Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 357: Ban Pai, Central Thailand

The days here in the village are broken down into distinctive elements. Everybody wakes rudely early with the cockerel, who for some reason has been calling through the night, and rides down to the temple. The morning chorus of scooters bursting into life heralds the start of another day. The local temple is only fifty yards from the house but nobody ever thinks about walking. The early morning light has a purple tint and smoke from the nights mosquito repelling fire still fill the air. If there is a cooler part of the day or night, then this is it. Make the most of it because it wont last long. The monks look fresh and alive but the people seem a little hung-over …. and that’s probably because they are. “Na mo at sa, pa ka ra toe, ah ra ha toe, sam ma, sam pud at sa” …… the ritual prayers begin.

Souls saved and good fortune sought, the day turns quickly to it’s second element: Food. Food -discussion, preparation and eating - is an all day event. It starts with a regiment of household scooters making for the markets in the town of Ban Pai. Not yet 8am and it’s already busy. People fill every narrow isle in the confusion of stalls but are still outnumbered by the flies. Some stall holders swat the little pests away with sticks and brushes, but most don’t bother … the flies will always win.

Fresh vegetables from the grocery market and eggs from the hardware stall. I’ve no idea why the hardware merchants sell eggs, but they do and people just laugh when I ask the question ’Why?’ Eggs are expensive these days, a consequence of mass culling to prevent the spread of bird-flu, but people still buy them. ’Kai’, they love their eggs in these parts.

From the hardware market onto to the fresh fish market. Very fresh, everything is alive and despatched to order. No returns, no refunds.

Then onwards to the fruit market, my favourite place. Flies have a sweet tooth so their numbers are greater here, but it’s also the place where we buy my favourite food. Mango with sticky coconut rice, “Muang kow meaow“. I’ve eaten this dish all across Souteast Asia but this stall seels the best that I’ve ever tasted. The yellow skinned mangos are always perfectly ripe and the rice just drippes with sweetened coconut milk. The vendor always calls me her son and smiles the famous Thai smile. Unfortunately it’s only a flash of gums that speaks volumes about the sugar content of her product and her dedication to enjoying it.

A day of cooking and eating follows and as the sun sinks down into the distant paddy fields, it’s time to return to the temple. In the evening, the young novice monks wait patiently to be anointed with cold water scented with fresh flower petals. The evening air if filled with the fragrance of incense as joss sticks smoulder everywhere. Most of these boys will not become monks, but every Thai male spends a certain amount of time as a novice at their temple. It’s a traditional right of passage and entering and leaving the order is a reason to celebrate.

So in the evening we celebrate. I don my finest Song-Kran shirt, which I surprisingly found in the ’Men’s Department’ and another night of gentle partying begins….. Mai pen rai kap

Post 356: Song Kran Festival ... Ban Pai, Thailand

From Phitsanulok we drove for an hour and arrived in a small village just a few miles outside of Ban Pai. The village probably has it’s own name, but I honestly don’t remember anybody ever mentioning one. The village kids were already prepared for their day of fun. Standing at the side of the quiet road, a huge ceramic urn filled with water and scoops with which to throw it onto any passing person or vehicle.

The first vehicle was an Isuzu D-Max, filled with soaking wet girls and armed to the hilt with high powered water guns. The kids of the village didn’t stand a chance and if there’s one thing that I hate, it’s an unfair battle. I borrowed a Honda Scoopy and made a dash for the town of Ban Pai, taking the back roads and avoiding most of the soakings.

An hour later, I returned to the village with no name and distributed my purchases amongst the kids. 500 Baht had bought me a veritable arsenal of water weapons. The village with no name was now the mightiest fighting force in all of Central Thailand and beware anybody who approached.

The day was hot but the water was cold. Everybody who passed along the road got a refreshing welcome and the kids were revelling in aquatic heaven. But the road was too quiet, too few victims.

It was time to mobilise the troops and take to the back of a D-Max. A mobile fighting force the likes of which has not been seen in these parts since the time of King Naresuan himself. We were invincible.

And as night fell, it was time to party …. Thai style …. With a little touch of San Francisco … mai pen rai kap