Today I was at a loose end. Fanfan working through the previous night meant I was left tiptoeing round the condo and as always I end up at the pool to ‘work’. A couple work beers down and I find myself relaxing on the pool edge overlooking local life on the street below. The day passes into evening hours and the opposite coffee stand (Kafeh Yen) packs away to be replaced with Ya Dong Street Liquor. Thai alcohol. The Ya Dong stand is run by a local ladyboy; she sets up shop, filling glass bottles, squeezy bottles and cleans her equipment like OCD. I take little persuading to join her.
What is Ya Dong?
Ya dong street liquor is a herb infused Thai alcohol made from local Lao Khao (white spirit) and a number of ‘health enhancing’ herbs. Traditionally used as a medicine and blood tonic Ya Dong is rumoured to enhance libido and boost strength. ‘Lao Khao’ the Thai alcohol used in this potent concoction is a cheap and nasty rice whiskey favoured by rural folk of Thailand (accounts for 2/3 Thailand’s alcohol consumption and probably a high % of road deaths). Ya Dong is served with a salt, chilli and sugar dip (prik glua) and sour, unripe mango (mamuang priew). Thailand’s answer to the tequila shooter.
I catch the rare window of opportunity between the opening of a Ya Dong stand and the impending bombardment of local labourers and motorbike taxis. “Small bottle please”, “Honey?”, “Yes please…” The ladyboy grabs an empty red bull bottle and adds a squirt of honey from a squeezy ketchup bottle. Out comes a funnel and in pours the potent Ya Dong mix from a reused Sangsom alcohol bottle. The bottle of Ya Dong is brought to my table along with a shot glass, chilli dip, unripe mango and cup of water. The ladyboy joins me at the table to listen on my problems “Ron Maak… (it’s very hot)”. I have few problems. I fire shot after shot and am soon on my way. For the small bottle of 4 Ya Dong shots (150ml) it costs 30Baht. For individual shots it costs 10Baht each. Crazy cheap.
Ya Dong is served warm probably due to surrounding heats. It is also uniquely Thai with Thai signature tastes. Sweet of honey / Ya Dong mix, Sour of unripe mango, Salty and Hot of the salt and chilli dip. It, in fact, tastes really good though few would admit it. Ya Dong is looked down on in Thai society. I’ve not once seen a foreigner at Ya Dong and middle-class will likely shun it. For a country which aspires to Hi-So (high society) the Lo-So are often ignored and left behind. Tonight I was going to celebrate the Lo-So. Show me the way to the next Ya Dong stand. Not far. A quick walk round the corner I find a more traditional Ya Dong stand with large glass bottles. I often pass this Ya Dong stand lit up at night. Unfortunately no seats available so I get a bottle to go and drink Ya Dong at the swimming pool. Guessing I’m the first person to do this.