Khon Kaen Blog – Saturday 23rd November

I have to admit that the stress of Bangkok was starting to get to me, even though I was there for little under three weeks. The congestion, the lack of open spaces, the crush on the metro and skytrain, and the sound of demolition from across the road from my apartment was getting tough to deal with.

I don’t think I chose a brilliant neighbourhood to stay in. It was okay, but there wasn’t the kind of bars that you get elsewhere when I’ve been visiting a city. Except in the centre Bangkok, where the sports bars and pubs often have a seedy tinge to them. I wasn’t going to end up sitting in a sports bar with other Westerners nursing a pint and feeling lonely.

The classes I was giving were my focus, so once I’d finished my last session on Thursday, and said goodby to the students, I felt some relief that I would soon be moving on. Not quite back home to the UK yet, but on to Khon Kaen for a few days, to catch up with a friend, and to have a couple of days of kicking back and relaxing.

I decided to fly to Khon Kaen. It’s only an hour, and apart from checking-in, seemed the best option. I like Suvarnabhumi airport. Despite its size and the number of people who use it, it never feels overwhelming. Getting the metro and the airport line from Bangkok was very simple as well. It was an hour door-to-door.

Khon Kaen is a city in the North East of Thailand, and it’s a bit off the tourist trail, so mainly gets Westerner’s if they are doing a job or have contract work, relatives, or are studying. So it doesn’t have the pressure that other places have to entertain.

When I arrived I noticed that the airport is being redeveloped, but I like the charm of an airport that has seen better days, and is a bit dilapidated. There’s something of a contrast from the hermetic and functional modernism of Suvarnabhumi airport, and the much more family-feeling Khon Kaen airport. It’s clean and efficient, but isn’t attempting to sell designer handbags or perfume to bored executives and affluent backpackers.

My hotel, the Roma, has seen better days. It’s something of a lottery when choosing hotels online sometimes. The ratings and reviews, and the prices, don’t always correspond with the reality. That said, I’ve had three weeks cooped-up in a plain apartment, with no social amenities, so having a couple of bars and restaurants near, and a terrace at the front of the hotel, with a band playing, is a welcome relief – mostly from myself and my own company.

After checking in I needed some food, so I headed for a mall that I’ve been to before. It’s a bit rundown, and there seems to be more empty shop units each time I visit, but the food hall is simple, honest and cheap. I ordered a selection of dishes and devoured them in next to no time. I was impressed because it was fifty baht, much cheaper than Bangkok.

Then I went for a wander across town and had a look around the main shopping mall, Central World. The town seemed unusually empty until I stepped into the mall, and realised that all the shoppers were here, in the air conditioned, and hermetically sealed pleasure land for happy consumers. I didn’t last too long, it was way too boring, and I’d had my fill of malls in Bangkok.

As I walked back to my hotel I checked Google to see if there was a night market near by, and after stopping for a coffee and a beer at the DD/MM/YR cafe, I waked six minutes up the road, and had the best night of my visit to Thailand so far.

The night market on a Saturday evening takes place on Walking Street, which is adjacent to Ratchada Nusan park. The roads are closed off, and market stalls are erected. The market is easy to walk around, it’s one street in two lanes, with stalls and traders evenly dispersed on either side.

There are lots of people selling clothes, sunglasses, crafts, phone accessories, and even a pop-up barbers. Everyone walks around at a steady pace and there’s no crush, and it’s easy to see what’s on display. The only stall with a crowd was a make-up trader, and he was swamped with young women looking for bargains.

What really caught my attention was the food stalls. The standard and variety of food blew my socks off. I’ve read about Thai street food markets, but my experience in Bangkok is one of disappointment, because many sell the same things and are expensive. They are geared-up for the tourists, but they are anodyne. Indeed, the policy is to close the street markets and move traders into the food halls in the malls.

This market was a revelation-reaction. The food looked fresh, the variety was broad, and everything looked mouthwatering. The atmosphere as people stopped to buy and chat was friendly, relaxed and warm. It helps not having the constant roar of traffic smothering your thoughts, and also to be out in the slightly cooler air, away from the built-up city.

What was most amusing was the entertainment that was interspersed between the stalls. People come and performed, and played music, or sang songs, probably to make a little bit of cash, but also to raise funds for their projects or schools. I had lots of fun listening to the music being sung, and the earnest way it was delivered. Honestly, I thought some of it was really good, but I don’t have the knowledge or reference points to explain why. I’m going to take my Zoom recorder with me to the next night market I go to. This was too much interesting sound to miss.

While I was at the market I bought some cooked pork, which I ate with some chilli sauce at a seated area within the market, and I got some chicken sticks to have for breakfast, along with some grubs and insects. I got a bag for thirty baht, and I’ll either have them for a snack, or have them with my breakfast.

Thankfully Khon Kaen is a lot cheaper than Bangkok, and so my money might last a little longer if I don’t get tempted by the variety and succulence of the food. I’ll report back what I discover. I know people have written about this kind of stuff for years, but it’s new to me, and as I sit and have my beer this evening, I can say I’m glad to have found my way back to Khon Kaen.

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