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To the Islands
We left Nakhon (Nakhon Si Thammarat is often referred to in this abbreviated fashion — Nakhon means, simply, “city”) the day after Sun’s dedication ceremony. Over the years we have stayed there many times and it has come to have a familiar feel, so I enjoyed spending a few days there doing as we pleased. I’ve often found in my travels that it is good to spend some time at a location so you can get a better sense of its rhythms, ins and outs. In any case, we again found ourselves back in the van with Sun driving us along.
One of our first stops was at another roadside temple — how great to be able to stop whenever we see something interesting! Although it was a reclining Buddha that caught our eye, my favorite feature was a colorful dragon, made out of concrete and elaborately painted. It is amazing what the Thais can make from concrete!
Our next stop was to get coffee. In recent years, more and more coffee stands have cropped up all over Thailand, often right next to a gas station, where travelers can get a coffee while they gas up their cars. The coffee can be pretty good — the beans are usually ground to order and freshly brewed. You are often served with smiles — no surprise in Thailand. The price is around 45 to 50 baht (about $1.25), which is a bit pricey by Thai standards. The (usually) young ladies making the coffee are not always real knowledgeable about where coffee comes from. Blue Mountain coffee (named for the style of roasting) is fairly common and is very tasty. Kasma once asked to have a Cafe Latte made with Blue Mountain coffee beans and was told it couldn’t be done. When Kasma asked what kind of beans were used for a Cafe Latte, the woman seemed to think she was a bit dense. She answered: “Latte beans!” What else?
After these two stops, we drove pretty much straight to the Kuraburi Greenview Resort in (surprise!) Kuraburi, on the coast of the Andaman Sea. The resort is very close to the pier where we needed to be the next morning at 9:00 a.m. to catch a boat out to Koh Surin National Park. Koh Surin is our favorite place to snorkel in Thailand: it continues to have pristine, delightful reefs where you not only see coral in abundance but often are swimming through schools with thousands of fishes. We routinely spot sea turtles and occasionally a reef shark. During the southern tour we spend 3 nights there with two days spent snorkeling all day long. The one downside there is the food — there is only one place to order prepared food and it is as close to not very good as you’ll find in Thailand. A flaw in paradise caused by having a captive audience!
Our plan was to spend three nights and to snorkel all day for two days. Surin’s accommodations range from basic cabins (at five-star prices!) to tents; since all the cabins were full, we were trying out the tents. The tents are spacious but crammed pretty much right next to each other. Kasma and I were in a row with a bunch of Europeans and Sun was off by himself in another area. I promptly developed a fever and the next day mostly slept as Sun and Kasma snorkeled. That night, the park was hit by a thunder and lightening storm. And rain. Lots of Rain. Revealing the flaws in the tents, which had inadequate cover on the floor and soon became absolutely soaked. We spent a fairly miserable night, awake and rearranging the tent to get away from the water! Not one of the best nights I‘ve spent in Thailand!
The result was that we left a day early. I felt badly for Kasma and Sun, who had wanted to snorkel. And for myself, who didn’t even get in the water — at least they got one day in. To tell the truth, the tent was not my idea of comfort and I was glad to get back to a bed and a room that didn’t leak when it rained! We spent another night at the Kuraburi Greenview Resort and Kasma enjoyed photographing the garden. The food there is actually quite good, par for the course in Thailand where even the hospitals have good food.
Our next destination was to be Krabi, after a re-fueling stop in Takua Ba. Every time Kasma goes south with her tours, one of the stops is at a family-run Muslim restaurant in Takua Ba where we can get fried Muslim bread, called roti. The restaurant is fairly typical of many restaurants in that the store front extends out of the proprietor’s house. The menu here is, basically, roti and tea. Over the years they have come to know Kasma well: I suppose she must be the only person who periodically brings two vanloads of fahrangs (white folks) to sample the local cuisine. We are always a point of interest to the locals, indeed! Our stop here would be typical for Thai people traveling around the country. Thai people tend to know where good food is and make a point to sample the local specialties.
This time it was just the three of us, ordering the roti and beef curry to go with it. And sweet, Thai tea. We always take pictures there but this was the first time we had a digital camera. As we showed the results to the women there, more and more of the family came out to be photographed. For about 20 minutes we took pictures, laughed and, finally, got to sit down and eat our roti. In the end, they wouldn’t let us pay for what we ate; next year, however, they’ll get lots of pictures. Actually, Kasma has close to 400 pictures to deliver all over Thailand this coming year.
Krabi is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in Thailand. Perhaps the best thing about staying in Krabi is one of our favorite restaurants anywhere, called Reuan Mai, meaning “Wooden House.” The food is fabulous — often every one of the 5 or 6 dishes in a meal (this would be with the group; one advantage to traveling in a group is that you can order more dishes!) is a WOW! dish. The first night in Krabi, the meal here would be our last time with Sun, who was returning home that night to Nakhon Si Thammarat. After that we would have another couple days in Krabi and then fly back to Bangkok.
On our way in, we stopped at a new attraction that Kasma had read about in a Thai travel magazine — a recently discovered cave. The whole Krabi area is honeycombed with caves, a natural occurrence in the limestone topography. This particular cave is immense — the guide told us that if we wanted to we could walk through to the other side of the mountain, all in the cave system, in a 4-hour trek. We opted for a half-hour walk amongst some very amazing views. This is a keeper for next year’s trip.
We decided to splurge and stay at the Krabi Maritime Resort in the lap of luxury. It is as close to a 5-star resort as Kasma stays on the tours and it is quite comfortable and nice. All of the rooms are arranged to look over the swimming pool, a lagoon and the ridge of limestone karsts in the background. The grounds contain beautiful gardens. The other beckoning feature is the spa. The one downside is the buffet breakfast, which tends to be too westernized and bland.
In the last several years, spas have appeared all over Thailand. The Krabi Maritime has a fairly good one. Last year we did a 3-1/2 hour treatment that included a Thai massage, an herb soak, a Thai herbal ball massage and probably a foot massage. (A Thai herbal ball massage is where they fill a white cloth full of Thai herbs and put it into a steamer until everything is piping hot; then they scrunch the ball all over your body. Since one of the herbs is turmeric, you end the massage quite yellow.) The cost for the 3-1/2 hour treatment was about $100, expensive for Thailand but ridiculously inexpensive by United States standards. This year we opted for the coffee treatment, which was an invigorating coffee-bean rub, tea while we soaked in a pool with flower petals, and a lighter, oil massage. Only about 2 hours.
We actually ended up spending our last night out at the Pakasai Resort on Ao Nang Bay. In the early years of traveling with people, Kasma always stayed at Ao Nang. When she started the trips there was one place to stay along the entire beach. Now, the beach is wall-to-wall resorts, restaurants and bars. What was once a sleepy, well-kept secret has been discovered and turned into a strip filled with tourist shops that could be anywhere in Thailand. In fact, for some stretches it could be anywhere in the world — many signs are in English and one stretch of a couple blocks had more Italian restaurants than Thai restaurants. It is sad.
So although the Pakasai Resort was really quite lovely — mostly because of the beautiful gardens surrounding the resort — the only way to enjoy the stay was not to leave the grounds so we could avoid the trashy tourist scene in the surrounding area. We spent much of our time wandering the paths and taking photographs, both digital pictures and slides.
Well pampered and fed (in the words of a friend, we were “well-gruntled”) we finally headed back to Bangkok for the last few days of our stay in Thailand.
Copyright © 2004 Michael Babcock. |
Last updated 27 August 2004.