Kevin and I, strolling through the Buddhist college, are taken in tow by a novice and invited to sit in at a family mourning of someone who will be cremated next week. We didn’t discuss the funeral or look at the dear departed. A small group were making strings of flowers while chatting with an older monk. Two women were stretched out trying to sleep while four others played some kind of gambling card game.
It was this group which gave Kevin and I a coke each and some kind of radish or turnip with the texture of a crisp apple, white and juicy. We chatted with the novitiate about language, and his lifestyle of meditation and begging before breakfast, and school in the afternoon – presumably Kevin and I fitted into their free study period, and the weather.
It is the little things that I notice here. I found some Benson’s Eclairs – good toffee, 2 for 1 baht, Nescafé at twice English prices, a Lion bar at 18 baht (c.50 pence), Rolos at 15 baht and a small bar of Mackintosh‘s chocolate at a hefty 24 baht. (Is it even marketed in the UK?)
I prefer the local cakes. Sweet iced fluffy sponges, very decorative at 5 baht, and the squares of sticky rice for just 2. The cheaper night stalls offer excellent sight-seeing, so North-East Thailand is a gourmand’s paradise for a sweet face like me.
At the customs entry point to the ferry over to Laos, there is an anti-hippy notice, not that many would try the passage here. Foreigners need to get a visa in Bangkok, a chancy business, and could then only go by taxi to Vientiane, just twenty kilometres into Laos.
A strange hybrid motorised cycle taxi is common here and reminds me of the Cyclemaster engine fitted to pushbikes in the fifties when the UK had a post war austerity economy. To me, the existence here of wealth – smart western clothes, sunglasses and a more powerful form of transport than the cycle taxis – indicate a more sinister way of making a living. The frontier town feel is unique. There’s a hint of lawlessness under the more sincere, because it’s offhand, reception we get. Although we’re a curiosity, our innocence enables us to gain entreé into the commonplace.