Make Merit for Songkran
This little shrine with a Buddha was set up on the front desk of the Charoen Hotel for Songkran (Thai New Year). You could make merit by dipping water and pouring it over the Buddha statue. I had already gotten splashed and powdered in Ban Chiang.
World's Most Elaborate Truck Stop
I visited Udon Thani for two days late in 2005. I was on my way from Bangkok to Laos and needed somewhere to rest up in between. This was my first trip to the north-east of Thailand, the wild west, frontier country and so on. It wasn't quite like that, but I can see where the stories come from.
There are mixed reports on Udon Thani if you do a search on the net. According to some information, you get the impression that this is a small country town with a few farming families and a dozen or so hardened ex-pats. Elsewhere it's the opposite. I read one person's claim that Udon Thani is massive, outstripping nearby Vientiane in size and a source of surprise to many an intrepid traveller expecting the former. Both reports are actually true. According to World Gazetteer, a German-based statistical bureau, the population of Udon Thani at the start of 2006 was 251,000. This ranks the city second in Thailand, just ahead of Chon Buri, Hat Yai and Korat. Vientiane comes in at a shade over 200,000. Having been to all of those cities (except Korat), I would have guessed Udon Thani to be the smallest. Tree-lined suburban streets, unhurried locals and - save for a handful of intersections - comparatively empty streets tell the story. I guess perceptions are deceiving.
"A few local characters"
A strange thing happened while I was at Udon Thani Bus Terminal. I wandered over the road to the soft drink stand, bought a pepsi and sat out front and looked over some of my photos. A man (pictured here) approached and asked me if I wanted a picture. I thanked him but said that no, I was fine. That's not what he meant however. He wanted me to take a picture of him. I did so and showed him. He then called all of his mates over and I started doing the same. Needless to say, they were very interested in that camera.
I also found that while I walked around the shopping areas and through the markets, people smiled, nodded or waved in greeting. Not everyone of course, but enough to make it noticeable. The other surprising thing was that nobody made any particularly strong effort to help me part with my money. No touts, no hard selling, no pushy taxi drivers - I wondered what was going on. One thing I will never forget was when I was buying socks in the market. I bought five pairs and the woman took my money, gave me my change then said, "You buy five..take a discount", smiling as she handed over a few baht.
Whenever people write about just about any destination, they'll stress how great the people were (bla bla bla). In this case it really was true.