Getting back to Thailand after 2 weeks in Malaysia was a culinary excitement. While some say that you eat better in Malaysia than anywhere else in SE Asia, due to the incredible mix of cultures, I was relieved to get back to the deliciously fresh, unadulterated Thai food.
A weekend with a friend in Phuket started with a trip to the local market in search of breakfast; mangos, mangosteens, rambutans, banana, pineapples and a big, smelly durian (see last blog for tasting notes..!) The preparation of each fruit was dictated by the lovely Thai who I was shadowing like a hungry Labrador. The painstaking care with which she handled everything was awe-inspiring and clearly typical of a culture which puts the greatest care and attention into its food.
This was re-iterated at supper – a bbq of the most delicious seafood I have ever seen. Prawns the size and girth of an average banana, squid stuffed with pork mince and herbs, blue crabs and a huge red snapper. We had brought it all that afternoon off the wife of the fisherman at the beach – a twice daily practice of the locals. It came straight out of a polystyrene box stuffed with ice. Who needs a fridge, plastic containers or best before dates when you have such a ready supply and demand of fresh food?
My culinary weekend ended with a pina colada on one of my top 5 beaches ever. I don’t quite know what possessed me to choose it off the menu (it certainly raised eyebrows around the table) but when it arrived, I was quietly smug and deliciously happy. Fresh coconut milk mixed with fresh pineapple juice, drunk with sand between my toes, was perhaps my favourite cocktail to date. It bore no relation to the cloying sweetness of pina coladas in London and was a perfect last drink before the onslaught of the next few weeks…
Detox and yoga boot camp on Koh Sumui was what I had signed up for… It had seemed a good idea at the time. To say I found it alarmingly disconcerting on arrival would be an understatement; it was an extraordinary beach side ‘retreat’ filled with slow-walking, slow-talking yogis emitting their own intriguingly powerful auras. Yoga timetables, meditation classes and an hourly administration of ayuvedic herbs and dubious ‘detox juice’ just about sums it up. The daily highlight was the juice from 1 fresh coconut, drunk straight out of the fridge at 2.30pm each day. Apparently coconuts naturally hold all the salts and minerals your body looses through sweat. I now understand Madonna’s addiction to the stuff.
The first days were tough, and the rain didn’t help. I realised that a mindless book and a kindred spirit were dire necessities and was relieved to find an old, 3 inch wide Penny Vincenzie winking at me on a shelf of tatty international books. That, coupled with some great girls surviving the same regime, (the men were VERY odd) made everything possible…even the bowl clear vegetable broth that turned up as my entire supper one night; it was no more than a bowl of hot water tasting slightly of boiled veg. I laughed at it, drunk it and tucked myself back into the slab of a book, feeling more than a little virtuous.
10 days later, having lost no weight but feeling great, I left the zenned yogis and headed back to reality; Bangkok. My sole mission was to secure myself a Burmese visa for my trip which was due to start 48 hours later. All my precious yogi calma was in danger of being destroyed in seconds by useless taxi men getting lost on the way to the hilariously basic Myanmar Embassy. I finally made it, 3 cabs later, with 10 minutes to spare. Buddha clearly decided to repay me for my efforts with the yogis and my visa was granted.
That night was the start of Chinese New Year. With a hugely relieved smile on my face, I headed to China Town and gawped with amazement at the sheer volume of people and food being prepared, bought, cooked and enjoyed. It was unbelievable – a sensory overload, undoubtedly enhanced by my 2 weeks of foody abstinence and the Chinese love of all things red. Do they not tire of kitch?
Oranges were being bought by the carrier bag load, ducks being fought over, cookies being queued for. The resonant sound of ‘aaaannnngggg’ in their loud voices was washed down with the monotonously loud beat of traditional drums and the clatter of symbols. Huge dragons raised their heads amongst the solid traffic with tails held afloat by dozens of concentrating students. It was certainly a spectacle but I would label it spectacular; it was too much and I found my self seeking refuge in my hotel, once again enjoying a 9.30pm yogi bedtime. Rock and role.
I booked a reliably slow taxi for the airport at 5pm the next morning; destination Yangon, Myanmar (Burma) – a whole new chapter…