Nakhon Ratchasima was a blazing 36 degrees Celsius when I disembarked from my train onto the sleepy platform of the tired station. A wall of suffocating heat in the midday sun. The walk to the guesthouse was an assault of noise, dust, heat, and traffic fumes as I stumbled over the broken, uneven sidewalks. I’m normally rather even keel about the most uncomfortable of travel moments, but this was almost my limit. I began to curse my decision not to spend money on the over-eager tuk-tuk drivers for the distance of a 15 minute walk.
Not a promising start.
I huddled in my room, the air-con at full blast, as I guzzled water and wondered what on earth I was doing in Nakhon Ratchasima, also know as Khorat, the furthest thing from a tourist draw.
Thankfully it was just a bad day for Khorat. I awoke the next morning to a cool breeze and goosebumps on my arms as the sun slowly stretched and offered a reprieve down to 30 degrees Celsius. I just arrived on an exceptionally hot day for the region’s cool season.
The city is a dense grid of tired concrete buildings, endless traffic, motorbikes whizzing down side alleys, and even the occasional bike-propelled tuk-tuk. Braids of power lines drape down every street and the concrete soaks up heat like a radiant sponge. It’s hot, dirty, noisy, and not for everyone. But walk in the cool of morning or late evening, when the sun’s power has retired to the moon, and Khorat is suddenly gentler.
Around dusk, a fleet of food carts invade the street. It’s impossible to walk down the sidewalk without dodging forests of tables and carts and people noshing on every imaginable variety of spicy soups, stir-fried noodles, and steamed dumplings. I am sightseeing the city through my stomach.
Today the streets filled with Saturday shoppers and the daily market spilled into the streets, a row of sewing machines lined up and marching their threads in a constant whirr as their owners tailored clothing to order on the spot. Women haggled over baskets of dried fish and spices and chirping crickets (wonder what food dish they make with that?). Children chewed meat clinging to sticks. When the sun finally released her intense heat, I followed the crowds into the cool pockets of shade. Even the cats retire in style, curled into baskets among the piles of garlic or splayed across the newspapers for sale.
Very few tourists visit Khorat, which means I get quite a few stares from children. When I entered a monastery to check out the architecture, a friendly monk eager to practice English approached and gave me a personal tour. Today is a special day in the Buddhist religious calendar – Mahka Bucha. Tonight the faithful will meditate on the life of Buddha and join processions around the wat while carrying offerings of flowers and lit incense. I have been invited to observe the rituals.
I’m not enamored with Khorat, but she has earned my respect through the street food alone.
Tomorrow it’s onwards to Nong Khai.