Nahkon Si Thammarat is the home of the most important Buddhist temple we will visit on this trip, as well as a nice National Museum and numerous shopping opportunities. Historically, Kasma spent three nights here, but as more snorkeling days were added, something had to give, so we will have just one full day to squeeze it all in.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
The Sunday market is similar to a regular morning market, with an even larger assortment of food and merchandise. Not too many feet down the first aisle, we stopped at a stall where women in head scarves were frying up crispy Southern Thai-style fried chicken and chicken skin. But it’s definitely a market for everyone, as our next stop on the same aisle was for surprisingly juicy/fatty marinated pork patties grilled on a skewer. Just writing that makes me want another one. As our group of about a dozen awkwardly snaked through the market’s narrow and sometimes dangerous aisles (with uneven footing, muddy puddles, and overhangs that could catch your hair or more), we sampled many other fried and steamed things.
Soon it was time to visit Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan. The chedi (stupa), said to contain a relic of the Buddha, is under renovation to clean off or paint over the mildew that accumulates over time, and polish up the shiny gold top. This limited the areas of the temple we could see, but with two museums, extensive areas for making offerings, and dozens of seated Buddha images, there really is no shortage of things to see and photograph for fans of Buddhist temples. (360 degree image of staircase leading to the chedi)
Of course, adjacent to the temple is a market. The local specialty here is kanom la, a cookie often shaped like a nest. The thin threads of batter are rapidly drizzled around the sides of a wok, then rolled up and allow to cool and crisp before being packaged. The thin strings of batter are related to the legend of hungry ghosts with a tiny mouth, but those with a sizable mouth can enjoy kanom la even more.
For lunch we headed to a restaurant with no English name (at an earlier location it was named Krour Nakorn) notable for its large collection of antique coconut graters. These are small wooden benches imaginatively carved into the shapes of animals, people, and body parts. As we admired their collection (and tried valiantly to photograph them in the dim light), we selected among various noodle and rice dishes, including several Southern Thai classics. Kanom jin rice noodles — not a dessert and not Chinese, the name likely was derived from the Hmong language — come topped with your choice of spicy numya curry (a sauce thickened with ground fish), a mild soupy peanut sauce, or sometimes a ready-to-eat green curry that would otherwise be served over rice. A rice salad consists of a mound of rice surrounded by dry shrimp and various herb and vegetables that are all mixed together by the diner and then topped with a sauce. Any of them would be a fine choice; I had the kanom jin numya, and then a substantial dessert of stewed bananas in sweetened, chilled coconut milk.
Nearby, we visited the shadow puppet workshop established by national artist Suchart Subsin, and taken over by his son in recent years. Fashioned from a thin sheet of translucent cowhide, shadow puppets are given their characters through holes and slots cut through the hide, and the choice of paint colors. I’ll post a video since it’s a bit difficult to explain but generally speaking: the puppeteer positions each character between a bare light bulb and a white sheet, articulating one or two of their limbs using long sticks in accordance with the story (partially in Thai and partially in English for the benefit of tourists). Meanwhile, traditional instruments create a somewhat hypnotic effect.
In a separate building, there is a display of Thai and Indonesian shadow puppets dating back a hundred years or so, showing traditional characters and various designs suited to the times. (For example, in our demonstration, there was a Thai airways jet.) In the gift shop, we watched the artist hammering tiny holes in a new strip of cowhide destined to be a large character puppet. On past trips I’ve purchased shadow puppets that remain in their packages, so I decided not to expand my collection. There was a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt that fit me, so I was able to lend a little support.
Our next stop was the Nakhon Si Thammarat National Museum. I’ve visited here before and remember some of the exhibits, but there have been a number of changes. Just to the right of the reception desk is a room with a large screen playing an introductory video, and upstairs there are rooms dedicated to Hindu and Buddhist influences on Thai history. The large “culture” exhibit featuring dioramas of traditional homes, foods, farming practices, birth, marriage, ordination as a monk, death, and various crafts and performances remains largely unchanged. The air conditioning isn’t always as strong as one might like, but it’s a nice stop.
Finally, we hit the section of town known for nielloware and yan lipao baskets. These are traditional handicrafts of Southern Thailand. Usually nielloware is created by carving a design in silver, and then filling in background areas with a black mixture; gold is used on some pieces. Prices depend on the amount of precious metals and the fineness of the work, so the pieces one tends to fall in love with are often quite expensive. Yan lipao is woven from the core of the stem of the lipao vine, and baskets are made in a range of shapes and sizes. Smaller pieces fashioned into purses through the addition of hinges and clasps seem popular in Thailand, but ordinary free-standing baskets seem more logical for use back home. The weaving can be extremely detailed, and prices are set accordingly. I couldn’t resist one of them, but what to store in it?
Soon it was time to eat again. We were seated upstairs in an open-air seafood restaurant where our mosquito repellants were tested and found not always to be up to the task. While we fed the insects, we enjoyed some spicy salads, curries, and stir-fries. Large fish steaks were marinated in garlic and tumeric and then deep-fried, a group favorite, and rainforest greens stewed in coconut milk with shrimp were ladled into soup bowls to have readily at hand to help soothe a burning tongue.
Tomorrow we will journey South to Songkhla where seafood will once again be on the menu, and we can enjoy hotel rooms with plentiful hot water and strong air conditioning.