There is more to do in Nahkon Si Thammarat, but we must move on. On previous visits to Songkhla, I’ve admired the seafood and taken some nice photos, but if you weren’t already on the Gulf coast and heading to the Tarutao park for snorkeling, would you come out of your way? You be the judge.
Monday, January 30, 2017
We had planned to break our fast at a popular Hokkien-style dim sum restaurant, but perhaps due to Chinese New Year or the fact that it’s Monday, it wasn’t open at the appointed hour. So we returned to the restaurant formerly named Krour Nakhon and tried their dim sum. A couple of the items were very good, but most of it did not compare with my memory of the other place. Turns out scheduling snafus would be a bit of a theme during our time on the Gulf.
Before leaving town, we headed to nearby Wat Wang Tawan Tok, a temple with an old monk’s residence known as a kuti. On my first visit, this derelict-looking wooden building provided photo opportunities of old animal carvings, then in 2012 it had been painted over, which made the carvings feel less antique (comparison photos in From Nakhon South to Songkhla). This trip, for the first time, the front door was open and the kuti clearly was in current use. Inside, there were areas for religious observance, for eating, and for computer and/or television use. The exterior remains the more fascinating aspect of the building.
About an hour down the road we stopped at a stand that sold freshly harvested palm fruit seeds. These moist, gelatinous pockets release some water when bitten, and make a refreshing (if bland) snack. Of course, numerous other kinds of snacks also were for sale. We never run out of snacks on Kasma’s trips. As we approached Wat Pha Ko, a hilltop temple with a nice walk down, heavy rain started to fall. We decided that it made more sense to keep going and have lunch rather than wait for the temple to dry up. There’s no way to know what would have happened if we had stayed — the skies were clear 10 minutes down the road — but you can see pictures from an earlier trip here if you like:
Arriving at our hotel in Songkhla a bit early, we discovered our rooms in various states of disarray. Some were ready, some were thought to be ready but were not clean, others were known not to be ready. I recommend not trying to check in early at the BP Samila. At least the beach-facing views from the sixth floor were pretty when we got into our rooms, and the air conditioning was strong as always. Several of us headed down to the beach for playful photos with the town’s famous Golden Mermaid statue, watching the kids fly kites, and considering the street vendors’ food and souvenir offerings.
In search of a bar, we noticed that the hotel’s karaoke lounge was open but seemed to be unattended. After ordering some drinks, and then re-ordering when it turned out that they didn’t know how to make most of what was on the menu, it was time to sing a few songs and entertain my travel companions. We barely closed out the tab before it was time to head out to dinner.
We ambled a couple blocks to Monthartip, a large seafood restaurant open to breezes from the sea. We were joined there by three additional trip members, bringing our number from 15 (11 trip members plus Kasma, Michael, and our drivers Sun and Yao), to a total of 18. There was no problem accommodating us at a long table, where we feasted on crab in yellow curry (more difficult picking than our Dungeness crab back home), deep fried whole fish with a sweet chilli glaze, grilled large prawns with bright orange “coral” (shrimp eggs), a spicy stir-fry of razor clams, a bright citrusy fish soup, pak miang greens stir-fried with egg, and crab fried rice.
More than full, we returned to the karaoke bar for a few more songs. Around 9:00 it became crowded and there would not be another turn for us tonight, so we headed off to bed in anticipation of a full day tomorrow.
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
The BP Samila’s breakfast buffet was crowded with conventioneers, but I was able to grab a few bites before it was time to load into the vans. We planned to spend our day on a large island in brackish Lake Songkhla, Ko Yo (“gaw yaw”). Even before you read the end of the bridge to the island, you already can see the impressive statuary of Lamphor Temple. On previous visits, the place had seemed unfinished, but now with two coconut ice cream stands and large tour buses arriving from Malaysia several times an hour, it has become a standard stop on a tour of Songkhla. I’ll spare you the selfie of myself taking a selfie with someone taking a selfie with the enormous reclining Buddha. How about a 360 image of the grounds?
We turned onto the back roads and took our time winding around the waterfront, making photo stops for nets and shacks over the water. We didn’t find anyone making shrimp paste today. Upon arriving at The Institute for Southern Thai Studies Folklore museum, we were stunned to discover the gate barred and a sign indicating they are closed on Tuesdays. So we will try to squeeze this one in tomorrow, take a few more landscape photos, and how about an early lunch? But before we ate, we visited a local weaving cooperative which makes cotton fabrics with patterns specific to the area. These tend to be stylized flowers and other repetitive shapes, which nice color contrasts. Unfortunately, I have no imminent use for this fabric, so I walked away empty handed. To see a weaver working the loom, and puzzle over all the moving parts, check out: Weaving Ko Yo Cloth in Slow Motion.
One advantage to arriving at a popular Ko Yo restaurant at 11:30 is that the prime “view” table was available. With the growth of garden foliage, there really isn’t much of a view now, but all the best stuff was laid out on the table. A salad of barely cooked tender poached squid with a lime-based dressing reminded me of the reason I fell in love with Thai food. Our favorite, though, was the fried soft shell crabs with garlic pepper sauce (or perhaps I should say garlic pepper oil?) and sweet onions. We had to order another plate. Whole shrimp fried in their shells were topped with crispy garlic and turmeric, a huge steamed fish was served atop a pool of with a what appeared to be a soy-based sauce, mixed seafood made a delicious hot and sour soup, and stir-fried morning glories with innumerable chillies rounded out the set. The restaurant’s snack shop offered the Southern Thai version of “Butterfinger” bars (the crispy, peanutty interior, without a coating), cashews, sesame treats, and surprisingly delicious durian paste that some of you can sample soon.
We drove back to Songkhla from the island, pausing to pick up some “mourning clothes” (various t-shirts and polo shirts with themes related to the departed King), and were again surprised upon arriving at the Songkhla branch of the National Museum to learn that it, too, is closed on Tuesdays. Our day tomorrow is beginning to look more and more packed. We wandered the streets of “old town” Songkhla, which has preserved a number of older buildings with Chinese and European designs before returning to Samila beach. At the Southern end is a small fishing village where boats are still pained with traditional designs, or perhaps these are older boats which are still being repaired. We took a few photos before returning to the hotel to cool off.
Before dinner, we have two scenic spots to visit. The first is a hilltop temple known more for the playful thieving monkeys at street level than the structure at the top. A reasonably priced tram ride avoids a sweaty stair climb, and makes for a quick photo op. How about a 360 image of the view?
Songkhla is a Navy town, and there is a statute of an important founding father of the Navy near the parking lot when we reach the point, the place that ships exit to the sea. At some point, the town built a huge statue of a naga, a mythical sea dragon rendered here with a long stream of water issuing forth from its mouth. The sunsets here often are epic, but the cloud cover wasn’t particularly cooperative today. It’s still a pleasant place to hang out.
For dinner, we visited Samila Sea Sport, and enormous place that we seemed to have to ourselves., not counting the hungry mosquitos and stray cats. Red curry fish mousse with mixed seafood, served in a young coconut, was a stand-out here, and the fern salad was delicious. Large snails were grilled over charcoal and served in their shells with a toothpick and a tangy dipping sauce. These had too much charcoal flavor for my taste. Green papaya salad, shrimp stir-fried with sadtaw beans, and a spicy curried fish, rounded out the set.
I was too beat for karaoke tonight, and we needed to start the (for some) arduous process of repacking bags for our next snorkel destination. This will include squeezing in a few liters of Scotch (locally popular “100 Pipers” brand) for post-snorkeling happy hours, acquired at the 7-Eleven. How does anyone travel light?