Feb 122019

The last day of any of Kasma’s trips dawns bittersweet. We will celebrate our time together with a dinner feast, but our little tribe might never find ourselves all together in one place again. At least we have photos, and nearly 24 hours of potential adventures ahead.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

We kept the tiny breakfast counter at Srisawara Casa busy with custom orders for ABF — American breakfast — featuring our choice of eggs, toasted white bread, “ham” and “sausage.” The ambitious and well organized had time to walk over to the market for Thai treats; for the slow packers, there will be many other opportunities for snacking today.

Our van ride to the Krabi airport was smooth, but as usual, check-in was slow and our flight departed late. Soon, though, we were touching down in Bangkok, gathering our bags from the carousel, and reuniting with our drivers.

For lunch, we headed directly to Bangkok’s premier fresh market, Aw Taw Kaw (more commonly Romanized as Or Tor Kor). In the dining area, reminiscent of a hawker center, Kasma fetched us our choice of roasted duck over rice, stewed duck noodles, spicy basil duck, or Pad Thai, supplemented with delicious moo ping (pork on a stick), sour sausage balls, and passion fruit juice from preferred vendors nearby. Now that we were quite full, it was time to consider purchases, and of course, to sample a few more local specialties.

The vendors here are familiar with international visitors, so there was a reasonable chance of getting at least a partial explanation in English. Still, the colorful piles of unusual fruit, and pots of mysterious prepared items can be a little overwhelming, so it’s helpful to have someone point out the good stuff. From creamy durian — less smelly when at its peak of freshness — and savory dried shrimp (at stall 3/56) to crunchy roasted cashews and chewy mango leather (both at stall 7/5), there’s a snack for every taste. The decadent Portuguese egg custard tart from Miss Muay (at stall 10/24) was unexpectedly delicious. We ended up taking home curry pastes, specialty rices, sweets, Moringa oil (renowned for its anti-aging effects) and a wide range of snacks. We’ve heard the airlines are more lenient with the luggage allowance leaving Thailand to avoid discouraging us from shopping. Some of us might put this folk wisdom to the test.

We fought our way through afternoon traffic back to the Salil hotel and took a few hours to cool down, repack, and squeeze in one last Thai massage before dinner. Of course, as in years past, we were headed over to Vientiane Kitchen, a restaurant serving Northeastern cuisine and more importantly having music, dance, and a little audience participation. Knowing I was likely to end up on stage, I put on a batik shirt and my less ruined pair of Dockers for the occasion.

Two of my favorite dishes at Vientiane Kitchen are the smoky deep fried pork leg and the salad of crispy rice and sour sausage. Fried eggplant reminiscent of tempura featured in another salad where it was topped by shrimp in a sweet dressing. We also had two fish dishes: miang plah, a fried fish with cubes of ginger, picked garlic, and shallot, slices of lemongrass, and toasted coconut shreds, with wild pepper leaves (bai chaplu) for wrapping up little packages; and soured fish, made by salting the fish and fermenting it in rice for a few days, before serving it deep fried. Coconut soup with chicken and stir-fried morning glories rounded out the set, adding up to much more than we could all finish. Not even counting desserts.

Meanwhile, the band performed on a variety of unfamiliar instruments, and the dancers demonstrated their incredible flexibility. Soon it was time for the “bamboo dance,” featuring two long poles that are smacked together when the dancers’ ankles are not between them. I was one of several people from around the restaurant called up to give it a try. I was a little rusty after two years, but there were no injuries either to me or to the poles. Later, my voice strained to reach the low notes of James Taylor’s Handyman and the high notes of the Hotel California, but I gave it my best. Somewhere, there probably is video of that.

Eventually, it was time to head back to the hotel. We gave our drivers a group tip as thanks for their services, sorted out plans for the morning, said our goodbyes to those leaving early, and headed upstairs to our rooms.

Usually by this time I would be planning my last minute purchases and furiously packing and re-packing. This year, I’ll be hosting friends in Bangkok and then Phuket, so I have different concerns in mind, watching the progress of their planes on FlightAware and scheduling activities and dinners. Tomorrow my new challenge begins.

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