02:56 p.m. Back on the long tail, I leave Khao Kanabnam and sail along the mangrove to the Prasong canal. You can actually see the high tide level on the trunks of the mangrove: there is a salt deposit that makes like a white mark on the trees. There are also some small canals snaking into the mangrove, that the fishermen use as fish traps. They deploy their net at high tide on the full width of the small canals, and when the tide gets low and the canal dries out, they just need to come and collect the fish trapped in the net.
After a short ride, the boat lands on the pontoon of a fish farm. Awesome! I walk pass different floating fish ponds, then up to a restaurant. I will be having dinner here later and learn more about the fished they breed, but for now it’s time to discover the muslim community! I walk through the restaurant which leased me to the backside, opening on the main road (or path? trail?). It’s a tiny concrete road, and I haven’t seen any car on the island. Only motorcycle with a side trailer that can seat 3-4 persons. Here is my local taxi!
Right behind the restaurant, along the canal, are a handful of houses and small shops to cater for the needs of the villagers. I hop onto the taxi and we start driving toward the centre of the island. We barely cross a few motorcycles and a couple of other taxis. After a few hundred meters we stop at a small OTOP shop. OTOP is a Thai label meaning: One Tambon (subdistrict – village) One Product. OTOP is a national program designed to promote local craftsmanship. Shops with the local OTOP label are selling genuine handicrafts. The first OTOP I stop is one of a man who continued the tradition of his father’s skills for making miniature boats. The shop was awarded the prestigious Thailand Tourism award, and had the visit of His Majesty the King Himself. The miniatures made there are quite exceptional, with an extreme attention to detail.
After a long visit to the shop and the great products they have to offer, I go back to my taxi that was waiting outside, and who wants to take me to another interesting place, only 15 minutes away from here. Curious, I get back in the sidecar and the driver takes me further down the concrete path, alongside rice fields and buffalo. We pass a small bridge and cross a few other taxis on the way. The taxi stops on the side of the road by a petrol station (a wooden shelve on 2 poles, covered with a steel sheet and carrying a few bottles of petrol, which you go pay to the nearby shop after filling your vehicle).
I enter a small warehouse: this OTOP specializes in producing Batik, a printed fabric used for the confection of shirts, dresses, etc. The way the fabric is printed is quite specific. They use different patterns cast in iron. They place the heavy pattern on the raw fabric, then pour hot wax through the pattern. The wax impregnates the fabric at the desired areas and is allowed to cool down. Once solidified, the fabric is dyed, and the color is then fixed. The dyed fabric is then dipped into a big wok containing hot water in order to remove the wax. Other techniques are used for more complex patterns or multicolored imprints, but this one is the most remarkable! They have a small shop right next to the small building where they print the fabric, but they also sell quite a lot of their production in Bangkok as well.
Time to thank my guest and say goodbye for now. I get back to the taxi and we return to the fish farm. On the way, I witness something that triggers my curiosity: a group of men sitting on the ground, in the open air. In the middle, there is a light structure on which are hung a dozen bird cages. Everyone is sitting peacefully and it is very quiet. I ask the taxi driver what is going on, and he tells me that it is one of the main pass-times among the men of the village. It is in fact a bird singing contest. Everyone willing to participate brings his bird along with a small sum of money, and hang the cage on the structure. The money is pooled and the contest opened. The owner of the first bird that sings pocket’s the sum!