We awoke to a foggy morning at the Boklua View resort. Donning our light jackets, we grazed the breakfast buffet, where you could sample the local jams on large pieces of homemade bread you toast over a charcoal fire. And of course, eat rice porridge and other common breakfast fare. We soon found ourselves headed into the forest on the winding road to our next stop in Nan province, the small town of Pua.
Our first photo stop was compelled by the need to rest the van engines after a relentless uphill climb. The bowl of clouds in the valley reminded me a bit of the Haleakala crater, although we were closer to 4,000 feet than 10,000. At a nearby campground we found a convenient rest stop, ice cream shop, and a Himalayan Wild Cherry tree that still had its blossoms. On the opposite side of the campground, Thai tourists posed for pictures against the backdrop of the valley, assuming a wide variety of humorous poses and facial expressions. What’s the hash tag for this place?
We stopped at a modest forest museum, really more of a information center with three display cases of local beetles, and investigated the park cabins for a future stay. The cabins are built on the edge of a hill, and feature large decks with a view of the forest. Each unit has four beds arranged dormitory style, a small kitchen, a shower, and a toilet. It may be luxury camping, but where would we eat? At least there were interesting insects to photograph.
As we wound our way down to Pua, we had to turn around a few times to find a fabric shop that Kasma had learned about at a show in Nan or Bangkok. Unfortunately, their stock on hand had none of the extraordinary weaving Kasma had bought before; perhaps their best work was already out to other retailers?
Pua’s main intersection requires you to turn to left and make a U-turn to go right. (Thailand is a left-side-drive country.) Therefore, it often seems that if you want to go one block in a particular direction, and have to go eight blocks to get there. But we eventually found an open restaurant large enough for our group and sat down for a plate of noodles. Although I love curry noodles (khao soi), I decided to try the khanom jin nam ngio (or nam ngiao), a Northern Thai specialty. A key ingredient is a dark, stringy, chewy flower bud which gives the dish its name; it’s a little tastier than its appearance would lead you to expect. Our broth also contained a few chunks of meat and tendon (probably beef), cubes of congealed pork blood, and pieces of tomato. I joked with others that they were having comfort food and I was having discomfort food, but of course any of these dishes is oddly unfamiliar the first time you have it.
Part of Pua’s population was given land as a concession for ending a communist insurgency, and this has led to neighborhoods of mixed identity and origins. We explored the narrow streets of this “hill tribe” area searching for cottage industries. Eventually we found a home batik workshop where stamps are dipped in hot wax and applied to fabric to preserve the fabric’s original color when it is dipped in indigo dye. A small stock was on hand, but they pointed us to retail shops that sold their products so we had our pick of many of their designs.
Eventually, we tired of shopping and after a few more U-turns our vans climbed the steep driveway to the Oopkaew Resort (or Oobgaew if no one understands you; this is a difficult word to pronounce). We seem to have taken over the eight rooms in a two-story building, and they are very lovely. Some of the features are perfect for me: lots of electrical outlets, including one that works even when you remove your keyfob from the socket that enables electricity to the other outlets and the air conditioner; chairs in which to sit and blog; a kettle to boil water and two extra bottles of water for that purpose; and rough-textured tiles on the bathroom floor that resist slipping. But others might appreciate something on which to rest luggage (other than the floor) and a way to easily shut off the exterior light that casts a yellow beam into the room at night.
Wat Phuket is a popular temple for sunset photography. Upon arrival we were distracted by roosters attacking one another. Once that quieted down, we could turn our attention to the Tai Lue architecture and interior decorations, and the panoramic view of surrounding fields, most featuring corn with prominent tassels. Once the sun sank below the hills, it was time for happy hour.
We probably surprised the restaurant by arriving a bit early and telling them not to serve us dinner right away. Kasma ordered fried chicken tendons (served with a little sweet chilli dipping sauce on the side) to accompany our motley collection of snacks. After the scotch stopped flowing, we continued with our main courses. Chunks of fried fish were served with green papaya salad over the top instead of the usual green mango salad; this was a very good idea, apparently borrowed from a more famous restaurant in town. A salad of enoki mushrooms with shrimp was tangy and spicy. A seafood curry was comforting, and slices of bitter melon with egg and bean threads (crystal noodles) was mild and tasty. Also, I have a photo of a hot and sour soup showing a lot of mushrooms, but I can’t recall what else was in it, maybe pork ribs.
Near the resort, vendors set up a night market every weekend, so naturally we stopped to browse, with a special focus on the dessert carts. The best was a stand featuring “floating lotus” (bua loy), colorful little rice dumpling balls and taro chunks in a thick, salty-sweet coconut milk sauce. A couple spoonfuls of this rich confection was filling enough, but it’s hard to stop there. The women working the stand were very excited when told their version was better than the one we had at the famous Aunty Nim’s in Nan.
We will have two more nights in Pua, and days filled with exploration of the local temples, shopping for craft products, and visiting a hill tribe who have shifted the base of their economy from opium to coffee.