Thursday, March 19, 2009

Back To Basics!

Well, you would have thought that after my last blog and the reverence I paid the simple hotel in Krabi compared to the electricity bare bungalow of Koh Jum, that those days of slumming it are behind me (slumming is a big word for the bungalows as they were quite quaint, had their own shower and toilet and did have electricity for 4 hour night). I arrived yesterday afternoon in Kuala Lumpur armed with a budget hotel guide. I chose my hotel based on the symbols you get above each. Air-Con (tick), Shower (tick), Internet (tick) the rest were really supplementary or should I say, elementary. I had decided on a budget (usually unheard of by me) and limited myself to MYR100 per night (about £10). That should do it. The last hotel I stayed in the last time was only MYR120 a night and it was quite reasonable and I had a lovely view of the city, it was close to the shopping district and had internet although its strength was so poor in the room it was almost non existent some times. But I had a mini bar and TV and the bathroom had a bath. So back to my current search, I had agreed on The Green Hut Lodge also near the shopping district so that I was familiar with the best places to eat and shop. It had all the criteria I needed and maximum room was MYR85. I thought bargain.
I had back up hotels should this one be full, but if you ever get to see my travel bag, you will realise getting about fills me with dread. The place looked nice enough. I was asked to go see a room and low and behold the upstairs sections of the building had been raided by Irish builders. Now I am not being racist here when I say this I merely have first hand knowledge of their quirky building ideas. Walls were there shouldn’t be walls, stair wells that seemed to grow out of nothing and find there way to the next floor like some Escher painting. The room I was shown thankfully was not the one I stayed in but I am still not sure whether I got the better room at the end. It had two small single beds squeezed into a space meant for a toilet. The air-con was there – well half of it. The other half went into the wall presumably so that the next room could share. I wonder who gets the control or is it battle of the remotes. Also to my surprise the shower and toilet was a shared one. Well there were several on each floor in crazy haphazard places that only Paddy could of conceived of constructing but no room in the hotel had its own shower/toilet. Bit of cheek that they got away with sticking that little symbol in the budget book I say. When I came down I was reluctant but couldn’t be arsed to move besides it looked clean at least and it had internet which was my pre-requisite. Thankfully / or not I was saved staying in that room by the manager who berated the guy behind the counter for being stupid as they could put two people in that room and make more money. “You want single? I have best room for you with double bed and window” and then the best line I have ever heard in a hotel “you have your own air-con – no share!”, “That’s me sold”, I said. So the man behind the counter helped me up the steps with my gargantuan bag. Seems the Wi-Fi would not stretch to that part of the building so I was told I could use it down in foyer. Seems even though the Wi-Fi was down in the foyer I couldn’t use it there either so had to resort to chatting with my girlfriend on an antiquated computer with a dodgy screen. Well they did not lie….. but!!
I eventually went out and dined in the street market I had used as my source of food the previous visit and had drunken duck hot pot. I personally think they used chicken and hoped I would not notice. I noticed but did not pull them on it. It was nice, the hot pot is infused with rice wine therefore reasoning behind the name “drunken”. What perturbs me is the fact that Thai and Malay people spend so much time cooking and eating fabulous meals and yet appear very lazy with their preparation. They all had mad axe cleavers to cut meat with which is effective and quick but means when eating chicken its like pieces of road kill, with shattered and splintered bones throughout. Not a pleasant experience when eating. The last time I came I decided to be adventurous and ordered frogs in spicy black bean sauce. It all looks appetising and certainly the flavours all worked together but fuck me, did they have to chop the little mites up with a cleaver so that every miniscule portion was saturated with tiny cracked bones and splinters. It was worse then eating little fish were every mouthful is a dance with potential slow death by swallowed fish bone.
Stick to the char sui pork and satay sticks I say, at least the only bone is the stick that runs through the centre and with the pork all you get it the occasional gristle which can be crunched and eaten anyway (Neanderthal, I hear you say!).
After some brief window shopping, I ventured back to my room. Not having been too observant the first time I realised, there was a fitted sheet on the bed but no top sheet or blanket, so presumably I would have to just lay there on the bed cover non-gratis, flagrantly nude to the world. Furthermore there was no towel, so I guess no shower for me then. Presumably, the other backpackers that would stay at this establishment came with there own top sheets and towels. With the size of my bag you would be excused for thinking I had a whole array of linen and bathroom accessories in side – but sadly – no! One saving grace was that the Kuala Lumpur city area has limited Wi-Fi service throughout the city and from the top floor of my salubrious hotel I was able to connect and surf porn for most of the evening. During my sojourn with computer on the bed, of which the bed was the only piece of furniture in the room, I noticed the scurrying of a couple of baby cockroaches on the wall. Damn – well I guess I could not have expected to avoid them in a place like this. After squashing a couple including one which had crawled on the bed and up my arm, you would have thought, he’ll pack now and go find another hotel. One with its own shower and a towel. I am not that much of a snob, well actually I am but I am also interminably lazy and I couldn’t be arsed traipsing around at the time of 11.00pm in search of another hotel. I would also have to argue about getting my room fee back although I would have gladly foregone the MYR52 they charged me (I should hardly complain for a room worth £5 a night, should I). But it crawled up my fucking arm!!
I decided I would brave it and after spraying the contents of my mozzy spray around the bed and luggage (who knows whether it would keep the cockroaches away but at least lying on the bed I should be spared mozzy bites. I slept disjointedly and at one stage felt one in my hair. Oh this was intolerable. Then the neighbour came home at around 3am and was banging and clomping and making all sorts of racket – someone should complain (I am shy! – well lazy at least). I survived the rest of the night without noise or bug incident although I am sure if I taped myself they all must have swarmed all over me the moment I went into deep sleep the little bastards. I had a wash and blow dry at a shopping mall today and have decided on a full body scrub when I arrive in Coolangatta. After my girlfriend reads this she will probably make me wash again in Sydney before I can even kiss her.
So Now I am in the airport, ready to return to Oz and more tastes of adventure and food odysseys await. Thanks for joining me.
You will be hearing from me again real soon.

Monday, March 16, 2009

This Land of Sun, Sand and Spills!

Well nearly at the end of my jaunt in Thailand and its been full of fun and unexpected adventures and delights. I will take away with me the smells and the excitement over cooking. Just today in the night market of Krabi Town the vibrancy and energy surrounding the place makes you feel you are in a circus. The chefs all around in the makeshift kitchens with flaming woks some flames shooting high into the night (mostly for effect I dare say), the waitresses grabbing couples and families and singles to sit at the nearest chairs to their stall so that they can win another customer. The menus juggled like ten pins and the plates jostling all around the hub bub finally making it to their respective tables with eager faces, forks and chopsticks at the ready. For tourists and locals alike this market produces a prodigious amount of food on any given night. With the piquant smells of lemon grass, ginger and chillies filling the air its like the piped piper calling to the rats - and oh we scurry.
So on ending this holiday i am nursing an injury from a motor scooter accident of which I have only myself to blame. Sober and with pillion rider in tow I ventured around my island haven of Koh Jum (Pu Island for those who can not remember previous blogs). We entered terrain meant for 4WD only and carelessly ventured forward even after we had reached the point on the map the hire company had told me to avoid. With danger on every slippery rock we pressed forward until on the top of an escarpment with wondrous views of the Adaman Sea to be admired I lost my nerve on the impending swooping hill. So retreating back to safer roads we thanked ourselves lucky for no misadventures. Beer was beckoning and lovely forest floated on either side of me on a normal relatively safe dirt track for the island. Low and behold a bloody big goanna (iguana type lizard from these neck of the woods closely related to the Kamodo Dragon - I kid you not) was sun bathing on the path. The fact that he was 2 metres long meant he took up the entire path. Now normally my brain does not work this quick but in succession the following thoughts flowed through my head. If I run over its tail it may swing back and bite me or Silvia my Scottish pillion rider. If I hit it dead on its large enough to topple the bike without killing it and therefore I will be on the ground with a huge pissed off lizard. Thirdly I registered that slowing down may just prompt it to scurry off but that braking hard to stop will surely cause pre-goanna crash. In the split seconds that these thoughts occurred I braked softly at first and when realising darn goanna was not scurrying on, I hit the brakes harder. I was aware of yelling to the girl on the back "we are going down", before the bike even started to lose grip on the road and suddenly I was down. Losing my watch and silver bracelet, which no doubt saved me from larger injuries. Silvia, sadly went down behind me and immediately lept to her feet before I had even stopped sliding. She asked what happened and then I saw the blood pouring from her knee. I think I got off lightly. Now, what is it with nearly deserted islands that you don't see anyone for ages and then if you do something stupid three people come along immediately to gawp at you. So sadistic nurse in town, after a very careful ride back, cleaned our wounds and gave Silvia a bandage (bless her she was brave and only a few tears came out). Said sadistic nurse relished dabbing iodine on my scraped up elbow. I nearly cried like a baby.
The next morning I had booked a snorkeling trip around the nearby islands. Being told not to get my arm wet until the seeping wounds had scabbed did not deter me. Besides drinking loads of beer and smoking some local weed from the island helped my determination to see some lovely sights the next morning. We went to Bamboo Island (I say we - I mean I joined a group of two couples from Germany and from Birmingham). We snorkeled in some of the loveliest waters I have seen with the exception of places in the Whitsunday Islands in the Barrier Reef. We then ventured to the island itself were a National Marine Park fee of 200 Bahts was required. We all agreed that as long as beer was sold on the island we would pay. Lovely chicken and fried rice was prepared for us for the day trip and Singa beers washed them down. The sand on this island was as white as snow and the water a crystalline green. If you stood up to your neck in the sea on the beach and looked down you could see your feet as if you were on dry land. We later ventured to Mosquito Island and thankfully that's a misnomer. No bugs at all, just weird rock formations and staggeringly beautiful vistas. The ride home was interesting for the fact that our Thai captain had to undertake repair work on the engine when we were still 3km's off shore - nicely making us all confident in our vessel.
Drinks and a feast that evening with Sarah and Duncan the Brummies, together with two other couples I had met in the resort and pretty soon we had ourselves a fare gathering which they all started calling a farewell party. I was quite chuffed, they were all very sweet and one friend I had met actually woke at 6.30am to see me off as well - The owners were asking whether i knew all these people before the trip as we all seemed to act like we had known each other for ages. Enough to bring a tear to the eye. Sal the woman who owned Woodland Lodge on Koh Jum surprised me by cooking me her favourite dish, Seafood Peanang Curry. It was amazingly sweet and spicy at the same time and a faint taste of peanuts. Sal even took me to the main land and dropped me at the current hotel I am staying at in Krabi (to make sure she got me off the island she joked).
Oh the delights of modern technology. Having spent 10 days on Koh Jum with electricity available in my room when I was never in it (between 6pm and 10.30pm meaning I am in the bar or at a restaurant), meaning arriving in the bungalow hot and in pitch black with no fan, I can definitely say I am happy I now have air con. I once would never have been bothered by this lack of comforts. Now however I have developed a taste for some of the finer things in life (no I don't mean a fan in my rickety bungalow would have been "finer things"). Nearly all my fellow islanders were backpackers on a budget and had not seen air con for months - washing their own clothes whilst having a shower themselves - that is when they have showers. Of the small bunch of friends I made on the island however there was Sharlene and Grant (friends I had briefly met in Sydney at a mates BBQ) who just happened to be on the island (see previous blog about "perfection and the barracuda carppacio"), well all I have to say is that I would have much preferred their bungalow. Bloody Luxury compared to mine. Well they still only get a fan and I have now got 24 hour free Wi-Fi and air con at will.
Kuala Lumpur tomorrow and perhaps a blog about the 3 days I had there before I came to Thailand as well as tomorrow's adventure. Maybe I will have started adding photos as well by then. We can only hope.
Catch you all soon.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Perfection Found In Paradise

So as not to labour the point, I am having a marvellous time in Thailand, obviously too good a time to sit and write blogs in the blistering heat, so i will apologise no more. But having some time and some exciting things to say I thought I may tolerate a sweat fest for an hour for your pleasure. Having left the mainland of the Krabi Province for a small island 2 hours south, I was expecting white sandy beaches and cute bungalow huts in rows between palm trees. Lazy days rocking in hammocks and reading books that I have been meaning to read for ages, sipping Singha beers as the sun slowly drops down on the horizon in glorious technicolour - and I wasn't dissapointed. However I was not prepared for my idyllic paradise to be so cut off from modern technology - like electricity. Yes of course there is some on the island or I wouldn't be typing this blog right now but when you realise its because they run a generator out the back and charge an arm and a leg for sitting in baking heat as the electricity can only charge the computers and internet and could not possibly cope with a fan or two as well. Well you get a slight idea. My resort (the word resort makes it sound swish doesn't it) is a collection of updated bungalows following the disaster of the tsumani that have been updated merely by the attachment of a toilet and shower at their rear. A minor neccessity I would suggest. No electricity during the day and the generator fired up at 6pm and executed at 10.30pm sharp, so if phones and other technological necessities are not charged during said time your royally screwed. What makes it even worse without electric in the dead of night you have to crawl around in the dark to find the toilet and hope the breeze from the sea picks up to stop you from sweating. But to give the island its fair do, it is stunning, rustic and has a lovely charm to seduce even the sweatiest.
Food fare is your standard thai meals with the occasional incredible crab curry when freshly caught in the local area. However I stumbled upon a little slice of heaven, which wasn't even Thai food. After stumbling accross some friends from Sydney who just happened to be staying down the beach (love coincidences), I was invited to dine with them at their far more exclusive resort (fucking 24 hour electricty). The decor and set up at their resort was nothing less then sumptuous so I settled down to expect an exorbitant bill at the end of my meal. It was nothing of the sort and to my astonishment on the specials of the day was something that made my mouth water and my anticipation impatient. Barracuda Carpaccio with capers and olive oil. Now I know that sounds amazing right! Having tried barracuda for the first time in a curry the night before I was squeeling for the waitress to come over and take our orders. It sooooo reached my expectations of deliciousness I was overjoyed. Like any good sashimi but with the Italian edge and what marvellous capers and olive oil on my tin pot no electric island. The rest of the meal was average due to the fact that the chef in this plush resort europeanised (if thats not a word sue me) the food by making all the spice seem non existent. So after ordering some prik nom plar (a fish sauce and fresh chillie accompaniment) I was able to spice up all three of the main meals on the table to suitable Thai standards. Later we strolled along the beach as the full moon rose high and gave the sand an opalescence, arriving at the dubious Freedom Bar painted in reggae style. The evening was meant to be a short one due to the encroaching high tide which would eviscerate the beach for a couple of hours. We ended up staying out until 2am by which time the tide had begun to recede. This particular druggie den is owned by the mayor of the town so its often considered a safe haven for hippies and backpackers looking for a little bit more than a cheap beer to get their thrills. I hired a moped earlier that day and there was no number plate on the back. the man renting me the bike said quite straight faced, "thats ok there are no police on the island". So perhaps with the mix of wealthy and beautiful resorts and cheap backpacker accomodation striving both for a standard of living that matches peoples requirements, the perfect setting of this gorgeous island and the terrific food found at all corners, this is a little bit of perfection in paradise.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Exotic Ready Steady Cook!

Well, having proclaimed my desire to write about everything I do and hopefully daily in an effort to get me ready for my New York jaunt, I must unabashedly apologise to your dear reader. I have been cooking up culinary delights aplenty, drinking copious amount of Singha beer and a strange rum substance known as Sing Som, kayaking through stunning scenery between vast karsts (the craggy rock islands of Krabi Province), lounging on beaches and partaking of the odd Thai massage (no happy ending!) and all I have written so far is two measly blogs. Well apologies are all I have and of course the power of the keyboard. I can found solace in retrieving some dignity by writing several recapping blogs for you over the next few days. That is if we have internet connection at our next destination, the strangely named Pu Island. Koh Pu or even Koh Jum as its sometimes known as, is about 2 hours south of my current destination and will involve not one but two boats to get me to my destination. The first boat will drop anchor somewhere at sea and await smaller boats to come and drag bags and tourists from the ferry to the topsy turvy unstable long boats that will take us to respective hotels. So far, I will leave my judgements about Pu Island until we get there. It will be shit if my bag ends up in the Adaman Sea mid transfer however. But I have been recently informed that Pu is Thai for crab so it may mean crab will appear on the menu when we arrive (yippee I can escape the shit jokes).
The last two days I have been cooking up a storm at the Siam Culinary School where the lovely Pin (my teacher and chef) rushed me through 12 dishes in the space of only 4 hours. Yes that's 12 (over two days I must say) and you have to eat them as you go as well, although I learnt the art of will power and doggie bags from my first visit, much to the delight of my house mates. Wonton soup from scratch - I loved making those little morsels and the soup was the best I had ever tasted. Thai fish cakes, chicken spicy salad, spring rolls, steamed fish in lime, steamed fish in banana leaves, chicken in pandanas leaves (getting good at all the origami for food), fried fish with three flavour sauce, paenang curry and massaman curry. On top of all that we had to empty the fridge out tonight at the apartment, so I rustled up a calamari salad in mint and coriander and lime, and some morning glory in an oyster sauce, compliments of Jesse the speckled yank who looks like Harry Potter. With doggie bags from the cookery school it was veritable feast yet again. This is in a kitchen without running water now, I must add - it would appear the local villagers are having water cut off in some political move, which is so inconsiderate for the farangs (us poor foreigners who have decided to stay in a village rather then the resort areas). We need our regular showers in this heat and to be able to flush the toilet in the middle of the night - yuk! (that was for you readers who were still salivating at the food itinerary above - cruel aren't I). I have been told by a very sexy woman that she will not read my blogs at lunch times any more after I described the anuses of kangaroos in detail in one of them. I bet she is reading at lunch time again - darn, I'll get another irate mail. Death threats will follow.
We actually headed to the local river for a dip this afternoon thinking we may not get a shower tonight. Then we had a downpour like no other, with lightning that lit up the sky and still no running water.
Anyway I digress - I seem to do that a lot. I was talking about Pin and the 12 dishes she rushed me through. I don't necessarily think she usually rushes people but it was one on one rather than a whole class as I was doing some advanced cooking class with her and at one stage I had 4 dishes all cooking at once which is cool because if I want to be working in a kitchen someday soon I should be easily able to handle this small challenge. It was like Ready Steady Cook though only without the clock just a Thai chef on speed or late for a date. Rushing along with assistants preparing some chopped vegetables first, my mortar and pestle crushing ingredients into exotic pastes at rates normally set for industrial food blenders. In one photo of me (with cleaver in hand) I looked positively insane. But it was all extremely fun. everything tasted so powerfully, and over and over I heard Pin's mantra "you want salty you use fish sauce, you want sweet you use sugar, you want spicy you use chillies, you want sour you use lime - salty, sweet, spicy, sour". She was lovely and when it came to spicy we had a few chuckles. Pin's idea of a little spicy was 30 chillies in a paste meant for one serving. My idea of spicy would be around 5 which is sweaty face burning mouth hot. Then she would just look at me with that comical look which said "OK farang let me see you sweat - how hot you want this dish huh!!!!" So obviously I had to rise to the challenge and go for local Thai hot. Pin thankfully admitted that I had asbestos for a throat as even my Thai fish cakes were hot for her. Once again in the cooking class the desert was the only dish fully polished off without doggie bag required. Thai deserts are usually sickly sweet but our sticky rice and mango or the banana in coconut milk and the black rice with coconut had both a salty and mild sweetness, that, combined with the luscious creaminess of coconut cream, made each dish heaven amongst burning fire spicy dishes.
So that was the cooking and the home kitchen has certainly had a workout this last few weeks. Now fridge is clear, the bags are packed and we are off to Pu tomorrow. So I will say goodnight and adieu for now and promise little prequel blogs about Malaysia and stuff (if we have internet on Pu that is). See ya for now.