Saturday, March 10, 2007

Nong Khai

From Loei to Nong Khai we stopped in Udon Thani just to see an orchid farm where they produce a special hybrid
orchid used to make perfume. The orchid is called "Miss Udorn Sunshine."

They also have a special plant called "dancing tea." This plant, in the pea family, has young leaves that respond to sound by moving up and down. Supposedly, the plant especially likes smooth jazz. Unfortunately the plants did not have any new growth and were too weak to dance for us.

In Nong Khai, we took a tuk tuk to the most popular guesthouse in the city, called Mut Mee. This place was really great. It was run by a community of American and European expats and it was really nice to be around native English speakers. One girl even knew where Walnut Creek is! The guesthouse has excellent food and loads of atmosphere. One night, one of the neighbors named Pancho played an acoustic guitar set at the bar on the river. It was lots of fun with singing along and audience participation on the percussion section. We can't recommend this place enough. In fact, our guesthouse was so nice, we really didn't do much in our nights there.

The thing to see in Nong Khai is the Salakaewkoo Sculpture Park. The story goes that this man was walking one day and fell in a hole and onto the lap of a hermit. He stayed in the hole for 3 years where the hermit taught him about the gods, the underworld, Buddhism, and all things mystical. When he emerged, he wanted to display these teachings in a visual way and chose sculpture. The park was full of bizarre amateur concrete sculptures (that was the cheapest material to use) of Hindu and Buddhist gods and all sorts of other things. Some of the sculptures were huge-- one of the Buddha meditating under the naga was probably 6 stories high. The sculptor died in 1995 so several sculptures were unfinished. I'll let the pictures below do the rest of the talking.

Nong Khai also had an interesting market that sold a lot of Vietnamese things like jackfruit chips and other dried fruits, as well as Vietnamese pork sausages wrapped in banana leaves. Cheap Chinatown-style toys, knives, and china could be found there as well. We ate a salted grilled fish at the market. Lyndsay had been craving this since the first time we saw it in Bangkok.

It was stuffed with a bundle of herbs consisting mostly of lemongrass and was served with a lot of different sides that we failed to take a picture of. The sides included a basket of basil, mint, coriander, lettuce, and cabbage, as well as a plate of lemongrass, garlic cloves, shallots, ginger, lime slices, and pickled cabbage. It was served with noodles and rice.

In terms of street food, the highlight was this Chinese inspired dish.

We have no idea what it's called but it has a thick broth similar to the broth in sizzling rice soup but thicker and with egg in it. It came with your choice of chicken or pork, a hard boiled quail egg, shitake mushrooms, and your choice of pan-fried sen yai (wide noodles), pan-fried sen mii (thin noddles), or deep-fried egg noodles. I picked the fried ones and Lyndsay chose sen yai. We got soy milk to go from the busiest stand on he block. He was so busy because his freshly made donuts were delicious-- some of the best we've had to far. He also had more soymilk options than anyone else we had seen including black sesame soymilk, yellow corn milk, add-ins like coconut jelly, basil seeds, grass jelly, tapioca balls, and palm seeds, and even the option of iced soymilk.

Next stop, Laos.

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