Jan 272019

It’s about 600 kilometers from Bangkok to Ranong, including several delicious detours. Although I’ve made this journey five times before, it turns out there are significant changes this year because the wonderful seaside restaurant at the Pranburi Marina, Sunee, was evicted due to encroachment on public land. I will miss the crab meat stir-fried with holy basil and spicy baby clam salad. But we won’t go hungry. Ever.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

As is customary, we left the hotel at 5:30am to beat the traffic. I didn’t have time for breakfast, but within blocks we got a briefing on the available snacks, which included some crispy pork rinds, coconut sugar caramels, peanuts, popcorn, and pineapple cookies featuring a thick pineapple jam between two salty-sweet wafers. I tried to crunch quietly.

Our first stop was at a gas station coffee shop where dawn was beginning to break on the Gulf of Thailand. We didn’t see the sun through the haze until we were somewhat further down the road; I don’t know whether any photos taken at 100 kilometers per hour will turn out. Time passed as we chatted, and we soon reached our breakfast spot, a traveler’s restaurant offering several ready-to-eat soups and at least two dozen curries and stir-fries you could have spooned or ladled over rice. I tried the Taepo curry with pork belly and thick morning glory stems, a curry featuring thin slices of palm, as though you unrolled hearts of palm, and kua kling, a spicy dry Southern curry of chopped meat or chicken. Other shared a few bites of egg, pumpkin, and pickled vegetables. We finished with a coconut “cake,” which is a rich coconut cream atop a rice-based pudding steamed in a tiny bowl. This meal was not photogenic, but the flavors were on point.

The main part of our morning was spent around the market in Hua Hin, a resort town further South along the Gulf. A market visit is always a good opportunity for snacking, and we enjoyed fresh jackfruit, and rich khanom krok, a coconut milk and rice flour “pancake” with a barely set, molten, custardy center and a crispy outer skin. We mulled the purchase of beach mats and other supplies, and clogged the aisles — shared by pedestrians, vendor carts, and motorcycles — while Kasma picked up essential flavorings for what we expect to be bland meals “on the island.” She also bought a good supply of fruit and desserts to supplement the Park’s basic meals. We will be snorkeling in style. After a final run through the nice bathroom at the Starbucks, we got back on the road.

As we drove South, I explored the Google Maps app to see whether I could guess where we would be stopping. All I knew was that we should arrive around noon, and Sun, Kasma’s long time driver and source of local knowledge, said that a lot of people go there. Eventually I tapped my way to one that had over 1000 reviews, an enormous food court-style restaurant with parking for large buses, a gift shop, an ornate prayer room building, and no English name.

[lunch dishes/photos TBD]

Between our lunch spot and the hotel, it is traditional to stop at the “bun village,” sometimes called bunville or bunburi by trip members. It’s really no more than a few hundred feet of street vendor stalls lining both sides of the highway, featuring towering Chinese steamers filled with modestly sized steamed buns with a savory pork meatball, piece of egg, and black pepper gravy, and a changing assortment of dessert buns filled with treats such as sweetened black bean paste, yellow “cream”, or green coconut custard (my favorite). There also are siu mai on the side. The group on my 2010 trip set the current record through herculean gluttony. This year we ate modestly, in part due to having a later lunch, and in part due to reducing our carbs. I was satisfied with eight items, balanced between savory and sweet, and some other paying customers showed up to buy out the stand, so we could leave without feeling guilty that they saved many more buns for us.

On my previous trips, we had always stayed at the Jansom hotel, which had nicely designed rooms, but seemed to be perpetually under construction. It has now closed, which probably is for the best considering recent scathing reviews. Instead, we are staying at the Tinidee, a very large hotel which also has water piped in from the famous local hot springs, even directly to our showers. Not being one to soak in hot springs in the tropics, I enjoyed the air conditioning and wi-fi until dinner.

[dinner dishes/photos TBD]

Tomorrow, we head to the pier at Bahn Hin Lahd for our ferry ride to Koh Surin. We lose the internet, we only have electricity a few hours a day, and the food is boring, but we’re there to see the fish. I hope they’re ready for their close-ups.

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