Sunday 19 February 2012

Riding on Borders - Day Three

See Map for Day Three

We started the day early, riding to the mountainous section of the Thai-Laos border. We climbed to a viewpoint at the top of a rocky outcrop to view the cliffs lining the border north to south into the distance, framing the misty Laos valleys below. These stunning hills and cliff faces created an impressive landscape, and I was really looking forward to the ride to come.

To the left Thailand, to the right Laos.
A couple of little girls in traditional dress from a nearby Hmong village were about, entertaining themselves with the Hmong version of Miss Mary Mack.

Some kids from a nearby Hmong village keeping entertained.
We continued riding the windy hills before stopping at a cafe with a great view and a beautiful young family who were busy sorting the morning's strawberries into punnets. With a menu only in Thai, the nevertheless welcoming hostess guided us into her kitchen to show us what was on offer. It was a very simple brekkie, a delicious slow cooked pork that was shredded, put on a bed of rice and served with a homemade chilli dipping sauce; but it tasted wonderful.

When you cannot talk Thai, cannot read Thai, sometimes you dont know what you are going to be eating. But this was an amazing breakfast.
To top it all off they gave us a complimentary plate of small strawberries, possibly too small for sale in the punnets, but they were the most perfectly shaped strawberries I'd seen and the intensity of flavour in these tiny morsels blew us away. They must have been organic or something, and picked just ripe; we couldn’t get enough of them and ended up buying a massive punnet for the road, which we fixed to our motorbike basket.

Chiang Rai Province strawberries
We continued along the windy border road, which started to get bumpy with potholes appearing every now and then to challenge us. The sun continued to rise and the countryside views continued to impress as we wound our way down from the mountains towards the Mekong.

Clouds through the haze.
Build me a house here please - a hut in the hills along the Thai-Laos border.
About three hours later we were on the banks of the mighty Mekong River. Not thinking about it too much, we stopped at a nice viewing area and took out our punnet of strawberries. Oh no! Our lovely strawberries had turned into a juicy mess. The heat and vibration of the ride had bruised their delicate skins and they were now swimming in a rich red syrup. I hesitatingly tasted one, went "Mmm!" with surprise and then, with the red juice staining our hands, we finished the lot. It was an amazing way to eat them, they tasted extra sweet, yum …

The best way to eat strawberries. Buy a big box for 50 baht, put them on the front of the bike in the sun, ride on bumpy roads for 2-3 hours. Then eat.
The rest of the day was a solid ride, as we wanted to get to Sop Ruak to see the Hall of Opium exhibition before it closed. We made it on time and the interactive and informative exhibition was worth it, even though I'm not usually one for museums. I knew a little about the British influence in China around the time but not in this way. Opium was an illegal substance in China, but that didn’t stop the British East Indian Company from smuggling it in (long story short, this happened as Britain wanted to buy Chinese tea and preferred to pay for it in opium rather than silver). When China decided to put their foot down and stop the smuggling, Britain went to war. China lost and a treaty was signed. China was forced to make opium legal and among other things, was also forced to give Hong Kong to the Queen of England for 99 years. This basically destroyed China. With an estimated 27 percent of adult males addicted to opium, added to the two opium wars and losing some of their territory, its easy to see why. All because Britain wanted tea …

BBQ - Chiang Saen Style
Staying at Chiang Saen, a border town on the Mekong River, we ate dinner at one of the many street stalls opposite our guesthouse. We reclined on mats beside the river, trying a local chicken dish where the juicy meat is placed inside a joint of bamboo with herbs and fresh spices, sealed at the ends with thick wads of banana leaves and cooked over an open charcoal fire. For me it was a form of torture. It was the most fragrant, flavoursome, tastiest thing I had eaten on this trip, but beneath this seemingly innocent layer dwelt a danger that I'd never experienced before. So it goes like this: you take a bite, are amazed by the flavours and want more. Another couple of mouthfuls and the delayed chilli heat kicks in, but you don't initially know what it is from; usually you've had something like a freshly spiced som dam or roast pork crackling dipped in roasted chilli sauce, in between. So you keep eating, and the delayed but unyielding burn just keeps building up upon itself. You finally realise it's the damn chicken, so you pause eating it, but by now its too late. Your eyelids are sweating, you mouth has become numb, you cannot hear anything, and your head feels like you've drunk too much. But here comes the strangest part - you still feel like you want more! And so you take another bite after painful bite ... torture ...

Bamboo Chicken - a form of torture, its the most fragrant, juicy, tasty tender chicken, with searingly strong delayed chilli heat.


  1. Aunty Mei Ling frm Penang27/6/12 10:54 pm

    Wow! lots of tasty food. Yummy.....

    1. Sure was tasty, we thoroughly recommend heading there to eat it!