Nakhon Si Thammarat (Thursday, January 20, 2005)
For our last breakfast in Nakhon, we once again visited Krour Nakorn for noodle and rice dishes. We then hit the road to visit a couple more local temples and associated markets. At Wat Wang Tawan Tok, we saw an example of a Thai-style Kuti, a wooden monks’ residence dating back to 1888. While the Kuti was remarkably well preserved, the other temple buildings were in varying states of (dis)repair. Numerous vendors in the marketplace appeared to be selling virtually identical amulets and charms featuring the particular image in the temple’s main shrine. Down the road we visited the Nakhon Si Thammarat Handicraft Center for additional examples (and purchases) of yan lipao — baskets woven of very fine fern stem fibers — where many of us did our part to support local artists.
On the Road
Because our schedule was constrained, lunch was very simple, and taken at a less familiar stop on the road outside of Nakhon. We had a one-plate meal of stir-fried pork and a fried egg, over rice. Kasma cut up several green (under-ripe) mangoes for us to sample. They were almost as sweet as fully ripe mangoes, but without their fragrance. We later stopped at a roadside stand where hard-shelled palm fruit were hacked open so that we could sample the slightly sweet, gelatinous fruit with the somewhat bitter exterior (like grapefruit pith).
We stopped at the Wat Dang school to see the students put on a demonstration of Manora dance. Because Manora dance usually can be seen only at festivals in the wee hours of the morning, this was a fairly unique opportunity. Imagine our surprise when we learned that there also would be a second demonstration, put on by an exercise group in the area that practice “Manora for Health.” Both were charming, and afterwards we were pulled into numerous photos and sold various soap and shampoo products by the local girl scouts. It seemed to be a big day for the students; they may have enjoyed it as much as we did.
We took the auto ferry into Songkhla, and checked in to the BP Samila Beach Hotel & Resort, located on a windy beach near the town’s famous mermaid statue. For dinner, we headed around the corner to Nai Wan Restaurant, one of many seafood eateries located near the beach. Our large dinner included crab meat with green beans and curry; a salad of thin, crispy duck shreds, red onion, sliced lemon grass and chili; green-lip mussels with lemon grass; squid salad; stir-fried Chinese broccoli (actually I think it was some other green vegetable, but this was the translation given); and whole steamed fish “soup” with ginger and preserved vegetables.
For dessert we headed into town for roti. After consuming numerous plates of plain roti with side dishes of sweetened condensed milk and sugar for dipping, and several more of roti stuffed with bananas, Kasma’s friend and the stand’s most talented roti maker showed up to show us how it’s done — and put us well past “full.”
Songkhla (Friday, January 21, 2005)
We met in the lobby at 8:15 AM after a quickie breakfast at the hotel’s Tonson Restaurant (where I had rice porridge with fish chunks, Chinese sausage, and salty preserved eggs), and headed out to the bank to rebuild our depleted reserves of Thai baht. The trip promised many more shopping adventures.
Songkhla is located on a peninsula (not unlike San Francisco) and a bridge (not unlike the Bay Bridge) runs across the lake to the West of Songkhla through the island of Ko Yo (not unlike Treasure Island). We spent the day on Ko Yo visiting the Thaksin Folklore Museum, having lunch near the water, and stopping for a bit of fabric shopping at a weaving cooperative. First stop, though, was Lamphor Temple, a work-in-progress that features a very large reclining Buddha and other oversized statuary. Driving around the island, we found some men creating sheets of rubber the old fashioned way. After draining the sap from the rubber tree, it is coagulated with oxalic acid into a jiggly blob, which then is flattened to about an inch thick with the feet and then pressed using two hand-cranked machines into a sheet. We next encountered large quantities of small shrimp drying in the sun. These eventually will be made into the ubiquitous salted shrimp paste used in many Thai dishes, gkapi. When made correctly, it is not at all “fishy.”
The folklore museum has a large number of exhibits on topics ranging from religion to old coins, pottery to weaponry, and textiles to fine art. Many of the exhibits were absorbing, although those that did not have air conditioning tended to get a more cursory look because the rooms could be quite hot and humid.
I didn’t get the name of the restaurant, but it would be recognizable from the strange statuary near the entrance, and the screeching birds in cages just inside. We started with deep-fried squid, which was accompanied by a spicy-hot green salsa. A mixed seafood curry came domed in aluminum foil; presumably it was cooked in a foil-lined pot and then inverted for service. Prawns in a garlicky red sauce; stir-fried vegetables with shrimp; cracked crabs sauteed with black pepper; oysters and eggs; and whole steamed fish with sweet and sour sauce completed the all-seafood menu. For dessert, we shared some segments of pomelo purchased earlier at a roadside stand. After lunch we visited some weavers to watch them work their looms and to support them by purchasing fabrics we really don’t need…
For dinner we returned to the roti stand where we got both a demonstration of fine dough-stretching techniques and a decadent dinner of roti with curry, roti filled with eggs and various little bits (somewhat like an omelette), dessert roti, and French toast (that part I didn’t really understand). While positioning for a photograph, I felt my left foot reaching downwards into a hole in the sidewalk. As I touched down into something wet, I realized that I had just stepped into a nasty sewer drain. While my Hepatitis A vaccination had become fully effective, the process of cleaning the foot and sandal, and dressing the scrape on my heel, were an unfortunate distraction from an otherwise festive meal. Later, after a change of footwear, I headed out for an Internet cafe and then home again with a spare roll of “tissue” (toilet paper) for the islands we would be visiting soon, after our journey West to Satun.