Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 15: On The Road Again

Fresh, fragrant daikon radishes, riding North on Highway 2 in Isaan

[This is Part 15 of a series. If you found this via a search or just happened upon it some other way you can find parts 1 through 14 by scrolling down the Labels in the right-hand column and clicking on "Isaan Oddysey".]

From Muang Tam we had a longer ride ahead of us (somewhere around 350Km/218 Miles) as there wasn't a stop scheduled between the Buriram area and our destination in Udonthani. My guide Suphot guessed it would take us about six hours, which seemed to be a proper cue for me to nap a bit. It usually generates a bit of an inner debate when I'm traveling since I don't want to miss anything but I'm off-schedule and often a bit sleep-deprived. The nap usually wins.

While I settled back to gaze out my window at the fields passing by Pot stuck a cassette into the tape deck, and bobbed his head while Shania Twain exclaimed "Man... I feel like a woman!"

Once we got onto Highway 2 North, the small farms were soon blending one into the other as we sailed along; Pot paying careful attention to the road and other drivers, and me nodding out every so often - occasionally waking up to see something new, like the truck loaded with daikon radishes, headed for Points North up top today, or the mega-load of string and rope that towered three times the height of the pickup truck it was riding along on.

An overloaded pickup truck sways to and fro ahead of us

"That couldn't possibly be a good idea, could it?" I asked Pot as I shut my camera down after taking a few pictures of the load, swaying back and forth as the wind threatened to simply blow it over. "Why on earth would someone take that kind of risk?" "Gas prices," he replied, pulling into a filling station himself. "The cost of gasoline is high, and they're poor. It costs a lot to make two trips to get that load from Bangkok back into Isaan, so they say their prayers and ride with Fate."

It's certainly no secret that for all the pissing and moaning we in the USA do about gas prices, we don't pay nearly as much as they do in many other countries - and when you take into account the average Thai wage, it's an expensive commodity. VERY roughly calculating, at this week's rates gasoline is $4.00 per gallon in California and $5.00 per gallon in Thailand.

If you you don't disrobe you can play with matches

Common sense applies in most other areas, though. Not only do I very rarely see smoking at the stations there, I've also noted far less cell phone usage that I've gotten used to back home. The translation on the "open flame" warning was entertaining enough to take a picture of, too.

Any time we stopped I went in and bought water, whether I was thirsty or not. That usually goes hand in hand with a restroom stop, so I tend to leave the contents of the last bottle behind and then go in and buy another. This particular stop Pot said he was going to check fluid levels in the pickup, so I took the time to get an iced mocha from the woman at the coffee stand in the parking lot.

More often than not, the coffee you're served in Thailand is instant coffee; Nescafe having a stranglehold on most of the distribution there. In many areas you can find "real" coffee, though, and since I personally despise the business practices of Starbucks I'm always happy to see similar chains and small family places like the one above.

I don't know if there IS a Thai word is for "barista," but I suppose she'd qualify

As is often the case with Mom and Pop type establishments this one had different things for sale in addition to the drinks. I neglected to ask what the stuff was next to the bottles of honey, though - and if anyone can provide an identification it'd be appreciated. It seemed odd to think anyone would bottle wood, unless perhaps it was something aromatic.

Gassed up, drained out and with an iced refill in hand we were ready to pull back onto Highway 2 and what lie ahead.


Krobbie said...

As ever Bao-Bao a wonderful travelogue. I have just been flipping back and forward on this strip from A Day Away to On the Road Again and there are some really great photographs here.

I really do think Bobey and I are going to have to hire a car at some juncture and do a trip through Isaan ourselves.

Cheers my friend,

Anonymous said...

Those are probably dried shavings from barks, trees & roots of selected plants to be boiled, and the potion drunk as medicinal tonics.

khunbaobao said...

I'd wondered about the elixir idea, too - maybe the water was added to the bottle and left to "brew"? It would seem a little clumsy to shake it out of the bottle unless you only used a small amount at a time. I think we're close to the proper usage, but I'm still curious. Anyone else?