This is the story of our second day travelling the backroads from Isaan to the small northern city of Nan. You can read about the first long day HERE.
We started the day from our overnight stop at the Hobby Hotel in Uttaradit on a downer with a useless Thai breakfast. This was available from 6.30 am and comprised of a few Thai dishes, which would have been hot at that time but seeing they were just sitting on the table with no heating by 8:00 am needless to say they were stone cold. The farang bit was instant coffee with powdered milk and bread with jam but no butter. I guess Uttaradit isn’t a hub of passing westerners so there’s no need to cater to us but at least they could do something decent for their own people. Otherwise this was a good hotel, comfortable, clean and modern. As a general comment unless you are travelling 5 star be prepared for poor quality breakfasts here in my experience. Thais in general have no idea what farang eat and this is reflected in the way they cook and prepare breakfast, even if such an option is available.
Our trip to Nan at this stage could have taken an easy three hours heading up highway 11 and 101, which is mostly dual carriageway past the city of Phrae (on the ring road) and arriving in Nan in time for lunch. However this wasn’t the theme of this trip. We instead turned off the 11 almost immediately leaving Uttaradit and onto the 1047 marked below.
The landscape on the 1047 is very flat to start, with the hills you will eventually climb into in the far distance. A lot of rice being grown here, which considering the land makes sense.
Our first stop for the day was to get some much needed real coffee for the driver. I had spotted a cafe/winery marked on Google maps called Vineyard Canaan. This is an almost mystery on the farang internet having little available information but I did find one brief review that promised coffee and the photos looked weird in a Thai context so it was a definite stop.
Just in case you thought that even if there had been wine available it would be the type we normally associate as wine – wrong. It is more like straight bottled grape juice with no complex processing or aging. The ones I have tried have either been sour and undrinkable or sickly sweet and undrinkable 🙂 Thailand does do “real” wine but I haven’t come across a decent bottle yet. As their wine starts at around 600 – 700 baht or A$24 – $28 it is a much safer option to pick up a bottle of Australian or South African for the same or less money.
As is so often the case here I do wonder what sort of business plan was worked through to support making such a significant investment. Uttaradit is a small town and there’s not much else around. The vineyard is well off the main road and we were the only people there. The place looked semi closed although everything was still being maintained. Where did the owner think the people would come from to provide a return on capital? No worries for me though as the coffee was reasonable and the milk originated from a cow so all good.
Maybe they get busloads of people sometimes that keep Vineyard Canaan going. I hope so because it is a pleasant and relaxing change from the usual offerings of plain concrete, tin roofs and plastic chairs that make up the majority of Thailand’s “cafes” and eating places.
Back on the road, which at this stage looked like this:
We stopped again shortly after Canaan this time to take some agricultural photos for the family. This was a large irrigated farm growing spring onions. It is an integral part of our trips to record what’s growing elsewhere to report back the the farming part of the family. Yuan and Lud water their crops by hand because the produce fields rotate so quickly that the effort of setting up irrigation that will only have to be moved again isn’t worth the expense or work.
The next stop was also unplanned in the way I had hoped this journey would end up. A sign to the Biggest Teak Tree of the World required our attention and so we pulled off the 1047 and into a beautiful forest.
The following is copied from the Tourism Thailand website HERE, which is an excellent resource and one you should add to your Thai research list if coming or living here:
The largest teak tree in the world stands in Ton Sak Yai Forest Park. The tree, estimated to be more than 1,500 years old, is 37 meters high and has a circumference of 9.58 meters at its base. Although the upper part of the tree was broken off in a storm, the trunk is still alive and well-cared for. Found in 1927, the giant teak tree is part of the 35 square kilometre park of mixed deciduous forest. A two-kilometre trekking route allows visitors to explore the forest first-hand.
I could have spent more time exploring this park but we were still a long way from our destination and with a resort booked we needed to get there this day. The 1047 ends in the town of Nam Pat and here we turned left (thanks to the GPS) onto the 1339 for the next stage of the journey. This is a small road servicing local communities, and there aren’t too many of them, rather than providing access to a larger destination.
If you go back to the first map at the beginning of this post you you will see that the 1339 ends on the shores of Queen Sirikit (the current Queen) lake and then starts again on the other side! Now that had to worth exploring.
I have to admit that I wasn’t being as adventurous as you might think because I did know there was a ferry involved but how that all worked was a mystery as once again there is very little information available on the farang internet for this region.
The 1339 was a more basic route than the 1047 but still sealed and in reasonable condition and no problem even for a small Mazda 2.
Now in my western thinking mind I had a vision of the sealed road ending up at a formal ferry embarkation point. Maybe some shops and eating places with a quick and easy trip across the water to re-join the 1339 on the other side. Oh dear – not so! I should have known better after three years here. The 1339 just finished at this dirt track, which I don’t think the Mazda would cope with in the wet. It got a lot steeper and more degraded around the corner. This “road” then ends at…………………..nothing – just water! No shops, no ferry, no telephone number.
Thank God for Gaun. I have no idea how I would cope otherwise. Learn Thai I guess 🙂 There was a small house on the hillside, the only habitation around, and on walking up there we found a couple of Thai men having a nap in hammocks . Waking them up they pointed us to another small walking track that disappeared over the hill. At the bottom of the path was this sight:
A shouted conversation between Gun and the guy you can see on the platform had a ferry organised from the other side of the lake and the offer of a drink or meal. We should have accepted because it took over an hour for the ferry to arrive.
You can see why it took a while for the barge to get to us. It was a fair distance and it was being pulled by a small longtail boat. I thought it would be self-powered (stop thinking Tony). You could hear it coming about 30 minutes before it actually arrived!
She gave the engine a burst as the shore approached and got out of the way as platform ran aground in the shallows.
This was a far more rewarding outcome than if it had all been totally organised and easy (saying that after the event of course) like it would most likely be in a western context. All credit to Gaun for making it happen.
I had to take the following photo. The bane of my life in our village is the community speaker system, which fires up at 5:30 am for the “mayor” to make village announcements about whatever is going on. It is one of the main reasons I designed and built a very insulated and soundproof house complete with double walls and double glazed windows in the bedrooms! 5:30 am is not my preferred time to be awake especially when retired and increasingly ancient!
Laughter all round in true Thai style. That little area in the corner of the “house” in the photo above in front of the yai (grandmother) was full of baby piglets (puppy pigs as Gaun calls them). A quick repair was under way as we left to stop them escaping through that hole you can see as a result of the plank being dislodged by our arrival.
The final surprise for the day happened when we came across an amazing wat hidden away in a small moo ban called Namum or Na Muen on rural road 1026, which had taken over from the 1339.
How these wats come to be built in places of no significance is another mystery of Thai life. This one was spectacular in a small way and has now been included on my favourite wats of Thailand list:
If you are ever in Nan this wat is worth making a special trip just to see in my opinion. I think that my photos show you why.
The remainder of our journey was pretty uneventful. About 40 plus km north after the wat we turned right onto the 101, a dual carriageway that took us into the city of Nan. We also ran into a large thunderstorm that prevented the taking of any more photos even if there had been things to share.
We ended up at the Nan Seasons Boutique Resort, which is correctly located by its GPS coordinates on the outskirts of Nan at about 6:00 pm, nine hours after leaving Uttaradit that morning.
My next post will take you to the major temples of Nan, the Nan Riverside Art Gallery, the lovely Noble House museum and a few other surprises. The final post in this series will put you in the passenger’s seat as we head home with more diversions along the way.
Thanks for reading.