Old sign on the left. New sign on the right.
There’s a big new speed limit sign on the road through Chong Phli where I usually go climbing. It’s interesting that they increased it. I think the two signs confuse Thai people though and instead of going 60 km/h or 40 km/h they add the two together and go 100 km/h
Isan (Thai: อีสาน) is a general name given to the northeastern region of Thailand. Anong and I spent 9 days in Nong Bua Lam Phu (Thai:หนองบัวลำภู) province for the Songkran festival, plus a couple days for travel. Isan is bordered to the north and east by Laos and Cambodia. Ethnically and culturally the people are Lao though Thaification has reduced the influence of the Lao culture (the people still drive like idiots here though not as bad as in the south). The dominant language in Isan is also called the Isan language. Luckily for me it is very similar to the Thai language and the people of Isan are generally bi-lingual in Isan and Thai so I was able to have very basic conversations with Anong’s family who does not speak english. Conversations mostly consisted of me saying “Wannee aga rawn mak mak” (Today the weather is very hot), “Phom mai kao jai” (I do not understand), and “Kap khun krap” (Thank you). It was nice to meet them and they seem like nice people.
The food is also different in Isan but I didn’t really notice because Isan food has permeated the rest of Thailand and central Thai cuisine has also made its way to Isan. One big difference though is meals in Isan are usually served with sticky rice instead of long grain white rice. I was impressed by the Isan persons ability to consume sticky rice.
Isan is the poorest region in Thailand though economically it is also the fastest growing. Agriculture is the dominant sector of the economy in the region. Most people grow rice or sugarcane. The countryside is very beautiful and the pace of life there is slower than in Bangkok and southern Thailand.
Typical view in Isan.
There are also many temples in Isan. Look at my previous post for some pictures. Here are a couple more of Wat Tam Erawan (Thai: วัดถ้ำเอราวัณ).
All the best temples in Thailand require walking up many stairs. In this case about 600 steps.
View from the top.
Big Buddha at the top.
Bang the gong 3 times.
Enter the cave and walk through to the other side.
Coming back from the other side. The rocks in the cave were amazing. I really wanted to climb them but that would be frowned upon.
View of previous staircase.
The roof of the cave has a hole in it that I thought looked like a certain part of the female anatomy.
Near the front entrance. Lots of rocks stacked on top of each other. My camera made everything look lighter than it really was.
Entrance at the bottom of the stairs.
The only thing I didn’t like about Isan is the lack of sport climbing. Next spot for me to visit will be Chiang Mai which is known for it’s unique Thai culture and also has very good sport climbing. Not sure when that will be though.
Songkran (Thai: สงกรานต์) is the traditional Thai new year. It is typically starts on April 13 and continues to April 15. During this time many people go back home to visit their families and participate in Buddhist rituals. Here are some of the more enjoyable aspects of the holiday that I observed and participated in.
Rinsing images of Buddha
Images of Buddha are rinsed with scented water called nam-op (Thai: น้ำอบ). It is symbolic of washing away sins and is supposed to bring good luck. The afternoon of the first day we went to a small local wat (Thai: วัด) for a ceremony in which some monks chanted and splashed water on everyone. Afterwards we went outside and poured water on the images of Buddha. When that was done some of the older ladies also poured water on me! I was slightly annoyed because by this time it was starting to get cool and I was mostly dry. Hopefully I did not show it. But after thinking about it I realize in a way they were comparing me to Buddha and did it because they thought it would bring them good luck.
Flowers for making nam-op
Rinsing images of Buddha with nam-op at วัดถำกลองเพล (Wat Tam Glawng Pean)
Spending time with family
People travel home to their families for a family reunion. It is also a time to pay respect to and remember deceased family members. Here are a couple pictures from a ceremony for Anong’s mother. Several family members gathered around the gravesite while a couple monks chanted and gave some kind of blessing. A few small bones from the deceased are placed inside the yellow monument. I wasn’t sure what to think of the whole thing other than it is very different from western culture and it was interesting to be a part of it.
Worlds biggest water fight
April is the hottest time of the year in Thailand with temperatures regularly around 40C (104F). Getting wet during the hottest part of the day feels nice. It’s the few mean spirited people who ruin the holiday but most people “play water” (Thai: เล่นน้ำ) respectfully. Then there are the little kids on the side of the road with squirt guns. They are really cute! It is also tradition to smear white chalk on peoples faces to help keep cool.
Here I am, wet with some chalk on my face at วัดหนองปลาขาว (Wat Nawng Bplaa Kaaow).
At Wat Phu Noi (Thai: วัดภูน้อย) a monk recently passed away. There was an interesting ceremony in which people lined up and poured nam-op over some flowers placed on the monk.
At Wat Nawng Bplaa Kaaow (Thai:วัดหนองปลาขาว) we got to feed some fish and see some animals.
At Wat Tam Glawng Pean (Thai:วัดหนองปลาขาว):
Thailand, the country in which nice, generous, easy going people turn into suicidal maniacs when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle. It is well known that Thailand has some of the most dangerous roads in the world with 38.1 deaths per 100,000 people per year. Compare to 11.6 per 100,000 for the United States and much lower for several European countries. For Songkran, the Thai government has a road safety campaign called the “7 Deadly Days” in which they release accident statistics every day and the media loves reporting on them. The numbers change a little every year but average around 340 deaths over 7 days or 49 per day.
Every year there are about 25,500 deaths on the Thai roads or 70 per day. So perhaps the safety campaign is working. But it’s also widely suspected that accidents and deaths are under reported presumably to save face and the statistics do not include people who might die in the hospital a few days later. The main cause of these accidents is drunk driving and speeding. Most accidents are involving a motorcycle. I still struggle to understand why this behavior is tolerated by the population. I also do not understand the lack of enforcement of the laws here. To be clear, by lack of enforcement I mean zero enforcement. The government and police don’t seem to actually care but don’t they know they could make a lot of money by ticketing speeders and people not wearing helmets?
So, there’s a lot of people dying and getting hurt during Songkran which makes it not a lot of fun. There is also extremely rude inconsiderate and dangerous behavior by a good portion of the population. People will throw water on you when you ask them not to. People like to throw ice water and throw water after the sun sets. If you’re on the motorcycle people will drench the rider with 2 or 3 gallons of water and when throwing these large buckets of water they aim for your face. It seems like they are actually trying to cause an accident. Having a picnic lunch? You and your food will get drenched. I asked some Thai people if they enjoy being on the receiving end of this. Everybody said no. But nobody does anything about it. Again I am left struggling to understand why this sort of behavior is tolerated.
I haven’t decided yet if I will come home when my year is up or stay for a second year. One thing is for sure, if I am still here next year I will not be leaving my room during Songkran.
Stay tuned. Songkran wasn’t all misery. In a day or two I will write a post on the things I enjoyed about it.