While this is a bit out of chronological order, I had to revisit one of our last Thailand adventures. After our wonderful time in Khon Kaen, Thailand and before we headed to Burma, Mitch and I took a short bus ride down to a small town called Ko Phet to stay with a family and experience life in a small, eastern village of Thailand.
We stayed with Lamai, a beautiful Isaan native, and Jimmy, her Welsh husband, and their three children, Lizzy (14 yrs), Jolie (4 yrs, named after Lamai’s favorite actress Angelina Jolie), and Amy (about to be 1 yr). They lived in a larger, bit more western home right next to the village where Lamai grew up, Ko Phet.
On our first evening, Jimmy and Lamai showed us around Lamai’s hometown, Ko Phet. We met a lot of her extended family and caught a glimpse of rural life in eastern Thailand.
Lamai had so many funny, small-town anecdotes to share, but I thought this one was the most endearing. When Lamai and her husband first started the home stay, the villagers wondered why falangs would not drink the town water. After some observation, they determined it was because falangs only like drinking from water bottles, so they began bottling up their normal water and offering it to visitors, haha! Just a wonderful example of how accommodating, thoughtful, and hospitable the people of eastern Thailand are. Lamai warned us beforehand not to accept any water, including unsealed bottled water, from anyone in town because while their bodies are able to handle the lake water, foreign stomachs could not take it quite as well.
Khmer Ruins at Phi Mai
The next day, Jimmy took us to see the Khmer ruins of Phi Mai, which was a large temple located on one end of a large highway that connected to Angkor Wat back in the day! Crazy! The area of the temple is comparable to that of Angkor Wat, so Phi Mai was most likely quite an important city in the Khmer empire.
Foraging for Dinner
On the last day, we decided to roll up our pants and get dirty. Lamai and her mom, Bua Yai, took us foraging for some traditional Isaan village food: mud crabs, spiders, and scorpions. This was no joke — the townspeople, including Lamai’s family, still fry a pan of these critters up on a regular basis. In fact, Bua Yai is famous in Ko Phet for being the best forager, and she loves being in the fields foraging on a daily basis. This is something that takes all day: villagers literally look for food all morning for lunch, then forage some more all afternoon for dinner. It’s hard work.
Okay, let me start this section off by saying I have self-diagnosed, mild arachnophobia; nothing paralyzing, but I’m more afraid than the average spider-averse person. Sometimes, when I find a spider in my apartment, I call my mom or sister or Mitch (when he lived in Seattle) to help talk me through exterminating the eight-legged creature. Anyway, I thought I was being pretty brave by agreeing to tag along this spider foraging morning. Little did I know, the spiders were poisonous, at large as my hand, furry, and fierce!
The process for spider foraging is as follows:
1. Look for a hole in the ground covered by a web (ugh, I’m getting creeped out just writing about it)
2. Begin digging using the spear-like shovel while following the hole’s path (eek…)
3. When the hole suddenly gets larger (gah, shivers!), you’ve reached the creature’s lair!
4. Use a stick to gently agitate it until it runs out in a rage (AHHH!). Try not to injure the spider — that makes it harder to clean prior to frying…
5. Allow the creature to climb onto your spear-shovel (oh god, that’s way too close for comfort) and shake it off in the Basket of Evil
6. DO NOT GET BITTEN
Actually, it was kind of funny when I asked about getting bitten. I was very concerned and asked what you would do, what medications there were, if you needed to see the doctor, etc. Lamai made a big deal about not getting bitten, but then when I asked all these questions, she just said you don’t really do anything — if you’re bitten on the hand, your hand and forearm turn black and you wait for it to heal. WHAT!?
Anyway, I did not participate in spider foraging, I merely documented it, which I would like to say was already very brave of me (tooting my own, brave horn).
They caught about four or five spiders before we continued on for crabs, which I did help catch. The method was the same: look for a hole, dig to the bottom, gentle remove crab. I ended up being a great digger (ability to follow the hole while not injuring the food), while Mitch was the extraction expert. We caught a lot of mud crabs, and on the way home, Mitch caught a scorpion!
That night for dinner, Lamai fried everything for us, and Mitch enjoyed all of it, including the cricket appetizer she got for him at the local market. Well, he actually didn’t think the scorpion tasted that wonderful, but he loved the spiders (I can’t even…) and described their flavor as “crispy chicken skin.”
Our stay in Ko Phet was so wonderful, thanks to our gracious hosts. We learned so many things about small town life, general Thai politics and corruption, customs, food, and so much more that we would never have seen had we not stayed in a small village. I definitely take electricity and running water for granted, but I’d like to think I won’t as much anymore, after the village water stopped running mid-shower, haha!
We will never forget our wonderful meals, conversations, experiences, and the hospitality and generosity from Jimmy and Lamai!