The market

Since I started blogging, many readers have written to say “You’re so brave!” or something to that effect. The reality is: I get the same pre-game jitters as you; I have mild anxiety about catching that first flight, etc. For this trip, my biggest worry about this first leg was figuring out the shuttle to the “other” Bangkok airport that would whisk me to the countryside. I’ve had anxiety about this since I booked it. It shouldn’t be a big deal but it was and it all worked out, of course, but the unknown can be scary for any of us, especially in new and unfamiliar locales and cultures (and when the consequences mean a missed flight). What adds to our angst? Unanswered questions like: Does the culture and it’s systems operate with German precision or are they more on “island time”? Are things well-marked? Are signs in English? Can I trust the taxi drivers?

These are reasonable questions for any traveler. What I know is that I do not like to begin a trip feeling rushed and stressed. So I give myself plenty of time to accommodate Murphy’s Law, arrive early, and trust from experience that there are always people willing to answer questions and help me find my way. A long journey is just a serious of steps. You, too, can do this!

On to today!

Up early to take a van to the Don Mueang airport, my driver and I began an adrenaline-filled trip down highways where safe distance between vehicles is considered wasted space, motorcycles weave between the tightly packed vehicles, and lane lines are mere suggestions. Hot pink taxis are the norm. There were folks riding sidesaddle on motorcycles and hunkered in the beds of pick ups doing 100 km/hour, reminding me of the “anything goes” culture of Paraguay. It feels intimidating to the uninitiated, but it works.

What does Bangkok look like, you ask? Everything. From stunning modern buildings of every shape and size and ornate Buddhist temples with golden statues to rooftop gardens and bananas resourcefully planted in any available space where the sun shines. These are mixed with apartment buildings and other shops and shelters that are more run down. Perhaps it’s the plethora of wires and cables crisscrossing the roads and railways that give it an unkempt look outside the business district?

Bangkok, Thailand

But the people are fabulous- kind, respectful, willing to help, and mostly patient despite my language barrier. And they are kind to each other: whether working together like a well-oiled machine in a restaurant, hotel, or in the home, everyone bows to one another or offers prayer hands in a sign of respect.

A zippy one-hour flight to the town of Loei offered gorgeous rural views of lush valleys, steep vegetated mountains, hills terraced like rows on a scarf, a crater of an old volcano lush with life inside while the outer slopes resembled dry skin, villages sparkling in the sun like piles of glitter on emerald velvet.

En route to the countryside

My dear friend and Thai native, D, met me at the airport and we made our way to his hometown, a wildly popular destination for Thai tourists from November to February but unknown to people outside the country.

Along the way, we stopped at a friend’s coffee shop; passed rubber, teak, and coconut tree farms; I loved learning that the word for village is the same for home (baan). Nothing compares to having a knowledgeable local help you know a place.

Time for coffee

We’ll be splitting our time between the main house near the waterfront and the guest house at the farm two kilometers away. After settling in at the guest house, we met a couple of family members and explored the family homestead built 100 years ago by D’s grandfather who was a teacher. There was one small horse from Laos who grew up with the kids; beautiful jackfruit, tamarind, banana trees and the 100+ year old mango trees that are some of the best for shade; the rice paddy (they’ll plant in June and harvest in August) and rice house where the harvest is stored until needed (the rice is usually sent to a mill for hulling before being stored).

Rice house

We took a motorcycle to town to see the home where D raised his family (and see his youngest son who I haven’t seen in years). Here he displays his grandfather’s birth certificate written on a banana leaf(!) and the spaces where his father owned a tailoring business and apprenticed new tailors.

Then it was time to explore the “walking” or market street, a narrow waterfront street that runs parallel to the Mekong River mere meters away.

This is a night market, meaning it looks like a ghost town until 4pm and then it thrums with street food, racks of clothing, artists, and people until well into the night. We meandered on foot, me taking in the sights, sounds, and smells until curiosity and my hunger got the best of me.

First up was grilled silkworm skewers. No, they did not taste like chicken. Haha. The flavor was somewhat bland and underwhelming but the crunch was nice. Next up: miang cam, a finger food of leaves stuffed with minced lime, ginger, toasted coconut, peanuts, scallion, and sweet brown sauce and folded into a box shape then skewered. They were amazing! Find everything you could imagine from fruit smoothies, soups, sticky rice paddies on a stick, ice cream, skewered boiled eggs, stir fries, and more. The street is designed to eat simple finger food while you walk and then repeat. There are nicer restaurants for those who prefer to sit down and after checking out the boardwalk lined with flowering trees and its magnificent sunset views over the river and Laos on the far shore, we returned to the street for a nice seated meal of stir fry and fried rice. Food bliss.

Mekong at sunset
Silkworm skewers. Yes, I did

At 8pm the tropical heat is still so warm (it was 103° today – my favorite weather- and the reason tourism winds down after February), it’s hot even on a motorcycle. Speaking of bikes, here are some motorcycle antics I witnessed today: a man steering with one hand while holding 600 eggs in his other arm (no, I am not kidding; those 12×12 cartons stack nicely), a passenger riding backwards, three adults on a seat, motorcycles with sidecars used as delivery vehicles and food trucks. And all of this while driving on the left side (opposite the way we drive in the US).

Our plan is to visit the market daily and walk and eat until we’ve tried all the foods.

I’m thrilled to be here, grateful for friends around the world willing to host me, experiencing the real life of real people rather than the sanitized version of touristy destinations, meeting fascinating people in a beautiful place with amazing cuisine. Wow.



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