I recalibrated my mental calendar to ensure that I was ready for an on-time departure. Mission accomplished: twenty minutes early rather than ten minutes late. We headed down the highway toward Ranong, where we would lay over for the evening. Our first stop was at a roadside stand specializing in kapi, the shrimp paste that forms an important component of many Thai curries and other dishes. Tiny shrimp are laid out in the sun to dry, then salted and allowed to ferment. The better grades smell best (more “like the sea” and less “rotten”). I picked up a small jar that should last me a while.
Our Truck Stop Breakfast
The traveler’s restaurant where Kasma usually stops was offering an extraordinary variety of dishes for 7:00 in the morning, from three different kinds of green curry to fried fish, bitter melon soup to noodles, and much more. We could have any two over rice, so after pondering, I tried a stir-fried fish and shrimp with loofah squash. Unremarkable. We shared duck eggs with orange yolks cooked just past gooey served “son in law” style in a sweet tamarind sauce, and little steamed cakes made with sweet palm fruit. These were a nice finish.
The Market in Hua Hin
Hua Hin is a popular vacation destination for Thais, and increasingly for Western travelers. We parked near the Starbucks (so its sparkling restroom would be convenient) and headed into the market. Amidst the stalls selling fish, vegetables, dry ingredients and prepared foods, one can find clothing, housewares, beach supplies, and other sundries. The narrow aisles must accommodate shoppers, vendors pushing carts, and, inexplicably, motorcycles.
We snacked on khanom krok, and tasted various spicy pastes and potions we can use to season bland island cuisine (or take home to season our own cooking). I picked up a beach mat and some light “snorkel” pants: they are not sun-proof, but should help reduce impacts from stinging plankton and bits of jellyfish. We stopped for fruit and various confections before heading down the highway toward our lunch spot.
Lunch at Sunee (Pranburi Marina)
The Pranburi marina is home to numerous squid drying operations. Fresh squid is cleaned and flattened, and then laid out in the sun to dry. I only remember one operator from 2010, and a wide, inviting beach. Now there are drying racks almost to the high tide line in front of several sites, and an earth mover was shoring up a sand berm in front of one of them. So much for the beach! With the old pier looking derelict, it’s not much of a place to play.
Fortunately, it’s still a fantastic place to eat. We returned to Sunee restaurant for a seafood feast featuring a local specialty: squid that has been sun-dried for one day, then deep fried. The slightly chewy pieces have a slightly more intense flavor than fresh squid, and are well-matched with a spicy dipping sauce. A spicy salad of similarly chewy-crisp bits of baby clam, peanuts, shallots and chillies was dressed in a familiar sour lime juice dressing. Large whole prawns (boiled or steamed) with a garlicky dipping sauce were a treat for those who love shrimp brains — that part was optional, of course — but a bit challenging to peel. Stir-fried crab meat topped with crispy fried holy basil, mixed vegetables with Thai oyster sauce, and a crispy fish topped with sweet garlic and shallots completed the menu. Not including some treats we brought with us. I was more than full by this time, all the better to nap in the van.
By 4:00, we had made good progress, but we had to stop for a mid-afternoon snack. Somewhere along Highway 4 is a small groups of vendor stands with multi-level Chinese steamers beckoning to passing travelers. Call it the bun village or “Bunburi,” it is a nice spot to stretch your legs and sample Thai-style dim sum. The traditional bun contains a pork meatball, part of a hard-boiled egg, and some peppery gravy in a very slightly sweet puff of steamed bread. A BBQ pork bun was very savory, with none of the sweet glop served in similarly named buns back home. Dessert buns included a sweet black bean filling, a “cream” filling of yellow custard, and a Thai Iced Tea-flavored custard in vivid orange. I missed the green (Pandanus-colored) coconut custard bun, and I wasn’t very hungry, so I only managed to eat nine buns and two siu mai dumplings. Still, it was enough to ruin my appetite for several hours.
The Janson Hot Spa Resort
After a brief stop at a narrow point along the Isthmus of Kra to gawk at Burma and speculate on a canal, and an even briefer stop to photograph a waterfall, we pulled up to the Jansom Hot Spa Resort (formerly known as the Jansom Thara Resort). It might not be a coincidence that Ranong, one of the rainiest spots in the country, also has a popular hot spring. The healing waters are piped into his and hers pools for those who need to feel even hotter than they already do. (I am not one of those people.)
After sufficient time for a soak or a nap, we gathered for dinner in the resort’s empty dining room. I wasn’t very hungry, so I just nibbled. Dinner was followed by karaoke using the poor sound system in the dining room. I was able to pull off two songs, but two others flopped because I couldn’t find the right key. I hate to leave the audience with a bad impression, so I’ll have to do better next time.
Tomorrow morning we must leave by 7:00am to make our ferry for the Surin islands. We will leave one of our bags in the van and take as little as we can with us. Just a swimsuit and beach towel, snorkel gear, sunscreen and insect repellent, cameras, mobile phone, laptop, chargers… it’s not as easy to travel light as it used to be.