Hot! Nong Khai and Mut Mee Guesthouse

The author, a Bangkok expat, and frequent traveler to the Mut Mee Guest House in Nong Khai, relates his experiences meeting interesting people and the laid back bohemian atmosphere that prevails at the guest house on the banks of the Mekong River.

I was first told about Mut Mee Guest House by my friend and co-worker, Peter, a former Catholic priest who did missionary work in Nong Khai prior to his change of life. Peter was someone I had always admired but he was also an enigma to me. He seemed to be the kind of person who didn’t have a malicious bone in his body. Maybe it was the aura of a former priest, but I have also gotten this impression from other, but not all, religious people of various faiths. In the era of pedophile scandals and corruption, maybe it was all a contrived persona. But I trusted Peter, something I couldn’t say about too many other people I have met in my life.

Peter worked as a missionary for some radical branch of the church whose objective was to provide poor people in developing areas with self-sufficient industries and, I suppose, the word of The Lord as well. As a missionary priest, Peter made about 10,000 US dollars a year. His base was Nong Khai, and some of the projects he was involved in included a traditional silk weaving business that is still in operation.

It was clear that Peter had some uncertain feelings about leaving the priesthood, but apparently the vow of chastity was too much to handle and the lure of local woman was his downfall. When I knew him, Peter had been married for several years, had two kids, and was working alongside me at a government university outside of Bangkok. Peter worked as a translator and I worked as a lecturer.

It was Peter who recommended Mut Mee Guest House to me. He said that Nong Khai was a unique and interesting place with an old style pace of life and a small foreign population. Mut Mee Guesthouse, he said, was run by an artist couple and located on a back soi that also housed art galleries and shops that gave the area a somewhat bohemian atmosphere.

I took an overnight sleeper train to Nong Khai and arrived on a chilly, haze-filled morning to Nong Kai, on the Thailand-Laos border in 1996 and I have visited the place many times since then.

Mut Mee Guesthouse

Mut Mee guesthouse is comprised of several small wooden houses situated directly on the banks of the Mekong River in Nong Khai, Thailand. Nong Khai itself is a slow-moving, traditional town that differs from other slow-moving traditional towns in Thailand because of its scenic riverside location, its proximity to Laos, and its French influence (apparent in its cuisine and some of its architecture). Also, Nong Khai has been touched by a number of interesting Thai and non-Thai residents, who have brought beauty and uniqueness to the friendly town.

Julian, who owns Mut Mee with his Thai wife, is a young middle-aged British man who has an aristocratic and dramatic air, as if he would be quite comfortable discussing art or theatre with a group of New York or London intellectuals. Julian has studied art and the Mut Mee Guest House is a tribute to his imagination and sense of style. But Mut Mee’s art is accessible, found in small details like wall murals and creatively designed furniture. And unlike other artsy places, Mut Mee is also a budget-oriented and laid back place.

The wooden houses are spread out in a garden area in the center of which is an open air dining area. Music is carefully selected so there is no elevator music, no techno and no pop, only classical, instrumental jazz, and a smattering of classic-rock music. You can sit in the open area, sipping coffee and snacking for the whole day and feel time slowly and leisurely expand and drift away like the current in the river below.

The grounds have a number of seating options, ranging from a Thai traditional sala area, to chairs sculpted out of giant truck tires, and even a tree swing. However, what brings the place together is the kitchen. Mut Mee has a great kitchen system, whereby you write your orders in a book designated to your room number and give it directly to the cooking staff. This eliminates waiter staff and makes you feel like you’re almost at home in your own kitchen. The items in the book are all tallied up at the end of your stay. The system makes munching and lazing the day away very attractive because the food is also good. Strong Laotian coffee and freshly baked baguettes are the staple. There are also daily specials and a mix of Thai and European food too. The European food is delicious and the Thai food is adjusted for non-Thai tastes.

Conversations with Interesting People

Mut Mee’s atmosphere is very conducive for long chats and getting to know other guests. There’s no TV or video, so you are kind of forced to either read or talk, which I think is a good thing. It takes the edge off and relaxes you. And Thailand is a place that attracts interesting people.

One of the most memorable people was Jacob. Jacob was in the room next to ours and was about 60 years old. His wife was much younger and there was, of course, an instant presumption of a professional relationship. However, the girl did not seem to be a pro, they were too intimate and relaxed, as if they had known each other for years, and in fact they had.

Jacob was the kind of old guy that still seemed young in spirit. He was a Canadian by birth and wore local style cotton and natural fiber clothes as if he were an ex-hippie. He rolled his own cigarettes but seemed to smoke sparingly. It was almost like by some quirk of destiny that a 30-something-year-old traveler woke up one morning and found himself in the body of an old man. Jacob gave the impression that he fell off the middle class 9-to-5 assembly line and as result, he had been spared its soul crunching effect. He was an old guy who was a free spirit.

The girl that accompanied Jacob was his Laotian wife and they both resided in Loei province. They were coming up to Nong Khai because they had to resolve some residence problem that his wife was having in Thailand. They invited me to breakfast with them and they were eating fresh fruit that they had purchased at the market early along with baguettes.

You could tell Jacob’s wife was a Laotian and not Thai for a few different reasons. She was dressed differently, more conservatively than most Thai women her age, and she had a down-home earthiness about her. Most Thai girls would have had a hard time adapting to bringing your own fruits and mixing your own coffee while away at a resort.

As we ate tangerines, Jacob told me he was only recently married and his wife was pregnant. He had been in Thailand for several years and had previously resided at a Thai Buddhist temple, a “Wat” in the Loei district. He was proud that he was permitted to stay in the Wat, and he explained the entry procedure that he had to pass. He had met with the abbot and senior members of the Wat and they had asked him why he wanted to become a Buddhist. His answer was that he was not sure he wanted to become a Buddhist, but he wanted to learn about Buddhism. According to Jacob, this was the right answer and Jacob lived in the Wat for over a year, learning meditation and studying Buddhism.

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