Khuraburi (Monday, February 7, 2005)
Who won the election? Apparently it was a subject that engendered great passions: as we drove from Khuraburi through the heavily impacted Khao Lak area, we saw a person stomping on one of the candidates’ signs on the side of the road. He flashed us a big grin when he noticed us watching. We were in Khao Lak with the idea to distribute some additional contributions, but there was not an organized place to do so, except in temporary housing centers which were much too large for the amount of cash we were carrying. But let’s get back in sequence.
We started the morning with a noodle dish; written “lard nar” on U.S. menus, it’s a wide rice noodle topped with meat and vegetables and some gravy. Here, it was like a soup, and the noodles had stuck together in a big blob. Perhaps it was a way to use up leftovers?
On the Road
When we had driven up to Khuraburi, we had avoided the heavily damaged Khao Lak area. This time, we drove down the coastal road looking for a village in need of the amount of donations we could afford to give. It was clear that many structures were completely destroyed, and the local economy was in shambles. At one point we saw a Thai Navy vessel perched on a pile of dirt off to our left, maybe a kilometer inland from the shore. Clean-up and resettlement efforts were ongoing; it was a sobering sight.
Around 11:30, we reached Phang-nga and chartered a boat to carry us around on the enormous Phang-nga Bay, home to many limestone karsts. It took about half an hour to reach the floating village, a large settlement alongside an isolated karst in the bay. The Panyee Restaurant also was a gift shop, and it seemed that they held back on bringing the food to maximize the amount of shopping. At least they were open; the usually “noisy” (Rough Guide) waterfront restaurants were very quiet due to the lack of visitors to the area after the tsunami. Lunch plates included boiled whole shrimp with a choice of dipping sauces; a well-prepared steamed whole fish with ginger and scallions; shrimp served in a hot, garlicky sauce; an omelet of oysters and vegetables; and a pretty good squid salad. We were full and ready for the next leg of the journey, to “James Bond Island,” featured in The Man with the Golden Gun. On the immediately adjacent Khao Phing Kan (leaning rock) island, vendors looked lonely in their stalls as we took photos of the area’s most recognizable landmark: referred to as “nail rock,” the small karst tapers to a narrow bottom. Karst fatigue anyone?
We finally got off the boat (and away from the noisy diesel engine) around 3:45, and pushed on to Krabi. I was desperate to check e-mail so I grabbed the van taxi (expensive by Thai standards at $2.50, compared with the $0.50 motorbike taxi) to town and then on to RuenMai for dinner. The restaurant was once again impressive, and we had all new dishes that we had not sampled on our previous three visits. We started with a Thai salad of fern greens with cashews, and an appetizer of crispy fried chicken flavored with turmeric (the same preparation as the little whole crunchy fishes, but less successful because of the inedible chicken bones). Aside from a vegetable dish of leafy greens with shrimp, we had mostly curries: a mild yellow crab meat curry reminiscent of Chinese curries; a hot but tasty fish curry; and an intriguing but in my opinion much too salty “fish innards” curry with vegetables and pork (I think) in a rich sauce made up of unknown fish parts. There was plenty to eat even if one did not like the more challenging dishes.
Chinese New Year would begin tomorrow, but the hotel was not busy as it usually would be. The entire trip has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience of traveling during the peak tourist season and having everything to ourselves. We discovered, though, that having an entire karaoke bar to yourselves is not that much fun. Still, we managed to amuse one another. Unfortunately, one of our group suffered a leg injury dancing to my rendition of the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive”; perhaps disco music is best left in the past.
Krabi (Tuesday, February 8, 2005)
We began our free day at the market sampling a variety of sweet and savory (mostly hot) items. My favorite were waffles made with a sweet batter containing sliced corn kernels and shreds of coconut. We returned to Varich Krabi Batik where one of our fellow travelers would spend several hours (eventually, the entire day) making a sarong. It turned out remarkably well for a first effort; there may be more to follow. The rest of us scattered through town to check e-mail, go shopping, get a haircut (I went to the “Man Barber Room”), eat again, and so on. Lunch was entirely unremarkable, but the Post Office had great stamps (you need to specify “for collecting” to see the good stuff). We caught motorbike taxis back to the Maritime and chilled out until dinner.
Tonight was “greatest hits” / “request” night at RuenMai, but some of the dishes had a twist. Rather than having little tiny crunchy fish, for example, we had whole catfish flavored with turmeric, deep fried, and accompanied by crispy pieces of garlic. It was a whole lot of food, but afterward we walked over to the 7-11 (pervasive here) to pick up drinks and ice creams. The karaoke bar was closed, so we headed for the restaurant, where a jazzy trio beckoned with lonely faces. After hearing a number of Van Morrison numbers, and what I assume were some Thai standards, they asked whether we had any requests. We had them do Smooth Operator, one thing led to another, and soon I was singing Smooth and Hotel California with them. It was exciting singing with a live musical group, and with no TV monitor to remind me of the lyrics and timing, it was a real challenge to stay with them. Great fun. They said they’ll be back in November. Maybe I will be, too?
Tomorrow we fly back to Bangkok for a quick tour of the market, handicrafts shopping, and a big feast. I also have twelve additional hours to use the day after for meeting our local trademark counsel, some final eating, and what I hope will be a relaxing visit to the Thai Airways business class airport lounge.