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Mango Sticky Rice (Thailand 2010, part 3)

May 11th, 2010 | No Comments

Almost 6 weeks after arriving in Thailand, I finally achieved a beer in a hammock. We were not allowed to drink during the month-long yoga course. The day the course ended, after we said all of our goodbyes, I made my way back to Haad Rin. My German and Swedish friends that I had made during the massage course were still in town, and I was fortunate to catch them as they were leaving the very next day. Lisa offered me her hammock while she and Kristin said goodbye to the island. So with my book, a Heineken, and depleted adrenal glands, I boarded my canvas chariot. My final sip of beer went down with the last yawn of the sun, and my eyelids fell in kind for a well-earned nap.

finally, a hammock and beer

finally, a hammock and beer

That evening the three of us assembled for dinner at our usual restaurant and shared a plate of No Names (fried vegetable balls, much like pakoras). Then we took a walk down the beach and I introduced them to Bliss and Sammy, friends of friends through a contact back home – brilliant hosts with whom I bonded quickly at their Double Secret Bar, just steps from the sand. Vodka and Manao Soda – trust and accept.

Bliss and Sammy at Double Secret Bar

Bliss and Sammy at Double Secret Bar

For my last full day in the Gulf of Thailand, and already sufficiently teased by the stories of tremendous sea life surrounding the island to the north of Koh Phangan, I booked passage on a speedboat to the island of Koh Tao. Here I spent my day in the waters of the diving Mecca of Thailand.

20 minutes out I removed my sunglasses to get a better look at the Starling-like birds that were skimming the surface of the water and navigating the splashes of wake behind the boat. I could not figure out at first why they seemed to come out of nowhere, and then I would lose sight of them again. I thought I had seen flying fish before, but those were simply fish with impressive jumping abilities. Real flying fish actually fly! They cover impressive distances, and even change direction. Now I know that mere jumping is for lesser fish.

My Noah designation that I earned in the yoga course (because of all of the animals flocking to my room) finally paid dividends during a glorious day of snorkeling. At our first stop I asked the guide where the most dynamic part of the bay was, and he pointed to an area that few seemed willing to swim to. Everyone was handed a slice a bread, and many made the rookie mistake of simply throwing pieces of it into the water a few feet from shore, and then diving in. I stuffed my slice of bread in my pocket and swam towards the reef. Being judicious with my one slice of bread I was able to generate a large school of fish around me. This in turn drew other divers towards me.  I handed a corner of bread to an Argentinean woman (who of course had already donated her bread to fish 5 feet from shore) resulting in her laughing so hard at the sudden inundation of fish around her that she had to come up for air. The small fish eat out of your hand like ducks on a flat palm. The fish bigger than your hand – they have teeth. Always one to gather a tribe, my new Argentinean companion and two friendly German ladies and I banded together to stake our claim to a plot of beach at our next stop, Koh Nangyuan, and shared scouting reports on the most vivid section of the bay.

Koh Nangyuan, where I snorkeled in the top bay of the three

Koh Nangyuan, where I snorkeled in the top bay of the three

Back in Haad Rin, I spent my final evening on the island perched on a plastic chair just out of reach of the evening waves – bare feet deep in the taupe icing sugar. The House Special was Phad Thai – sold. A plane flying across the dark night sky illuminated small clouds in front of it with its forward lights. With no lights shining from the tail of the plane, the clouds disappeared again after the fly-by, as if the plane was consuming them like Pac Man. On the beach to my left, 2 little girls were fully entertained at the negative difficulty level of playing tag with a flashlight. Not playing tag in the dark, but flashing the light on each other as a means of “tagging” them. Yes, it goes quickly.

A woman a few tables over coerced her 2 male friends to strip and run into the surf. As she giggled at her accomplishment, the guy at the next table offered to pay for her dinner if she met her own challenge, and she joined her friends. Of course she did. I love people that suck at peer pressure. He then turned to me, but I expressed that I was quite content to pay for my own dinner. Bearing witness is entertaining enough, especially on the very beach known for its full-moon debauchery.

dinner on the beach

dinner on the beach

fire jugglers on the beach every night

fire jugglers on the beach every night

On my first night on Koh Phangan I had found store selling high-end Thai fisherman pants. Common varieties are easily available for 150-200 baht ($5-7CAD) all over the island. High end constitutes varying fabrics and designs priced at 1,000-4,000 baht ($33-130CAD). I had tried on several pair, and even put one on hold, saying that I would be around for a long time and would return for them. Almost 6 weeks later, I went back to the store and bought 2 pair. Yes, I fully intend to be one of those yoga teachers that wears Thai pants to class in Canada.

At no point during my island stay was I not entertained by tourists pulling their wheeled suitcases across the sand, nor did I lose appreciation for taxis that honk for the sole purpose of saying “thank you” to other drivers. I did become accustomed to every meal coming with cucumbers, and was thankful to almost always have someone to give them to. Like much of Asia, only white people ride one person to a scooter here. And frankly if your 3-year-old can’t hang on to your back while you drive, then they are wimps.

The airport at Koh Samui is my favourite in the world. Imagine Jimmy Buffet had his own airport, but without the gaudy drink umbrellas. It provides a perfect final immersion into island life, before the return to Bangkok. And Bangkok was saving its best for last.

When your intended stay at a particular destination is more than just a few days, you can lose your sense of urgency about experiencing everything on your to do list. I had been told that mango sticky rice was the one dish that I had to experience in Thailand. This remained a primary focus in my final 24 hours there. I stayed in the Rambuttri Village Inn, which I only mention because I highly recommend it for being a perfect location right at the edge of (yet completely distinct from, and therefore quiet enough to permit sleep) Kho San Road.

Standing in front of the hotel I was snared by the common refrain “where you from?” A polite young Thai man clearly had something to sell, and on this occasion I engaged him. “Canada”, I replied. “Toronto? Montreal?” he postulated. Now keep in mind, any good Asian businessman knows SOMETHING about every country in the world. They have tremendous recall abilities, and put to shame the call centers in Bangalore that have lead sheets which allow them to comment on the sports teams in any city having an IT problem. “No, Vancouver – other side of the country”, I offered. He sensed that I knew the game and seemed to abandon his sale, and just shifted into conversation mode. “Canada, hmm…” I could see the wheels begin to turn behind his eyes, “Keep your stick on the ice!” THAT is what he knows about Canada? Brilliant! All I could picture was the student from some Ontario university that must have taught him that one. “Yes, that’s very Canadian. Nice work” I said to him. Exploiting my amusement he swung for the fences and followed up with the only other Canadian thing he knew, “oh, and… fuckin’ eh!” Awesome. I laughed out loud as I walked away, thinking that I need to talk to that student from Ontario.

Lisa and Jara from the massage course were also in Bangkok, with each of us leaving within 24 hours of each other. Our combined motivation took us on a coconut-fueled tour of the markets around our hotels. I love the markets. More than anything when I travel, I love the markets. This is where I come alive. The air is a stew of fragrances emanating from the vendors, including those not selling food, and thickened with the dichotic mix of eager apprehension exhibited by tourists who have read books about how to barter. Wandering a foreign market is like dragging a piece of bread along the walls of a soup bowl, gathering every last grasp of flavour. You MUST eat the street food. You MUST wave your hand through hanging jewelry as if you are strumming a harp. You MUST learn to linger or walk away when you want to, and not because the proprietor has you in their sights. You bask in a climate and you bathe in nature, but you inhale a city. Nowhere else do you get to fill your lungs so fully with cultural particulate than in a market.

Kho San Road

Kho San Road

most stylin' tuk-tuk driver in Bangkok

most stylin' tuk-tuk driver in Bangkok

Bangkok snacks

Bangkok snacks

Amidst our shopping storm, the girls insisted that we invest in one-hour foot massages. They were well earned after our economic tour of duty, and affordably priced at about $10 Canadian. A hyena has jaws that can exert a pressure per square inch sufficient in crushing skull bones. However they have nothing on the grip of the little Thai woman that worked on my feet. Covered in blankets, all three of us napped through our pampering. We concluded our receiving line of the Kho San markets with the purchase of a painting for me, and coconut shakes. After walking Jara to her airport taxi, Lisa and I set out for one final mission. Wandering up and down the streets, seeking directions from vendors along the way, we finally achieved our goal. Of course, we wished we had made an effort to discover this several weeks before, but it was also a perfect final meal in Thailand – mango sticky rice.

One day in Bangkok makes...Lisa, Jara and I spend money

One day in Bangkok makes...Lisa, Jara and I spend money

foot massages - pre nap

foot massages - pre nap

mango sticky rice - infinitely better than it looks

mango sticky rice - infinitely better than it looks

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