Day 1 – 07 Jan 16 | Bangkok – Buriram | 388 kms
This was first day of the trip – and it was really early morning. We were asked to report to the hotel lobby at 4:45 am and true to my army training i was there before time – dot at 4:30 am in the lobby. I met Art, from TAT and his team. We were given a set of T Shirt, from Toyota to be worn for the Flag Off ceremony and the hotel was kind enough to give us packed breakfast.
We were then escorted to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration Office, given some more items of use – and by about 7:30 am we were flagged off by the Toyota Director. In all there were 22 Toyota Hilux Revo pick up trucks carrying about 60+ participants. The group included people from Travel industry like me, magazine and journals, TV crew, organisers staff, people from Toyota, a large media team with cameras and drones galore and one talkative MC.
I was allotted a Pick Up truck No 2, and given an english speaking driver – Num. Num has worked 7 years in TATA Motors and knows most of the western music that i know of. Thanks to TAT Delhi for an excellent preparations for us – everything was anticipated and catered. My partners on the truck were smart and tall Himraj Soin of Outdoor Journal – man of many tastes and talents and young, energetic and handsome Art Rachata from TAT Bangkok.
The convoy was escorted by a Tourist Police car out of Bangkok. In about 4 hours of drive on beautiful wide roads, we stopped at a local restaurant for Thai lunch – a pre-set lunch was laid out on our tables as we arrived – saves a lot of time that way. We had a quick lunch and moved to our first place of interest – the Jim Thomson Farm.
Jim Thomson & the Farm
This one turned out to be more popular and touristy than one ever thought. We saw some 20+ tourist buses and 50+ cars parked as we entered the parking lot – and there were more pouring in.
Jim Thomson has been an interesting figure. He was an American, an ex-architect, a retired army officer, a one-time spy, a silk merchant and a renowned collector of antiques. He mysteriously disappeared from Cameron Highlands in March 1967. At the time of his disappearance he was one of the most famous Americans living in Asia. Time magazine claimed he “almost singlehandedly saved Thailand’s vital silk industry from extinction”. His disappearance generated one of the largest land searches in Southeast Asian history, and till date remains the most famous mystery of its kind.
In 1988, to ensure a steady and reliable supply of raw materials for silk production, the ‘Thai Silk Company’ decided to invest in its own mulberry plantation and silkworm egg production center. This silk farming, or sericulture, which focuses primarily on the rearing of hybrid silkworms and the cultivation of top grade silkworm eggs to be sold to contract farmers, came to be known as the Jim Thompson Farm.
The farm was opened to public in 2001 and has since evolved into one of Isan’s most popular agrotourism and ecotourism attractions. It is open to visitors only once a year during the peak winter season.
Phanom Rung Historical Park
Our next stop in late afternoon was Phanom Rung Hindu temple. I was amazed to see the Hindu influence such far and wide. Prasaat Phanom Rung is one of the most significant and most visited Khmer monuments in Thailand. Built in the 10th-13th century A.D. it was a Hindu Shaivite monastery. You can see the sculptures of Vishnu. Lintels, pediments depict Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and scenes of the Ramayana. The most famous lintel depicts Vishnu reclining on the back of the Naga King. This lintel had disappeared to US for many years, but was recently returned back to its origin. We were greeted with some very interesting Thai dance sequences. For a few hours i felt transported the 8th century.
We then drove off to Buriram, had a quick dinner in a local restaurant – pre-set and pre-laid. This practice really made our dinners quick to finish. We then checked into a neat mid range hotel. I was too tired to do anything, and hit the bed.
Day 2 – 08 Jan 16 | Buriram – Khongchiam Ubon Ratchathani | 377 kms
We again woke up early as the breakfast was scheduled at 6 am and march off at 7 am. It was not a good sleep – once up i felt a need to have my usual morning tea or coffee to set things in motion. Went down to the reception and found Himraj and David ( he runs a travel magazine out of Kuala Lumpur) already waiting in the lobby. So there were others too who did not sleep well. Anyways, i enquired of some tea or coffee, but made no headway. In sometime the breakfast opened – and we got our tea and the meal. Had a quick bite and went up for a wash and change and got into the car by 7 am. Our passports were deposited for Laos border formalities.
The convoy was on the road by 7:15 or so. Our team in truck no 2 was much better organised today. We found ways and means to get our music going. The unlimited internet on my AIS Tourist sim and the blue tooth pairing of Toyota Revo got some real good music going – I was the DJ and others kept requesting for their fav numbers – and i mostly obliged.
Buriram International Racing Circuit
The first stop was the Buriram International Racing Circuit. It was a well laid out sports complex with a football stadium nearby. We did a round of the circuit while Toyota did a lot of filming for their marketing i guess. We had too many drones bumbling over us – taking video shoots. And there is this amazing and energetic MC – who get the energies into the video shoots. He speaks a lot of Thai that we don’t get and is often loud and chirpy on the mobile amplifier he carries around his neck.
Once done with Toyota-Do we moved on to another interesting destination – the unique Elephant Village in Surin.
Surin Elephant Village
You can see the elephants anywhere in Thailand – this one was unique. The locals at Ban Ta Klang Elephant Village are of the Suay ethnic minority – skilled in capturing, training and raising Asian elephants. Unlike in northern Thailand where elephants are kept for labor, locals here consider elephants their companions, and often share their homes with them. It is said that since ages the retired war elephants used to be sent to Surin and that is where the bonding with animal originated. Toyota did have a lot of photo shoots here too.
There was an interesting Elephant cemetery – something i have never seen anywhere else. The man- animal relationship here was rather unique – and a way of life.
Pha Taem Pre Historic Paintings
We then drove off to another very interesting site by the Mekong. Up the river from Khong Jiam lies a natural formation of a long cliff overhang called Pha Taem. From the top you get a bird’s-eye view across the river into Laos and below a trail goes to prehistoric rock paintings dating 1000 BC. We walked down the path about a km to see the first set of mural paintings – a giant Mekong catfish, elephants, human hands, geometric designs, fish traps and some strange alien looking men. It is actually amazing how well these paintings have survived the elements of nature. Since it was getting dark we could not go to the other sites. But whatever i saw leaves me amazed.
Once done with the tour of the day, we drove off to a nicely located resort overlooking Mekong – Tohsang Khong Chiam Resort. We straight go into the usual pre-set, pre-laid dinner mode – and ate the dinner outdoors by the poolside. I wish we were here at the sunset – to see the beauty of this resort. Now waiting for the Sunrise moment tomorrow morning.
Signing off for the day!
Tomorrow we exit Thailand and enter Laos, see you all here for more stories … until then, have a good night.
08 Jan 2016, Ubon Ratchathani