Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat): "Prasat Hin Phimai"

Issan. Part 1 Khorat Thailand

December 4, 2004

Dear Family and Friends,

How shall I say this? I have had a very happy two weeks.

On 22 November, after departing Bangkok by train at 05:45 and arriving at Nakhon Ratchasima, also known as Khorat, four hours later, and after a brief nap at the impressive Khorat Hotel ( A/C, TV, king-size bed, huge bathtub -- all for $14.25 per night -- a little expensive for this area),

I had a buffet lunch of a variety of chicken and fish dishes and coffee and dessert (watermelon, pineapple, ice cream - not! -- for $2.25 -- also a bit expensive). I met yet another ex-serviceman and his Asian wife . . . everybody is happy. After lunch I hired a motorbike taxi and visited three Wats (Buddhist temples) nestled into quiet corners of this otherwise bustling city in the Northeast -- an area called Isaan.

One Wat was in a tranquil setting on a pond. Another was decorated with large carvings that were coated with a thick, opaque shiny brown lacquer. The third was a more modern version, colorful yet simple with lots of straight lines and sharp angles and almost no adornment. I had a light dinner on the street -- hot noodle soup with duck -- and strolled back to the hotel to visit the Karaoke Bar.

The large night-club-style Karaoke Bar was staffed with about ten "regular" professional singers -- a couple of smartly dressed young men, and several girls dressed in feminine, slightly sexy but not provocative outfits . . . hot pants, short dresses. My favorite was a stunning woman named Surina. She was dressed in a strapless, floor length red sequin gown with a more than slightly enticing "decollete." Needless to say, I invited Surina for a drink and she glided to my table with a very broad Thai smile. I ordered a frothy pineapple drink and Surina ordered a colorful creation with one of those little paper umbrellas on top. After a friendly chat in her almost non-existent English and my Thai, "nit noi" -- Thai a little bit -- I said my good nights and retired to my room and some English football on the "telly." Yeah, yeah . . . Sorry to disappoint you. But I did give her my best shot. Just another "red card" for Mr. Jan. The next day I made a day trip to Phimai -- a small town with a lovely old Khmer temple.

The Khmer are an ancient people, ruling a thousand years ago over eastern Thailand and what is now Cambodia. Ruins are scattered everywhere. There are several different styles since some of the temple complexes were built over many centuries. The ruins combine elements of Khmer, ancient Hindu and Buddhist cultures. The most well known of these temple complexes is of course Angkor Wat in northern Cambodia.

The Khmer temple in Phimai is in a flat tranquil setting. There are large rectangular ponds with lotus plants afloat. I chatted with some fellow tourists, Europeans and Thais, and then walked in the hot sun to the sculpture and ethnographic museum. The displays are chronologically arranged -- all with both Thai and English descriptions. After lunch I hired a motor bike taxi and visited the largest and oldest Banyan tree in Thailand -- a truly remarkable sight.

You may know that the Banyan tree grows roots downward from its broad branches. The branches then grow further outward and drop more roots to the ground, gaining more support. This one tree with hundreds of roots easily has a diameter of 50 meters.

So I just walked under and through this tree for a while and then found an adjacent pond with some lovely gardens, had a Thai coffee* and found my bus for the return to Khorat. A very pleasant day. That evening I sat out my "red card" from the Karaoke Bar and "penalized" myself with a tall, cold Singha and a light meal at the hotel restaurant.

I thought I ordered a simple minced chicken salad. But it arrived with a plate of crunchy fresh vegetables and a bowl of soup and some steamed rice.

I completed the "suspension" in my room as I prepared for the next day's early departure to Khao Yai National Park. See you next in the jungle hills.

Cheers,

Jan

* Thai Coffee. First make a really good pot of strong tasting aromatic coffee. I mean really good. Go to Whole Foods Market and splurge a little. Then, into a small drinking glass, pour in some sweetened condensed milk. Don't be stingy and don't use any silly chemical or non-dairy substitutes.

Add the hot coffee to the milk and stir vigorously. Then pour the Thai coffee into a tall glass filled with ice. Sip slowly and thoughtfully through a straw. Trust me, coffee freaks, be happy. Forget Starbuck's.

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