Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Udon Thani

The bus ride to Udon Thani wasn't the best one we've had, but it certainly wasn't the worst. The only complaint I had was that the AC wasn't strong enough to fight off the blazing 110 degree heat. You'd need some seriously strong AC to accomplish that though, so I could hardly blame them. As we pulled into the bus station we saw a bunch of men in bright orange vests jump up to form a line by our drop-off point. It didn't take long to realize that these were tuktuk drivers. We had never seen such organized tuktuk-ers before! They had developed a nice little system where instead of clamoring in a blob around the disembarking passengers and fighting for a customer, they each attached themselves to a passenger as they got off the bus, in a neat, orderly, one-by-one fashion. I have to say, it was nice not to be swarmed. We agreed on a price with our designated driver, packed our stuff under our feet and between our knees, and off we went. We drove for quite a while, past the city hall and a jail and the road that I thought our hotel was supposed to be on. We hadn't realized our hotel was so far out at the edge of town. We got a kick out of seeing a small herd of water buffalo slowly wandering down the four-lane road though, their curved horns swinging gently back and forth with each lazy step. Just before meeting them head on we turned into our hotel. It was much bigger than we expected. And it looked expensive. And upon further inspection it wasn't our hotel at all. Our driver, not knowing English so well, took us to a hotel with a very similar sounding name as the one we wanted, but definitely not the right place. No wonder we had been surprised at how far out of town it was. Luckily we had a back-up hotel that he seemed to recognize right away and he agreed to take us there. The total price for the ride was more than we had agreed upon initially, but we paid it without argument. We didn't get the impression that he had been trying to scam us or anything with the earlier mix-up. The hotel was pretty decent and most importantly, had AC. Blessed AC! Ah how we had missed it. Chuck planned out a little site-seeing route for the evening as we cooled off and some time around dusk we headed out. We walked through the busy night market which was jam packed with stalls selling all sorts of stuff, then moved on through various other busy markets full of clothing and shoes. It looked like a fantastic place to do some shopping, although how anyone can adequately shop for clothing while sweating like a pig is beyond me. We headed down a quiet street to the Center Point Mall next. This place was indoors and ACed, so we spent a good amount of time wandering around there. We were delighted to find we had arrived in town just in time for the Mango Festival, and that the festival happened to be located in the mall. There were 25-30 mango stalls set up on the ground floor, each presenting a different type of mango: green, yellow, orange, big, small, etc. It looked like the judging had already been finished though, as there were three little podiums of differing height, each with a mango sitting atop it. We never did try any of the mangoes as we felt a bit too awkward and out of place to do so, but it was cool to see all the people walking around checking them out. After leaving the mall we headed back towards the hotel hoping that we would find some good food along the way (Korean BBQ in particular - we had a craving). We managed to wander into the girly-bar part of town by following the bright neon lights that we thought might promise tasty food. Instead we got a lot of "Welcome"s from scantily dressed young ladies hanging out in empty bars. There was one girl who had her shirt pulled up to show off her stomach while she was dancing, but instead of being sexy she just reminded me of a gyrating worm. There were almost no men around at all. It was kind of strange to be honest. Not really at all like the Bangkok girly scene. So we got out of there as quickly as we could and kept on walking. We still hadn't found anything exciting by the time we got back to the road our hotel was on, so we settled for a tin-table and plastic-chair restaurant. They're usually good. The owner was so super nice that I would have liked the place even if the food had been terrible . The menu was all in Thai so it was difficult for us to read (well, Chuck could read it as he'd been studying Thai, but his vocabulary wasn't yet large enough to understand what all the words meant), but the owner happily did his best to translate the dishes. When chuck asked for a Chang beer, instead of telling us that they didn't have any, the owner's wife went down to the convenience shop and bought a bottle. And to top it all off the food was really good. We were sure to thank them profusely and leave a small tip, even though tipping is not required or customary. We stopped off at a 7-11 next to the hotel, where I found a tube of this lip-tint stuff that we've seen Thai girls using. It's like a red stain that they tend to use on the inside of their lips so that it is barely seen, but offers a hint of rosy red youth. Or something like that. I got it just to check it out. It made my lips a bright pink-red that really stood out against my white-girl skin. I think the lip stain is probably best left to the Thai girls. Back at the hotel we did a load of laundry, washing some pants that hadn't been washed for a long time. Boy, clothing can really hold a lot of dirt. The water practically turned black. It was amazing.

The 4th was Easter, yay! We didn't make any Easter plans, but our day turned out to be pretty appropriate for the occasion, seeing as we went to an Orchid Farm. Our tuktuk driver insisted on waiting for us to finish at the farm so he could take us back into town, stating that it wasn't "suai," or beautiful. I think he figured we'd only be five minutes or so. He was partly right - it wasn't set up to be a lovely place. But the orchids that were in bloom - and there were a fair few of them - were quite pretty. They were all growing in pots placed in long concrete troughs, looking quite tangled and wild, and the whole complex was roof-ed with a blue tarp. I think this helped to make it extra hot and Chuck and I were both dripping sweat. It was perfect for orchids though, I guess. They probably like it humid and warm. I took a bunch of pictures of all the flowers, which kept us there longer than just five minutes. But really, there wasn't much more to do or see there than that. We had read online about some kind of dancing plant that was grown there as well, so on the way out we asked the one and only guy working there what the dancing plant was. It took a few tries, but we finally communicated our question and he showed us a very nondescript, skinny plant in a little pot. It didn't really look like it was dancing to me. He had us look closer and we noticed that it was kind of quivering. I think it's just such a delicate plant that it shivers with the slightest movement of the air. Certainly not as cool as it sounded though. I was secretly hoping it would be doing some crazy booty dancing or something, but no such luck. I think they make teas out of it. Maybe the tea makes you want to dance. On the way back to the hotel we asked the tuktuk driver to make a stop off at a food market he had pointed out to us on the way to the Orchid Farm. It was a bustling place with fresh fruit, veggies, and seafood. Much of the fish was still alive, floundering in small tubs with a supply of air being bubbled through the water to keep them from drowning. That's about the freshest seafood you can find! After getting a bag full of apples, watermelon, and pomello, we finished our ride back to the hotel and disappeared into our ACed room to devour our tasties. It wasn't until dusk that we ventured out again. We did a lot of walking, heading first to a big traffic circle fountain, then passed by some warehouse clothing shops, down some dark, quiet roads past a big hotel and finally ended up at the Center Point Mall again. We went for a hot pot buffet at a nice restaurant there. It consisted of a big broth filled pot in the middle of the table to which we added meat, veggies, noodles, and sauces of our choosing from the buffet area. They had a huge selection of foods. We stuffed ourselves to the point of obscenity. It was fantastic and horrible all at the same time. We found ourselves unable to move for 15 minutes after the meal, but eventually managed to haul ourselves out the door and start the walk back to the hotel. We considered a taxi, but in the end decided it would probably be best to walk it off. By the time we got back I felt a bit less bloated, but still obscene.

The 5th was a day of rest. I did my best to eat a very small amount of food in an attempt to make up for my indulgence the night before. Other than that we lounged around in our room, only going out for lunch and dinner.

We checked out on the 6th, headed to the bus station and got our bus tickets to our next stop: Sukothai, Thailand.

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