While in Khon Kaen we spoke with a friend we met in Vientiane, Laos. Kish lives in Bangkok and has lived in Thailand for 6 years. Originally from London, we met Kish at the Thailand Embassy in Vientiane and swapped numbers after going out one night to a bar then to a club. We were letting him know that it was our intention to go to Bangkok and he mentioned there is a popular place to go called Khao Yai (pronounced COW YIGH) I looked it up on the internet and found they did elephant trekking and that it was a large national park with waterfalls and mountains.
Heading Out Of Khon Kaen
Leaving Khon Kaen
We left Khon Kaen around noon after a delicious Starbucks. The day was hot and sunny and made it to Nakhon Ratchasima around 3:15pm. We were tired from the heat of the day and sunburnt so we stopped to eat, and it took us about an hour of driving around this large city to find a place that was open. We finally found a place called Bap Korean food. We sat and ate a delicious pork dish with rice and gyoza, and the owner came to speak with us. He asked where we were going and we told him KhaoYai.
We had originally decided since it was about 4pm and my GPS was dead, that we would stay in Nakhon Ratchasima and head out for Khao Yai in the AM. He said we could charge the GPS and that it was only 100km to Khao Yai and that we could make it before dark or close to it. We learned he lived in Australia for years and spoke excellent English. It was great to get information and directions that were more specific than the GPS was able to give us.
Pak Chong, Thailand
Change in Route and Getting Lost
We headed out at 5pm and after stopping for Gas, we realized we probably wouldn't make it to Khao Yai until dark. Pak Chong was the last city on the handwritten instructions on how to get to Khao Yai, yet I didn't know if it was just a marker or a place we needed to ride in order to get to Khao Yai. We got to the turn off for Pak Choung and it was dark. I didn't write specific enough instructions and chose to take the turn off. I should have stayed on the highway. We rode a bit longer and decided to stop off at a roadside stand that was selling BBQ sausages to ask for more directions. We ate a delicious sausages on a stick and played charades with a man and his family and he told us that it was 12km to Pak Choung and another 20 to Khao Yai.
It was already 6:30-7pm and we had no idea if we could make it Khao Yai. We kept on the side road to Pak Choung and when we arrived, we realized the GPS didn't show streets in the city, and we thought it would be just a tiny village. It wasn't. There was a huge 10 block market going on that only happens once a year from the 13th through the 23rd of December. We found a nice hotel for about 20 dollars a night and decided to go out to the fair.
The Pak Chong Fair
Pak Chong Fair
We arrived to and walked around the fair for a few hours. IT WAS GREAT!!! We were so happy that we got "lost" and found this city. They were selling everything from fried bugs, to electronics and carved wood furniture. The wood furniture was incredible, more like art really. We picked up some sweets. It was about 8 marshmallow filled wafers.. much like a fortune cookie wafer with chocolate and sprinkles drizzled on top. They were good and the fair was amazing! There was also a snake show and a grandstand where bands were playing. We were the only westerners we saw the entire night and we were and oddity no doubt to those walking around, judging from the open mouthed gaping and stares directed at us. Everyone was very pleasant however.
We walked around for a couple of hours and people watched then decided to head back and get a good night's sleep. Everyone in town was here. This is like the state fair and fourth of July festivals all rolled into one. It was more than 10 blocks. More like 10 blocks long and 5 blocks deep. HUGE and packed with people.
The Pak Chong Fair
Change in Perspective
I love how sometimes the frustration of where and when you get somewhere, can turn to absolute happiness with finding something off the beaten path with a lot to offer. Getting lost at times has a serendipitous ending that can't be planned. We would have never found this place on our own, and the fair was exactly what we were looking for in Thailand. Culture at it's best. Only going somewhere that tourists frequent, doesn't always give you the cultural "big picture". A fair like this, where you are the only foreigner there among thousands of people, is where you can experience true culture unchanged for the benefit of foreign travelers. We have found this many times over and prefer the times when we lose ourselves and find something singularly special and unexpected.