Krabi (Wednesday February 9, 2005)
I had trouble sleeping after I realized that I had packed my passport in my other suitcase and forwarded it on ahead to Bangkok. Would I be able to fly? How long did the bus to Bangkok take? Fortunately, the photocopy stashed in my wallet was sufficient and after a brief stop at the breakfast buffet, and a few hours in transit, we arrived in Bangkok and met up with our drivers.
Our first stop was a market for food photos and lunch. I wasn’t feeling very well, so I only had three pork satays, two fried shrimp cakes, a chunk of sour sausage, a crunchy, seasoned rice cake, and a whole roasted young coconut. That was while we were still walking around. We sat down to a lunch of a mussel omelet; a thin, eggy crepe filled with bean sprouts and a couple shrimp; and pad thai noodles served in a thin omelet. Several people enjoyed durian as well, perhaps for the last time for quite a while.
We headed into the nightmarish traffic of Bangkok, and to Narai Phand, a classy, department store-like shop selling a broad range of handicrafts, clothing, china, and jewelry. In the basement bazaar, individual vendors sold many of the same items at negotiable prices. I found a few items to take back with me; time to think seriously about a big box or an additional piece of luggage! Then it was back into traffic and up to our rooms at the Grand Tower. After staying at a couple of “five star” resorts, this place looks quite spartan, but it’s good enough. The internet place around the corner was speedy today, so I could upload lots of fish pictures before dinner.
As befits this trip, we had way too much food at our final feast. Banelao is a restaurant that specializes in Northeastern Thai (Isaan) and Laotian dishes; unfortunately, the place will soon be under new management, so it is hard to say how it might change. Our first unusual experience was a fermented rice beverage served in a tall earthenware urn with four wooden straws, all in an ice bucket. One pours water or beer through the rice hulls at the top of the urn and stirs it in, and then draws the liquor through the straw. Depending on the depth of the straw, you may get a mouthful of beer or something that tastes very much like sake. Or anything in between.
We began with some salads and barbecued dishes: pork neck meat (or pork neck fat with a little bit of meat) salad; a crispy rice salad with a sweet-hot dressing; barbecued beef that tasted like short ribs without the bones; and the traditional barbecued chicken. We also had a variety of fish dishes. The most fun was nuggets of deep fried fish (some with the fin still attached) that were combined with chopped garlic, lime, lemongrass and other condiments in a leaf and eaten like a little taco. The crispy “sour” fish smelled vaguely fermented but tasted quite fresh. The third dish, chunks of fish cooked with Chinese chives or some other stemmy vegetables, also smelled unpleasant but tasted fine. We had a hot-and-sour soup with big pieces of chicken on the bone (hard to eat) and a final dish of frog with Thai eggplants, pea eggplants, green peppercorns and chillies. This, too, had a few too many pieces of bone to spit out, but the meat wasn’t bad at all. After dinner we received gifts and presented our drivers with a tip (I wish I knew more Thai for that part).
Tomorrow I’m mostly on my own here, as the group is heading out to the airport early. We will have one more meal, from the street vendors and the noodle shop, where I can say goodbye to these people with whom I’ve spent so many hours over the past month.
Bangkok (Thursday, February 10, 2005)
Last day in Thailand, so much left to see and do, and we’re having a heat wave? I guess I can handle another 18 hours. I woke up at 4:15 and had trouble falling back asleep, so I updated some notes on the computer before showering and heading out (in long pants and tennis shoes) into the humid streets for breakfast. As Kasma made a beeline for her favorite street vendor tables, we talked amongst ourselves about our time in Thailand, and whether we might get back here any time soon. We settled in at the same noodle shop we had visited back on January 15th. With fewer vendors out (because it was a weekday, and Chinese New Year), our menu was simpler this time. In addition to the noodles, there were little sticky cakes, purplish blobs of glutinous rice with thick coconut shreds that tasted somewhat like bananas; and sticky rice and mango. I saw off the two vans from the hotel and headed out to the Post Office for a box. It took a while to get through the lines, but I got both a good-sized, heavy-duty box for all the various purchases I had made (and not eaten) during the past month, and the popular fish stamps.
Before lunch I headed toward the heart of Bangkok to pick up some packing tape and to meet up with one of our local trademark lawyers for lunch. We went to the buffet at JW Marriott which featured a small number of bland Thai dishes, along with Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French, and other cuisines. And for dessert, sticky rice and mango, as well as cakes, ice cream, and so on. It’s funny; before this trip, I ate a mostly low-carb diet. There’s something about searing curries, blistering soups, and tiny green peppers that makes one want to eat a lot of white rice. But my selections from the buffet (except dessert) fit my old pattern. I guess I’m ready to come home.
I did a little shopping and returned to the hotel to pack and check out. They held my bags while I returned to Hatthai for my last Thai massage; same masseuse, but less pain this time. I managed to maintain a relaxed attitude while the taxi crawled through rush hour traffic to the airport, despite the really bad music on the ex-pat station that the driver switched on for my benefit. (If only I knew how to say, “please, play Thai music!”). Check in was a breeze, and here I am in the Royal Orchid Lounge as anticipated. In between, I checked the shops for a productive way to spend my last 243 Thai baht (about $6). It’s just enough for a 750ml bottle of Sangsom, the rum so popular on our trip…