Phuket: Castaway Paradise In Thailand’s Andaman

Ask anybody to imagine what ‘paradise’ on Earth looks like, and they’d probably picture something very similar to the white-sanded beaches, crystal clear waters and tropical surroundings of Thailand’s southern islands around the Andaman Sea. But this must-visit part of Thailand, which spans across the shorelines of Phuket, Krabi, and Phang-nga, has more than just stunning scenery and touristy beach bars. Know where to look, and a world of rich local culture and incredible Southern Thai delicacies are waiting to be discovered – which is exactly what you’ll be doing on this 2-day / 1-night ‘Castaway Paradise’ culinary adventure.

In true ‘castaway’ style, you’ll be whisked across the water to a remote island that’ll give you a taste of islander life; here, there’s the chance to go foraging for wild ingredients and learn from the wisdom of the villagers known as ‘Chao Lay’. After picking your produce under the guidance of a local expert, it’s the time to try your skills cooking up some local flavors and then dine by the sea with the sound of the waves forming an idyllic backdrop.

PROGRAM: 2 DAYS 1 NIGHT TRIP

DAY 1
10.30 a.m.
Ao Leuk, Krabi
  • Kayak through the mangrove forests and learn about the ecosystem and sustainable fishing practices
  • Have a lunch of rice seasoned with shrimp paste and unripe mango dipped in sweet shrimp sauce
  • Learn how to make shrimp paste (Kapi) - Discover the historic paintings in the sea caves
  • Learn how a ‘sea grape’ farm is managed and try tasting this plant which grows in the middle of the sea
2.00 p.m.
Koh Yao Yai, Phang Nga
  • Forage for some of the unique local ingredients on the island such as sea fish, coconuts, fresh pepper, and other herbs
  • Learn how to grow ‘multi-coloured lobster’
5.00 p.m.
Six Senses Yao Noi
  • Rest and relax
  • Enjoy dinner made with your own ingredients that you found during the day

DAY 2

10.00 a.m.
  • Head off on a sightseeing trip around Six Senses Yao Noi to see the hotel’s organic farm
11.00 a.m.
  • Learn how to cook with a Chef at Six Senses Yao Noi and have lunch at the hotel
  • Travel back to Phuket

Ao Leuk, Krabi THE TASTE OF ANDAMAN SEAFOOD

A kayak trip across the sea and through the mangroves provides a great opportunity to learn about the rich ingredients that can be found in and around these southern waters. These mangrove forests are relatively common in tropical countries and play an integral role in maintaining coastal ecosystems, with their deep roots and trunks helping to protect the shoreline against damage from heavy waves. The trees, if deforested sparingly, can be used for construction and firewood, but most importantly, they help nurture small organisms and sea creatures such as clams, shrimps, crabs, or even worms; being at the bottom of the food chain, all of these species are essential for larger varieties include fish and wildlife to thrive in the area.

Back on dry land, and it’s time to learn how to make ‘Kapi’ (shrimp paste) or what the Southerners call ‘Koei’. The name is derived from the shrimps used to make the paste. In Southern Thai cooking, shrimp paste is used as a base for almost everything, with its rich umami flavor making each and every dish delicious.

The process for making this paste starts in a fishing boat, where you’ll head out looking these little shrimps. After a quick guide through the very long method of making Kapi, it’s the time to try it in some of the local specialty dishes like rice seasoned with shrimp paste served on banana leaf. This is accompanied by unripe mango dipped in sweet shrimp sauce that has a perfect combination of sourness, sweetness, and saltiness.

After lunch, you’ll carry on crossing part of the Andaman Sea until you reach a floating sea grape farm; here, you can learn all about how this rare plant is grown (and how expensive it is) as well as have a taste right there on the sea. Along with your cruise, you can also see how the local fishermen find the perfect spot to catch fish, as well as pass-through sea caves with historic 3,000-year-old paintings, and alongside some of the area’s other iconic landmarks such as the heart-shaped mountain gorge known as ‘Lek Konn’ (Khao Tapu) mountain.

Koh Yao Yai, Phang Nga A HIDDEN TREASURE IN THE ANDAMAN SEA

One of the lesser known islands in this region is Koh Yao Yai (which simply translates to ‘Big Long Island’) and can be found just off the coast of Phuket and not far from other major touristic areas of Krabi and Phang-nga. With less development, this simple yet beautiful island offers a window to see the lifestyle of the mostly Islamic locals, who are blessed with an abundance of natural resources that can be used as ingredients in a number of tasty southern dishes.

The six-inch salty ‘Anchovy of the Andaman’ is another local ingredient you’ll get to know. The fish is normally deep-fried and mixed it with unripe mangos, herbs, and other spices to make a fiery salad, or put into different kinds of curry. High in omega-3, potassium, and calcium, this tiny fish is great for heart health and can help to reduce blood pressure when eaten at the right amount (and not consumed with too many beers…) They can also be processed to make other products such as crispy anchovies and fish sauce, which is commonly used in Thai cooking.

The magnificent ‘multi-coloured lobster’, one of the most expensive and sought-after products of the Andaman Sea, is also found in these waters. With its enormous size, beautiful rainbow color, and sweet taste, it’s no wonder why many world-renowned chefs call this the ‘foie gras of the ocean’. Normally only found in fine-dining restaurants, this triplet you see them up close in the local’s floating baskets - and you can even buy one right from here.

Finally, a range of local vegetables like ‘Liang’ or ‘Hi-Talay’ can be found at the beach, all rich in vitamins and nutrients that help locals maintain a balanced diet. Tasty ‘Mieng’ leaves can be stir-fried with eggs giving it a distinctly sweet and bitter taste and is usually eaten alongside the spicy curry dishes of the South.

THE KOH YAO YAI LIFESTYLE

When stepping ashore on this tropical island, you’ll soon notice the traditional way of life in which the Koh Yao Yai locals are still able to maintain – just like the olden days. Each family usually makes a simple living by growing para rubber trees, growing and harvesting fruits such as mangos or coconuts, as well as fishing. This way of living has been passed on from generation to generation and is mainly dependent on the seasons. In the dry months, the Islanders set off fishing each day, while in the rainy season most of the work is done on lands, such as growing fruits and rice farming.

Another curious thing that is passed on from each generation is family names, which usually have meanings closely associated with either the sea or land, such as ‘Thai Klong’ (skilled at ploughing), ‘Dum Na Gla’ (master of rice farming), ‘Dum Samut’ (sea diver), and ‘Nawee Wong’ (member of the navy).

Six Senses Yao Noi A PLACE OF BEAUTY IN EVERY sense

After learning all about the local ingredients, it’s now time to put them into use as part of a cooking session at the incredible Six Senses Yao Noi. This 5-star resort, located on a smaller, slightly more developed island next to Koh Yao Yai, offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience for anybody who steps through its doors. As well as luxurious rooms and pool villas, the Six Senses also focuses on sustainability with its very own organic farm within the resort. You will get to see firsthand how they grow organic mushrooms, breed goats, and check out a chicken farm where the birds listen to jazz music all day long! There are also some vegetable patches where you can collect some fresh produce to take back to the kitchen to cook with – under the guidance of an experienced chef. Finally, it’s time to eat your creations with the stunning turquoise water of Thailand’s the Andaman Sea as the perfect backdrop.

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