We will be taking a break from snorkeling for three days, and then resuming from our new island base on Koh Lanta. In the meantime, we’ll feast on Chinese-Thai cuisine, do a little early morning birding, and take a little time to relax. Or update our blogs. ;-)
Sunday, February 8, 2015
Our goal was to leave Koh Lipe by 9:00 AM, so we had plenty of time to pick over the offerings at the buffet. Our familiar longtail taxi met us at the beach and we soon were aboard our big boat and underway by about 9:30. Just past the Southeastern tip of the island we began to be rocked by large waves; this usually indicates a storm far away, but wherever it was, it was our problem now. The boat’s usually relaxed pace was slowed further as the crew eased up on the throttle to reduce the impact on us, and also on the craft, as hard crashes caused bits of rotted wood to fall from the ceiling and in one case knocked out part of a window. After a couple of hours, we were protected from the waves by some large islands and we reached shore about 90 minutes later than expected.
From the pier, we walked to a nearby restaurant and ordered stir-fried noodles with chicken as a quick one-dish meal. Then we hit the road for Trang, the nearest major city. The Thumrin Thana Hotel welcomed us with a chilled fruit drink (the exact composition of which may be a trade secret) and we checked into our rooms on the 10th floor. With two double beds, and both a tub and separate shower, the floor plans are much larger than the older Thumrin Hotel down near the train station, but the Thumrin Thana lacks its desirable central location. When I wanted to visit a 7-11 and a pharmacy, I ended up walking down to the old neighborhood.
I was looking for some Benadryl to help reduce itching from the snorkeling stings. The first place I visited showed me only modern antihistamines, saying he did not carry Benadryl because it was no longer being prescribed by doctors. At a second place, I showed some search results on my phone with the generic name and the pharmacist quickly produced a jar of 1000 tablets. In response to my request for a small package, he explained that they are sold individually for 2 baht each. Perfect. And cheap. Of course, I needed some cold water to recover from walking around for an hour, as well as a change of clothes. Trang, despite the strong winds around our hotel, is hot.
For dinner we visited nearby Kanok restaurant, known for its Chinese-Thai fusion cuisine. The hot and sour coconut soup with large prawns and coconut shoots, and a salad featuring bits of pomelo with crispy fried shallots, are Thai classics. A stir fry of sea asparagus, shrimp, Chinese broccoli, and brown mushrooms in a garlicky brown sauce definitely shows the Chinese influence in Trang cuisine. (Note: “sea asparagus” are lengths of a white tube worm that have a texture that is somewhere between a clam and gnocchi.) Deliciously crispy pieces of duck, roasted and then deep-fried, tender stewed pork shoulder, and mixed vegetables with a fine hair-like seaweed continued the theme. Not to mention the presentation: a lot of cameras came out for dinner tonight.
There was little time for evening activities as we will be rising well before dawn tomorrow, to catch the sunrise on a marshy lake where numerous waterfowl are challenging photographers to keep up with them.
Monday, February 9, 2015
At 4:45 AM, we pointed our vans North and East toward Patthalung province, home of the Thale Noi Waterbird Park/Reserve. When we arrived around 6:00 AM, the boat drivers who give tours of the lake were not yet ready for us, but soon we were on board two low wooden boats with padded seats. The sitting position was a bit uncomfortable, especially after two hours. Who knew your butt could get this sore? But the advantage of being so low to the water is better access to the brilliant pink water lilies, and a low angle on birds feeding throughout the marsh. We also saw a herd of water buffalos feeding, as well as young ones on a hill (perhaps the water had become too deep for them).
On my last visit here, I remarked on how difficult it was to photograph birds in flight. The loud diesel motor, which occasionally backfires, almost guarantees they will take to the air, and then it is our job to follow them and focus and shoot. I’m not sure I did any better this time around; more practice is needed.
[insert photos here]
(Today’s GPS Track Note: Started recording a bit late, but you get the idea, what felt totally random was roughly a big circle. Switch from the map view to the satellite view and zoom in to see all the channels through the reeds.)
After taking some easier photos from the walkways of the visitor center, we ambled over to the local “rice shop” for breakfast of stuff over rice. In my case, it was pieces of crispy pork belly with a bowl of chicken broth on the side. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at an OTOP shop which carried products from around the South, ranging from snacks to wooden carvings. The batik shirts with dugongs (sea cows) in a tall geyser of water would be the perfect souvenir — the dugong is found only in Trang province and is a common symbol here — if only it were available in a slightly larger size. Oh well, next time.
Back at the hotel we stopped in at the coffee shop for noodles. Rad nah, often written lard nar, consists of wide rice noodles gently stir-fried with soy sauce, and then topped by protein items and vegetables in a thickened sauce (very similar to “chow fun with gravy”). We tried the restaurant’s signature “super” seafood version, which came with crispy fried shrimp, decoratively cross-hatched pieces of squid, Chinese broccoli and swirls of egg. A touch bland, but various condiments were available to spice it up. Overall, a good dish.
My while travel companions got Thai massages, I spent my afternoon free time on the computer. I am a little nervous about massages while my toe is still questionable. Soon enough it was time to put on a nice shirt for one of our more upscale dinner stops.
Ban Suan Sudaporn features tables nestled in a garden setting, which provides a bit of privacy. (Kasma’s husband Michael has a blog post about the restaurant with some daytime photos.) The star here is the pork leg, which is stewed in spices and then deep fried to a crisp. Served with its enormous bones, three plates provided more than enough crispy skin, succulent fat, and deeply flavored meat for our party of fifteen. But to begin at the beginning, the restaurant brought us an appetizer of green papaya salad in a rice noodle roll, which I have never seen before. The fiery dressing is tempered by the noodle, and it looks great. Next we got a “miang” of pork floss with wild pepper leaves. With a traditional miang (for example, miang kum), you form a cup with your leaf and drop in individual pieces of dried shrimp, cubed ginger, chopped shallot, bits of lime with both the juicy parts and the peel, roasted peanut halves, toasted coconut shreds, thin rings of your favorite hot chillies, and a tamarind-based sweet and sour sauce, fold up the packet, and put the whole thing in your mouth and chew to experience an explosion of different flavors. In California, since wild pepper leaves can be difficult to find, you could use lettuce or spinach (or kale). Here, they pre-mixed the ingredients so it was simpler to fill your leaf (but harder to avoid those hot chillies). In place of dried shrimp was pork floss, which are very thin shreds of pork which are seasoned (with plenty of sugar) and dried. Deliciously addictive, but perhaps a touch too sweet.
Free-range chicken was featured in a searing chilli curry, one of Thailand’s hotter curries. To sooth the palate, we also got the leafy green pak liang cooked in coconut milk. This would be worth trying with other greens, such as kale; I’ll need to find a recipe.
Tomorrow we will head to the third of our island destinations. Koh Lanta is visited primarily by Western tourists, but we’ll be skipping the tattoo parlors and spending our days face down in the ocean.