There are some places you visit and you think this is so amazing I never want to leave: Laos, Anfield, Yosemite, Disney, Nha Trang, San Diego. There are some places you visit and you think, Yeah I’ve had a good time but I’m ready to move on: New York, Ho Chi Minh City, Rome, London, Siem Reap. There are some places you visit and you just can’t wait to leave: Manchester, Hanoi, Athens.
And then there is Amnat Chareon.
I don’t want to be too harsh on Amnat Chareon, but I am going to be truthful. Amnat Chareon in a ‘city’ in the province of the same name in Issan, Thailand, right on the Laos/Thai border. It is home to the Amnat Chareon Thai Immigration Office (no prizes for guessing what goes on there) which is the closest immigration office to Jade and I in the city of Roi-Et. It sits in a very impressive building in it’s own grounds that has fields, markets, landscaping.
Then you step out of the door and you realise – that is pretty much it. That is Amnat Chareon. It is a town (I’m really not sure it has enough people/facilities to be named a city) that has been built pretty much solely to deal with local and foreigner visa runs to avoid a mammoth round trip to either Laos, Bangkok, or if you’re feeling particularly travel-ly, Malaysia.
In order to stay here and prolong our employment, Jade and I needed extend our existing visa that was due up on Dec 13th. After a horribly nervy wait, and an excruciatingly awkward and scary ‘interview’ (let me tell you, never has a language barrier been so advantageous, and never has Timothy been out with such force) we were both granted extensions until Jan 12th. Yey, we’re here for New Years. Hopefully our next visa run will be to Bangkok for our Non Immigrant B visa, bring on the syphilis test.
We decided, following the King’s birthday celebrations, and pay-day, that we would make a weekend of it and visit the place for the weekend, and not just pop our heads in for a quick visa request. This was, of course, before we realised how little the place had to offer. My co-teacher Pat was travelling to her home-town in Yasothon Province (where we would have had to change buses) and so offered us a lift all the way to the city. The Thai people really do go out of their way to be helpful and kind where ever possible, we could learn a lot from that attitude.
This involved a stop in her home village, at her Mum’s house. They were lovely, and welcomed us with cold water and home-cooked food. We were provided with a tour of the village, to the local temple and past a local card game (I think most of the village were playing, no joke) and back to her house. The food was really good. Fried pork bits, a soup I forget the name of featuring pork leg and eggs, sweetcorn, and papaya salad. I knew I would like the first three things, and with the sticky rice, Jade and I tucked in. I have had a history of disliking most things with papaya in (I think it tastes similar to vomit – never a good thing to say about a food) but this papaya salad was just delicious. Not only did they provide us with this, her mother sent us packing with a to-go bag of everything that wouldn’t go-off. How sweet.
As I said earlier, there was absolutely nothing to do there. After Pat showed us the immigration office and found us a nearby, and cheap, hotel (where she also organised a lift to the bus station from for us because they don’t have tuk tuks in Amnat Chareon) we settled in to watch I’m a celeb and Once Upon a Time. Yes, we’re that cool. Later, we ventured to the market over the road, where for the first time, I visited a place where I felt like the attraction. The staring was intense.
The next day, we set out in search of a large gold Buddha that I hoped I had actually seen and hadn’t imagined on the card ride to the visa office. Aftr walking further than expected, we found it, and it was worth going to see. It was pretty much the only site other than the visa office, the two Honda garages, the ford show-room, and the Big C. After taking some selfies and being the subject of increased attention, we ventured further down the road to the Big C, where we again felt like we were being watched. The staff stopped what they were doing and the customers tracked our every move. Very weird, I didn’t realise how much we had settled and become part of Roi-Et until then. Perhaps you are starting to see what I mean when I say that a) there is so little to do that the supermarket is a desirable trip out and b) being white here warrants celebrity-like hawk-eye action from the locals.
After our visa run, we decided not to hang round, and caught the first bus we could back to Roi-Et via Yasothon. The ride was fairly decent, nice buses (one was actually only a mini-bus) and really cheap. I mean, we’re talking a 150km journey, and it cost less than it used to cost me to get from my house to school in the morning. We went round a Tesco over here, which was weird again, they literally sell some things that they sell at home. As in, no Thai instructions/ingredients, the exact packaging we have at home.
All in all, a weird, but enjoyable weekend away. I’m pleased we have seen another place in Thailand we would otherwise never have gone to, even if it was a bit, well, crap.