At a village market not far from the Burmese border an elderly vendor draws our attention. Actually, it's her cigarette that catches our eye. It's enormous, more cigar than cigarette, and she puffs slowly, savoring it with an air of quiet contentment.
The stalls in this market are wide, low-to-the-ground wooden benches. Like other female vendors she sits cross-legged on her stall, within easy reach of her products and her moneybox. (The few male vendors remain on their feet - or rest on a stool - behind their benches).
At her left knee a worn metal pot of water simmers over a brazier. To her right, jars and bowls of powder in shades of orange rest on banana leaves and old newspapers. A tray of unmatched plastic and ceramic cups sits at her feet.
I ask what's for sale.
'Naam yaa!' she smiles. 'Good for your health! Try some!'
It's 7am and a thick, chill fog blankets the streets outside the market. A hot mug of anything sounds inviting. Naam yaa translates as 'medicine water' - how could we go wrong?
She ladels nam yaa into two cups. It's thin and dark brown like strong tea, and exotically spicy, deliciously sweet, and utterly reviving. I try to guess what's in it.
Phrik thai (black pepper)? Yes. But this is really no surprise, because my tongue is still tingling minutes after I've finished my cup.
King (ginger?). No. Kha (galangal?). No. Cinammon? She nods, then points to the yellowest of her yellow powders. Ah, turmeric. But no, it's not, she says with a laugh. I give up. A huge array of dried spices figure prominently in any northern Thai market, and any of them could be an ingredient in naam yaa.
At another market up the road, a naam yaa vendor tells us that she doesn't know exactly what's in the drink because she buys her powder, premixed, by the kilo (1000 baht - about 25 US dollars - a bag). She adds naamtaan ooi (brown cane sugar) and sells the drink for 1.5 baht a cup.
Whatever's in naam yaa, we can't argue with its effects - one cup each and we're energized, good to go for another hour. Our vendor - clear-eyed, lively, exuberantly chatty, and in obviously excellent health - is 81 years old. She takes several cups of naam yaa a day, she says.
And recommends a morning smoke as well.
Look for naam yaa in far northern Thai markets. This one is in Mae Ai, about 10 or 15 kilometers north of Fang.