Jan 282015

Since we had to skip a template on the way from Chumphon to Khao Sok, today will be our big temple day. Which means wearing long pants and trying hard to avoid offending anyone. But no day in Thailand is without humor and fun. Or food: there’s always more food than you can possibly eat.

The Nakhon Garden Hotel does not bother with hot and cold running water, just cold. In the shower, there is a heater which provides a very modest (if steady) volume of very warm water. Since it seems impossible to feel cold here, this arguably is sufficient. In two days we should get a proper hot shower before heading out to the next set of islands.

We began our day with dim sum, or more correctly, Hokkien Chinese “dim sum” known in Thai as da-tiem (or ta-tiam, or as one restaurant spells it, tae tiam; it’s difficult to write out pronounceable Thai). We had a range of dumplings, including familiar favorites like siu mai and har gow, but also shrimp balls in a translucent tapioca starch pouch with bits of thin seaweed, in a cone of thinly shaved Thai pumpkin, and in a seaweed (nori) wrapper. Steamed buns contained a pork meatball and a bit of hard-boiled egg. On the side, we enjoyed an order of tender stewed pork belly on a bed of preserved vegetables, and lots of tea. We barely scratched the surface of the expansive menu and ate so voraciously I hardly got any pictures. I’ll definitely need to come back some day.

Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan is the main temple in town and one of Southern Thailand’s few sites said to have a relic of the Buddha. Not much has changed here since my previous visits, but I think this may have been my first visit to the temple museum; nice things, but very quiet until a large group of shy Thai schoolchildren came through. Later, I stepped into a procession of men and women holding up their arms carrying a very long stretch of gold fabric into a room below the main chedi, and up a few stairs to an elevated walkway. At some point, we stopped and there was a Thai voice, then people seemed to be praying, and then tying the cloth around the handrail along the walkway. This would have been the point at which the English voiceover explained what we were doing; unfortunately, we’ll have to add that in post.

We exited the temple toward its adjacent marketplace, where one can buy amulets and bells, as well as snacks, toys, t-shirts and other souvenirs, cooking implements such as brass woks, jewelry, and antiques. True to form, we probably spent most of our time with the snacks. Our purchases of kanom la, thin threads of mildly sweet wheat dough formed into small bundles, are too fragile to make the trip home and will need to be consumed soon.

There was time before lunch to squeeze in a visit to the Nakhon branch of the National Museum. Covering artifacts collected locally that span prehistory to modern day, the museum contains a decent amount of English-language explanation, but a shortage of air conditioning. Working from the main floor to the third floor we worked up a good appetite.

Our lunch spot serves a variety of one-dish lunches, and we go to try the Southern specialties of rice noodles topped with a ground fish curry and a rice salad (a variety of ingredients and sauce are mixed into plain rice, although today it was colored blue). After eating, there was time to photograph the restaurant’s large collection of antique coconut graters. These consist of a decoratively carved bench with a metal disk sticking out from one end. The benches range from animal to human figures, often with anatomically accurate features, if you know what I mean.

After lunch, we headed to the workshop of Suchart Subsin, a renowned shadow puppet artist and family business. Fashioned from translucent cow hide and painted in bright colors, the shadow puppets are operated using one or two sticks behind a screen (a sheet?), with a single bulb providing illumination for the show and for the musicians providing the soundtrack. Subsin’s son (I think) put on a show and then sat in the shop demonstrating some of the leather carving techniques used to create the puppets while we considered possible purchases. As the price was modest, I purchased two but they are so tall I have no idea how I will get them home (perhaps the main stick will need to be cut).

Since Nakhon is known for certain handicrafts, of course we hit some shops to see fine examples we might actually be able to take home with us. These included remarkable yan lipao baskets, woven from the internal stem of the lipao vine. Beautiful, but at nearly $200 each, not in my budget this time. I have a weakness for silver bowls with gold nielloware inlays, but they were nowhere to be found. Examples of the finely detailed local etching were available on bracelets, but I don’t wear bracelets myself and have no idea of your taste in bracelets, dear reader, so couldn’t pick one up for you.

For dinner, we headed Northwest toward the coast, to Pak Nakhon. This seemingly small community has a pedestrian pier where local residents and some tourists gather for sunset. We watched fishing boats coming in and out of the harbor and took our share of sunset photos.

The restaurant offers covered but open air seating, so we could enjoy the evening breezes with our seafood. First up were large green-lipped muscles. These were tasty straight from the shell, but you needed to use the garlicky dipping sauce to get the true Thai experience. Large prawns were served atop a bed of crystal noodles (mung bean threads); crab was prepared with yellow curry; and we had cobia (“catfish of the sea”) in another curry. The fish mousse (hoa moke) was pretty good as far as it went, but the plate seemed to have far too much cabbage. Still, we couldn’t eat another bite.

All too soon, we are leaving Nakhon Si Thammarat to head back to the West coast so we can begin the first of our three rounds of snorkeling at Koh Surin park. We will spend one night in a lush resort where traditionally I’ve done some karaoke at dinner. Who knows whether the group will be interested in hearing me this year.

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