A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My Mom visits us in Koh Mak

We are back in Koh Mak for a visit from my parents. To be a little more accurate, it is my Mom and step-Dad Ron, her husband of 11 years. To make it easy reading, I will refer to them as my parents, although my actual father is alive and well and living in Oklahoma selflessly watching my two cats. Another Ron will make things confusing, so I will refer accordingly to “My Moms Ron” vs. “My Ron” to hopefully clarify. Got it? Good. The two Rons looking smashing in leaf and vine crowns...

My parents have come out for a two week trip and we are planning to spend 8 nights in the Thai islands followed by a side trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia to tour the famous temples of Angkor Wat. We searched for nicer digs from our usual accommodations for their visit, and found an atmospheric resort called Cococape on the northwest side of the island. Set amidst a lotus pond and coconut trees on the seaside were architecturally interesting beachy thatched roofs over modern rooms with the all essential 24-hour air con.

My parents dark wood room was built on stilts right over the ocean so they could hear the lapping waves and, at night, rainy slosh underneath making it feel like sleeping on a boat. This is not to be confused with Happy Boat, a room shaped like a boat, also available at the hotel. Hammocks abounded for lazy days reading and there was a pier on which to while away the warm afternoons.

It was a nice place to stay but pricey. Our rooms in the middle of their bracket, ranged from $60-$100. The pluses were the seclusion, peacefulness, well-maintained grounds and friendly staff (even with occasional struggles to communicate our dinner orders). Also, a welcome treat for Ron and I was the daily room cleaning with fresh towels shaped into amorous elephants.

On the downside our bed was a bit itchy and ant-infested, and the room surprisingly lacked a mini-fridge. I guess our expectations become exponential when the bill tops $20 these days. You can't really complain when you get a super-deal.

Later, we stumbled on the holy grail for mid-range budget traveling on Koh Mak in the Holiday Beach Resort on the southside of the island. The 1500 baht ($45) bungalows were situated only steps from a sandy beach, the restaurant served up tasty food (and plentiful french fries), and the masseuses offered the best massage around. More on (my Mom’s) Ron’s quest to find the best massage on Koh Mak later on. My parents are already considering another vacation to Koh Mak next year! I can’t blame them, both (my) Ron and I have really fallen in love with Thailand and the genuine sweet nature of the local people. Plus, from the west coast of America to SE Asia is only about $800 which rivals costs to Central America and Europe for an annual vacation. If you haven’t been, I would highly recommend it!

(My Mom’s) Ron is what she calls a “massage glutton”. He has had a massage everyday since he arrived, and one day he had two! Thailand may, in fact, be the promised land for massage lovers. No, not just that kind, get your mind outta the gutter! A one hour massage costs between $9-12 depending on where you go and whether it is a Thai massage, oil massage, or a reflexology foot massage. With those prices, how can you not indulge in a daily massage? You can have almost ten massages for the price of one spa massage back home.

I tried a Thai massage once, and let me tell you, once was enough. You are first knotted and wrapped up into some type of endless knot or yoga pretzel and then relentlessly tortured by an 80 lb Thai girl with an unwavering smile (but I’m certain evil, sadistic heart). At one point her foot was in my armpit as she pulled so hard on my outstretched arm that I had visions of what it would have been like being stretched on “the rack”. Then came the dreaded elbow. She would drive her pointy bird-like elbow in deep, muscle pulverizing motions into the most sensitive parts of my fleshy body. When she got to my upper thigh I was breathing out in short, jagged exhales like I was giving birth (and attempting not to lose consciousness). So, in short, don’t do the Thai massage unless your masseuse speaks English and can “be gentle”, or you like to be tenderized before cooking on the beach.

One of the highlighted activities on Koh Mak is an elephant trek through the jungle. (My Mom’s) Ron was skeptical at first, imagining it to be a tro-tro atop an elephant (surely with a dozen people packed like sardines), but soon was converted like the rest of us. Isn't it fantastic that we have a common language forming from our blog experiences?!

From a tall wooden structure that was like an elephant docking station, we climbed onto a little bench in pairs atop the gi-normous mammal. Held down by little more than a few rope tethers wrapped around his voluminous belly. The mahout (guide) sat bareback behind the elephants head and deftly guided it by soft nudges of their feet to the back of their flying, flapping ears. Left nudge to the left ear means go left, simple as that. There are also corresponding verbal commands to control their actions like backing up and getting a move on. If those fail, they use a prod or blunt metal hook, to ensure immediate obedience, but we rarely saw this as necessary. Elephants are pretty dang smart.

We were led out into the jungle in the relative coolness of the morning, rocking back and forth to the giants gait. They would stop every now and then to twist their trunks around a plant before violently uprooting it and shoveling it into their mouths. These elephants are the poster children for vegetarianism, eating several hundred kilos of vegetation daily. Their favorites include sugar cane, tamarind, and bananas.

The mahouts fashioned together crowns of leaves for us to wear and look hopelessly dorky. This little tourist souvenir we will later forget we have on and wear around the island to the amusement of the other locals. Passing through the jungle we came out to a beach with coconut trees jutting in wild angles fit for a postcard, and the mahouts urged the beasts in the cool water for a drink before we headed back.

The trek was forty five minutes in length for only 500 baht ($15) making this the most cost-efficient elephant ride in the world. After the ride, we bought some bananas for a well-deserved treat for our carriers. Our twenty year old elephant reached out its trunk, twisting it around my hand, reaching for the baby banana with a nub at the center of its trunk that looked like a finger. So delicately it would take one after another. So calm it would remain as I wriggled and giggled. Staring into the elephants eyes covered by course black lashes, I realized what a gentle, magnificent creature was staring back at me.

One day, my Mom and I went to a Thai cooking school on the opposite end of the island. It was set-up beautifully in an open-air kitchen and workspace overlooking a gorgeous aqua ocean. Leng, the charismatic chef-owner, led us through a whole menu of our favorite Thai dishes. First we learned to make the staple Pad Thai and I was amazed at how easy it was, cooking up in under five minutes. The secret here is to use extra firm tofu and dried shrimp for just some crunchiness. Next, we embarked on three types of soup: clear and creamy varieties of Tom Yum and my all-time favorite Tom Kha Gai. An ingenious trick we learned is to knot a whole stalk of lemongrass instead of cutting it. This eliminates the chance of getting chewy, inedible pieces of lemongrass littering your soup.

Then, we made curry paste from scratch, pulverizing a dozen exotic ingredients into a giant stone mortar bigger than our heads. The knocking of the pestles pounded on for over five minutes until it was just right.

Our pastes included between 2-6 chili peppers each but Leng noted that some Thai locals use up to 20! We used our paste to make three different curries: green curry (the mildest with anise), panang curry (a nutty red curry), and yellow curry (which is actually a red curry with tumeric). Last, but certainly not least, was mango and sticky rice. The best part of class was sitting down with a Chang beer and eating all of our dishes. It was pretty inspiring to cook after being on the road so long, I can’t wait to get home and heat up the wok!

My parents rented a speedboat one day to take us out on a snorkel trip. It had rained overnight and the weather had been a little overcast causing the seas to swell. About twenty minutes into the ride, I was going green in the face. I don’t usually get seasick but the ocean was rocking and rolling in a continuous motion that made me want to puke. When we finally got to an island I immediately had to lay down for half an hour and take a Dramamine. Soon I rebounded and joined the action out in the water, snorkeling out to another small island and swimming with the fishies. Ron and I were in hot pursuit of an octopus and in almost as speedy a retreat from a large, speckled jellyfish.

Snorkeling has been one of Ron’s new favorite activities, especially as it is low impact to his back as he is still recovering from the scooter accident. He feels almost as good as new, but is finishing out the course of medication and muscle relaxants and otherwise taking it easy, which really is the island’s mantra anyway.

What else did we do? Food. There was a lot of Pad Thai to be had. And whole grilled fish and giant prawns at the beach barbeque. And delectable pineapple fried rice served in a half pineapple at Fantasia, a restaurant near our hotel that had a real chef. After all the eating, we did get some activity. Swinging in swings. Kayaking over mine fields of enormous black sea urchins, their spindles stretching to needle points in every direction. Meandering down the beaches and watching as my mom crawled her way up a palm tree grown out over the ocean. She’s going to kill me for posting this, but I thought it was the cutest thing I ever saw, her inching along and giggling. We called it “the Inch worm”. At the end, she did a little titanic maneuver, balancing belly down on the palm tree. You can almost hear Celine Dion on the ocean breeze...

On our last night we discussed our itinerary and unanimously decided to stay one more day on our quant little Thai island. We had mentally prepared to leave so the last minute extension made it that much sweeter. It was like finding a day tucked into the crease of a calendar, much like you would feel finding a twenty dollar bill stuffed between the cushions of your couch. Pure glee. So it was with the four of us, each doing our own thing. My Ron went snorkeling, my Mom read on the pier, her Ron got a massage, and I lounged at the pool. One more found day in paradise.


Jeri February 3, 2010 at 5:29 PM  

Hi to Ron and Diane! And have love your blog Allison!

Jeri February 3, 2010 at 5:33 PM  

Opps - meant I have loved your blog! What a wonderful adventure!

Anonymous February 9, 2010 at 4:07 AM  

Hi Ali and Ron...fyi I have now made both Pad Thai and Tom Ka Gai that we learned in cooking school and they actually turned out delicious!!! I found all the ingredients except for kaffir limes in the international market in Las Vegas and cooked for friends Sharon and Lynn. All I can say is it is a great deal more work when you don't have those wonderful sous chefs cutting things the right size for you before you smash it. But I was pleased with the results so by the time you get home I should be a pro! We miss you, love, Mom (and Ron)

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