Wednesday, January 22, 2014

En route from Ko Phayam to Ranong, Thailand

Ferry from Ko Phayam
 "I'm sitting in the passenger seat of a red Caprice Classic, a combination pimp-police car, a V8 with bad shocks, driving south for Christmas with my family.  As I write I'm in New Haven."

The above, scribbled in my notebook only one month ago today.  It's hard to believe.  Today, instead, I'm sitting in an old bus seat bolted to the floor of a ferry heading from Ko Phayam to shore.  We've been on the island six days, our first Thai island.  When we arrived via slow boat, the French girl behind looked out and said with her accent:  Wowww.  Welcome to paradize!

Pier at Ko Phayam--paradise?

Our first island.  In many ways she's right.  We rented a bungalow for 600 baht ($18) right off Aow Yai, the big beach.  There were bougainville and hibiscus and casuarinas and palms.  Acres of perfectly powdered white sand.  K. bought a hammock and we spent our evenings swaying and listening to surf.

Frilled hibiscus.  At our favorite chicken guy's place.
But we were also surrounded by swarms of farangs (foreigners).  Not a single Thai person, except for those bringing us overpriced food.  French, Germans, Austrians, Danes, Brits, Australians, Canadians, Scandinavians, Belgians, Finns, Japanese, etcetera.  Nary an American except us, not that it made any difference.

Then came sticker shock.  Our budget for these months is limited to say the least.  I budgeted conservatively because I knew that prices were low, and they are -- a substantial bowl of khao lak (although I'm unsure still on the Thai name, after asking multiple people), soup served with a big bowl of rice, still goes for 30 baht in Bangkok (less than a dollar) -- but on the island prices are quintupled.  And everything is geared for farangs.  I speak Thai to our servers, tell them that we like our food "peht peht samrahp cohn Thai" -- spicy as for a Thai.  And they say:  okay.  Would you like rice with that?  This in a country where the word for food is rice.  Where the item in question is listed on the menu as served with rice.  Where every meal includes rice.  Where they grind up roasted rice and use it as a flavoring for other food that you eat with rice.  Where a common greeting is:  have you eaten rice yet?  Yes.  We would like it as for a Thai.  We would like rice.

But I suppose it makes sense.  I saw a British girl eat a big bowl of curry with a spoon as if it were soup.  It's the equivalent of eating a bowl of spaghetti bolognese minus the noodles.  Another person ate somtahm, green papaya salad, as if it were a salad.  It's meant to be eaten with barbecued chicken and sticky rice as accompaniment, almost a garnish.  Eating it without rice is like eating a big bowl of relish.

Farangs.  Who can understand them?  Finally, after my parents came and rescued us for two days and treated us to vast heaps of whole fish and fruit and vegetables and seafood soup and big bowls of (200B!) rice, we found a good Thai place, on the day before we left.  Prices there were only jacked up 50 percent from the mainland.  They gave us three bowls of rice and made the somtahm as for a Thai person.  The guy said, in Thai, as he got ready to pound our green papaya in his mortar:  is this for the farang that speaks Thai?  The waitress said yes.  I called down to him in Thai:  this person likes it spicy spicy.  He smiled and nodded.  And added three more peppers.

Welcome to paradise.

Fishing boats at Ao Khao Kwai (Water Buffalo Bay)
Also, more photographs at Flickr.  Blogspot's interface is still way crappy--and I hate wasting Thailand time uploading.


Ed said...

Yet another reason I tend to avoid the path most traveled. When traveling over seas, I like to eat as the locals do which is hard when you are white and speak English. I try to befriend a local who can show me the best places to eat and order what the locals order.

I'm not hungry for some spicy Thai food!

Melissa Jenks said...

The craziest thing is that we thought we were avoiding the path most traveled. I think we may have the same problem all over Thailand and maybe all over Southeast Asia--not that I don't think there aren't nooks and crannies more authentically Thai, but the may not be in my Lonely Planet. Befriending a local is a great idea--we've taken to just asking for food recommendations. But why wouldn't you be hungry for some spicy Thai food? Isn't everyone??

Ed said...

I think anywhere you go these days, you will see foreigners on vacation. It is the price of a truly global community. The difference is whether or not there are a lot of shops set up to cater to them. When those are present, I try to find a different place.

Sorry about the typo. I AM hungry for some spicy Thai food! I am very much part of everyone!

Peter said...

I wonder what would have happened if you went to Koh Chang, the island before Koh Phayam., much closer to mainland. I remember seeing a bunch of beach-side bungalows when I was there and basically zero touristy development. In general, I wonder if this could be a useful heuristic: go to the island recommended by the guidebook, then go one island back/over/out, to find the equivalent island where nobody is...

Also, I'm not so sure about the somtam without rice --- I've seen people eating it straight out of the plastic bag on the street mid-afternoon as a light snack.

Melissa Jenks said...

Foreigners on vacation everywhere, that is true, or almost. There are actually very few in northern Maine! I do think the good rule of thumb is to go one island/town over. But I do think all the islands have foreigners on them, now. Aside from uninhabited ones--ergo, a sailboat is advised.

By the way, Peter, you're right about somtam. I definitely see Thais eat it plain as a snack. I retract my criticism of the poor farang.