Feb 042015

Today I needed to be alone with my computer to finish my timesheets for January and to post a few blog updates. Luckily the battery held out until evening when we visited a new hotel with ample 24-hour electricity but spotty wi-fi. The battle continues.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Sitting in a humid cabin working while battling mosquitos is not easy. Fortunately, construction on a new cabin meant that the lights and air conditioning were on this morning until nearly lunchtime. Perfect. Then another round of seafood fried rice and … waiting for our speedboat.

The higher capacity catamaran was faster and gave us a smoother ride. Arriving at the pier hot and tired, we were mystified by the offer of what sounded like “eye cream.” Soon enough, we were huddled around the ice cream case at Sabina’s (the tour company’s) shop and cleaned out the good flavors.

We drove the short distance to Khuraburi and stopped at Boon Piya, a recently constructed Thai-style resort. This means that the shower and toilet shared a single small tiled room. But at least the sink was outside and you could use it without getting your feet wet; it’s an upgrade from the old design, and of course, it has a wall air conditioning unit with a confusing remote.

For dinner we crossed the street and sat at a sidewalk table of a modest restaurant. A fried fish with chili sauce, hot and sour soup, pak liang with egg, a larb (Northeastern style dry salad) made with fried pieces of cobia, and an oyster pancake/omelet were as expected. The noodle salad with ground pork and poached squid was more unusual: the transparent noodles had a kind of crunchiness that reminded me of Japanese “yam noodles” instead of regular mung bean threads. Fun to eat, but very spicy with all the bits of colorful chillies.

Tomorrow we will drive South toward our next snorkel destination. On the way, we will stop at touristy Phang-nga Bay, and stay at a four star resort in Khao Lak. In other words, we’ll get back on the beaten path just long enough to see how it feels.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

It is a tradition on Kasma’s trips South from Khuraburi to pig out on rotis at a welcoming Muslim-run restaurant in Takua Pa. Kasma has to call ahead to make sure they have enough dough left when we arrive. To ensure that we did not inadvertently lose weight, we first stopped at the town’s main market to look at the range of fresh ingredients and to enjoy a piece of Southern (Thailand) style fried chicken. Marinated and lightly dusted, you are mostly eating the crispy red skin and tender meat of the chicken, without heavy breading.

Southern Thai rotis are served in many forms, but the most basic is as a fried bread for eating with or dipping into massaman curry (made with chicken or with goat; I recommend the goat). The wheat flour dough is formed into balls and rested overnight, then stretched thin (thinner than a crepe) and twirled to form a loose disk. After oiling the griddle, a few roti disks are added and then palm margarine. After being fried on both sides and stacked up, the cook smashes the stack from each side with her hands to fluff and separate the layers. It tastes better than it sounds, but don’t tell my doctor. It works well with the goat curry at Thai-Muslim Restaurant.

Plain roti in Takua Pa Massaman Curry Goat in Takua Pa

Roti dough also can be spread on the griddle and adorned with egg, or stuffed with chicken and spices, or stuffed with bananas. We sampled all three. Plain roti and banana roti often are enjoyed with a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk and a sprinkle of sugar. We left here very full indeed.

A couple hours drive South, we pulled up to the main pier at Phang-nga Bay, known for its limestone karsts and made famous by The Man with the Golden Gun. For lunch, we stopped at one of many large seafood restaurants built on stilts in front of Panyee Island. The golden minarets of a newly built mosque gleamed in the sun, somewhere down the walkway. Our selections included a spicy shrimp salad, squid rings in a black pepper sauce, crab (in the shell) with a similar sauce, chicken soup with bitter melon or some other bitter vegetable, Chinese broccoli stir-fried with Thai oyster sauce, and a whole grilled fish (which had to be sent back for a little more time on the grill).

We proceeded in our touring boat around the bay, through a karst cave, to the main tourist destination: “James Bond Island.” Actually, it was the hideout of the villain, you view both it and the popular “nail rock” from an adjacent island jammed with tourists taking selfies. And vendor stalls. It’s completely nuts. Eventually our boat was able to come to shore and get us out of there.

View of Nail Rock from "James Bond Island" on Phang-nga Bay A congested boat landing on "James Bond Island" in Phang-nga Bay

Because all the local hotels were full, we backtracked to Khao Lak, famed for its beautiful west-facing beach and luxury resorts. The Diamond Beach resort was fancy, but somewhat dysfunctional. One couple waited an hour for the electronic door lock on their room to be repaired, and even then, only the maintenance department’s master key worked correctly. In my spacious room, the window shade in the bathroom that provided privacy from the main room was not all the way down, so I pulled the chain and it immediately broke. The front desk did not seem to understand the problem, so I climbed up on the toilet and disassembled and fixed it. I did not see any solution to the missing toilet paper dispenser, however, and why is there no shower curtain on the tub?

But you are really paying for the beach location here, and the sunset did not disappoint. We met up in the hotel’s dining room for hot and sour coconut soup with chicken, a spicy mixed seafood salad, (overcooked) chicken satays, duck in red curry, pork with Thai basil, and mixed vegetables with a heavy emphasis on carrots and broccoli (presumably to suit the tastes of the Western tourists who stay here). Certainly a step up from “island cuisine.”

Sunset on the beach with an elephant, Khao Lak Sunset at Khao Lak

Tonight we will enjoy the large comfortable beds and effective air conditioning for as long as possible. Tomorrow we head South to the pier and repack for our next snorkeling adventure, in the Tarutao park.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The croissants on the Diamond Beach resort’s breakfast buffet appeared to me to have been ruined by the humidity. Only later did I learn from a fellow traveler that they could be flattened a bit and run through the toasting machine to restore their crispiness. Oh well, something to try at the next place.

We pointed our vans South toward Krabi, where we would do a little banking, consider whether to order custom batik shirts, and have lunch. One of our trip members who contracted a chest cold decided to stay in Krabi for a few days, since it is the nearest town with an airport. (We later learned from the hotel that she was going to the hospital for a couple of days, but as of this writing, we have not heard back on how she is doing.) While our trip leaders helped her get settled, we took a few pictures of the waterfront and clowned around with the giant crab statues there. Krabi is pronounced like gruh-BEE but these crab may reflect the reality that more people called it CRAB-ee.

The Krabi Batik Workshop, also known as Varich Krabi Batik, is a store I have visited many times. The shirts, scarves, sarongs, and handkerchiefs here are hand painted on site. I can always find something I like here, but often not in my size. I commissioned two shirts repainted in my size (about $25 each), and found a few possible gifts as well.

For lunch, we had planned a one-dish meal at a noodle shop but it was so busy that we instead went to Ruen Mai for a five-course feast. Originally at a different location, Ruen Mai was Kasma’s favorite restaurant in Thailand, so it was a sad day when she learned that it had been closed (sold to a family member). When it was re-launched later with a strict policy of not offering special menus for tour groups, or commissions for tour group leaders, we ended up with the best of both worlds: an extensive menu of great Thai food, and far less competition for tables.

Our selections included barramundi steaks in red curry; a tart eggplant salad with coconut milk (a little heavy on the lime juice — or light on the sugar — for my taste); shrimp and sadtaw beans with a shrimp paste sauce; lardons of pork belly stir-fried with red (fermented) tofu, garlic and Thai chillies; and stir-fried ferns. To ensure that we ended our meal with a sweet taste in our mouths, there was ice cream. We will be happy to return and explore more of the menu.

It would be several more hours before we would reach Pak Bara, and all this van time was taking a toll on our circulation. Swollen ankles and feet would be harder to squeeze into snug snorkel fins; we might all need to sleep with our feet up tonight. Fortunately, we will soon be on island time and have plenty of space to spread out on a large boat.

On my last visit to the Bara Resort there was a gap between the wall and floor in the shower that allowed large water beetles access to the room. This time, the shower appeared to be freshly tiled and well-sealed, so I only needed to worry about mosquitos.

After taking a few twilight photos on the local beach and watching a kitten “hunting” a rabbit around the hotel’s grounds, we gathered in their dining room for dinner. E started with the very Southern dish of spicy seafood dip with vegetables, including slices of cucumber, lengths of green long beans and winged beans, baby corn, cauliflower, Thai eggplants, and little squares of vegetable omelet. Still, a lot of rice was needed to recover from this one. The heat continued in the sour curry fish, a salad of squid with coconut shoots, and a larb. Milder dishes included stir-fried Chinese broccoli with salted fish and, of all things, fried chicken fingers.

Toward the end of our meal, a large table closer to the small stage filled up, and the Johnny Walker Black started flowing. These men would be wailing into the karaoke mic for hours to come. Fortunately, I was able to fall asleep quickly; we will need to be well rested for our initial day of snorkeling tomorrow.

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