So we’d been deliberating for a while about whether to go to the Full Moon Party. At first we’d been so keen that we actually planned our Thailand route around it, so we’d end up in Ko Phangan on the right date. But when push came to shove, we’d thoroughly gone off the idea. We’d met tons of people that said it’s trashy and horrible; we hadn’t booked accommodation; it had rained for the previous three nights in a row (making sleeping on a beach a less than inviting prospect!); and frankly, we missed the less-touristy goodness of the North.
So we headed far up North-East, as far as you can go, to Nong Khai, a little Mekong River town that borders Laos. We could literally see Laos from the river. Pretty cool! After our Open Water we were craving some rest and relaxation, and that was exactly what we got – in the form of food-gorging and celebrations for the end of Buddhist Lent.
When we arrived they were already setting up stages and marquees in the middle of town for the weekend’s celebrations, and by the evening, festivities were in full swing! There was a full-blown stage of musical festival proportions, with light shows, local Thai pop stars singing hip hop and cheesy pop; a huge long collection of picnic tables flanked on both sides by the most delicious, sumptuous and cheap food stalls you could hope to find, even in cheap, delicious Thailand.
And even more excitedly, once we walked further down (after peeling ourselves away from the food stalls) we found taking place, on an INSANELY ornate stage set of glittery waterfalls, deers, and tropical surroundings, a bloody BEAUTY CONTEST! It was like we’d died and gone to (camp) heaven. There was a giggling ladyboy presenter with a straight-acting hunk partner; crazy elaborate hair styles and manic smiles from the ladies; waxed chests and earnest speeches from the boys. In short, it was like a really good reality TV show. They even had an OTT live steel band accompanying the whole thing with soft music and sound effects!
So we wiled away a few evenings (as the festivities ran across our full 3 nights there!) munching away on divine food like garlic and coriander roasted whole chicken and spicy papaya salad (specialities of the North East); delicious tempura prawns; suckling pork; sweet treats like coconut milkshakes and mad icecream/jelly concoctions, and world-class sushi that cost about 5p a piece.
In our lazy daytimes, we strolled along the Mekong, got foot massages at brilliant little family-run massage parlours where we gossiped with the owners; walked passed impossibly small temples and monk-spotted our way around town; and ate at a brilliant local food court where I ate a divine sweet and spicy crab and calamari noodle soup that will stay with me forever! Town was also flanked by the most comprehensive market you will ever see, selling everything from food, sweets, toiletries, clothes, electronics and toys, so we had a lot of fun fawning over stuff there (that we don’t have room in our bags to buy!)
We also took a VERY HOT day trip to a nearby sculpture park, which was brilliant in its insanity. The walk there was relaxing and scenic, aided by two giant iced coffees (our Thai addiction) – taking us down the river, through country lanes, passed buddhist temples, and finally to the park itself.
So the park – Sala Kaew Ku – was built by a crazy Buddhist dude from Laos, and is supposed to be a mash-up of religious references – drawing from Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim stories. The result is a whacked-out collection of mental-looking sculptures, with anything from giant dragons, buddhas, and religious icons, to men beating frogs to death, with plenty of murder and sex thrown into the mix.
The most eccentric – and possibly the most enjoyable – entails crawling through a sculpture mouth to be ‘reborn’, finding inside a ‘wheel of life’ that you walk around, depicting life from childhood, to work, to death. We (kind of) managed to follow it all the way around, but soon got distracted by a group of adorable teenage monks that we had to stop and (subtly) stare at.
The walk back was one of the hottest experiences of my life, as we decided to take a different route from our leafy walk there, and ended up in BRILLIANT sunshine (well over 35 degrees) for over an hour! Determined as ever not to fritter away money, we managed the walk home, aided by an emergency ice lolly stop, and decided that was quite enough daytime adventuring for us!
So, after a nice few days of (mostly) R&R, we bid Thailand an emotional farewell, and caught a tuktuk over the Thai-Lao ‘friendship bridge’ into our second South-East Asian country, Laos!