Early in the morning of what was our third day in Thailand, we took a quite stroll down the well paved and maintained promenade that lines the shore of the Mekong River. The contrast to "go till you drop" Bangkok was quite evident.
At this early hour, it was quite tranquil....
Even the chairs and tables for the Naga Festival were nicely folded up....and the pavement was swept clean.
Perhaps folks were still sleeping off the effects of several nights of partying...the Naga Festival runs for a week....
Transversing Nong Khai is not very difficult, there are only a few main streets going from East to West.....on the street called Meechai, full of guest houses, a few bars, and other pieces of the tourist infrastructure, we passed by this.
Yes, a Bus Station.....but the Missus spied something that got Her attention.
And so the Missus had found the first piece of our breakfast puzzle. These wonderful, orbs of coconut goodness was crisp on the exterior, but contains molten coconutty goodness inside. It is well worth risking, and often sacrificing several layers of skin....and even your lips for a great version of Kanom Krok...they need to be consumed hot. So if you run into lipless people in Thailand, chances are they've run into an irresistible serving of these coconut-rice snacks.
The Missus declared this the second best we had on our trip. The nice kernels of sweet corn placed in the center of the Kanom Krok was a nice touch.
While doing a bit of research, I found this interesting article noting the Scandinavian tie in with regards to Kanom Krok.
Leaving the compound, this platform caught my attention.
What was it? An impromptu nap area perhaps? After looking at the charts on the walls, it became clear; this was a Thai Massage station. What could be better than a good massage after a long bus ride? Looking over the poster of the various Masseuse on staff gave me pause...they looked pretty tough...like they could rip my arm off. The photos were very unflattering, and the women looked more like inmates than Masseuses.
Making our way back to the area of our Guest House, part 2 of our breakfast puzzle was solved.
There must be tens(hundreds?) of thousands of "food courts", of all sizes and shapes across Thailand. And this was one of them. There was something interesting about this food court in particular, which I'll go in to later. There was only one station open at the time we walked passed.....but once we saw what was being served, breakfast part 2 was solved.
Simmered Pork Shank over Rice (30 Baht - about $1/US):
We tried to avoid the tuk-tuk "feeding frenzy" in the area, and walked over to a side street where an older gentleman was minding a grill stand. There was a tuk-tuk parked in front of it. He asked us, "you want tuk-tuk", and we said yes....we settled on a price, and was shocked when he abandoned the stand! Starting up the vehicle he made a turn down a side street 2 blocks over, and called to a lady, who we found manning the stand when we returned. They've got quite a system working.....
Our destination? In all of the guidebooks we read; the one must see destination in Nong Khai is Sala Kaew Ku.
Sala Kaew Ku was the work of Shaman-Mystic-Priest-Yogi, Luang Puu Bunleua Surirat. This park is a collection of sculptures, some over 80 feet tall, representing various Hindu and Buddhist deities and stories. As the story goes, when Luang Puu was a child he fell into a hole. At the bottom he subsequently met a acetic named Kaewkoo who taught Luang Puu all the mysteries and secrets of the underworld. Surirat was born and raised in Laos, and in fact, created a version of Sala Kaew Ku on the banks of the Lao side of the Mekong. After the Communist takeover in the mid-seventies, Luang Puu fled to Thailand.
Luang Puu developed a devoted group of followers, all of whom he claimed were untrained in the creation of sculpture, but were powered by a divine source that enabled them to create these massive idols. As for Luang Puu, he died in 1996, but his mummified body can still be found on the third floor of the main building on the grounds. His followers say that Luang Puu's hair still grows, and needs to be trimmed from time to time!
For me, this was a strange side excursion.....the park is a sometimes bizarre collection of sculptures that range from the nightmarish:
To the fascinating:
The most popular piece on the grounds is the wheel of life, which is entered by passing through a giant mouth, and through a passageway that has been described to me as being reborn through a womb.....
Whether a mystical "Walley World" or a site of sacred significance, it's up to you. It was an interesting, and sometimes strange little side trip.
Upon returning to our starting point, the Missus determined that She wanted to "ride a bus".......and had selected the Market Town of Tha Bo as our destination.
All hail the "Yellow Bus".....
The ride to Tha Bo takes about an hour, and costs 20 Baht a person. The bus travels along the road, making stops as it is waved down...the seats are not very wide.....a second person can fit sitting "half cheek" style. The diesel fumes soon overtake much of the bus. If you want a short "rural Thailand" experience, this may be it!
The most interesting thing about these buses is the front dashboard area.....which has been decorated with various knick-knacks....some of which date back to who knows when???
In just over an hour we arrived in Tha Bo. The market is just across the street from the end of the line for the Yellow Bus.
Tha Bo itself is quite small, with a population of about 16,000, making Nong Khai with it's population of 62,000 seem a metropolis. One of the interesting facts about Tha Bo is that the citizenship of the city is 80% Vietnamese. The largest church in the area is not a Buddhist temple, but a church called Wat Satsana Krit - the Christian Temple, indicative of the religion of the Vietnamese refugees who settled in the area.
One of the largest industries in the area is tobacco.
And besides the presence of a good amount of "Bun" (Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Noodles), the market is like many we've seen throughout Southeast Asia.
There was also a fruit we had not seen before. You gotta love the vendor, who instead of standing, just sat on top of her counter!
At first, the Missus thought this was Longan, but I thought they were a bit too large to be Longan. It turned out to be Langsat (Longkong). When the Missus peeled the skin off, the flesh of the fruit was divided into 5-6 segments. The flesh was firm, and had a taste vaguely similar to longan, except sweeter. Delici-yoso!!!
As we left the market, we could see smoke drifting down one of the streets...along with the unmistakable smell of "charred animal flesh".....
Ah yes, a plethora of pork sizzling away.
It even wore down the Missus, a noted Pork-o-phob......
2 sausages, and a bag of sticky rice - 30 baht (less than a buck).
These sausages had more pork than filler, and was only slighly sour. The grilling had created a nice crust. The sticky rice, was decently prepared. All in all, a nice snack to tide us over until we got back to Nong Khai. You could tell by the look on the Missus's face during the long, crowded, and hot trip back to Nong Khai, that all of the novelty of a "bus ride just like the locals", had worn off!
We arrived back in Nong Khai, and found ourselves right back where we started....in the food court. Check out some of the details in the photo; it gives a hint as to the location of the food court.
The Missus went for a Papaya Salad from one of the stalls.
This was a pretty strange version.....it was mildy spicy, and very, very, pungent and fishy. But the oddest thing were the rice vermicelli noodles at the bottom of the salad.
I was mesmerized by the smells coming out of this stall:
This lady had some major wok moves......
I ended up ordering a chicken dish. At first I thought it was chicken with basil, but the herb used to flavor this dish had a very earthy flavor....
Any idea of where this food court was located? Here's another clue, check out where the utensils are stored...though these type of containers are not used much anymore, it should look familiar.
Yep, they are old surgical instrument sterilization containers!
And the food court is located right across from:
NongKhai Hospital.....it's the Hospital Food Court! It was also just a block away from where we were staying.
We walked back to our room, badly in need of a nap......
And dozed off, dreaming of what possible food was in store for dinner......