From Nan town we would be venturing East into the mountains to more remote reaches of Nan province. We stopped at the local coffee shops for one last dose before hitting the highway. Candied ginger was in order as the road became more winding and we reached the first of several viewpoints, some with formal parking spaces, and some improvised to rest the van engines. Watching the fog evaporating in the valleys was beautiful — and an omen about tonight’s weather.
About an hour into our drive, before we entered Doi Phu Kha National Park, we stopped near a small, seemingly new hilltop temple. Nearby were reasonable restrooms, and vendors offering various tourist items and snacks. Five small miang kum packages — featuring peanuts, toasted coconut shreds, bits of lime, Thai chillies, and a sweet sauce, all tightly wrapped in a wild pepper leaf — were sold on a bamboo skewer for easy “clean hands” eating. Genius. Must try at home!
About an hour later, we drove into the Phu Fa Development Center, a project of the Crown Princess to improve the status of (provide more income to) the indigenous population. We briefly viewed a terraced hillside where residents were growing strawberries and lettuce, and then strolled through the forest along a walkway with extensive photo exhibits which, unfortunately, were captioned nearly exclusively in Thai. Kasma translated as our guides indicated the uses of the native plants discovered by the Lua and Mlabri people, some edible, some medicinal, some for baskets, some for construction, and so forth. (It got a little overwhelming after a while.) We also provided a distraction to students at a local school who clearly are not used to seeing pale-skinned strangers attempting to interest them in pictures of themselves on LCD screens. At the end of the tour, we purchased some carrying bags made from dyed vine stems. These were quite expensive; a significant part of the price must be considered a donation to the work of the project.
The nearby Phu Fa Cultural Center was more like an office, souvenir shop, cafe and viewpoint, so we did not linger. Down the hill we had a one plate lunch of basil pork over rice. And then, back on the highway.
Arriving in Bo Klua, you could feel the slower pace of life in this town. The smell of burning charcoal filled the air, as several low-ceilinged buildings boiled water to produce salt. Outside, a man lowered a large bucket into a saline well, providing the raw material for this generations old business. Nearby, a man sat checking his smartphone under a large “Street Barber” sign; I was tempted to get a trim, but maybe another day. We snapped a few photos at the town bridge, and marveled at the surprisingly low water level. It is the dry season now, but these are drought conditions.
A short drive up the hill, we checked in at the Bo Kluea View Resort. They didn’t have enough rooms for our entire group, so I will be sharing with another “single supplement” for the night, and Kasma and Michael will be staying at another hotel. The cats were away, but they returned before the mice could get into too much trouble. After setting up our cabin, which featured two single beds and a daybed on the side next to the bathroom, we put on light jackets for happy hour.
Oh, I nearly forgot the part where I managed to close a circuit plugging my camera battery charger into the power strip, which created a most unpleasant sensation in my finger. The consensus of the group was if I could still walk and talk, I should avoid seeking medical attention. Instead, I could self-medicate with scotch on the rocks. With peanuts, BBQ cashews, and other snacks, we managed to pass the time until the dining room was ready for us.
The resort had shortened its menu since Kasma’s last visit, but they still served their famous fried chicken with makwen pepper. Or ma-kwan or ma-khaen (มะแขว่น), I’m not quite sure. It was tasty, with a hint of orange spice, but Thai chickens seem to be as much bone as meat, so we could have used a slightly larger serving. This was not a problem with a deep fried pork leg, which contained plenty of meat, juicy fat, and crisp skin on its ample bones. The flavor wasn’t as excellent as I’ve had elsewhere in Thailand, but it’s always fun to eat. One of the more interesting dishes was a ground pork “dip” with very intriguing spicing, served with crunchy vegetables and slices of hard boiled egg. I would love to try it again. A tender whole steamed fish, a salad of ferns, and fried fish fillets laid on top of a green curry were all very good. I don’t know what we missed form the longer menu, but we could not possibly have eaten any more.
After a night in the fog, we will depart for Pua, a small town once powerful from the salt trade, now home to a mix of hill tribe groups with their own unique crafts.