For many years, Kasma’s groups would spend three nights on Ko Poda, an island near Krabi with such a long beach that you could watch the sun rise on one end and set on the other. Unfortunately, due to a dispute with the park service, the island’s only resort was destroyed, but to our benefit, Kasma now squeezes in a couple more snorkel locations from a new base on Ko Lanta. And the rooms there are much nicer than the ones on Poda ever were, as long as you don’t mind sharing the property with other Western tourists.
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
The Thumrin Thana’s breakfast buffet is nothing special, so we’ve reserved a table at one of Trang’s popular Hokkien-style dim sum restaurants. Many of the items were delicious, but sometimes you just can’t disguise the flavor of fish cake by putting it in a new form. The pork and shrimp items were best, and naturally we left very full. Which made our next stop all the more difficult.
On the way out of town, we stopped at Kook Ming, the shop of the company that pioneered “Trang Cakes.” Made only with eggs, flour, palm margarine, a moderate amount of sugar, and the relevant flavor (e.g., pandanus, orange, coffee), it is the whipping of the eggs that gives the cake their light sponge. Incredibly, the business started without any mixing equipment other than a large improvised whisk and a wood-powered “oven” fashioned from a discarded oil barrel. We peered into the kitchen and were pleased to see that modern commercial equipment is now used, otherwise we might not have been able to take a half dozen boxes. Kook Ming’s cakes are much better than the hotel’s version, which we snacked on at Thale Noi yesterday. The shop also sells tasty chicken curry puffs, nutty cookies, and the list goes on. I don’t think it was possible to be less hungry than when we climbed back into our vans.
Before lunch, we stopped at a place with natural saline hot pools. The first pool in the cascade is labeled something like 46 degrees Centigrade, which is crazy, and when I dipped my toe into the next pool, it was still too hot to imagine a full immersion. Not to mention that the pools have no protection from the fierce sun. While some chose to poach, I lingered in the shade until it was time to move on.
For lunch, we stopped at a popular restaurant that had only a few remaining bowls of its renowned duck noodle soup, which of course is just the thing you eat in Thailand on a hot day. I shared bowls with a fellow traveler: one duck noodle soup and one yentafo, which is a seafood noodle soup colored pink by fermented tofu, and tastes better than you are probably imagining.
To reach the far tip of Ko Lanta, we first took a very slow car ferry from the mainland to the Northern part of the island. Driving through Ko Lanta, with its seemingly madcap development, reminds me of South Kihei Road. We saw a surprising number of medical and surgical businesses along the road. Perhaps many tourists injure themselves here, or maybe it’s just a great place to recover from surgery. Either way, we hope not to partake of their services.
Eventually we reached the Anda Lanta resort, which welcomed us with fragrant cold towels and a purple drink somewhat like grape juice, but probably colored and flavored with Butterfly Pea flowers. Our rooms, with a view of the ocean, were up several sets of concrete stairs, so we welcomed assistance with our bags. Note to self: allow several extra minutes for dinner and for boat departures to avoid being late.
We drove up and over the hill to Bakantiang (or Kantiang) Bay, which faces more directly West, to enjoy the sunset and to dine at Same Same but Different, owned by the operator of Kasma’s favorite restaurant in Southern Thailand, Ruen Mai in Krabi. The marine layer didn’t allow for the most iconic sunset photos, but we enjoyed the wait with some beers, and then took our seats at picnic-like tables set in a long row. Our plates included a winged bean salad, stir-fried morning glories, stir-fried squid topped with crispy fried holy basil, king mackerel steaks in rich choo chee curry, and large prawns in tamarind sauce. There also was a mysterious coconut milk “soup” with shrimp and mushrooms that lacked the usual flavors of lemongrass, galanga, kaffir lime and chillies. Overall, the dishes were less spicy than expected, which may be an adaptation to the tastes of other Western tourists. We look forward to the true taste at Ruen Mai, which hopefully will be “same same” and not different.
Heading to the restroom, I banged the big toe on my right foot getting up from the bench. By the time I got up there, it was bleeding and full of sand, which is not a good combination for someone set to spend four more days in the ocean. Back at the hotel, soaking and rinsing didn’t remove all the sand, so I resorted to a suggestion from a fellow traveler to use the toothbrush in the room. Ouch.
Tomorrow morning we begin two days of snorkeling various islands 60-90 minutes away by longtail boat. Calm seas would be much appreciated, but with a head cold and damaged toe, that isn’t uppermost on my mind.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
The Anda Lanta has a broad ranging breakfast buffet, offering European beef stew and Asian stir fries with tofu. I stuck with the basics: fried egg, crispy bacon, fruit, and hot tea. A fellow traveler with medical experience helped bandage my toe to keep the loose flap of skin on, and we added a few strips of duct tape to keep everything attached. My pirate name is now “Old Silvertoe.”
Our longtails have a different design from those we used at other parks: rather than having several rows of forward facing benches, there are long benches on each side of the boat facing the center, and a large empty area there which we later would cover with mats to serve a delicious green curry chicken lunch. But first we had to head West for an hour to Ko Ha (five islands, although there actually are six) and hit a couple snorkel spots. Although seas were a bit rough, blurring attempted bird photos, we made good time and the water was clear. On the other hand, I still couldn’t find the “chimney” where a shaft of light illuminates an internal pool. Better luck next time?
Back at the hotel, we showered and had dinner on site at the Anda Pearl. Our long table was set at the outer edge of the restaurant, which is quieter, but the poor lighting can make it hard to see what you’re eating. Fortunately, the camera can mostly focus in low light and shows we had deep fried shrimp cakes with sweet chilli sauce on the side; panang curry beef; a spicy chicken (?) larb; hot and sour soup with shrimp; mixed vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, sugar snap peas… where are we again?) stir-fried in a mild sauce; and mixed seafood, onions, and bell peppers in a red sauce that looks natural but tastes suspiciously like the gloppier sauce Americans know from their run-ins with sweet and sour pork. The restaurant redeemed itself with a delicious warm dessert of sliced bananas in coconut milk sweetened with palm sugar. It seems simple enough to make at home.
And tomorrow, we do it again!
Thursday, February 9, 2017
After another run through the breakfast buffet and making a fashion statement with duct tape, we headed out to Ko Rok, a pair of islands with an extensive reef between them. The waves were more of a challenge today, and our boat’s engine sputtered to a halt halfway across the channel, interrupting our somewhat slow progress. Fortunately, our young driver was aided by a veteran who coaxed the fuel pump back to life so we could reach our destination after about two hours on the boat.
Actually, it wasn’t our preferred spot, which had too much current today, but a large area which was calm enough to attract numerous other snorkelers. The water wasn’t as clear as we would like, but it was pleasant work following fish around the reef taking their pictures. For lunch, we again had green curry, but this time the second dish was mixed vegetables rather than a soup. By early afternoon, the ocean still had not calmed enough to head to the best spot, so we accepted a second choice, which also was quite busy. After running down our camera batteries (and our own batteries), we climbed back into our boats for the long ride home.
Dinner tonight began with an appetizer of fried chicken topped with crispy fried holy basil leaves. We also enjoyed a steamed fish topped with the classic tangy lime-based sauce with a good amount of garlic and chillies; massaman curry beef; coconut soup with chicken (tom kha gai); a spicy salad of grilled pork; and stir-fried morning glories. We can confirm that all of this really is Thai food.
We will leave this oasis of beauty and tranquility tomorrow. Heading North to Krabi town, we’ll have the opportunity to soak in fresh waters. Once there we’ll continue our recent trend of fancy dinners and long days of snorkeling. I didn’t want to think about switching to dry clothes and flying home just yet, so after dinner, I joined some of our group in the Anda Lanta’s bar for a sip or two of margarita. Honestly, I was skeptical; I haven’t seen good tequila here that I didn’t bring myself. But the bartenders did a good job, and were very entertaining. I would have liked to keep the party going all night long, but I was just too drowsy. Packing will have to wait for morning.