I was a bit worried about arriving in Surin at 4:30 in the morning… however since my train was nearly two hours late we got in at 6:30, a much better hour to arrive. Sure enough stepping out of the train station I was greeted by dozens of Tuk-Tuk drivers all eager to take me anywhere I wanted to go. I was headed for New Hotel though, which at least from the map I had looked to be close to the train station. Close enough I thought I could probably walk…. Turns out it was all of about 30 meters from the train station, maybe less.
New Hotel was recommended to me by a woman I met online on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree website. Thorn Tree is a online forum for travelers, unfortunately it’s a poorly organized one. I far prefer Bootsnall.com’s forums, but Thorn Tree still has a larger following. I digress. Turns out New Hotel was an excellent suggestion. The room was very inexpensive, 160 Baht/night regularly (US$4.50) and for Friday and Saturday of the Elephant Round-up they doubled their prices. This was a room without aircon an without TV. They offered aircon and TV in some rooms. IMHO, TV’s are worthless, and aircon is rarely worth it at least not in these season. You really do get used to the heat, for the most part. By Thai budget hotel standards the room was nice. It was clean, big (too big) and had with a large firm bed and a desk. The bathroom was reasonably large with flushing squat toilet. The shower was cold water only, or more appropriately outdoor temperature only. You see, in the morning the water was cold, but in the afternoon the water tank on the roof got super heated and the water would be super hot. It’s a minor annoyance, you get use to cold showers in the morning, but in the afternoon when a cold shower would be really nice you get hot water. I should explain at night the temperature drops to around 80-85F and during the day it’s in the 90’s. I can’t give exact numbers because it’s all Celsius and I haven’t quite got the conversion down in my head/body yet. Anyway, they cleaned the room and changed the sheets daily, as well as bringing a fresh towel every day. I was a bit bothered by the few cockroaches that would occasionally make there way up the plumbing and into the toilet. Only once or twice would they try to make it out of the toilet and onto the outside of the toilet at which point they’d get squished by a shoe. The first night I made the mistake of leaving my lights on while I was out. I came back to find the bright white sheet on my bed covered with small insects. Flys, little crawling things that looked like bed begs but were not, all vet small little bugs that thought this giant shiny white sheet was a great place to hang out. I brushed off the bugs, sprayed some DEET on the sheet, slept in my sleep sack and put DEET on my neck and shoulders. I was very happy when I woke up in the morning and didn’t see a bug anywhere to be found. I’ll also jump ahead and say that in the morning I discovered on of my screen shutters open a crack, duct tape closed it, and that when I left the light off when I went out I came home to no bugs on the bed. Enough on the room, back to my first morning in Surin.
After dropping my bags in the room, showering and reading up on Surin, I decided on a whim to see if I could get WiFi access in the hotel room. With much amazement it turns out I could, although just barely. I was grabbing a signal from some neighbor, but only if I held my laptop at just the right angle and very close to the window. It was enough I could get to email and browse a couple web pages slowly… but that’s about it.
At this point I wasn’t so sure about my room, not so much because of the “state” of the room, but because it felt like a quiet hotel and I wouldn’t be meeting people to hang out with here. So I thought I’d head out to check out the only Hostel/Guest House in town, Phirom Guesthouse. conveniently the morning market was on the way towards the guest house. Unfortunately after quite a bit of walking, but some yummy food, I discovered a note a the destination saying Phirom’s had moved. So I set about walking to it’s new location as indicated by map on the note. Turns out it has moved well outside the main activities in the center of town… a long way out it was a long hot dusty walk. If I’d realized how long it would be I would have taken a Saam-Loew (bicycle-rickshaw) or Tuk-Tuk. The guest house was nice but too far out of the action for my taste today. If I’d been looking for somewhere to relax away from it all it would be great. Fortunately just as I was leaving so was an older British woman whom had just called a Tuk-Tuk to come pick her up for a ride back to the train station, which I shared. Back at New Hotel, I showered again, something I’d do at least three times a day every day I was in Surin.
With so much done already it felt like afternoon, but in it was actually about 11am, so after a brief rest I headed out again by Tuk-Tuk to the Elephant Stadium to check out the festivities there.
Today was the rehearsal day for the Elephant show and thousands of school kids from the area were all over the place to see the show for free. As I walked into the festival grounds 4-5 young teenage Thai girls came up to ask if they could practice there English with me. I was honored to be able to help, but the brief few questions they asked that I fill out their questioner on the elephant festival. It was just a couple questions, did I enjoy it, could it be better, what did I like most/least. I’m sure they were probably suppose to ask me all the questions, but was still impressed they’d gotten as far as the did before handing me the form. As I walked around the fair grounds adjacent to the stadium I was approached by a half dozen other groups of school girls all wanting to practice English. Surprising each had a different questioner to fill out. Some where more “where are you from” type stuff, some about Surin and more about the elephant festival. Several hours and a couple of stops to eat at the fair I thought I’d move on to the location of the Elephant Feast. As I was leaving the fair ground I was approached by one last group of school girls, after filling out their questioner… I was getting good at this, I thought I’d ask them a question. How do I get to Sri Paket Square (sp?). Their understanding of English wasn’t as good as I expected based on their speaking, but after a few giggles and requests on their part to speak slowly and repeat they helped me figure out on my map where I was headed. I walked away in the direction of the square figuring I’d find a Saam-loew to take me over there. I got about a block away when one of the girls from the last group ran up behind me and began speaking an pantomiming. It took a minute to understand but she was offering to give me a ride to the square on her motor bike. Flattered I couldn’t say no. The entire group of girls lead me down the road to where one of them, not the girl speaking to me, had a motor bike. They helped me cross the street and get on the back of the motor bike and I was off on a fun ride through Surin. It was amazingly fun 🙂
At Sri Paket (sp?) I got to watch them set-up for the next days elephant fest. They set up 2km worth of banquet tables along the road and then pile them full of sugar cane, water melon, turnips (?) and pineapples. I do love seeing festivals get set up. It reminds me of being at Octoberfest so many years ago at 5am and seeing the truck after truck unload dozens of kegs of beer in the morning.
I spent the late afternoon back at the hotel where I finally met up with Joy who was the one that had recommended New Hotel. Along with Joy I met Inga, Richard, Faye and Faye’s Father… and suddenly I knew a half dozen people in Surin. This is what I love about traveling. New friends. New Stories. I also have to admit I love having new friends without commitments. If any person sudden decided they don’t want to hang out with the other, you just part ways… no hard feelings… no bad thoughts…. because everybody understands and appreciates each others situation. Everybody is just doing their own thing and it’s totally normal to spend a day or two enjoying time with someone and they say “I feel like wandering alone today”. Then a few days later you might bump into each other in a market and sit down for lunch or just say hi and keep going… it’s wonderful.