Krabi (February 3, 2010)
We left the comforts of the Maritime and headed South for the final leg of our snorkel journey. Our first stop was for a lunch-like breakfast of noodles and fried chicken. When we arrived at Nua Klong, we outnumbered the available pieces of chicken, so a new order went into the fryer. Hot and deliciously crispy, the secret to this recipe, besides palm oil in the fryer and a dusting of rice flour on the chicken, is the type of lean, strong, free range chickens in this region. As we worked on our chicken, bowls of noodles in a pale green sauce began to arrive. These thin rice noodles, known as khanom jin, are made with a slightly fermented rice flour dough and traditionally served in a light coconut milk curry with ground fish. The noodles here are made on the premises, and have a nice texture; also the sauce is very tasty.
After breakfast, we got a demonstration of the noodle-making process. Bowling-ball sized balls of rice flour dough are allowed to ferment, then steamed. Once they are sufficiently cooked, they are kneaded in a mechanical kneader, rolled into a cylinder, and placed into a tall tube. Once a large wok of water — heated by a fire fueled by coconut husks and what looked like discarded lumber — is sufficient hot, the dough is extruded through holes in the bottom of the tube directly into the water. After a few stirs and a brief period of cooking, the noodles are scooped up with a basket and slipped into cooler water for a rinse. I’m not sure how they determine the portion to be served in each bowl, but surely the dozen balls of dough on the back counter will feed a lot of customers.
Back in the vans, we headed down the road to the Klong Thom area, home to two popular freshwater tourist attractions. The first is a natural hot spring. You can feel (or you imagine you can feel) the heat rising from the stream as you walk to a series of cascading pools, remove any unnecessary clothing (for some locals, this means just their shoes, as they prefer to swim in long pants and short-sleeved shirts), and slip into the hot water. On previous trips, I couldn’t take the heat of the pools in the early afternoon, but arriving early in the morning, the temperature was quite manageable. A large bus of physical education students was there, and small groups of tourists speaking various European languages also came through. It was not too crowded to sample the healing waters, but a bit noisy for anyone seeking a meditative environment.
We quickly dried off and hit the road to our next spot, the Emerald Pool at the nearby Sra Morakot nature preserve. Located a short hike into a tropical rainforest, the pool is fed by a nearby spring and has a light sandy bottom. The entrance is slippery, as a spongy yellow algae grows around the edges of the pond, but the water itself is beautiful — sparkling clear in the bright sunshine — and the depth is perfect for a little quiet frolicking. The nature hike to the pool revealed a few local lizards, butterflies, and immense spiders, but its boardwalks and stump steps (for passage in the rainy season, perhaps) do not appear to be well maintained. Apparently, the park knows that most people come for the pool.
Trang (February 3, 2010)
Back on the road, we raced South to Trang, a community almost equally composed of ethnic Thai (Buddhist), ethnic Chinese, and Muslim residents. Here we enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of fried pork leg, more fried pork leg, and even more fried pork leg. Well, there were other dishes, too: hot and sour fruit salad of apples, grapes, and green mango shreds, with a few crispy pieces that could have been pork jerky or deep fried slices of Chinese sausage; a pre-mixed “miang” with crispy shreds of fish (or was it pork again?), thin lemongrass rings, little chunks of lime, peanuts, etc., for wrapping in a leaf; a very hot chilli curry (gaeng prikh) with bony pieces of chicken and bitter pea eggplants; and a deep-fried whole fish with a sweet red curry glaze topped with crispy fried basil. I ate too much of the main courses to even consider a small scoop of “coconut” (tasters said it really was vanilla) ice cream.
Downtown, we stopped for snacks and a little shopping. A small shop had great batik t-shirts, handkerchiefs, and silk scarves, and across the street, we sampled some snacks as Kasma filled two large bags with cakes, confections, and other goodies to get us through the next four days. Full, drowsy, and shopped out, it was time to push on to Pak Bara, where we would briefly overnight before catching our chartered boat out to the islands.
Pak Bara (February 3, 2010)
Shortly after we arrived in town and parked our bags, we headed to our nearby dinner spot, a long table by the beach under a thatched roof. As many of us were still full from lunch, we ordered fewer plates overall, but enjoyed plenty of variety. First up were razor clams, lightly seasoned with garlic, basil, and kaffir lime, removed from but mixed with their peculiar long shells. The coconut soup with shrimp featured slices of coconut shoots, similar to bamboo shoots but more neutral in flavor. The squid salad differed from the usual hot and sour lime dressing: the squid was mixed with slices of wing bean, shallots, cashews, and lengths of green onion, in a sweeter dressing, topped with fried shallots. Our vegetable was stir-fried Chinese broccoli with garlic and Thai oyster sauce. The fried fish was an unusual presentation: the meat had been cut off the bone into chunks, which were individually fried along with the skeleton, piled atop the skeleton, and then dressed with a Northern style dressing (similar to larb). Finally, a small pot of stir-fried crystal noodles (mung bean threads) arrived, with four large shrimp hidden at the bottom. As we previewed our schedule for the next few days, geckos raced around the bamboo beams of the thatched roof, helping control the local insect population.
The Bara Resort, located across the main street from the beach, offers basic bungalows with a firm bed, in-room air conditioner, mini-bar (small refrigerator with two bottles of water), and a shower with a wall-mounted water heater. These are amenities we will miss the next few nights. I didn’t take much time to enjoy these amenities, other than the firm bed. I will have to make up time in the morning.