find her land for sale. Retracing our steps, we finally did manage to find the Land- turns out it was just a few km's from where we had been yesterday, and we could have got there a good deal faster by following the river road, as we had done yesterday- nevermind, we went back that way. Seizing the opportunity, I was drafted to bring back six sacks of rice to Mukda by the neighbouring landowners. Actually it was fun, if all a little absurd.

    The drive to Roi Et was made shorter by the simple expedient of me hopping in with Norton, whilst Mrs Norton rode with Mrs sabang. The annual festival was in full swing as we passed through the town of Kuchinarai. One of the quaint local traditions is that several of the drunk male revellers like to roll around in mud- there were some very muddy people around. Soon enough we were at Roi Et, and I enjoyed some cool amber nectar at the Norton's very nice residence. Our hostess house was only 4km down the road- a fine introduction to Roi Et.

    Arriving at our digs for the next three days I was greeted by more amber nectar. That night was an Isaan party (every night is an Isaan party when Ms. Bangkoks in the village), and this means food of the 'don't ask what it is' variety. Even by Isaan standards, Ms. Bangkok does like some rather strange food- especially when she's upcountry in her native Roi Et. I think I acquitted myself admirably under the demanding circumstances, although I could not bring myself to assist in the slaughter of the chickens and ducks. Blimey, I reckon the only bits they didn't eat were the feathers, and heads. My hope for the immediate future lay with Norton- maybe he had guessed what was in store for me, but our arrangement to meet in a couple of days at a falang run place that served the elusive Thai French Charolais steak was a beacon of light. I consumed some strange things that night- don't ask.

    Roi Et is low lying, perfect rice country- but attractive, still plenty of trees around- and I'm sure there are several places like this that are basically shallow lakes in rainy season, swamps in the dry.



    Does anyone walk their dogs anymore?
    Last edited by sabang; 07-06-2008 at 04:59 AM.

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    Roi Et has some history- "Founded in 1782, Roi Et literally means ‘one hundred and one’, believed to be an exaggeration of the number 11, since the prosperous town once ruled 11 vassal states. The town was once abandoned because of extreme flooding, but is now a steadily growing province. The province is part of the 200,000 plus rais of the famous Tung Kula Rong Hai (Kula Crying Fields), once a wasteland that was transformed into growing high-quality rice. The daily life in Roi-Et is influenced by a conservative population with strong Buddhist traditions. The simple way of life in this mostly rural province in the lower Northeast is reflected in its arts and crafts, especially in the weaving of textiles."

    Isan Province Profile : Roi-Et

    Not much evidence of history in the township- but it is an attractive town, centred around a sizable artificial lake. There are apparently more western bars & restaurants here than the considerably larger Ubon Ratchathani City or Mukdahan too- evidence that there must be a reasonable amount of falangs living around, either that or they like to drink .





    The Town planners did a good job with Roi Et. There are two falang bars by the lake, in fact right next door to each other, one run by a Thai/Aussie couple, in which I had a quick daytime beer and I was not alone- there were about seven other blokes there with wives, not a bad turn out. The next door bar opens late afternoon and is run by Tim, a Canadian, and his wife. It was to be the venue for the following evenings activities. There is also a fair size German restaurant in town, popular with Thai and falang alike. If anyone knows other places in Roi Et, do mention them here.

    There was a little slice of history in the local Wat, close to where we were staying.





    No ancient Wat is complete without it's headless Buddha's.


    I'm not Indiana Jones, but I doubt you'll find this ancient place mentioned in any guidebooks.

    That night was another party back at Ms. Bangkoks house. The local Police guy was there, I noticed he got quite involved with the cooking and preparation of food- his Larb Pet was actually very nice. He also brought with him an aromatic Herb, said to grow quite widely in the area. Some of this went into a chicken soup recipe, the rest apparently up in smoke.

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    WE spent a very pleasant day in Roi et, the kids loved feeding the fish but I hear most have recently died due to oxygen deprivation.
    Anyway I found it to be nice clean place where their seemed to be an amount of civic pride in their surroundings.

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    Anyone who reckons life in an Isaan village means bedtime is around 9pm clearly has not been to Ms Bangkoks place! This party dragged on to the wee hours, in fact the final stragglers were at it until sunrise and beyond. I lasted until around three and slept well, helped by that soporific chicken soup. The next day was basically spent in a languid torpor, lounging around the outdoor Isaan shanty kitchen- very much the nerve centre of the household and the neighbouring mothers house. Even Isaan folk don't eat flies which is a bit unfair, because the myriad flies certainly enjoy Isaan food, and help themselves to it liberally by crawling all over it. A Health Inspector would have a coronary, but the locals are completely unfazed.

    That night was a cutural night of a different tradition- meeting up with the Nortons at Tims Bar (or so I dubbed it- it doesn't really have a name), BBQ'd red meat very much on the agenda. Having subsisted on some of Isaans more interesting foodstuff for the last two days, this falang was looking forward to it. I was not disappointed, so much so that when I finally got around to taking a photo of my T Bone it was mostly devoured.



    The good sized T Bone was 390bht It was yummy, and Nortons ribs (200 bht I think) were great too-



    The BBQ would make many an Aussie jealous. And guess who introduced Thai French Charolais beef to Tims place? Norton (a fellow canuck). The mans a legend.



    The place began life as an internet cafe apparently, before expanding into F & B on the verandah.


    Heres Mr and Mrs Tim, mine affable hosts.



    When sabang gets up and dances, it must've been a good night. I fear we kept them up a bit late.



    A good place to check out if you find yourself in Roi Et, and you also have the Aussie bar next door. The quickest way to get local information in Isaan is to find out where the falangs hang out.

    We headed back home the next day, although I did take a wide detour (Mrs sabangs map reading skills cost me another 80km detour ) to check out a place I had been curious to try- the Chok Chai Farm steakhouse, near Saratburi. A very nice steak too was my dry aged prime Rib steak, as was Mrs sabangs prime Charolais NY cut. Quite a result- two good steaks in two days (and not at Bangkok prices), right here in Thailand. I finally found a Thai wine I can recommend too- the Khao Yai winery Shiraz. Check it out.

    There is much to see in Isaan, and pleasantly removed from the maddening tourist crowd.
    Last edited by sabang; 07-06-2008 at 11:12 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by peterpan
    Anyway I found it to be nice clean place where their seemed to be an amount of civic pride in their surroundings
    Spot on Peter. Next time, try a steak.

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    I haven't seen a thread on his home town before, so I guess Nortons been trying to keep it just to himself.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sabang View Post

    There was a little slice of history in the local Wat, close to where we were staying.





    No ancient Wat is complete without it's headless Buddha's.
    Our lass lives about a hour and a half from Roi et and about 2 mins from her house is a wot that looks exactly the same, but a bit more scaffolding.

    Just re-installed but will post pics when i get sorted

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    Quote Originally Posted by sabang
    the Friendship Bridge, a gift from the Japanese.
    Generous people?

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    Quote Originally Posted by peterpan
    WE spent a very pleasant day in Roi et, the kids loved feeding the fish but I hear most have recently died due to oxygen deprivation.
    Only a few croaked. Actually more than a few the lake was covered with em. Good news is there are still a lot. Only medium sized tilapia seemed to be effected. Monster cat fish still there waiting for your kids to feed em.

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    Quote Originally Posted by peterpan
    I haven't seen a thread on his home town before, so I guess Nortons been trying to keep it just to himself.
    It's a horrid place.

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