What a difference two hours makes.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Cambodia, but as soon as we crossed the border, I noticed things were very, very different here. In a good way.
For starters, we were in a mini bus that held the same number of passengers as it did seats.
The words ‘mini bus’ had induced stomach churning fear in me ever since The Kampot To Sihanoukville Bus Ride of ’12. The mini bus had arrived at our guest house fully loaded. Not a seat on the thing. And there were three of us.
Without saying a word, I knew it was me who had to squeeze into the last row alongside three Frenchmen. Somehow I did it, inserting myself into the tiny space they reluctantly allowed me, over the wheel hub.
We picked up another guy after that. He got the front seat. I cursed him the whole way, my chin ‘resting’ on my knees as me and the French guy negotiated tiny changes of position to relieve the cramping and the numbness.
I also cursed the row that held three people, only three! And their feet were resting comfortably on the floor (they were, I saw them!) whilst mine balanced on the wheel hub casing, careful not to slip off and give the Frenchman a dead foot. A dead-er foot.
Of course outwardly I possessed the calm demeanor of an experienced world traveller, unencumbered by western ideas of comfort. It’s so uncool to complain in Cambodia.
But I digress…
As we rode into the Thai city of Trat, things were decidedly different. It was so, so… affluent.
I never thought I’d say that about Thailand, and to be honest I’d kinda gotten used to Cambodia’s giant pot-holes, power outages and cool, rather than cold, drinks.
I’d relished the days spent on the back of a motorcycle on unsealed roads, my face covered in dirt, eyelids caked in dust like yeah man, this is so awesome!
But this was like another world. Paved roads, neon signs, cars, trucks, shiny motorcycles, department stores, electronic shops (yes Tyrhone almost had a hernia).
After perusing the air conditioned shops for a while as Tyrhone priced just about every smart phone on the shelf (no, he is not in the market to buy one, it’s an affliction he has for shopping for electronic goods he has no intention of buying, kind of like women and shoes), we were ready for Thailand’s main event, FOOD.
So this is where the title of this post you read 390 words ago comes in…
Entering the undercover market, my nostrils were immediately assailed by the sweet smells of Thailand-on-a-plate: lime, lemongrass, chilli and sugar.
I devoured my first Phad Thai like a woman possessed, mixing in the chopped peanuts and bean sprouts, adding a tiny amount of fish sauce, lime and of course the obligatory dried chilli.
Thailicious! Yes, it’s my corny, made up word, and I’m sticking with it.
With full bellies, we walked around the supermarkets and department stores saying things like “Oh look, crackers.” Again, we didn’t buy anything, it was just weird to see actual shops with actual things on the shelves. Like crackers.
The night market was in full swing as we arrived for our much anticipated dinner. That’s the thing about Thailand, eating is a national pastime, and considering the delicious and cheap food, I’m getting me a seat on that bandwagon.
The Lonely Planet said not to miss the night market in Trat, and they were right. Open aired, multi-course eating is right up my alley.
We perused the various food stalls, bamboozled by the sheer variety of culinary delights on offer, settling on fried chicken with sweet chilli sauce, fried fish cakes, pork satay and steamed dumplings, all consumed with the ferocity of those who had been starved for the last thirty days. Which of course we had not.
I won’t mention the breaded sausage on a stick that Marty and Tyrhone thought was a good idea (the chilli had gone to their heads), as that does not fit with the title of this post. Unless you think sausage wrapped in doughnut is glorious.
I think I actually thanked God when I spotted the banana pancake stall. I frequented Bangkok a lot when I worked as a flight attendant, and consumed many, many of these delightful delicacies in a drooling, let-lagged stupor.
As I watched the artful hands of the vendor deftly molding and manoeuvering the ball of dough before flicking it into a paper-thin sheet and then dropping it onto the oiled hot plate, I tried hard to smother my excitement.
She cracked an egg on it, chopped a banana over the top before folding the sides of the now crisp pancake over the top, creating a square pocket of delicious goodness which she then flipped over to crisp the other side. Slicing it into squares and sliding it into a container, she then drizzled condensed milk over the top. Oh yes.
As if it wasn’t sweet enough…
We’re now on Koh Chang, Thailand’s second largest island, off the coast of Trat. I’m typing this from a hammock, looking out onto the gulf of Thailand through coconut palms, as a Cafe Del Mar chill out music fills the air. A cool breeze is blowing, a welcomed gift from last night’s storm front. I’m sipping a mango lassi. Tyrhone surfs the internet on his phone in the hammock next to me, and Marty is having a nap in his bungalow.
Yesterday we kayaked to some outlying islets, jumping off to snorkel around the shelves of red-brown rock, before landing on a deserted beach for more snorkelling and swimming.
We came to Thailand because our 30 day Cambodian visas expired. We intended to go back to explore the large part of the country we are yet to see. Really we did.
But we like it here. And it’s not just the food, though that is a big part of it.
I guess that’s the beauty of not making plans, because they always change anyway. Who knows where we will be next week, a month from now, a year? Your guess is as good as mine. Tomorrow we head to Bangkok. At least I think so…