Thailand. Perhaps my most anticipated destination for the past year or two. Thai food. I had promised Ake so many times I would come find him. And his Thai food. I took myself to the dusty Isaan province and rode my first songteau to his small university town. I made it clear that other than giving him a big hug I just wanted to stuff myself silly, and he assured me not to worry, there was nothing else to do anyway.

 

Bingsu at Huck’s.

 

Day 44

Yangon → Mawlamyine → Myawaddy → Mae Sot

Walking The Friendship Bridge was like walking forward 20 years.

With my eyes on the Kayin state of Myanmar all month, I finally cut it out in a last minute insomniac decision. Thailand was still hot, but less rainy. I was too relieved and excited that I managed to make to immigration before the border closed and start the next chapter of my trip.

 

First real Thai meal, a huge milestone in my life! Seafood tom yum and fried greens with pork.

 

Day 45

Mae Sot

This country makes my insides smile. Wide.

The stands on the road that once sold betel are now replaced by ones that sell sticky rice and sweet drinks.

I went to war with a bear of a mosquito and lost badly.

On my way to the bus station, a taxi driver stopped in the middle of the road, running after me with my wallet which had fallen out of my bag.

 

Day 46

Maha Sarakham

I ran into Ake’s arms. His voice was a song to my ears. His apartment was named Sunshine—how fitting.

The next thing I knew I was sitting down with other MSK faculty to one of their favorite spots for lunch. The largest fish was brought out, stuffed with lemongrass and rubbed with salt until it formed a second skin on the beast of an animal. Was this a challenge?

We also had soft boiled eggs, Laotian papaya salad, Thai papaya salad, sausage, and vermicelli. After tasting it from the source, I can assure anyone reading this that papaya salad in America is such a lie. This had entire lime wedges mashed in, done with an enormous mortar and pestle, and enough chilies to get all your facial glands working.

Ake and I, being Ake and I, got told this was the first time all the food on the table was finished.

One nice luxury I did not have in Myanmar was readily available ice and filtered water at all the eateries. Bless Thailand!

Ake brought me as a guest to English Club. A few motivated students showed up that hot summer afternoon. Two were exchanging from Cambodia. The goal of the meeting was just to practice conversational English. If new words came up, we wrote it down and explained how to use it in context. The students wanted to hear about my hobbies back home, so we were writing down words related to outdoor adventure and how Ake and I met. We also figured out that the name of an American Christmas gift exchange game, White Elephant, originates from the fact that white elephants were a measure of an emperor’s wealth in ancient Thai kingdoms, and also because the maintenance of the animals was such a burden it could be given as a disservice disguised as a gift.

 

English Club at Maha Sarakham University.

 

I have a second stomach reserved for ice cream. The professors took me to Huck’s for my first bingsu, or Japanese shaved ice cream with over the top decor.

For dinner Ake took me to the small night market popular with the younger crowd. As I updated him on all the drama of our outdoor friends, he ordered grilled sausage. I tried grilled sticky rice on a kebab stick, typical of northeast Thailand. My foodie friend also recommended pandan custard, which is eaten as a dip for steamed cubes of bread. The stall had a variety of soymilks so of course I had the black sesame flavor. Just like the other countries in SEA, everything (drinks, sauces, rice, curries…) comes in plastic bags and is tied up with a rubber band.

 

Steamed bread, black sesame soymilk, and pandan custard.

 

Thailand could also be called Seven Eleven Land. I’m serious; I’ve seen three within the same block. We grabbed some interesting snacks before ending with a shared plate of sticky rice and mango at a small diner owned by the sweetest woman in the country.

Day 47

Maha Sarakham

It was a lovely day spent by myself in Huck’s, writing. I had all the more drive to put hours into this blog because another backpacking, residency-avoiding doctor contacted me on Instagram, asking about this guide to the Colombian Caribbean. He told me it was cool that I studied medicine and I told him not yet. Eventually, but not yet.

My time with Ake was so short. Dinner was our last meal together. He took me for a real pad thai experience. The frying pans were the size of tables, also great for frying mussels in a pancake batter, which Ake explained was why the two dishes are so often sold side-by-side. The cooks laughed as I asked about the process and watched their every move.

 

The full pad thai experience.

 

As an Asian I really look down on fried rice or fried noodles because in Chinese households it is a dish created from leftovers. It’s easy and there lacks the soul found in a noodle soup of quality bone broth or the millions of fresh dishes to pair with plain rice.

But I wasn’t leaving Thailand without one meal of this iconic dish. With limes, peanuts, prawns, and expert ratios, this was perfect.

 

I love you Akeapot—thank you for being such a gracious host! Kop khun kha!

 

Day 48 (am)

Maha Sarakham → Khon Kaen

It’s amazing how closely together Ake and The Mindfulness Project, my next stop, were located. Everything radiated from Khon Kaen, Thailand’s third largest city after Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

What was even more amazing was Brandon, another friend from the same outdoor club as Ake, was helping out at a Peace Corps site outside of Khon Kaen. And he happened to be visiting KK the same day I was passing through. Like me, he chose volunteering over the June Full Moon Party in the south.

I could not believe how many Gators from my small home town I had interacted with within the past weeks. But here we were, sitting in the market with more mango sticky rice and papaya salad. His friend serving in Peace Corps had been in Thailand long enough to translate our orders.

 

Khon Kaen lunch date with my boy Brandon.

 

A true gentleman, Brandon helped me carry my bag to the bus station and sort out the confusion of trying to get the right minivan bound for a remote village. There was no sure way of knowing if I chose the right one. The best we could do was trust the old men ushering me back and forth. I promised Brandon I’d be fine, and that I’d stay safe until we could hang out again in Florida.

 

 

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