Southern Thailand is stunningly beautiful, and filled with all sorts of great things to eat. While I had already planned for our trip to Thailand to be somewhat of a culinary adventure by scheduling in a cooking class, I had no idea that the cuisine of Thailand would take over the vacation in a big way. Don’t get me wrong, letting Thai cuisine take over your life for a couple of weeks is definitely not a bad thing, and I’m feeling somewhat blessed to have turned my innards over to the mercy of such a delicious beast.
My intention here is to first give you a basic overview of our trip to Thailand, and in the coming weeks to delve very deeply into the specific things that were awesome enough to merit their own posts. I hope you’ll enjoy the superficiality of this whirlwind multi-part recap of our great Thai adventure!
Highting! (Koreans use an H instead of an F.)
After Carolyn and I wrapped up our last day of English summer camp at Daejin Elementary School we each had one day left to sit in our offices. We were sent home early, and at that point got our stuff together to leave later in the evening. Living in Daegu is a bit of a curse when it comes to traveling, as most flights leave out of Seoul/Incheon or Busan. Our flight was scheduled for 9:00ish on Saturday morning, which meant either taking a train up to Seoul and booking a hotel, or taking a bus at 2:00am directly to the airport. We chose the latter option, which meant we could hang out at home on Friday night until it was time to catch the last Subway going to Dongdaegu Station. That we did, and as all of the DVD rooms were out of business, we hung out at a 24 hour Lotteria for a while. I guess there’s worse ways to kill time.
The overnight bus was a bit of a challenge for me and my penchant for motion sickness, but after a wild, wild ride we made it to the Incheon International Airport about 30 minutes before our check-in counter opened. After a quick brushing of teeth and a Jamba Juice we were all checked in! Our bank (Korea Exchange Bank) has a few currency exchange windows at the airport, so we exchanged our remaining Korean Won for Ringgit Malaysia in preparation for our layover in Kuala Lumpur, and made our way to the terminal. I was hot, sweaty, and gross at this point. We had a couple of hours to kill, and the Incheon International Airport has a great way to deal with this. FREE SHOWERS. Hello! I got a towel, picked a shower room, and enjoyed a nice, long, warm shower before our flight. This put me in one of the best traveling moods I’ve ever been in. It helped that we got to hang out on the very couch where I asked Carolyn to marry me a year ago, too. I asked her if she was sure she wanted to marry me. She said yes.
Somewhere over the South China Sea
A couple we know from life here in Daegu was on the bus with us, and they stumbled into us again about an hour before our flight to Kuala Lumpur. It’s always nice to have someone to talk to, and this was really the icing on the cake for our morning in the airport. We loaded up on the plane, surprised to find that we had a row of three seats to ourselves, and flew off to Kuala Lumpur. The roughest part of the whole trip was about 10 minutes of mild turbulence we felt over Taiwan, where a big typhoon had just blown through a day earlier. We landed in Kuala Lumpur hungry, and easily made it through immigration and customs.
Southeast Asia on the whole smells different than East Asia. It smells like the tropics. The foods smell more flavorful. They beckon you with their scents of chili, coconut, peanut, and soy, fish, and oyster sauces. We made our first stop at a Starbucks for coffee, then headed to two of the small restaurants right outside of the airport to check out the menus. I was pretty excited when I saw Assam Laksa on the menu at both restaurants. Carolyn was eyeing the chicken rice, and we had plenty of money. We saw that both restaurants were busy, so we went to the one with the most tables, ordered our food, and had a grubfest.
Assam Laksa, or AWESOME Laksa?
This was my first Laksa, and it took me for a ride. The dark mysterious broth tasted of smoke, chili, and had a kick of heat that followed like a tsunami of flavor that reached deep into your guts and massaged parts of you that you weren’t comfortable having massaged. It was one of those situations where you couldn’t be sure if you liked it or not, but the twinges of pleasure slowly grow and outweigh the caution you initially feel upon first taste. In the broth was a knot of mee noodles that provided heft and balanced the dark cauldron of flavor nicely.
Chicken Rice – Southeast Asian Soul Food
The chicken rice was a far different experience than I imagined. They roast the chicken until it is fully cooked, and then immerse it in an ice bath. The ice bath causes the fat to coagulate suddenly and separate the skin from the meat with a succulent layer of fat. The rice is cooked in chicken broth, and the whole thing is garnished with anchovies, sliced red pepper, and other condiments used to add salty, sweet, spicy, and sour flavors all over Southeast Asia. It was delicious, and simple. I can’t wait to go to Singapore and try it, as it’s the national dish of the country.
At first glance it seemed that “low season” was an understatement.
From Kuala Lumpur it was only about an hour and a half flight to Phuket. Once we arrived and cleared immigration (which was a bit slow in Phuket), we hailed a metered cab for our destination, Kata Beach and the Jinta Andaman Guesthouse. It was about an hour in the cab, so we didn’t feel bad paying 600 baht for the ride. It was after 10:00pm when we arrived, and we were tired and hungry. After checking in at the Jinta Andaman (which I highly recommend, by the way – more on this in a future post) we headed straight out in search of food. The little corner of Kata Beach we were located in was very quiet, and we went to one of the few restaurants that was open. We knew it was slow season, but damn. Things were slow!
The restaurant was owned by people of Indian heritage, and served Indian and Thai food. Obviously being our first night in Thailand, we ordered Thai. The fast-talking server also got us to order an Indian appetizer of what I can only describe as tiny Samosas. They were delicious, but apparently pretty expensive. For our main courses, Carolyn ordered Phad Thai (obligatory), and I ordered Massaman Curry. I don’t think either of us were blown away by our dishes, but we were both pretty happy with them. Phad Thai noodles are pretty self-explanatory, unless you live under a rock or something. Massaman Curry was something I had only read about before, though – so I’m not sure how often it actually appears on menus around the world.
Massaman Curry, a delicious first taste of Thailand
The Massaman Curry is a coconut milk curry with a very mild spice and peanuts. It was silky smooth and had a mild and very comforting flavor. It was like soul food that I didn’t even know would be comforting to my weary body. The server suggested ordering saffron rice to go with the curry, so I did (although now I realize he was just inflating our bill since things were slow). The flavors did work really well together, but I don’t think the meal was worth the 720 baht we paid for it. It was the most expensive meal of our entire trip, but what the hell, right? First night in a new country, gotta live it up!