The ice-cream bike and my village

The ice-cream bike and my village

Chiang Rai Village VolunteeringAs nearly every hour of my day is confined to the foundation’s grounds, an afternoon trip to our local village always feels like a major excursion.  Despite many repeated visits to the single street, it never ceases to entertain me.

Furthest down the road is the market. Its inventory consists solely of chips, instant noodles, tobacco, candy, laundry detergent, incense (to appease the foundation’s hippie population) and Kit-Kat bars (to appease everyone).

Thailand Gas Station Chiang Rai

Shoes must be removed before entering. There is a single, long concrete aisle with one light at the front, leaving the rest of the store dark. It’s a mystery as to what’s on the last few feet of shelves. The back room, where the owners live, is open to the store and there are usually children napping on a mattress in the middle of the floor.

Every few minutes a scooter will pull up to get gas. The “gas pumps” are basically giant plastic containers with a nozzle and handwritten measurements. In front of the store, men crowd around a TV to smoke and watch Muay Thai boxing.

On more exciting days, the ice-cream bike will pass through! A man plays music on a boom box and drives down the road until someone stops him to get ice-cream from the cooler in his sidecar.

Chiang Rai Coffee Market VillageUp the street, the woman who runs the “coffee shop,” also does laundry, gives massages, and cuts hair. On my first day, I pulled up one of the wobbly plastic chairs and ordered a mango smoothie, deciding it was best to first judge her craftsmanship on a beverage, rather than my hair.

Coffee Smoothies Thailand Chiang Rai

As I watched her prepare my drink, I took in the ambience. The floor is dirt — not dirty, just dirt — and there are no walls. Several chickens crawled out from under another table and began pecking at the ground around my feet before running across the road. (I didn’t have time to ask why.) I decided this would either be the best drink ever or I was going to be sick for a week.

She handed me my smoothie, topped with a purple flower. I scooped out two gnats that had gorged themselves into oblivion, and took a tentative first sip. It was sweet and cold and I detected no lingering dead gnat taste. Perfection. I watched her refresh her supply of fruit by picking a few mangoes growing on the tree next to me — hyper-local produce.

Buddhist Monastery ThailandAcross from the coffee shop there is a Buddhist monastery. Monks walk down the road in long orange robes with a few village dogs trailing behind them. I really want to take their picture, but was told that can be disrespectful. As making people who talk to god upset with me doesn’t seem like a great idea, I’ve refrained.

Chiang Rai Village Lake Hike

The back of the monastery (and the whole village) ends at the edge of a huge lake. There is a trail that wraps around the entire perimeter. While some volunteers use it as a running trail,  I’ve found it is most useful as a relaxing place to eat my daily Kit-Kat bar from the market.

As the sun is setting, I listen to the monks chanting while I devour the flaky chocolate layers. Its the perfect cocktail of familiar and foreign.

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