#Phitsanulok & #Phichit #Thailand: Rental Bikes, River-walks, Thai Food and Coffeeee…

And on the Seventh Day God Created Thai food

And on the Seventh Day God Created Thai food

Going over the imaginary line from Khon Kaen, in the Isaan region of Thailand, to Phitsanulok in the north is like visiting another country. The dialect is different, the food is different and the way of life is different—a little bit in every case. But those little bits add up. Isaan is closely related to Communist Laos, somber and serious by Thai standards while northern Thailand is quintessentially happy-go-lucky. P-loke (for short) sits at the confluence of those two AND central Thailand, something like halfway between Bangkok and Chiangmai.

Sounds good to me...

Sounds good to me…

It’s a revelation. Where in the USA would you find bicycles for rent on the sidewalk, by card-swipe, to return at any related rack? Good luck with that; maybe try Seattle. Then there are scheduled exercise and massage sessions at local parks. Nights belong to the river: mini-clubs lining it with booze and blues, all the things you shoulda said, and all the things you shoulda done, in one convenient bottle, night market adjacent.

Thailand is a cultural sponge, soaking up from one and giving to the other, that seems to evolve with the passage of time and ascensions to thrones. I don’t think it’s an insult to say that Thailand holds the hand that holds the money. It’s just reality, the reality of an old-fashioned woman looking to marry up, rather than re-invent the wheel. Thailand is not the only country that prefers to follow leaders more than make the rules up as it goes along—Peru, Ethiopia and certain Slavic countries come to mind. If that means more prostitution—not ‘trafficking’, mind you—then so be it. Success is relative.

Massage in the Park

Massage in the Park

So all in all, P-loke is a pleasant enough stop on a swan-song tour of Thailand. But it’s still a good-size city, sprawling and crawling. Thailand is at its best in the villages, smaller the better, as long as there’s WiFi. Next stop down the line is Pichit, capital of one of Thailand’s smaller provinces, and accessible by railroad—yes! Best part is that it’s only an hour or so away—easy peasy. This makes P-loke look like Bangkok. This is nice. This is small town. This is zzzllleeepppyyy. Fortunately there are ways to wake up.

Can it be true? That sleepy somnabulant boozy bamboozulant Thailand has gotten hip to high-test, coffee, that is? It’s hard to believe, I know. This is the country that has almost single-handedly kept Nescafe solvent over the years, first with the ‘classic’ blend, then the more recent 3-in-1 (blecch) offerings. I mean, the good stuff was always there, but you’d have to look hard or know certain people. 

Coffee on the Sidewalk, Pichit

Coffee on the Sidewalk, Pichit

When Starbucks finally entered the market, rack rates were something like $3-4-5 for the 12-16-20 ounce standard brews, half again American prices, and about the same as Europe. A modern standard espresso was three bucks anywhere, if you could find it.

Fast forward to the present and prices have sky-rocketed in the Land of Subsidies. It’s hard to find a meal for a dollar now, more like twice that, and that Nescafe price has doubled, to twenty baht. Interestingly enough, prices for the fresh stuff have actually come down, as they indeed should. Coffee by the cup is nothing but retail, dahling. Forty baht became standard, and now it’s thirty, with twenty-five popping up more and more.

Selling religious items for the trip

Selling religious items for the train trip

Lately, though, I’ve found a couple with twenty baht prices, same as the Nescafe. Well, that’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? Not necessarily. My father-in-law refused to drink my coffee last time I offered it. But that’s changing. Think this is for tourists only? Mais non. The last place I got fixed up, at a stall on the street, downtown Pichit, had no signs in English whatsoever, right there on the sidewalk, right in front of the bank, just like downtown Flagstaff or some other hip place in the US. Who needs Red Bull? Cheers.

If P-loke was a revelation, then Pichit is a mind-blowing experience.  It’s almost like falling in love–all over again.  There’s even a fair going on while I’m here.  Thais like to have fun, and I like that.  I’m good.

June 2014

p.s. Those Starbucks prices still exist, for some reason, and even higher at the airport. Mahketing, dahling, it’s all mahketing. It’s about where you’re seen and who you’re seen with, conspicuous consumption…