Songkhla (Saturday, January 22, 2005)
For our last breakfast in Songkhla, we once again visited the hotel buffet (in my case, for less than 15 minutes) for rice soup, a piece of omelet, fruit and tea. We then headed to another local museum, first taking a brief detour to the large, ornate Wat Matchimawat temple. The Songkhla National Museum formerly served as the governor’s mansion. Built in Southern Chinese style and housing a wide variety of artifacts, the museum provided a pleasant diversion. Once under way, we had to pull over for rambutan (I forget the Thai name), a red fruit with many soft green protrusions that tastes somewhat similar to lychee. The stand also had very ripe durian, which I tried for the second time (and really didn’t like much better.)
On the Road
We arrived at wildlife refuge to visit the Tone Nga Chang waterfall and have lunch. It was a holiday, as well as a Saturday, so the park became very busy with locals out enjoying themselves. The name of the waterfall (roughly, elephant tusks) apparently arose from the fact that there are twin falls that separate several hundred meters above the point at which they crash into pools suitable for swimming. The hike up the falls, in the heat of the day, was very difficult, and those who made it past the observation point all the way to the top came down with impressively sweat-soaked shirts.
We ate from a stand serving Isaan (Northeast Thailand) style barbecued chicken with sticky rice. The chicken had the appearance and delectable crunchy skin of duck, but for some the meat might have seemed a bit dry. We also tried a Muslim-style charbroiled chicken from a different cart. While the meat was juicier, the turmeric-colored skin was not as good. Whoever gets that balance right is going to be rich. Okay, not really, this food was very, very inexpensive. I had a roasted young coconut to drink and then to eat, and we finished with ice cream cones.
Back in the van, we headed down the highway to the border with Malaysia. Here, vendors have set up on both sides of the street on both sides of the border, and a brief shopping crossing is no problem. Except that I left my passport buried deep in my luggage, so I stayed in Thailand. There are only so many kitchen wares and batik fabrics one can pick over, so I was happy to be moving along to our next stop, Thaleban Park. Sounding suspiciously like “Taliban,” this park features thick rain forest and a huge lake. In the heat of late afternoon, we could not explore much, it was more a way to kill time on the way to Satun.
We rolled into town and headed for the Pinnacle Wangmai Hotel. While this might be the most deluxe hotel in town, it was a bit dingy and certainly not a place one would plan to spend several nights. For dinner, we headed around the corner and upstairs to the mosquito breeding room. (Actually, it was a private room just off the area where there was entertainment, but someone neglected to chase away the bugs before our arrival and several members of the group had an entourage around their heads the whole time.) We had an odd dish of shrimp meat shaped into rings, breaded with something like coconut-panko batter, and deep fried; mixed vegetable stir-fry; mixed seafood including delicious “sea asparagus” (white worms we would later see while snorkeling); crispy fish fillets with red curry; and a wickedly hot, but delicious dish of clams with basil and garlic. After the clams, we were happy to have ice cream, although many flavors listed on the menu were not available (including, sadly, Thai Iced Tea flavor). By this time, we were being entertained (punished?) by Thai karaoke, and I signed up to sing Handy Man by James Taylor, one of the few songs I recognized from the hand-written list of English-language choices. While many in our group had drifted away, some stayed for my song, and the idea of getting me back behind the microphone seems to have taken on a life of its own.
While other karaoke bars beckoned, a long session on the Internet (listening to CLE programs) and the 7:00 AM checkout prohibited too much merriment. There would be time for relaxing and perhaps even some singing during our three nights on the private island just beyond Koh Tarutao National Marine Park.