A day in Phrae for 100B

by Jess Thakkar

Being an expat in Thailand we have a finely tuned ability to find the most expensive options available to us. While embellishing in the excellent expat lifestyle might be fun, you might also enjoy the more simple experiences.

You might find it hard to believe but the old inexpensive Thailand that many flock here for is still here and now and as yummy as ever. My husband and I recently did a VLOG titled “A day in Phrae for 100B” and today I will share with you how our northern Thailand adventure went. If you are yearning for the old Thailand days or simply curious how one can enjoy a day here on so little then sit back and enjoy our adventure in Den Chai Phrae, Thailand. We started our day nice and early with a healthy walk to the nearest market.

Walking is something that I think we often forget to do in Thailand because it can be overwhelmingly hot at times but in the north its surprisingly brisk in the mornings especially during the months of November to March. The views surrounding us were of green seas of rice fields and blue mountains draped in fog as the morning sun gently crept over. I didn’t even bother taking photos at that point because I was so hypnotised by the morning’s misty ambiance. Arriving at the market in the north is a sense filled experience. Our local market starts set up at around 2am when the farmers from the mountains come down to get their tables ready. By 3am the market is buzzing and normally by the time we arrive, around 8:30am, it is already closing.

This day we arrived earlier then we normally would because we wanted to see the monks to receive blessings as it was a big Buddhist holiday. Walking through this market you see the usual pigs heads and every other body part proudly displayed for you to choose from next to north jungle truffles and bamboo roots on nearly every table. I have heard that Phrae province is rated as the happiest in Thailand. I am not sure if that is true but the overall feeling in the market here is one of happy cooperation with an almost Canadian like over politeness to it.

One of my absolute favourite things about this market is the clothing. Phrae province is well known for its indigo dyed clothing, among other wonderful things, which you get to see displayed here on almost everyone who goes to the market. It feels like there is a citywide blue uniform and so far I have not found out why everyone wears it, but they do. I think there is a sense of pride in the “mor hom” clothing because it comes from here and is sent all over Thailand and the world. I also think it brings the people who wear it a sense of belonging and strong community. After standing in line with our local mountain vendors to receive blessings from the monks we wander over to our favourite coffee shop in the back corner of the market. This coffee shop has two tables with a bunch of wooden stools scattered around and added as needed.

It’s a small box with a window that opens (usually at 2:30am – 8:30am) to take orders from and a few buckets off to the side to clean the dishes in. The location is almost as fabulous as the simple set up itself because it is right next to a Chinese temple. Whilst sipping on your “café borlan” you get to enjoy the beautiful architecture of the temple. I absolutely adore this place, I think most of all, because of the people that drink coffee there every day. When we arrive, there are always the same people sitting around chatting about the same things and I think they have been doing that very same thing since time itself began.

I never see cell phones or here talk about Donald Trump, instead there are newspapers and very serious discussions about which lottery numbers everyone is choosing. They kindly greet us with their toothless grins and grab stools to make room for us to sit at their tables. All of this and so far we have spent 0B of our total budget for the day. Time to order our coffee. We ordered two cups of hot coffee (ancient Thai style) and settled in for our morning awakening experience. After having a nice time chatting it up with the locals we paid our bill of 15B each and headed to our next stop, breakfast.

We are super lucky to have one of the most beautiful Thai woman I have had the pleasure of meeting living here in our little town making Chinese doughnuts for breakfast. I often just watch her in awe and appreciation as she prepares the doughnuts for us. She sits nice and tall with her perfect but soft posture as she rolls out her dough. Her smile is so radiant that you can see the rays of awareness flow right into the food. She really has this perfect doughnut dance worked out and I feel that no matter what I am eating, as long as she prepares it, it is good for me. We order 5 doughnuts each and pay her a total of 10B per person as we head on back to our home.

Arriving home, the heat was starting to pick up so we decide to take a little break and relax. Our sweet siesta was under a mango tree which was not yet ripe enough to eat but provided a perfect place to relax. Once we felt rested we decided to borrow two bicycles and take off to explore. We rode our bikes with no particular plan (another thing those of us living here forget to do sometimes) discovered rivers and dams, cute coffee shops in the jungle, an antiques shop, a winery and many simple restaurants that we put on our to do list. We even found a local teak woodworking shop that makes wooden horses where we stopped to chat and learn how they do what they do. When we finally worked up an appetite we went to a little restaurant on the side of a pond full of lotus flowers. We lovingly call this place our local “food court” because only people from our village can sell there and its full of homegrown local goodness all around.

My absolute favourite “khao soi” in Thailand comes from one the stalls there alongside noodle soup, cow mun gai, yummy northern curry, grilled chicken and for dessert fried banana. I order my “khao soi” (if you don’t know what this is do yourself a favour and try it today) and drank the water that she flavours with either jasmine flowers or pandan leaves. My total cost for my meal was 25B and I left there in absolute food coma heaven. We have now spent a total of 50B out of our total budget and have had a lot of fun doing it. Up next on the agenda is a little golf. What!? You might be surprised to hear the word golf in an article about living frugally but yep, that’s what I wrote.

Our town has a 9 hole golf course and driving range which is taken care of by the army. We ride our bikes up and decide to just hit some balls at the range for some fresh air and little swing practice. One bucket of balls cost me 20B and lasts me about 45 minutes which is just about enough for me. If we do play the whole course the fee is 200B per person. I had a full day of markets, sightseeing, eating and exercise and I still have 30B left for dinner. The “khao soi” I had for lunch kept me very satisfied for the rest of the day, but we decide we should go out and find a small dinner and enjoy the sunset.

We walked to another market which is set up at our train station on Mondays and Wednesdays every week. Our daughter joined us on this walk because many of her friends go to play on the blow up bouncy castle after school. I felt super blessed as we walked past the old teak houses that sprinkle the countryside here and watched as the sun started setting behind the mountains. We walked through the train station that seemed as if time stopped 50 years ago and were spoiled with the smiles of all the people we passed by. The market was full of people from our village and of course everyone was wearing their finest Phrae blues.

I have been told that mor hom is considered an acceptable outfit for any occasion from weddings to house warmings. Children play nearby as parents walk around buying local food and catching up with friends. We use our remaining 30B to buy coconuts, meat sticks, deep fried veggie patties and let my daughter play on the bouncy castle. I sit eating my food, watching life happening around me and feel the coolness take over as the sun finally sets for the evening. 100B was more then I needed to explore my town and enjoy a day in Phrae.

My husband tells me we could have spent far less then we did. Our local forest monk temple welcomes the entire town to eat for free everyday and even loves when people take home the leftovers to share with friends and family. Had we gone there we would not have had to spend money on lunch at all with the added benefit of a free meditation session. I do not think we need to try to spend as little as possible all the time but I love that the limited budget offered us the experience of exploring our little town and appreciating the simple things. I encourage us all to get out there and remember the real Thailand and simple life that is right there behind Chinese temples and down unexplored soi’s.

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