Situated in the northeast, Nakhon Ratchasima is Thailand’s largest province and only a four-hour ride away from Bangkok.
Famous for its spectacular Khmer ruins reminiscent of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, Nakhon Ratchasima or Korat provides a captivating window into the past. Not only does Korat feature a historical park called Prasat Phimai, but it also boasts temples, museums, national parks, and other places of interest galore.
All this had intrigued me for quite a while, so when I was in Bangkok in April 2021, I didn’t just hole up in my room for fear of contracting coronavirus. I took the plunge, defied Thailand’s third wave of Covid, rode the bus from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima, and lived to tell the tale of this adventurous trip.
Getting to Bangkok Bus Terminal Chatuchak
The motorcycle taxi guy put my patience to the test as he drove to Bangkok’s Chatuchak Bus Terminal at a snail’s pace. Sure, it was my fault to start heading for the bus station 45 minutes before the scheduled departure time, but come on, motorbike taxi drivers are rumored to weave through traffic and ride like maniacs.
I’d stayed at a hotel in the Don Mueang area near the airport and figured getting to the bus terminal would be a matter of 20 minutes. I was wrong. It took 35 minutes for the guy – who, time and again, stopped to check his GPS – to get there. A “normal” cab would probably have been faster.
Checking in at Bangkok Bus Terminal Chatuchak
To enter Chatuchak’s huge bus terminal, you have to have your bags screened, just like at an airport. The security guys will check your temperature and ask you to use the sanitizer gel that they provide.
Hectic prevailed when I arrived; people rushed back and forth, though only locals, no foreigners. “Where you go?” asked ticket sellers when they spotted the only farang in the building, gesturing and shouting offers to me like stockbrokers. It wasn’t easy to shake off those desperate guys, and at the same time, I had to find my bearings and figure out where to check in. There are check-in desks as far as your eyes can see.
Thanks to my smattering of Thai, I managed to make myself understood and learned that tour operator Nakhonchai 21 is on the third floor, where you’ll find a few food stalls and a 7-ELEVEN shop to grab a snack to go.
“Korat, mai?” (Do you want to go to Korat?) the friendly uniformed guy standing in front of desk 44 asked.
“Yes. I already have a booking,” I said.
“Bookaway, chai mai?” (Bookaway, right?) the woman behind the check-in desk asked.
A few seconds later, she handed me my ticket and said I’d have to board the coach at platform 68, which was on the other side of the bus terminal.
Making myself comfortable on the bus
A uniformed, spruced up male host awaited passengers at platform 68 and checked everyone’s temperature. Also, travelers had to jot down their name or check in via app.
I positioned my hand in a stop-sign manner in front of the digital thermometer and waited for the male host to nod. “Bogati,” (normal) he said, urged me to push the button of the sanitizer dispenser and directed me to my seat. Then, he said in an effeminate voice, “Special,” and pointed to my seat 6A. I failed to twig what he meant by special but didn’t proceed to investigate any further.
“Where are you going?” the host asked. He wanted to know where I’d like them to drop me off. “Er, at Korat’s bus terminal 2 is fine,” I said.
Eating and drinking were allowed or at least put up with; the male host didn’t tell anyone not to munch or imbibe. This surprised me a little because earlier this year in Chiang Mai, before Thailand’s third wave of Covid, another bus company was strict and didn’t even allow sipping soft drinks. Anyway, when the male host served everyone a bottle of water, I knew it was officially okay.
The cloth seats reclined and comfy, and there were footrests you could flip up when not in use, though no middle armrests. The legroom was decent and the overhead was large enough for “normal,” not particularly slim backpacks. There was a spacious toilet at the back of the bus, so no awkward climb down some adventurous stairs was required to relieve yourself. Also, noteworthy is that there was a sanitizer dispenser right in front of the restroom.
Needless to say, everyone was wearing a facemask. For extra protection, I even wore a face shield that made me look like Star Wars character Boba Fett, a friend mockingly said later on.
The male host announced something in Thai, and a minute later, the driver turned the ignition at 11:40 am – on time.
Enjoying the ride and the sights
It was fairly quiet, but that wasn’t surprising because only some 25% of the seats were taken. The only sounds were those of a Thai action movie; the TV was on; mixed with sleep-inducing bus engine noises.
The smooth ride coupled with the light rain nearly made me nod off, but since I’d never traveled to Korat before, I was curious about the sights on this trip. Once we’d left the Bangkok area and its eye-catching temples, the view was nothing to write home about – at first, that is.
Getting closer to Nakhon Ratchasima, I peeped out the window between purple curtains and marveled at topiary, temple complexes, meticulously shaped Buddhist sculptures, and bright green fields. Brown and white buffalos grazing on vast plains rounded off the picture of an idyllic, rural setting.
It seemed, I reflected as the landscape was rolling past, that nature is all around you when you step off Thailand’s well-trodden tourist trail.
Meanwhile, the air was a bit too cool; the AC did a fabulous job. I did need a hoodie but had forgotten to bring one. It’s beyond me why it occurred to me only later that I could actually have unwrapped the provided blanket instantly.
The host served refreshing towels at 3 pm, the time when people started to get off the bus. 40 minutes later, the male host said, “This is your stop.” It didn’t look like Korat’s bus terminal 2, rather some bus stop by the street, but there were friendly motorcycle drivers who said the bus terminal was “mai gai” (not far). Mai pen rai (it doesn’t matter), I thought to myself. What mattered was that I didn’t catch Covid, thank Buddha.
Eager to take another plunge and dive into Haew Suwat – you know, the waterfall where Leo jumped down in the movie “The Beach,” one of Korat’s attractions – I looked forward to catching an exciting wave in Nakhon Ratchasima.