Living Like the Locals in Thailand
Udonthani, like most of Thailand, is a blend of old and new, low tech and high tech…
…local market and super market.
What’s it like to live like a local in Thailand? I was lucky enough to find out, thanks to a connection made by another Travel Angel, my friend Lee in California, who introduced me via email to what turned out to be two more Travel Angels, Paul and Joi. They live in Udonthani, which is a fairly big city in the northeast of Thailand, however they live in the outskirts, so in effect, more like a village, with quick access to the city center.
They welcomed me with open arms, and I settled into village life for a week, which included meeting Joi’s mother, who lives with them, as well as many of the other nearby relatives and neighbors.
The days started with Joi rising about 5:30am to cook rice for alms for the monks. At about 6:20am the 3 of us would join other neighbors out on the street to give out rice, fruit, and packets of coffee to the monks who pass by and chant us a blessing.
After our breakfast of scrambled eggs, corn on the cob, and cool, sweet mint-green guava juice…
…we head to the market, where I see a plethora of interesting fruits, vegetables, fish, and piles of my nemesis, mushrooms, as well as things I’m not sure how to categorize. Longans (I call them the little round eyeball fruit), tamarind, sweet juicy mangos, dragon fruit, they’re all here for pennies.
Next door is the equivalent of a 7/11, in case you’re hankering for some junk food.
Joi cooks lunch in their outdoor kitchen – I thought I’d had sticky rice before, but this is REAL sticky rice, which you eat with your fingers. He’s a great cook, good thing I’m only here for a week or I’d get fat!!
It’s fun to notice the little differences here, like the flowers – haven’t seen any of these back in Michigan…
And even the trash receptacles are different…
Later, we headed back to the market again, which is even busier in the evenings. Lots of people stop by to pick up their dinner, assorted pre-made meals in little clear plastic baggies, curries and tofu balls floating in brown liquid – their version of fast food. Joi knew just how to pick the sweetest, juiciest fruit, and later, made mango with coconut sticky rice for dessert, pure ambrosia! And there are always lottery tickets for sale if you want to try your luck.
Evenings we spent American-style, with movie nights – Paul has quite the collection of American DVD’s!
Some days, we ran errands in town, taking local transportation.
When Paul mentioned he gets his eye drops in Thailand for a fraction of what they cost in the US, I told him I pay $40 a pill for my migraine prescription and he immediately insisted that they take me to see their doctor at the local hospital to find out if I could buy some there. It’s about $10-15 to see the doctor to write the prescription, and yes, they have my rx for $5 a tablet! They even gave me my own medical card, even though I’m just a visitor (I said Ms, but they added an R).
Paul ordered 100, enough to last me a year. It was a big bite out of my travel budget, but is such a relief to not have to worry about where I can refill. The doctor asked, “Do you really want that many? They are very expensive, $5 each!” He has no idea!! (As a side note, I also found them affordably in Australia, although a much smaller quantity. Same medication, same brand, made in the US, but 8 times more expensive for us in the States – there’s something wrong here…)
We made a day trip to nearby Nong Khai, a town on the 2700 mile-long Mekong River, just across from Laos, where they treated me to a feast! Joi went to school in Nong Khai for years, living with the monks, so we visited his old school. Btw, the Mekong is the world’s 12th longest river, running through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam!
We wandered the streets a bit, where you can shop for everything from fruit & veggies to shoes…
I even got to go to the local barbershop with the guys, where they can get a 45 minute shave and a haircut for $1.85. The barber likes them as they tip about 100%. Some things are universal – Joi plays Candy Crush and other games while he waits his turn.
And you never know who you’ll meet on your way home…
We also visited the local temple…
On my last day, we took an early morning walk past the rice paddies, which were dried up and brown now, but will be lush and green soon with the rainy season.
We saw stray dogs and water buffalo, and the round peach sun rising, along with its twin floating on the water.
Paul and Joi were delightful hosts, kind and generous, fun and funny, and they showed me a side of Thailand I wouldn’t have seen as a tourist. Many thanks, Kob Khun Ka!