Land of a Thousand Smiles

From Singapore, Keira and I traveled to Bangkok, Thailand. Bangkok is a big, dirty, busy, crowded city- a constant traffic jam exists outside our hotel, with taxis and tuk-tuks and buses and trucks and motorcycles all crazily interweaving. Crossing a street is taking your life in your hands, and the entire populations of Singapore and Hong Kong are joining you there to shop. Food and knick-knack stalls line the streets- our first Tom Kha soup from one of these was excellent and super cheap (50Baht= 1.5USD).
My suggestion was to go see the Grand Palace and temple complex when arrived- an icon of Bangkok. And it’s certainly worth surging crowds and sweaty weather to see this phenomenal place. The diverse array of temples are covered floor to ceiling with mirror glass mosaics,
gilt spirits,
hand painted porcelain flower tiles,
and fantastic figures.
The walls of the surrounding monastery have elaborate murals of spiritual battles, like this guy:
The complex is enormous- these don’t do justice to the scale of the temple, or the accompanying palace built by a Thai prince to honor his mother and father. Sorry, Mom and Dad, I got nothing like this!

After a weekend of food (Kiera steered us to the supposedly best Phad Thai in town,
and we stumbled upon what tasted like the best pork green curry with chinese eggplant, and spicy pork with basil), shopping at Bangkok’s new attraction, Asiatique, a tuk-tuk ride (one was enough), riding the train to night markets, and (over)indulging in Bangkok’s nightlife,
Kiera and I parted ways. While she returned to Singapore to post blackmail pictures on Facebook, I headed to peninsular Thailand, and the resort town of Khao Lak on the Andaman Sea.

Khao Lak is a slow-moving town, definitely in the off season.
There is a market in Bang Niang, the section of this rather spread out town I’m a staying in, every Monday, Wed, Fri and Sat late afternoon that brings out tourists with offerings of clothing and trinkets,

but all the locals do their grocery shopping for fresh fish and chicken parts, vegetables and herbs, and fruits.

Chicken parts stalls

The seafood variety is delicious- many types of cockles and mussels, various sizes of prawn with their corresponding prices, and numerous fish varieties.


There are also some super food stalls. My favorites have been the fresh mushroom soup- look at all the kinds of mushroom, plus pumpkin and bamboo.

I don’t enjoy the bamboo out of a can, but this stuff is downright tasty. And then we have the pandan taco.

It’s a hot fresh pancake-like outside and the sweet filling has the consistency of apple butter…but is bright green. It’s a pretty fantastic and simple dessert.

Walking on the beach here, I can’t stop thinking about the 2004 tsunami that ravaged this town. It was sparked by a magnitude 9.1 earthquake on the Andaman-Sumatran fault- an earthquake that lasted 10 minutes and displaced 11m of seafloor. This type of megathrust quake is rare, but has the energy to generate huge waves; this tsunami killed 230,000 people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Somalia and others. Over 8000 people died in Thailand and the majority of those here in Khao Lak on the morning of Dec. 26 to a series of waves that maxed out at 13.8 m (45ft) in height. Just thinking of it scares me- looking around, there are very few high buildings that could rise above that kind of water (apparently building permits limit to the height of palm trees). Topography lent to the destruction: there are flat mud seabeds off the coast for kilometers, and the land is also remarkably flat flood plane. This allowed the wave to travel unimpeded 3km inland, and water marks at 2km were up at 10m; Bang Niang was essentially wiped off the map. There are now established evacuation signs pointing out a route to higher ground and an early warning system in place- you know, leave immediately after the earthquake, don’t stand around to watch the “extremely low tide” created as the ocean pulls back before the wave. Nine years later, the tourism and fishing industries have fully recovered, and come December Khao Lak resorts will be packed. But I find being here deeply unsettling. Maybe in part it’s the speed of life coming to a screeching halt after the vibrant hum of Bangkok, maybe it’s part gut reaction to the realization of nature’s power. To get a sense of the tsunami, watch the movie The Impossible- not easy to watch, but gives a gut-wrenchingly visual and emotional sense of that day. I kinda wish I hadn’t seen it before coming here!

I’m leaving Khao Lak today for Phuket- looking forward to a little more activity. Not surprisingly, I am not content with just sitting on a beach- time for a bit more action! No doubt, tho- Khao Lak is a beautiful place.



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