Our Temple Day in Nakhon Si Thammarat (Feb. 6, 2012)
We planned a dim sum breakfast, but at 7:30 the doors had not yet opened, so we headed back to the new location of the restaurant formerly as Krour Nakorn. Here we had a choice of the traditional regional breakfasts: khanom jin noodles (freshly extruded rice vermicelli) with a light ground fish curry sauce, or a “rice salad” featuring a bed of steamed rice and a lot of toppings to mix in, including powdered dry shrimp, ground dry chillies, thin slices of lemongrass and green beans, shreds of kaffir lime and green mango, and bean sprouts, with a slightly sweet fish sauce-based dressing. Hard to choose, so I chose to have both.
We headed to Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, the most important Buddhist temple in Southern Thailand. There was a special activity today that involved wrapping symbolic gold cloth around the base of the main chedi (stupa). We first watched the monks blessing various volunteers, and then encountered a parade. Led by drummers and dancers (ordinary members of the community, it appeared), the procession featured long lengths of cloth held up by more members of the community. On the second circle around the temple, school children joined in.
In between all the excitement, there was time to check out the shops. I bought a little brass wok, used for desserts where you melt sugar for glazing because, unlike your well seasoned carbon steel wok, it won’t discolor or add any unpleasant flavors to your dessert. Perhaps too small, but hopefully sufficient for my needs. I also picked up a bag of local cookies typical of this temple. It is customary to buy sweets for your ancestors, and there is a legend of ghosts who are always hungry because they have large bodies but tiny mouths. The cookies are made by drizzling batter into a hot wok to form thin strands, then rolling them up with a stick into a little nest. The strands harden as they cool, forming a crispy cookie. It’s tasty for the living, even if it doesn’t end up feeding any hungry ghosts.
For lunch we headed around the corner to Khanom Jin Muang Nakhon, a favorite local restaurant. Our spicy shrimp dip appetizer was served with fried vegetables (looking a bit like tempura) and fried fish. On our jumbo assortment of raw vegetables, we also got three little salads: thinly sliced cucumbers in a slightly sweet dressing, leafy greens in a saltier dressing, and something like seaweed with a little thin coconut milk. Always handy for cooling a hot tongue. The massaman curry chicken was delicious and fairly mild, as was the decadently fatty and nicely crunchy roasted pork. Turmeric-infused deep fried catfish topped with fried shallots and garlic, bitter melon in broth, fish and pineapple curry, and a green curry (with beef?) rounded out the set. Fruits and sweets followed.
Eventually, we rose slowly from our seats and drove around another corner to the Shadow Puppet Museum, built in the home of acknowledged puppet master Suchart Subsin. He was not present today (hopefully still alive and well) but his son took on the duties of showing how thin cow hides are rendered into intricately cut and painted puppets of princes, heroines, clowns, and other characters and props. We also got a brief show, which now has an English-language printed explanation. The gift shop is full of temptations, but I managed to resist since I don’t envision putting on any puppet shows.
After a lost afternoon of napping and/or working on photos, we headed East to the coast for dinner in Pak Nakhon. While we were waiting for sunset, we interacted with some local residents. A family of boys amused themselves with my Thai-English dictionary (not to learn English, but to quiz one another on pronunciation), and took a few photos with my camera. I wish I knew more Thai, but then, you know that by now.
Once the sun had slipped behind the hills, or clouds that looked like hills, we sat down for another seafood feast. We had a squid larb salad, steamed mussels with a garlicky dipping sauce, a hot and sour soup with whole shrimp (head to tail), whole shrimp cooked in a “clay pot” with transparent mung bean threads (it was a stainless steel pot, but that works), squid simmering in a sour lime sauce, fish stir-fried with black pepper and green peppercorns, and cabbage in Thai oyster sauce. For a quiet restaurant in the middle of nowhere, it was pretty good.
Tomorrow we plan to visit the morning market, taking our time before departing for Songkhla.