Monday, February 25, 2008

Maha Chai

One of the skills of any travel writer has to be the ability to make the most mundane sound exciting, and nudge the underwhelming into the realm of the spiritual. I'm not a gifted writer nor am I an exaggerator. These facts make my trip to Maha Chai difficult to write about.

Another weekend meant another opportunity to get the hell out of the city and pedal around a more peaceful and beautiful stretch of the country, without having to travel far. Our goal was to catch the train in Thonburi at Wongwian Yai, and travel for an hour or so to Maha Chai, the first end of the line in Samut Sakhon on the Maekhlong Railway line. You can actually go an hour further after getting off the train, boarding a ferry to cross the river, and get on a different train on the other side. Anyhow, once getting off the train at Maha Chai, we could explore the market and pedal to our little hearts content, happy in the knowledge that with a little effort we'd be handsomely rewarded with a lovely day.

Things started off quite nicely as we rode from our humble abode in the Sathorn Road area over into Thonburi toward the train station. We arrived without incident and bought our tickets.

A quick ride helped me develop a big appetite. I ordered a bowl of kuay jap.

I'm no expert on this dish but I do know that it hit the spot. I was in need of some salt after a bit of riding and this bowl delivered. E had a bowl oh khao tom; no photo for you!

We boarded the train and paid the extra 20 baht a piece to take our bikes. The train ride was pretty hot and uncomfortable, but still very pretty.

When we arrived at the terminal station we were in the midst of a rather huge and busy seafood market. I was pushing a bike and a little too overwhelmed to capture it, but it's a very good market. If finding squid to eat is a measure of success, then I am a champion because it seems that grilled squid is a specialty of this market.

I started off with three little ones for five baht a piece.

Next we proceeded to find a place to sit and nurse two large bags of chaa manao, or lime tea. We settled in at a Chinese temple by the river when I spotted some real monster squid. It was becoming a squid day.

It was bigger than a baby's arm. Actually, it was bigger than some babies. There were three options, 120, 140, or 160 baht. A real high price, but a real big squid.

We went for one for 120 Baht. It was really massive. It was also very expertly cooked, and the sauce was spicy enough to kill some people I have known.

After this meal of sorts we decided to go for a ride. We had read about a mangrove reserve a few kilometers out of town. Unfortunately we seemed to have forgotten the name of the road we were looking for. No matter, we could just pedal our way out of town and be in a magical green area, right? Of course not. Samut Sakhon was certainly a much larger town than I had imagined. We rode in circles, ended up on roads that looked a lot like expressways, and got generally frustrated. On one very busy road I looked across the river and saw maybe the largest pile of trash I have ever seen. This was not what I had imagined for the day's ride. At one point E remembered the name of our road, asked a group of people for directions, and got a strange answer. They pointed us to a place 90 kilometers away. That certainly wasn't what we were looking for.

After riding around in the heat we ended up back at the market with our tails between our legs. We bought more snacks and moped around a bit. I came across many Ma Prang sellers and picked up a bag. i was going to do a blog post all about these a couple weeks ago with the title "The most expensivve fruit in Bangkok." I saw them on my soi for 220 baht a kilo. This day they were going for a range of prices in the double digits. I picked up a kilo for sixty.
marian plum
Here they are in my kitchen.

Ma Prang, or marian plums, look a bit like a mini mango. I read somewhere that they are distantly related cousins. To me they taste like a mix between an apricot, a plum, and a mango. They're mind blowingly delicious. About two years ago I tasted my first marian plumb and loved it. Last year, I did not see even one for sale. A bit of a mystery.

Back to my story: We hopped the train and returned to Bangkok without incident. I've got to admit, the day was a bit of a failure. At least we enjoyed our marian plumbs when we got home.


Kaela said...

You did a nice job with your post; I thought your day sounded pretty successful.

Robyn said...

This sounds familiar. One day when we were living in Shanghai we found a green spot on a map and biked towards it. Two exhaust fume-sniffing hours later we reached a cluster of chemical factories, where the only green thing was the river they were dumping their effluent into. And no marian plums for our efforts either.
Good on you for giving it a go.

a said...

thanks. maybe the post worked, but the day didn't.

That's funny, and maybe worse than my story. Even with such rewards for my efforts, I'll keep at it, because I still have more successes under my belt than failures. On that note, another very long bike ride is scheduled, this time in Laos, at the end of this week. Can't wait!

Xander said...

After reading this entry, I finally bought a bushel of maprang. They're amazing- like little bites of mango ice cream! -X