Feb 212012

After a last cold, salty shower and a last sunrise on the lovely beach of Koh Poda, we gathered for a breakfast of boiled rice soup with chicken meatballs. After a brief powerboat ride back to Ao Nang, we would be heading back to Krabi town for better food and better accommodations.

I chased some hornbills around the island during our allotted packing time.

Krabi (Feb. 20, 2012)

For lunch we stopped in at Ruen Mai for another round of favorites. In the evening, we usually sit at an exposed table, but to avoid the cruel midday sun, we were seated on an elevated platform under a palapa (I don’t know the Thai word for palapa). We had the delicious crab meat in yellow curry, which is always a favorite. On the spicy side, we had a sour curry with chunks of fish, and a shrimp paste dip with crunchy raw vegetables. This was balanced with another yellow curry (chicken and potatoes), a stir-fried leafy green with shrimp, and a grilled eggplant salad. The latter had coconut cream ladled on generously, reminding me of the taste and texture of tzatziki, the creamy yogurt-based cucumber salad.

Once we reached our maximum girth, we stopped by the Varich Krabi Batik Center to see what new inventory had been added in the past few days and pick up a few more hand-painted items. Then it was into the heart of town for more souvenir shopping. In these hot and humid streets, air conditioning is rare, so I breezed through the Vogue department store for a little cooling break. A KFC on the second level reminded me that the Ao Nang Burger King is not the only fast food outpost in town. We’ll have more time to consider last minute purchases tomorrow, during our “free” day.

After checking back in at the Maritime, we took our laundry items to a small house on the main road. It is poorly marked, even in Thai; there is no English sign. We will pick up our items tomorrow. Meanwhile, we winnowed our belongings to one bag we would keep and put the rest in the van so we could meet the tight baggage restrictions for domestic flights.

Just before we met for dinner, thunder boomed and the skies opened. The Maritime’s lovely walkways — featuring tiles inset among small pebbles — became extremely slippery. Perhaps running shoes were not the safest choice? We managed to avoid the swollen gutters and got a covered table at Ruen Mai. While we did get a little minimal moistening, even with the cooling influence of the rain, it’s still warm enough here to dry your clothes.

Under our palapa, we started with an appetizer of shrimp rings (ground up fresh shrimp formed into a doughnut shape, then lightly coated with a panko-like batter and deep fried). Not bad, but a bit too dense compared to the amazingly fluffy ones we had enjoyed at our seafood lunch on Ko Yo. Kasma had special ordered two whole catfish marinated in turmeric and garlic, and then deep fried, which is a dish we learned in cooking class. These are excellent here; if you didn’t special order ahead, you can choose from two smaller fish on the regular menu. There was a second fish dish, featuring more bite-sized chunks of fish in a creamy orange curry sauce, but I forget the name. The ginger chicken was well executed, very generous with the tangy threads of ginger. Tonight’s heat arrived in a chilli curry with sliced beef, and a fish kidney curry with local vegetables. (The latter is a bit of an acquired taste.) For greens, we had a winged bean salad with cashews and little chunks of pomelo, and a leafy green stir-fried with bits of ground pork with a little Thai oyster sauce. It was more than enough.

We wished Sun a safe drive home through the downpour, and pondered how to spend our free day tomorrow.

Free Day (Feb. 21, 2012)

We have tickets to the hotel buffet, and I sampled a few offerings, but there was nothing worth filling up on. We caught a bus to the market for noodles and snacks. (The “bus” holds up to six plus-sized Americans or maybe ten Thais on two benches facing one another in what feels like a camper shell.) There we did find our khanom jin noodles, and khanom krok coconut milk pancakes, but we could not find the delicious coconut waffles we had in 2010. Someone’s day off perhaps? I decided to pass on the fried chicken, and headed into town for a little shopping and sightseeing.

(The coconut waffles were later spotted at the market that opens in late afternoon, but we didn’t get a chance to eat any.)

Kaewkorawaram temple sits at the top of Maharaj Soi 6, beckoning visitors with its gleaming white buildings and the ornate gold-colored naga gracing the stairway. Another draw was the fact that I knew I could find a bathroom there. (For the record, the men’s room was huge, sparkling clean, and completely deserted.) Only two people were in the temple, but in the shade of some nearby trees, a monk worked on his laptop. At the side entrance, I found a woman selling ice cold sugar cane juice from a small cart. Yes, please.

I picked up a local map and studied it over a couple of steamed buns at an open air dim sum restaurant. Sipping hot tea wasn’t the best way to cool down, but unless you conceal yourself in a hotel room, there’s just no avoiding the heat around here. I dropped by the Varich Krabi Batik Center to see whether anyone was painting and found only one: she was working on some large sarongs featuring pitcher plants; I think they will look very nice in a couple of days.

While walking back to Ruen Mai for lunch, I saw the new Tesco Lotus store. Considering that street signs announced the turn-off, I had expected something more impressive, but apparently this shop is not very popular with the locals. Water and iced tea are priced low here, below 7-11. I also found a bargain cleaver.

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At Ruen Mai, I ordered the fried fish with green mango salad, which I had enjoyed in 2006. It was less impressive this year, particularly because it was much too mild. I’m wearing a t-shirt that says phet mak mak in Thai (very very spicy), so this came as a complete surprise. Oh well. Walking back to the hotel, my thoughts turned to ice cream. While I didn’t find an ice cream cart, I did find one that let you combine any four chewy items with shaved ice, sugar syrup, red coloring, and sweetened condensed milk. I chose cubes of coconut jelly, palm fruit seeds, jackfruit pieces, and red bananas slices (the latter three soaking in syrup). It sounds marginally less healthy than ice cream, but it was very necessary at the moment and the postprandial narcosis didn’t last too long. It was too long, however, to try any of the spa treatments here. Maybe next time.

Our final dinner in Krabi would again be at Ruen Mai. We reprised a couple of favorites: tender poached barramundi with creamy choo chee curry and deep fried lardons of pork belly tossed with a few cloves of garlic and tiny Thai chillies (for those who might like a little heat with their pork). King mackerel steaks were offered with a slightly sweet soy sauce, mixed seafood larb was presented with crunchy raw vegetables, and we had chicken in a smooth and delicious green curry. There was a very brief rain shower to lower the heat level, but we picked it back up with the hot and sour soup featuring enormous whole shrimp in their shells (backs split for easier eating). Somehow we finished nearly everything. I’ll need to downshift to more modest portions soon. Pretty soon. Maybe.

Tomorrow we will catch a brief flight up to Bangkok and grab lunch at the upscale Aw Taw Kaw market. The afternoon will allow time for one last massage (or even more shopping!) before a final feast. At past feasts, some trip members have been called to the stage for sword fights or even singing. Who knows what the evening might bring?

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