If I could have bottled the young lady’s excitement I would have screwed on a lid and labelled it ‘ Wonderful Wi’s Energy Drink ‘. Of course, finding an empty jar in a Thai village is another matter, they’re always half full with something, a Thai recipe wouldn’t be complete without the unscrewing of a dusty jar or two.
We were off to the mountains of Loei to once again take in the many colours and scents of the Annual Phu Rua Flower Festival. Wilai was one excited lass and I was looking forward to it too. I needed to escape the village, the last of my french fries were gone.
Wilai’s travel bag defied her status of ‘ village girl ‘, a white woven shawl sat on top clothes which would adorn the most chic boutiques and perfume which could withstand the most intense heat. My sports bag had enough cigarettes inside to narrow a laughing policeman’s eyes and clothes which almost spoke ‘ Hooligan, just landed, where’s the nearest brothel’.
We jumped into our rented car and left the village behind us with our thoughts and chatter a mirror of our travel bags.
“Hus..band, I have excite about Phu Rua. I want buy many flower. I want Lose (rose), Pa see (pansy) and Whore…. Kid (orchid)”
“Wilai, why no matter how many times I shower, the bottom of my feet are always bloody black. I’m slowly turning into an African”.
The chic Isaan country girl and the Cholesterol Kid had plenty to talk about on the road to Loei and Phu Rua.
This was our third trip to Phu Rua but our first for two years and this time we took a different route to the quicker Udon Thani to Loei highway roads. We headed in the opposite direction on the road to Nong Khai and turned off shortly before the city outskirts and set off on a 230 kilometre picturesque journey to Loei city which would be our base for the next three days.
Our ride hugged the banks of the Mekong River for most of the way with Laos in seemingly touching distance on the far river bank. We passed through the towns of Thabo, Si Chang Mai, Sang Khom, Pak Chom and the popular Thai tourist hotspot Chiang Khan.
Tobacco, papaya and banana plantations passed by almost unnoticed as Thailand’s great river captured the eye. At times the dry river bed made passage to Laos look possible by foot but at most points the Mekong flowed freely along. It really was like driving through one long picture postcard stall.
Loei city is a fair size but a place I have yet to truly explore and one I probably never will on our favoured short three day trips. Being creatures of habit we checked into the same hotel and VIP room as before. At 500 baht a night VIP status in Loei is easily achieved at the Sun Palace Hotel. A large bedroom, a decent size lounge and bathroom are yours for the price of an average meal for two. The downside……..the decorater must have been in one hell of a hurry and the furnishings smack of cheap with a loud whistle thrown in. Add the inconvenience of a luke warm shower and you just about get your money’s worth.
Loei Province is famous for its fine wines and Phi Ta Khon Ghost Festival (sometime around May), the ghost masks and figurines are on sale in all the tourist haunts (pun intentional…photo left). Temperatures in Loei at this time of year jump from one extreme to the other and definitely didn’t suit the heavy cold I was carrying.
Heavy mist and fog greeted us each morning with the temperature as low as 15 degrees C. By late afternoon the mercury had soared to the mid thirties before plummeting again in time for our evening meal. A goose pimpled hooligan and a chic chick in a white shawl idled the evenings away.
Phu Rua is 50 kilometres from Loei and the journey takes you further up into the mountains. The scenery is breathtaking though the passage with its twists, sharp turns and occasional snaking chicane are dangerous too.
“Hus..band. Look over left. Have flower suay (beautiful) mark mark (lots)”
“Wilai keep your eyes on the road……we’re on a bloody chicane”
“Chee-kay….no understand….look over have Lose flower suay”.
The nearer you get to Phu Rua (Boat Mountain) large flower gardens spring up from either side of the road and many houses also have small gardens selling a huge variety of potted plants and flowers too.
The Phu Rua Flower Festival is a huge affair and I will cover the event in detail on my return to the UK. The festival attracts garden centre specialists from the length and breadth of Thailand as well as coach loads of Thai tourists who share a passion for flowers and scenic views. If flowers float your boat then Phu Rua is the perfect port of call for you.
On our return journey to Udon Thani our car boot and back seat was once again packed solid with flowers and this time a table and four chairs bought at the festival for a bargain 2,000 baht were also fitted in.
A few golden conversations were also shared on our three hour return trip, this time via the quicker Udon Thani route. The chic Isaan country girl and the Cholesteral Kid were heading home for New Year with enough flowers and pollen to supply a Mills and Boon Christmas office party.
“Hus…band, have flower garden over, maybe I stop car”
“Wilai if you put one more flower in this bloody car we’re going to die of pollen poisoning…and keep your eyes on the bloody road”
“Flower suay mark mark”.
Loei and Phu Rua, like a Mills & Boon book wrapped in a flower garland with hazy sunshine beating down on its cover through a thick white mist. Even hooligans recommend it as a thoroughly enjoyable read.
© 2010 – 2011, Martyn. All rights reserved.