ah, i dont have km figures at all... after leaving thatphanom i rode about 100km to nong soong, via a short ride down to kaeng ka bao, then inland to dong luang, to kham cha-ii, and up into the hills past nong soong. the next day i rode about 70km, first on tiny quiet roads until i got to the highway, all of which in thailand seem to have headwinds, no matter what direction, and i took that into mukdahan, back on the banks of the maekhong.
i really liked thatphnom, i was sad to leave. i had a final dinner down on the restaurant floating on a barge in the river just across the street from my motel, the sangthong hotel, no signs in english by the way, except a little blue spraypainted notice, about 2 inches high, on the white wall around the place.
the restaurant is owned by the chief of the local marine police, which begins to explain some of the economics of these places: its a side business, probably brings in a little money, and provides a great place to hang out, which is what he was doing that night, and he and his buddies, also marine police, invited me over. i had just finished eating lunch and was now invited to eat and drink and talk more. eight hours later i was beginning to wonder if this was all a good idea, but no matter, i had a very fun time. only one guy, santi, spoke much english, but somehow stuff just happened, people laughed, and the hours pass quickly.
during this i went up to check out my new trousers, actually tried them on once, then had them make a couple of adjustments. i went back a couple hours later to pick them up, and came back to model them for the marine police and company. they are really great (the trousers that is), i am quite happy with them. i had them put the side pockets inside rather than out this time. the pockets are actually a little bit deep, which is an easy problem to fix. i washed them for the first time last night, we'll see how they hold up to that. i assume they are washable, i dont see too many dry cleaning shops around... make that zero for the past 2 weeks+
my first stop was this place kaeng ka bao, a picturesque spot along the maekhong, which has become one of those massively overbuilt thai places, in that the parking lot was a couple of acres, and tons of vendors, food stalls, etc. i was the only customer, near as i could tell. it was a bit early, 9amish, but still, i just never understand how these places function. there was a resort (what they call bungalow style in thailand, rather than a hotel or motel style; but resorts often also have these little thatched huts around a pond that you can have dinner in, really pleasant spots, and again, rare to ever see anyone in them.) i kind of wished i had bailed on nong sung and stayed there, just hanging out for the day, but i kind of wanted to check out the inland areas. i had looked up on the internet a guest house near nong sung, a town i wanted to go to for some reason. the place was run by an australian and his thai wife, a bit expensive but i was sort of interested in having a conversation with a native speaker (being able to use definite and indefinite pronouns again, conjugate verbs, etc) and curious about his experiences living in thailand.
that was what kept me going as the day got more difficult. the first part of the ride was pleasant, through endless rice fields villages and other kinds of farms. as the day went on, the roads got bigger and more boring, hotter, and i was getting tired. the last 15km into nongsoong was really hard, lots of uphill, and i was just ready to be done. in nongsung i asked directions to the village where this guy's guest house was. that way. how far? siep kilo. 10km! and of course all uphill. i get to the village and turn off the road, a bunch of little kids yell "f*%# you", first time anything like that has happened (its more frequently "hello" or "where you go" or even "i love you") and i'm sure they had no real idea what they were saying (though i bet they had a hint that it was not so nice). i get to the gate of the place, its locked, i dial the numbers i have for them, no answer. i sit there for a bit, a guy wanders out. are you the owner? oh, no no. oh, you are a guest. oh, oh. is there anyone around? oh, no no no. thanks for the help! (special translation note, that last phrase meant the same thing as what the thai kids yelled, but with meaning, and much disguise). i sit there for a minute, then start to ride off, but i notice two thai women in the yard. i call out, they come over and let me in. now i dont care what language you speak, when you are someplace, and it happens to be a guesthouse, and a person who is Not From Around Here appears at the gate, do you A) do nothing or B) alert your companions one of whom is the owner, and who are about 5 m away? i dont know if this guy was retarded or just had less common sense than a rock, but as a first encounter with a fellow farang in over a week, it did not bode well
ok, so i'm in, and its this freakish compound, a western bourgeois retirees dream with a thai veneer, utterly alienated from the surrounding area. i've noticed that in thailand men tend to hang out with men, and women with women. even when there is a mixed group they usally separate like oil and water. any western guy who comes here and doesnt participate in the social life of other men seems stranger and stranger to me. i suppose that's why they have expat bars, so sad germans who never bothered to learn the local language can sit together drinking european beer, growing warm without ice (unlike the thais who drink it on ice, try it you'll lke it), in faux bavarian beer gardens (i know, you think i am taking pot shots at germans, which i am, but you'd get it if you came here and saw how many biergarten there are, often in the unlikeliest of places).
well anyway, the australian guy comes out, he is mao, which means drunk in thai. mao mahk mahk. weaviing, he leads me over to the bungalow area, then falls against the immaculate landscaping and begins vomiting against the pristine wall. an army of thai gardeners whom he probably instructs through his wife will no doubt decend on the spot in a few days... i look around and aside from my 3 unpleasant welcomings, i am just not into being here and disappointed that the kind of reflective conversation i had hoped for, would be impossible, even unwelcome here. i tell them, perhaps i have come on a bad day for you... i think i will look at another place. there is a bungalow just down the road, that will be better for you, he says snidely, waving his arms in random directions.
fortunately its mostly down hill, and i come to where i had passed a sign earlier that seemed like it might be such a 'resort', hard to know because i cant read thai script. the tip off, a phone number and 24 (hrs i imagine). the two girls at the place similarly speak not a word of english, and it is quite difficult to figure out what is going on. i think to call my friend bird... but i have no phone reception down here. well, we (seem to) sort it all out, at least, they take 250B and let me into a room. i have a glacially cold shower (thai style, scooped from a big bucket) and then head out to kin khao (literally, eat rice).
they tell me the town is the nearest place for food. its pitch dark by now, and probably 4 km from the town, and i'm totally exhausted. i ride up to the road and a dozen meters on spot the twinkly lights of a karaoke place, i ride in and while there is a lot of muttering of 'farang' (as there is everywhere, it seems perfectly acceptable here to point out to everyone around that there is a foreigner present), but one girl comes out to greet me (its supposed to be the entire staff, but whatever). can i kin khao here? yes, ok. i sit down and read my thai phrase "and what do you recomend?", probably the handiest phrase for dining, ever
she ticks off a rapid fire list of what she would have me spend my money on, all in thai, stopping every now and then for my assent, which i give, having no idea what i've signed on for. what i get is tom yum seafood (spicy soup), and the bill is a bit steep, 500B ($15) including drinks, which actually isnt so bad given that i was surrounded by chubby karaoke hostesess who poured my beer, peeled my shrimp, filled my bowl with soup, and ordered themselves cokes and fantas (on my tab, of course).
the next morning i head for mukdahan, back on the river. i take a rural road 3002, which is very pleasant, small and quiet and, given the dumfounded stares from many, not often traveled by foreigners, bicycles or no. i stop in one village for breakfast, and a crowd gathers almost instantly to watch the farang...eat. then they disperse as rapidly, and the shop owners start going about the yard picking things off the trees and feeding them to me. i guess i never really thought of tamarind before as something you could eat like a fruit, but it is really tasty. i pay my bill, under a dollar, the lady tells me the green fruit is free, the tamarind is free, the khao niew is free, good heart, good luck (yes, all in thai, i'm sure i missed a lot but its not so hard to get the idea from context).
later i stop and buy a bag of tamarinds from a girl by the roadside. the bag of long ones is 70, the same size bag of short ones is 40. i ask for a half bag of short ones, the bag she gives me for 20B (60c) seems as big as any of the others and is half full with the more expensive long ones. aside from wondering what i'm going to do with a kilo of tamarinds (about 2 pounds) on a bicycle, i am touched by the generous gesture. often western people complain about having to inflated prices for some things (ie, not what the locals pay) (even though the locals make so little that they will never be able to visit the complaintent's country) but little gestures like the woman in the village and the tamarind girl, while they may not even out on a ledger only marked in dollars, the unexpected sweetness, like that of the tamarinds, more than makes up for anything else.