Land of Ice Mountains

So this is our last day on the island of Phuket. Where have two weeks gone, and so fast? An amazing trip, amazing people, strange sights and sounds and smells, Crazy but organised chaotic driving and a full-on sensory overload.  Tomorrow we will be heading to the airport and on our way back to beautiful Wellington. Before we leave though I have two little stories to share.

I have just returned from a trip to fill our rental car with petrol. Along the way, I was stopped by a Thai Army and Police checkpoint. I must admit I was a little nervous however as I pulled up the soldier saw my Avis sticker on the front of the windscreen, smiled and waved his finger. This is so not what I had read before coming here however I was very pleased indeed. I drove on rather happily.

Arriving at the petrol station, the young man who served me, put in my petrol, asked me where I came from. I said New Zealand and was about to start explaining the islands off the coast of Australia when his eyes lit up and said ‘oh you have the ice mountains!’  I smiled and said yes, yes we do at which point he said ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Well, I must admit it makes a change not to have the All Blacks shoved in my face once again, so I proudly said ‘yes, Lord of the Rings’ he was so excited it was cool moment indeed.

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On another level, this trip has been rather poignant for me. Every day we have traveled we have had no choice but to drive past local rubber plantations. Tall, straight trees planted in rows, giving dark covered shade, with small gathering bowls hanging off the side of each tree.  Every day as I looked into those plantations I could not help but think of my Father. At the age of 18, he fought in the Malayan Emergency, a little-known police action to stop the communist Chinese coming down and taking over Malaya. It was in a rubber plantation; I guess very similar to the ones I have seen that he was ambushed and shot in the leg from ricochet shrapnel that killed the young soldier walking in front of him.

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As I looked into those plantations, I could not help but think what that would have been like, miles from home, in the heat of the jungle. Sadly, in some areas of the planet, we have come no further but looking through the local plantations I can see the traffic and the everyday life of Thailand. A fantastic place, warm, friendly and full of the hustle and bustle. It has been great meeting you, and I hope we meet again someday.

Kitchen World Heaven

You can’t travel without doing some shopping and you can’t come to Phuket without visiting two key places, The Outlet Mall and if you are into cooking, The Sandangrom Kitchen outlet centre.

Sandra spotted this on our way to the old town of Phuket and so we decided to pay a visit later in the week. This place is amazing, like a high street store on steroids, it has everything for the kitchen, and the prices have to be seen to be believed. Before we go into that though a little bit about the ‘Outlet Centre’ on the 402 heading south. What a place and what a bargain centre. All the large brands are there and the prices are more than 50% lower than high street if not even more.

If you are planning a visit to Phuket this place must go on your list. Ok so I walked away with new Converse limited edition sneakers, new shirts and  a new Thule Backpack ( my old one started to give in the stitching on the way to PH on the plane, that’s my excuse and I am sticking to it 🙂 Sandra grabbed shoes and stuff for the Grandchildren, this place was so good we went back twice in a week. We spent enough to get a very special deal on another suitcase to bring it all home in 🙂 but in saying we spent enough, all up it was very very little indeed. Phuket really is a cheap place to shop.

The next stop kitchen land. This place is amazing, there is not a lot I can say really other than the vastness is quite mind blowing. We could not help ourselves really and we went a little wild however when you can buy prep bowls for $1 NZ that would be $5 back home you can’t really be blamed, and so the list goes on.

Heading back north again I just had to snap the following photos. The scooters and traffic are full on however there are lots of mopeds with sidecars. These have everything in them from people to animals, vast amounts of shopping and in this case entire cooking facilities. Truly a mobile kitchen.  Thailand ingenuity!

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Nai Yang Beach

Nai Yang Beach is a special place about 5 minutes drive from where we are staying. You arrive down a thin road to a beachfront that is deep and long with national forest to the right and the small township to the left. I say Nai Yang is a special place not because of its gorgeous beach that is 27 miles long, or its fabulous people full of smiles and cheer, or the views and the sun. It is special because still standing in the middle of the main street is a building totally destroyed by the Tsunami in 2014.

Phuket is rebuilding and in places like Patong Beach, one of the worst-hit areas, there is little evidence any longer of the destruction played out on that fateful day. In Nai Yang however, tucked back from the beach is a resort that is yet to be taken down some 12 years later and as you look up you can certainly get an understanding of the severe power of the waves on that day.

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The story changes once you hit the beach. Today it is a tranquil, beauty spot, not so crowded as some of the other beaches down the coast and certainly nowhere near as busy as Patong. Sandra and I walked the shoreline, our feet in the warm water. So hot it was like a bathtub lapping at the coast. The tourist boats and fishing boats floated on the glass surface while families swam. Their unique local design, high bows and long outboard motors, and colours galore.

Heading back as the sun rose and the heat climbed once again it was time for a customary foot massage. Fantastically relaxing to the point where I generally fall asleep and snore loudly, to the amusement of all around me. By the time our legs were suitably wobbly and well pampered, it was lunch time. Sitting in a beach front restaurant the menu was very similar to all the others. However, this time the Pad Thai came encased in an egg basket. The description in the menu meant it had to be tried and so I ordered and was not let down at all. It was delicious. As our lunch came to an end we could hear the pool calling us and a lazy afternoon ahead. We will certainly head back to Nai Yang before we leave this amazing island if only for the sleep-inducing massage and the bathwater beach.

The Restaurant you won’t find on Google

Tuesday Afternoon in the Old Phuket Town. The rain came in waves, the heat came in bigger waves as I walked the historic streets looking for photo opportunities and capturing the everyday hustle and bustle (photos can be seen from my walkabout in the photo projects section of my blog). Peaking through doorways and up alleys, there was life and colour in every corner. It was mid-afternoon, and so the school children were beginning to appear on the streets. Smart in their white shirts and blue shorts and skirts, they had a brightness to them found only in young people.  As they walked the streets they would stop at a roadside vendor to buy large ice-filled multi-coloured drinks, no doubt full of sugar but who cares, they certainly didn’t.

In my walking, I came across a restaurant. while looking through the window, my eyes were met with pseudo old world French furniture and walls adorned with the pictures of the late Thai King. This had to be the place to eat tonight. After meeting with Sandra again and being slightly drenched, we walked the street to where the location with the unknown name was situated and took our seats.

The menu was presented, looking much like a small graphic novel of 1 cm thick, and the wine list. Sandra knew what she wanted from the wine list, and so it only left this dossier of dishes. I ordered three starters which were beautiful and easy, but the main were so much harder. I think our frustrations were noticed by the waiter who was fantastic. He only walked over and said ‘for you Madame Crab Curry and you for you sir, the local pork stew’  Who were we to argue? We put our full trust in this man completely and wow he was so right, the crab curry was fantastic, delicious, tangy plentiful and a fabulous colour. The pork? Well, where do I start? The best pork I have eaten in a restaurant in a very long time, it fell away from the fork, was rich in sauce and flavor and was the perfect evening meal. The waiter later told me it was his favorite and was a local dish.

There was certainly no room left for anything else, so after a fantastic meal costing approx $30 NZD per head !!!! (food is so very cheap in Phuket) We wandered our way home through the rain soaked streets, and into the evening Phuket traffic, watching the locals buying their produce to take home for their evening meals, and dodging the crazy scooter riders on the wet roads.  This island is a bustling, fantastic and amazing place full of smiles and mopeds, all with a touch of Evil Kinevil.

The Kenny Rogers Chicken

Yes, you read right, we were no cowards of the county, Reuben James !! Who knew that Kenny Rogers had a chicken chain in Asia? Well, he started a chain in the USA, and it failed. However, it took off in Asia and lo and behold down the road we found it. In amongst the Pad Thai and Green Curry there it was. A little bit of country in the heart of Phuket. Plain simple rotisserie chicken, coleslaw and potatoe salad and all the Kenny you could listen to 🙂

We simply had to try it just to say we had. With The Gambler blasting out the fare was simple but nice and a change from the norm. The manager was a lovely guy who had just come back from three months of training at the Kenny Rogers HQ in Malaysia. He was so proud of his new restaurant and was happy to chat. Telling us all about the various outlets in Indonesia, Dubai and beyond.

So in a surreal setting, we sat and ate Kenny chicken, miles from Nashville supping on my multicolored passion beverage. Sometimes bizarre just has to be done!

The Blue Elephant…

 

The Blue Elephant Phuket

The Blue Elephant Restaurant and cooking school in old Phuket town does nothing but astound you as you walk up the drive to what used to be the Governers Mansion. This glorious building houses some amazing teaching kitchens, a wonderful gift shop and of course one of eight restaurants that can be found around the world. We were lucky enough to be the only two students booked on the course today and so this made the trip extra special. We were greeted by our host and head teaching chef who promptly made us feel special with a cold drink in the Blue Bar, an 18-metre long cocktail bar and lounge area. She outlined the day for us and told us we would be starting with a trip to the local market, the genuine article where the locals buy all their ingredients for their home cooked meals. With this announcement we were off into the old town, dodging the scooters, the utes, the SUV’s as the sun rose higher along with the temperature.

As we arrived the smells and colours of the market were something to behold. The hustle and bustle of everyday Thai life were there for all to see. The market flowed from an outside area into an amazing two story building. Along the route, we were introduced to all kinds of vegetables, paste’s and on the first floor the flowers. This was where the locals purchased various items to give to the Buddha, dependent on which one they prayed to. Some liked flowers, some liked red or orange soft drinks and others liked cigarets and alcohol, all of which could be purchased here. Taken from stall to stall we learned about the unique items that the Thai people cooked with every day, the various eggplants. Thai basil, Morning Glory (yes you read right) and so much more.

The Wet Market

After being asked if we wanted to go upstairs, and of course saying yes, we landed in the world of the ‘wet’market. The world of raw fish, chickens, pork, dried meats and things that I won’t go into here but needless to say it was an eye-opening experience. The dried fish stomachs certainly looked interesting and were very expensive. I guess all the work required to find it and dry was probably warranted. On the way back to the Blue Elephant we grabbed cold coconut juice and met this lovely old lady with most amazing hat, it just kind of floated on her head.

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Cooking Time

Back at the school, we were right into the thick of it. Four dishes to make, A traditional Green Curry, Tom Yum Soup, Pad Thai Noodles and a Papaya Salad. Luckily all the ingredients had been pre-prepared and so we were watching the chef and then getting our fingers dirty (so to speak). The tricks of the trade were where we really learned from this amazing chef, for instance, don’t add all your coconut milk at once into a green curry, spoon it in, taste it, spoon more, taste more… taste taste taste all the way along. Moving to soup, add the chile jam, taste taste watch your lips melt of the front of your face, add more taste, taste, pass me the iced water to immerse my head into.

Onto the Pad Thai, Originally a dish forced upon the Thai people by the Royal house, due to the high cost of rice in the last century. This dish came from China originally but the Thai people found it to bland and so they added the Tamarin sauce and Pad Thai was born. Cooked in under 5 minutes, the ingredients must go into the pan in a correct order or they don’t work (I didn’t quite do this, but it still tasted great ) Finally the Salad, everything made in a mortar and pestle, crushed chillies, fish sauce, peanuts, TASTE… by this stage I could not feel my lips and just like that our four dishes were complete and on their way to the restaurant for us to eat.

And our morning had come to an end, in this idyllic, fabulous place, The Blue Elephant. After seeing where our ingredients came from and the everyday people of the area shopping, chatting and the general hustle and bustle, for me that made it all the better. If you ever come to Phuket then a trip to the Blue Elephant should be put on the agenda, maybe cooking is not your thing but if eating is then I am sure you will taste things that will simply delight you, surrounded by the loveliest of people.