Monday, June 28, 2010

Nong Khai

The border crossing back into Thailand was pleasantly uneventful. It was just a matter of being scrutinized by Laos' border patrol on the way out, and by Thailand's on the way in. Apparently we were cool, cause we ended up on the Thai side pretty quickly, hopped back aboard our bus, and continued on to Nong Khai. Nong Khai's bus station was as typical as a Thai bus station can be, complete with tuktuk solicitors offering you a ride to your hotel for slightly inflated prices. However, there was one noticeable difference between the tuktuk drivers here and every other place we'd been: half of them were women. This was the first time I had ever seen a female tuktuk-er. I had even unconsciously made the assumption that women weren't allowed to drive a tuktuk, so when I saw a lady trying to get us to choose her for a ride I was quite happy to go along. Of course, we still did some haggling before she whisked us off to our guesthouse. The woman at the guesthouse who checked us in didn't speak a lick of English but managed to communicate how to get in after hours, how to use the check-sheet to purchase food, where to leave our shoes before going upstairs, etc, all by using hand signs and pointing. I was impressed. For dinner we headed out to the river (the very same Mekong we had walked along in Vientiane, but now we were on the Thai side) and found a BBQ place. I was hoping it would be like the BBQ we had in Laos, but it was nowhere near as good. I mean, it was good, but not like the place in Laos. We cut the night short after dinner and headed back to the hotel for bed. Sleep was not easy to come by though, because it was so incredibly hot. Our room had no AC and there wasn't any sort of air movement through our little window. The fan that was mounted on the wall only managed to blow hot air around the room. The only thing we could do was lay very still on our backs and hope sleep would come quickly. Ugh.

On the 1st we woke and headed downstairs for breakfast. It was even hotter during the day than it was the night before, so we weren't too excited about our planned trip to the Buddha Park. But that was the whole reason for coming to Nong Khai, so we figured we may as well get it over with. We walked towards one of the main roads through town, stopping for a few pictures of a Chinese temple along the way as well as grabbing some cash from an ATM. Finding a tuktuk was pretty easy and within 15 minutes we had arrived at the Sala Keoku. Pulling up in the parking lot we were met with a towering, unfinished statue of a woman who was looming over the entrance. An impressive start to an impressive park. Once we had paid our dues to the gate keeper we wandered inside. The statues housed there are really very interesting. Many of them are quite bizarre, some surrounded with a sense of violence nad others with a sense of...hallucinogenics to be honest. There was an elephant being attacked (at least that's what it looked like) by a pack of dogs. At least two of the statues of multiple-armed women had some sort of prostrate, sacrificial figure in one set of hands and numerous weapons in all of their other hands. There was a heavy serpent theme that popped up in a number of statues, most notably in the huge statue of Buddha sitting atop a coiled serpent and guarded by seven hissing serpents perched over his head. It's a rather intimidating statue. And the intricate details worked into the armor, faces, and pedestals of all the pieces were pretty intense. While walking around we met an older couple from New York who had hired a Laos guide to show them around. They were really nice and invited us along on their tour for a bit. It was all quite enjoyable and interesting except for the heat. The heat was brutal. My face was bright red as it fought back the rays of the sun. I had to keep my eyes squinted wherever I looked. Sweat was dripping down every available crack on my body. My clothing was wet anywhere that it touched me. The heat had us ready to leave even before we had gone into the park. As we were walking along I commented on it, to which the woman from New York responded "Oh really? You're hot? I'm not hot at all." I was all "Wow, really?? I guess I just don't handle heat very well." It took me a moment to realize that she was being sarcastic and then I felt silly. But really, it was hot enough that we only managed to walk around with them for 15 minutes before excusing ourselves and booking it out of there. It's not like it was any cooler at our hotel, but at least we could take off our clothes. Our tuktuk ride back had to be one of the slowest we've ever taken, and at the wheel was this incredibly old man. But you got to do what you got to do, I guess. I felt good about handing over our money to him. Having cooled off a bit during the drive, we had him drop us off at a lunch place near our hotel. The food was awesome and we got to play with a kitten who had an inner ear problem and his half blind mama. They were in poor shape, but at least they were being fed and sheltered by the restaurant people. After lunch we walked through the markets set up along the back alleyways of the city. It was the typical market set-up with everything from clothes to knives to pots and pans available. We managed to pick up a new electrical adapter (our stupid adapters are always breaking, although that might have something to do with the fact that we buy them for less than $1 a piece) and some headphones (the $0.30 pair we had bought during Chinese New Year having broken, go figure). We were sweltering again after exploring the market and hurried back to the guesthouse to cool down as much as possible. Flopping onto the bed straight out of the shower seemed to do that job the best. At dusk it started to cool down, so we ventured out to walk along the river. We were shocked to find a sort of upscale stretch of sidewalk lined with nice looking restaurants running along the water. We never would have guessed Nong Khai had such a comfortable, communal area as we had found. There were quite a lot of people out and about as well. Some were jogging, others walking dogs, teens playing soccer and kids riding bikes. We walked the length of it and then took a seat to watch the people pass us by. A huge mastiff puppy and a smaller retriever pup were playing with each other which was quite cute. As the darkness settled in we took a seat at a deserted bar/club for a drink and a snack. The music was really loud and we could hardly hear each other without yelling, but we stayed anyways. Since we couldn't really do much talking we watched the few people who were in the club. One was a 10 year old boy who was doing what looked like homework. After a while he put his work away and got himself a soda from the very same fridge that housed the beers, Chuck and I couldn't help but wonder at the laws we're sure are in place in the other parts of the world to keep kids out of establishments like this one. I suspect the owners not only worked there, but also lived there. Although his life will undoubtedly be tough living right next to a joint that plays music until late at night (probably no later than midnight or 1:00 AM though, thanks to Thai laws that force businesses to shut down by then), at least his family will (hopefully) be able to provide him with food, shelter, and maybe a few luxuries in life. I guess I just thought that although he's doing homework in a bar, at least he has a roof over his head and a soda in his belly. Things could be worse. And if the family's business is doing well, things will only get better. After a couple of drinks we headed back to our little hell-hole of a room to suffer through the night.

On the 2nd we decided to sit inside just about all day. We did get out for some lunch, and walked down the road for a bit trying to find a fruit vendor. Fruit vendors were sparse there in Nong Khai. We came across an antique shop while we were out that had some really interesting little bone and ivory knives. They were called mitmor knives and were created and used by Buddhist monks. I really don't know much about them, as the internet was being stingy with it's secrets about the mitmor knife. But as far as I could gather they're more a spiritual sort of weapon, and that there are a few that are very famous and powerful due to being created and blessed by a very important monk. I kept thinking of my Dad as I looked at them. I didn't know whether he really would be interested in owning one, but the more research I did, the more it seemed to be right up his alley. I didn't buy one just then though, as I wanted to ruminate on whether or not I should go ahead and spend the money.

The plan for the 3rd was to leave Nong Khai and head to Udon Thani. We had until noon to leave, and having decided I would get a mitmir knife we headed down to the antique shop again. I would have loved to get the ivory one, but it would have had to have been a certain age (100 years old or so) to legally bring it back to the States, and I was fairly sure that it wasn't that old. So I went ahead and got the bone one, which was still wicked cool. Noon rolled around soon enough and back we went to the bus station. All the bus attendants were super-helpful and with newly-bought tickets in hand, we boarded our bus and took off for Udon Thani.

1 comment:

  1. Chuck, I hope you're learning a little bit of kick boxing while you're in Thailand. They have the most registered fighters than any other country in the world!