Songkhla (Feb. 8, 2012)
A soft but insistent thrumming woke me before 6:00am: Thai synthesized aerobics music. I checked email and headed down to photograph the sunrise. Despite many attempts, I couldn’t figure out a good way to feature the famous mermaid statute and the rising sun together, but a fisherman throwing out his net made a good silhouette.
The BP Samila’s showers are not at all like showers back home: the middle of the dial is hot, and the volume is well in excess of what a flow restrictor permits. It’s as though there are no resource constraints, which perhaps is fitting for a town heavily involved in the petroleum trade. There’s little risk I’ll get used to it.
I left myself about 10 minutes for a buffet breakfast of rice porridge and a blur of side dishes, some mild green curry, and two cups of tea. Then a mad dash for the van.
The current city of Songkhla occupies a sand bar; it was relocated here a couple of centuries ago when the original city on the hill across the water outgrew the available land. A ferry is available for the crossing, but the more convenient route is the highway through Yoh Island (Koh Yoh). (Because there is no exact English phonetic analogue, and because not everyone follows the same system of transliteration, Yoh also is written Yo and Yor, but it sounds most like “yaw”.)
As you arrive on the island you can’t help seeing the back of an enormous reclining Buddha image. We stopped at the temple to ogle the large statuary. The monks urged us to come closer for photographs. Following the back roads, we saw numerous fish farms in the brackish waters just offshore. Eventually we found some kapi makers laying out freshly caught tiny shrimp in the sun. After an initial partial drying, they are salted and dried a bit further. Soon they will be ground up and packed into jars or buckets for a month or two of fermentation. Then they will be suitable for use in curry pastes, spicy dips, and other culinary delights.
The Institute for Southern Thai Studies Folklore museum is divided between numerous buildings. Beginning with prehistory, you pass through several rooms and halls, working your way down and back up through collections directed toward agriculture, weaponry, ceramics and glassware, textiles, handicrafts, coins, and much more. There’s also a gift shop and a snack bar. Most of it, however, is not air conditioned, and phalanxes of tiny students from Pattani province occasionally would flood the rooms and hallways, requiring a little extra patience.
We had worked up an appetite with all the stair climbing, and a few minutes away was a favorite lakeside seafood restaurant. (Our table wasn’t close to the water, but we could see it if we looked carefully.) The shrimp rings — fresh shrimp turned to paste in a food processor and then shaped like doughnuts, dusted with panko crumbs and deep fried — were miraculously fluffy and delicious with fruity plum sauce. The black pepper crab was a different species than I remembered, harder to pick from its shell. I think this dish still works best with dungeness crab. No complaints about the fried fish with sweet chilli sauce, spicy stir fried squid, and mixed seafood salad. From the restaurant’s snack shop we had crumbly bars that were like a Thai version of a Butterfinger bar.
Our next scheduled stop was a cooperative making the woven cloth for which Koh Yoh is renowned. (Under the OTOP program, this is the province’s major specialty; that’s a bit artificial because other provinces also do good weaving, but it has been successful in promoting sales and tourism.) When we arrived, we thought we saw the staff having lunch next door. Actually, we had stumbled into a class teaching local women to make Western desserts to fill orders from coffee shops. They offered us Thai desserts (as if we weren’t full), and out of politeness I ate three of them. Then they offered a kind of chicken curry-filled croquette. Eating that definitely put me over the edge. We pored over the fabrics at two different shops and some purchases were made (I still have my fabric from 2006, so I thought it better not to buy any more.)
Back on the main road, we shopped a few more outlets and I picked up some inexpensive printed batik cloth from Indonesia, as well as a cheap shirt someone might like. We’ll see plenty of much more expensive hand-painted batik shirts in Krabi.
After a brief break, we began our evening program at the local hilltop temple, Tang Kuan. They have a little monkey problem, but rather than eradicate the monkeys, they turned them into an attraction with a set of climbing and play structures at the base of the hill. (At least one couple used them for a little quick mating.) We took the lift to the top and took in the views. Hmm, okay, that was quick. Back down we went and out to the point for sunset viewing.
Since my visit in 2006, the city installed a large naga statue that sprays water out of its mouth. A naga is a mythical dragon-like creature often depicted with multiple heads. A naga that has cute kittens on its back is not as intimidating, but makes an interesting subject for sunset photography.
For dinner, since our roti shop is out of business, we tried a seafood restaurant near the hotel. It was one in the midst of a group of similar looking restaurants that have fish on ice out front and chairs on the beach at the back. At Monthartip (also spelled Monthatip on one of their other signs), we sat at wooden tables in stiff wooden chairs, but that seemed preferable to sitting in the sand with the table at our knees. The food was delicious and served in generous quantity. The appetizer of crispy fried chunks of soft shelled crab was amazing in having no detectable shells, just a pleasant crunch. Our main crab dish was a mild yellow curry (“karee”).
Tonight’s fish was a large steamed barramundi whose tender flesh absorbed the zippy flavors of the hot and sour lime dressing. A spicy stir-fry of squid appeared to have little noodle-like blobs, but actually they were gelatinous squid egg sacs, perhaps an acquired taste. Snow peas with shrimp provided a mild respite from the spicier dishes. Finally, we got a salad of mixed seafood featuring poached squid, fried shrimp, chunks of fried crab, and cashews. It sounds very strange, but tasted pretty good. Perhaps this place will now be in the regular rotation?
Songkhla (Feb. 9, 2012)
After another buffet breakfast, we dropped by the South end of the beach to see whether we could find any traditional painted kolae boats. The sand was littered with sticks and rocks, the homes were dilapidated, and it was evident that the area did not share the prosperity of the rest of the town. When we reached the few boats that had not gone out, the fishermen appeared tired of tourists. A few photos and it was time to move on.
I was pleased to return to the local branch of the National Museum, located in a former governor’s mansion. In 2006, this was more of a personal collection of artifacts with scant signage and less organization. Today it was a true museum organized more like the National Museum in Nakhon Si Thammarat. And with bilingual signs for most exhibits. After seeing all there was to see, we headed to the local market for a little pre-lunch shopping. I got a bigger box from the post office for my accumulating gift purchases, and cruised the clothes on offer. I found a sugar free iced tea for heat relief, but nothing else seemed essential.
For lunch we dropped into a little hole in the wall specializing in chicken fat rice. Lunch is a set of sliced chicken over rice with a little chicken broth on the side. Is any part of the chicken wasted here? Possibly not.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a little shop featuring hand-painted batik clothes. I think nearly everyone bought something here, either for themselves or someone back home. Or both.
Since we had a long afternoon break, the concierge called a couple of us a masseuse for a traditional Thai massage. This involves a considerable amount of poking and prodding of pressure points, by elbows as well as fingers, and difficult stretches. Some of it was painful, but I’m assuming it was all therapeutic. It’s more expensive in an air conditioned hotel room than off-site, but in this heat, and with the center of town at least a 20 minute walk away, the premium seemed worth it. It was a little strange to have the masseuse take a long phone call in the middle of the massage, but it seemed unwise to make too much of a fuss about it.
For dinner, our intended restaurants turned out to be cranking loud music, so we returned to our restaurant from last night. We were determined to try other dishes, and many of them were good. [Details to be filled in after next round of adventures?]
Tomorrow we will cross back from the Gulf coast to the Andaman coast, and spend a night at Pak Bara in preparation for our departure to our next snorkeling destination: Tarutao. Internet availability uncertain. Fun quotient: expected to be high.