Jan 222017

There is a lot of road to cover between Bangkok and the pier where we’ll catch our ferry to the Koh Surin Marine National Park (Mu Ko Surin). We’ll shop and eat our way down the Malay Peninsula and overnight in Ranong, as I did in 2005, 2006, 2010, and 2012. But what appears “same same” on paper always seems to have some variation.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

It seems even when I’m 15 minutes early, I’m the last into the van. Jet lag made for an early getaway, which was strongly recommended due to highway damage after the recent rains. We will eat on the road. Many times.

Around 6:30, we pulled over at a lonely roadside stand to consider purchases of the locally harvested sea salt and locally made Khlong Khon shrimp paste. This is some of the finest (read: mildest) shrimp paste available, and more palatable to Western tastes than what one might find in a random jar at a market. Many of us started stocking the van with jars we’ll take home, mystifying agricultural officials who might view our haul.

Around 7:00, we stopped at a “fast food” restaurant, which ladles your choice of two from over a dozen different curries and stir fries over a huge mound of rice (or you can get a bowl of soup and rice on the side). In the past I’ve ended up with mouthfuls of tiny bones so I avoided the fish dishes and stuck with green curry chicken and pork tehpo curry. Kasma also treated us to spongy steamed cakes flavored with palm sugar which were just the right amount of sweet for an early breakfast, and sweet sticky rice stuffed with bananas which took us over the edge.

Before lunch, we had a major shopping stop to squeeze in. Hua Hin is the nearest nice beach resort from Bangkok and a favorite of the royal family. Kasma will be picking up sweets and snacks approved by the King (the previous King — we are still in the year of mourning and everyone seems to mean the previous King when they refer to the King) for our flavor and treat deprived days and nights at the national park. For us, the more urgent items are (1) water-resistant fiberglass bags, and (2) beach mats. Missions generally accomplished.

The market also offered other diversions: we tasted coconut cream freshly pressed from a kilogram of coconuts that was still a bit warm from the machine. Wow, I’d love to be able to make a coconut soup with this. A bit of cookware, some ingredients, it’s a great place, but we now must be on our way to lunch.

We visited perennial favorite Sunee Restaurant at Pranburi Marina. Unlike my last visit, the squid vendors were not busily cleaning squid today, but the fruits of their previous efforts were sun drying on wire mesh racks in the stiff ocean breeze (it is monsoon season here on the Gulf of Thailand, and the sea was whipped to a froth.) After patronizing the various squid-flavored snacks of a nearby shop, and picking up some premium fish sauce I’m told has an even finer flavor than Golden Boy, we were ready to eat someone else’s cooking.

A specialty of the house is the “solar squid” featuring squid dried in the sun for a single day, then deep fried to a chewy/meaty consistency. We got an extra plate to share, but there was no shortage of delicious seafood. Finely chopped baby clams were deep fried and served in a spicy and tangy lime-based dressing. Crab meat was mildly flavored and topped with crispy holy basil leaves. Large shrimp were boiled in their shells and served with a powerful garlicky dipping sauce. A large fish was fried whole, then smothered with a sweet and savory paste of chillies, tamarind, and shallots. Mixed vegetables in a mild oyster sauce provided relief from the spicier dishes, but a chaser of hot and sour seafood soup left us more than ready for a soothing coconut cream-topped sticky rice treat.

Nor was our feasting at an end. We stopped, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, at a roadside stand with a huge metal steamer well stocked with savory and sweet buns, and siu mai with regular and vivid green wrappers. On past trips to this “bun village,” we’ve challenged ourselves to out-eat previous groups, but with a reduced head count and Kasma avoiding gratuitous carbs, we instead ate just enough to satisfy our late afternoon craving. A couple siu mai and five buns was plenty for me.

Finally we arrived at the Jansom Thara Hotspa Resort. This building seems to be under constant renovation, and this time they are behind on completing the plumbing, so we won’t have hot water in our rooms. Nor was the karaoke system set up in the dining room, so why are we staying here? It’s definitely the most convenient place for an early morning run to the pier, which is our #1 priority.

Dinner was served in the main dining room, accompanied by tunes played from an iPhone. I’ve always enjoyed the steamed fish here, served in a tangy, spicy lime-based dressing. From the land we had a spicy sliced beef salad, red curry duck, and pak miang rainforest greens stir-fried with eggs. A plate of shrimp with sadtaw beans (“stink beans”) rounded out the site, and Kasma served a chewy steamed banana cake and plush, decadent coconut-milk based custard as our dessert course.

Tomorrow we will be going “off the grid” for several days. With only about four hours of electricity in the evenings and questionable cell service, we’ll have no choice but to keep our noses in the ocean watching the fish, and hoping they’ll hold still for their close-ups. Tonight we’re supposed to repack our bags, but sleep beckons, so morning may be hectic.

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