Ko Kret is a tiny man made Island rising up out of the Chao Phraya river (Bangkok’s main waterway) and cut off from the mainland by the river and little more than a narrow stretch of the ‘dessert’ canal. Created in 1722 to bypass a meander in the river and situated only a few miles north of Bangkok city centre, it’s a million miles from the hustle and bustle of megacity living, Ko Kret – measuring just 3km x 3kms in size – offers a veritable oasis of calm from the madness of downtown. While most foreign tourists never get to hear about it and opt instead to visit the night markets, floating markets, shopping malls and bars (of which there are numerous), Thai’s – and especially Bangkokians – DO know and visit the Island as tourists themselves for a quiet, relaxing break from urban life.
Populated by the Mon people indigenous to Burma and to whom the current Royal family of Thailand are directly related, Ko Kret offers the culinarily adventurous a slice of Southern Burmese cuisine unfound throughout the rest of Thailand (and certainly anywhere away from the upper Chao Phraya river system). Dishes such as Thingyan htamin (rice boiled in candle-smelt water with a mango salad), Nga baung thohk (a prawn and vegetable dish wrapped in morinda leaf and cooked in banana leaves), Tod mun pla nor gala (ginger and chilli fish cakes), Tort man nor galah (an aquatic vegetable, mushrooms, colourful flowers and fresh herbs, battered and deep fried, served with a sweet and sour sauce), Kow chaa (rice and savoury morsels in chilled camphor scented water, which is very popular during the summer because of its cooling effects) and Mohinga (The national dish of Burma – fish soup with vermicelli rice noodles, which is most often served as breakfast) are unique to the Mon.
The Mon’s most enduring contribution to Burmese cuisine lies in their extraordinary desserts (these folks have an uncommonly sweet tooth owing the the abundance and easy growth of sugarcane on the islands banks) and so can be found such rarities as htamane (sticky rice, shredded coconut and peanuts), Sa-nwin makin (a multitude of beautifully colourful cakes made with semolina, sugar, butter and coconut milk), Banana pudding (made with bananas boiled in coconut milk and caramelised sugar) and Durian jam (otherwise known as Katut jam and often served with any of the above).
Food isn’t the only experience to be had on this little piece of paradise. Motorised transportation is forbidden on the island, so the seven little villages of quaint teak cottages built above the rivers shores can only be reached by bicycle rental (40 baht) or a relaxing two hour walk around the islands circuit of pathways. The Mon are famed for their centuries old terracotta pottery techniques and still to this day there are craftsman making the distinctive jugs, bowls, plates and incense burners in the islands Kilns. Of the numerous Buddhist temples on the island, the most impressive cannot fail to be Wat Poramai Yikawat. With it Mon style marble reclining Buddha, museum to Mon history and exhibition of local wares it’s a definite one for any visitors check-list. It is however the leaning white stupa (Buddhist shrine) that is the most famous landmark on Ko Kret. This 200 year old monument (built from Italian marble imported by King Rama V) is now subsiding, but is reputed to contain relics of the Buddha himself. Ko Kret offers the curious Western traveller not only an insight into Mon Burmese history, culture and culinary delight, but more importantly the chance to get away from almost all other European and American tourists and sample a little piece of island life just a stones throw from the centre of Thailand’s capital. A peaceful rural retreat in the beating heart of a modern, overcrowded and chaotic city landscape.
Have we wet your appetite for a helping of Ko Kret? Then watch out for our deliciously sweet little Mon food tour by bicycle (and boat ride) coming soon…