The drive from Chiang Rai to our next destination, Udon Thani, travels close to the Laos border for much of the 14-hour bus ride. This area used to be the main supplier of the word’s opium. Today drugs still enter Thailand through Laos. During the drive, our bus went though at least 15 police checkpoints where they searched for drugs. It made the long bus ride even longer.
We went to Udon Thani because it’s close to 3 interesting sites, but it’s a tourist destination for other reasons too. It has the undesirable distinction of being one of the biggest centers for sex-tourism. During our 3 days there we saw numerous Caucasian men with Thai ‘girlfriends’, and we only saw 3 other Caucasian women. There is one street in town that is full of strip clubs and pick-up bars, but it was very different than the one in Bangkok. In Udon Thani it is just for sex tourism; where in Bangkok, Patpong is a fun display with more tourists than customers
Red Lotus Sea – From November until the end of February Nong Han lake blooms with millions of red (actually pink) lotuses. We took a long-boat ride to get a closer look. This large lake is very shallow and is covered in lotus plants. As we went across the lake the flowers became denser. In the middle of the lake it is pink as far as you can see. It’s an incredibly beautiful sight; nature at its finest. There are also many water birds who add to the peaceful beauty.
Phu Phrabat Historic Park – One hour east of the town Udon Thani, is a very interesting historic park. A receding glacier scoured the earth leaving behind huge sandstone rock formations.
Around 1000 BC, prehistoric man began carving shelters into these rocks, leaving just enough base to balance the stone roof. Today most of these are still standing and make incredible looking features.
Some caves were used as temples, others as shelters from the sun and rain. Experts know they were temples because of the small stone pillars surrounding them.
There’s no water source, so they don’t believe the caves were used as long-term housing but there are many deep wells carved in to the stone for water collection. The tools they would have used were made from bronze and then iron. Imagine carving huge rooms into a massive rock with a spoon.
They found many cave paintings from 2000 – 3000 years ago.
It was so incredible to imagine prehistoric man hunting in these woods and making their shelter in these caves or worshipping in the temples.
Much later when the Khmer empire was in the area they also used these caves adding their own carvings and buddha statues.
Ban Chiang – on the east side of Udon Thani is another important prehistoric site. At Ban Chiang they discovered clay pottery as old as 5000 years. Many of the pots were found at burial sites where they were purposely broken and laid over the body. Some pots were found in one piece. The biggest significance of this sight was the discovery of their early use of iron tools. Archaeologists used to believe iron was brought to Asia much later.
To get to many of the sites in Thailand we often take public transit. All of the road signs are in Thai script and not many people speak English, so we have to use gestures to communicate. To get to Ban Chiang our bus-stop was a non-descript place outside of town. From there we had to take a tuk-tuk. Twice we thought we were at the correct stop and tried to get off the bus. The first time 2 ladies figured out where we were going and stopped us from getting off. The second time, the whole bus got involved telling us it wasn’t our stop. When we finally arrived at the right place they all made sure we found the tuk-tuks and wouldn’t get lost. They were awesome!
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