Bangkok (January 24, 2010)
Leaving Bangkok under cover of darkness, we made good time on the major highway toward Southern Thailand. Our first stop was a roadside stand selling shrimp paste (kapi) and sea salt. The products are complementary, in that salt is an important element of turning tiny fresh shrimp into the fermented paste that forms the base for many Thai curries and relishes. Although I still have a jar from 2008, for just over a dollar, it makes sense to get a fresh jar. And thus begins another day of barely justifiable shopping.
We had breakfast at a travelers’ restaurant, which features more than a dozen pre-made dishes to be served over rice. In retrospect, green curry with fish balls and fried catfish with a sticky red curry may have been a bit redundant, especially when supplemented with curried fish mousse. However, we did have a variety of other tastes, including bitter melon soup with pork, a little yellow sponge cake, and a coconut cream-topped pudding.
Hua Hin (January 24, 2010)
Now a major vacation destination and market for real estate speculators, Hua Hin was brought to prominence when the royal family built a Summer house here. We, of course, came here to walk the market and pick up snacks for our coming time on the Surin islands, where the menu is much more limited than the fare to which we have become accustomed. Among other items, we returned with fresh jackfruit, fried bananas, various puddings and sticky rice confections, and some ingredients for home. We also purchased some sarongs, beach mats, and other island necessities. After rotating through the pleasant restroom at the nearby Starbucks, we hit the road again.
Pranburi (January 24, 2010)
On the waterfront in Pranburi, several men and women were cleaning squid and setting them out to dry on large racks in the sun. There was only the faintest aroma, but this might be because we were upwind and they had only been out a couple of hours. After browsing the raw squid, we picked up various dried and fried squid and fish snacks at a shop across the street. These will be handy for those after-snorkeling parties on the island.
At a nearby restaurant, we enjoyed the local specialty of squid that had been sun-dried for one day and then deep fried; it has a nice chewy texture and the dipping sauce was hot and tasty. The seafood feast continued with huge boiled shrimp and spiky-shelled local crabs, both for peeling and dipping in a garlicky sauce; a deep fried grouper topped with a sweet and mildly hot mix of garlic, shallots, and chillies; a painfully hot salad of fried baby claims; a delicious salad of crab meat and crispy fried holy basil; a hot and sour soup of mixed seafood, heavy on the tiny mussels; and mixed vegetables with Thai oyster sauce. Even though Koh Surin is an island park surrounded by fish, it is a protected area, so ironically this is the best seafood we are likely to have all week.
The Bun Village (January 24, 2010)
A few hours down the road, we pulled over at one of many stands with multi-tiered Chinese style steamers gleaming in the sun. We had called ahead to have the buns — usually boxed to go — warm and ready to eat. The selection included primarily small savory buns filled with ground pork and egg, and dessert buns filled with coconut custard or black bean paste. Kasma informed us that the previous record was 115 buns (although in one group, a particularly competitive eater had consumed an extra 20+ buns to get to 116, we weren’t counting that one). We initially plateaued at 95 buns (including pork siu mai in the count), which seems like quite a few for a group of 16. However, with some encouragement and a burst of additional effort, we were able to smash the previous record with a new mark of 125 buns. I ate more than my share, but that’s how it goes: the green coconut custard flavored with pandanus is addictive, and unlike my last trip, there was no end to the supply. The vans left considerably heavier and after a brief stretch break at a waterfall, we arrived at our hotel.
On the GPS tracking front, I was a bit late to the van leaving Bangkok, so the track starts at the shrimp paste stand. When we got to the bun village, I was so excited that I forgot to create a waypoint. If you download the track and look for points between 4:15 and 4:40 Thai time, you can get the location.
Ranong (January 24, 2010)
The Jansom Hot Spa Ranong Hotel has been radically upgraded since my last visit. With freshened room designs, more lavish bedding, and a spectacular new dining room, it now better fulfills its resort ambitions. The heart of the property remains a natural hot spring which feeds separate his and hers pools. As I find it sufficiently hot here without a hot mineral soak, I stayed in my room, cranked up my A/C, and pondered the packing question: what do I need for the island, and what can remain in the van? Due to the 60km distance from shore, whatever I decide is my final answer.
For dinner, the resort seated us outdoors on the dining room terrace. With the sounds of loud insects in the background, you really could imagine yourself in the wild, except for the garishly lit 7-11 across the way. The restaurant did a great job with steamed fish in the past, and tonight was no exception: dressed with a potent dressing heavy on the lime, garlic and chillies, it was fresh and light. Raw green beans, wing beans, okra, steamed cabbage, and baby corn were paired with a sticky-sweet shrimp dip, useful for cooling an inflamed palate. The Southern style sliced beef salad was tasty, but very hot, and the jungle curry was unmerciful as usual. A dark leafy green vegetable (pak miang?) stir-fried with egg rounded out the menu. We passed a plate of green (unripe) mango slices — they have a hint of green apple flavor — enhanced by a dip of sugar, salt, and chillies.
There was no professional singer tonight, so after dinner, I grabbed the karaoke mic and belted out Love Potion No. 9 and Handy Man. With my sore throat, this was about all I could manage without a break, and Kasma took the opportunity to review our schedule for the next few days. A few of us then returned to the stage for various experiments in singing in different ranges. A few rounds of SangSom rum on ice helped with the creativity — and the pain.
We have another early departure tomorrow to get the ferry to Koh Surin. Must. Not. Be. Late.