Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Thailand 2016 Day 7. Phrae to Lamphun

I left my low class accommodation as early as I could, which put me on the street just shy of 7 am. I have already complained about how nothing is open at 7 am, except for the 7-Eleven and a few market stalls, so I made a bare bones breakfast and sat to wait for something to open. I had two visits I wanted to make, the Pratubjai House and the Vongburi House. Both are listed as being an example of rich houses in North Thailand, and I was curious to see how the other 1% lives. Eventually I learned that they live in enormous houses just because they can, just like some of the farmers in the Central Valley. The Pratjubai House was built out of teak wood between 1972 and 1977; by that time teak trees had been logged practically out of existence, so the owner—Mr. Kitja Chaivannacoopt—simply bought a few old houses, tore them down, and used the teak to build his monstrosity. The house is huge, but it is dark because teak is a dark wood, and the 9 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, and 5 living rooms are crammed with all the stuff the Chaivannacoopt’s accumulated in a lifetime (a timely reminder that I have to get rid of a lot of my accumulated stuff). No, I was not impressed.

The Vongburi house was somewhat different. Also very large, but built in 1987 in a European gingerbread style with much lighter tones. This was the home of the lords of Phrae, and basically consisted of a huge rectangular living room, out of which protruded many small rooms (a little like my own home), two of which were bedrooms, one was the hunting room, another was the reading room, a small one was where the lord and the missus must have seated for tea, and so on. It also has a lot of stuff, but the inhabitants of the house were a bit more selective on the items they collected. I could live on a house like this.

I was not in the best of moods when I finally got on my way, partly because of the crummy hotel, because I had wasted too much time looking at two old houses, because my ant bite was itching, and because there was a drizzle that made the day feel dour. My plan was to make it to Lampang, and from there go visit the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. I like elephants, so that should cheer me up. Unfortunately the cards were stacked against me, and I got sidetracked first by a sign that promised some caves, and then another that promised to get me to the Lampang Volcano. I think Thais are wonderful people, but they have an evil streak in them that leads them to lure you away from the beaten path with prominent street signs, and once you are in the sticks they “forget” to mark the key intersection and you end in the middle of nowhere. “Oops!”

It was 3 pm by the time I made it to the Elephant Center, and by that time the elephants had already been fed and bathed, and were making their preparations to go to bed. Rats! OK, so I will have to come back tomorrow, but where am I going to sleep. The friendly guys at the center suggested the Riverside Guest House in “Lampo”, which I interpreted as being Lamphun, a good 40 km away and on the other side of a major mountain pass. I was just over the pass when I pondered if “Lampo” could have been their way of saying Lampang, which was by now 30 km the other way. I kept going, but hated those last 35 km as I felt I was simply going to have to undo them tomorrow morning.

I finally got to Lamphun, tired and grumpy, hoping against hope to find the Riverside Guest House. Well, I did find the river, but drew a total blank on the Riverside Guest House. I was getting ready to plunge into the town to look for a hotel, predicting it would be another roach hotel, when like a mirage this little hotel materialized by the river. It was perfect: clean, comfortable, and reasonably priced. The Good Lord looks after us fools after all. After a refreshing pause I went for a peaceful walk along the river, and on my way back I found that farther downstream there was a walking market. Oh, my luck had certainly taken a turn for the best. The market was colorful, not overly crowded, and there were all sorts of good things to eat. I found several stalls selling crickets, grubs, and big roaches, but since I didn’t have anyone to gross out I passed on the insects in favor or a crab dumpling that was totally yummy.

By the hotel there was a small, inviting restaurant, so I decided to treat myself to a good meal. The menu didn’t have pictures, but had English subtitles and a section entitled “We Recommend”. Now, that is something I wish all restaurants did, for then you know you are getting the best of the house. From this select list I chose Ho-Chen Village, which happened to be the most expensive menu item, at US$ 5. Wonder what it will be . . . with great ceremony my waitress brought a small clay brazier filled with glowing coals, atop which sat a bubbling pot of soup. She also brought a big platter of herbs, raw vegetables, mushrooms, and uncooked rice noodles, and a separate platter with thinly sliced beef, pork, tofu, mushrooms, shrimp, calamari, fish, and chicken livers. It was a Thai raclette! You take a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, and dump it in the bubbling soup, wait for a couple of minutes, and then scoop it into your small bowl (at which time someone else would fix his/her own bowl of goodies, and so on). Since I was alone, I set small submenus of “seafood with tofu”, or “beef with mushrooms” or “chicken livers with noodles”. It was a real fun way to enjoy Thai food :) The day, after all, was a fine one indeed.

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