Chiang Mai – Udon Thani – Nong Khai

I decided upon the overnight bus to Udon Thani, as it would save me 160THB on accommodation costs and it allowed me an extra day in Chiang Mai, which i spent hiring a bicycle and cycling up to Wat Umong (about 4 or 5 km to the west of Chiang Mai), a temple which Tao had recommended i visit.

WAT UMONG

Wat Umong was firstly called Werkattatharam, which means “temple of the eleven clumps of the bamboo”, due to the site on which it was built. By the command of Phaya Kuena, a tunnel was built near to the temple, which houses Buddha images and a wall decorated with mural paintings of trees, flowers, and birds. In Thai, tunnel is “U-Mong”, hence the current name. Wat Umong is also referred to as the ‘forest temple’ as it’s located inthe western jungle zone of Wiang Suan Dok. Visiting Wat Umong was a peaceful and tranquil escape from the city. There’s also a conservation reserve on site and nature trails through the forests (where i spotted a peacock which i followed for several minutes trying to capture it on camera!).

The bus left at 7pm and arrived in Udon Thani at 7:30 the next morning. The only differences between this overnight bus and the ordinary daytime public buses were a) you are allocated a seat when you purchase your ticket and b) you are provided with a blanket, due to the fact that, even at the beginning of Thailand’s hot season, it can – and does – get very chilly at night.

I had planned to read a large chunk of “Catfish and Mandala” on the journey, however the lights onthe bus were switched off only 30 minutes after leaving the terminal. In the darkness, there wasn’t a lot to see out the window, so my only option was to try and sleep, which i only managed to do an hour before arriving in Udon Thani. The remainder of the journey was spent drifting in and out of consciousness, my mind full of the last couple of month’s events and experiences. It was, however, the first time i think i’ve been awake to see the sun rise : a perfect circle of blinding lemon fuzz floating low in a cloudless sky. It’s just a shame it wasn’t in a slightly more aesthetically pleasing setting. . .

When i arrived at Udon Thani, i decided to depart just as quickly, as i felt i needed a break from city life, not that Thailand’s cities are even comparable to ours in terms of scale and population (even Chiang Mai, the largest of the 3 i’ve recently visited, only has a poulation of 170,300). However, as north eastern Thailand seems to be a fairly industrial area of the country, ‘little’ Nong Khai (where i’d decided to head to) still has a populationof 61,500, which is actually more than twice the size of Nan. Oh well, i guess i’ll have to wait until i get to Laos to escape the crowds . . .

I’d chosen to stay at Mut Mee Guesthouse in Nong Khai as none of the other guesthouses were really comparable in the reviews i’d read and the rooms started from 90THB per night so i had no reason to shop around – unless Mut Mee was full of course! When i arrived at around 9:30am, it actually was! But someone was due to check out at 11am so i ate breakfast (which consists of fruit and yoghurt now that i’m on a diet after consuming my body weight in food in Nan!), soaked up the scenery and eavesdropped on some other traveller’s conversations.
Mut Mee is in a fantastic location, right on the Mekong river which separates Thailand from Laos, and in beautiful gardens, complete with wooden hammocks which look like little paddleboats.
By the time my room was available for check in, it was almost midday. I wanted to hire a bike and cycle out to the infamous ‘Sculpture Park’ but cycling anywhere in the midday heat (bearing in mind that i don’t even need to leave my room at the moment to break out a sweat, the humidity levels are so high) was out of the question. So i made the sensible decision to catch up on my sleep tonight and set off early tomorrow morning, leaving this afternoon to explore the centre of Nong Khai and Wat Pho Chai, activities frequently interspersed with well needed drink stops.
Photo is of Buddha image at Wat Chai Sri Phum, Chaing Mai
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