Feb 092010

Krabi (February 9, 2010)

After one last visit to the breakfast buffet for a last bowl of simple rice porridge (with vinegar, chillies, cilantro, ginger shreds, and pork meatballs), we loaded into two vans for the ride to the Krabi airport. Its souvenir shops seemed somehow more authentic (and certainly were more homey) than the large luxury brand duty free shops that dominate the airport terminal in Bangkok. Alas, there was not enough time to try out the massage station, but I did pick up a reflexology chart (and wooden stick) showing how a Thai foot massage is supposed to relate to the rest of the body.

Bangkok (February 9, 2010)

Other than one little “bump” — where those not wearing belts might have caught a little air — our flight was uneventful. The bizarre half sandwiches (moistened pork floss on one, frozen mixed vegetables in cream cheese on the other) were served with little chocolate chip muffins and a juice. The hot tea and water were undrinkable due to a strong chemical odor, so upon leaving the plane, I was unusually thirsty. We grabbed our bags, reunited with our drivers, and headed out for a double header of real food: lunch and then a tasting tour at Aw Taw Kaw Market, Bangkok’s fanciest fresh food market. Along the way, we made a serious dent in the bottled water supply.

The market was busy as usual, but we managed to secure enough adjacent tables to seat the twelve trip members together. As we enjoyed our main plate of duck soup noodles, stir fried duck with Thai basil, pad Thai, or mussel omelets, we also had treats from around the market, including sour sausage balls (with optional peanuts, chillies, and white turmeric), grilled chicken, grilled pork-on-a-stick, chewy fried yam balls, and khanom krok coconut pancakes.

Once we were full, we headed over to the durian stand for a tasting. I’ve tried the famously smelly fruit on every trip, and I still consider its oniony flavor and custardy texture to be an acquired taste. At least today I got a very ripe, tender piece that showed durian in its best light. Having had our fill here, we roamed the market looking, tasting, and purchasing. I got some green curry paste and a few snacks for home and then, to beat the heat, visited several of the air conditioned stores here and there around the market.

Back at the Grand Tower, I got all my bags together to puzzle over how I could possibly get it all home. But first, I needed one last Thai massage. The very last bed on the top floor was available, and there I was poked, squeezed, twisted, and stretched for two hours as fingers, elbows, knees, and feet sought to loosen me up from toes to temples. I have to believe it’s therapeutic because really, it’s not that much fun.

After a quick change, we were off to our final feast. Fortunately, it’s walking distance, just through the overhead BTS Skytrain platform and around a corner. Vientiane Kitchen specializes in Northeastern-style (Isaan-style) Thai cuisine, which has a greater emphasis on grilling, smoking, and general spiciness. The restaurant also features live entertainment — Northeastern music, singing, and dancing — and beer girls in tight miniskirts, all of which makes it a festive place to stuff ourselves. The star of the show is the fried pork leg, which here has the smoky taste of bacon. I really need to get the recipe. Other dishes were som tum, the classic green papaya salad with a bit of salted crab; a larb salad of chopped duck meat; a spicy vegetable soup with ant eggs or ant larvae, or both; a dish of fried long green eggplant wedges topped with a slightly sweet sauce with chopped pork or chicken; a rice salad with bits of Northern-style sour pork; and a miang plah with a fried whole fish (you gather a couple pieces of fish, and place them on a leaf, then season to taste with chunks of garlic, slices of lemongrass, pieces of lime and shallot, Thai chillies, roasted peanuts, toasted coconut shreds, and a sticky-sweet sauce). It was a lot of food, and required quite a bit of sticky rice and beer to keep the heat manageable. Dessert helped, too.

Meanwhile, on stage, the show had switched from background music and traditional dancing to various antics. Our driver Sun coaxed the band into having Kasma’s husband Michael come up to sing the phrik kee noo song (the ode to hot Thai chillies), which was a big hit. One of our trip members got pulled up for the traditional sword fighting segment, but instead it involved rather non-obvious bamboo sticks worn on the forearms against a guy with a long bamboo pole; easy to see why that was a confusing situation. Later, when the band honored our table of Californians with their rendition of Hotel California, we helped out with the lyrics and this led to me being pushed up to the stage to sing it again. While I think I got the rock and roll voice right, I had trouble remembering the lyrics myself; must be the bright lights — or the beer. The singer kept me up there for “When You Say Nothing At All,” a song I used to know about five years ago, but for which he had to prompt me with the lyrics. Everyone in the audience seemed to enjoy it anyway, as he play-acted being a girl fawning over me.

Finally, when the silliness subsided, we gave the traditional tips to our drivers and returned to the Grand Tower for a complex discussion of scheduling. Regardless of the times we set, I do know that I will come in just under the wire. Or just over the wire. It’s important to be consistent.

(While I am posting this from the departure wing at Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok’s international airport, it seems appropriate to give credit to my recently purchased unlocked Treo Pro. Outfitted with a DTAC SIM card and a data plan, it has made a reliable, if slow, modem under a wide variety of circumstances. Most U.S. carriers discourage or disable the use of a mobile phone as a modem, most likely so they can sell a separate (expensive) data plan for laptop access. Perhaps that will happen here, too, when Thailand finally gets 3G rolled out. But for now, it’s a real lifesaver for keeping this site updated on the go. I’ll miss it.)

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