#Korat, Buriram, Surin, Sisaket—and #UbonRatchatani, #Thailand

Cave temple Wat Payap in Korat/N.Ratchasima, Thailand

Cave temple Wat Payap in Korat/N.Ratchasima, Thailand

Isaan is Thailand’s ‘other’ region: poor, Lao cousins with old Communist sympathies and a rural past that’s too close for comfort, a reminder of Thailand’s own poor tribal roots complete with mistakes and misgivings long before the Chinese came in the first time looking for deep-water ports and much much longer before the second wave of Chinese, then the third then the fourth, round about the time that the Khmers dropped what they were doing out here in the region and went back home to dig in for the long haul, leaving the Thais and Laos to pick and plunder and fend for themselves…

This is life as lived in the once-vast southeast Asian outback watching rice grow and babies grow and trying to get right with Buddha and King and the latest pop stars and enough alcohol to wash it all down without thinking too hard about it and getting all frustrated with the lack of progress when really progress is almost impossible without leaving it all behind and striking out for the big city and all those uncertainties…

Old-time 'likay' show in Korat/N.Ratchasima, Thailand

Old-time ‘likay’ show in Korat/N.Ratchasima, Thailand

Korat is really Nakorn Ratchasima, Thailand’s second or third-largest city depending on when and how you count, in a dead heat with ChiangMai but they’ve got all those tourists and Korat has none but for a few loyal Thais wanting to worship at the shrine of local heroine Thao Suranaree—and me. Other than that it’s almost the spitting image of rival Chiang Mai, complete with moat and markets and public square and antique temples, one even built inside a hill, the better to get all religious with…

They’ve even got a modern-day espresso joint on the square, with the real black stuff and Thai-style garden outback to boot, and low-key performances by night on the plaza, plus kids with skateboards and hormones to reckon with, Mom and Pop beckoning home for chores so on and such forth; but the real entertainment is a blast from the past, maw lam and likay, just like last year and the years before back to time immemorial, impromptu stages in series and phases, epics pertaining to epochs, lights sound and color set to pretty girl singers and a few transvestites to boot, real pleasant boredom…

Sunday festivities in Isaan, Thailand

Sunday festivities in Isaan, Thailand

But alas and alack all good things must come to an end and it’s soon time to head back east, in the direction of Laos, but not quite, almost, stopping short at Ubon Ratchatani, passing through all the others where I’ve already been: Sisaket, Surin and Buriram more Khmer than Thai, much less Lao, mother’s tongue written in father’s script, same as Lao where you find it in Thailand, the lack of national schools means the DNA gets lost, little by little, except where mitochondrial, floating around kitchens and bedrooms and small dark corners…

The Ubon railroad station’s on the outskirts of town, and the tuk-tuk’s cheap enough, avoid the catcalls of “hey, you, farang,” okay, but there’s still nothing there, no matter how far I walk, or how much I want it, just a pleasant-enough B&B as crib for a bed, sprawling mediocrity and plenty of wet noodles, street after street and shop after shop, WiFi and Semper Fi, no love lost where none ever existed, so prepare to leave rails behind and head for the hills, the plateau, the vast Isaan plateau, where there are rumors of a city, any city, emerald city and alabaster, a myth suitably placed, Roi Et, 101, more than a hundred, stay tuned…

June 2014

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