Blog post written by Kay Plunkett-Hogge following a recent trip looking at community-based tourism in southern Thailand. First published on her blog Kaycooks.com on 16 April 2013.
One week back in grey London: I have a sniffly cold, a pallid complexion and I’m wearing way too many layers of clothing. It seems like a lifetime ago that I was a guest of TAT, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, on their Thailand Academy programme, this time exploring community-based tourism in the south of the country.
Of all the stops on the trip, including many of Krabi’s outstandingly beautiful sites, hot springs, caves and beaches, the island of Koh Klang enchanted me.
Koh Klang is an island community of about 4000 souls just a 5 minute long tail ride away from Krabi town. But what a world away it is, and what a different world it has to offer. Most of its inhabitants are fisherman, rice farmers or coconut and banana growers. So if you’re after a place filled with hot nightlife and strobe lights, look away now. The first road was only put in a few years ago and, until a decade ago, they had no electricity. There are no police on the island because there is no crime. Wildlife abounds in the mangroves, an ecosystem the whole island works in shifts to conserve and maintain. And no one I spoke to wants to leave. Quite frankly, it is bliss. It is the Thailand of yesterday, the Thailand of my childhood.
There is just one resort on the island — the Islanda Eco Village Resort. It’s a family run business, and it’s a place where they’ve thought long and hard about how they want to be “eco”. They know their customers don’t want to be without their a/c and to have to spend a week with the same sheets. To them, “eco” means sustaining a community-based approach to tourism which fits in with the islanders, whose way of life is already geared to managing the island’s fragile ecosystem sustainably. It is a beautiful place, peaceful and impeccably run —
— the sunsets alone are worth the trip —
— best viewed with one of bartender Mr Big’s mojitos in hand with wild rabbits hopping around your feet at the outdoor bar. Not many other resorts can claim that. Nor that the rabbits like banana skins…
Of course, I had to steer my focus a little towards FOOD. I love Southern Thai food for its utter lack of compromise. It says: I am pungent and proud! So we’re talking about shrimp paste and copious chillies. Not to mention incredible black crab from the mangroves, small sweet local mussels, sea snails —
— large meaty oysters, coconut, pickled and fermented fish, vegetables and fruit. And, since the area is predominantly Muslim and influenced by the Spice Route traders of old, there are Indian-influenced goat curries, Thai style biryani (or kow mok gai), and abundant fresh seafood, all of which conspires to make mealtimes a feast for the senses and the palate.
On Koh Klang, the local rice is especially delicious. A few years ago, the island was badly flooded and the need arose to find a strain of rice that would withstand what was now salty soil. After some trial and error, they discovered that the most compatible strain was the Sang Yod rice from Pattalung province, a little further south. It is now a varietal grown in just these two areas, and Koh Klang claims theirs to have a better flavour due to the salinity of their terroir. It is a small, slim grain with mixed red and white tips, slighty sticky when cooked and incredibly good. Needless to say, a couple of kilos came back in my suitcase…
From canoeing through the mangroves to visiting Mae Prajim’s fascinating batik workshop —
— I cannot recommend the Islanda resort and Koh Klang highly enough. It’s a perfect stop on an island-hopping holiday, and a low-key, relaxing, back-to-nature holiday too. I’ll wave to you from my balcony.
PS — a few folks from the trip have asked me for a recipe for the nam jim that we had alongside a lot of our grilled seafood. So here are a couple of my favourites, a classic nam jim seafood and a tangy lime-infused nam jim from my friend Nong Da.