Bangkok (Sunday, January 22, 2006)
I woke before 4:00, feeling a bit sore from the massage (or the bed?). Time to clean up and pack for a day of driving and snacking. I miscalculated the time needed to pack and ended up the last to check out — 10 minutes late. Kasma gave me her most disapproving look; I must do better from now on.
We escaped from Bangkok under cover of darkness and sped South toward a day of shopping and eating. Alongside the highway, we stopped in front of one of many stands selling seafood products. There we purchased gkapi (salted shrimp paste) and local sea salt amidst the “fragrance” of dried and drying fish. Pulling into a truck stop in Petchaburi, we were presented with more than a dozen choices for breakfast, ranging from fish and chicken curries to fried eel and pork dishes, all served over rice. Not knowing any better, I chose a green curry with fish still on the bone, which made for some messy eating. After sampling some tasty bite-sized sponge-like cakes, we checked out the truck stop’s wide variety of snacks, and also the clothing selection. There would be more exciting opportunities just up the road.
The town of Hua Hin first came to prominence when the royal family built a Summer residence here to escape the heat of Bangkok. Judging by how hot this place is even now, Bangkok must really get intolerable in the Summer. We parked by the Starbucks (and its nice Western style bathroom), across the street from the town’s major market. Due to renovations, the vendors were scattered among several alleys in other buildings, and compared with last year’s “tasting tour,” this was more of a “search and purchase” mission. We ended up in front of the 7-11 where a young girl Kasma met on a Northern trip has relocated with her husband (or husband-to-be). We did our bit to help out the business by picking up a few gift items.
On the road again, we headed to Pranburi for lunch. Last year, when we reached this seaside restaurant, the stormy weather had made the beach unappealing and we had the place to ourselves. This year, with bright, sunny weather, there were kids playing on the beach and business was humming. Most importantly, the food was excellent. We began with slices of green mango and a salt-sugar-chillies mixtures to dip into or sprinkle on top. Green mango has the snap of cucumber, but with the dryness of zucchini, and despite a touch of sweetness, a taste more vegetal than fruity. This quickly was followed by a house specialty, solar squid, featuring squid that had been caught a day before and dried one day in the sun before being fried. Three dipping sauces were provided, of various level of heat and sweetness. These also were useful for the oversized boiled shrimp served whole with their heads, tails, and everything in between. We had a salad of [??]; a deep fried whole fish; mixed vegetables in oyster sauce; and local crab meat topped with deep fried holy basil and spiked with chopped Thai chillies. A hot and sour soup with mixed seafood contained so many chillies you almost couldn’t avoid two or three in each spoonful. Eaten carefully, it was one of the best soups we’ve had. For dessert, we had pineapple and watermelon, and mango with a sticky rice confection topped with sweetened coconut milk and black beans.
This, we thought, should hold us for a few hours until we got to our next stop. But we couldn’t help snacking on the various items that had accumulated in the van, from peanut brittle to shrimp chips. We finally reached the “bun village” at mileage marker 542 and piled out at Kasma’s favorite stand. Many of these street vendors appear to sell identical items, and there always are disappointed faces when it is clear that we are not going to spread our business around. Anyway, this one seemed like an excellent choice. The savory buns contained a pork meatball, a chunk of hard boiled egg, and a brown gravy somewhat reminiscent of an American recipe. Delicious and addictive, with a relatively thin bun wrapper so you easily can eat more. The dessert buns ran from the traditional black bean filling (not bad) to a lemony cream (a little weird for my tastes) to a coconutty, Pandanus-colored green filling that was totally irresistable (fortunately they ran out of that one). I stopped after seven buns because I suddenly felt my stomach grow 2 inches. And also to save room for dinner.
We arrived at the Jansom Thara resort in Ranong around 5:30, leaving time to soak in the hot tub, or head to town to check email, or just hang out. I chose option #4: studying the repacking problem: how to get everything needed on the island, no more and no less, into a single duffel. (As usual, the problem was solved only at the very last second before departure.) The hotel is undergoing extensive remodeling, and while our rooms on the fourth floor showed their age, they certainly were serviceable. Most annoying, however, was the odor of stain or paint thinner that seemed to have insinuated itself into the air conditioning system. Fortunately, my time in the room was limited: dinner called.
We reconvened for our fourth major meal of the day in the hotel’s Palm Court restaurant. We filled our remaining stomach space, and then some, with squid salad; duck in a soup-like yellow curry; mixed vegetables (some lightly battered and fried) with a spicy shrimp-based dip; deep fried soft shelled crabs with a peppery coating; and a fish butterflied and deep fried, with something like “tapenade” spread thickly over it. We finished with two coconut confections from the market: a rich custard and a light green, gelatin-like dessert containing green (Pandanus colored/flavored) noodles. After promising we all would be down for breakfast and checked out no later than 6:30AM, we returned to our rooms to re-pack for the islands.