Trang (Friday, January 28, 2005)
We checked out of our hotel in Trang and headed up the road for dim sum. The first spot, which apparently is the best place in town, did not have enough available tables for our party of 14, so we headed to a second. Our plates included a delicious roasted pork, as much fat and crispy skin as meat; steamed fish with ginger; siu mai pork dumplings (I’ve had better in California); fish cakes; fried bread (Chinese doughnuts); sticky rice steamed or grilled in some kind of leaves; sticky rice stuffed with pork; crab claws in a pork meatball in bitter melon; crab claws in a mixture of crab and shrimp meat; black mushrooms in a brown sauce; steamed pork buns; and, last but perhaps best, steamed buns filled with a bean paste-coconut custard blend. And, for once, all the tea I could drink. We were extremely full but we stopped just up the road at Kook Ming, the bakery that originated Trang cakes. After mulling the many choices in the gift shop, people settled on various favorites, and we sampled the “three flavor” cake. It wasn’t my favorite: it was more of a three-color-not-that-much-flavor cake to me, but I was still scheming a way to get a dozen of those bean paste buns for the island.
On the Road
We turned down a side road to Le Khaokob Cave, another inland tourist attraction whose business has fallen way off due to the tsunami. Guides take visitors down a river into the cave, 4 or 5 large American passengers to each plastic (okay, maybe fiberglass) boat. The first part of the cave is disappointingly degraded, with numerous places marred by human skin oils, construction of walkways, or all-too-visible electrical wiring. But deeper parts of the cave are more interesting and less damaged, and bats occasionally come out of hiding to provide a bit of a thrill. The main event, though, is the passage down the river with minimal knee and face clearance. With stalactites dripping water on our clothes and faces, and the guides forcing us almost to lay down on the boat to pass under the extremely low ceiling, it was an adrenaline rush. It also was incredibly hot and humid; this cave defies all stereotypes about cool temperatures. We could not escape without purchasing the obligatory “you were here” boat photos, another small contribution to the local economy.
As part of some scheme to further heat us up before cooling us off, we headed to the Sra Kaew-Morakot Nature Trail, and 1.4 kilometer loop trail that circled past a large spring-fed pond rich in algae known as the Emerald Pool. At one end, there is a structure reserved for the use of the royal family; none dared to enter the roped-off pavilion on fear of imprisonment. After a short swim and hike out, we feasted greedily on Isaan-style fried chicken with sticky rice and green papaya salad, followed by slices of pomelo and, of course, Trang cake.
We continued, making another detour at the nearby hot springs, a series of pools descending to a cool stream. I am not enthusiastic about hot tubbing in the tropics, but I gave it a brief try. Would be great in California, but it was just too much for Thailand. Eventually the heat lovers emerged and we drove on, in rush hour traffic, to Krabi.
We checked in to the Krabi Maritime Park & Spa Resort, which clearly was designed with Western visitors’ tastes in mind. For example, after having to use a giant bath towel as a face towel in Trang, it was wonderful simply to have a complete set of towels. Unfortunately, the hotel’s internet access was out of order, so I had to go into town — quickly — to continue my CLE coursework and check email. Although I learned that the “red bus” could take me into town, I preferred not to wait. I decided to take a serious risk and ride a motorcycle taxi. In Krabi, it is not required for passengers to wear helmets, so drivers do not offer them (and I didn’t see one to ask for). I’ve never been on a motorcycle before; but I have seen thin Thai girls sitting sideways, legs crossed, without a care in the world, so I figured it would not be too complicated. I found foot rests, but nothing to hold on to. The driver seemed very perturbed when I lighly rested my hands on his sides. When I saw an Internet place, I hopped off and gave him a big tip; hopefully he won’t be too traumatized. On the ride back to the hotel, I gripped the seat in front of me. Someone later suggested using the handle behind the seat. I have a lot to learn! (It turns out that the “red bus” is like a pick up truck with an already full camper shell that you cram into, so that wouldn’t have worked out very well anyway.)
Dinner was at Kasma’s favorite restaurant in Krabi, and perhaps in all of Thailand, RuenMai (or Ruen Mai) Restaurant. The setting is spectacular, featuring wooden structures on several levels providing shade (with a very open feel), streams running through (watch your step), lots of foliage, and discreetly placed mosquito coils. The first round of plates included a salad with cashew nuts, chopped Thai herbs and chili; tamarind shrimp with toasted onions and dried red peppers (these were tossed on top, so heat was optional); and a leafy green vegetable cooked with shrimp in a coconut milk sauce. All were excellent. A second round of dishes included a fish with “choo chee” curry (which in the U.S. is sweeter and thicker than this preparation), which I found a bit too salty; and tender and delicious panang curry beef. For dessert, we passed slices of Trang cake, richer and better tasting than the ones I had tried before.
After dinner, a few of us headed down to the Maritime’s karaoke bar where I was induced to sing six or eight songs. In between pairs of English-language songs from our booth, there were pairs of Thai pop songs from another booth. I can only imagine the cultural exchange when the hotel is full of Japanese and European tourists. Well, it’s time to re-pack and get some sleep before we head out to the coast and then to our “idyllic island home” on Poda island.