With just four games to play, we should start with a look at the league table.
It's all getting too tense for words. Kasetsart's goalless draw at Phrae on Wednesday means the gap between Samut Prakan and the drop zone is down to four points. It's absolutely crucial Samut Prakan get at least one win from their next two matches against the two bottom clubs. Then we'll be able to breathe a little easier perhaps.
GA Ranong's 2-0 defeat at Nakhon Pathom means that they now need something approaching a miracle to survive. Who will be the third team dropping down to the third division?
At the top of the table, not too many would bet against Trat being promoted as champions, but with Nakhonsi United and Suphanburi seemingly now in freefall, which teams fill the other two promotion spots is anyone's guess.
Apart from Udon Thani v Samut Prakan, who's playing who this weekend?
Kasetsart FC host Nakhonsi United, a team in freefall and one that no longer needs to be feared. Let's just hope that Nakhonsi's large Bangkok fan club can lift them to great things.
Rajpracha have a tough home match against second place Nakhon Pathom while Chainat will fancy their chances of getting a result as they host Chiang Mai FC.
What was the score in the reverse fixture?
The Orange Giants of Udon Thani might not have picked up too many points this season but they took one away from the Samut Prakan Stadium when the two teams met in late November. A shock early goal for the visitors was cancelled out by Nonthaput's equaliser 13 minutes from time. The young midfielder was to depart for Muang Loei FC shortly afterwards after making just four first team starts, but he'll always be fondly remembered for that goal.
This has to be looked on as a great chance of three points?
You would've thought so but Udon Thani won 4-3 at home to Chainat on Wednesday, turning in what was probably their best performance of the season. When I looked at the remaining fixtures, this was certainly one I targeted as a potential must-win because it can't be easy playing for a team that already knows its fate. Then again, does it mean the Udon Thani players can play with more of a sense of freedom? I wish I was confident but I'm not.
The T3 play-offs also start this weekend?
Yes, and that's always exciting wondering which three new destinations you might be travelling to next season. Good luck to all 12 teams!
Group A (the northern section) will consist of Sisaket United, Chantaburi FC, Phitsanulok FC, Uttaradit Saksiam, Pattaya Dolphins and Mahasarakham Sambaitao.
Group B (the southern section) will include red-hot favourites Songkhla FC, North Bangkok University, MH Nakhonsi, Dragon Pathumwan Kanchanaburi, Bangkok FC and Samut Songkhram.
Journey and digs
We finally made it to Udon Thani about 7pm on the Saturday night after being royally messed around by Nok Airlines (one cancelled flight, one rescheduled flight and then several short delays). For our four nights accommodation and thanks to the government discount travel incentive, we had booked one of the best hotels in town, the Moroccan-themed Amman Unique. We had a brief walk around the hotel on check-in and it looked wonderful, but it would look even better in daylight. The photos could wait; what we really needed was a hot meal and a good night's sleep.
It's match day!
With the match not starting until 7pm, we had a fair few hours to kill, so drove over to Ban Chiang, a village about an hour from Udon. Reading up on the history, Ban Chiang is apparently one of the most important prehistoric sites in SE Asia, thanks largely to the discovery of ceramic pots and burial grounds. A whole community of shop traders has sprung up on the main street, near the excellent Ban Chiang Museum, and the ceramics with their unusual design are everywhere you look. The museum is normally 30 baht for Thais and 150 baht for foreigners, but being as today was a special fine arts day or something, entrance was free for all!
Next we made a very brief stop at Wat Santi Wanaram (The White Lotus Temple) Normally we would've strolled around the compound and enjoyed a closer look but the day was becoming brutally hot with temperatures nudging the high thirties. As several people remarked to me on social media, it's a brave man that visits Udon Thani during Thailand's hot season. I couldn't agree more.
To the match itself
We hit the Udon Thani football stadium about 90 minutes before kick off because I was eager to reel off some photos before darkness fell. In all honesty there wasn't a great deal to photograph. It was clear to us as soon as we arrived that we were stepping on to the bottom rung of the T2 ladder. The stadium was heartbreakingly scruffy, as if the club had given up altogether. I'm not sure why we even bothered to buy tickets as home and away fans could more or less wander wherever they wanted (and were). I didn't see a single security guard on duty. Judging by the final attendance of fewer than 200, the Udon fans have clearly given up as well. I've never experienced such a lack of atmosphere at a Thai football match. It was like a library. You could hear players hold conversations with each other.
The biggest surprise of the day was perusing the Samut Prakan team line-up and seeing the name of Evans Aneni wearing the number 15 shirt. The quietly-spoken Nigerian started half a dozen games and made a number of substitute appearances for Prakan in the first half of the season before buggering off along with most of the other foreign players just before Christmas. Well, now he's back from wherever he's been (someone said Portugal?)...and he's straight into the starting eleven.
Disaster strikes in the fifth minute as Samut Prakan go one down. Ratipong pings a shot against the crossbar, the Samut Prakan defence fail to clear the rebound and Bernhardt sidefoots home. If there's an element of good fortune about the opener, there's nothing lucky about Udon's second as Nititorn's wayward pass lets in Arnold, who glides past two Prakan defenders and applies a cool finish. Two-nil down and barely midway through the half. This is shaping into one horrible evening.
Although the visitors wake up a bit and Sho Shimoji squanders a decent chance on the half hour mark, Udon really should have added a third goal and been out of sight by the half-time break.
Half-time: Udon Thani 2 Samut Prakan 0
We need a heroic second half performance like never before and while our play is much better in spells, we've left it far too late to rescue even a point. We're piling on the pressure but Nititorn and Sampan are both off target and Sho's ambitious overhead bicycle kick sails high into the night sky.
Karn Morates gives us a glimmer of hope and reduces arrears with a neat sidefooted finish but in the remaining 25 minutes, neither team looks like adding to their respective scores. Udon Thani hang on for their second league win in the space of 4 days and you have to say it's deserved.
Final score: Udon Thani 2 Samut Prakan 1
It was a veritable disaster of a weekend. A Samut Prakan performance that just wasn't good enough, coupled with bad results elsewhere. Rajpracha and Chainat both won their home games (and did their survival prospects the world of good) while fortunately, Kasetsart could only draw at home to Nakhonsi United. It still puts Kasetsart within three points of Samut Prakan though.
We can afford no more slip ups because this is going right down to the fucking wire. How on earth has it come to this?
Tun and I stayed on in Udon Thani Province for another couple of days. These were the highlights.
On the Monday morning, we drove up to Nongkhai and the Thai-Laos border. Tun was seriously underwhelmed by the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge, but perhaps it meant more to me because the last time I was here was in 1991 with an old school pal. These days, the border crossing looks a slick operation but back in 1991, it was organised chaos - all visa agents and paperwork, winks and backhanders.
Just down from the Friendship Bridge is the delightful Ta Sadet Market and riverside walking street. It's a great place to sip a coffee or munch on a Vietnamese Banh Mi while you gaze upon the mighty Mekhong River as it flows gently by.
We finished the day at Sala Keoku, a park featuring giant fantastic concrete sculptures inspired by Buddhism and Hinduism.
On to day two and just outside Udon is the Ho Chi Minh Education Centre. It's well worth a look to learn more about the great man's Thailand connections. Shame that the guides (or at least those who could have made our visit more educational) had all gone to the doctor's and there were no staff sitting around other than cleaners. Was it something they'd eaten?
Unfortunately we reached the Udon Thani Museum at the start of its lengthy lunch break so sought refuge at the Beyond Cafe directly opposite. It's possibly the greatest Thai dessert cafe we've ever been into and trust me, we've been in a few. It offered the most incredible selection of gooey cakes, Thai and international dishes. The mango binzu was out of this world.
The Udon Thani Museum is set in a beautiful colonial building and while it's not the best Thai museum I've been to, it's free to get in so who's complaining? I particularly enjoyed the recent history section and learned that there would be as many as 8,000 GIs in Udon Thani at any one time during and after the Vietnam War.
The Thai-Chinese Cultural Centre including The Confuscious Museum is another lovely spot to wander around, and again it's all free. I'll say one thing for Udon Thani...it certainly doesn't squeeze tourists for money!
We finished the day with a leisurely stroll around Udon's number one landmark - the Nong Prajak Park - because Tun wanted to see the big Ban Chiang jar and the famous yellow ducks. The park is pleasant but ordinary and to our surprise, there were hundreds of people jogging and doing keep fit exercises despite the 'hazardous' air reading.
Thank you for a nice time Udon, but if we come back in the future, hopefully it'll be in the cooler months.
Who's up next?
The first of two home matches as we take on Grand Andaman Ranong FC on Saturday 8th April.