Last weekend it was time for another trip, this time further south, namely to the province of Krabi. From Phuket, Krabi is reached within 2-3 driving hours (around 180 km). We had the luck to be invited by a woman, who grew up in Krabi, and even had the pleasure to ride on the backseat of her car. The way to the capital city of Krabi was amazingly beautiful. We drove through forests, palm tree plantations and limestone hills. On the side of the street we discovered several shops which sold fruits and other local products. We stopped at one of the basket shops. There they sold, beside various baskets and fish traps (sai), a kind of a miniature fish trap, which Thai people call kong. Those kong are hanged outside shops and businesses and are supposed to bring luck in business, strictly speaking they are thought to trap money, like the bigger brothers called sai trap fishes. Those talisman aren’t specifically southern Thai and are usually found in Northeast Thailand.
After checking in in our little 400 baht hotel and taking a shower we went down to an area called saphan jao faa, which lies beside a river. There we had lunch at seafood restaurants called raan ahaan nai dam, according to our local woman one of the most delicious one. We ordered two special meals. The first meal consisted of a kind of sea snails called hooy sag tin and a spicy dipping sauce called nam jim sea food. For another dish we had a raw blue crab in a spicy sauce and a kind of basil called hua rapha. After filling up our stomachs, we headed south to the beach of Ao Nang. On the way to Ao Nang we stopped at a fruit stalls and discovered another variation of the usual salak fruit, called sala indo. The taste of this fruit was similar to the normal salak fruit, way less bitter than the wild salak variation, which I discovered at Kaw Sok (see the post about my trip to Kaw Sok National Park for more information), but slightly more bitter than the common salak fruit.
Finally we arrived at Ao Nang and could enjoy the sea. But as it was cloudy and the water dirty from storms and rains, we didn’t want to jump into the water. Instead we walked along the windy beach, caught some small crabs for fun and discovered various kinds of sea and snail shells, including the snails hooy sag tin, which we had for lunch before. Far away we could even discover the two Phi Phi islands, which also can be seen from the other side, 200 km away in Phuket.
After about an hour we left again, and this time we went to the house of our local woman’s mother family. As soon as we arrived, her relatives started to offer us their homegrown fruits, especially their delicious smelly durian variety called thurian baan (picture left). This sort of durian we already discovered on my trip to Kaw Sok National Park,but this time we got them for free. We were also offered the jampata fruit, another smelly fruit native to Southeast Asia. After eating plenty of the high calorie food, we were ready for a little visit to their forest. The first relative we found in the forest, was a cousin of our friend, high above ground in the middle of tree crown, collecting langsat fruits (see picture below on the left).
Deeper inside the forest we discovered a house, where we found another relative with her children. They immediately began to offer us some of their langsat fruits, an offer we couldn’t dismiss. They were sitting outside the small hut on a platform. Under the platform was a small fire burning, whose smoke had the purpose to keep mosquito away. Most rural Thai households have such little huts near their work places. The rice farmers (chao kaaw) built them near their rice fields, the forest farmers (chao paa) inside their forests. Thai people call those huts grat thom, a word derived from the ancient Khmer empire. Those houses aren’t for a living, they are just temporary resting places, where people can eat, rest and sometimes sleep without having to go back to their main houses.
With even fuller stomachs, we made our way back home to our small 400 baht hotel. After a shower, we were ready for Krabi’s popular night market. This night market was very touristic, nevertheless we could discover some interesting stuff there. Amongst other things, we saw some Thai kids playing traditional Thai instruments. The first ancient instrument at the bottom of the picture with the playing kids is called kim (use the Thai word ขิม to find some great music videos on YouTube with that instrument). The European counter part to the Thai kim is the cimbalom. In fact this instrument wasn’t introduced into Cambodia and Thailand from Europe, but from China. In China this instrument is called yangqin. The Southeast Asian version has 14 groups of strings, and every group consist of three strings (thus 42 strings in total). The instrument is played with thin, flexible bamboo sticks with soft leather at the tips to produce the unique soft sound of the Southeast Asian cimbalom/yangqin. The second instrument is called ranat ek and was probably invented by Southeast Asian people themselves. It is likely that the Thais copied the instrument from the Cambodian xylophone called roneat ek, as so many other things, which were introduced to Thailand during the Khmer empire (like Thai dance, building style of temples etc.). The instrument consists of 22 wooden bars, usually made of rosewood (Thai: mai ching chan), and sometimes made of bamboo (Thai writing ระนาด for YouTube search). We also found the ancient royal dessert called luk chup. The sweets are made from mung beans and a gelatine coating, as well as various natural colorings and resemble various fruits and vegetables in miniature.
On the next day, it was time to go back. But before we went back to Phuket, we headed to a forest temple called wat tham sua, which can be translated as “the temple of the tiger cave”. At this temple we found not only Buddha images, we also discovered a shrine with the Hindu god Brahma (Thai: phra phrom), which is the god of creation and another shrine with the Chinese goddess Guanyin, a female Bodhisattva, which is worshiped allover the country, despite it’s Mahayana origin (Thai’s are proudly Theravada Buddhist, in contrast to the Mahayana Buddhist of China, Japan and other parts of East Asia), and also the elephant headed Indian god called Ganesha. Our friend and my girlfriend stopped at the Guanyin shrine, prayed and lighted joss sticks to pay respect to the lady god. Our friend knew the abbot of the temple since her childhood, and we were warmly welcomed by this monk. The abbot invited us into the monks area and brought us a little box full of amulets, from which we should choose one. According to the abbot, those amulets were very valuable and old ones, but he insisted, that we took them for free, as we were his friends. In Thailand there is a big amulet market, which is very lucrative. Amulets can cost several thousand dollars. But in Thai culture people never use the word “buy” for those spiritual protectors. Instead people use the word chao, which simply means “to rent”. The amulet is rented for a certain time (can be a life long) and then given away to somebody else. Amulets are wooden, stony or metal icons of the Buddha or a famous monk. Thai people simply call them phra, the word for a Buddhist monk, or phra kruang. Religious places and objects are believed to be loaded with magical power, which Thai people call sak sit. Through rituals and worship, such objects and places can be loaded with sak sit. The power of an amulet derives from what it represents, as well as from the magical powers of the producer and succeeding owners of the amulet. Through misconduct, the magical power can be used up. Such misconduct can be sexual acts without removing the amulet from one’s body, contact with female underwear, or passing the amulet under hanging clothes. Also the amulet should always be kept high (not in the trouser pockets for instance). If such misconduct happens, it’s possible to go to a spirit doctor, Brahman or Buddhist monk to conduct a ritual and restore the amulets power again. Beside the Buddha and monk images, there were little transparent glass tubes with tiger hair inside. Those tiger hairs are also believed to possess magical powers. Such tubes are called ta grud and they can contain various magical objects, such as pieces of robes of famous monks or even the Buddha or ancient magical spells, written on some small papers (usually in Khmer or the old Pali language). After this excursion into popular folk Buddhism, I wanted to see the caves. As the others were too tried, I had to go alone up the hill and into the forest. On the way to the caves I discovered three gibbons up in the trees, which stared at me with their big eyes. Unfortunately I don’t have a good zoom lens yet, and didn’t manage to get a good picture of them. Arriving at the caves, there were several monk huts, called kuti, partly built into the rocks. Inside the caves were some Buddha images and meditation mats. There were several hidden small caves, which could only be reached through crawling through the small corridors. I had not much time, as my friend and girlfriend were waiting down at the temple. So finally it was time to go back and we jump into the car again to drive back home to Phuket.