Isaan on Two Wheels, Part I: Loei, Udon Thani, Nong Khai.

thailand, nong khai, isaan, mekong river

Remember how I told you a while back I went a little scooter-mad in VietnamWell, yeah — the saying still applies. I got a taste of being a speed demon on two wheels, and now I’m hooked for life.

I’ve been hankering for some more ambitious adventures of late. It’s all well and good to just touch down in a country and see what happens, but after a while, such a style of travelling becomes a little aimless. While I’m a huge advocate of returning to old haunts and reliving one’s favourite countries, to do so with no grander plan in mind feels a bit lazy, IMHO.

So, I’d been thinking about how to spice things up before returning home for a while. I came up with the idea of driving around the Isaan region of Thailand — a large, rural chunk of the country that only receives 1% of its travellers — on a scooter.

Pretty soon, I procured a friend who wanted to join me. My initial idea of spending two or three days tops hooning around the Mekong River morphed into an entire week of looping around Isaan. An ambitious plan, yes, but I was excited — I hadn’t tried anything like this before, and, well, there was a chance we’d get pulled over by police and have our bikes impounded because we had no Thai driver’s licenses. I felt like a badass.

Our grand plan started crumbling before we’d even obtained our scooters. We hitched a ride to the town of Loei and stayed at a guesthouse where we expected to be able to leave our bags and hire directly from the owners. Of course, the renting price was high, and there was only one bike available — a manual. Seeing as neither of us could drive a manual/were keen on sharing, we decided to jump on a bus to Udon Thani and try our luck there, not realising this centrally located city is the biggest sex tourism hub in Thailand.

After one night in the sleazy red light district, we knew we’d made a mistake and have to come up with Plan C. We’d already wasted two of our eight days of possible riding, and tension was mounting. We eventually opted (after much deliberation and stress and groans and face-palms) to take yet another bus to the Mekong town of Nong Khai and do more of a figure-of-eight around the region — provided we could even rent anything there, of course.

Thankfully, this adorable little place was where our luck started turning. We found a guesthouse with staff willing to bend over backwards to help us, including storing our bags for free and assisting with the rental process. And, as precarious as the single table covered in helmets and sporting a “Motorbikes for Rent” sign written in spray paint seemed, the cheery Thai guy running it was faultlessly professional. He photocopied one of our passports, took a modest deposit, wrote down all the details, and provided us with a phone number to call if we encountered engine trouble.

With our two working scooters obtained (mine was electric pink — groovy), we were good to set off on the winding, dusty, potholed roads towards Bueng Kan, another tiny village on the river.

Here are some shots of Nong Khai. It’s not a bad place to down some beers at sunset and laugh over how crap you are at making plans.

thailand, nong khai, isaan, bookshop

thailand, nong khai, isaan, bookshop

thailand, nong khai, isaan, mekong river

thailand, nong khai, isaan, mekong river

thailand, nong khai, isaan, mekong river, sunset

thailand, nong khai, isaan, mekong river

thailand, nong khai, isaan, mekong river

thailand, nong khai, isaan, mekong river

thailand, nong khai, isaan, mekong river

thailand, nong khai, isaan, mekong river, bicycle

thailand, nong khai, isaan, mekong river, soccer

thailand, nong khai, isaan, mekong river

thailand, nong khai, isaan, mekong river, sunset

thailand, nong khai, isaan, mekong river, flags

thailand, nong khai, isaan, mekong river

thailand, nong khai, isaan, mekong river, scooters

Tell me about your time in this underrated part of Thailand, or mad escapades on two wheels, in the comments.

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