Friday, October 26, 2012

Rock Climbing and Penis Caves at Railay Beach!

          During my last semester of teaching I didn't get to travel as much as I would've liked.  My primary focus was working and saving money.  I needed cash for my trip back to the States and to hold me over through my next gig volunteering in the north.  I did, however, plan and budget for one 4-day trip to Railay Beach in Thailand's Krabi province. 
          I've been to many of Thailand's most stunning islands and beaches, but never to Railay.  A few friends have told me that, with it's towering limestone cliffs and clear blue water, it's their favorite beach in Thailand.  I was set on spending some time there before I left the south.

          My girlfriend and I took advantage of a 4-day holiday weekend in August and hopped on a bus (and then a tuk-tuk... and then a long tail boat) to Railay.  After we checked in to our guesthouse, we walked around and toured the small peninsula that Railay is stretched upon.  Railay is only accessible by boat and has three main beaches.  Railay West is the most beautiful beach on the peninsula, but Pra Nang is more... mmmm... interesting.

It's home to Tham Pra Nang Nok (Princess Cave), a cave dedicated to an ancient fertility goddess.  The cave is full of hundreds of phallic symbols of all kinds-- big, small, wooden, plastic-- as well as garlands and offerings to the goddess for “increased potency and prosperity”.   
Unless you're talking about Vietnamese currency,
I never want to see "hundreds of dong" again

          After I finished my photo shoot with the giant wooden penises (or is it peni?), I needed something to bring my self-confidence back up.  We strolled up the small Walking Street and I booked a half-day of rock climbing at King Climbers, one of the many rock climbing shops that Railay is home to.  Krabi province is world famous for its limestone walls and first-class rock climbing. 


          The next morning, Britt and I met our guides, grabbed our gear, and followed the shoreline.  The sand turned to jungle and quickly we found the giant stone face that we were to scale by five different routes.  A brief tutorial on knot-tying and gear rigging was all we were given before the guides let us loose upon the rock.  As I gracefully floated to the top of what normal humans think of as a challenging climb, I could hear the guides talking to each other on the ground below.  I couldn't make out exactly what they were saying in Thai, but I think it was something about how I reminded them of an angel.  I briefly paused at the top to look over my shoulder and take in the incredible view of the bay behind me. Then, I pushed off the rock and effortlessly repelled back to the ground.  The guides' faces were awestruck, like they just found out Spiderman really does exist.
got a light?
          Later that night we went to dinner at the last bar on the beach, creatively named Last Bar.  I ate good food and enjoyed a bucket of booze while I watched the fire show.  Fire shows are popular for nighttime entertainment on most Thai beaches.  Between one and ten locals perform dances and acrobatics while twirling ropes, sticks, and other primal props, all soaked in oil and lit on fire.  It's wise to always be paying attention during one of these shows.  More than once, I've seen a handler lose control of his flaming baton, sending it like a medieval fireball into the crowd of spectators.   Fortunately, on this night there were no such mishaps.
          The following day, we booked a snorkeling trip that had been recommended by friends.  A long tail boat took us to a few small islands off the coast to snorkel, swim, and lay on the beach.  The water was cloudy and visibility was low so I challenged Brittany to a jumping contest on the beach.  I clearly dominated.
didn't spill one drop
          At dusk, the boat pulled ashore a private island for us to watch the sunset, while the crew cooked up a BBQ seafood dinner on the beach for us.  While we waited for our food, Brittany wanted to redeem herself from her horrible showing in the jumping contest and challenged me to a cartwheel contest.  I'm not quite sure what she was thinking.  I've been told that my cartwheel execution is reminiscent of a young Kerri Strug.  Again, I dominated. 

          On the way back to Railay beach, the boat stopped in the middle of the bay for some night snorkeling.  I jumped in and the water immediately lit up all around me with the glow of thousands of phosphorescence.  I swam underwater and it felt like I was in outer space.  Holding my breath I threw out some ferocious karate chops and ninja kicks, each one trailed by a bright, yellow and blue, electric glow.  Then, I almost drowned and realized that I was not in the Matrix and swam back to the boat to take me home.
          All in all, Railay was great. It's a beautiful beach with tons of activities and it isn't as overcrowded as many of the islands are.  It's a bit more expensive then other places, but still, a 4-day vacation (including transportation, accommodation, food, drink, rock climbing, and snorkeling) only cost me about 6,000 baht ($200 USD).  Hopefully, before I leave thailand I'll get one more trip to the south.  If I do, I'll definitely visit Railay again.

low tide

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Best Food in Surat Thani- My Picks!

The south of Thailand is renowned for it's delicious and spicy cuisine.  Surat Thani, where I've called home for the past two years, is no exception.  The following is a quick video I put together of what I think are the best dishes from some of my favorite local restaurants in Surat.

The total video is about 8 minutes in length so if you want to skip around, the featured foods and restaurants are below.  *In Surat Thani, many of these restaurant names are written in Thai.  Since most of my friends and I cannot read Thai, we've made up these nicknames for the restaurants based on their location or what is served there (i.e. "Corner Guy" is a small hole-in-the-wall eatery run by one guy on the corner of an intersection).  Enjoy.

pic from wiki
Place: “Corner Guy”
  1. pad see euw- stir fried noodles with vegetables, chicken, and brown sauce
  2. yam yawd ma praew- fried coconut tips with a spicy salad (more like a dip) of lime, seafood, and vegetables

Place: “Earth Zone”      
  1. pic from joyfulabode
    kao rad pad ka praew gung- Fried Thai basil and spices with spicy shrimp over rice with fish sauce, chili, and garlic. I add a kai dao (fried egg) on top.
  2. kaew muu sap- Chinese style, crispy fried dumpling stuff with minced pork and spices.

Place: “Rice Soup Place”    
  1. pic from oomame
    kao tam- breakfast soup of boiled rice and spices (I add egg and pork and lots of crushed chili)
  2. batong go- fresh donuts served with condensed milk

Place: “Kampan”
  1. massaman curry- Muslim curry dish ranked # 1 by CNNgo's 50 Most Delicious Foods in 2011. It's delicious flavor comes from coconut milk, brown sugar, peanuts, potatoes, cinnamon, fish sauce, palm sugar, and Thai chili, cooked with giant chunks of chicken breast.
  2. pic from wiki
    kao saway- white rice (served aside the massaman)

Place: “Good Health”   
  1. pic from satay
    geng keaw won gai- Thai green curry with chicken. This spicy curry is blend of onions, chili, cumin, lemongrass, minced garlic, brown sugar, cilantro, basil, and lime juice, with plenty of vegetables and chicken tossed in the mix. Served with white kao saway (white rice).
  2. red curry with tofu- I don't support tofu nor this dish so I don't know what's in it.

pic from flickr
Place: “Shack By The River”     
  1. pad ka praew (gai, sai kai dao)- Thai fried basil and spices with minced chicken over white rice. I add a fried egg on top. Chicken broth soup comes on the side.

*Not mentioned:  "Rice Lady",  "Muslim Fried Chicken Stand",  "Chain-link Fence Place"

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Food at the Surat Night Market

"Sooo, what do you eat over there?" is a question a get a lot from friends and family.  After two years, I'm finally leaving my Thai town, Surat Thani, to try my luck in the north of Thailand.  The food in the north is very different from the southern Thai cuisine I've grown to love so much.  In an effort to help capture some memories of the south's amazing tastes and smells before I leave, I decided to put together a blog dedicated to my favorite Thai eats in Surat.  This way, everyone back home can get an idea of what kind of food I've been eating and I can have an excuse for visiting all of my favorite restaurants one more time.  Instead, of taking pictures of food and scribbling a few boring sentences about what it's ingredients are and what it tastes like, I figured I'd give video blogging a shot (now all my friends that can't read can follow along too!).
photo credit to chungkingdiary

In the first installment of my food-based mini-series, I take you to one of my favorite places to eat... (talad senjao) The Night Market.  Just like every other Thai town, Surat Thani has an evening market where hundreds or even thousands of residents flock to buy and sell.  Whatever you're looking for the night market has: clothes, jewelry, puppies, DVD's, but most of all... delicious FOOD.

Thai people love food and the night market is recognized as a prominent aspect of Thai culture.  In Surat, we have four main markets: (1) the day market- where you can find all your raw meat and sea food for sale early in the day; (2) the Saturday night market-- only open on Saturday nights, mostly consisting of clothing, knockoff goods, and handicraft vendors; (3) the Sunday night market-- only opens Sunday nights on the far end of the pier and is mostly food vendors; and finally, (4) talad senjao, which is the common night market, located near the Tapee River.  It's smaller than the other markets, but open every night of the week to sell a variety of merchandise and food.  Take a look at the quick video I shot at talad senjao to see some of my favorite night market grub.  I tried to keep it short and sweet  spicy!  Enjoy!

*Featured: Pad Thai (Thailand's most famous stir-fried noodle dish) and som tam (shredded green papaya salad, muddled with lime, seafood, Thai chili, palm sugar, and other veggies)... Check it out!

In my next post, I'll take you around town to some of my favorite restaurants in Surat!