A day in Loei

10 March 2019

Peng my stepdaughter, had yet another entrance exam to sit, this time held in Loei the province next to ours heading west (left on a map). As Peng’s exam was early morning (well early for me) on the Sunday at Loei Rajabhat University and it’s a two hour drive from Si Bun Ruang, we decided to stay overnight. The idea was that on the Sunday, while Peng did her thing, Gaun and I would explore a bit of Loei, a city I had only driven through previously. This is a long post so get coffee, tea or alcohol and enjoy.

Wat Si Sutthawat

We arrived in Loei late afternoon and rather than go straight to the hotel I had picked out a wat (temple) to explore where Peng could make merit for the next day’s exams. Every bit helps and I am happy to support local beliefs if it helps get Peng over the university entrance line. Wat Si Sutthawat is described as a royal temple, so I thought it was a good place to start.

I don’t mean to downplay the importance of Thai wats but many seem to be designed for photo moments, like the ones I share here, but for me they don’t give you a place where you can be reflective and ‘feel’ the essense of Buddha’s teachings. I personally find the pha/pa or forest wats less for show and more for go!

None of these buildings were open to the public so external photos only. We call the structure on the right a chedi. Thias do too but it is pronounced ‘jaydee’.

The Bliss Loei Living 

As Peng’s exam was being held on the Sunday morning we drove down late afternoon on the Saturday and booked into a hotel close to the university, although Loei is a small city so most of the options were close, called The Bliss Loei Living (Booking.com HERE). At around 800 baht a room (A$35.00), you can expect to get the basics and not much else but no complaints at that price. All the hotels I have stayed at this level are 100% utilitarian, meaning you get what you need to sleep and wash and zero else. Don’t expect visual extras such as pictures, rugs, fancy bedspreads – in fact nothing of colour at all. Isan resorts (those roadside cabin places) are the opposite. You wish they had less colour, as the bedding will be brightly themed with blue dolphins and Disney type characters, the walls will be pink and purple and the tiles carefully picked to clash with everything else. Many of these resort cabins are rented out for ‘short-time’ stays only and the couples using them aren’t too focussed on the decor 🙂

The reality is that for trips like this you only spend a brief time in the room so paying a lot more for the visuals, even if such a thing exists, is a waste in my mind anyway.  

These small hotels are pretty standard in design all over Thailand. The good thing about this one was it has a lift/elevator, which delighted Peng, who has only ever been in one a couple of times in her life. Guess who pressed the buttons 🙂

A choice of two breakfasts. This is called an American, although most Americans wouldn’t recognise it as such I suspect, and a Thai something, which as the ladies went for the western version will remain a mystery. I suspect someone in the hotel looked up an eggs, bacon and sausage concept and then applied the easily available ingredients to come up with this version! Protein without much else going for it. 

A TV, kettle (often not included so a plus) a decent sized fridge (I think they make especially noisy ones for hotel rooms), aircon. Fast, free Wi-Fi of course.

White, crisp and very decent sheets. Only one pillow, a super hard mattress (Thai hotel standard) and only one bedside table! What’s that all about?

The mystery of Thai showers explained below.

This is my Thai shower lecture, in which I explain why they are placed the way they are, illogically based on our western norms. For some of you this section will be filed under useless and boring information so move on, but for the real Thai enthusiasts I hope it gets you thinking and I know some of you will nod your head in recognition! I have no idea why I spend time analysing stuff like this but there you go 🙂

In my early days here, I was lost as to why the majority of Thai showers were located with the shower head located in such a way as to maximise the spread of water everywhere in the bathroom other than on the person wanting to get wet. This above photo example from The Bliss Hotel is a great example. The showerhead is actually pointed directly at the toilet so if you wanted to complete two tasks in the one sitting (so to speak) it is a masterful piece of timesaving design 🙂 I have been in showers where if you left it on the wall the water would go over even my head let alone a Thai person.

I assessed Thai showers as totally useless with my western eyes because I am used to the Australian concept of a shower. Back ‘home’ the head sticks out from the wall, you turn the water on, set the temperature and then stand under it for the entire duration. The water falls vertically and as most Aussie showers are in an enclosure of some sort, the bathroom stays pretty dry. I designed my Isan house bathrooms based on this concept.

However, what you need to understand is that this isn’t how Thais traditionally wash themselves and their shower design reflects this even in modern times.

In our village, as it will be across much of Thailand (I am not talking modern Thailand), the majority of bathrooms are a tub of water in the corner and a bucket! Washing is a three-step process. You wet yourself, soap up and then rinse off. At no time are Thais standing under running water to complete this process.

When presented with a modern, hot water shower, Thais use it as an updated version of that tub of water in the corner. For example, I can hear Peng when she showers and it reflects this three-stage process even though we have the best showers in Isan with storage hot water, a high pressure house pump and rain heads. Peng turns the water turns on, and then off and then back on again. What she is doing is wetting, stop water, soap up, start water and rinse! The old one, two three. Because of this a showerhead directing water downwards isn’t needed because you are always holding it in your hand to wet and then rinse. The fitting on the wall is only there to hold it dry when you’re not using it (soaping up). 

Once you understand this washing arrangement the best way to cope with Thai hotels and resorts is to be a Thai for the day. Wet, soap and rinse and your toilet remains totally dry 🙂

The hotel had a couple of lovely traveller’s palms (Ravenala madagascariensis) outside the reception.

I took interest because we have two of these in our garden but they are only 12 months old and have yet to grow a base and rise out of the ground. Mine could well be something totally different. Please comment if you know.

Loei Night markets

Enough chat about hotels and showers. Time to hit the nightlife of Loei. I have fairly low expectations of night markets having been to so many over the years. They all look much the same quite often because the stall holders circulate through the various markets in the local area on a weekly basis. However, the Loei markets were a little different in that they were geared to street food rather than American copy clothes from China and phone accessories.

The Bliss Hotel was very convenient to the weekend night markets. You can see the red marker for the hotel bottom left, while the markets are held at the Loei Provincial Office of Tourist, top centre to the right of that very Australian billabong shaped lake.

Walking from where we parked the car we passed what I thought must be a restaurant as it was beautifully presented and lit up.

On walking down the driveway we came across two Thai guys who told Gaun that this was their home and that many others had made the same mistake!

This is the left hand side of that ‘billabong’ lake. A billabong is an Australian term for a bend in a river that has been cut off from the main stream at both ends, which forms a boomerang shaped lake.

It was a Saturday and Loei was out and about.

Peng buying dinner.

This stall turns up at the markets at Nong Bua Lamphu, our provincial capital city, on a Monday. They make the best pork ribs in Isan. Guess what was on my dinner menu this evening!

Live music next to a blue telephone box.

A Day of Wats

The disappointing aspect of living in Thailand is that within a city environment the choice of attractions for a tourist is pretty limited. You won’t find the range of options that you will in a European, American or even Australian city alternative. Basically, it’s temples and not much else. If you search things to do in Loei, almost all the results refer to attractions in Loei province not Loei city.

The unfortunate fact of Thai cities is that they are concrete wastelands and that one looks much the same as another. Don’t think you will come across a visually pleasing, historically preserved area anywhere in Thailand as you might in other non-Asian places because I doubt you will. I have certainly never seen it although my travels have been reasonably limited.

For example, people rave about the wooden village of Chang Khan on the Mekong, an hour from Loei. Take off the blinkers and it’s a one street venue that’s rapidly being modernised and the rest of the town is the same concrete ugliness as anywhere else. I may sound negative but this isn’t a travel blog and reality is as it is.

So, for us on Sunday it was a day of wats as nothing else was on offer.

But first we dropped Peng off at university for her exams. It was a hive of activity and groups of students were ‘advertising’ their interests from computing to music.

Students waiting for their exams to start. Sooner them than me. I hated exams.

Wat Si Wichai Wanaram

I spent some time on Google Earth before the trip, as it is a good way to research potential temples to visit. The more popular ones have photos, some of which help give you an impression of what might be on offer, although you need to sift through endless selfies and photos of food. If you use a GPS then Google allows you to identify coords, which is so much easier than trying to navigate the old-fashioned way. The wats I have shared aren’t super spectacular but they give an idea of the range of options available close to Loei city.

My apologies for sounding a bit negative but this was a very typical wat where lots of its components were semi-abandoned and falling into disrepair. You will see so much new temple construction happening everywhere while perfectly good aspects are ignored and unmaintained, a quick death for any building in this climate. The photos may look impressive but in real life many places are sadly neglected.

You can still get some great photos, which make places like this seem better than they are in reality. The images I share are glimpses from a distance while the surrounding area can be bleak and unattractive. Look too closely and peeling paintwork shows up. I do like this design however, incorporating what we would call cloisters, or a covered walkway surrounding a central aspect, the ubosot or monks’ ordination hall in this case.

Never swept. If you visit a pha/pa or forest wat, you will find that the monks are mostly hardworking and they sweep every day. These temples are usually spotless.

So easy to make presentable in respect to Buddha but not to be in this case. A shame.

This painting was one of many on the walls of the main wat building. They show various scenes in Buddha’s life and each has an attached story, which is taught in schools. At the very centre of this painting is a woman and although it may not be clear, depending of the size of the screen you are viewing this post, she is making water appear from her hair, which is drowning all those demons trying to get to Buddha. Now, you might not recognise the lady in this context but you will mostly likely have seen her elsewhere and I will explain all when we visit the next wat!

Wat Pa Tham Klaep

A bit out in the countryside this one although only 20 minutes drive from the suburbs! A nice drive through farmland and into the hills although it is a bit featureless this dry time of year. Come back rice season in July (the start of the wet) and it will be much improved.

Dry paddy fields waiting for rain. It is still very smoky as you can see.

This wat had got hold of plenty of money for whatever reason because there was a heap of new building work happening. This group of Buddhas greeted you on arrival.

Almost finished. A chedi on top of the hill with great views on a less smoky day.

Spectacular as a photo opportunity but what function beyond that? 

Endless construction. I presume this is an ubosot (monk ordination hall) as they don’t have one now.

Remember the lady with the water producing hair? This is her and you will find her at many garden centres that sell these sort of ornaments. Now you know what she is doing – saving Buddha. Connect a pump and water will flow from her hair (in her left hand, right as you see it) for real 🙂

Buddha statues all waiting for a place to live.

Guesses? Dragon scales – what else! Hand made.

The scales being applied. They will be individually painted once they get to that stage.

Wat Tham Pha Pu

My pick of the bunch this one. Plenty of money thoughtfully spent and beautifully maintained. Google Map location HERE. As always it is impossible to get any history about the origins of a particular wat, which is a shame as I would enjoy to understand more about the monk that started it and how the more impressive ones got going. The very basic introduction pinched from another site states:

Wat Tham Pha Pu or Tham Piang Din is the location of the relics of Luang Pu Kham Dee Paphaso, the founder if this temple. There is a large cave under a stone mountain in the temple. A Buddha statue is located inside the cave. There are also stalagmites in the cave. It is also the location of langurs, gibbons, and monkeys.

Do make this one a must if in the area.

A nicely presented chedi has a shrine to Luang Pu Kham Dee Paphaso at its base. This was a quite and serene space.

Two shrines as you come into the temple on the right.

A shrine to four monks on the upper level.

Looking through one of the glass doors to the building next door.

Lots of these bulletwood trees have been planted formally in this temple. I only include the photo because the flower of this tree is called a pi gaun and that’s the origin of Guan’s Thai nickname. You will never know the ‘real’ first name of most Thais as they never use it. You will only know their nickname.

The main shrine building.

And a bell tower only made beautiful by its location in the trees.

On the left as you walk towards the cave.

 Steps lead you to the cave under the cliff.

It is actually very dark in here with the camera settings making it seem lighter than it is. Gaun paying respects in the distance.

 Several Buddha statues and the stalactites rather than the promised stalagmites! I learnt that stalactites cling tightly to the roof while stalagmites push up with all their might from the floor. The things we remember from school!

Hidden away to the left up some steps and inside another small cave is this lovely reclining Buddha. Either the lights weren’t working or it is always pitch black in here. The photo I took was courtesy of this lady who illuminated the scene with her camera phone! The wonders of high ISO and editing for camera lovers out there. Wish I had a tripod.

A whole family group turned up as we were leaving. So nice to see the full range of ages.

Thais are here 🙂

Two beautifully preserved houses outside the cave.

Pack it up. I’ll take it home.

The Loei Saloon Bar

Enough of wats. It was time for lunch and I felt like a burger. My stomach hasn’t changed since I have lived here. I am never hungry for Thai or Isan food but still love western dishes. Sad because it is far more expensive and harder to find but each to their own.

Deserted in the daytime but a more lively place at night I believe looking at their Facebook page HERE

A better attempt to add some character in keeping with the type of customers. It would look OK at night I think.

A burger (rated 6/10 but hit the spot antway) for me and a soda for Gaun who had eaten earlier.

Leaving the Saloon we picked up Peng, who was happy with her performance in the exams (fingers crossed) and headed homewards. We passed this truck, one of a whole fleet that supplies Tesco Lotus and 7/11’s in Thailand. They always remind me of ‘home’ because the ‘You are passing another Fox’, which would be a mystery to non-Aussies, refers to the owner of this vast Australian transport company who is named Lindsay Fox. 

What More Wats????

Driving to Loei we passed a wat entrance about an hour east that looked inviting so we called in on our return trip. Gaun had caught sight of giants so it was a must see. This is Wat Chom Manee and you’ll find it on Google Maps HERE.

This is what Gaun had spotted as we drove past on Saturday.

Many temples set out to make what in the sales industry is called a USP, a unique selling proposition. Giant demons was one of the USPs for this temple – ideas to pull the crowds. It worked with us!

A new building going up (needless to say) with the most impressive eucalyptus scaffolding I have ever seen.

Much more striking than the final structure will be!

The motorbike helps give an idea of the scale.

Even the steps are in timber.

Peng for the camera.

And asking for good exam results.

Further into the grounds was this courtyard area (concreted under the leaves) surrounded by dragon lighting.

Nine Buddhas at the back. Lovely in this natural setting.

If any of you have been to Nong Khai, a town north of Udon Thani on the Mekong River, you might recognise the style of dragon head from the lights they have on the main street.

People donate things like this to temples, which is really frustrating because I wish they would donate them to me! I would look after them better.

Happy to have this one too!

One more with Peng.

A mishmash of styles and countries of origin.

A glimpse of the views this wat overlooks.

We arrived home to loud music and a party happening, which by this stage was passing our house. Donations were being raised for the village temple.

Gaun and Peng adding their contribution to the money ‘tree’.

Never let a party get in the way of a text message.

Room for a few more. 

The end of a varied couple of days celebrated in my case with a few glasses of chilled Aussie white wine. Bliss to be home.

 

Thanks for reading.