STROLLING THROUGH THE SUPERMARKET IN BAN NA THAI
We left the jungles of Khao Sok behind today, bound for the Andaman Coast and Krabi province. Specifically, we headed South towards the village of Ban Na Thai, which is just a few kilometres inland from the beaches of Thailand’s West coast but a world away from the crowds of tourists of Ao Nang and Krabi Town. We stopped in Ban Na Thai for the night to stay with Mr Bang Ae and his family as part of a homestay. Mr Ae took us through his farm, showing us how they harvest rubber from rubber trees, and then took us “shopping” for fresh ingredients in his garden. Using these fresh ingredients Mrs Ae showed us how to create a truly delicious Thai meal and we got to learn a little more about rural life in Thailand.
In some ways it was a relief to leave the humidity of Khao Sok National Park behind today – as beautiful as the scenery is, the intermittent downpours and constant dampness makes for musty clothes and soggy shoes, as well as A LOT of stinging, swarming insects! We drove for 2 hours this morning, out of the jungle and towards the coast, where the humidity is at least somewhat tempered by breezes from the ocean. Along the way we passed through numerous villages and past acres of rubber plantations, which are easily identifiable thanks to the smell* and the buckets of precious white sap affixed to each tree.
*As it sits in the sun, fresh rubber starts to stink. Really, really stink.
We reached Ban Na Thai village in the early afternoon and were warmly welcomed by Mr Ae. He showed us to our rooms – one large dorm-style room for the ladies and a separate one for the gents. Our beds for the night are simple mattresses on the floor, protected by mosquito nets and cooled by fans. There are shared bathroom facilities downstairs, with “Thai style” showers that consist of a large bucket and a giant ladle. It’s all pretty basic, but should be comfortable enough for one night.
Once we were settled in, Mr Ae offered us a cool drink and we relaxed on their large front verandah for a couple of hours as the worst of the day’s heat dissipated. Mr Ae told us about his farm, and how rubber prices had plummeted to a 30 year low recently, forcing him to diversify his farming business (hence the homestay business too).
He also shared with us some information about his village, which is home to about 2,000 people, all of them Muslim Thais. Islam is a minority faith in Thailand, with about 6% of the population being Sunni Muslims. Generally there is no conflict between the majority Buddhist population and the Muslims as Thailand has had freedom of religion for more than a century; however some parts of South-Eastern Thailand are plagued by unrest and political conflict, some of it religious in nature. So unstable is the region that it’s actually considered a high risk area to travel through.
We met Mr Ae’s youngest child, who’s just 6 years old and stands to inherit the family home when he grows up. As is the custom in Thailand, he will inherit the house along with the responsibility of caring for his ageing parents. In the case of the Ae family he will also inherit the responsibility of caring for his 15 year old disabled brother who was hit by a truck 9 years ago on his way home from school and suffered extensive brain damage and physical incapacitation. Tragic accidents like this starkly highlight how different things are in developing countries like Thailand, compared to Aus; here there is no government assistance or centralised support for families like the Aes – Mrs Ae stays home full-time to care for their disabled son and the family has to survive as best they can. Luckily the community around them is close and supportive, and they have a large extended family that helps. Stories like this certainly make us appreciate the fragility of life and the value of family and community.
As the afternoon cooled we went traipsing through the Ae farm, learning about subsistence farming practices here in Southern Thailand and rubber tree farming. We also collected fresh galangal, kaffir lime and leaves, Thai basil, chillis, garlic, lemongrass, Thai eggplants, morning glory, kale, tomatoes, corn, long beans, and a few eggs for dinner.
As the sun began to set swarms of insects emerged and chased us back to the Ae’s home where Mrs Ae had started dinner preparations. There were peeled and cleaned prawns for the tom yum soup; diced chicken for the yellow curry and sweet-and-sour dish; and minced chicken for the chilli and basil chicken.
For the next hour we diced, sliced, ground, and wok-tossed the beautifully fresh ingredients under the watchful gaze of Mrs Ae.
What resulted was a veritable feast of Thai food which was all ridiculously spicy, but delectable. We ate waaaay too much and will no doubt regret the amount of chilli we’ve ingested in the morning, but it was just so tasty!
After dinner Mrs Ae took the left over boiled rice and cooked it with coconut milk and sugar to make sticky rice. We then learned how to roll the sticky rice with bananas to make starchy bundles of joy which we’ll eat for breakfast tomorrow. Not that we can stomach the thought of more food right now…
Once all the dishes were done and the simple outdoor kitchen cleaned up, we took our turns in the showers and turned in for the night. A storm rolled in and it began to pour with rain which helped cool things down considerably. And now we’re here in our dorm room, with the windows open, listening to the sounds of frogs and bullfrogs. It certainly was an interesting day – not only was the food fantastic, and the welcome warm and homely, it was also really interesting seeing how Mr Ae and his family lived, and to see another side of life in Thailand.