After taking a couple of days to orient myself to local time, I will at last be meeting up with our group for the first of many dinnertime feasts, and tomorrow our journey begins in earnest. At mid-day I will move from the condo to our hotel, but first, I’ll have one last breakfast on my own. Maybe it’s time to take a break from pork noodle soup? There are so many other kinds of noodle soup I could try.
Friday, January 20, 2017
I studied the reviews for Khon Sae Lee Noodles on Google Maps, and concluded that the wontons and duck deserved a try. This time, after taking my table, I was brought a multilingual menu card which identified that very combination as a top seller. The wonton wrapper had a good texture and released a burst of sesame oil fragrance when bitten. The filling quantity was small, but the filling (pork and shrimp?) was tasty. The duck lost its crispiness in the soup, and was perhaps a bit too salty, but overall the dish was successful. And as a sweet conclusion, how about another order of kanom krok from the cart around the corner?
After packing up — with only a modest amount of overflow — I lugged my 100 pounds of too-much-stuff up 43 stairs to the BTS Skytrain station and back down the other side. I paused to transfer part of my bottled water supply into myself and continued to the Salil Hotel Sukhumvit – Soi Thonglor 1. My room wasn’t ready, but they happily held my large bags while I sat at an air conditioned table and processed photos.
I walked over to My Choice where I met up with Kasma, her husband Michael, our two drivers, and seven other trip members. After some brief introductions (I apologize for the mixed up names…), we had a choice of noodle dishes, but I opted for the salted black olive fried rice, which has a subtler flavor than you might imagine from the name. After lunch, I was occupied with unpacking bags and pondering repacking strategies. Soon, we were off to dinner.
Thon Krueng is a popular restaurant that previously was located on Soi Thonglor, the main street closest to our hotel. A couple of years ago they moved to what seemed, judging from the map, to be an obscure side street nearby. As our vans pressed slowly forward through the early evening traffic, past new hotels and restaurants, it was clear that infill development had been quite intense in this neighborhood, so much so that after dropping us off, our drivers had to walk about half a kilometer from the restaurant’s parking lot. We were seated on the upper floor of a brightly lit, two story building, in the air-conditioned indoor section.
I’ve eaten at Thon Krueng many times, and the dish I remember best is their hoa moke or red curry fish mousse. Served on a clay plate with seven individual wells with seven matching covers, it is the incomparably smooth texture of the mousse which makes it especially fun to eat. An appetizer of crunchy (fried) rice cakes with a coconut-peanut-pork dipping sauce started us off. Slightly sweet and slightly runnier than the version Kasma teaches in her classes, it was a delicious “first bite.” Chayote greens stir-fried with garlic and a mild broth, along with rice, would offset the spicier dishes: hot and sour prawn salad, deep-fried chunks of snakehead fish in rich choo-chee curry, and a crispy rice salad with bits of sour sausage, pork skin, shallots, and chillies. I left no room for dessert.
Back at the hotel, despite many eyes half open or closed, Kasma outlined our immediate itinerary. In brief, there will be heavy shopping tomorrow, and extensive driving after an early departure Sunday.
Saturday, January 21, 2017
As the Southern trip has fewer shopping stops than the Northern trips, Kasma likes to take her groups to one of the largest markets in the world right up front. The Chatuchak (or Jatujak, or JJ) Weekend market is far too large to explore in one day, especially because the shops and aisles are open air, so the heat becomes oppressive by late morning. Whether you seek fine art or bric-a-brac, t-shirts or jeans, snacks or housewares, coconut water or a cocktail, you are likely to find it here. Somewhere. Famous for its pickpockets, it’s also a place to take extra care with purses and wallets lest you find yourself needing a new one of those as well.
The Salil’s breakfast buffet offered custom omelets, various Japanese and Western items, and coffee-flavored black tea. Unimpressive. In the lobby, we were joined by three more travelers who had arrived around midnight. Our vans crawled slowly across town in Bangkok’s intense traffic, and parked opposite the entrance to the market. After braving the crosswalk — cars slow, motorcycles do not — we made it safely across all six lanes. An oral orientation and a map cannot prepare you for how lost you will get here, so there was really nothing to do but “go,” understanding when and where we planned to meet for lunch.
My shopping list included flip-flops (essential), candied ginger (very nice to have), some additional clothing appropriate for a year of mourning (will need sooner or later), and perhaps a few gifts for the folks back home (ditto). Between this bazaar and a stop on the way back, I was able to pick up most of what I needed, and many things I didn’t. Luckily, since we return to the Salil Hotel next month for our last night, the bellhop will hold extra purchases for us.
Admist the shops, one finds the restaurant Toh Plue. It’s popular with visitors looking for an air conditioned respite from wandering the aisles. Thais, on the other hand, tend to snack from the open air carts scattered throughout and around the market. Prices are set accordingly. Our first dish was duck that had been fried crispy on the outside and a bit dry on the inside, accompanied by slightly sweet roasted chilli paste and black soy sauce. Not bad, but could use a juicier sauce. Morning glories — not the garden vine but the water plant also known as ong choy — were stir-fried with fermented soybeans and hot Thai chillies. A fish that had been butterflied and deep fried was topped at the last moment by a tangy dressing with (not enough) shreds of green mango, a dish I always enjoy. Toh Plue presents the green curry chicken in a plain white bowl set in the middle of an ornately carved Thai pumpkin (a squat vegetable similar to kabocha squash), ringed with flower blossoms. Finally, we had tender slices of grilled pork neck drenched in a spicy, slightly too salty Northern-style dressing, accompanied by raw cabbage, long green beans, and carrots for crunching. This fatty cut of pork is a favorite for grilling up North and we might not see it again as we travel around the South. Fortunately, I can get my fix back home at Amarin Thai Cuisine in Mountain View.
I split from the group to run some errands: taking advantage of the MRT subway station exits, I crossed over to the upscale Aw Taw Kaw (Or Tor Kor) market for a bag of crunchy fried jackfruit chips, then rode the MRT to the Sukhumvit station to visit the Gourmet Market at the bottom level of the Terminal 21 shopping mall. Their dried fruit section has delicious candied ginger and numerous other treats, although the shop was so busy that I limited myself to immediate needs. Then I hopped on the BART-like BTS Skytrain back to the Thonglor neighborhood where I rescued a t-shirt I had forgotten at the Crest, picked up some laundry I had dropped off earlier in the week, and loaded up on a couple bottles of water from the 7-Eleven.
By the time I reached my room, I needed to cool down before my afternoon massage. Which unfortunately meant I could only squeeze in a 90 minute Thai massage at Hatthai Massage rather than the full 120 minutes. Considering how surprisingly painful this manipulation of pressure points and energy meridians can be — and was — I suppose that’s okay. I’m just not quite as relaxed as I could be.
For dinner, we once again journeyed to My Choice on Soi 36. Two of Thailand’s tastiest salads are in fine form here. Long green eggplants are grilled tender (but not mushy) and topped with a tangy lime-based dressing and fresh shrimp that complement their smoky flavor. Winged beans are cut crossways into an “X” shape and topped with a rich coconut cream dressing and sweet, crispy fried shallots. On the spicier side, we had chicken stir-fried with vegetables in a dry Southern curry, and squid stir-fried with chillies and green peppercorns. Two coconut milk-based curries helped soothe our palates. Panang curry beef was solid, but the more remarkable was a custom ordered massaman curry with fatty beef tongue. Wonderful.
Tomorrow, so early that the buffet has not even brewed coffee yet, we will escape from Bangkok, down the peninsula, to Ranong, from which, early Monday, we will start our quest for Thailand’s best snorkeling. The weather is not ideal, but fish still have to eat, so we’re going to give it our best shot.