A Morning Walk around Koh Kret, Thailand

Local sweets at Koh Kret. Photo Credit: Mark McElroy

Every weekend, the sleepy little island of Koh Kret — a tiny, circular jewel in the middle of the Chao Praya River — transforms itself into a food festival, market, and social center.

Thai people come from miles around to shop and eat — and, by that, I mean they both shop and eat simultaneously, constantly. Virtually every vendor and shopper has a snack going: a steaming bowl of noodles, a plastic bag bulging with corn kernels and condensed milk, a cup of musky-smelling stew, or a tray of marzipan animals:

Marzipan swans. Photo credit: Mark McElroy

Everyone seems to be eating a little of everything all the time. How do these people stay so thin?

And — they have lots to choose from. While I’m careful about my choices, locals have the immune systems of tigers, so they glide from vendor to vendor, eating without hesitation. You might start with fresh fried fish balls:

Pungent balls of fried fish. Photo credit: Mark McElroy

Then transition to the beautiful little corn dogs, with one end of the dog exposed and sliced into fourths to create a shrimpy little tail:

Corndogs, anyone? Photo credit: Mark McElroy

And perhaps pick up a bag full of local green vegetables dipped in batter and fried to crispy perfection:

Tasty fried veggies to go. Photo credit: Mark McElroy

And then snag any of several thousand colorful, hand-crafted sweets, each one executed by pastry chefs who work with all the precision of a jeweler:

Local treats, displayed like jewelry. Photo credit: Mark McElroy

Despite having just finished breakfast at the Shangri La hotel, I couldn’t resist trying a tiny, hand-woven basket of coconut flakes stained with blue vegetable dye:

Tiny, but delicious. (The basket, that is. Not me.) Photo credit: Mark McElroy

The flavors are tuned to Thai tastes, so instead of a sugar-fest, my basket tastes mostly like bean paste flavored with just a hint of coconut and the most delicate pinch of sugar you can imagine.

I was not, however, brave enough to try the delicious-looking fish curries, served in take-home pots made of the famous Koh Kret clay:

Curry to go comes in keepsake pots of famous Koh Kret clay. Photo credit: Mark McElroy

As the day stretches on, the air at Koh Kret begins to feel like a steam sauna. Your best bet for refuge? The temple outside the market, where you can reflect on your culinary sins:

A day at Koh Kret is sometimes blisteringly hot, sometimes shady and cool; sometimes packed with clamoring crowds, sometimes serene and silent; sometimes a barrage of overwhelming sensory overload, sometimes a perfect little moment.

I remember the chef I greeted in Thai, who replied, “Thank you so much for speaking our language to us.”

I remember the shopkeeper (selling a cure for obesity) who offered me a sample, and who (when I acted comically offended) patted my arm and said, “You don’t need. You beautiful.”

I remember the pungent odor of fish, the sweet smell of coconut crepes, and tall iced coffees, layered with condensed milk and ice.

In its way, Koh Kret is a little microcosm of all of Thailand: contradictory, delightful, raw, unfiltered — magical.

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