We awoke from a much needed nap, and decided to explore Nong Khai a bit more. This time, we strayed from the normal tourist path of the riverside walkway, Rimkong, and Meechai, and took a stroll down Prajak(Prachak) Sillapakhom. Prajak is Nong Khai's main business strip, with everything from the Esso Gas Station to a Honda Dealership lining the double wide (by Nong Khai standards) roadway.
This is by far the busiest street in Nong Khai, and the speed of the motorbikes and cars made crossing interesting....especially since driving is done on the left side of street in Thailand. One has got to break that rule we learned in the first grade, "when crossing the street, always look left, than right." It's amazing how ingrained those rules become.
Since the streets were wider, it made one's field of vision larger. And we started "looking up", and taking note of the French influenced architecture. Looking at the businesses from street level, you'd never have noticed.....
And this being Thailand, food was only steps away.
While aimlessly wandering down Prajak, we came across a fruit stand, and the Missus was smitten by this fruit.
We had never seen anything like it. The fruit had a threatening...and frankly, a bit of a dangerous look, in the "you wouldn't want to drop it on your foot" kind of way. In fact, I don't think it would look out of place being swung on the end of a chain in battle. The exterior of the fruit looked to have almost an exoskeletan, like that of a crab or a similar crustacean. So of course, the Missus purchased a Kilo, and started peeling as soon as we walked away from the fruit stand.
As threatening as the fruit looked fully dressed in it's armor......once peeled it looked quite harmless, almost silly, and kinda resmebled an....well, you can figure that one out yourself.
This was our first encounter with the Salacca, the fruit of a species of palm. I'm not a big fruit guy, but I enjoyed this; tangy and acidic, with a mild sweetness, it was right up my alley.
Returning from our "little" walk, the Missus decided that She "needed a break" from street food, and desired a proper restaurant, with a real table, real seats, and most of all "real ice, with some real water, in a real glass." We homed in on a large restaurant right off the street.
Food was almost an after thought here, as the Missus savored Her iced water, sipping it as if it was nectar of the Gods. After looking through the huge and exhaustive menu of Chinese and Thai dishes we ordered a few items.
Thai Fermented Sausage (Nam Sohd):
I found the flavor of the sausage to be only mildy sour, and over powered when eaten with the potent raw garlic. The chilies were positively searing hot....the Missus thought the flavor was a bit too "funky" for Her, but scarfed up all the peanuts.
Yum Nuea (Beef Salad):
The main thing we really enjoyed was just sitting back and watching the world go by.
Of course, you know that I couldn't ignore the Kai Yaang (Rotisserie Chicken):
This stand was doing some major business....you could smell the chicken "fumes" from several blocks away. I recall reading that Kai Yaang, Khao Niaw(sticky rice), and Som Tam (papaya salad), make up the "trinity" of classic Issan foods. So you can be sure that we bought a bird, and a bag of sticky rice.
I thought the dark meat and the skin of the chicken was fabulous, a combination of sweet(a nice complex sweet - probably from palm sugar), salty, and savory. The breast was on the dry side. The Missus found the chicken a bit too salty for Her taste. I thought the sticky rice was the best I ate during the whole trip.....perfect and consistent in texture.
We walked back to our room, grabbed a bottle of Chang Beer from the reception area, and than walked out to one of the pavillions overlooking the deceptively languid appearing Mekong river, and watched the sun go down. After several days in which we seemed to be always on the go, it finally set in....we were really in Thailand! Things sometimes take a while to sink in......
Later we settled into our room. Since we're on the subject, a word about Mut Mee Guest House. Mut Mee, is without a doubt, the most well known, and popular Guest House in Nong Khai. And there's some charm to the place. It is very laid back, and has an interesting policy of not blocking out rooms. Folks can stay as long as they wish, so you can't be sure of which rooms are available on any given day. Thus, bookings can never be done for specific rooms. If you read this page on Mut Mee's site, you'll notice the sentence, "You can even stay in our house!" Which is what we did....
It's the room called "JPS" - "Julian and Pao's Suite", and is where Pao's Mum stays when she visits, an enclosed room attached to their home. Please be aware that this is still a Guest House. The windows and doors are a bit warped, so it's a wrestling match to close...you'll have to make sure to use the mosquito netting if you are prone to bites. The floor is also a bit off kilter, which can cause you to sway a bit drunkenly while walking over some of the floorboards...to us, this was just part of the charm. Plus, for $20 a night....what did you expect? The only thing that ever bothered me was when the water seemed to be shut off in the middle of my shower. The bathroom is down some stairs, and looks like it was enclosed just a few years ago...... You can watch the Mekong roll on by from your porch, or walk the mere 10 yards out the gate and sit on one of the pavilions like we did for dinner. When you check in, you are shown a book that is kept out front with your room number on it, you can grab beer and water from the frig, and just log them into the book. This is all done by the honor system, and everything is tallied up when you leave. An added bonus to everything is that since you're attached to his house, you'll undoubtedly meet Julian. We did, and had a nice conversation about Thailand, Issan, Laos, politics, and many other subjects.....
Out your side window, you can see the back of Wat Haisoke:
Which posed no problems as we rose early in the morning.
As we did on the morning of our departure from Nong Khai. We took our usual morning walk, and found the streets to be as still as the Mekong at this hour.
We had not had time the previous day to check out the very large Thasadej Market, which runs parallel to the Mekong for several blocks. So we decided to pop in for a look. At this time of the day, the aisles are mostly dark and silent...
Every so often you hit an open food court area.
Nong Khai may be very laid back, but it is still a border town, and the melting pot of nationalities will always show itself. While walking through the market, the Missus over heard a conversation....."I believe they are from Yunnan, by the accent."
One of the most succesful businesses in town is Daeng Namnuang, you can't miss their signs which seem to posted everywhere.
You can't miss the huge restaurant and large and clean production area which faces the Mekong. We watched in awe, as one car after another stopped in front of the restaurant early in the morning; folks running in to the shop, only to exit with cardboard cartons minutes later.
What does this place sell? They specialize in Namnuang.....Vietnamese Spring Rolls! So popular that folks grab boxes of it when leaving town.
For our breakfast before taking leave of Nong Khai, I selected a little hole-in-the-wall right at the edge of Thasadej.......a dark, cluttered, little place that looked almost like a warehouse with tables.
The Missus selected the Issan Sausage and Rice:
She thought the sausage too hard, gamey, and "porky". I thought it to be fine. The sticky rice was much too hard.
I ordered the Pad See Ew:
I didn't care much for this, the noodles were much to gelatinous and gooey for my tastes...almost like overcooked rice cake. The Missus, on the other hand, loved the egg, and enjoyed the dish. So after trading off our dishes, we each ended up with a decent breakfast!
We returned to our room, picked up our bags, wrestled the front door close, and padlocked it....went to the front desk and checked out. We headed up the path to the street...the one that had been shrouded in darkness when we arrived. It sure looked much more welcoming in day light.
As we hit the main road, we found our Tuk-Tuk Driver who had taken us to Sala Kaew Ku the day before. And we were on our way...the next leg of our trip was coming up fast.
You know which way we turned at this sign, don't you???