Loei April 19-April 21, 2019

Loei was the biggest surprise this trip! Its a city I had never heard of before. Chris had never been there or heard of it either. When I was researching things to do in the Isaan Loei kept popping up. It was definitely high up on my list of places to try to go to on our trip to Thailand.

When we decided our game plan for our trip, I didn’t think we would make it to Nong Khai, or Loei, or anywhere in the Northern Isaan. When we heard that smoke in Chiang Rai would probably linger until the end of our trip, and we had decided on staying int he Isaan, I knew Loei was a place we should visit!

Loei has a spirit/ghost festival every year and I am dying to go! The day of the festival is selected each year by the mediums in the city. Its a 3 day festival. First day there is a big party people wear masks and dance around. This day stems from a legend of Buddha when he was in one of his past lives. He got lost and was gone so long people thought he had died. When he returned there was a big party to celebrate that was so loud it is said to wake the dead. The second day of the festival also combines the rocket festival (mentioned in my Yasothon Post) with more games, dancing, and parades. The third day of the festival people listen to sermons from the monks. This year (2019) it is in July. Maybe we need to go to Thailand for Songkran, The Rocket Festival, and Phi Ta Khon (the ghost festival).

We got into Loei around 10 PM on Friday. Chris had been feeling pretty sick the past few days, and he was sick about 2 weeks before we left for Thailand. Since he wasn’t getting better and seemed to have reoccurring symptoms he decided that he probably needed an antibiotic. (We are pretty convinced he had a sinus infection that wouldn’t go away.) We stopped at a pharmacy and he got his antibiotics. When he came back into the car he said, “I love Loei”. Its weird how just driving into the city we could get a vibe for how awesome it was! We kept on driving and went to the main street in Loei. We parked and looked on our phones to find a hotel that we could stay in. Again, as we were just sitting int he car on the main road we kept saying how cool Loei was!

We found a hotel that was about double what we had been paying, but it had a pool so we figured for at least one night we could stay there and let the kids swim. This hotel ended up being my favorite. Not that the rooms were fancy, but it was quiet and I slept so good! In fact this was the first nights sleep I got where I didn’t wake up at all. It felt soooo good!

The hotel also came with a buffet style breakfast. There was an egg station, bread, fruit, and various Thai food. The kids loved the bread and fruit and I loved the eggs. (Omelet? Yes please?) Chris loved the Thai food! My apatite had been off this whole trip, but finally it was coming back in Loei!!! (It took about a week for us to fully recovery from jetlag/bathroom/eating) After breakfast we took the kids swimming and they loved it! The pool was clean and beautiful!

When we got back to our room Chris and I talked and decided that the hotel was worth the money and we would stay one more night. Since we knew we were staying here we headed out on our adventure for the day. When we were in Khon Kaen looking at hearts on my Google Map, Chris found some that looked particularly interesting to him. So that’s where we went!

We went to these awesome bamboo rafts on a lake (ห้วยกระทิง). When we got there the workers were confused that we would come there without any Thai people. Definitely a place where Thais like to hang out! We looked at their menu and ordered our lunch. They had Nam Tok (Chris’ favorite dish)!!!! They also had Ryan’s favorite food, garlic pork. so we knew this was going to be a fun day! After we ordered they gave us life jackets for the kids and told us which raft was ours. The bamboo rafts are pretty basic and have no engine. There is a hut that is secured onto the raft for shade. After we were on our rafts a man with a small boat and the engine looked like a weed whacker pulled us out onto the river. He dropped the anchor (a rock with a rope tied to it) and left us there. There was a phone number on our raft, and if we needed anything we could call it and they would either bring it to us, or take us back in to go potty, or come take our raft back in. The views from our little raft were gorgeous and it was so fun to see a bunch of Thais kicking back and having a good time!

The kids were so excited to swim in the lake and they jumped right in. After about 20 minutes the boat came back with our food. The food was amazing! Some of the best we’d eaten our whole trip! Kids would come back into the boat and eat, then jump back in the water and swim around. Soon what looked like an ice cream boat came over and we ordered what they had. Turns out it was more like a strawberry slushy and it was delicious! Of course we had to order more that day!

We stayed and played for hours and it was so nice to watch the kids swim, and Chris and I could sit back and watch them and relax and talk. The weather was perfect on the lake, even though it was actually the hottest day we were in Thailand! The breeze and the shade made it feel nice and cool out.

Finally it was time to go back in. We needed to go shower at our hotel and change so we could go to more bat caves. Since Ryan loved the bats so much before we checked if there were more bats in the Loei area. Sure enough we found another bat cave, but this time we could hike to the cave! As we were leaving the rafts, the ladies working there told us to come back soon!

We drove to where we thought the bat cave was near Wat Tham Pha Ya, but we couldn’t figure it out where we should go. This bat cave wasn’t nearly as set up for tourists as the last one way. We finally found a place that looked like it could be where the bats were, so we got out and started walking around. Finally we found an old man and Chris asked him if we were where the bats were. He said yes we could see them from here and Chris asked if we could hike to the cave. The man told us how to get there and off we went.

We parked at what looked like a monastery of sorts, but no one was there. It was almost dusk and a little creepy. We found steps that looked like they went up the mountain, we figured we were in the right place. Up and up we went. Finally we could see the cave in the distance. As we got closer a wall of stench hit us. Chris and I were gagging and trying our best not to puke. Lillian was crying, and we were all holding our noses. We were definitely in the right place. Bats are one of the worst smells I’ve ever experienced, and I will not forget it!

We had been there for a few minutes and we were exploring around the caves, with shirts over our noses and breathing through our mouths. Lillian was ready to go down to the car, but we hadn’t seen the bats yet and no one else was ready to go. We weren’t sure when the bats would come out, but we figured it would be around the same time as the other bats. After a few more minutes a man and his daughter/granddaughter came to the caves to watch too. It was just us six sitting in bat stench waiting for the bats to come.

We didn’t have to wait long, and soon we saw a small trickle of bats, soon it turned into a huge river of bats. They flowed out of the cave in droves and it was amazing to hear their wings flapping and see the cave spewing bats. It was incredible! It was actually one of the coolest things that I’ve seen. I think Ryan could have watched the bats all night, but it was getting dark and we had a lot of stairs to hike down so we had to go.

Lillian wasn’t thrilled about going to another bat cave so we promised her Swensen’s when we got back. Swensen’s is an icecream place that Chris ate at a lot when he lived in Thailand. The kid’s hadn’t been yet but they were excited. We all ordered our ice cream and devoured it. It was so good! We hadn’t had dinner that night, so ice cream was our dinner. After Swnesen’s we were headed to our hotel, but we noticed a night market on the way. We had to stop and walk around. We were all too full for the food there, but it reminded how much I love Thailand and their night markets!

The next morning we woke up and the kids went swimming and we packed up. We decided that we would do a few things around Loei, then start our trek to Chiang Rai. We had done about half our trip up until this point, but it felt like we were running out of time!

We really wanted to try and do things that the kids liked, and Ryan seemed to really like caves so we decided that we would go to a cave that had a Buddha in it. This cave had 611 steps to the top, but that wasn’t going to stop us! (Although the kids did not like the sound of doing all those steps!) We hiked and hiked up those steps and when we thought we couldn’t go anymore there was a shaded resting point. We rested then hiked and hiked and came to another shaded resting spot. Lillian decided she was done. I told her we had worked so hard and come so far it would be a bummer to give up now. Chris turned on Taylor Swift, we drank and rested. Ryan decided he was done resting so he started hiking up without us. Soon we could hear him yelling that he saw the cave. That gave us all the energy we needed and Ryan and Lillian ran up the last few steps.

We got to the cave and there was a Buddha statue in front of it. To be honest that’s what I was expecting, but that’s all I was expecting. Once we passed the Buddha we were able to go into the cave. The cave was impressive and huge. We could walk and explore every inch of it if we wanted. We spent about half hour walking around the cave and we came to the other side. We took extremely steep stairs up and out of the cave and come to an amazing overlook! We hiked back down those steep stairs and explored the other side of the cave we hand’t seen yet. (Ryan would not let us leave the cave until we saw it all!) Once we were sure we saw everything it was time to walk down those 611 steps.

Both kids were energized after seeing the cave and going down was no problem! On the way to the cave we passed another lake that had those bamboo rafts that we went to the day before. The kids really wanted to go on the rafts again, and Chris and I decided that since it was their trip too, they could decide what we did. We stopped by those rafts, but they were all out and no rafts available for us. We had already checked out of our hotel, and we had planned to make progress on our journey to Chiang Rai, but we decided that we would do the same exact rafts we did the day before, then start our drive when we were done at the rafts then we would just drive late so, that’s what we did!

We pulled up to the rafts again, and the ladies started laughing. Chris told them that they had told us to come back soon, and so we did! We ordered Nam Tok again and went to our same raft. This time we were there just before sunset and during sunset and it was even more beautiful than the day before. We stayed out until they closed and we were all happy with our decision to come back! When we were leaving this time they asked if they would see us tomorrow and Chris told them we were leaving and going on to a new city.

As we were driving there was a lot of backed up traffic. I guess a storm had just blown through, but barely missed us. There were downed trees in the road. There were woman with machetes hacking up tree limbs and men with chain saws cutting up tree trunks. Semi trucks couldn’t get passed the trees so they were parked in the road. Lots of the truck drivers were out of their trucks guiding normal cars off into the dirt so they could bypass the trucks and the trees. It worked well and we made it around them! A few miles later we came up to another downed tree. We were stopped until the roads could be cleared. About 15 minutes later we were on our way to Dan Sai!

We LOVED everything about Loei. If the air quality had been better in Chiang Rai we would never have gone to Loei. Its a place we will be back to for sure.

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