วังประปา รีสอร์ท Wangprapa Resort is just a name but does break down into Palace for the monk's abbott. This still does not do the resort justice. We have come here for one specific reason; the food. But there are side benefits to Wangprapa as well. It's a resort, it should be full of tourists, it is not. Only locals use the place because only the locals know it exists.
Wangprapa has a beer bar, a swimming pool, spa and massage, easily the best restaurant in Sa Keao district that would give any of the Michelin restaurants in Bangkok a run for their money, and it is remarkably cheap. Waan has in-laws in Aran and we invited them to come and eat and the six of us (although one is only 3 years old) ran up a bill of 1,200 Baht including copious amounts of Leo beer. I mentioned to the owner that I had travelled all the way here just to eat his Pla Samun Prai and he insisted we have it for free. So I spent another 500 on beer and we all got drunk but seriously, the fried fish in spicy sweet salad is about 60cm long and costs 220 Baht, that's less than five pounds (GBP).
The owners have also recently added English sub-titles to their menu which makes life a lot easier and if you are headed East or North-East Wangprapa is a must as is Aranyaprathet. Aran is definitely 'Off the beaten track' because hundreds of tourists pass through it every day and never think to stop and have a look round.
My newfound nephew who I only learned existed when we arrived in Thailand and phoned sis-in-law, took an instant shine to me, and calls me uncle falang. I was shocked because Ann is not a young lady but as Thai families do her nephew had two children and an absconded ex-wife who has abandoned her children. He has since remarried and I don't know why but she doesn't look after either of the boys. Mum-in-law has one and aunt-in-law has the other.
This is the sad reality of Issan life. Poverty, unaffordable procreation, desertion. The result is two brothers living 1200km apart. And never have I seen two brothers so different. Udon boy is willful to sometimes naughty and yet shy and fearful of me. Aran boy is 3 years old so cannot possibly be gay, and yet he is girly through and through, and loves me to bits. I don't know if it is TV he is learning from but he is as camp as a row of tents.
So I took him shopping with me to Tesco Lotus and tried to buy him a bike, and then a toy truck, but he was having none of it and wanted two Barbie dolls. Then he noticed the camera pointing at us and said 'Ooh, have to look beautiful for the camera'. I also think he doesn't understand that he is only three years old.
So little Boong and me became inseparable whether I wanted to or not and that afternoon we headed off to town for tonight's night market. Aran is famed amongst Thais for its markets. Traders, street sellers, shop owners, and just about everything you buy in Pattaya comes from Aran or Poipet across the border. I confess to spending a great deal of time looking around markets and I'll tell you why, because they are fascinating, educational, and enlightening, and any bloke who wants to be blokish and say 'oh no that's the wife's job' is missing out because a market is a window into local culture and lifestyle.
The car parks were already filling up and people travel far and wide to Aran. This market offically closes at 10pm but I have been here in the early hours before. Boong headed for the ladies clothing holding onto my hand and started feeling the material. I worry for this boy. I dragged him to the more interesting stuff like green coconut milk with beans. Thailand makes terrible puddings which is odd when they grow so much sugarcane.
But for most of Asia the peoples do not like sweet and is probably why they are so much slimmer than me. As a result some things they should not make and gateau is one of them, they look great, but they are flavourless. Besides, £2.50 a slice is rediculous except that this is for a charity, or at least that's what Waan said and is why she bought a slice each for all six of us. Personally I'd rather have the printed silk shirt for the same price or the fried banana in coconut soaked crystalised palm sugar or the suckling pig.
Officially the sun comes up either side of 5.30am and goes down either side of 6.30pm and the variation from Summer to Winter is 30 minutes either way. I've never noticed this and neither do any of my Thai aquainted friends. At 6.30pm someone switches off the sunlight. I don't know who's job it is to switch off the sunlight but you can go into a 7/11 in daylight, buy a cold beer, and come out into darkness. Officially sunrise and sunset take an hour but in beauty spots around Thailand you will see rows of photographers and tripods at 6.30pm waiting to capture what most of us never notice and I reckon that's evidence enough that it happens a lot quicker than one hour.
And that is why we left the market in daylight and arrived 300 metres away in a moo yang in darkness. If I haven't already mentioned it, moo yang is a Thai favourite, and they go regularly. A mate of mine said to me "If I go to a restaurant I expect them to cook my food" and I understand what he means. Thais go to a moo yang restaurant and beg for a table. Then ask for beer and ice because the brazier is roasting hot and they are sweating buckets. Then they are brought raw food that they cook themselves, or even better, they have to fetch it themselves from a buffet which isn't a buffet because it isn't cooked. They then don't cook it enough and it gives them an upset tummy and for this misery they give the restaurant a tip.
But here's the thing - it is a great night out. I took sis-in-law's family, six of them, to a moo yang, drank loads of beer, had a great time, and the bill was 850 Baht and if you want to get a feel of Asian life you really do have to try this. Ask any farang with Thai family or ex-pat and they will all tell you moo yang is great.
I don't eat a great deal at a moo yang. It's too much fussing around for me, a bit like a barbeque, so I was ready to go back to the market with the exception of having had one too many Leo beers.
No matter, I wanted to have a good look round at the wares of which the variety seemed boundless.
Above left is squid, clams, prawns, fishballs, and pollock graded by size. Middle is frogs cleaned and prepared for BBQ. Right is new to me, it is clams in a pickle juice, I didn't try it but the wife bought some. In the same right picture is boxes of bacon rind and pickled fillet of fish.
By far my favourite discovery was this automated rotisserie with tiny birds rolling over and over and the owner of a roasted nuts stall with his back to us which I realised after some study read Orange County and not Orange C*** but the writing on the front of the griddle says baby chickens basted with honey and red pepper. They taste stunning. Next to them was a lady selling steamed Sea Bass in a home made sweet chilli sauce which tasted as good as the baby chicken and then was a lady selling home made Ghai Yang and Ghai Tap. Ghai yang is completely different to moo yang and no I don't know why but is chicken roasted over charcoal and ghai tap is chicken liver which Thai are very fond of. It's nice but it is sickly if you eat too much of it.
Above left is Kiwi, something akin to Beetroot, Mango, something that is like a cross between a tomato and a pepper, unripened Tamarind, something green that tastes really bitter, very sweet Oranges, and Breaburn Apples. Middle is various flavour sweetmeats in a hard pastry. Left to right the flavours are Fish, Pork fried in chilli paste, Chicken, Black Bean, Sweet Potato, and Pineapple. Right photo is Gogi flour battered fish with fried spring onion and fried red chillies.
Below left is another ghai yang. These are seen everywhere that crowds may appear and is chicken on a stick basted in a sweet coconut sauce. Below middle fresh eggs and Pineapples, and right is possibly a moment of surrealism with signs that are beautifully printed in English but the lady didn't speak a word of it, but don't worry just point a finger at the pork balls, smokey savaloy, fried chicken, fried banana coated with desicated coconut, battered fish, or the 'I have no idea what the last one is'.
Aran night market, off the beaten track, and an absolute must see, as is everything in Aran and the best place to stay is Wangprapa.