Pua, Nan, Thailand. Lived there for 3 months. It was a quirky, odd tale of two dropout missionaries making due with their circumstances by living in a silly Thai mountain town and teaching English.
In my previous blog, I described what teaching looked like during our time in Pua. Teaching definitely dictated most of our time in this small mountain town, but we will always remember it by the other things we did.
All the food
Thai food forever changed our lives starting from when we were in Bangkok. When we arrived to Pua we were very excited to continue eating all the Thai food we could, but we were especially thrilled that it was SO cheap. Most meals we would buy were 30-60 Thai Baht (THB). For a frame of reference, currently while writing this, the exchange rate is 1usd to 36.88 THB. That means most of our meals were around 1 dollar each. These meals were also usually rice based which meant they were extremely filling, and they didn't skimp out on the protein either.
One of the most difficult things about arriving in Pua was that it isn't traveled a lot by westerners, this means that it is essentially barren from the map. There isn't really a way to know what the stores or restaurants contain until you go inside of them, because the outside is just a bunch of squiggly Thai language! We would always ask anyone who spoke English where they liked to eat, and between that and trial and error, we had our "go to" places to eat. We slowly
began developing our memory map for delicious Thai restaurants. It started with what we called "The Place to the Left", because if you left the school and took a left, you'd arrive there. It was a very safe option, and the sauce they put on their pork and chicken over rice plate was simply delicious. "Crappy place to the right" started after we went right out of the school and it was straight up nasty. I loved going to "Big Portion Place" because they gave us SO much food, and it was absolutely phenomenal. Kathryn would always eat Nam Sai, which was essentially a clear soup that would have onions, other vegetables, and she would request "gai" which was chicken. I loved Hana Moo Khao, which was a delicious green vegetable, with pork and rice. Ah it was so delicious, I am getting hungry just thinking about it.
Just when we thought we were experiencing the best foods in Thailand, we were introduced to Khao Soi. My sister had told me before about Khao Soi, but honestly I had forgotten. It wasn't until we were on our way back from Laos, and we had stopped for breakfast that one of our fellow teachers was eating it for breakfast. Yeah, when you are in Thailand there aren't many breakfast options so you are eating spicy food all the day. At this point Kathryn and I were on the road for quite a while so we would occasionally treat ourselves to "Western food" by finding ice cream, pancakes, or french fries. For example, when we had to travel 12 hours (one way) to Savannakhet, Laos over thanksgiving, we treated ourselves for a delicious western breakfast as our Thanksgiving meal. When you are traveling, special meals like this will never be forgotten. For us, this was the first time we had been away from home during major holidays, so it was special to have french toast, frappuccinos, and pancakes! Memory is always driven by the senses. The tastes in Thailand are some of the most vivid memories from our consistent time of travel in SE Asia.
Honestly, when you live in a rural mountain town like Pua, there isn't a whole lot to do. Whether it was after school, or during weekends, we would ask ourselves "what do we want to do". We would always say "eat, take a ride, or watch Game of Thrones."
When we first arrived in Pua, we had no idea how to find a motorbike to rent. One of the fellow English teachers at our school talked with the person he rented his motorbike from, which set us up. It cost about $100 USD a month. We would have to fill it up with gas between 1-2 times a week. Each time we filled it up with gas it cost about 85 baht: $2.40 USD. This shows you just how convenient it was to ride around and take in the scenery. We would just drive and drive. I remember just how bad our butts would hurt from kilometer after kilometer. Honestly, before this time in Thailand, I had never consistently driven any kind of motorized bike. One of the greatest rides we took was what was initially supposed to be about a half hour. We couldn't help but continue up this beautiful mountainside where we would take occasional walks by the rice patty fields. It got to the point where I realized we were embarking on a big loop that I had been wanting to take! It turned out though, that we were dangerously low on gas, mistakenly almost too low to even get back. We stopped at Doi Phukha National Park, just to see if they knew of any places I could get gas nearby. This looked like a lot of crazy hand gestures and me pretending to fill up my gas. Somehow it was communicated to me that I should be looking for gas around the next two turns. It turned out to be a shack that looked a lot more like a little mart or market. We initially passed it but then returned when there were only mountains and fields further down the road. Using gestures and silly sounds, I managed to make it known I needed gas. It turned out though that I had very little cash on me, perhaps 20 baht or so. The nice lady made a gesture that her soda bottle full of gas was actually 40 baht. I thought we were screwed. Thankfully though, life is simple in the mountains, and she just poured half of her bottle in my tank! We proceeded on our way with just enough gas to make it to Bo Kluea, which had an atm as well as a janky gas station which needed to be "turned on" in order to work. The rest of the drive was absolutely gorgeous, and as we returned on the southern look, we stopped for crepes at "Whiskey Man's" where we had been before. Why is he called Whiskey Man? Well, there is a woman who makes the crepes. Her husband though, is named "Whiskey Man" because the first time we were there, he insisted we drank his homemade, wood-aged whiskey with him. Considering I was always the driver of the motorbike, it was Kathryn who had to take the brunt of the whiskey, we had to be polite, you know? I remember Kathryn singing in my ear all the way back to Pua. I then rewarded her with pancakes at Pua Cafe.
Change of Pace
Overall, Pua gave us some time to collect ourselves. We had just been in an extreme environment full of people. We knew we wanted to get back home to the States to get married, and there we would finally meet each other's family. Up to this point, our relationship had experiences all the thrills and romance of travel. It was here, though still "traveling", that we would settle down for a bit and learn more about our relationship. We learned to be bored together. I think Pua was such a gift of a time for us because had we headed home any earlier, we would have been bombarded with family and wedding plans. It was here that the dust settled and we were able to find each other in the slowness and the mundane. We had our nightly routine of walking 3 minutes to 7 Eleven every night for cookies. We binge watched Game of Thrones, and survived holidays away from home, spending our Thanksgiving in Laos, and our Christmas eve in a movie theater watching Star Wars in Thai. We drove for countless hours on country roads, finding random gems, like stumbling upon a remote village in the mountains during a festival where children dressed in glittery outfits threw bean bags back and forth with each other. We persevered the language barrier and made light of any of the awkward and hilarious moments we would encounter. We said yes to forever as I proposed on one knee on a hazy riverside dock, in Chiangmai.
We were excited when it was time to leave that place considering it was a bit isolated, but we both knew even then how much we would miss those simple days.