Tuesday, 30 September 2008

And now for something fishy...

After tourism and coconut processing the fishing trade is probably the principal occupation of many Samui families, and those of the neighbouring islands and coastal villages of Surat thani's mainland. All but driven out of the 'Fisherman's Village' of Bophut by new developments, many of the smaller boats seem to have relocated conveniently adjacent to the fish market near Big Buddha.

These small boat fishermen aim to catch anything they can, usually with a casting net. We see the same technique being used daily from the beach, sometimes netting a few sardine type small fish if they are lucky. A small boat offers the opportunity for greater scope and the chance to try for bigger fish species in open water. The technique here involves a bigger net deployed as a barrier into which fish are driven by whacking the water with a paddle or the creative use of what looks like a long handled rubber toilet plunger. The intended result being to encourage the fish to flee from the disturbance in the opposite direction and hopefully, into the net.

We've often noted two or more boats working together to deploy bigger nets and create more disturbance in unison. In season, these small boats may carry batteries and lights at night with which to attract squid which abound in the seas around the islands. But their principal catch is the small fish which, boned and gutted, can be seen (and smelled) drying on racks in fishing villages throughout the islands.

Drying fish attract swarms of flies, as in the photo above, which render the finished product a serious health hazard if eaten uncooked. Flies have got to eat and I don't have an issue with that. It's their crapping and vomiting and stomping it into the fish with their six legs that puts me off. Anyway, air-dried and deep-fried, the fish, served with a spicy mango salad and now called Pla Det Diow, becomes $30 worth of fancy starter course in a high end restaurant. Lip-smackingly good and a popular menu item among those unaware of their initial preparation, or previous diners - I'll pass thanks.

The next category of fishermen operate and often live aboard the small trawlers that land most of Samui's seafood and are a ubiquitous site at many of the islands' fishing harbours. Often seen huddled together inshore predicting the imminent arrival of a storm at sea

roped together for stability is a sure sign a storm is on its way

A third type of fishing boats operating in the water around Samui and neighbouring islands in huge fleets are dedicated to catching squid and the more meatier cuttlefish. These boats operate at night deploying high intensity lighting booms with which to attract the molluscs.

Although operating in large commercial fleets, squid fishing is very much a family affair withthe crew and their families living aboard. The boat can be home to as many as twenty people.
Flying in to Samui at night the squid fishing fleet make a spectacular site, with their thousands of huge bulbs forming eery chains and clusters of light and the glow is often visible, beyond the horizon from our beach in Bophut.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Grass 'em up?

I like this invitation from 'Crimestoppers', spotted on Koh Pha Ngan, our neighbouring island, to report dope growing.

It suggests that the forbidden botany will be tracked down by informers' reports of 'unusual traffic' or 'anything suspicious'. Jeez. I wish I had a $s for all the unusual traffic and suspicious goings-on I've seen in Thailand!

Given to bar owners or anyone else that wants one, the added value provided by the calendar is a strong incentive to display the sign for the use of customers. Assuming, of course, the bar's patrons want to know what day it is.

Just a thought. I wonder how many of the island's bong sellers are undercover policemen? And do they follow their customers?

Friday, 19 September 2008

It could have been worse...

It could have been a 24/7 Korean karaoke bar going up next door, or a multi-outlet food palace specialising in fermented fish dishes to cause us permanent loss of revenue and value, creating stress and anguish for life. As it is, the construction that temporarily intrudes into the life of Baan Bophut is to be the retirement home of a nice Australian couple. And, if you were to ask me - they could not have chosen a nicer spot.

Immediately to the west of us, the noise is worse in rooms 1 and 5

The heavy construction of the villa is largely complete, without too many complaints of disturbance from guests, who knew we couldn't do anything about it. But in recent days the noise had driven a couple booked-in for a week to seek somewhere quieter. Of course we understood their need for peaceful relaxation (it's why we exist!) and gave them a lift.

Investigation revealed that a large beam on the first floor, front elevation, had a bulge as a result of the concrete formwork buckling and a hammer-drill of sorts was used to remove the offending excess concrete, as you can see in the close-up.

Fingers crossed, the jackhammering is over, but we know from our own experience that, as finishing commences, nothing can be more annoying when one is trying to relax on the beach than the sound of an angle grinder-cutting tiles to size. And we give you fair warning if, as a guest, you intend to stick around the hotel all day.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Ocean Suite Number 9 - a teasing preview

Ocean Suite, highlighted in yellow

As a consequence of slithering into operation as a hotel on the day of the 2004 tsunami, four months ahead of schedule (see previous post: It all seems a long time ago ...), we somehow came to employ room 9, one of Baan Bophut's most spacious seaview rooms, as the combined linen and store room. It started as a temporary arrangement, as many of these things do, but evolved to seemingly irreversable permanence very quickly. In the end, and using the hotel's low season maintenance closure in May, Lucy tackled the issue. The contents of room 9 were sorted and moved to occupy the two unpopular, road facing rooms (10 & 13) on the 1st and 2nd floors. The new suite now uses much of the furniture from these former guest rooms.

It wasn't a straightforward conversion. Since Baan Bophut's construction, B1 Villa had opened for business next door and room 9's veranda now faced a wall of custard coloured paint just a metre and a half away. So, builders bricked-up and integrated the former veranda seemlessly into a new double bedroom.

A door and wall were constructed to create a second room into which Lucy has opted to put two single beds. A set of secure double doors at the end of the first floor corridor now gives access to the suite and its own veranda overlooking the restaurant deck, pool and beach.

View from the Ocean Suite

We love Orchids...

Orchids belong to the most diverse family of flowering plants known to man. There are over 28,000 species and well over 300,000 registered cultivars currently documented. The number of orchid species equals about four times the number of mammal species or more than twice the number of bird species. It also encompasses about 6–11% of all seed plants. About 800 new orchid species are added each year.

These numbers only begin to tell the true story behind the evolutionary success of modern day orchids. Orchids are the most rapidly (genetically) changing group of plants on earth and more new species have been discovered over the last few thousand years than any other plant group known.

Although orchids are commonly thought of as tropical flowers, they grow naturally in almost all climates other than deserts and glaciers. Despite their versatility, there is something distinctly exotic about orchids. They are intricately beautiful to the everyday flower lover and are considered to be some of the world’s most evolved flowers to flower specialists. Of the many orchid varieties, the Phalaenopsis (or Moth), Cymbidium, and Dendrobium orchids are the most popular types, and the Vanilla Orchid (and its vanilla bean) is the most highly produced variety.

The orchid species of lithophytes grow on rocks or very rocky soil, others grow terrestrially, but a majority of orchids are perennial epiphytes which grow anchored to trees or shrubs in the tropics.

Inspired by the epiphytes, and because they look so pretty we've just had about 55-60 beautiful orchid plants attached to five of our coconut palms. Chopped husk and fibre are the growing medium and trimmed coconut husks are used to hold the plants against the trunk. Symbiotic or what?

The orchids are perilously exposed to strong-salt laden winds and we really don't know if they will survive the inevitable battering from the on-shore winds of the soon to arrive monsoon, but they're receiving a lot of TLC from the staff and, as with all things, we live in hope.

We always have orchids in the hotel. Usually in reception and always on the tables in the restaurant.

Tik will often decorate cocktails with orchids or fruit and if he has run out at the bar it's usually from the restaurant table decorations that he will pillage replacements. We have no intention of 'farming' our new orchids and will still buy-in for decoration. Tik is under strict instructions not to use the new stock for his cocktails. He will be tempted by their proximity and hopefully, their abundance.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Chiang Mai - a nice contrast with Samui

We had a really enjoyable weekend in this lovely city, with Lucy and Jonny. It was the first time that Olwen and I had visited the north and we appreciated the cooler weather and the very different, laid-back aspect of Thailand that we hadn't experienced before. I must say that stall holders and trinket sellers like the lady above seemed less 'pushy' than on Samui and went away smiling if their wares were politely refused. Mai pen rai (roughly: 'it doesn't matter') being the most frequent response. It was also a very pleasant change to be in a city that had some history, with ancient temples, architecture and a moat around the walled city to match.

Lucy's mission was to order additional bar furniture for Baan Bophut, but also to meet her rocking horse supplier for whom she acts as a sales agent in horse-mad Dubai and the Arabian Gulf. Both objectives fulfilled, we had time to spare for the Night Market.

I was particularly intrigued by the small colony of 'artists' located in the basement level of the covered portion of the market.

They all seem wholly occupied in scaling-up and copying photographs, usually in charcoal, to an astounding degree of realism that is almost indistinguishable from a high resolution photograph. I didn't see anyone creating original images. Such is the level of precision that many visitors (and residents for all I know) ask that their photos be copied, usually of their kids, confident that the resulting likeness will be an identical replica.

So, are these very talented guys artists or highly skilled technicians? I've had the discussion with both Olwen and Lucy and we hold differing opinions, so I'd appreciate your thoughts. But I go along with sculptor Henry Moore who said "Art is the expression of imagination, not the duplication of reality."

We rounded out the visit with various purchases including northern delicacies, such as Moo grob - crispy pork rinds which, as you can see in the image below, were much appreciated by some of our staff. There is no direct flight between Samui and Chiang Mai, but Bangkok Airways have a scheduled flight going the other way, so thankfully, we were able to avoid any of the protest hassles in Bangkok that on the day of our departure, had already closed Phuket airport.
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