hilltribe children, local market, monk’s blessings, opium history and snake whiskey!

24 12 2007

the title pretty much sums up our second day in the golden triangle.darin, our guide, took us by private boat up the ruak river so that we could see where it meets the mekong river. if we’re facing south, burma is behind us to the north with laos to our east, thailand to our west.IMG_6370.jpgcruising up the ruak river

it’s a little bizarre seeing the three countries converge. the golden triangle was named for the opium, or “black gold,” that was produced and trafficked from thailand and burma to the rest of the world. opium production and sale was legal in thailand until the 50’s when it was outlawed. copious amounts are still produced in thailand today — the bulk of the world’s opium comes from afghanistan and burma.today, the golden triangle is still a place of beauty, but it’s also a place where thais flock to go to the casino. the casino is called the win-win club, and it’s located right across the ruak river. not far from the statue of the buddha of the golden triangle is a parking lot and immigration control for thai citizens that want to gamble away their hard-earned money in burma. casinos are illegal in thailand, but there are rumors that the owners of the win-win club are actually thai.

IMG_6394.jpgbuddha of the golden triangle

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the win-win clubthe casino should probably be called the “lose-lose club.”

we got off the boat and took a local song thaew. a song thaew is very much like a jitney. if you’re neither thai nor filipino, that probably won’t mean much to you. it’s basically an open air van with benches inside that are normally crammed with people. the song thaew drove us all the way up to the top of a hill to the golden triangle overlook.

IMG_6395.jpginside a song thaew

IMG_6400.jpggolden triangle overlook

there were young hill tribe girls singing. for about 100 baht, the girls will sing a song to the tune of “20 baht each girl for photo” in english, french, spanish, chinese, thai, japanese. the money helps pay for their education.

IMG_6412.jpghill tribe girls

we hopped in a tuk tuk and went off to the local market. this is probably the cleanest wet market i’ve ever been to. fish and meat were being sold and sliced on site. of course there were flies here and there (to be expected), but i was amazed at how fresh the meat, fish and produce looked.

IMG_6435.jpgfresh produce

a huge fish sitting in a tub caught our eye. darin told us it was giant mekong catfish and that its meat is full of omega-3 fatty acids, so it’s oilier. she also told us that it’s fattier and not unlike pork. porky-tasting fish? and the camp chef will cook it for us? sold! we bought a kilo. more on the meal later.

IMG_6463.jpggiant mekong catfish

brian ended up buying some barbecued pope’s nose as a snack — all of the barbecue looked really good. there were skewers with impaled chicken gizzards, kidneys, and hearts, as well as the meat. i contemplated buying the roasted chicken legs. claws still intact!

IMG_6442.jpgpope’s nose barbecue!

IMG_6444.jpgchicken legs

IMG_6461.jpgfrog legs, anyone?

from the market, we got back into the tuk tuk to the temple. there were young kids playing traditional thai music for school money. inside the temple, we did a proper buddhist blessing with the lighting of the candle, incense sticks, and the offering of the flowers. a monk also blessed us and gave us a string to tie around our wrists. right for men, left for women.

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funny observation: as the monk was saying his prayer for us, a fly was buzzing around his foot. the monk slapped at his foot to swat the fly as he said the prayer.

after the temple, it was time to go back to the camp for lunch.the chef took our fish and prepared it three ways:

1) soup with lemongrass and chili base

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2) boiled, served with a side of chili sauce

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3) sautéed with fish sauce and green peppercorns

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the sautée with the green peppercorns was my favorite. the fish tasted more meaty. the skin of the fish was thicker, and slightly chewy, but not as rubbery as shark skin. i ended up eating more than brian.

after lunch, it was time for a trip to the hall of opium. the museum was built in honor of the queen mother who was dedicated to reforesting of poppy fields in the region. her goal was to educate about the history and the impact of opium production in thailand, as well as educate and find new employment for poppy farmers.we learned a lot of information, not just about the history of opium in thailand and china, but some fun tidbits about the u.s./cia involvement funding the drug trade globally. fun factoid: benjamin franklin was addicted to opium.

after all of the education, it was time for drinks!

brian decided to sample the local tipple: snake whiskey! the local people make whiskey from rice. i’m guessing that the chinese belief in the strength of animals being transferred to people if their consumed/drank is at work here — the hill tribe people are descendents of chinese settlers who migrated from china into burma, thailand, laos, and vietnam. so they make the liquor, throw in a cobra either biting its tail or another smaller snake, some herbs (probably ginseng).

cobra in the snake whiskey

brian tried it first. i decided to join him for the second shot. it’s not awful. the bitter aftertaste is most likely from the herbs, not the snake.emboldened by his two snake whiskey shots, brian decided to try another version of the whiskey. this one had an even bigger snake inside. it was too much snake for one man.

snake whiskey

so ended our second day in the golden triangle. more pics posted on flickr.

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