A volunteer’s guide to Thabom

A Volunteer’s Guide to ThaBom

March 2010

Introduction

Hello! My name’s Dave and I have written this ‘Rough Guide’ for the benefit of future volunteers at St. John’s Tha Bom. I volunteered there from October 2009 to March 2010. I wrote this to give you a bit of information that probably isn’t in the real, copyrighted Rough Guide to Thailand or Lonely Planet’s version of the same country. It isn’t intended to tell you about the school, but more to help you with practicalities of living off the beaten track. I hope it proves useful!

Tha Bom Village

Definitely NOT in any guidebooks, Tha Bom is a village roughly midway between Muang Loei and Chiang Khan (both of which are in the guidebooks). It has three shops selling cold drinks, snacks, limited toiletries and tinned food. All three are closed by 8pm. There is one songthaew (truck-bus) a day to Muang Loei, leaving at 7am and returning at 11am. If you need to get to Muang Loei at more convenient times there will always be someone willing to take you, if you give them some warning.

You will (unless there is more than one volunteer) be the only farang for some distance, and as such everyone will say hello, wave or ask you to drink lao khao and laugh at the consequences.

At night Tha Bom sleeps. There is little else to do. If you are keen to play football, the local lads play at St. John’s every night from about 5pm til it goes dark.

There is very little more to tell you about Tha Bom. Take plenty of reading material and your own entertainment if you intend to live in the village.

Chiang Khan

Chiang Khan is a town right on the Mekhong River. You can see Laos on the opposite bank. It is a small, quiet town but popular with Thai tourists, as it has many examples of the old-style Thai shophouses along one of its streets. As such, there are many accommodation options in the town for all budgets, and the towns fills up every weekend. It has relatively speedy internet cafes usually occupied by game-playing kids, and two ATMs. Chiang Khan also has an immigration office which can answer visa queries but can’t (officially) stamp your passport for visa extensions.

Chiang Khan has local bus links to Muang Loei and Pak Chom (a small town 40km further downstream) and direct buses to Bangkok catering for the tourists. The cheapest first-class buses to Bangkok (c.450B, 10 hours) leave from the Shell garage on the main road out of town. VIP buses are available from near the market for c.700B. Regular songthaews to Muang Loei (35B) leave from near the Shell garage – you should see them parked on the road – and take about an hour. Less regular air-con buses (approx. every 1 ½ – 2 hours) to Muang Loei (also 35B) leave from the bus station about 500m out of town along the same main road. The last bus back from Muang Loei leaves at 11pm from the bus station.

If you want to have a drink then there are a small number of bars in Chiang Khan itself, or about 8 strung along the road to Muang Loei. You can’t miss them.

Muang Loei

Map Link: http://www.maplandia.com/thailand/northeastern/loei/amphoe-muang-loei/

Muang Loei (or often just Loei) is the provincial capital. Here you will find bars, restaurants and stuff to buy. Muang Loei has good bus links to almost anywhere you may need or want to go in Thailand – Bangkok, Udon Thani, Chiang Mai, Pattaya & Phitsanulok are all served directly. It has little else to get excited about if truth be told; it is an everyday Thai town lacking much in the way of tourist charm. BUT it will provide you with the opportunity to let your hair down, and personally I believe its charm lays in the lack of charm! The people are friendly and you will be asked to join groups of friends if you are drinking on your own.

Bars

Try Ruam Pattana street for the majority of Loei’s nightlife – everybody in town knows Robot 2029 and I highly recommend going to see the cabaret. Surrounding Robot 2029 are Muang Loei pub, Smooth Bar and two or three other bars. Rat Uthit street, running parallel to Ruam Pattana, is home to Sam Salung bar which has live bands on every weekend.

The soi next to the Royal Inn (on Chum Sai street) also has a small number of quieter bars on it.

Restaurants

Loads of street eats are available. Particular concentrations of stalls can be found near the hospital and the nightly food market on Ruam Chit street. JJs is an outdoor all-you-can-eat buffet place on the corner of Rat Uthit and Nok Kaeo. There is another all-you-can-eat at the bottom of Ruam Chit, next to the lake.

Leisure

There is a leisure centre in Loei, with tennis courts. It is central to town, at one end of the curved lake. Muang Loei is also the home of Loei City FC, who ply their trade in the North Eastern division but are on their way up! Their stadium (Riverside Stadium) is opposite the Loei Palace hotel. Quite a few people travel from Tha Bom for the games. Tickets are 40B and they often get crowds of two or three thousand.

Hotels

Loei Orchid is a good option (air-con double 450B). It is close to the bars in town and quite central to most things you’ll need.Loei Palace Hotel is the town’s 4-star place. Although the rooms are a little tired and the water pressure awful, you can get a massive suite for c.1500B or a double for 900B. It also has a pool which is excellent for cooling down in. Check their website for the best rates.

Western Comforts

There is a KFC! It is on Soet Si street which runs along the edge of the lake. Mr. Chris’ restaurant on Nok Kaeo serves western grub and pizzas. It is run by Chris, a German who can tell you anything you might need to know about Loei. You’re also likely to bump in to Loei’s farang community in here.

Visa Extensions/Border Runs

First of all, get a non-immigrant, multiple entry type O visa from a consulate in the UK. They save the hassle of numerous border runs and trying to sort stuff out in an unfamiliar country.

Officially, visa renewals and extensions can only be done by leaving and re-entering Thailand. The nearest border crossings for this are Tha Li – 60km upstream from Chiang Khan, and Nong Khai – 200km downstream. Going out at Nong Khai gives you the chance to go to Vientiane if you want. Getting to Nong Khai under your own steam means a bus route of Loei to Udon Thani to Nong Khai which, if you fall lucky with bus connections, can be done in 5-6 hours. Getting to Tha Li involves a long songthaew ride; it’s easier to try to secure a lift.

Unofficially, it is apparently possible to get your visa stamped at Chiang Khan immigration office. If you choose to try this then take one of the Sisters with you! I tried to do it on my own and failed (hence my Tha Li knowledge).

Medical & Dental

Tha Bom has a small clinic, but anything beyond cuts and grazes will probably need to go to Loei Hospital. Chiang Khan has a small hospital with a very cheap dentist. Loei has several private dental clinics and one at the hospital also.

Travelling Around Thailand

Buses

As mentioned above, Chiang Khan has direct buses to Bangkok’s Mo Chit bus terminal. Loei has connections to many towns and cities throughout Isan and the rest of Thailand. Muang Loei Air have booths at Mo Chit station (booth numbers 5 & 6, I think…maybe 6 & 7…definitely 6 though) for the cheapest tickets back to Chiang Khan and Loei.

The nearest islands to Tha Bom are Koh Chang, Koh Kood and Koh Maak, near the Cambodian border. To reach here you can take a Rayong bound bus (provided by Nakhonchai Air) from Loei bus station and either: a) get off in Pattaya and arrange a minivan transfer to Koh Chang in town; or b) stay on til Rayong, get a bus through to Trat, then catch a songthaew to the ferry port. The Pattaya minivan is the more expensive option.

Flights

You can fly from Udon Thani airport to Bangkok, Phuket and Luang Prabang in Laos. Air Asia do the flights to Bangkok and Phuket; Lao Airways provide the Luang Prabang service.

Any Other Questions?

If you want to know anything else about the area then send me an email at: dtbarraclough@hotmail.com.

Enjoy your time in Tha Bom!