The top photograph shows a Thai woman hurriedly steering her child past a Thai man bombed out on Thailand’s cheap rocket fuel lao khao.
Don’t be fooled by the soft drinks bottle on the floor, it’s been filled with rural Thailand’s favourite drink, rice whiskey, branded as Lao Khao. The energy drink bottle is a cheap way for Thailand’s rural working class men to get a few low-cost shots of the hard stuff from their local village store.
On this particular day Wonderful Wi and myself were visiting one of Wilai’s aunts in Ban Miang Yai (Big Panda Village), about 12 kilometres from Nong Khai city.
The village is on the banks of the Mekong River which separates Thailand from Laos and runs through Nong Khai. This was one of the biggest days of the year for Ban Miang Yai as it was holding its annual long-boat race day.
Wilai’s aunt was laying on a barbecue and drinks for some of her family at her village home, and mid afternoon the long-boat races would be taking place on the Mekong River. It sounded like a perfect day.
By one in the afternoon the barbecue was sizzling away and nine or ten of us were enjoying ourselves with grilled meats, soft drinks and for the men a few shots of Scotch Whiskey heavily topped up with ice and soda water.
I was pleasantly surprised after being there for over two hours and not having been asked to spend one baht. My perfect day was getting even better. For me, Thai hospitality in Nong Khai had broken new grounds, I was the one getting free food and drink…. wonderful.
Twenty metres to the left of the driveway entrance was a very sharp incline which led from the main highway down to a street which ran for about 150 metres to the banks of the River Mekong.
This was where the afternoon’s long boat races would be reaching the finishing line on the river. I checked it out and a small stage with Thai singers was already in loud motion and food, drink and souvenir stalls were dotted about. I was looking forward to the boat races.
On my way down from the top of the road a Thai man in his early forties was stood at the junction of the highway and incline to the main village street. He stood there rooted to the spot, and on my return half of an hour later I passed him again standing in exactly the same place. I guessed his lift to work must be late.
I settled back down to the food, whiskey and jovial banter which was bouncing back and forth among Wilai and her family. A good while later the man was still rooted to the same spot.
‘Wilai, why is that man over there just standing on the road and not going anywhere’.
‘Hus…band, I ask aunt same before. She speak he ding dong (not all there) and dunk (drunk). He like dink (drink) lao khao too much’.
Amazingly, as if by magic, the ding dong and drunk man started to move the 20 metres or so along the highway towards the top of the driveway. It was painful to watch. It was literally ten paces forward and nine back. Indecision must have been etched on the soles of his feet, either that, or totally wankered.
Eventually he staggered to the top of the driveway, billowing in an imaginary wind. He then collapsed. Wilai’s aunt got up from where she was sat and approached him. She spoke in a stern voice.
My understanding of the Thai language is limited, my knowledge of the strange Thai and Lao mix they speak in Isaan is even less. Basically, even I knew she had told the man to get up and bugger off.
Then…. a sea of apathy drenched the tarmac road. The man somehow got to his feet and for the next ten minutes or so staggered back and forth over a five metre trail before he collapsed once more, his lao khao filled head just missing the bodywork of our rented car.
For the next 20 minutes he lay motionless making strange wailing and moaning noises. It was as if an invisible gang of thugs were continually kicking and punching him. Then silence broke out. Only the sizzling of beef and vegetables grilling on a barbecue could be heard.
After ten minutes of hush and still from the drunkard man, Wilai turned to me and spoke words which shook and shocked me. It was like listening to the winning speech from someone who had won an English tongue twister contest.
‘Hus…band, I want you check ding dong dunk man not dead’.
So there I was, a British tourist in Thailand, suddenly turned into a Nong Khai highway paramedic stood over a very still and prostrate body. And before you ask, no, it wasn’t me who pulled his trousers down.
Without my glasses it took me a few minutes to see the shallow breathing coming from his mouth. He was either alive or the invisible thugs were now jumping up and down on a lifeless body.
Lao khao is a very strong and potent drink. It also tastes like crap. I know because I once had a lao khao drinking contest with an on duty police officer at a carnival in Tak. I wrote Carnival Time way back in November 2008.
Wilai and myself had a great time watching the afternoon boat races and we left Ban Miang Yai with the lao khao man still sleeping next to our car, and me wondering how I’d whiled away over five hours with a Thai family and only spent about 30 baht. I also wondered how the English tongue twister Queen might get on with this one.
‘Wilai can you say Roland rode in a red Rolls Royce’.
‘Hus…band. I want try speak same you….Loland lode in a led Lolls Loyce’.
‘Wilai….absolutely bloody brilliant. Lell done Lilai, that was leally good’.
Best wishes from Beyond The Mango Juice and cheers with a Chang and not a lao khao.
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