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Thu Mar 10 2016: Eggs for dinner. Ant Eggs, that is...

This morning, we're leaving from Lom Sak, just a few kms away from the amazing temple we visited yesterday evening. We're heading further east into the province of Issan. As promised, I drag myself out of bed up extra early and Neda looks up from the Kindle that she's been reading for the past hour and smirks at me. Morning people. I don't understand how they work. A quick breakfast at the hotel and then we're packing to be on the road by 7:30AM. Ugh.

But at least it's nice and cool outside for a change!

Oh hello, Yamaha R3. Doesn't your seat look much more comfortable than ours!

Speaking of which, I just discovered my AirHawk cushion sprung a leak yesterday. The cushion comes with a patch kit but unfortunately the leak is right at the valve stem, so it's going to be very difficult to fix. I think I'm going to need some rubber cement. Can't even return it for a refund or exchange, the shipping would be too expensive and where would they send the replacement to? I hate when new stuff breaks down when we're traveling. There are no options.

Past some of the local fields where they grow tobacco

Does anyone have Trypophobia? Sorry for the picture, then...

Just outside of Lom Sak, we enter the Nam Nao National Park. This is probably the last scenic area we're going to see in a while, as Issan is a pretty flat province with not a lot of parks.

Enjoying the last twists and turns for the day

I thought this sign was funny, but I guess it might not be that amusing to round the corner and run into a 7,000 lb elephant...

Inside Nam Nao Park, we found a lookout tower next to a Buddha statue

Climbing up to get a better view

From here you can see most of the park

Except that it's *still* burning season and the view is obscured by the haze. Too bad...
But we're on our way out of Northern Thailand so it should get better soon

Supergirl leaving her Fortress of Solitude

Packed mule meets pachyderm

Bye bye scenery...

... hello, urban Thailand

It's a short, but boring ride from Nam Nao Park to our next stop: Kohn Kaen. It takes us less than a couple of hours to reach the city, but with our butts sore from the CRF seats and the rising temperatures, we're just taking it slow and easy. We thread our way through the big city traffic, eager to check into our air-conditioned room for the day to escape the heat and congestion. I've noticed that we are getting a lot of looks on our bikes and thumbs up from all the vehicles around us, cars and motorcycles. Although we are on 250cc bikes, they are still pretty tall and I guess they look much bigger than they really are.

We stop at a 7-11 to pick up some snacks for the evening, and a guy approaches me outside and starts asking the usual questions, "Where are you from?", "Where are you going?" But then he pointed at our license plate and said, "Chiang Mai", nodding appreciatively.

Ah! So that's what the squiggly writing on our license plates read. It wasn't the bikes that people were giving the thumbs up for. It was the fact that we had ridden all the way from Chiang Mai! "All the way" being only 650kms from Kohn Kaen, but I guess not too many motorcycles stray too far from where they are registered... Now we know why we are getting so much attention. Plus the fact that we are in full gear. And that Neda is a farang woman on a big bike!

So much for blending in...

When I tell my new friend that we are heading south towards Buriram, with a low whistle, he shakes his head and exclaims, "Hot! Hot!"

What? It's 35 degrees here right now. How much hotter can it get?!?!

Well, we're about to find out. The next morning, it's another early start as we turn our bikes south through more of the urban scenery of Issan.

I don't normally like to take posed pictures, but here I'm telling Neda, "Are you ready for the shot?"
Halfway between Kohn Kaen and Buriram, we stop for lunch outside these very pretty ruins. It's called Prasat Pueai Noi and I recognize the "Noi" as meaning "little" in Thai. Prasat is castle and Pueai is the name. Little Castle Pueai. It's a Khmer sanctuary, which makes sense as we are nearing the border to Cambodia. The architecture is also very different from anything else that we've seen in the country so far.

Going in to explore the little Cambodian castle

Built over 1,000 years ago, it was fashioned after Angkor Wat

These were once part of the largest Khmer sanctuary in the area, but not much stands anymore except these doorways

Very detailed and ornate carvings on the tops of the doorways

Staying out of the heat in the middle of the day

Maybe we should consider traveling at night... :(

It's not that far to Buriram where we're going to make our home base for a few days. All the hotels are fully booked there, but we're able to find a promising place on AirBnB. No reviews, but the place looks nice enough.

When we arrive, we are greeted by the very friendly faces of Jinny and Pea Jim, our AirBnB hosts for the weekend

Our hosts are both teachers at the local university in Buriram (well Pea Jim just retired). It turns out that we are very fortunate to have found this place, because they are also both tour guides getting their certification to lead tours in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Because we are staying with them, we got a whirlwind tour of Buriram on arrival!

A quick visit to Pa Khao Noi which is right in town

We also went to the market to pick up some food for the weekend as our hosts are treating us to home-cooked Issan-style breakfasts every morning. Walking through the aisles, Pea Jim pointed out some local delicacies. She showed us a basket of tiny white bubbly things, like a cross between white beans and puffed rice. I may not have heard clearly but I think she told us that these were ant eggs.

Um. sayagainWHAT? Ant eggs? What do you do with them?

"You eat them! They're delicious!"

Um. What?

I nodded, but inside I wasn't entirely convinced. Ant eggs?!?!

Jinny and Pea Jim took us out to a traditional Issan restaurant

The staple of Issan food is sticky rice, which you knead and then roll up into a ball and dip into the various salads and sauces on the table. What makes Issan food different from the rest of Thai food is the generous portions of herbs they eat with their dishes. A whole basket of greens and what look like tree branches is placed in the middle of the table and you pick off the leaves and put them in your food. Aromatic flavours like coriander, basil, mint and cilantro lend a very unique taste to the dishes.

And of course, a dish of ant eggs gets sent to our table!

The ant eggs are served in a salad called Koi Khai Mot Daeng. Well, if it's a local delicacy, we have to try it! What do ant eggs taste like? Mostly like the spicy sauce that they are served in, but the consistency when you bite into them is kind of like cooked barley. It's actually quite tasty and we finished the entire dish!

We like Issan food quite a lot! Even the ant eggs! Glad we tried them.

The next morning, Jinny and Pea Jim have left to complete their tour guide certification, but they left us a with a breakfast feast

We need all the energy because we have a busy weekend ahead of us!

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