Our snorkeling time on Koh Lipe has come to an end, and we’ll dry out for a couple of days before resuming our observance of undersea life off Koh Lanta. In between, we will feast on delicious Thai-Chinese food and arise before dawn to visit a waterfowl preserve where we’ll test our photography skills.
Sunday, February 5, 2017
The Varin Resort’s breakfast buffet has delicious fried chicken. Who knew? After the usual mad dash to stuff my luggage back together and isolate the foul-smelling, still-wet swimwear, we accompanied our bags down the beach to the ferry kiosk. Since we were nearly an hour early, we killed time shopping or, in my case, sitting in the shade of an air conditioner working on a blog post.
The ferry actually is a speedboat, and it was very full. Fortunately, we had smooth seas and arrived back at Pak Bara without incident. When leaving the pier, we had an opportunity to purchase photos of ourselves from four days earlier: not much had changed, other than between my nose and mouth. Up the road we stopped for a quick one-plate lunch.
Eventually we reached Trang and unloaded our huge haul of bags at the Thumrin Thana hotel. Trang probably is most famous for its “underwater weddings” every Valentine’s Day, but we’ll be too busy for love. After wandering the streets for the basic necessities (bottled water and iced tea) and exploring the few nearby businesses open around 5PM on a Sunday, I retreated to the hotel’s strong air conditioning to prepare for dinner.
Kanok is a Thai-Chinese fusion restaurant that serves a dish we’ll probably only have once on this trip: sea asparagus. Brilliantly white and chewy tender, the finger-thickness segments actually are a kind of worm. Good marketing, and tasty stir-fried with shrimp, black mushrooms, and a little Chinese broccoli in a garlicky sauce. The most memorable dish, however, probably was the larb made with pieces of magically crispy duck. I could eat this every day. Other winners included shrimp and sliced coconut shoots (similar to bamboo shoots) in a soupy red curry; steamed fish with thin shreds of ginger, scallions, carrots, chillies, and black mushrooms in a soy-based sauce; and pork knuckle, a fatty cut cooked extremely tender with unctuous chunks of fatty skin, big cloves of a garlic, and a savory brown sauce. The Chinese broccoli stir-fried with rehydrated salted fish is something of an acquired taste. For dessert, the restaurant recommended sweetened sticky rice covered with a thick layer of some kind of taro pudding, topped with ginkgo nuts simmered in syrup. If it sounds like a sugar bomb, you have a good idea of how it tasted. We left more than full.
Tomorrow morning is our earliest wake-up because we want to catch the sunrise on the water as well as seeing waterfowl before they go into hiding from the heat of the day — something I can completely appreciate.
Monday, February 6, 2017
We had a strict 4:45AM cut-off to depart for the Thale Noi Waterfowl Preserve. With light traffic, we arrived on schedule, but the sun didn’t wait and the skies already were colorful by the time we stumbled, half-asleep, from our vans. After a few snapshots, we carefully stepped into the unusual longtail boats used on the lake: since there are few waves, and much to see near the water, the sides of the boat are very low, and as a result the seating is nearly at the squatting level. Using a long pole, the driver eased the boat from the makeshift dock into the lake. Only then did he fire up the engine, generating the classic putt-putt-clackity-clack that would flush birds into the skies for their photos.
After a few hours on the water, we returned to shore to restore the circulation in our legs and hind quarters, hit the bathrooms, and wander the walkways near the park center where some birds and dragonflies kindly posed for close-ups. The shop Kasma usually visits for a plate of noodles was closed, so we headed back to Trang, stopping at a weaving collective (with a nice new video room) to consider purchases of locally styled fabrics. Finally, we had lunch at the Thumrin Thana’s dining room. I ate a bit heavily considering that we’ll have a wonderful dinner tonight, but if I really work at it, I can fit it all in.
We had unscheduled time in the afternoon and a nap was tempting, but I plowed through the morning’s photos. Over the years, I’ve struggled to get good shots here, and this trip was no easier, but some of the pictures came out.
For dinner, we headed to Ban Suan Sudaporn, which is one of the fancier restaurants we’ll visit, featuring statues and a waterfall in the dining room. But the main event here is the deep-fried pork leg, a rich treat with crispy skin, moist meat, and sweet, succulent fat (and it’s fun to clean the giant bones). Not everyone wanted the fat, so I had extra to eat. To balance that out, we enjoyed a tangy green papaya salad rolled up for easy eating in rice noodle crepes; miang takrai (miang lemongrass), with the ingredients pre-mixed for easy spooning onto a wild pepper leaf for a delicious bite; a crispy fried fish; pak miang with egg; and a spicy chilli curry with (bony) free-range chicken. I feel drowsy just recalling the gluttony, and regret that the photos do not do it justice (it was very dark).
Our next three nights will be spent on Ko Lanta, at a quiet resort popular with Western visitors. The hotel will be our base for two full days of snorkeling, and maybe a bit of relaxation.