June 3-19, 2018
Koh Chang Pier to Ranong City Center
Once back at the pier in Ranong we gathered our belongs and began our journey back to town. The taxi drivers wanted to drive us to town for about 70฿ for the two mile drive, triple what we paid to get there. It had rained the entire boat ride back to the mainland but now the sky was sunny so we declined a ride and decided to walk. Before leaving the pier we grab a few pieces of amazing juicy fried chicken from a food cart and were on our way. A couple blocks down the road a pack of dogs were hanging out, they got a whiff of that delicious chicken and came running. Poor Francesca didn’t even see them coming, one little dog came right up to her and grabbed her chicken leg as she was going in for a bite. She was so upset, tears starting running down her cheeks called by the horrific sound of screaming that happens when things go terrible wrong. She was beyond pissed off at that dog for stealing her chicken. Luckily, I had bought her two pieces and once we were far enough away from the scavengers I pulled out the second drumstick; life was better and her tears stopped.
A short distance down the main street we started to pass a local food stand when stopped by a lovely Thai lady, she wanted to take a photo with Francesca. Everyone is so smitten with our little girl; they want to hug her, take photos and shower her with gifts and treats. The young woman went behind the counter and grab a box of Mr. Donuts, donut-holes that had been dipped and cover in white and milk chocolate, needless to say that was the end of Francesca caring about the chicken leg. She hand me the chicken and grabbed the box of sweets. Then said thank you to the lady and we continued on.
A multi mile walk with a toddler in tow takes a while, you are either walking at her pace or carrying her, either way will slow you down. We definitely encourage her to walk as much as she can but that means she gets distracted by all kinds of things. Often she wants to touch every thing we pass; signs, cars, animals, trash, rocks, flowers, you name it, she want to touch it. Daniel gets frustrated at her desire to pick every thing up, I have to remind him that its just what kids do. He has a hard time with the objects being dirty and covered in germs. Typically, I tell him its good for her and helps build her immunity but he doesn’t always buy it; it completely grosses him out.
On our journey home, we made a pitstop at a local Say-ween, which is what Thai’s call the 7-Eleven, for a nice cold drink and pigs-in-a-blanket snacks for Daniel and Francesca. Luckily, we decided to hang outside of the store under the umbrella cover tables for a bit because Francesca conveyed her need to potty after finishing her snacks; had we gotten down the street and not had access to a bathroom we could have had a disaster to deal with. This also gave me an opportunity to practice my Thai and ask the clerk where the bathroom was located. It was one of the phrases I had remembered and executed perfectly because she knew what I was saying then escorted us to the back room. Once we left the convenient store we had to make another stop so that Francesca could ride a mechanical dolphin in front of a general store. She, like most kids in the world, loves riding those things and makes it her mission to convince us she needs to ride it every time we pass one.
It took us about two and half hours to walk home. The last mile or so we carried Francesca most of the way, until she got to wiggly and we made her walk. The trip definitely wore her out because as soon as we got home, she had a popsicle than immediately laid down for a nap. The next couple days weren’t very eventful, we took a few short bike rides to the store and our favorite noodle spot. We tried to avoid being out when the sky opened and the heavy rain began but we weren’t always successful. We definitely came home looking like drowned rats a few times.
Ngao Waterfall National Park
After being home a few days the rain subsided, we decided to take advantage of the sunshine and go for a nine mile ride to Ngao Waterfall National Park. The ride was not nearly as difficult as our first waterfall excursion but it was still strenuous. We had to ride down highway 4 to access the park. There is no shade to protect us from the beating sun and with temperatures in the high 90’s and the humidity through the roof, the gradual incline to the falls drained us.
The park is beautiful, you can hike through the jungle or walk up a slightly slipper stone path to the waterfall. The walk is not very long but it is an uphill climb with a few stairs near the top. We had opted for the stone path as it was easier for us with Francesca. About half way up there is a visitor center where you can purchase beverages at the prices you find in the States. Daniel had went inside buy a cold drink but when he saw it was about $3 for a bottle water he was good with the warm water we had with us.
As we ascended, we believe, we got a glimpse of a fairy flying by; the creature was unlike anything we have seen before nor did we see another. In awe we watched it fly away, under its fluttering wings the glowing green body with little legs, it appeared to be wearing boots. Once we arrived to the shallow pool at the base of the falls Francesca was ready to get in. Unlike Punyabun Falls, the water was clear and you could see the fish swimming around. There was only one area where the water pooled before continuing on down the rocky stream, not deep enough to swim but perfect for a toddler to wade around. While Francesca and I enjoyed the cool water Daniel walked around capturing the nature that surrounded us.
We spent a couple hours enjoying the serenity of the falls. Francesca got to experience the Thai Foot Pedicure for free as the fish nipping at her feet. Don’t think she cared for it very much since she would ask me to hold her and not let me leave her in the water for to long. A few people came and went, each time Francesca would call out for them to come sit in the water with us. They would smile at the beautiful little girl, running around in her undies, sweetly persuading them. As we started our way down the rain began, the drizzle lasted a short time; then we mounted our bikes and made our way back home.
The following days brought more heavy rain. During these long cooped up days inside we usually clean the house, work on learning Thai, draw, attempt to teach Francesca letters, numbers and colors. Francesca likes to cook, so she’ll grab all the toy food put it in a pot and place it on the kids stove in the living room to whip us up some soup. We watch movies and read to her. Right now I am reading ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to her. Some days we get our yoga on, meditate on how we can make money while abroad and what our life plan look like in our future. Figuring out what to do after the Cliff House has been a bit harder then expected so we are just going with the flow and seeing where life takes us and what it offers.
Ranong’s Urban Mangrove Forest
Once the sky cleared we were off on the bikes again. A Sunday evening ride around town lead us to discover a cute little market set up in front of a mangrove forest, we made note of the location so we could return the following day with camera. We wound around the little neighborhood, areas where we doubt many foreigner make it to see. As the sunset, the town’s lights come on, there is a different feel to the city although a lot of shops are closed the town feels more alive. Our street, Ruangrat Road, the city center, becomes desolate and the neighborhoods and side streets on the outskirts of the city thrive.
UNSCO World Heritage Site
The Urban Mangrove Forest is a UNSCO World Heritage Site since 1997, a educational center and viewing site is located a few minutes from the city center. The canals and costal banks of Ranong are covered in mangroves, the marshland and heavy rains are a perfect combination for the trees to thrive. The mangroves stretch almost 30,000 hectares and nearly half of that is marine. There are no less then 24 different species of mangroves native to the area and they are home to over 300 animal species. You can contact the Mangrove Forest Research Center for guided tour but it is recommend you make an appointment a few weeks in advance so they can prepare.
We did not visit the main research facility but did stop by the education center. Actually we rode our bikes to the urban forest and as we were locking them up we were greeted by a very nice man that did not speak English but motioned for us to bring the bikes and park them near the building. He then escorted us around the entire park. Holding Francesca’s hand and pointing out animals in the muddy ground. The walk took us about 45 minutes, over the Hua Sui canal to the bank of Saphan Yung river where we watched tiny crabs dance on the sand. Unfortunately, the banks are covered in trash which seems to be the norm in the area. We have visited multiple places along the coast every time we are saddened by rubbish that lines the banks, beaches and floats in the water. There needs to be a way to prevent such an atrocity, education, community awareness and clean up programs, something needs to be done to remove and dispose of the endless amounts of garbage.
After we had ended our stroll we were invited to sit with a group of Thai’s from the education center for coffee and snacks. The nice man, that showed us around, called for his wife to come out. She was five months pregnant and ecstatic to see Francesca. She was having a little boy but confided in me that she had wanted a girl. They were so happy to play with Francesca and take photos with her. We stayed for a while attempting to communicate with what Thai we knew and the little bit of English the wife could speak. It was a very enjoyable experience and i recommend stopping by to say hello, if you find yourself in the area.
When we woke the next day and the sun was shining we decided to ride to Ranong Canyon. The eight mile ride up the mountain took us about two hours with a couple short stops to catch our breath. Luckily the road was rather shaded most of the way there. I wore my bathing suit in case we could go swimming but when we arrived we saw no swim or fishing signs posted. There was an old play set that was in dire need of some tender loving care that Francesca played on. I pushed her on a swing that was a bit wonky but she didn’t mind, we rode on a multi person swinging contraption that was shaped like a ship. Once the novelty of the playground wore off we made our way to the water. There were thousands of fish begging for food, you could purchase a bag of feed at a little stall across the road. Daniel said we could buy a bag if Francesca wanted but that wasn’t necessary since everyone we crossed paths with gave her a bag of feed. We spent a couple hours walking around the pond taking photos and feed the enormous shoaling fish.
This pond, like many others in Thailand, is a sacred place…hence no swimming or fishing. Thai culture is deeply rooted in tradition, when someone is having a hard time in life, lost a loved one, need a special place to go to reflect, or is experiencing countless other situations Thai’s bring it all back to offering and caring for life. The fish in the pond are that life, people come to feed and care for them, they even released a specific species of fish into the pond depending on the circumstance they find themselves coping with. Thai’s will release a fish and continue to come back to visit and feed them. We learned about this ritual from a Thai women, Andi, we met while at the park.
We had noticed Andi’s family on the other side of the pond, her boyfriend, Matt, an English man (and you don’t see to many white folks in the area so he stood out) and a little girl, Elfa, a bit younger then Francesca as well as Andi’s mother, brother, sister and her boyfriend where also there. The little girls played together feeding the fish and holding each other’s hands while the adults chatted. The family had seen us in Ranong riding the bikes past their house and restaurant. They invited us to stop by and gave us directions to where they were. We spent about a hour chatting with them about things to do in the area and finding out fun facts, like the pond is 45meters deep (that’s 135ft, Wow!), while Francesca and Elfa enjoyed a cupcake or two. Once we were ready to head home we loaded up, stopped at a local shop to pick up water and then flew down the mountain. It took us about 30 minutes to make it home, fast and fun and sometimes a bit scary as we made the sharp curves.
Ride where we discovered Andi’s Restaurant
The following day we took a ride the outskirts of town and as we made our way back we stopped by Andi’s to say hello. Their street side restaurant was the carport, in the front yard of their house, that had been converted into a kitchen and dinning area. Six different dishes in metal bowl were set on a table near the road side. People could walk up to the stall to examine what was on the menu, they were given a bowl of rice or noodles and could help themselves to an array of different dishes. A tray of raw veggies consisting of Sato (large bitter green bean), raw green beans, thai basil, Jabok nuts, cucumbers, and some other leaves was brought to the table. The family offered us lunch so we could try the traditional dishes of the southwest of Thailand, the spicy curry was severed with rice noodles, as it was their custom, and the tray of garnishes as mentioned before. The green curry was much spicier then any we have had in town and the noodles gave it a whole new dimension.
We expressed that Daniel would love to learn how to make the curry paste from scratch, Andi spoke to her mother and told us if we come by tomorrow afternoon Daniel could help her make the paste, he was ecstatic to hear such great news. We visited with the family for a while so that the girls could play then headed home once Elfa went down for a nap, Francesca was sad to leave. That evening she called for her little friend, “I have to find the little girl, where is the little girl, mommy she’s gone.” I comforted her and explained we planned to spend the next day with Elfa. With the new found knowledge of seeing her friend, Francesca was ready for bed and for tomorrow to arrive.
Thai Cooking Class with a Local
We woke, excitement filled the air, Daniel was as giddy as a school girl with what the day would bring; a lesson on traditional Thai cooking from a local. After breakfast we gathered the camera and made sure Francesca had her bathing suit on and a change of clothes for the day. We hopped on the bike and made our way to Andi’s house, the sky were a bit cloudy as they often are, as we reached the halfway point to our destination the sky opened. It was just a drizzle at first but then the intense heavy down pour came drenching us, we were completely soaked through when we got to Andi’s. They saw us approaching the house, on the bikes, and rushed to grab us towels, it was still raining cats and dogs. Once we were dried off and the girls were playing in the kiddy pool the cooking class began.
I set up the phone to take a time-lapse of the process and grab the camera to capture some candied moments. Daniel pulled up a stool and began stemming the spicy mini Thai chilies and separating the green from red. Depending on the curry paste the separation of colored peppers can be crucial, for green curry only green chilies are used. That afternoon Daniel would learn how to make three different paste: green, red, and sour. The base ingredients, for all of them, are the same: turmeric root, galangal, kaffir lime zest, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, salt, and shrimp paste. The ingredients are chopped then pulverized using a mortar and pestle, using good ole man power and a bit of elbow grease. The use of the mortar and pestle is key in releasing the oils in the ingredients, allowing the aromas to release, and the flavors to meld. The whole process takes about an hour, depending on how creamy you want your paste. Hand pulverized paste will be a bit chunky in texture and will undoubtably have a better flavor, compared to a paste that has been pulverized using a food processor. Although each curry base is the same the added ingredients its what makes them different; each country, region, province, family and individual has their own recipe; a special touch that makes their dish perfect.
After Daniel made the curry pastes he learned how to grate a coconut using a traditional Thai coconut grater called a mah koot maprow; a small stool with a flat metal piece fastened to one end that has been rounded and cut to have spiked teeth forming the grater. Daniel took his seat, side saddle style, on the stool then rubbed one half of the split coconut against the grater, the shredded coconut meat collected in a bowl placed under him. Only the older brown coconuts are used in making the coconut cream for the curries, while the young green coconuts are used for drinking, the water in the brown coconuts is actually discarded and not used for anything. It took a bit of time for Daniel to successfully scraped the coconut of all its meat, and now we understood why Koh Chang Resort had the machine to grate the coconuts. A cup or so of water is poured over the shredded coconut. The liquid from the coconut meat is separated and saved; the meat is drained and squeezed to extract all the liquid. This process is done twice, the first round of liquid is the “cream” and the second round it is the “milk.” Each have there place in making certain Thai dishes depending on your desired outcome in taste.
After the cooking lesson we conversed for a while and let the girls continue playing, they were having such a great time together. Andi and Mat were leaving for Chiang Mai in the morning then headed to France for a remaining of the summer. We would not see them again during our stay in Ranong. We made sure to exchange contact information and thanked them for allowing us to come into their home and teach us the traditional way to prepare some classic dishes. We told them the next time we return to Ranong we will be sure to stop in to see them, by then their new restaurant and house maybe finished. The evening rain was about to start and to avoid getting drenched, again, we had to head home. We said our goodbyes and road home, arriving just in time to miss the heavy rain that once again visited the town.
That night we prepared for our next island adventure for we were headed to Koh Phayam for a three day adventure. We were looking forward to sunshine, sand castles and relaxing strolls on the beach. Hopefully the weather will be on our side.