Paul's holiday review
This review was written for a teacher's magazine and posted in TripAdvisor
Mekong House… It’s literally a stone’s throw from its namesake river’s edge.
In the northeast of Thailand, Isaan to the locals, there is a place just waiting to be discovered. I recently visited there for the third time. Previously, I lived in a dusty village about 26 kilometres south of the Mekong River.
My trip started with the 15-hour marathon flight from Toronto to Hong Kong. Next, I took a 3-hour flight to Bangkok and a final 55 minute hop to Udon Thani, gateway to Isaan. Udon Thani has its own notoriety because its obscure airport acted as the base for Air America during the Vietnam war, but that’s another story.
I came to Phon Phisai to visit my cousin Jeremy, his wife Waree, and their boys Adam and Toby. On previous trips, I had stayed in Waree’s parents’ home. So I had no idea what to expect as we drove up the recently completed highway 70km to Mekong House. No more bumpy clay roads, just a smooth run up to the historic town of Nong Khai where the Friendship Bridge is the main river crossing into Laos and its capital city Vientiane. A right turn and we followed the Mekong to our destination.
On arrival, I was overdue for a snooze, but I was eager to soak in the exotic sounds and aromas, so I walked around the corner to the night market to buy fresh fish barbecue and other not so easily identified “delicacies”!
At the end of my first day, the sunset matched the richly coloured scene on the website, thailand-painting-holidays.com. All week, the sun setting over Laos on the other side of the river shot the sky with oranges, red, vermilions and into purples then rapidly faded into the blackness that one only sees close to the Equator.
Mekong House has to be the brightest, freshest house you will ever have the pleasure to stay in while exploring Thailand. The tires squeal on the rich blue driveway tiles as the truck pulls through the gold-decorated gateway celebrating another arrival.
I occupied the Bonnard room with a queen bed, prints by Pierre Bonnard and my cousin Jeremy Holton’s paintings. Furniture also included a desk, dresser, closet and lamps, in other words, a home away from home. The rain forest shower in the bathroom cascades hot water, something only found in first class hotels in Thailand.
Most meals are served on the front porch so you can watch the river rush by as slim boats powered by long-shaft motors buzz up and down. Sometimes a boat will float past, powered only by the current as the fisherman trolls for produce to sell, fresh or grilled, at the local evening markets.
There are several day and night markets, where you can find lots of treats to munch on, mysterious objects with therapeutic or magical properties and souvenirs to take home. Pack lightly because clothing is very inexpensive and you may develop the knack of bartering.
Jeremy and I would chat in the mornings at the portico table. I would suddenly realize breakfast had appeared quietly on the serving table nearby. Coffee would be steeping in the Bodum. Just as timely, the dishes were tidied up as we continued our storytelling. At times, Richard, an expat living further along the river would stop to join in to enrich the conversation.
Some nights we would visit the bar beside Richard’s place where we would enjoy cold Singha beer or we would relax on the terrace of Mekong House watching the boats and the sun going down, while enjoying a Gin Fizz.
We travelled to explore various Wats and attractions during the day. One truly bizarre park features giant statues along with a fortune teller and the park’s long-dead creator…. Beside a local day market, a glittering grotto demonstrated the dedication to Buddhism in Thailand
Personal services are very cheap in Thailand and nearby there are quality hairdressers, mani/pedi’s and a variety of Thai massages.
But why is Mekong House a prize find? After a career as a senior IT manager, twenty years ago, my cousin decided to take an art course. To his surprise he found that his paintings were popular and he is now an established artist with worldwide sales. He started teach his philosophy and techniques for painting in a series of courses in his home-town of Perth, Western Australia. After marrying his Thai wife, Waree, he lived in a Thai village for 10 years. He built a studio there and fell in love with the people and culture in this unique area of NE Thailand where the people are ethnically Lao.
Jeremy and Waree frequently visited the nearby sleepy small riverside town of Phon Phisai. They discovered a guesthouse run down by the previous owners for sale. The land reached down to the river with a fantastic view and they had to buy it.
That was three years ago and they have refurnished the guest house to provide limited but high quality accommodation. Here Jeremy teaches painting and photography while Waree cooks Thai meals and will show you how to prepare them. They both take guests to Waree’s village to experience local customs, some of which belong to the Middle Ages as this is a land where spirits and magic are still alive. The trips include many amazing local cultural locations and beauty spots.
On a previous trip, I suddenly found myself weaving grass mats on a primitive loom and trying my hand at reaping ripe rice with a hand scythe! Other visitors have joined in a local wedding, probably being wrapped in the “magic string” used to bind the betrothed together. Rise early in the morning and you can observe locals as they offer food to the passing monks from the local Wat in return for a blessing.
All in all, the only thing I didn’t do was paint! My camera has to double as my canvas and now and then I am fortunate to get a photo to show off.
The guest house is open from the beginning of October to the end of January each year, when the weather is perfect with mild temperatures and blue skies. Visits can be customized to match your artistic and cultural interests. You can reach your hosts at Thailand-painting-holidays.com
Room Tip: There are two rooms, one with double bed, the other with two single beds, both are otherwise identic...
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