On the Road To Loei and Phu Rua

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.


I'm a sixty-year-old Englishman living in the town of Swindon in rural Wiltshire and I have a real deep desire to retire in Thailand one day. If you don't have a dream then you won't have a dream come true.

21 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    Martyn very colourful, your account and the flowers 😉

    Duen tells me she has been there and says its very nice, unfortunately its a bit far for a road trip from here.

    “Loei Province is famous for its fine wines”

    Spoken like a true beer drinker! Although they do tell me “new latitude wines” are becoming more popular. Perhaps that means they are being used as an alternative to “duck” for cleaning the hongnam 😉

    Sawadee bpee mai to you and WW.

  2. Hoo Don says:

    Mike happy New Year to you and Duen as well.

    Loei has an airport so flying there would be an option because the Flower Festival and whole area is worth a look. The Pee Ta Khon Festival is their most popular tourist attraction and I must see that one day.

    My apologies to you and everyone for not answering earlier comments but I now have the net up and running at the village house so I’ll reply from now on.

    5-2 to Forest, what a result. I bet that meant an extra calorie or two out of a kapong.

  3. Catherine says:

    So there is a Chateau de Loei available? 😀

    Great post Martyn – I was laughing all through it. I’m an avid plant collector as well and could just imagine the nudging you got from Wi.

    (and don’t tell anyone, but I brought greenery back from Italy…)

  4. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine you got the name bang on. We bought two bottles of Chenin Blanc 2004 fom the Chateau de Loei and intend sampling it toningt. I think it was about 300 baht a bottle. We’ve tried it before and it’s not too bad.

    You best hope WikiLeaks doesn’t get hold of your Italian Job.

    Have a great New Year’s Eve.

  5. Catherine says:

    Hilarious! Then I must try Chateau de Loei one day.

    I’ve been ‘wine tasting’ in Khao Yai, and attended a Thai wine dinner with the Sheraton in BKK (I wrote about it in the early days on my site) but they were mostly plonk. Expensive plonk for what they were (800++ baht range). In Thailand, wines are heavily taxed – doesn’t matter if they are imported or grown here. Very odd.

  6. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine last night the Chanin Blanc 2004 hit the right spot but unfortunately it sent me on the trail to the village street party. I spent a few bob there but mai phen rai. I hope you are enjoying your New Year and the Ashes are secured, that’s got to be a good excuse to uncork another bottle ot two of the liquid which is dripping in tax.

  7. Snap says:

    Martyn, it certainly is flower country out that way!

    And, I’m with you on the feet thing…I bought a pair of totally closed in pair of shoes today to try and combat the black soles dilemma.

  8. Hoo Don says:

    Snap happy New Year to yourself and Stray, thanks for your wonderful comments and excellent blog posts (love the humour) during 2010. Wilai scrubbed my feet the other night with some magic whitening cream but today they’ve returned to their darker days. So far my feet have managed to avoid her all day. I just gotta hope I don’t fall flat on my back through alcohol.

  9. Catherine says:

    Martyn, sounds like you had a rollicking good time last night. My New Year’s celebration was quiet. Everyone was sick – even the cats. They still are. Very odd to have cats with colds… and the man who rarely gets sick, is.

    Aren’t the results from the Ashes amazing? And if I had anymore wine left, I certainly would lift a glass of white to them – well done England!

  10. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine it’s great to have the internet here at the village house, ‘putting together life’s jigsaw in north east Thailand’, I’ve certainly found another jigsaw piece with my Dtac connection.

    The party was looking a little still and beginning to go flat so I injected two boxes of beer and four bottles of Hong Thong Whiskey (drinking some now with milk and ice, not too bad) and then the grapevine kicked in and the telephone call came.

    “Hus…band, I want you come home now. Must spend countdown together”.

    I just love Thailand.

  11. Catherine says:

    FOUR bottles of Hong Thong Whiskey? Whoooh… No wonder Wi called you home 😀

    And I’ll have to say that I’m not quite sure about Whiskey and milk. I’ve had rum and milk… so I’m not objecting (moi?) but rum is sweet so it’s like… like… you know… a sweet drink with a POW. Something like that. So, is Hong Thong sweet? Ish?

  12. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine I’d like to be able to answer you on the Hong Thong sweet question but unfortunately I’ve drunk it all. Going on memory alone I’d say it’s not too sweet. In my Pattaya days I’ve drunk Sang Som whiskey with Gavascon, that’s a drink which curdles the minute it’s mixed but it was needs must in those wild days long gone by.

  13. Catherine says:

    Gavascon? (I had to look it up) I have heard that you all get to be wild men in Pattaya, so I’m not much surprised. Ah. Youth…

  14. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine in my wild days I used to suffer with very bad indigestion. So bad that at times I used to vomit stomach acid. In those Thailand days I was on 50-60 cigarettes a day and lots of beer and cheap whiskey. Not a good combination. Thankfully my quieter life these days has meant it’s once in a very blue moon I get the problem.

    I take it I have the honour of introducing the word ‘vomit’ to you for the first time in 2011.

  15. Catherine says:

    I have an aversion to not feeling good so I don’t go there. Call me picky, but there’s even an entire range of beer that I don’t drink because they hurt my stomach. I call them ‘green’ beers: Mexican, Heineken, Corona… but it keeps me healthy.

    But I did smoke when I was younger…

  16. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine I’m unfortunate in that I can stomach any kind of beer, lager or cider. When it comes to spirits I am a lot more picky, most whiskeys make me retch just smelling them.

    Oh for those younger days, things would be so much different…..hardly.

  17. Lawrence says:

    Great post, Martyn, although all this talk of beer, wine, whisky doesn’t go well with my sadly alcohol-free diet. It does remind me of my granny who used to give me whisky and hot milk whenever I went to bed with the sniffles .. from the age of about 7 if my memory is correct. She said it cured everything (alcoholism excluded, presumably.

    Incidentally, I must say that hooligans seem to have got a whole lot smarter than I remember them.

    (I don’t usually like cricket much — but I do when we beat the aussies.)

  18. Hoo Don says:

    Lawrence this time of year must put great strains on an alcohol free diet. I’m sure a tipple or two wouldn’t harm your figure.

    Memories….my granny lived in a lovely Gloucestershire village and I visited her every Saturday when I was a kid.

    Cricket, I love it and it ranks second to football for me.

    Everyone has a bit of a hooligan in them somewhere. Happy New Year.

  19. SiamRick says:

    As always Martyn, you make your little piece of paradise sound fascinating and definitely worth visiting. I have Loei and area on my Must Do List.

    But I am a bit allergic to big crowds so big events like the flower festival tend to scare me off. I’ll go in the off-season, probably. Thanks for the hotel tip but 500 baht for VIP room? What a deal!

    Now that we’re in 2011, your own little dream of moving to Thailand is that much closer!

    All the best to you and WW.

  20. Hoo Don says:

    Rick you surprise me with your dislike of big crowds especially with you coming from Toronto and then choosing Bangkok as your base. There’s plenty of crowds in those two cities.

    Loei is an okay venue and Phu Rua very picturesque. The hotel suits me but I wouldn’t recommend it to others. I’m fairly easy going when it comes to getting my head down.

    The way the bahts heading my little dream is moving further away.

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