Being too curious in foreign places can sometimes lead you into situations you could never have imagined.
Aoi had advised earlier in the day that ga bi is quite a common ingredient in many Thai
curries. In the Phuket and Phang-Nga regions, it seems as though they like it in larger proportions. Into one of the vats went what seemed like quite a large chunk of the ingredient with the fearsome stench. I was already looking around shiftily, wondering what excuses could avoid it, but at the same time resigned in the knowledge that there would be no escaping the fact that I would be eating that curry later in the evening, with Thai onlookers eagerly examining my eyes for approval of their culinary creation. Would the current addition of an industrial size garbage bag of coconut milk to the mix be sufficient to drown out the harsh shrimp taste?
The addition of another industrial size bag of chicken pieces plus a few herbs and spices ensured a feast fit for a king, or at least a ravenous wedding party was well in the making.
The bride’s house and party location was set amongst the deep green of palm tree plantations; this rural Phang-Nga provincial location outside the town of Kapong exuding a very casual air, blissfully beyond the hustle and bustle and tourist trap touts of Phuket, the popular tourist island some hundred or so kilometres down the road. The enchanting silence was punctuated only by the occasional car or motorbike on this peaceful country road, as the encroaching storm brought a welcome cool breeze.
The father of the bride kindly offered a motorbike for exploration of a nearby waterfall, which evidently is what you do in Phang-Nga when not visiting Phang-Nga bay’s famed limestone cliffs. While I would have loved to have followed the “When in Rome” theory, I had kept a hard backpacker’s schedule over the preceding days. Having politely declined, Tom and I managed to extricate ourselves for some much-needed shut-eye in Aoi’s car, lest we fall asleep at dinner.
By the time we roused, the prepared seating had thankfully filled out, allowing us to at least attempt to hide amongst the hordes - as much as two scrubby looking foreigners can hide within an otherwise all-Thai wedding party.
Arrival of The Bride
So prominent were we in fact that I didn't feel the need to explain why we were there. Actually, I couldn't really explain why we were there, and felt that any explanations could appropriately be referred to Aoi, the arch-creator of all of this. She seemed to be in tune with the cultural subtleties though, and our fellow guests seemed relaxed and happy to have us around.
As she arrived in the best dress in the house, the bride kindly greeted Tom and me, urging us to stay the night and attend the actual wedding the following morning. I was beginning to think that two token foreigners were a standard requirement at all Thai weddings. Nonetheless I was touched at how warmly we were being received.
Having become accustomed to lengthy speeches and rigid protocol at most of the social engagements encountered during my three years in Japan, this reception was thankfully without any speeches or formalities. Just turn up and enjoy the party.
A DJ put on some tunes as a couple of ka-toey put the finishing touches to a large pink sash which they were crimping and hanging above the double-doored entrance to the house. The bride’s parents weaved around the tables of guests offering greetings as the chefs seamlessly moved from cooking to serving.
Verdict on the Food
Two main curries were served along with some accompaniments. The first was "Moo Hong" (หมูฮ้อง), a southern Thai pork stew made up of “Moo Saam Chan” (หมูสามชั้น)– fatty layered pork belly. This serving was tender and tasty, with a full rich flavour. I had deliberately left the other curry for last – a Penang type chicken curry containing what in my mind was the ingredient of the moment –ga bi. With slight trepidation I discovered that it was extremely appetising; the shrimp paste not discernable amongst the other ingredients. Anything in small doses generally doesn't do too much harm, and so it was with this detour from my itinerary, which had turned into an enjoyable evening.
As the party rolled on, Tom and I delicately managed to convince Aoi that we did actually need to make it to Khao Lak that night. Tom had to hightail it back to Bangkok in short time, as the ash clouds covering Europe threatened to muffle his scheduled flight to London.
Little wrapped plastic packages of the Thai snack “ga la mare” ("Caramel" in phonetic Thai - กาละแม, a tasty brown treat made of coconut milk, sticky rice, sugar and salt) adorned a central table. Our hosts encourage us to take a few more on our way out, as I make impassioned apologies for not being able to make it to the actual wedding the following day.
As we drive off, Aoi notes that the Groom’s party is nearby. Tom and I make a concession, saying that we’d be ok if she would like to pop in to say hello, ever fearful that this might mean we are only halfway through the evening’s celebrations, and possibly even less so, if convinced to stay until the following day.
Back On Course
Tom and I had had quiet beach plans today, and are totally exhausted. Thankfully, Aoi decides that she will take us to Khao Lak instead of dropping in for round two of matrimonial festivities. Another party would have been great under other circumstances, but unfortunately we can summon no more energy.
The dark, unlit rural roads of Phang-Nga, along with my weary state give me the sense that it is the middle of the night. When Aoi drops us off with gracious thanks from us for a lovely day, my watch belies my impressions in revealing that it is only 9pm. Tom and I grab the first hotel room we can find, glad to finally rest, relieved to be back with our intended itinerary, but grateful for the wonderful experience a kind stranger has involved us in.
A planned unhurried afternoon on the beach somehow morphed into a grand pre-wedding celebration. This is the beauty of travel.