Just about the time this posts, we'll be in Phayao (pronounced Pah-Yow), capital of a northern Thai province of the same name.
Phayao's claim to fame is it's huge, placid lake - also named Phayao - and the abundant, oversized goldfish-like fish that are pulled from it and served crusted with salt, then grilled over an open fire. Phayao also boasts a large and interesting morning market, spread out over a maze of backstreets.
But we're not here for any of that. We won't be staying the night, we won't be marketing in the morning. We're just passing through, on our way to Nan province, in Thailand's northeast. And we're just in time for lunch, a lunch we remember fondly from our first visit to Phayao last February.
We're here in Phayao, after an easy 1 1/2-hour drive from Chiang Mai, solely for this: guaytiaow tomyam. Tomyam noodle - sold all over Thailand. Nothing special - unless it's sold in this town, in this shop, on this street, by this vendor.
The shop fronts a little neat little wooden house on a sedate, tree-lined street of neat little wooden houses. It's shaded by a tiled roof and a forest of potted and hanging plants and marked by a flower-draped archway. It's spotless, shining, gleaming - so clean you could eat off the tables. The mark of a vendor who takes pride in her place, and pride in her product.
The aromas wafting from the vendor's prep area promise so much ... and the noodles deliver. Piggy, not-too-bouncy pork balls, thin slices of tasty pork meat, a single pork rib so tender the meat falls off the bone in shreds at the slightest nudge, a shower of crispy pork cracklings. Sweet, aromatically herbal broth, sharpened with pieces of salty and sour pickled cabbage and nubs of caramelized garlic and its cooking oil.
Customizable, of course - as all Thai noodle dishes are - via the use of the ubiquitous Thai tableside condiment trolly of fresh chilies in vinegar, roasted and ground chile peppers, sugar, and fish sauce.
What really makes this bowl of tomyam noodle sing is the vendor's personal touch, a generous blob of homemade nam phrik. Chile sauce, but not just any chile sauce. I taste - and she confirms - lemongrass, galangal, basil, garlic, shallots, and dried chiles. She demurs when asked to reveal what else is in the mix. It's all ground to a course paste and cooked slowly, to a thick jam. It's fiery, sweet and sour at the same time, citrusy, deep and rich yet lilting and bright. It lifts a bowl of already memorable noodles to the ethereal.
Yes, just about the time this posts we'll be here, eating that. And about 1/2 hour later we'll be back on the road, just another couple of happy customers.
(We're on the road till November 6, but, decent internet access allowing, look for a post or two in the interim.)
Tomyam noodle shop, Chom Thong Road, Phayao town, Phayao Province. Look for a green archway and a green and white signboard with the numbers '25' hanging over the sidewalk. Morning till late afternoon.