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stop-bullying

Toronto

When last we left our intrepid traveler he had just arrived in Bangkok and had turned in for the night.  As the next day began it was clear he was no longer in Kansas...

Upon waking up I went into the bathroom and noticed the electric hot water heater on the wall of the shower and I knew I was back in Thailand. For those of you unfamiliar with this, Thailand like many countries of the world have hot water on demand in kitchens and bathrooms.  This simplifies plumbing as it only requires a single pipe to each location water is needed and eliminates the need to keep a hot water tank up to temperature all the time.

After a leisurely breakfast in the hotel cafe I checked out and loaded my bags into the taxi the hotel had arranged for me.  Now there are two airports in Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi is the new international airport that I flew into and is very near the hotel.   Don Mueang is formally the international and now the domestic airport that I was flying out of and was about a one hour drive from the hotel.  It wasn't until I got in the taxi that the driver and I learned that we each had a different airport in mind.

Once the confusion was cleared up the taxi driver made a Hail Mary run to Don Mueang getting me there in 45 minutes which left me 45 minutes before my flight which as it turned out proved to be more than enough time. Problem averted.

A short one hour flight and I arrived in Khon Kaen (pronounced Con Ken).  After what seemed like an eternity my bags finally came out on the carousel and Juy and I were reunited after almost a year and a half apart.  Her brother Puy help me with my bags to the car and we were on our way to Ban Phai.

After arriving in Ban Phai we stopped off at the hotel just long enough to check in and drop off my bags before heading to Juy's home. At Juy's I was greeted by her mother and nieces as well as a small meal of papaya salad (shredded green papaya and carrot, tomato, fish sauce, fresh lime and peanuts) and of course beer.  Over the next few hours so many people stopped by to greet me that I've lost track of them all but they included Juy's aunt, sister-in-law, one 2nd cousin, one nephew and a neighbour who runs one of the local chicken stands that I have dubbed "Ban Phai KFC".

Eventually Juy's brother Chai stopped by and to my surprise Chai spoke English.  It turns out Chai can speak a little English but is self-conscious about it and did not want to embarass himself the first time we met.   We had a few more drinks and Chai invited us to meet a few of his friends that Juy referred to as "the old guys".

The rest of the evening was spent over a few beers and snacking on fried shrimp, chicken and other local dishes all served with a spicy sauce of course.  Now while Juy and I were drinking beer "the old guys" were drinking Thai whiskey (the label actually indicated it was brandy but they called it whiskey) served on ice with soda water.  Towards the end of the evening my curiousity got the better of me and I tried some first straight as we would normally drink it and then the way they preferred it. I must say that in the heat of Thailand their's was the better way.

The evening broke up around 2 am but we agreed to meet again the next evening for what we euphemistically referred to as another "meeting" or as the Thai's would say "pore-khan".

We slept in the next day as I was still a bit jet-lagged and a bit slow, although not hungover, from the previous night's festivities.  I was recovered enough to go to dinner and head to the "meeting".

The venue for this meeting was Ang's, one of "the old guys", place of work.  Ang runs a landscaping company and as we arrived they were finishing up for the day. It seemed late in the day for them to be working, about 8 pm, but Juy explained that with this type of work they stopped work in the middle of the day due to the heat and finished up in the early evening when it is cooler. Makes sense.

I'm not sure if this was usual but after they finished working the employees made a meal of what I discovered to be iguana stir fry, BBQ iguana and iguana soup. Needless to say I've never had iguana but after a few Thai whiskeys I was willing to give it a try.  I would have to say that iguana is quite good and better than I would have imagined, in particular the BBQ iguana, and tasted like a cross between chicken and beef.

I can't remember when this second "meeting" wound up but it was into the early morning again and once again ended with a plan to meet the following evening. Having learned previously that in Thai culture to refuse Chai's hospitality would insult him I reluctantly agreed.

The next day we slept in again with me still jet-lagged, still fighting off a cold and this time with maybe a bit of a hangover.  Juy seeing that I could probably use a break called her brother and told her that we would have to cancel that evenings' meeting. It turns out Chai was relieved as he didn't really want to go out either but was doing it because he felt obliged to show me a good time. We had been trapped in a Thai/Canadian politeness death spiral that if not for Juy's intervention we might still be in.

After a quiet day off we had a family meal at the home of Juy's sister-in-law, Oy. Korean BBQ is very popular in Thailand and there is a service that will deliver the BBQ, the clay pots of hot coals the BBQs sit on and all the fixings (soup stock, meat, vegetables, etc.).  The meal consists of cooking meat on the domed centre of the BBQ and cooking the vegetables in the soup stock that is poured into what I'll call a "moat" that goes around the outside of domed centre.  The meat is dipped in various sauces and the vegetables are eaten as a soup and flavoured with the same dipping sauces.  At the end of the evening the service comes back and takes everything (i.e. the mess) away.

During the meal, Oy, who is studying English, invited us to join a number of people in the neighbourhood for day at the Tat Ton National Park that features a number of waterfalls which form a sort of natural waterpark.  We had no plans for the next day so we arranged to meet the next day to catch the mini-bus Oy had arranged for the trip.

The trip to the waterfalls was a rather surreal experience.  A microphone was passed around the mini-bus for everyone to introduce themselves.  I was quite impressed that most of the 10 or so people that joined us on the trip were able to make some sort of greeting in English so I did my best to greet them in Thai. Once the introductions were made an LCD screen dropped from the ceiling and most of the passengers took turns on a karaoke machine. Less than a week ago I was in my comfortable life in Toronto and now I'm cruising through the Thai countryside listening to total strangers sing songs in a language I can't understand. You never know where life will take you.

The trip to the park took about two hours and after a short walk into the valley we set up camp a little downstream of the waterfall. We then unpacked a pot luck picnic that consisted of BBQ whitefish, papaya salad and sticky rice. As my contribution to the picnic Oy had purchased some BBQ chicken on my behalf from a local vendor at one of our rest stops.

After lunch we were left to explore the stream and waterfall.  I took a number of photos that I hope to put in a photo gallery shortly.

We spent most of the day at the waterfalls and then headed back to Ban Phai. The trip home was a bit quieter as we were all exhausted from the day. We made a brief stop at a roadside market where I picked up some fresh mango and Juy got some dried bugs (yes bugs). I believe they were crickets. Having recently eaten iguana my food exploration quota for the week had already been met. The taste of crickets will have to wait...perhaps until the day I'm left starving on a desert island.

Well, that pretty much ends my first week in Ban Phai.  Stay tuned for the final chapter in this catchup series.